Mailbag: Emerging players in the NFC West

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rudy from Chicago writes: Sando! For each of the 4 divisional teams, which little-known players do you think are poised to have big seasons? We all have ideas as to how the big stars will play, but what about the up-and-comers? Thanks Sando, great blog.

Mike Sando: Thanks. Good question. I'm not sure each of the teams will have a little-known player enjoy the sort of season Steve Breaston put together in 2008. I'll be some of our regular contributors can step up with suggestions. I'll take a stab here.

Does John Greco become a productive starting offensive lineman for the Rams? Not if the team drafts a starting left tackle, as expected. Keenan Burton might be a candidate at receiver. Someone beyond Donnie Avery has to catch the passes. I would exclude Avery from the discussion because he played extensively as a rookie. His numbers could spike by default if the Rams do not find other starting-caliber receivers.

Cornerback Tarell Brown could get a chance in San Francisco. Free safety Dashon Goldson will get a chance. Jason Hill and/or Josh Morgan could take the next step as receivers. And a healthy Brandon Jones could take the next step.

In Seattle, does Will Herring get a shot at linebacker and make the most of it? Does Josh Wilson take the next step at cornerback? Red Bryant could improve if he can avoid injuries. Lawrence Jackson could improve, though he was a first-round pick, so not a lesser-known guy.

In Arizona, defensive end Calais Campbell will get more playing time, as could Kenny Iwebema. Early Doucet could emerge if given a chance at receiver. I'm not sure he'll get that chance given the people ahead of him.

John from Oxnard, Calif., writes: Mike, I just saw your note about Redding restructuring his contract. Does that mean the Seahawks will have no cap hit for the duration of the contract he had when they got him?

Mike Sando: Correct. Accelerated cap hits affect a team when the team gets rid of the player, not when a team acquires a player. In other words, the Lions took all cap hits associated with Redding's contract once they traded him. Seattle absorbed none of that. Seattle saves strictly the difference between base salaries and unpaid bonuses associated with his previous deal and his current deal. That total was $1.55 million in this case.

Ben from Nashville writes: Cutler would have easily been worth an offer of two 1sts and Shaun Hill, which Denver probably would have taken. QB is the most important position and hardest to find, and bust percentage of 1st round picks is still somewhat high. That is, that guy at #10 has a chance to bust, and either way he's probably never going to be as good as Cutler is right now, let alone what he might be in the future.

Mike Sando: I wonder how much say Cutler had in determining where he wound up playing. The acquiring team had to know through Cutler's agent that Cutler would be interested in signing a long-term deal with that team. The manner in which Cutler has handled this situation might have also raised concerns for a team with a first-year head coach trying to establish his program.

Lou from Wallingford writes: Sando, Can you tell me what people mean when they call Josh McDaniels a "system guy"? I mean, who among NFL OC's is not a "system guy", but hearing Dilfer, Schlereth and others talk about this "system guy" you would think that you could plug just about anyone in at QB and he would have success. Is this just media group-think or is there actually something to this? Thanks

Mike Sando: Someone who can win with Tom Brady or Matt Cassell would probably qualify as a system guy, but I think you make valid points. Are we basically calling Josh McDaniels a better coach than other coaches? To an extent, yes. Is that justified? We shall see. There's no way the Broncos could have handled the Cutler situation the way they did without having reservations about how Cutler might fit into McDaniels' system.

Craig from parts unknown writes: How about this scenario? Denver, wanting Mark Sanchez, will need to jump ahead of #4 Seattle. They can offer the 12th and 18th picks to move up. They don't want to deal those two picks to a division rival (Kansas City), so they trade both picks to get to #2. Denver gets Sanchez, Rams draft two USC linebackers.

Mike Sando: I still can't fully accept the idea that the Broncos would want to move up that early in the draft, based on how McDaniels' mentors operated. Bill Belichick moved back to select Jarod Mayo after inheriting the 49ers' pick. I'm just not convinced McDaniels will want one of the college quarterbacks enough to part with multiple picks. That is just my feel. Seems to me the Broncos could draft a quarterback later, try to win with Kyle Orton in the short term and use the other picks to build the rest of the roster.

Tanner from California writes: Hey Sando when are the Seahawks going to work out a long term deal with Leroy Hill? If they draft Curry at 4, can we infer that Hill will not get a long term deal? Also, in what rounds do you see the 'Hawks going offense and which rounds going defense? Thanks man, your wisdom is always appreciated.

Mike Sando: Speaking as a married man, I can tell you my wisdom is not always appreciated. But it should be appreciated universally and I'll be sure to cite you as evidence.

