With Justin Smith apparently still undecided about whether to retire or return to the San Francisco 49ers, the team has decided to start kicking the tires on other Pro Bowl defensive linemen.

Darnell Dockett, released by the Arizona Cardinals last week in a move that saved them $6.8 million in salary-cap space, is visiting the 49ers Monday night, per ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder.

There is no risk in a visit, even with Dockett missing all of last season after tearing his ACL in training camp. The three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle had only missed two games in his previous 10 seasons, all in Arizona after the Cardinals made him a third-round pick out of Florida State in 2004.

Dockett, though, will be 34 on May 27.

In 158 games with Arizona, the 6-foot-4, 293-pound Dockett had 462 tackles, 41 sacks and four interceptions.

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Smith, who turns 36 on Sept. 30, would be entering his 15th NFL season and has started all 110 games in which he’s played for the Niners over seven seasons with five Pro Bowl appearances. He has 87 sacks in 221 career games and three interceptions.

Sunday night, Dockett tweeted the following:

The San Francisco 49ers are prepared to release receiver Stevie Johnson in an effort to create more salary-cap room before the start of the new league year on March 10, according to numerous reports.

Cutting Johnson would save the 49ers $6.025 million in cap space, according to overthecap.com.

The Niners were a mere $272,258 under the expected cap of $143 million as of Thursday afternoon, per ESPN Stats & Info. Earlier in the month, they were $6.6 million over an expected cap of $140 million.

Johnson, acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills for a conditional fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, has a contract cash value of $6.025 million this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The seven-year veteran caught 35 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns on 50 targets in 13 games last season, his lowest output since his second year in the league. Johnson’s big game as a Niner was a nine-catch, 103-yard outing in a Week 3 loss at the Arizona Cardinals.

NBC4 Washington first reported Johnson’s pending release.

And if Johnson is indeed cut, receiver becomes even more a position of need for the Niners, who are primed to lose Michael Crabtree, Brandon Lloyd and special-teams ace Kassim Osgood in free agency, with Anquan Boldin and Trindon Holliday entering the final years of their respective contracts.
The salary cap for the 2015 NFL season is expected to be $143 million, and with the San Francisco 49ers’ projected rollover money from last season, they are projected to now be under the cap.

As of Thursday afternoon.

Per ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers currently have $272,258 in salary-cap space. They were expected to be more than $6.6 million over a then-expected cap of $140 million earlier this month.

Only the New Orleans Saints ($22.2 million over the cap) and Super Bowl champion New England Patriots ($2.2 million over the cap) have worse cap figures.

Of course, teams can make room by cutting players or restructuring their contracts before the new league year begins March 10.

Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who has a cap number of $9.7 million, is the most likely candidate to be cut, with the emergence of Aaron Lynch. Brooks' playing time was reduced because of Lynch's emergence last season.

Also, All-Pro inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are both coming back from injury and, with respective cap numbers of $8.3 million and $7.7 million, are prime candidates to have their contracts restructured. Same with outside linebacker Aldon Smith, whose cap number is $9.8 million, second-highest on the team to quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s $15.3 million.

Smith is entering the final year of his contract.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- One way or another, the St. Louis Rams are going to add a young quarterback at some point this offseason. With that in mind, coach Jeff Fisher wanted to talk to former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke.

"There's going to be a time whether its here in two months or three months or whenever that we're going to have a young quarterback," Fisher said at last week's combine. "I don't think there is anybody better qualified to coach a young quarterback than him."

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsChris Weinke will likely be working with Sam Bradford and a rookie from this year's draft.
So it was that Weinke arrived in Indianapolis as the director of the football program at IMG Academy and left as the Rams quarterbacks coach. In some ways, it's entirely possible that adding Weinke to the mix might be one of the best moves the Rams will make this offseason.

Although this is Weinke's first foray into coaching at the NFL level, the type of experience he does have might be more beneficial than if he had been working in the league for the past five years. Working at IMG afforded Weinke the chance to come to St. Louis with perhaps the most diversified portfolio of any quarterbacks coach in the league.

