Dallas Cowboys: dennis dixon

Eight in the Box: NFC East camp battles

July, 26, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each NFC East team as training camps get underway.

Dallas Cowboys: No. 2 tight end

The Cowboys used a second-round pick on tight end Gavin Escobar, even though starting tight end Jason Witten isn't going anywhere, and they liked what James Hanna showed as a receiver during his 2012 rookie season. They also signed veteran Dante Rosario and continue to look out for a more blocking-oriented tight end. What this all means is that the Cowboys would like to use more two-tight end sets in 2013 (and presumably beyond), largely eliminating the fullback position from their offense and offering quarterback Tony Romo a greater variety of options in the passing game. Training camp will help reveal the depth chart and the ways in which these guys all can expect to be used. Was Escobar drafted because they liked his ability to do something specific? Can Hanna hold him off for reps? How does Rosario factor into the mix? Change is afoot in the Cowboys' offense, and the tight end position is a big part of it.

New York Giants: Starting running back

David Wilson, their first-round pick from the 2012 draft, emerged as an electrifying kick returner in his rookie season and flashed big-play ability out of the backfield. He is the odds-on favorite to seize the starting running back role following the team's release of Ahmad Bradshaw. But, as is often the case, things aren't that simple. The Giants liked Andre Brown a lot as a goal-line back last season and used him a couple of times as a starter, with some success. He's back, and he doesn't intend to hand the job to Wilson without a fight. The Giants' backfield depth chart also includes veteran Ryan Torain, third-year fan favorite Da'Rel Scott and rookie Michael Cox. And these are the Giants, remember -- a pass-first offensive team that needs its running backs to pick up the blitz and help keep Eli Manning safe. Wilson offers the most upside as a runner, but it's entirely possible he could lose the starting job to a better blocker during this camp.

Philadelphia Eagles: Starting quarterback

What else is there? This is the big story of the Eagles' camp and will be one of the big stories in the NFL for the next month. Veteran Michael Vick has the experience, the foot speed and the arm strength, but new coach Chip Kelly wants a quarterback who can avoid turnovers, get rid of the ball quickly and make good, fast decisions in tight spots. These have not been Vick's strengths, which is likely why he faces a challenge from second-year quarterback Nick Foles and maybe even rookie Matt Barkley or veteran backup Dennis Dixon. Vick has to show that he's capable of running Kelly's offense the way Kelly wants it run -- and that he won't revert to his career-long tendencies to try to extend plays and make something happen with pure athleticism. If he can rein it in and operate the offense efficiently, it's his job. If he can't, one of the younger guys could snatch it from him and cost him his roster spot entirely.

Washington Redskins: No. 2 wide receiver

This would be the "Z" receiver in the Redskins' offense. Pierre Garcon plays the "X" position -- the outside receiver who lines up on the line of scrimmage. Santana Moss likely plays the slot again. The "Z" is the outside receiver opposite Garcon -- the "flanker" who lines up off the line of scrimmage to keep the tight end eligible and motions to different parts of the formation if that's called for. The candidates here are Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan and Aldrick Robinson. Morgan is the most polished and well rounded of this group, but he has trouble staying healthy. Hankerson is the one the coaches believe has the most upside, but he hasn't been able to develop consistency in his game. If he could, he'd be a valuable piece, because the Redskins believe they can use him in the slot as well. Robinson showed a lot of potential as a favored deep threat last season for Robert Griffin III, but he also has a lot to learn before he's a complete enough player to be used reliably here. Watch to see if Hankerson shows drastic Year 3 improvement in camp. If he does, it's likely his spot to lose, especially if Morgan is banged up as usual.

Eight in the Box: Key offseasons

May, 10, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each NFC East team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

Dallas Cowboys: DT Jay Ratliff

He missed 10 games in 2012 due to injury. He cursed out the team's owner after a game. He got busted for driving under the influence mere weeks after friend and defensive linemate Jerry Brown was killed in an accident for which friend and defensive linemate Josh Brent is facing intoxication manslaughter charges. He costs $4.072 million against the salary cap for a team that struggled all offseason to find cap room. It's kind of a miracle Ratliff is still on the roster. One of the reasons the Cowboys decided to switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment was their belief that Ratliff would thrive as one of two defensive tackles in Monte Kiffin's defense, and in order to overcome all of the good reasons they have to get rid of him, Ratliff could stand to look as healthy and dominant as possible this offseason on that defensive line.

