Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Reese
Cap status: Some last-minute contract restructuring Monday got the Cowboys under the 2013 cap. They're not far enough under to operate very deftly in free agency, so don't expect any big splashes from them in the first wave, but they still have the ability to extend Tony Romo's deal or make some more cuts if they find someone they really want to fit into their budget.
Strategy: They should work on the offensive line, which was atrocious in 2012. But after signing two free-agent guards last year and giving center Phil Costa a two-year extension this year, the Cowboys may put off addressing that need until the draft. I'd expect them to be active on the veteran safety market, as they have question marks at that position, and there appears to be enough free-agent inventory that costs for safeties should be kept low. Depth on the defensive line and at running back will be important as well, as the defense is changing to a 4-3 alignment and DeMarco Murray's backup, Felix Jones, appears set to hit the market. Expect the Cowboys to bargain-hunt at positions that haven't traditionally cost too much.
Cap status: After Sunday night's agreement with defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, the Giants remain around $7 million under the cap. Enough to get them in compliance and work on deals for their own free agents but likely not enough to make them players for too much outside help.
Strategy: For the Giants, the focus is in house. They'd like to bring back guard Kevin Boothe, tight end Martellus Bennett and of course restricted free-agent wide receiver Victor Cruz. They can tender Cruz and keep him, but they'd prefer to get a long-term deal done soon if possible so the headache goes away. As for Boothe and Bennett, if they'll sign for the Giants' number, they'll be Giants. If they want to try to cash in on the market, the Giants likely will look in other directions. They appear set to let valuable safety Kenny Phillips depart after his injury-wrecked season, so they'll look to address that position as well as linebacker, running back and offensive line. Don't be surprised if Jenkins isn't their last defensive line move, either. They do like to have depth there.
Cap status: The Eagles have about $34 million in salary-cap room and are likely to add $11 million more with the expected release of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on Tuesday. They will be able to get any player they want to get, most likely.
Strategy: The Eagles' management figures that whoever remains in place from two summers ago knows all about how badly the last big experiment with free agency went, so don't expect to see a frenzy like the one it created on the market in 2011. But the Eagles have many needs -- cornerback, safety, linebacker, nose tackle, a right guard or tackle, maybe a big wide receiver. They will be active because they must. As for strategy, though, I'd expect them to target younger free agents who can help them build the roster long term, not just help them contend in 2013. The moves the team has made since firing longtime coach Andy Reid and hiring Kelly indicate that Kelly plans to be in Philadelphia for a long time and is thinking about what can make his team competitive for years to come, not just right away.
Cap status: Cutting veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall saved the Redskins $8 million in cap room Monday. That and the contract restructure of defensive end Adam Carriker helps the Redskins address the significant cap problems they're still having as a result of the $36 million in penalties the league imposed on them a year ago. More cuts and restructures are likely on the way.
Strategy: The free-agent strategy since Allen and Shanahan came on the scene has been consistent. The Redskins like to target players in the 26-, 27-year-old range who have shown encouraging flashes but not necessarily yet proved all they have to prove in the league. They like hungry guys, and as they continue to build around second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III, they will continue to try to employ this strategy. Perhaps you heard reports this past weekend of the Redskins' interest in cornerbacks like Derek Cox (26, coming off injury) and Antoine Cason (also 26). As they did with Pierre Garcon at wide receiver last year, the Redskins will target guys who might not be at the top of the market but fit what they want to do both schematically and economically.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
McShay: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Kiper: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
In Mel's mock, Joeckel is gone at No. 1 to Andy Reid and the Chiefs. But if he's there at 4, I think he makes a ton of sense for the Eagles as a right-now right tackle (with Todd Herremans moving to guard) or a right-now left tackle (if Jason Peters can't make it all the way back from injury) or a critical building block for the future. With Joeckel and Star Lotulelei off the board in Mel's mock, Milliner makes sense as the Eagles look to rebuild the secondary. And I still think West Virginia QB Geno Smith gets heard from up here before this is all said and done.
18. Dallas Cowboys
McShay: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Kiper: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Can't go wrong either way, can the Cowboys, picking offensive line or defensive line here. Warmack at 18 would be incredibly tempting for a team that has huge weaknesses on the interior of its offensive line.
19. New York Giants
McShay: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Kiper: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
All due respect to Todd, and while I agree with the assessment of need, I will believe the Giants are taking a linebacker in the first round when it is announced and not one second before. Mel's prediction of a potentially elite passing-game weapon at tight end feels more like Jerry Reese's speed.
Do they have too much work to do?
It's possible that we expect too much from the Cowboys. Their skill-position talent on offense makes them an easy team to like going into the season. Few teams are as good as they are at quarterback and wide receiver, and if DeMarco Murray comes back healthy, they look pretty good at running back, too.