"At the end of the day, I've been able to touch a lot of different guys with a lot of different skill sets coming from a lot of different backgrounds," Weinke said. "You have to adapt and you've got to be able to understand the importance of every quarterback as an individual. You may be able to understand something visually or you may have to write it down. I need to know what my quarterbacks can handle. So I will coach every quarterback with certain fundamentals, let them have some flexibility within that but then understand how they learn because that's the most important thing."

Along the way, Weinke worked with Carolina's Cam Newton, who came from a system that asked very little in terms of regurgitation and playing under center. For eight weeks in 2011, while the NFL was in a lockout, Weinke spent his mornings teaching Newton the finer points of taking snaps and basics like how to take a play call and spit it out in a huddle rather than look to the sideline for a number or a signal.

When those sessions were done, Weinke would turn his attention to working with another incoming rookie, Christian Ponder. He helped both essentially install their new offenses while their pro coaches weren't allowed to even have contact with their rookie quarterbacks.

The list of quarterbacks to work with Weinke also includes Seattle's Russell Wilson, Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater and Miami's Ryan Tannehill, among others. The detailed Weinke draws on his many years as a quarterback -- he's kept every note and game plan he's ever taken from Pop Warner to now -- to adapt to whatever style of quarterback he's working with.

The key, according to Weinke, isn't trying to reinvent the wheel so much as tweak it to become more efficient.

"I think when you look at all the different styles I've seen, what i do is not try to create a robot," Weinke said. "That's not what I'm trying to do. I want these guys to be able to play with confidence. I'm not going to try to change somebody's throwing motion. That's not what I'm in the business of doing. I'm going to take it and maybe tweak it a little so we can maximize whatever the good Lord gave him. So at the end of the day, I always said when you were a kid and picked up a rock and threw it in the lake, that's your natural throwing motion and you've been doing that your whole life. So who am I to think now at 20, 21, 22 years old that I'm going to change that? That's not a very smart move."

Instead, Weinke's focus is on fundamentals, starting with footwork and building from there up.

"It's hard for a one-legged man to be in a kickboxing fight, right?" Weinke said. "So understand you have got to have balance. How do we throw the football with maximum power from a good platform and be consistent and throw with accuracy? At the end of the day, we all understand that you must throw the football with anticipation in the National Football League."

In St. Louis, most signs point to Weinke working with Sam Bradford. Bradford is the only quarterback under contract and though his agent Tom Condon is in a serious game of chicken with the Rams at the moment, it still seems likely he'll be in St. Louis when all is said and done. Weinke and Bradford had dinner before Weinke was hired and Weinke has nothing but good things to say about Bradford.

"Love him," Weinke said. "I look back and every guy that I've evaluated coming out of college, a few years ago when Andrew Luck came out, they said who would you compare him to? And the closest I would see is Sam Bradford."

But even if Bradford is on board, the likelihood remains that the Rams will spend a relatively high pick on a new quarterback. Before Weinke, it was fair to wonder whether they had the coaching staff in place to take on a project from a spread system like UCLA's Brett Hundley or Baylor's Bryce Petty and develop him into a functional NFL quarterback.

With Weinke in place, you'd be hard-pressed to find a quarterback bringing something to the table he hasn't already seen.
TEMPE, Ariz. – As the 2014 season showed, the Arizona Cardinals' backups are as important as their starters.

On Thursday, the Cardinals committed to keeping one of those backups on their roster at one of their most important positions.

The Cardinals re-signed backup offensive tackle Bradley Sowell on Thursday to a one-year deal. Sowell, a swing tackle, didn’t play an offensive snap in 2014 a year after starting the final 12 games at left tackle. He played 60 special-teams snaps in all 16 games in 2014, however.