New York Giants: RB David Wilson

The Giants let Brandon Jacobs leave as a free agent last offseason and released Ahmad Bradshaw this offseason, which means their running game has been completely overhauled. Wilson, their 2012 first-round draft pick, needs to be a big part of what that running game becomes this year. He showed last season that he has a quick burst and big-play capability, and he became a force on kick returns. Wilson should get the opportunity this offseason to show that he can handle the responsibilities of a No. 1 feature running back. With the Giants, those responsibilities include blitz pickup and pass-protection duties. If Wilson shows advancement in those areas and the ability to handle regular carries, he could keep Andre Brown in a goal-line role and decrease the team's need to find a third-down back with Bradshaw-like blocking ability. If not, the Giants could be tinkering with their run game all year.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick

Vick is the clear favorite to win the Eagles' starting quarterback job. He has considerably more NFL experience and more 2013 upside than any of his challengers. He still has the arm strength, the speed and the athleticism to offer the Eagles something at the quarterback position that no other team in the league has -- the stuff that has made coach after coach dream of what's possible since he was lighting it up at Virginia Tech. However, Vick will turn 33 next month and also has a well-established reputation as an injury-prone, turnover-prone risk-taker who holds the ball way too long and doesn't read defenses effectively. New Eagles coach Chip Kelly has said he needs a quarterback who can make quick decisions and unload the ball in a hurry. Vick will surely get the chance to show he can do that, and it's possible a scaled-down offense that leans more on the run game than Andy Reid's did will help. But if Vick struggles in the preseason with his decision-making and timing, he could lose the job to Nick Foles or Matt Barkley or Dennis Dixon. And if that happens, he could lose his roster spot, too.

Washington Redskins: LB Brian Orakpo

After a second consecutive season ended early due to a pectoral muscle injury, the Redskins' 2009 first-round pick finds himself having to prove something that was never an issue in his first two seasons -- that he can stay healthy. By now, Orakpo was supposed to have established himself as a disruptive pass-rushing force on par with the best in the league. He hasn't been able to do that, in large part because of those injuries. He has one year left on his contract, and there has been talk that he could get an extension prior to the start of the season, which is an appealing idea to the Redskins since they likely could get him at something of a discount due to the injuries. But if he struggles with health or effectiveness in the preseason, that's liable to make the Redskins think twice about a preseason extension, and to turn 2013 into a make-or-break year for Orakpo.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With the draft in the rearview mirror, what is the most pressing issue on each NFC East team’s agenda?

Dallas Cowboys: Figure out right tackle.

The Cowboys bolstered their offensive line with the first-round pick of Wisconsin center/guard Travis Frederick, but the line needs more help, and right tackle is the spot that most needs addressing. Doug Free has been a disappointment since signing his big free-agent deal before the 2011 season, and while the Cowboys have said they liked the way Free and Jermey Parnell worked in rotation late last season, they'd be better off finding someone reliable and leaving him in there every play. Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston remain available on the free-agent market, and the Cowboys seem to prefer Clabo. They have enough cap room to sign one of them, but it seems they'd first like to figure out what to do with Free. Will he take a pay cut and stay as a backup? They could just cut him and save $7 million, but the savings wouldn't kick in until June 1 and the Cowboys don't like to admit mistakes or part with their guys. Expect something to change with Free, if only his salary, and the Cowboys to bring in a replacement at some point this offseason.

New York Giants: Resolve the Victor Cruz situation.

Cruz is a restricted free agent with whom the Giants have so far been unable to reach agreement on a long-term contract extension. No team signed him to an offer sheet, which means the next step for Cruz is to decide whether to report to camp when he's required to or hold out. He could sign his tender, play this season for $2.879 million and hit the open market next year, but that leaves him at risk for an injury that could drastically reduce his value. He could accept the Giants' current offer, which reports say is in excess of $7 million per year. Or he could hold out and force the Giants to see what life is like without him. Complicating the matter is that the Giants also have to worry about the contract status of their other star wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks, whose deal runs out at the end of the 2013 season.

Philadelphia Eagles: Pick a quarterback.

