Beyond the Draft: The NFC West

Posted May 10, 2006

After the draft, personnel departments don't shelve their notebooks and head to Maui - in the NFL, there is always work to be done. Free agents, whether undrafted or through the waiver wire, can always make a difference. Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar looks at the post-draft moves made by each NFC West entrant, and the remaining needs for all four teams.

Arizona Cardinals

Recent Free-Agent Moves

Arizona signed LB Mark Brown and P Fred Capshaw on May 4th. Brown, who played for the Jets over the last three seasons, had a career-high 65 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble last season. The former Auburn UDFA will bring much-needed depth to the Cardinals' linebacker corps. Capshaw was cut by the 49ers in their 2003 training camp.

Remaining Team Needs

Although USC guard Taitusi "Deuce" Lutui was a good pickup, serious questions still abound as to the potential effectiveness of the Cardinal o-line. Matt Leinart, in particular, will not be used to such a porous front five. That's the downside of the pro-level training he received at USC—he was also the beneficiary of a series of great offensive lines. Edgerrin James will also presumably feel the effects of running without Indy's line, ranked first by Football Outsiders in 2005 in Adjusted Line Yards. Arizona's success will be dependent, first and foremost, on this underachieving unit. Defensively, the secondary requires Antrel Rolle's return — but the 2005 first-rounder may need arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. This is the same knee that required meniscus surgery and forced Rolle to miss nine games in his rookie season.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

Arizona agreed to terms with ten undrafted free agents on May 4th. Perhaps the most interesting talent is Georgia Tech receiver Damarius Bilbo. Bilbo played three seasons at wideout for the Yellowjackets, and enjoyed a career-high 40 receptions for 591 yards in 2005. He's also a lock for induction into anyone's NFL All-Name Team. Another receiver, Pitt's Greg Lee, will be reunited with former teammate Larry Fitzgerald, at least in the short term. Princeton CB Jay McCareins is the younger brother of Jets receiver Justin McCareins, and led Division I-AA with 9 interceptions, 20 passes defended, two interceptions for touchdowns and 236 interception return yards during the 2005 season.

St. Louis Rams

Recent Free-Agent Moves

On April 30, St. Louis traded TE Brandon Manumaleuna to the Chargers for a fourth-round pick, using that selection to draft Victor Adeyanju.

Remaining Team Needs

Clemson CB Tye Hill, a potential first-year playmaker, makes the paucity of talent in the secondary a far less pressing issue. The Rams are hoping that LSU DT Claude Wroten's off-field problems will a.) Allow them, in retrospect, to have grabbed a first-round talent in the third; and b.) Disappear with his ascent into the big leagues. History is not on Wroten's side — the NFL tends to make you more of what you were before — but if he bucks the odds, he has the kind of explosion off the snap needed by St. Louis in their interior line.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

Among the Rams' UDFAs are UConn basketball player Ed Nelson, who aspires to join the ever-increasing number of hardwood-to-gridiron TE converts, and Morehouse College grad John David Washington. Washington is his school's all-time leading rusher, but that's not why he's getting a remarkable amount of press for a Division II player — his father is actor Denzel Washington. The elder Washington played one season at Fordham before moving on to far greener pastures.

San Francisco 49ers

Recent Free-Agent Moves

San Francisco added a mentor for Alex Smith in the form of Trent Dilfer, trading Ken Dorsey and a low 2006 pick to Cleveland for his services. Dilfer could be classified as this generation's Steve DeBerg — an always unheralded player whose ability to assist young quarterbacks on their way to greater things will likely mark his career more than the Super Bowl he won with Baltimore. If Smith wants to retain a bit of optimism after his horrible rookie campaign, he should ask former sixth-round draft pick Matt Hasselbeck how much Dilfer had to do with the maturation of the NFC's current best signal-caller.