Sowell was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals on Sept. 1, 2013 after playing in 10 games in 2012 with Indianapolis, when Bruce Arians was the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim head coach. He went undrafted in 2012 out of the University of Mississippi, signing with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent.

Sowell is the first of Arizona's 2014 restricted free agents to re-sign with the team. The Cardinals have until March 10 to make qualifying offers to quarterback Ryan Lindley and defensive lineman Alameda Ta'amu.

The Cardinals also signed cornerback Damond Smith, who spent last preseason with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was on the practice squad of the B.C. Lions of the CFL in 2013. He went undrafted in the 2013 supplemental draft out of South Alabama. Smith began his college career at Western Michigan, then transferred to South Alabama after two seasons.
TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been no secret that one of the Arizona Cardinals needs this year is an outside linebacker who can rush the passer off the edge.

In his third mock draft of the offseason, ESPN NFL Draft Insider Todd McShay has stayed true to that, predicting the Cardinals would draft an OLB in all three of his installments. McShay’s most recent selection for the Cardinals at 24th has the size, speed and natural ability to make an immediate impact.

However, Arizona choosing Virginia’s Eli Harold might be a reach in the first round.

Harold is 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds and runs the 40-yard-dash in 4.6 seconds. He had an impressive combine and put up impressive numbers in the 40, 10-yard split (1.56 seconds) and the short shuttle (4.16 seconds). McShay said those are the three drills most indicative of success for pass rushers.

According to scouting reports, he has good range and can chase down runners on a straight line. Harold’s hands have also been impressive.

But one area where he struggles, according to those reports, is the same area that repeatedly hampered Arizona last season. According to an ESPN scouting report, Harold has trouble staying on carriers and is considered an “inconsistent” tackler.

In McShay’s most recent scenario, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was drafted three picks later. If Arizona’s need for a running back isn’t sufficiently filled in free agency, Gordon would be the better pick in this case.
Remember the derisively-titled Bush Bowl of New Year’s Day 2006?

The San Francisco 49ers, who entered the final game of the 2005 season with a record of 3-12, played host to the Houston Texans, who were 2-13. The loser, the thinking went, "earned" the No. 1 draft pick and, thus, the right to use said selection on Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back out of USC.

The 49ers won in overtime 20-17, giving the Texans the top pick, and they instead selected defensive end Mario Williams, who has been selected for four Pro Bowls and moved on to the Buffalo Bills.

The 49ers? They fell all the way back to No. 6 in the draft and took tight end Vernon Davis, one of just two top 10 picks from that draft still with their original team.

Bush, meanwhile, went No. 2 overall, to the New Orleans Saints and has not reached the NFL stardom expected of him nine years ago when the Texans passed on him. Bush later played for the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions, who cut him on Wednesday.

With Bush on the market, might the 49ers kick the tires on him and reimagine history had they lost to the Texans on Jan. 1, 2006, ended up with the first pick and selected Bush?

Of course, Frank Gore and the 49ers' interest in re-signing their all-time leading rusher is probably the biggest priority when it comes to their running back situation. But Bush, who turns 30 on Monday, is probably not the right fit anyway. At least, not if the 49ers' offense looks anything likes its disjointed self from last season.

Per Pro Football Focus, the 49ers attempted five screen passes to their running backs in 2014, and the running backs had 44 receptions total. With Bush more a pass-catching tailback than an every-down back, the 49ers making a run at him makes little sense.

Especially with everyone from general manager Trent Baalke to new coach Jim Tomsula promising a return to a power running scheme in 2015.

If Gore is indeed gone via free agency, as expected, Carlos Hyde figures to win the job.

In 11 games, nine starts, for the Lions last season Bush rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns on 76 carries (3.9 yards per carry average) and caught 40 passes for 253 yards. He did not have a receiving TD for the first time in his career.

Bush a 49er? Maybe as a change-of-pace back. But even then, the 49ers still have Kendall Hunter returning from a knee injury.

