Tanner from Southern California writes: Mike, what will Larry Fitzgerald's status be when the NFL and NFL Players Association come to a new collective bargaining agreement? If he becomes an unrestricted free agent, I could see Pete Carroll being very interested. They've got money to spend in Seattle, right? Your thoughts?
Mike Sando: Fitzgerald will remain under contract to the Cardinals for the 2011 season regardless of what happens with the labor situation. His contract features a no-trade clause and a provision preventing the Cardinals from naming him their franchise player, should such a provision exist under a new labor agreement. Fitzgerald could always waive the no-trade clause if he wanted to do so, but that seems unlikely. He'll have a long list of suitors if he does hit the market.
The Seahawks will have salary flexibility, but so will a lot of teams. They have considerable financial resources -- no team has a wealthier owner -- but several teams could find the money to sign a player of Fitzgerald's caliber.
Fitzgerald holds all the leverage in this situation. He's likely to continue saying the right things publicly while watching very closely to see how the Cardinals improve their roster, specifically at quarterback.
Joe from Phoenix writes: Hi Mike, I'm a life-long Rams fan transplanted to Phoenix and a daily reader of the blog. Everyone knows that Steven Jackson is going to need another back to pick up some slack. Jackson already shortened his career by carrying the Rams for so long. I'm excited about Delone Carter from Syracuse. He has great burst and is built like a bowling ball, just like Maurice Jones-Drew. The problem as I see it, though, is that the Rams have too many immediate needs to invest a third-round pick on a back. What are the chances of St Louis using a mid-round pick on a back? And who would you consider to be their best options?
Mike Sando: We are thinking along the same lines. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and I were discussing this on the phone Tuesday. We agreed that the Rams would probably be best waiting until later in the draft before selecting a back this year. But we thought the Rams could justify using an earlier selection, perhaps even a first-rounder, for the right running back as early as 2012, depending upon how well Jackson holds up this season.
The idea would be to extend Jackson's career while lining up a replacement. The Rams still had Marshall Faulk when they drafted Jackson. The Seahawks still had a productive Ricky Watters when they drafted Shaun Alexander. The Cardinals arguably should have drafted Adrian Peterson even though they had Edgerrin James, based simply on value.
If I were the Rams, I would want to upgrade at receiver, defensive tackle and outside linebacker in this draft. I would probably look for an affordable veteran safety. I would consider signing a veteran back or using a later choice for a backup/developmental player. And then I would come back a year from now looking at a front-line back more seriously.
Paul from San Francisco writes: While Niner fans are criticizing the secondary, which they should, they seem to be solely focused on the cornerback play. Did we have two elite safeties last year that I happened to completely miss? From my recollection, the safeties were routinely torched last year, gathering exactly zero All-Pro votes. They are young and can improve, but that doesn't mean they should escape the same searing scrutiny the cornerbacks regularly endure.
Many of the most impactful defensive players around the NFL play the safety position -- quarterbacking their defenses, disguising coverages, coming up to make stops in the running game, blitzing the QB, and making interceptions. Let's not forget about these guys.
Mike Sando: Pass coverage was the issue for the secondary overall, not just the corners or safeties. We saw poor coverage and sometimes poor tackling as well, notably against the Packers in Green Bay. That game was a horror show. The team's secondary coach cited personal reasons for resigning within a couple days of that game. It was a tough way to go out.
This was supposed to be a breakout season for free safety Dashon Goldson, with rookie strong safety Taylor Mays joining him in the lineup eventually and finishing the season strong. Goldson did not stand out as the 49ers had hoped he would. Mays took over for Michael Lewis, as expected, but he failed to hold the starting job. Reggie Smith took over and held the job. It's unclear whether Goldson will return. It's unclear what the new staff will think of Mays.
The secondary could turn over quickly. Nate Clements will not be back under his current contract. Goldson could become an unrestricted free agent. Mays has no guarantees.
Randy from Peoria, Ariz., writes: What are the NFL rules/limitations with respect to undrafted free agents? Limits to number? Limits to amount and type of contact? Does a prospect have to go through the scouting combine to be available to a team? Of those that do drop off the map, not having been signed by anyone after all draft rounds have been exhausted, what can teams do with them? And what of the wisdom of pursuing untaken talent? It would be good to hear your thoughts.
Mike Sando: About 330 players go to the combine each year. Teams draft 255 players, including some who were not at the combine. Teams then sign roughly 10 or 15 undrafted free agents right after the draft. Some went to the combine. Others did not. There are no requirements along those lines.
All players signed to contracts count against the 80-man offseason limit. This includes undrafted free agents. Once teams reduce to 53 players for the regular season, they still have an 80-man limit encompassing those 53 players and any players on various reserve lists -- reserve/injured, reserve/retired and the like.
Rules apply to undrafted free agents the same as they apply to other players.