Remaining Team Needs

The additions of Antonio Bryant and Vernon Davis will be enough to bolster the passing game — or at least allow it to rise somewhere above comatose. The 49ers are hoping that draftees Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson can replicate the rookie successes of Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill in Seattle, but asking two rookies to anchor a formerly depleted group isn't generally an instant total success scenario. The most obvious need for San Francisco remains the secondary, and the team has done remarkably little to address this issue. San Francisco's 2006 season could turn out to be an object lesson in the value of defensive backs versus wide receivers on draft day — especially when creating positional depth in the later rounds. Having said that, it's hard to criticize personnel maven Scot McCloughan too harshly. His mission is to rebuild a team with debits at just about every position, and under those circumstances, you could second-guess any direction he chooses.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

USC's Tom Malone was one of the nation's top punters in 2005. Long Beach State power forward Onye Ibekwe, a 6-foot-5, 256-pound monster, will join St. Louis' Ed Nelson and the Giants' Jai Lewis as undrafted free agents who played no football at the collegiate level. All three players are being asked to follow in the footsteps of Antonio Gates by transferring their athletic skills to the tight end position. San Francisco also picked up two tackle prospects — Mississippi's Bobby Harris can play guard as well, and was on quote a few top 40 lists at his position. Florida's Tavares Washington is a JuCo transfer who started 10 games for the Gators last season. He is also quite probably the only professional football player named after a group who sang on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

Seattle Seahawks

Recent Free-Agent Moves

The Seahawks traded their sixth-round pick to the Chicago Bears for safety Mike Green, who had fallen out favor in the Windy City. Green fell victim to a rash of pass interference penalties last season, but he's a good special teams player who can back up at both safety spots. Green was also the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2000 draft class — picked 254th overall out of Northwestern State (Louisiana). He re-signed with Chicago in 2003, receiving a five-year, $10 million contract. The Seahawks are also hoping for the full return of FS Ken Hamlin, who is participating in the team's current non-contact minicamps after suffering a serious head injury in an off-field incident last October.

On May 9, the Seahawks agreed to terms on a one-year contract with former Raiders and 49ers DE Chris Cooper, who will recieve a $585,000 base salary in 2006. Cooper missed the entire 2005 season with a shoulder injury, but he impressed Seattle's personnel people during the team's recent mandatory minicamp. Drafted in the sixth round by Oakland in 2001, and released by San Francisco on February 24 of this year, Cooper has amassed 105 tackles (80 solo), 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 4 passes defensed in his career.

In 2004, Cooper was one of three active players who was fined by the NFL after testing positive for the designer steroid THG. He was placed on "reasonable-cause testing" for the rest of his career, and will be suspended for eight games if he ever tests positive for any steroid again.

Remaining Team Needs

The reigning NFC champs took care of their two most pressing needs with Miami CB Kelly Jennings and Virginia Tech DE Darryl Tapp. The latter will find a place as a dedicated edge-rusher, a "luxury" position more easily manned by a rookie. Jennings will be in the crosshairs from the word go — Seattle's interest in Ty Law seems to be dwindling daily, and the former Hurricane will compete to start over nickel corner Kelly Herndon right away. Should Hamlin's return to the field prove unsuccessful, Seattle will have a hole at the starting free safety position. Steve Hutchinson's infamous move to Minnesota leaves the Seahawks bare from an elite guard standpoint, but the team's impressive o-line depth allows them to plug multiple options in next to Walter Jones through training camp and the preseason until the right replacement is found.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note

Auburn CB Kevin Hobbs impressed at his Pro Day with a 4.37-40, but he's shown more athleticism than true coverage ability throughout his career. Florida State TE Matt Henshaw is a hard-working blocker who father George coaches tight ends for the Titans. Boston College center Pat Ross could surprise — he's a cerebral, smallish player who can fold in a bull rush, but uses technique to overcome. At least one national draft expert ranks him as the top center not selected.

Perhaps the most interesting talent on Seattle's UDFA roster, Montana State QB Travis Lulay, put up some crazy numbers in Division 1-AA ball (10,746 yards, 58 touchdown passes, 23 rushing touchdowns) and was renowned for pulling his team through several fourth-quarter comebacks.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to contact him here.

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