Fool’s gold or pay dirt? Feels more like fool’s good now, as it might have been in 2006, when he would have joined his old high school teammate Alex Smith in San Francisco.
Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2009 who spent the first four years of his NFL career with the team before leaving for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013, will visit with the Niners, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan has confirmed.

Jean Francois
The meeting makes sense in that Jean Francois’ position coach with the Niners was Jim Tomsula, the team's new head coach, and Tomsula confirmed last week at the NFL combine that the Niners would be staying in a 3-4 defensive alignment.

Jean Francois, who was cut by the Colts on Monday with two years remaining on his four-year, $22 million contract, had career highs in tackles (28) and sacks (three) last season. And with uncertainty over defensive end Justin Smith’s future, the Niners could do worse than to bring in a veteran who already knows the landscape in Santa Clara.

In Indianapolis, Jean Francois played primarily defensive tackle in the Colts' 3-4 defense. With the Niners, Jean Francois was primarily a nose tackle and started five of the 50 games he appeared in and had a combined three sacks and 49 tackles.

Jean Francois, 28, is also reportedly set to visit with Washington.

About those daily Sam Bradford rumors

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the latest churn of the Sam Bradford rumor mill, reports surfaced Tuesday that the Buffalo Bills are considering making a trade offer for the St. Louis Rams quarterback.

As is becoming increasingly common in this age of social media, those reports were summarily shot down with reports that no team has actually really pursued a trade for Bradford. The Buffalo rumors came on the heels of rumors that the Cleveland Browns had similar interest in Bradford. And those rumors followed speculation that Bradford had been given permission to seek a trade.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford
Tom Gannam/AP ImagesUnder Jeff Fisher, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has shined against NFC West foes.
In addition to all of that, there have been other reports that Bradford does not want to take a pay cut and instead of being traded would prefer to be outright released.

For what it's worth, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have dismissed most of those rumors. Fisher went so far as to call the trade permission rumor as "inaccurate" at last week's NFL scouting combine.

"When we've had him, he's 5-2-1 in our division," Fisher said. "And we weren't very good when we got here, so we're counting on him. I'm betting on him and if that doesn't happen, then we'll win games with somebody else."

So what do we make of all this? It's not unusual at this time of year and in these situations for these types of rumors to run rampant.

We do know the Rams would like to bring Bradford back at a cap number below his projected $16.58 million and a base salary less than his expected $12.985 million. We also know there isn't an agent in the league -- especially one representing a high-priced quarterback -- that would like to take a pay cut for a client.

That means it's in the best interest of Tom Condon, Bradford's agent, to do all he can to get the best deal possible out of the Rams. Rumors of other teams willing to trade or sign Bradford to big-money deals theoretically only drives the price up. It also doesn't mean any of those possibilities are real or an agreement won't eventually be reached.

If, indeed, some of those rumors materialized into legitimate offers then perhaps the Rams could consider it. While the Rams have repeatedly made it clear they are committed to having Bradford in 2015, it doesn't mean that a big offer wouldn't change their mind. Any player can be had for the right price, especially one coming off two consecutive torn ACLs.

But it's also worth noting if these teams were legitimately interested in Bradford, it stands to reason the Rams would have similar interest in keeping him. It's not like the Rams have a better option waiting in the wings and the list of available quarterbacks in free agency or ones they could realistically get in the draft don't offer a clear upgrade, either.

Simply put, Bradford is every bit as valuable to the Rams, probably more so, than he would be to other teams. It's Condon's job to figure out what that happy medium is. So even if at this very moment Condon would prefer not to take a pay cut for his client, it doesn't mean he won't after he gets a chance to gauge what Bradford might get if he were to come available.

And from a Rams' perspective, there's not necessarily a pressing need to get something done with Bradford. They need cap space but have other ways to obtain it by releasing players like tackle Jake Long, center Scott Wells and/or defensive tackle Kendall Langford or converting some of end Robert Quinn's base salary to signing bonus.