But the offseason needs for the Cowboys are myriad. They need guards and a center. They need cornerbacks and safeties. They need a pass-rushing outside linebacker to complement DeMarcus Ware. They could stand to beef up on the defensive line.
That's a lot of needs, and it's fair to wonder whether they'll be able to fill them all adequately and construct a 2012 contender. That they were a contender (heck, a leader) in the NFC East right up until the end of the 2011 season leads one to believe they necessarily should be thought of as one again for 2012. But the division was, for the first time ever, won with only nine wins. And the way the Cowboys played defense and protected Tony Romo during their 1-4 finish was more alarming than the 7-4 record was encouraging.
NEW YORK GIANTS
What to do with Osi Umenyiora?
The Giants have other issues, sure. They need to work on the offensive line. They need to find a tight end. They need to make individual decisions on players like Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham. But for a team that believes the pass rush is the cornerstone of good defense, the Osi question is a fair one on which to focus right now.
Last summer, when he had two years left on his contract, Umenyiora was obviously unhappy. He sat out training camp practices. He sought (and received) permission to find a team willing to trade for him. He called GM Jerry Reese a liar in a sworn affidavit as part of one of the lockout lawsuits. The Giants never blinked, and in the end Umenyiora returned and became a major contributor to their Super Bowl run.
Now, he has one year left on the contract he hates, and the Giants must decide what to do. Sign him long term, as he wants? Trade him now, while his value is high coming off the Super Bowl and his postseason performance? Or stand pat again and force him to play out his contract, running the risk that he'll be more resolute in his protests and holdouts this time around?
The emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end opposite Justin Tuck gives the Giants leverage, but at the same time, they were much better when all three of those guys were healthy and in the lineup together.
Is a full offseason really what they need?
Last August, after the lockout ended, the Eagles signed a bunch of free agents to play for a revamped coaching staff with a lot of new ideas about how to play defense and offensive line. The party line in Philadelphia now is that this was all too much too soon, and that the Eagles' 3-6 start was due in large part to the inability of all of these new pieces to get on the same page in the absence of an offseason program.
They played well at the end of the season, they point out. Heck, they played well at the beginning of the season, too -- they just couldn't hold a lead. So we'll see whether a real offseason of OTAs and minicamps all spring and summer helps everyone relax and get the most out of a talented roster.
We'll see whether it helps quarterback Michael Vick better handle the new responsibilities he took on in 2011, such as changing the protection at the line of scrimmage. We'll see whether the sting of 2011's disappointment can propel the Eagles to great things in 2012, or if it's all a bunch of hooey and they were never that good in the first place.
Who's the quarterback?
Rex Grossman can't come back as anything other than the backup, and John Beck ... well, just ... no.
The Redskins have many needs, but none as big as this one. Picking sixth in the draft, they'll need to trade up (and outbid other teams to do so) if they want Robert Griffin III, who's the best all-around option and a potential franchise quarterback.
But if trading up means dealing away multiple first-round picks and making it difficult for them to address areas such as wide receiver, offensive line and the secondary, it might not be the wisest course of action. That would necessitate a free-agent pursuit of someone like Kyle Orton, Matt Flynn or -- if they can be convinced he's fully healthy -- Peyton Manning.
Redskins fans aren't likely to be happy with an imperfect, short-term solution. But only one team is going to get Griffin, and if the Redskins are not that team, they need to spend their resources on a No. 1 receiver and help for the line.
They have about $47 million in cap room and the ability to fill enough holes that plugging in a healthy Manning could make them a 2012 contender. And if that's the way they go, there's always a Matt Barkley or Landry Jones-type option next year.
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1. Cowboys' offensive line. With the exception of brilliant rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, who handled the red-hot Jason Babin well most of the night, the Dallas Cowboys' line was dominated physically by the Eagles' defensive front. And now, with left guard Montrae Holland out with a torn biceps, they're shorthanded for their big division title game against the New York Giants and their fearsome D-linemen. Someone on the Cowboys' line is going to have to step up and play better than they've been playing. And no matter what happens Sunday night, interior offensive line is going to be a need position this offseason.
2. The Philadelphia Eagles' draft position. One more win gets the Eagles to .500 for the season and could slide them further back into the middle of the draft's first round than they already are. (Currently, they'd hold the No. 13 pick). That lessens their chances at an impact player that would hasten their planned 2012 turnaround, but the Eagles have several needs they can address on defense at that point in the draft. They might even be able to get a wide receiver there if they cut ties with DeSean Jackson.
3. Washington Redskins' self-confidence: Flying high two weeks ago after a big victory over the Giants, the Redskins' defense melted down Saturday against Joe Webb, Toby Gerhart and the Minnesota Vikings' bench. The loss deprived the Redskins of a chance to improve on their 2010 record and, as their worst defensive performance of the season, left them scratching their heads a bit as they ponder the future. The thought around Washington has been that this offseason's focus would be on offense. But there may be some tinkering left to do on defense, particularly on the back end.
