Mailbag: What to do with Warner's money

NWCards from Mukilteo, Wash., writes: Sando, what will the Cards do with the $11.5M they saved with the Kurt Warner retirement? How does it affect the free-agent situation? Do they get to sign a free agent with the same dollar value to replace him? Of course, this is the Bidwills we're talking about here. They may just want to keep the $11.5M.

Mike Sando: Warner is retiring. He is not leaving as an unrestricted free agent. Therefore, the Cardinals do not get the benefits associated with losing a player in free agency (in terms of a compensatory draft choice and considerations related to being one of the final eight playoff teams).

Arizona definitely saves the $4 million Warner would have earned in base salary for 2010. Warner forfeited that money by retiring. The other $7.5 million to which you refer represents the second half of the $15 million that counted as the "signing bonus" he received upon signing the deal.

The bonus was set up like most large signing bonuses. The team scheduled the bonus in two payments of $7.5 million, one last year and one this offseason. It was pretty much a given that Warner would not receive the second payment if he retired after one season. He retired before receiving the second payment of $7.5 million, and obviously the Cardinals aren't going to pay it now. Teams set up large bonus payments this way so they're not left trying to recoup money after a player walks away.

Back to your point. The Cardinals will have $11.5 million in their pockets that they would have paid to Warner had he kept playing. This should help their short-term cash flow, but I also think they will not spend the money just because they have it. Warner was worth the money. Not everyone else is worth the money.

The NFL is heading into an uncertain labor situation. Teams will be less excited about committing big money on long-term contracts. I would not expect the Cardinals to rush out and find ways to spend that money. If you blame that solely on the Cardinals' ownership, you're probably overlooking the fact that a lot of teams will proceed that way.

Dylan from Washington, D.C., writes: Hey Mike, I love the blog and I read it every day. I know a lot of readers have said it before, bus as a 49ers fan, it is hard to get quality info out east. My question is of course a draft question. I know the 49ers need a right tackle, a safety and a big-play/return man. I have read a lot of mock drafts saying they go tackle and safety in the first round, but I was thinking a different line and was wondering what you thought of it.

I read the scouting reports on Myron Rolle, and I liked him in college, and I was wondering if the 49ers would consider holding off until the second round and pick up Rolle to eventually replace Lewis at strong safety so that they can draft someone like C.J. Spiller with 13 and the best offensive tackle available with 16?

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support. I would take no issue with the 49ers waiting until after the first round to take a safety. I could even see them waiting until after the first round to take an offensive lineman, although they do need to find their next right tackle.

Safety generally is not a premium position. If you take one in the first round, that safety should be a dynamic talent, not just an OK starter. Very few safeties affect the game enough to justify picking one that early.

The perceived need at running back is a bit odd because the team has Frank Gore and 2009 third-rounder Glen Coffee already on the roster, while Michael Robinson is another running back commanding a roster spot. Is that really the position where the 49ers need to find their return guy? Or might the team be wiser using an earlier pick on a cornerback prospect who could help on returns before developing into a starter? I'm not sure I know the answer. It does seem as though the 49ers could use a change-of-pace running back.

Tim from Orlando, Fla., writes: The Rams are bad now, but historically they are far from inept. Since 1974, the Rams have played in nine conference title games and three Super Bowls.

Mike Sando: I wondered if someone would take issue with my use of the word "inept" to describe the state of the Rams and Cardinals before Kurt Warner arrived. The Rams had posted nine consecutive losing seasons before Warner and the 1999 team produced a 13-3 record. That is pretty inept.

The Cardinals' situation might bear revisiting. Warner was actually 3-12 as a their starter over a two-year period before things began to change under Ken Whisenhunt in 2007. I had associated the revival more with the 2008 season, when Whisenhunt committed to Warner as the starter.

IdahoVandalHawk from Bend, Ore., writes: Hey Mike, maybe this is a stupid question, but why do you think the "head coach in waiting" idea worked so well for Jim Caldwell and the Colts and so poorly for Jim Mora and the Seahawks?

Many fans and members of the media felt that the Holmgren-to-Mora transition was doomed from the start. When Caldwell was named the successor to Tony Dungy a year before Dungy retired, did we hear any complaints from Indianapolis? Obviously, having Peyton Manning on your team can't hurt, but it can't be all Peyton, can it? Your thoughts? Thanks.

Mike Sando: It can be 50 percent or 75 percent Manning, and that is a huge difference. We also need to consider the personalities of the people involved, and the football leadership of both organizations.

Mike Holmgren made it known over time that he wasn't all that excited about the team naming Mora as his successor. It wasn't that Holmgren had anything against Mora. He just would have preferred if the whole transitional thing hadn't been announced. He also didn't like it when people made it seem like he was a big backer of the plan, when in reality that move was largely a Tim Ruskell production.

For the Colts, Dungy was very much behind the decision to elevate Caldwell. Dungy also doesn't seem to let his ego factor into these personal interactions as much as the people in Seattle allowed egos to affect the dynamics. That is another big difference.

Also, the Colts have a very strong football operations man in president Bill Polian. The Colts have drafted very well under Polian even though they routinely pick later than most teams (Manning helps make those picks look better, but still, the bottom line is the same).

Taking those factors into account helps explain why things worked so well for the Colts. Remove any one of those factors -- particularly the talent that leads to winning, which makes everything OK -- and things can break down quickly.