People close to Bradford insist he wants to stay in St. Louis in 2015. The Rams insist they want to keep him. What shape that takes will reveal itself in time but in the meantime, don't be surprised if the rumors persist.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The Arizona Cardinals' offseason to-do list has been quickly getting shorter by the week.

Next up is lowering Darnell Dockett's $9.8 million cap hit in 2015 either by giving him a new contract, restructuring his current deal or releasing the 11-year veteran.

With Larry Fitzgerald's new deal completed, and Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians receiving new contracts Monday, Arizona is now focused on Dockett.

“We’ve had a lot of dialogue with Drew Rosenhaus, his representative, and hopefully we’ll come to a happy agreement on both sides,” Keim said Tuesday.

Dockett is entering the final year of his contract and is scheduled to earn $6.8 million next season. His cap hit is the fifth largest on the roster behind Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer and Fitzgerald.

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said Tuesday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that he wants Dockett to retire as a Cardinal.

“We love Darnell,” he said. “We drafted him. We drafted him in the same class as Fitz. I’d love to have him retires as a Cardinal. I think that’s what he needs to do, is stay in a Cardinal uniform. We’re looking forward to working with him to restructure his deal. It will free up some cap space so we can be out there being aggressive and being a team and getting a ring on his finger.”

Dockett will turn 34 in May and is coming off ACL surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2014 season.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Before Steve Keim was promoted to general manager in 2013, the Arizona Cardinals trusted simple scouting and number crunching to determine who to pay and what to pay them.

That’s changed under Keim.

In an excellent and impressive project by ESPN The Magazine, the use of analytics was analyzed (coincidence? I think not) across the four major sports. In the NFL category, the Cardinals were among 12 teams in the “skeptics” category.

The Magazine said the Cardinals were in the “analytics dark ages” before Keim was named general manager. He didn’t do a total overhaul of how Arizona evaluated players, but he incorporated analytics into his tried-and-true scouting techniques.

But the real reason for Arizona’s ascent into the world of analytics was Mike Disner, the Cardinals' director of football administration. In laymen’s terms, he’s the Cards’ cap guy. When he was hired in 2013, he incorporated statistical data and projections -- metrics most teams, but not the Cardinals -- were already using.

The project was broken up into five categories in each sport: All-in, Believers, One Foot In, Skeptics and Nonbelievers. The NFL was the only league among the four to not have any teams who are All-in.

Using analytics clearly works. Both Super Bowl teams are among the half of the league that have at least “one foot in.” The Patriots were believers and the Seahawks had one foot in.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Like quarterback Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams left tackle Jake Long is currently in the process of coming back from a second torn anterior cruciate ligament in as many seasons. Also like Bradford, Long is due a large salary cap number in 2015 and cutting him would provide the Rams with much-needed wiggle room heading into free agency.

Unlike Bradford, however, there haven't been as many open votes of confidence that Long will return to the Rams in 2015. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Long is due to count $10.5 million against the cap next season with a base salary of $9.25 million.

[+] EnlargeJake Long
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Rams are discussing options with tackle Jake Long if he's healthy enough to return.
Releasing Long outright would save the Rams $8 million against the cap or as much as $9.25 million if they designate him a post-June 1 cut. Considering Long's recent injury history, releasing him seems like an obvious choice.

But at the NFL scouting combine, Rams general manager Les Snead acknowledged that dialogue with Long is also open and coach Jeff Fisher said that the Rams are discussing other options.

"There are possibillities, yes," Fisher said. "They've been discussed."

Fisher has already made it clear that Greg Robinson will stay at left tackle moving forward, meaning the options for Long are three-pronged.

First and foremost, Long's return would seem dependent on coming back at a reduced rate. The Rams figure to be up close to the salary cap, though they have ways to create space by releasing some players, Long included. It's unlikely, though, that Long would be able to come anywhere near his current salary if he hit the open market because of his injury history.

