Dallas Cowboys: Mike Shanahan
Phillips is among a handful of Cowboys assistants with expiring contracts. He has been with the club since 2007 when his father, Wade, was named head coach. In 2013 Wes Phillips was the tight ends coach after serving as the assistant offensive line coach in 2011 and ’12. He also spent time working with wide receivers and special teams in his time on the staff.
In 2013, Cowboys TE Jason Witten caught 73 passes for 851 yards and had eight touchdown catches, the second-best single-season total of his career. As a group, the tight ends caught 94 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Cowboys have yet to announce any changes to the coaching staff, although the team and assistant special-teams coach Chris Boniol mutually agreed to part ways two weeks ago. Like Phillips, Boniol had a one-year contract.
The Redskins hired Jay Gruden as head coach (to replace Mike Shanahan) and promoted tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator.
The Cowboys will face three teams with new head coaches in 2014: Jay Gruden with the Washington Redskins, Bill O'Brien with the Houston Texans and Ken Whisenhunt with the Tennessee Titans.
In 2013, the Cowboys went 1-4 against teams with new coaches. The lone win was the October meeting against Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles, but they returned the favor in the more-important Week 17 rematch that won the NFC East.
The Cowboys also lost to Kansas City's Andy Reid, San Diego's Mike McCoy and Chicago's Marc Trestman.
Gruden and O'Brien will be head coaches for the first time in the NFL. Whisenhunt had a six-year run with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cowboys went 0-3 against Whisenhunt. Two of the losses came in overtime and the third was by a point. And they were three of the strangest losses. In 2008, they lost on a blocked punt for a touchdown in overtime. In 2010 they lost in part because David Buehler missed an extra point. In 2011 they lost in overtime in a game in which many believe Jason Garrett iced Dan Bailey at the end of regulation.
(Personal aside: I don't believe that was the case. The play clock was running down and Garrett called the timeout at the request of special-teams coaches Joe DeCamillis and Chris Boniol. Bailey's first miss of that season at San Francisco came with the operation rushed because of the play clock. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)
O'Brien was the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator in 2011 when Tom Brady beat the Cowboys on a final-minute touchdown pass 20-16. The Texans have the top pick in the draft and a team that could be in line for a quick turnaround.
Gruden was the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator when Bailey won the game on a last-second field goal after Andy Dalton was limited to 206 yards passing. The Redskins folded under Mike Shanahan and have a ton of needs, but the return of a healthy and motivated Robert Griffin III could change their fortunes quickly.
The Cowboys could have six more games against teams that will lose assistant coaches in 2014.
As of Thursday, the only assistant the Cowboys have lost is Boniol, who oversaw one of the best kickers in the NFL. Maybe that will change too. Maybe.
And that could make it more difficult to get ready for the Redskins.
The Cowboys will have to get ready for just about everything from fake punts and kicks to going for it on fourth down. Last week Mike Shanahan elected to go for two after scoring a touchdown with 18 seconds left. The conversion attempt failed and Washington lost to the Atlanta Falcons.
“They’re an aggressive team anyway,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They’re aggressive on offense. They’re certainly aggressive with their defense and their overall approach. That’s an element to this game, there’s no question about that.”
The Redskins would also like nothing more than to possibly ruin the Cowboys’ season. Longtime linebacker London Fletcher is most likely playing his final home game with him being “99.9 percent” sure he will retire after this season.
“They’ve got a lot of proud players,” tight end Jason Witten said. “[Brian] Orakpo is playing, in my mind as good as I’ve seen him play. They have good leadership. I know defensively Fletcher, Orakpo, [Ryan] Kerrigan, they’re going to rally the troops and play well. It’s always a fight in this league and especially when we go against them. I think we anticipate anything or even more because their mentality is 'we’re out of it but we’re going to build on this.' We’ve got to be ready for this fight.”
The Washington Redskins' season can't end soon enough, with the future of the organization to be decided shortly thereafter. The Dallas Cowboys might have their own decisions to make around that time, depending on how the next two games unfold.
It's not exactly a throwback to the old Redskins-Cowboys rivalry storylines. Or even what it was like a year ago in the regular-season finale when the NFC East title was on the line. Dallas still has a shot at the playoffs, but, as usual, the Cowboys are a .500 team that can never seem to get it together late in the season.