As for Leroy Hill, what should the Seahawks do? Should they pay him a huge contract only months after another motorist allegedly found him passed out in his vehicle at a red light, allegedly with marijuana in the car? If I were the Hawks, I would make him earn it in 2009 and then revisit his contract based on how he perform

Drafting Curry could indeed affect how much money the Seahawks decided to invest in the position beyond this season, particularly if Curry became a star as a rookie.

Cary from Graham, Wash., writes: Is there a strong possibility that the Cutler trade strengthened the Hawks' position to trade down and gain a pick or two? Maybe Denver would be willing to trade up to get Sanchez at 4. What would be the compensation for such a move? Thanx in advance. Go Hawks.

Mike Sando: We're getting quite a few Seahawks questions here, but I can't control the questions, only the answers.

Again, that will depend upon how much the Broncos value one of the top quarterbacks. And I question whether they would value one enough to make that sort of move. Moving from No. 12 to No. 4 would cost the No. 31 overall choice if we went straight off the draft-value chart. I think more teams would rather pick 12th than fourth this year, however.

Jeff from Seattle writes: hey mike. .. been reading for a while but never asked any questions.. do you think that the seahawks would be interested in drafting a home town boy like brandon gibson?? he is very skilled and could make this team a lot better.. thanks

Mike Sando: You're welcome. NFL Draft Scout projects Gibson as a fifth-round choice. Since 1992 and perhaps earlier, Tim Ruskell's teams have not drafted a receiver in the fifth round. I wouldn't rule out Gibson, but neither do I have any specific information suggesting the team would select him. Seattle has good numbers at receiver right now, and if Michael Crabtree is the choice at No. 4, that would seem to top off that position nicely.

Chris from Seattle writes: I'm so mad now that the Bears have Cutler. Cutler, Pace, and a dominating defense? Bears should be favored to win the NFC.

Mike Sando: What if the Broncos won more games with Kyle Orton? Just a thought. We shouldn't get carried away when teams win offseasons. The Bears just won the offseason. Great for them. They still have to play the games.

David from Long Beach writes: Hey Mike, I like what you write about the NFC West (the 9ers especially) so I thought I'd give some input hoping this won't end up in your junk mail. I do not think the 49ers' QB situation is anywhere near perfect, but like they say, if it isn't broke don't fix it.

I feel this is the case with Shaun Hill, if you do not include the 9ers' first loss with Singletary (JT O'Sullivan played most of the game and left Hill with a score deficit that would have been difficult to overcome), then Hill was 5-3 as a starter for the last eight games for the 9ers which is very respectable for a team that started 2-5. He is 7-3 as a starting QB for the 9ers and has not lost at home. He may not be the most glamorous QB, he may not have the best arm or passer rating, but he does get the "Ws" at the end of the day.

The bottom line is that people need to stop talking about the 9ers as a team that desperately needs a quarterback. They have a quarterback that can get the job done for now, and if they continue to improve other areas of the team, then hopefully Hill's job will become a little bit easier.

Mike Sando: That's a fair way of putting it. It's also fair to say we can't be sure whether Hill will play at a high level over the long haul. Then again, we can't say that about a lot of quarterbacks. Hill's physical limitations will invite skepticism for the time being. All he can do is play well and win games. He has done that for the most part.

Josh from Richmond, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, I love your work. If the 49ers move to Santa Clara, will their name change from the San Francisco 49ers to the Santa Clara 49ers, or will they keep the San Francisco name more as an area generalization? Thanks for clearing it up!

Mike Sando: Thank you, Josh. I wouldn't call this work, though. It's playtime. The 49ers will remain the San Francisco 49ers. I remember wondering whether the Los Angeles Rams would be called the Anaheim Rams once they relocated quite a few years ago. Never did I envision them as the St. Louis Rams, but that's another story.

Marcus from Seattle writes: Mike, this is less an NFC West question than it is about all of the NFL. It seems lately (meaning the past few years), NFL players have been very prone to breaking the law. Along with the Stallworth/Burress/Lynch/Matt Jones situations, small infractions such as Tatupu's DUI or Leroy Hill's possession charges seem to be an everyday occurence for the NFL.

Why is this such an issue in the NFL? Why do you see it more in the NFL than in other professional sports? I mean, just last night I see Joey Porter drinking at Andy Roddick's tennis match, when I'm sure he should be obligated to attend offseason strength and conditioning workouts. While this seems small, it seems NFL players tend to put themselves into harm's way more than any other professional athlete.

Mike Sando: First, there are far more NFL players than NBA players or MLB players. More players means more issues. Second, I think media coverage of these off-field issues has intensified. Reporters find out about these things more frequently now, thanks to the ability to search public records over the internet and thanks to the general ability of information to flow quickly. I do not know whether NFL players are getting into trouble more frequently than in the past, but those other factors are indeed real.