2. Cowboys fans' blood pressure. Because this should have been taken care of weeks ago. If the Cowboys lose to the Giants and miss the playoffs, the laments will be numerous and woeful. They should have held their late leads against the Jets, Lions, Patriots, Cardinals and Giants. Win two of those five games -- all of which they surely could have won — and they'd have rendered the season finale meaningless. But their inability to finish games has put them in a position to have to finish the season with a tough win on the road. And their fans will spend this entire week fretting over whether Romo, Jason Garrett and the crew have what it takes to do that.
3. Victor Cruz, Giants wide receiver. His 99-yard touchdown catch flipped the game in favor of the Giants right before halftime and may have been the play of the Giants' season. Cruz also set a new Giants team record for receiving yards in a single season, running his 2011 total to 1,358 and breaking Amani Toomer's team record. He's not likely to be announced as a Pro Bowler tonight, because he wasn't on the fan ballot and the fan vote counts for one-third of the total. But his breakout season is a big reason the Giants have a chance to make the playoffs.
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.
Dream scenario: If the Cowboys play things the conventional way and sit tight at No. 9, they’ll probably be looking at either defensive end J.J. Watt or offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Either one would provide good value or fill a big need, and the Cowboys would improve. But Dallas owner Jerry Jones doesn’t always do things the conventional way. Although trading up to the top five might be difficult, Jones’ imagination could heat up if LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson makes it past the first five picks. The entire Dallas secondary had a horrible year last season, and Peterson would provide an instant upgrade. Jones might not be able to sit still if he’s within striking distance of Peterson.
Plan B: If there’s no chance at Peterson and the Cowboys aren’t excited enough about Watt or Smith, they could reach slightly and take Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara. He’s the second-best cornerback in this draft, and most mocks have him going somewhere in the teens. If the Cowboys like the player enough, it wouldn’t be much of a reach to just take him. If another team is looking to move up for another player, the Cowboys could drop down a few spots and still have a shot at Amukamara.
Dream scenario: The Redskins, who need a quarterback perhaps more than any other team on the planet, would love nothing more than for something bizarre to suddenly cause Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert to start falling. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Carolina’s leaning toward Newton but hasn’t made a final decision. Even if the Panthers go with Newton, Buffalo could go with linebacker Von Miller at No. 3, and the word out of Arizona is the Cardinals probably are looking more for a pass-rusher than a quarterback. That would put the Redskins within striking distance on Gabbert, and general manager Bruce Allen and owner Daniel Snyder could try to move up to grab him. Or they could just take a chance that he’ll be available at No. 10.
Plan B: If Newton and Gabbert are gone, there’s no quarterback worthy of the No. 10 pick. Defensive tackle also is a major need, but the Redskins could fill that in free agency. Snyder enjoys making a splash, and if he can’t do it with a quarterback, he might do the next-best thing and take a guy who would catch passes from whoever ends up throwing them. With Santana Moss as a free agent and not much else in the receiving corps, Alabama’s Julio Jones could be a very nice consolation prize.
New York Giants
Dream scenario: The desperate need is at outside linebacker, but the only player who is really a sure thing is Miller, and he almost certainly will be a top-five pick. So the dream ends there and reality sets in, and the other reality is the Giants have big needs on the offensive line, where everyone but guard Chris Snee is starting to get old. Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey could really solidify the interior of the line, where the need is greatest. Tackles Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo also could be possibilities as the Giants could consider moving tackle David Diehl to guard.
Plan B: This may sound a bit off the wall because the Giants have decent running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. But what if Alabama’s Mark Ingram happens to be available? The Giants might have to consider him. He might be better than Bradshaw and Jacobs. Also, along the same lines, don’t rule out the possibility of a defensive tackle like Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson if he’s available. The Giants appear to be in good shape in the middle of the defensive line, but general manager Jerry Reese places a high value on having lots of depth, especially in the middle of the defensive line.
Dream scenario: In a perfect world, the Eagles would package their first pick (No. 23 overall) with quarterback Kevin Kolb and trade their way into the top five, where they would aim for cornerback Peterson. The Eagles have a desperate need for a cornerback to play opposite Asante Samuel, and Peterson is the only sure thing in this draft. But this is not a perfect world. Unless the lockout somehow ends between now and the start of the draft, they’re not allowed to trade Kolb. If they stay put, the Eagles have to hope Amukamara somehow falls to them, or they might have to take a chance on Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, who comes with some background questions.
Plan B: The right side of the offensive line needs to be upgraded. Most teams stay clear of guards in the first round. But tackles Castonzo, Nate Solder and Carimi all could be available when the Eagles pick. Any one of them could step right into the lineup and start.