But they look like a model of consistency next to the dysfunctional Redskins, who have lost six straight, have numerous stories citing anonymous sources and benched their franchise quarterback a week ago (ostensibly for health reasons).
ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Redskins reporter John Keim break down the game.
John Keim: Is Jason Garrett finally on the hot seat? If not, why aren't the Cowboys ever more than mediocre under him?
Todd Archer: Jerry Jones has said Garrett is safe, but I just have a hard time believing that would be the case if they miss the playoffs for the third straight season with him as the coach. But I don't know that Garrett would be paying for only his sins. He'd be paying for Jones' sins, too. Garrett has had some missteps as the coach, but Jones is the one responsible for the players, and, frankly, there have not been enough players for years here. The drafting has been poor. The free-agent decisions have been mixed. That's on Jones. And Jones was the one who hired Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and made sure Garrett gave up the play calling this year. But as we know, Jones will not fire the general manager, so Garrett would be the one to pay with his job.
Meanwhile, Mike Shanahan sure seems to be acting like a coach looking to get out. I know he's saying he wants to stay. Is there any possibility he could be back in 2014?
Keim: There's a possibility, but it still feels far-fetched. There's so much nonsense going on here these days that, regardless of who's at fault, it's hard to justify continuing this regime. But owner Dan Snyder might not want to pay him $7 million -- in addition to the money he'd have to pay the coaching staff. That's a lot of cash. Still, it appears the only way that Shanahan could return is if he brings in new coordinators. Of course that means his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, would have found a job elsewhere. But if you're Snyder, why would you think it would be any different if Shanahan gets a chance to hire another staff? This is the one he thought would work. And I'm not blaming the staff, but, rather, do you trust the guy in charge to somehow hire one that is much better? How many proven guys would want to work here knowing it could be a one-year deal? Also, there would have to be a major repair job between the coach and quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the players support Shanahan and I've heard that Snyder still likes him. So, crazy as it sounds, there's a chance.
How did the players respond to the Green Bay loss -- after the game and later this week?
Archer: They are saying the right things. They say they believe, but there does feel as if there is some desperation this week. Same with frustration. I don't know how they could not be frustrated with the way they lost to the Packers. It was there for them to win, and they let it get away. But to be clear, the coaches let it go just as much as the players. I'll say this for Garrett, he has been able to keep this team on track. He does not stray from message, and, as a result, the players stay in the moment. This is a huge game for a lot of the core players who have been here. If the Cowboys can't win this one or can't make the playoffs, there could (some would say should) be big changes. They know what's on the line.
Because Griffin is a Texas native, a lot of folks here want to know what's going on with him. How has he handled the “benching,” and is there a worry he might not get teammates back on his side?
Keim: No, I don't think that he can't get teammates back. I know many are tired of the drama surrounding Griffin, but I don't think they're tired of him. All he needs to do to maintain his teammates' confidence in him is work hard, lie low and win. Griffin has handled the benching well. He was into the game against Atlanta; he has worked hard in practice; he said all the right things the day he was benched. He's definitely upset about what happened, but it hasn't caused him to feel sorry for himself.
Staying on quarterbacks, how would you rate Tony Romo this season, and is he fairly or unfairly criticized?
Archer: Romo's been solid. I know that will drive some people crazy who only look at his fourth-quarter interceptions against the Packers or his decision late against Denver. I'd make the argument the Cowboys would not be sniffing a playoff spot the past three years if not for Romo. But the season has not been all candy and ice cream for him. His completion percentage is still pretty good (64 percent), but he has missed some easy throws or made his receivers have to work too hard. He's not moving as well as he did in earlier years. Maybe that has something to do with the offseason back surgery. Maybe it's because he's 33. But Romo has largely been able to stay away from the bad plays. With 29 touchdown passes and nine picks, he has done that, but everybody will remember the Green Bay game.
The Redskins gave away a lot to get Griffin. Now they're playing Kirk Cousins. Is it a deal where they're trying to drive trade value for a guy late in a season to help them in April?
Keim: They say that's a potential benefit if Cousins does well, but they'd never say publicly that was the real reason. Also, the coaches really like Cousins, so I'm not convinced they're in a rush to trade him. If, for some reason, the staff returns, the Redskins could hang on to both quarterbacks to give them another year to see how Griffin responds to a full offseason. What if, at the end of next season, Griffin is no different than he is now? Or, if he improves the way you hope, then you can peddle Cousins. I also can't imagine anyone offering the Redskins a first-round pick (which is what they think he might fetch). A second-rounder? Perhaps, depending on how the final two games unfold.