Which brings us to the next piece of the puzzle: where Long might fit in. Fisher has previously said Long could potentially move inside to guard but he could also become a candidate to flip to right tackle depending on what happens with unrestricted free agent Joe Barksdale. Barksdale will likely test the market and figures to draw his share of interest.

Of course, neither of those issues matters if Long doesn't return to health. There was a time when it wasn't even certain Long wanted to go through another rehab but he's been progressing recently.

"Jake's doing well," Fisher said. "You know he spent all the way up to a few weeks ago at the facility rehabbing. He's out in California working out and is doing well. I don't know what it looks like. If he comes back and is 100 percent then he'll have a chance to be a part and contribute to what we're doing. But there's some time between now and then."

Snead echoed those sentiments, saying that Long has "turned a corner" in the past month or so. Bringing Long back at a reduced rate wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- preclude the Rams from drafting a tackle this year if there was one they liked.

In two seasons in St. Louis, Long has been a valuable locker room guy and was helpful for Robinson in his first year. Even if he can't start, if he could be brought back to provide some veteran depth (assuming he's willing), it would give the Rams something they lacked in 2014. Last year, the Rams offensive line started the regular season without a backup with any meaningful experience.

"I can say this about Jake Long: you want that human being on the football team," Snead said. "He’s a football player, he makes you a lot better. As he rehabs, if he can get back to Jake Long previous knee, he can help the team win."

There are plenty of options for the Rams when it comes to Long's future with the team but it's a decision they'll have to make sooner than later.
TEMPE, Ariz. – It was a matter of when, not if.

Monday’s announcement by the Arizona Cardinals that coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim were given new four-year contracts wasn’t a surprise. And not just because team president Michael Bidwill has said over the last two months he wanted to keep them in Arizona.

After two seasons together, Arians and Keim produced 21 wins and the team’s first playoff berth since 2009. They’ve turned around the culture of a franchise that had just three winning seasons in the 28 years before both assumed their current positions.

Arizona could’ve won more games and gone farther in the playoffs had injuries not curtailed any momentum last season. Arians and Keim had to navigate 21 players missing a combined 109 games. Yet, they were able to keep the Cardinals winning because both stayed true to their roles.

Keim has become a master at churning through the bottom of the roster, using the waiver wire as his own free-agent orchard. Over the last two seasons, Keim has made 410 roster moves. Of the 53 players on Arizona’s final roster of 2014, he was responsible for acquiring 40 of them, and among those 40, 13 were draft picks from the last two years.

Arians has been able to take those new faces -- sometimes they’re so new that he gets them on Tuesday and plays them on Sunday -- and win. And winning is the best elixir in football.

They deserved new deals because they’ve made the Cardinals a perennial contender by accomplishing a rare feat among GMs and head coaches: harmony.

“The reason why Bruce and I work so well together is clearly defined roles and stay in you lane,” Keim told SiriusXM NFL Radio last week at the NFL combine. “Coach coaches them up. I bring the players in. We have such a great deal of respect for each other.”

While Keim is responsible for finding the talent -- such as wide receiver John Brown -- and taking risks -- such as safety Tyrann Mathieu or quarterback Carson Palmer -- it’s Arians whose scheme is working. He was known as an offensive genius from his work in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, and when he got to Arizona the Cardinals took time picking up his offense.

But with the right players in 2014, Arians built off a 10-win season in 2013 and led the Cardinals to 11 wins and the playoffs.

Keeping Arians and Keim together was another right move by Bidwill, who showed the rest of the franchise his commitment to winning. This run Arizona is on isn’t just a short-term ride.

