Dallas Cowboys: James Casey

Eight in the Box: Breakout player

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
11:07
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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.

Eight in the Box: FA winners or losers?

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
12:00
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» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC East team has been a winner or a loser in free agency:

Dallas Cowboys: Loser. The only significant free-agent move the Cowboys have made is the franchising of Anthony Spencer, who will be one of the starting defensive ends in their new 4-3 defensive alignment. Even if you like that move, you have to acknowledge that its $10.6 million cost has worked as a detriment for a team that had no cap room to start with. The Cowboys still need a lot of help on the offensive line and at safety but have been unable to maneuver around the cap. Their inability so far to reach agreement on a long-term deal with quarterback Tony Romo -- a move that would reduce his 2013 cap cost -- has also deprived them of the ability to address needs so far. The Cowboys haven't lost any significant pieces in free agency, but a lack of flexibility compounded by $5 million in leftover cap penalties has kept them from adding where they need to add.

New York Giants: Winner. I mean, not in the same way that teams like the Seahawks or the Chiefs have been winners, but in their own, Giant-like way. Replacing tight end Martellus Bennett with Brandon Myers at low cost, re-signing left tackle Will Beatty before the market opened, signing Keith Rivers and Dan Connor at linebacker ... nothing that's going to knock your socks off, but some targeted, low-financial-impact moves designed to keep the program winning. The Giants still could turn out to be losers if they don't do at least some work on the offensive line. And I think it's possible they'll end up missing safety Kenny Phillips more than they think. But to this point, they're operating their offseason the way they like to operate it. Low-key but productive.

Philadelphia Eagles: Winner. Again, we're operating on a curve here. This division in general has not been the league's most exciting since the start of the free-agency period. But the Eagles have added two starting safeties (Patrick Chung and Phillips, on a low-risk/high-reward deal), two starting cornerbacks (Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher), pass-rusher Connor Barwin, a versatile fullback/tight end type in James Casey and a big, 24-year-old wide receiver in Arrelious Benn. The Eagles still have plenty of cap room with which to pursue the right tackle they need, and they've addressed enough positions to allow them flexibility with the No. 4 pick in next month's draft. No one can predict how their new additions will play, but they do seem to have targeted and acquired the players they wanted.

Washington Redskins: Loser. They've actually done well to hold together as much of their division-champion team as they have, considering the $18 million in cap penalties they're still dealing with this year. But they had to cut cornerback DeAngelo Hall, lost special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, and have yet to re-sign tight end Fred Davis. More importantly, though, they still have major needs in the secondary and have been unable to land the free safety or the starting cornerback they need. E.J. Biggers is probably better as a No. 3 cornerback, though at this point he may project as one of their starters. The good thing is that the safety and cornerback market still has lots of options, and the prices aren't going up. But the Redskins have no first-round pick next month, so they have some challenges ahead.

In free agency, boring can be good

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
2:53
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The key to the NFL's success is not fan interest but rather excessive enthusiasm. The product has its merits, to be sure. But what has elevated the NFL from "very popular sports league" to "worldwide marketing monster" is not the quality of that product or its number of fans. It's the frothing excitement the NFL manages to instill in its fans over every single year-round aspect of football, no matter how minute. The draft. The schedule release. The start of preseason games. And of course, free agency, which began Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

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This is one of those weeks that proves the excessive-enthusiasm theory. Nothing anyone has written or said in prior weeks, months or years about how free agency isn't a franchise panacea matters anymore. Fans are monumentally worked up over the idea that their team might succeed at something, even in the middle of March, as temporally far from the start of the season as the calendar allows us to get.

The result is that fans whose teams are signing big-game players are more excited than they ought to be and fans whose teams aren't signing anyone are frustrated at the lack of action. Here in the NFC East, the past 24 hours have been about the latter. The Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants are all cap-strapped. The Philadelphia Eagles are judiciously signing unexciting players of whom fans have not been fantasizing.

Do not fret. Instead, read this from Grantland's Bill Barnwell, who throws cold water on the whole idea of the first day of the league year as anything more than an overhyped, irresponsible spending spree by teams that just don't ever seem to learn. Bill writes that it's all too much, and that the rush to sign players on the first day leads, historically, to bad deals. "Players who would have gotten a couple million dollars if they had signed next week got three or four times that figure in guaranteed money Tuesday," Bill writes. "Good for them and great work by their agents, but that sort of behavior in this marketplace simply beggars belief."

If you're wishing your team were more active, Bill's column will set your mind at ease. And if you're an Eagles fan, you'll particularly enjoy the ending, which seems to sum up the Eagles' Tuesday as intelligently dull. They signed five players -- tight end James Casey, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, safety Patrick Chung, defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga and linebacker Jason Phillips. All to sensible deals. In spite of their excess of cap room:
The sort of logic that went into those moves — buying low on a low-risk, medium-reward player — seemed absurdly out of place on the dumbest day of the NFL year. Some of the teams that made headlines Tuesday by following a now-infamous Eagles plan that didn't work might have done well to follow the new Philadelphia brain trust's lead.

There is, of course, irony in the fact that Andy Reid and the Chiefs had one of the most active Tuesdays. But if you're an Eagles fan, that's not your problem. Take a deep breath and enjoy the idea that your team has a plan and is going to try to execute it with intelligence and sobriety. That may not make for a very fun March, but it could make December and January a lot more fun down the road.

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