The Redskins faced a bad defense at Atlanta. Now they get another one. Is the Dallas defense bad because of injuries or other factors? Where are the Cowboys most vulnerable?
Archer: Well, they haven't been good even when they were relatively healthy. The injuries haven't helped, but they had injuries last year with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and weren't this bad. The four best players remaining -- Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher -- have struggled the past couple of games, if not longer. That can't happen. Their best defensive players against Green Bay were George Selvie, Barry Church and Sterling Moore. That just can't happen. The scheme is fine. Other teams have succeeded with it. But Monte Kiffin has not changed enough to combat the injuries. He has not played to the strengths of the guys who are left. At least, he hasn't done it enough. The Cowboys just don't have any answers. They are as bad against the run as the pass, and now they can't get any takeaways.
Any differences with how the offense runs with Cousins and Griffin?
Keim: Cousins runs plays mostly from under center compared with Griffin, who lined up in the pistol formation. They're obviously different in terms of style. The Redskins have not run the zone-read with Cousins (although I do believe he can run it; he's as fast as Philadelphia's Nick Foles, who runs the zone-read on occasion). The real difference is that Cousins is more comfortable in the pocket and has better footwork right now than Griffin, caused in large part by the lack of work the latter received in the offseason while rehabbing his knee. Cousins will run a lot of bootlegs, although Washington also ran those with Griffin. Cousins has been more decisive, but part of that is because he knows he can't run from pressure like Griffin.
Do you think Dallas will ever be a strong contender again under Jerry Jones?
Archer: That's the big question. I'll say yes only because things are cyclical in the NFL. Jones has plenty of great qualities as an owner. He wants to win. He will do everything he can to win. He is willing to do what it takes. But Jones the general manager often gets in the way. The Cowboys seem to change philosophies from year to year. One year they like this kind of player only to move on to a new player the next year. Jones said something this week on his radio show about how he does not worry about fan apathy because of the “show” the fans got in Sunday's game against Green Bay. He seemed oblivious that his team lost. He was happy it was a good show. How can he think that way? But Jones won't change. He will be the ultimate decision-maker. I think they will be a strong contender again, but it could take some time.
Obviously, the season has been a washout for the Redskins. How much joy would they take in killing the Cowboys' season?
Keim: After six straight losses, I think they'd feel good beating anyone right now, but, yeah, beating a team in the playoff hunt would make them feel better. And if it's Dallas? All the better, although I don't sense any real hatred toward them. But for the fans, if they can watch Dallas' playoff hopes take a dive because of the Redskins, that would cause them to temporarily forget the craziness of the past couple of weeks. But the word "joy" is not the one I'd use to describe much of anything around here. There are a number of Redskins who will be playing their final home game, including likely retiring linebacker London Fletcher, so that will provide a little motivation, as well.
It’s Five Wonders and we’re hitting big topics right off the top.
Away we go:
** I wonder if the Cowboys have a decision to make on DeMarcus Ware in the offseason. Ware is set to count $16.003 million against the salary cap in 2014. He has a base salary of $12.25 million. The Cowboys have reworked his contract numerous times over the years, even adding voidable years to it to help with the prorated amounts. They will need to restructure more contracts in the offseason to get under the projected $126.3 million salary cap in 2014. They will also have to cut some high-priced veterans. Perhaps even Ware, which seems shocking in a way. Ware has only six sacks with two games to go. He missed three games because of a quadriceps injury and has not been effective for much of the past month. He was so good in training camp. He made Tyron Smith look bad on an almost daily basis. Is it just health? Ware says he is healthy. Is it age? Ware turns 32 next July. The Cowboys have made mistakes with age before. Jay Ratliff comes immediately to mind. Ware is far from Ratliff. He is the right kind of guy. He works hard. He is a good teammate. He plays hurt. Ware has not only missed three games but he is playing only 67.2 percent of the snaps when he does play. It is one thing to commit $16 million to a guy on the cap when he is getting you anywhere from 12 to 18 sacks a season. It’s another thing to do it when he is struggling. If the Cowboys released Ware, their all-time leader in sacks, they would save $7.43 million against the cap. Jerry Jones has a hard time with these types of decisions. Could he ask Ware to take a cut in pay? Would Ware accept one?
