Mailbag: Rams' past, and the future

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Randy from St. Louis writes: With the Tye Hill deal, don't forget the Rams traded the Jay Cutler pick to Denver -- 11th overall -- for Hill and Claude Wroten. Yikes.

Mike Sando: Was that really necessary, Randy? You are correct. The Rams did trade the 11th overall choice to the Broncos for the 15th and 68th choices. The Broncos used the 11th choice for Cutler. The Rams used the 15th choice for Hill and the 68th choice for Wroten. It's pretty shocking that none of those three players remains with his team only four seasons later. That 2006 Rams draft was indeed a disaster. They drafted Dominique Byrd in the third round not long before the Texans drafted another tight end, Owen Daniels.

Kyle from Tempe writes: I can't believe that the rams arguably signing the third best left tackle in the division has, in the eyes of ESPN the Magazine launched them above the 49ers in the NFC West. I also can't believe that the seahawks are projected to do so well. Do you see the NFC West playing out that way? The 49ers in 4th the Cardinals in third the rams in second and the seahawks making a miraculous recovery to go 10-6? It seems to me reversing the order would at least be closer. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Those were Football Outsiders' projections based on indicators that have sometimes been associated with similar results. The comment on the Rams reads, "Surprise! Teams that draft an O-lineman early -- as the Rams did by taking Jason Smith No. 2 overall -- tend to improve immediately. St. Louis has also assembled a talented front seven, and it's awful 2008 red-zone play (10 TDs in 29 trips) can't help but improve."

Reducing Football Outsiders' voluminous research and documentation to those 48 words probably makes the argument a little easier to counter. But to say that the Cardinals have a 67 percent chance of finishing 6-10 or worse -- compared to a 29 percent chance for the Rams -- seems to ignore basic differences in personnel.

I've looked at the Rams' schedule and had trouble finding more than four or five victories. Perceptions change in a hurry, of course, and the schedule might be easier than it appears this far out. I do think the Rams will be better this season, but I'm also glad to have no money riding on their ability to get to 8-8. I also question the depth of the front seven and how much the Rams have improved, long term, at defensive tackle.

Albert from San Mateo writes: Mike, I appreciate your work. I had an interesting thought while reading comments about Matt Barkley at USC. Matt Leinart basically avoided the draft the year the 49ers took Alex Smith. All things considered, who do you think the 49ers would rather have now? And, in your opinion, do you think Leinart would do everything the same again?

Mike Sando: The 49ers would have been better off drafting Leinart based on everything we know now. They would not say so and I'm not going to put words in their mouths, but Leinart was clearly better prepared for the NFL style of football. He had run a pro-style offense at USC.

Would Leinart have done everything the same? He probably would have conducted himself similarly as I assume he would have been the same person. And he would have struggled with the 49ers based on the overall organizational instability, highlighted by frequent staff changes.

Kris from Everett, Wash., writes: With this being the last year of Tim Ruskell's contract, do you see Paul Allen bringing him back, or possibly re-hiring Mike Holmgren? Also, who do you believe would be a better GM for the Seahawks out of those two?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks have already tried Holmgren as general manager. Results were mixed. Bringing back Holmgren as GM without naming him head coach would put whichever coach they hired in a difficult situation. Rehiring Holmgren as coach and general manager would mean replacing Jim Mora after only one year, which would make no sense in a business where stability is so important. The Seahawks need to provide the current coaching staff with the stability and support it needs to install its program and succeed long term. For that reason alone, Holmgren would not be a superior choice as GM right now.

The organization has let other front-office people reach the final years of their contracts in the past. It doesn't necessarily mean change is looming. But after a 4-12 season, it is fair to wonder what changes another losing season might bring.

Matt from Philadelphia writes: Hey, Mike. Not to blow too much smoke, but you do a really great job covering this division. Anyhow, I am going to start vomiting with rage if I hear one more person say that the Cardinals 'got hot at the right time' last year.

First of all, no franchise in the NFL has a worse record than the Cardinals over the past two decades (not even the Lions). When in that time has this team ever 'gotten hot'? Winning four straight games leading up to a near-fifth straight in the Super Bowl, after 20 years of being the worst, is not getting hot. It's turning a corner.

Second, from a subjective perspective, I've been a Cards fan long enough to know that this team does not in fact 'get hot'. Typically, we win an improbable game here and there in between humiliating losses. The fact of the matter is that in 20 years of ineptitude on and off the field -- see Denny Green and Bill Bidwill -- this is the best team we've ever had. And if this team cannot overcome that history, then none ever will.

We didn't 'get hot at the right time' last year. We started a whole new franchise. I think we're going to surprise some people when we back it up, too.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals played their best at the right time. I think we can say that pretty safely. The team still did suffer a couple of humiliating defeats. The game at New England comes to mind. The home game against the Vikings was a rough experience. The first half of the Jets game was horrific.

I do think the Cardinals are on the right track with Ken Whisenhunt as head coach. His presence makes them different. But not until the organization enjoys sustained success will we know for sure whether the Cardinals got hot or turned a corner. Either way, the 2008 team accomplished something no previous Cardinals team had accomplished by reaching a Super Bowl. The significance will not be lost no matter what happens this season.

Jeremy from Phoenix writes: Hey Mike, my question is in regard to Edgerring James now being a Seahawk. What, if any, advantage might this give Seattle in planning their defensive scheme against the Cardinals?

Mike Sando: James could be able to confirm how the Cardinals are likely to handle certain situations. What are their rules in pass protection? How does Kurt Warner think in certain situations? What nuances within coverages might bother Warner? James could have a feel for such things because he is a smart, veteran player.

The advantage is diminished by the fact that James has not been in camp with the Cardinals this offseason and Arizona will have had plenty of time to make any adjustments. The Cardinals have had time to tweak the terminology they might use at the line of scrimmage.

I do think having a smart, veteran player on the other team can make a difference. Trent Dilfer's presence with the 49ers helped them beat the Seahawks in Seattle a few years ago. A quarterback would know more than a running back, typically, and Dilfer had a very good feel for the Holmgren-Hasselbeck dynamic.