Bidwill showed he’s in it for the long haul. And the future includes Arians and Keim.
Three important things we learned about the Seattle Seahawks during the NFL scouting combine at Indianapolis, which ended Monday:

1. Lynch will be back -- It's not official yet, but it's almost a certainty that Marshawn Lynch will return next season as the starting running back. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made it clear that the team has made Lynch a "big offer" and they expect him back. That offer is reportedly $11 to $12 million for 2015 and $9 million for 2016. But this really is about 2015, which the Seahawks realize could be Lynch's last year before calling it quits. He wasn't going to return for the $7 million he was scheduled to make on the last year of his current deal. He will come back for $12 million.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesGuaranteeing Russell Wilson's entire contract could save the Seahawks room in the salary cap.
2. The walking wounded Legion of Boom -- If cornerback Byron Maxwell leaves in free agency as expected, it means the top five remaining players in the Seattle secondary all have injuries to get over before next season. Two new problems we learned about at the combine are nickelback Jeremy Lane's upcoming ACL knee surgery (he already had surgery to repair the compound fracture in his left arm) and possible surgery for cornerback Tharold Simon to repair the shoulder he dislocated late in the season. Lane may not be ready until midseason. Simon is the likely starter at this point if Maxwell leaves.

All three of the other starters have injuries -- free safety Earl Thomas will have shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, strong safety Kam Chancellor has a torn MCL that won't need surgery, and cornerback Richard Sherman has a torn ligament in his left elbow, but won't need Tommy John surgery. What all this means for the Seahawks is they have to get help in the secondary, through the draft and probably through free agency. One possible target could be former Seahawk Walter Thurmond, a free agent who can play outside or in the slot.

3. Wilson's upcoming deal could set a new standard -- Everyone knows that quarterback Russell Wilson soon will sign a new contract that will make him one of the highest paid player's in the game. Both Carroll and Schneider said there is no timetable to get the deal done, but they are working on it, and Schneider already said they are thinking "outside the box" on Wilson's deal. What could make this deal unique is the possibility of it becoming the first major NFL contract to be fully guaranteed in order to help the Seahawks with salary-cap issues.

That's a revolutionary concept. All guaranteed contracts aren't done in the NFL because of the high risk of injury, but in this case it makes sense. NFL contracts are misleading. A star player can sign a $100 million deal, but maybe only half of that is guaranteed money, and that's what counts. Wilson could sign a $100-million deal with $50 million to $60 million guaranteed, or he could sign a $75 million deal with all of it guaranteed. Wilson and his representatives might be willing to go that route, which would help the Seahawks. Even if Wilson were to suffer a season-ending knee injury next season, it isn't like they are going to release him. So make it all guaranteed and save some cap room.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As rumors, speculation and everything in between continue to pile up on the possibility of the St. Louis Rams and/or the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers moving to Los Angeles, it can be difficult not to get caught up in any of it.

Barring a surprising (though not shocking) shift change in which Rams owner Stan Kroenke or one of the other owners attempts to go rogue and move to Los Angeles in 2015, nothing figures to be settled until next year. Which means it's best for all involved to focus on what they can control in the meantime.

That includes Rams coach Jeff Fisher. After reports surfaced Thursday night that the Chargers and Raiders are planning to team up for a new stadium in Carson, California, should efforts for new stadiums in their current markets fail in 2015, Fisher was asked about what he's been hearing on the possibility of the Rams relocating.

"If I don't know anything, then when someone asks me and I say I don't know anything, then I'm telling the truth," Fisher said. "So, my focus, and of course this is coach-speak, is on this year and our football team in St. Louis. And as things come up, nearly on a daily basis right now, they're going to continue to change and whatever happens, happens. But I love St. Louis, we've got a great fan base. We've got some work to do as we go through this process, however it ends up, but our focus is on 2015."

In theory, that's probably the best approach for everyone to take, but it's much harder in practice because, as Fisher said, there will be new developments and rumors popping up all the time. But Fisher has no reason to say anything but what he said given the situation he's entering in 2015.

This is the fourth year of the Fisher regime in St. Louis, and so far that hasn't yielded so much as a winning season. There needs to be progress on the field for the future of the team to even matter much to Fisher and Co. So taking the pragmatic approach while also offering praise for the fans of St. Louis is a logical response.

"Those that came out saw some really good football games," Fisher said. "The true fans that know what we're doing see improvement."