** Let’s stick with the head coaching theme and the possibility of Garrett’s demise. Forget “who” Jerry Jones targets. I wonder “what” kind of coach he targets. Shanahan and Gruden have Super Bowl rings on their résumé, but Jones has said before he does not necessarily want a coach with a championship because he does not believe the coach has the same fire. (Yes, I realize Parcells is an exception.) I wonder if Jones goes for a defensive coach. The offensive personnel figures to be mostly the same in 2014: Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Smith, Travis Frederick, DeMarco Murray, Terrance Williams and Gavin Escobar. The defense needs the re-tooling. Does Jones go after a defensive coach? There’s a lot of work to do there obviously and not as many parts. Who is a building block? Sean Lee. The rest you hope can rebound from poor seasons. If Jones goes defense, I wonder if he would go with a first-time coach or a veteran head coach. Would Mike Zimmer be in the mix? Lovie Smith? None of this matters if the Cowboys win their final two games.
** I wonder if Murray’s performance over the past month or so is making those at Valley Ranch rethink their thoughts about his long-term future. Murray is 23 yards away from reaching 1,000 yards for the season. He probably should have hit that number against the Green Bay Packers if they just ran the ball more. He will get it this week against the Redskins barring something unforeseen and he will do it in just his 13th game of the season having missed two games with a knee injury. That’s pretty impressive. He has run harder as the season has gone on but has left yards on the field as well. The prevailing wisdom is that running backs can be found here, there and everywhere and you only commit long term to the Adrian Peterson types. Murray is not that kind of back but he has had his best season. He is signed through 2014.
** If the Cowboys lose Sunday and the Philadelphia Eagles win, I wonder how the Cowboys approach the season finale against the Eagles. The Cowboys will be out of the playoff chase. In 2005 the Cowboys were eliminated before their finale against the St. Louis Rams but Parcells chose to go with his starters and lost 20-10. Many inside the organization wanted to see him start Tony Romo in that finale, but the coach stuck with Drew Bledsoe. Not to go all Herm Edwards on you here, but you play to win the game. If you can take a look at a player, then fine. The problem the Cowboys have is they don’t have much in the pipeline you would want to see. Maybe Jermey Parnell gets a shot at right tackle, but Doug Free hasn’t done anything to be benched and should be back in 2014. Maybe Escobar takes the bulk of the backup tight end snaps over James Hanna. Would that change any perceptions of Escobar as he heads into his second season? Could Williams get the work over Miles Austin? Yeah, but that has happened for most of the season.
“They will until he wins the Super Bowl,” Jones said. “The guy standing over on the other sideline or up in the box, John Elway, had those things said about him his entire career.”
Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was Elway’s quarterbacks coach and later his head coach and heard the can’t-win-the-big-game talk about Elway. The Broncos went to three Super Bowls with Elway as quarterback and lost before winning Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.
“That’s everybody’s goal to win the Super Bowl, and unless you do it, you’re always going to have people second-guessing yourself, and John had that as well,” Shanahan said. “When he did win the two in his last couple of years back to back, that quickly goes away. Until you do it, you’re always going to have that tag.”
Shanahan has been a Romo fan for a long time. He tried to sign Romo as an undrafted free agent in 2003 with the Broncos, but not even his Eastern Illinois pedigree and a larger signing bonus could sway the quarterback.
He was quick to subtly point out that team’s win Super Bowls, which Elway did after Terrell Davis arrived, giving the Broncos a great running game.
“I think the people that see Tony practice every day and the teammates know what he can do. But you do it as a team,” Shanahan said. “Everybody’s got to do it together. I know when I was with John going into the 15th, 16th year, you had the same people saying that he couldn’t do it throughout his whole career and then when he does it, everybody’s, ‘Ah, well, we knew he could do it.’ It’s the same old thing. You’ve just got to fight through it. You can’t listen to the critics and you’ve got to believe in yourself. And I’m sure that’s what Tony’s doing.”
How does each NFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?