New head coach Chip Kelly has amassed a number of interesting options. He has veteran Michael Vick, who was the starter last season until he got injured. He has second-year man Nick Foles, who took over last year when Vick got hurt. He has career backup Dennis Dixon, whose final year at the University of Oregon was Kelly's first as the Ducks' offensive coordinator. And he has former USC star Matt Barkley, for whom the Eagles traded up in the fourth round of last week's NFL draft. Kelly's plan is to throw them all into the offseason and training-camp mix and see who wins the job, and it couldn't be called a huge surprise if any of them did. The most interesting case, however, is that of Vick, who's the current favorite to be the starter but likely would be released if he were to lose the job to one of his younger counterparts.

Washington Redskins: Make sure to get Robert Griffin III healthy.

The Redskins' dynamic young quarterback, who was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery he had in January as a result of the injury he suffered in the Redskins' playoff loss. It's Griffin's second major reconstruction on the same knee. And while all reports have indicated that his recovery is progressing well, he and the Redskins must apply the lessons learned when they left him in that playoff game too long and take his recovery as slowly and responsibly as possible. In Kirk Cousins, they have a capable backup they like who can manage the offense through the offseason and even into September if need be. Griffin's long-term health is the most important thing to the Redskins' franchise right now, and managing his recovery through these summer months is organizational priority No. 1.

Quarterback costs: Dallas Cowboys

March, 28, 2013
Mike Sando passed this item along, and I thought you might find it interesting. It includes a chart that shows all 32 NFL teams ranked by how much salary cap room they have committed to the quarterback position in 2013. Here's where the Cowboys come in:

4. Dallas Cowboys ($19.6 million). This does not count the nearly $400,000 they saved Wednesday by restructuring the contract of backup Kyle Orton, but it does include a $16.8 million cap number for starter Tony Romo that can't be reduced unless the sides agree to an extension. They have had talks on this and continue to work on it, but as yet they have not reached the agreement that both sides ultimately hope will keep Romo in Dallas for the rest of his career. Once they do, this number is likely to drop.

To see where the rest of the NFC East teams rank, click here.

NFC East: Will the Cowboys draft a QB?

March, 2, 2013
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each NFC East team needs to address the quarterback position.

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys would like to sign starting quarterback Tony Romo to a long-term contract extension. Romo's deal expires at the end of 2013, and the Cowboys know there won't be any quarterbacks on next offseason's market who are as good as Romo is. They also would benefit from reducing his 2013 salary-cap number (about $16.8 million), and an extension beyond this year would allow them to do that by spreading signing bonus money out over future seasons. Romo will be 33 in April, and the backup quarterback is Kyle Orton, who's not a long-term solution. So there is a chance the Cowboys could try to find a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft and start grooming him.

New York Giants: The Giants have one of the most stable quarterback situations in the entire league, as Eli Manning has not missed a game since becoming the starter during his 2004 rookie season. The Giants' plan for each season is founded in large part on Manning's durability and reliability. If he were to get hurt, they'd be more or less lost. Their preferred backup, David Carr, is an unrestricted free agent, and right now the only other quarterback on the roster is Curtis Painter (who coincidentally used to back up Manning's brother in Indianapolis). The Giants could stand to improve their backup quarterback situation, but unlike the Cowboys, they don't like to spend to do so.

Philadelphia Eagles: On the other end of the spectrum, once they add Arena Leaguer G.J. Kinne to the mix as they're reported to be doing, the Eagles will have five quarterbacks on their roster. The favorite to start is Michael Vick, though second-year man Nick Foles and career backup Dennis Dixon could factor into a training-camp competition. (Trent Edwards is likely the odd man out.) If Vick is to be the starter, the backup quarterback position becomes very important, as Vick obviously has a history of injuries. So the Eagles must figure out whether Foles or Dixon (or I guess Kinne) is the best option. The Eagles also could draft a quarterback with the No. 4 pick in April if they fall in love with someone like Geno Smith or Matt Barkley. New coach Chip Kelly is keeping his options open, which is a smart way to go in a market that presents him with few outstanding options.

Washington Redskins: All of the focus in Washington is on the recovery of starter Robert Griffin III from reconstructive knee surgery. In spite of his new adidas ad campaign that proclaims him "All in for Week 1," there is no way to project whether Griffin will be ready for the start of the season. If he's not, the starter's role will fall to Kirk Cousins, last year's fourth-round pick, who relieved Griffin three times and started one game for the Redskins in 2012. Look for Mike Shanahan to add a quarterback or two to the bench mix before training camp and the preseason arrive, as the Redskins will need depth while Griffin heals. Veteran Rex Grossman is someone the Redskins like having around and could factor into that depth mix if he doesn't find work somewhere else.