Darin from Enterprise, Ala., writes: Mike - your coverage of the NFC West is a lifeline to my beloved Seahawks, since moving to AL. Thanks for your work. I've been watching the news regarding the potential 1st round Draft QBs. Can you dig up any scouting reports on Ryan Leaf, as comparison? Were scouts saying the same types of things about Leaf as they do about the current potential NFL QBs? What has changed in NFL scouting to help prevent a similar situation nowadays? Thanks for your time.

Mike Sando: Thanks much. I covered Leaf at Washington State and thought he would develop into a good quarterback. People were definitely saying great things about his abilities. I suspect he might have had a chance to grow up some and eventually become at least a serviceable starter had he not suffered a wrist injury that pretty much ended his career.

Teams probably put more weight into psychological profiles to predict how athletes might respond to the signing bonuses they receive. I did follow up on Leaf with former Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard. That story is here.

Rhyno_12thMan writes: I made a list of the top QBs' GPS (Games Played per Season) since 2000. I've listed only QB's who have passed the following criteria:
  • Have played as a starter for a minimum of 6 years (I could have went 5, which would put Carson Palmer and Ben Roet
    on the list at #8, and #4 respectively. But went with 6 to get a good idea of a vet QB.)

  • Only games since 2000 season counted (as far back as ESPN goes)

  • The QB had a minimum of 10 pass attempts in a game (a fair amount to tell if the QB played more than just a series)

  • I debated with counting playoff games. On the one hand, the determining factor to making the playoffs is pertinent to the QB's play. This would account for not only durable QB's, but successful ones too. On the other hand, For the sake of semantics, I left out playoff games.

So here is the list:

1) Brett Favre 16

1) Peyton Manning 16

3) Drew Brees 14.8

4) Tom Brady 14

5) Matt Hasselbeck 13.38

6) Jake Delhomme 13.33

7) Donovan McNabb 13.22

8) Kerry Collins 12.22

9) Jeff Garcia 11.88

9) Marc Bulger 11.88

11) Chad Pennington 11.5

12) Daunte Culpepper 10.5

13) Kurt Warner 9.8

What do you think about that Sando? maybe you can do something with all that, thought it was interesting stuff.

Mike Sando: Did something I once wrote give you the impression I liked to go back and study such things? Hmmm.

First, we're talking about good players here. You generally don't start lots of games over an extended period of time unless you're a pretty good player. Some quarterbacks might have been more durable but less appealing as starters.

What conclusions would you draw from the list, and was this in relation to our recent debate about the 18-game season?

Rio from Bellingham writes: Mike, I'm scared. As a Seahawk fan, all this talk about Stafford dropping to the 'Hawks has me losing sleep. I think Stafford is the next Tim Couch. Or Joey Harrington. Or whoever else you want. A 57% career completion number is disgusting. He throws almost one and a half picks for every two TDs. He makes horrible decisions.

Other than his incredible arm, Stafford does nothing for me. No, I'm not paid to analyze every play he makes, but there's got to be SOMETHING to those numbers. Please, tell me the 'Hawks aren't as intrigued by him as the experts say they are.

Mike Sando: People can't figure out Seattle, so they look at Matt Hasselbeck's recent injuries and the Seahawks' recent moves in free agency. They then figure Stafford has to go somewhere, and probably early, so why not Seattle? I don't rule it out, but neither is there any reliable evidence to suggest the Seahawks love this guy.

William from Utah writes: OK, first, the 18-game season will most likely affect everyone, so to put these six players is not fair. How big is the list going to grow after the first 18-game season? Secondly, let's say Frank Gore and Steven Jackson, these players are fairly young. And with both teams going to a more run-oriented offense, yes, if they don't get some running backs to so help carry the load, there will be alot more injuries to those running backs even in the 16-game regular season. But the other players that you mentioned are pretty much at the end of their carriers, so they will be at risk. Thank for your time.

Mike Sando: Did Kuharsky put you up to this?

Rob from Sacramento writes: I know I posted this question on FB and in your blog entry, but I thought I'd drive you crazy and ask it here too, in case it deserves mailbag attention.

Could you get your hands on some data as to how much injuries went up after the schedules expanded from 14 to 16 games, particularly how many injuries there were in the last two weeks, since that's when the extra wear and tear players weren't used to would have occurred.

I'd be very curious to get a real world look at just how much impact the 2 extra games might have. I know that reporting from then to today would show a huge difference because of technology and the ability to see things we couldn't see then, but maybe if you averaged the 5 years before & after it would give a pretty consistent look at the impact.

It's also something people could sink their teeth into instead of the more speculative concerns about it.

Mike Sando: I do not have access to that information, but I wish I did. Changes in the game would also affect injury information. Also, players today have so much money at stake. I wonder if some of them are more careful about their injuries than players years ago.