After a season in which they ranked third in the league in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards, the Cowboys seek greater balance in their offense. Any balance, actually. The starting running back remains DeMarco Murray, whose toughness and physical style give the Cowboys an extra dimension when he's on the field. Murray's problem is staying on the field, as he's had to miss nine games over his first two NFL seasons due to injury. The team let Felix Jones leave as a free agent and drafted Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle in the fifth round. It's no coincidence that Randle is a back who didn't miss a single game in his college career. The Cowboys needed someone durable and reliable to back up Murray, who's already struggling with hamstring problems this offseason, and neither Lance Dunbar nor Phillip Tanner showed enough in limited work last year to prove he was the backup they needed. What the Cowboys need at running back is to get and keep Murray as healthy as possible and to get Randle up to speed so he's ready to step in when he's inevitably needed as the fill-in starter.
New York Giants
The Giants let starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw depart via free agency, a difficult choice necessitated by salary and health concerns. That likely leaves the running game in the hands of 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, who opened eyes as a big-play threat and a kick returner in his rookie season, and Andre Brown, who functioned as a reliable goal-line back before an injury ended his season. Either should be able to handle full-time starter duties, and it's likely the team will split carries somewhat between them anyway. What the Giants need to do is establish whether Wilson and/or Brown can handle the pass-blocking duties at which Bradshaw excelled for so long. If one of them demonstrates superior performance in blitz pickup, that's likely to give him the edge for playing time over the other. With fullback Henry Hynoski out now with a knee injury, and with excellent run-blocking tight end Martellus Bennett now a Chicago Bear, the Giants remain on the lookout for reliable blocking backs. The recent injury to Tim Hightower shows that, and it remains to be seen whether Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott or seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox can be part of the solution.
Every prediction about Chip Kelly's offense claims certainty that the Eagles will use the run game and the screen game more this year than they did in the past. LeSean McCoy remains the starter, and one of the best running backs in the league when healthy. Bryce Brown showed when McCoy got injured last year that he could handle starter's responsibilities brilliantly, but his fumble problems obviously must be overcome if he's to be trusted with significant carries. The Eagles signed Cowboys castoff Felix Jones for depth, and they still have Chris Polk, so the candidates for carries are plentiful this offseason. What remains for the Eagles is to establish the manner in which they'll distribute those carries (and catches) among their backs in an offense that will try to run as many plays as possible every game.
Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris came from the back of the depth chart last offseason to overtake Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster to claim the starting running back job, and he quite literally ran with it. A perfect fit in Mike Shanahan's one-cut zone-blocking run schemes, Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie and delivered a 200-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece in the regular-season finale/division-title game against the Cowboys. Shanahan does love to play the volume game at running back, and he still has Helu and Royster as well as late-round 2013 draft picks Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison. What remains for the Redskins is to figure out the pecking order behind Morris and work to find ways to use the talent they have at running back to ease some of the physical pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III. It's also important to note that Washington was able to re-sign fullback Darrel Young, a key figure in a run game that led the league with 169.3 yards per game in 2012.
-Joseph Randle, RB, fifth round: Mel calls him the second-most talented running back on the Cowboys' roster after injury-prone starter DeMarco Murray. If that's not a recipe for touches ...
Who is one potential breakout player for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013?
Dallas Cowboys: Bruce Carter. I was torn between Carter and Morris Claiborne for this distinction -- and in a way, both already broke out to some degree last season. Carter and Claiborne are fantastic talents, but I do have concerns about how Claiborne, a true man-to-man cornerback at his roots, will be used in Dallas’ new 4-3 scheme, which should feature a lot of Cover 2. On the other hand, Carter is a perfect fit as a Derrick Brooks-style weakside linebacker with his extreme athletic ability to run, hit and make plays in space. Carter is coming off a season-ending elbow injury, but that shouldn’t slow him down in 2013, and he played very well last season before the injury. Expect a lot of big plays from the dynamic Carter.
To see the breakout players from the other NFC East teams, click here.
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.
Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?
Dallas Cowboys: Louis Vasquez, G, Chargers. Cap-space problems likely price the Cowboys out of the top offensive line names available, but the line is their most desperate need and Vasquez is much more than a fallback option. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the eighth-best right guard in the league last year -- better than either of the midrange free-agent guards the Cowboys signed last year -- and he doesn't turn 26 for another month. He's the kind of free agent in whom it makes sense to invest -- a guy who's proven he can play in the league but is still hungry to prove more and young enough that they'd have him in his prime. I do still believe the Cowboys need to address the offensive line in the draft, but there's nothing wrong with a smart upgrade like this in the meantime to augment that plan.
