Mailbag: Curry, Dockett, Atogwe, more

Jimmy from Seattle writes: Mike, enjoy your coverage of the NFC West. I have several questions.

  • What can we expect from Marcus Trufant this year? Going from Pro Bowl to most penalized defensive back in a year, what gives?

  • A lot of analysts give Seattle one of the best -- if not, the best, drafts this year. However, I still see a gaping hole for a defensive end. Do you see the Hawks trying to upgrade or stick with what they currently have?

  • For Aaron Curry, how much of last year's disappointing performance do you attribute to personal performance as compared to inability of the coaching staff to maximize his skills?

Mike Sando: Curry was productive for the first five or six games. He was an ascending player at that point. Then, he seemed to lose his way. So did the team. Losing Lofa Tatupu hurt him as well. Expect better things from Curry.

You're right about the positive draft reviews for Seattle. You're also right to say the situation at defensive end could be problematic. Those things aren't exclusive. Seattle could not fill every need in one draft. We now need to see how the defense is structured and to what degree the team will scheme around not having a proven pass-rushing defensive end. We should expect the Seahawks to run a 4-3 with some 3-4 characteristics. They'll have a stand-up end working with three bigger, run-defending linemen, most likely.

Trufant, meanwhile, went to the Pro Bowl after the 2007 season. Seattle was the only team in the league with a Pro Bowl starter at defensive end (Patrick Kerney), linebacker (Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson) and cornerback (Trufant) coming out of the 2007 season. Seems like about 10 years ago. His problems last season were injury related. He missed all of training camp and most of the first half of the season, then had to hit the ground running in a defense he had never practiced.

Trufant looked healthy at the post-draft camp. It was a first step. We all know back injuries can be problematic. Trufant previously had shoulder issues. It's fair to wonder whether he'll hold up for a full season and play at a high level even though the early signs this offseason were encouraging for him.

Arlan from San Francisco writes: Hey Sando, thanks for all your work on the NFC West. I have a question about contracts. Since there isn't a salary cap this year, what's stopping teams who have multiple stars nearing the ends of their contracts from signing these players to long-term deals and putting the majority of the bonus/salary into this year's cap? For example, the 49ers have or had to sign Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Aubrayo Franklin and Alex Smith.

Mike Sando: Rules prevent salaries from increasing more than 30 percent each year. Teams can get around this with larger signing bonuses, but those larger bonuses require cash. Teams must decide how much guaranteed money they are willing to commit. It's easier for a team to commit more guaranteed money for a proven player than for a merely promising one. Patrick Willis is the exception, not the rule. The 49ers also used some creative measures in putting together that deal, including the use of incentives to drive up future base salaries.

Re-signing Davis is the obvious priority. He is a Pro Bowl player entering his prime, and a player the team has drafted and developed. Sign him. On Franklin, though, I think the team could be wiser dangling that carrot another year. Let's see if he'll play at a high level consistently, not just for one season. Smith, meanwhile, is in another category. He has not earned a long-term deal. Watch him play this year, then worry about what he'll cost if he produces at a high level. Teams can always find ways to pay good quarterbacks.

Scotty from St. Louis writes: I know the Rams have a need at backup running back. I'm still trying to figure out why they didn't trade a fifth-rounder for Leon Washington, but would they have any interest in Justin Fargas? I'm not sure who else is out there, but wouldn't he fit as a backup/fill-in for Jackson? Thanks!

Mike Sando: You're welcome. Fargas is available. He's also 30 years old and averaged less than 4 yards a carry three times in his past four seasons, and multiple teams passed on him this offseason after the Raiders failed him on a physical examination after releasing him.

Brian Westbrook reportedly passed his physical with the Rams when visiting the team earlier this offseason. He was visiting the Redskins this week.

Tevin asks via Facebook: Do you think (Rams safety) Oshiomogho Atogwe will go to free agency? I mean, last year our starting corner (Ron Bartell) went into free agency and we re-signed him, so I don't see the big deal. We might lose him, but I don't think we should overpay for someone who can't cover that good.

Mike Sando: Price is clearly the question here. Atogwe hits the market if the Rams do not sign him to a long-term deal or upgrade their one-year offer from $1.226 million to nearly $7 million. There isn't a lot of flexibility within those parameters, particularly with Atogwe's shoulder injury still a potential question mark.

It's tough for the Rams because they can't afford to lose their best players. At the same time, does Atogwe project as an elite safety in 2010? And will there really be a huge market for Atogwe right now? Teams think they've fixed their problems through the draft, although Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. mentioned this week that Atogwe would look good in Dallas.

Justin from Scottsdale writes: Mike, love the blog and thanks for all of the great reads! Question on Arizona and their commitment to spending. With seven of their top 10 salary-cap hits leaving the team, coupled with the uncapped year, I didn't expect a free agency explosion with the Cardinals, but thought an obvious move would be to extend Darnell Dockett.

Front-loading the deal with a big signing bonus without salary cap penalties eliminates the excuse of this tying their hands in terms of additional deals this offseason. What gives? Looking at their free-agent signings, I'd ballpark the 2010 salary cap hit at perhaps $10-15 million for the newcomers, and they're saving $47 million-plus with all of the departures!!!

Mike Sando: Yes, it is time for the Cardinals to get more serious about extending Dockett. Reading between the lines, it sounds like things are heading in that direction. Dockett showed up for the recent camp. He hasn't been complaining about his deal very much in the recent past. Perhaps he can set the record straight if things are not headed in the right direction.

Dockett has two years left on his deal, so there is time, but the team also suggested in the past that it would do something when the time was right. The time appears right from my angle because there really isn't anyone ahead of Dockett in line for a new deal. In the past, the Cardinals always had more urgent business, whether it was retaining Karlos Dansby or even considering a deal for Anquan Boldin. Dockett also has relatively large base salaries ($3.75 million in 2010, $4 million in 2011). That could help them structure a new deal for Dockett while still complying with the 30 percent rule. The 49ers were able to get a deal done for Willis. Seems like Arizona could get one done with Dockett.

The Cardinals' payroll has dropped considerably. I don't think they lost seven of their top 10 cap charges, but Kurt Warner was going to earn $11.5 million in salary and bonus money. Dansby had been earning close to $10 million. Boldin was going to earn $3 million. Antrel Rolle was scheduled to earn $12.1 million, but all parties knew they would never pay that money (the figure was a mechanism for doing a new deal). Bryant McFadden was scheduled to earn $5 million in salary and bonus.