Mailbag: Handing out NFC West hardware

JohnnyP from St. Louis, Mo., wants to see NFC West awards patterned after the major NFL awards: MVP, offensive and defensive players of the year, top rookies, etc.

Mike Sando: We've done all-division teams since 2008 and I'll reproduce the choices here.

What we should do, I think, is make projections for the coming season.

It's a little early to have a great feel for the rookies, but I think we'll likely see one of the receivers make an impact.

Brian Quick of the St. Louis Rams is my early choice on the suspicion Sam Bradford enjoys a bounce-back season. The team doesn't necessarily have an established No. 1 option even though Danny Amendola is returning from injury. Perhaps that gives Quick an immediate opportunity. That could change as we learn more, of course.

Michael Floyd of the Arizona Cardinals is an obvious contender. How many passes will come his way given Larry Fitzgerald's presence and established third-down options elsewhere? I'm less certain where the San Francisco 49ers' A.J. Jenkins will fit into an offense with Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and, potentially, Randy Moss.

Defensively, Bruce Irvin will have sack opportunities for the Seattle Seahawks. Janoris Jenkins could have opportunities to pick off passes and factor in the Rams' return game. Those are two players to watch right away. The Rams' run defense figures to improve with Michael Brockers on the line, but he won't have as many chances for stats.

Let's revisit this one in a separate item.

First, I'll dust off the all-division teams since 2008, beginning with the offensive choices.

Defensive choices are next. Note that I went with four defensive ends in 2011, my attempt to include the best defensive linemen.

The specialists featured 49ers punter Andy Lee, who cashed in with a six-year contract Wednesday.

Moving along to other subjects ...

Richard from Tucson, Ariz., thinks the NFL's push for players to wear knee and thigh pads beginning in 2013 stems in part from injuries such as the one Kevin Kolb suffered last season.

Mike Sando: The San Francisco 49ers' Ahmad Brooks did not appear to be wearing kneepads when his knee accidentally struck Kolb's helmet during a scramble for the football. I went back and watched the play a few more times to be sure. Would kneepads have spared Kolb from the concussion he suffered? That's not something anyone can determine with any certainty.

The injury San Francisco's Delanie Walker suffered at Seattle two weeks later also comes to mind. Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill was wearing thigh pads. He did not appear to be wearing knee pads when his knee accidentally struck Walker in the side of the helmet, breaking Walker's jaw. Again, it's tough to say if padding would have made any difference for Walker.

Requiring knee and helmet pads seems like a logical move even in the absence of evidence proving additional pads would reduce concussions. The league is working with Nike to develop padding players consider more comfortable. I'd like to know whether these sleeker pads will provide as much protection for those on the receiving end of blows like the ones Kolb and Walker absorbed.

Miles from Seattle questions asks whether the salaries for Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow would force them into competition for a single roster spot at tight end.

Mike Sando: Miller is scheduled to earn $6 million in base salary. His contract is scheduled to count $7 million against the salary cap this year. Winslow has a $3.3 million salary. His contract could count up to $4.8 million. Indeed, that's a hefty chunk of money tied up in two tight ends, but Seattle has the salary cap room to absorb the charges comfortably.

The five-year deal Miller signed before the 2011 looks more like a three-year contract for practical purposes. Miller's base salary rises to $6.8 million in 2013, with another $3 million due in a roster bonus. His cap number spikes to $11 million. Those numbers appear steep even for a top tight end.

A.J. from Mendham, N.J., thinks the recent item criticizing Stephen Ross was overkill.

"I don't think the Dolphins were sold on Matt Flynn," he writes. "Jim Harbaugh wanted to stay in Northern California much more than he was uncomfortable with Miami's owner. Jeff Fisher would have taken the Miami job had he been granted total personnel control."

Mike Sando: That's a fair criticism. I'm finished with Ross and suspect he'll be OK, but the way he runs the franchise has benefited teams in the NFC West, in my view. Wait, I thought I was finished with Ross. OK, now I'm finished.