New York Giants: Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Ravens. Yes, the Super Bowl champs will try to keep him. No, the Giants don't prioritize the linebacker position. If you're asking me if this is a player the Giants will sign, I'd have to say no. But what we're asking today is which player they should sign, and Ellerbe is a perfect fit. He's only 27 and has leadership experience and a championship ring earned while filling in for Ray Lewis this past year. The Giants' defense has drifted in and out too much the past few years in terms of focus and intensity, and Ellerbe would help with that from a position at which the Giants always seem to have a need.
Philadelphia Eagles: Kenny Phillips, S, Giants. So much uncertainty in the secondary, where the Eagles could be looking for four new starters. Phillips is as versatile a safety as there is on the market and would allow them to go in any number of directions with their cornerbacks or their other safety. He can cover. He can move up in the box and play the run. He's got Super Bowl experience. And if you're the Eagles or an Eagles fan, wouldn't it be fun to sign him away from the Giants and play him against them twice a year? Phillips has had some knee problems, which is his only red flag. If he checks out medically, then as a player who doesn't turn 27 until November he's a big-time answer for the Eagles at a position that has been driving them crazy since they let Brian Dawkins leave.
Washington Redskins: Ryan Harris, OT, Texans. Cap constraints will prevent the Redskins from dreaming big free-agent dreams, and I am fully aware that their greatest need is on defense in the secondary. But they need a right tackle as well, and Harris and Mike Shanahan know each other well from their days together in Denver in 2007 and 2008. Harris turns 28 on Monday and has zone-blocking, run-game experience. Best of all, he's not likely to cost much. If Shanahan liked Harris early in his career and still sees something, Harris could be an easy answer at an important position and allow the Texans to commit greater resources to the secondary and other needs.
Assuming they move on from Felix Jones, the Cowboys will be in the market for a running back who can spell starter DeMarco Murray and, if need be, replace him when he gets injured. Unlike Calvin, I actually think someone like Turner or former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw would work here. They need someone who's used to carrying the load, since it doesn't appear as though they can count on Murray lasting a whole season. And even if he did, they'd need someone who can replace him for long stretches during the game in order to help keep him healthy. I understand the temptation for a speed back as a change of pace, but Jones was supposed to be that and it didn't work. Why not a veteran grinder who runs with power and is used to playing in a passing offense? Someone like Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar could develop into what they need behind Murray, but it's not a bad idea to bring in someone with experience just in case they don't.
New York Giants
After cutting Bradshaw, the Giants appear set to go with second-year man David Wilson as the lead back and, assuming they re-sign him, Andre Brown as the goal-line guy. Maybe Brown's duties increase over what they were last year behind Bradshaw. And maybe Wilson isn't (a) ready or (b) the right kind of back to handle the running and pass-protection responsibilities in the Giants' offense. They ended the season with guys like Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin on the roster for depth, and they could go back to one or both of them. I imagine they'll give Wilson the shot at the lead-back role, but they'll want to be protected in case he can't handle it. So don't be surprised if they bring a few backs to camp that you've heard of.
The Eagles look pretty well set with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown as electric playmakers in the backfield. They also still have Dion Lewis and Chris Polk kicking around for depth. I don't see this as a need area for the Eagles this offseason.
As Mike points out in that link up there, it appears the Redskins would like to find someone who can fill in for workhorse starter Alfred Morris on third downs. That could certainly be Roy Helu if he could manage to stay healthy, but to this point he has not done that, and Mike Shanahan will surely want to bring four or more backs to camp for depth and competition purposes. As great as Morris' rookie season was -- and it was fantastic -- this is a position at which Shanahan has a well-known history of trying to stay ahead of the curve. If the Redskins' running game hierarchy is altered in 2013 from what it was in its very successful 2012, it would not be a surprise.
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.
|Todd Archer joins Galloway & Company to discuss Tony Romo's contract situation and Anthony Spencer's role in the Cowboys' new defensive scheme.
how come no one talks about if Garrett "should" give up pay calling? I hope he does. I think he'll be a better leader.
We are of course talking about Jason Garrett, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, who sounds as though he'll be relinquishing offensive playcalling duties this upcoming season, but can't seem to bring himself to admit it. This is a big issue because of past comments Garrett has made about wanting to keep that responsibility, and past comments team owner Jerry Jones has made about preferring that his head coach call offensive or defensive plays.
But my friend @wingram_71 raises an interesting point that you wonder if Garrett has even considered. Would giving up these playcalling duties help make him a better head coach? I think it just might.
After watching Garrett coach the Cowboys for two and a half years, I think we can make some conclusions about what he does well and what he does not. And the playcalling has, since he took over as head coach, been a problem. Whether it's the actual decisions about plays, or the speed with which he relays the calls to the quarterback, or any combination of those or any other factors, it's the Garrett playcalling that makes you cringe and scratch your head. I personally think he showed improvement in those areas as 2012 went on, but it's fair to say he still has a ways to go in terms of balancing his head coach responsibilities with his offensive coordinator ones.
On the flip side, I think Garrett has shown an excellent capacity for head coach leadership. The locker room is placid and under control. The off-field drunk driving incidents and such don't speak to coaching and leadership. Those are the acts of knucklehead players away from the facility. Within the confines of the Cowboys' building, you don't hear griping or backstabbing, even when things go wrong on the field. Garrett's players appear to buy into the idea of him as the leader of their program. If they didn't ... I mean, it's the Cowboys. We'd have heard about it, no?
Giving up playcalling duties in his third full season on the job might give Garrett a chance to continue to burnish his abilities as a leader, and there's value in that. Not every head coach in the league calls plays. Just look at our division. Tom Coughlin doesn't. Mike Shanahan doesn't. Andy Reid wasn't calling them in Philadelphia the past few years. Those are three pretty accomplished and decorated coaches whose contributions to their teams as non-playcalling leaders have been (and in some cases still are) patently obvious. Garrett appears to have plenty to contribute as a head coach even if he gives up playcalling. And who knows? If the Cowboys can succeed under him and he continues to get more comfortable in his role, at some point it might make sense to give that responsibility back to him.
The issue I have is that they don't appear to have an excellent candidate to take over this part of the job. I know Bill Callahan has some experience with it, but he seems like a guy who's got enough problems with his responsibilities with the offensive line and the running game. He doesn't jump out as an ideal solution.
But in a vacuum, the concept of Garrett giving up playcalling duties has some merit, and for reasons that I don't think he should necessarily perceive as insulting. In the end, it might be great for him and his career. It might be the thing that helps him reach his full potential as a head coach. And jeez, head coach jobs pay a lot better than offensive coordinator jobs, right?
|Tim MacMahon, Landry Locker, and Jean-Jacques Taylor are filling in for Ben & Skin and discuss what MUST happen next season if Jason Garrett stays as head coach of the Cowboys.
"We have to understand there's history and precedent in these kinds situations as you're trying to put a program together," Garrett said. "You're going to get knocked back. You're not always going to achieve it in Year 1 or Year 2, but you keep doing things the right way and you will break through."
How Garrett is attempting to structure this program is the correct way to become successful. Surround yourself with the "right kind of guys," as he likes to say, who love football, add foundation pieces through the draft and supplement with free-agent picks, big and small, and you will win.
It takes time, but it could be worth the wait.
Garrett has one more year, or he will suffer the same fate as the seven coaches who were fired Monday.
I think Todd's points are well made. It's tough to see the progress this year's team showed through the prism of that final-game loss. It might even have been better for Garrett if his team had fallen short against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers in those two tough December games, then won the last two. They'd still have fallen short, but the anger over the missed opportunity wouldn't feel so fresh.
They didn't, though. The Cowboys did enough, in spite of their many deficiencies, to put themselves in position to play for the division title for a second year in a row. That fact can't be overlooked. Yes, the whole thing is very complicated, and fans who are mad don't feel like stepping back and taking a big-picture look at the season that just happened. You don't want to remember how improved you thought Garrett looked as a game coach after the Pittsburgh game while you're screaming about how Mike Shanahan just took him to school. You don't want to remember how impressed you were with Romo's season turnaround because what he did Sunday was the same thing you feel like he always does in those big spots. It hurts. Totally understandable.
Credit Jones with seeing the big picture through his own disappointment, and for giving Garrett a third full season to implement and burnish the "program" of which he speaks. The Cowboys knew all along they were a team with holes, and now they'll get to work on adding those pieces they desperately need on both lines, among other places. But add them they will. And once they do, Jones will rightfully expect to see improvement in 2013. And if Garrett were to end up 8-8 again next year, this concept of progress might be as tough to sell to the owner as it is right now to sell to the fans.