Dallas Cowboys: Vincent Jackson

Dez Bryant finished sixth in the NFL in receiving yards last season. Imagine where he would've finished if the Dallas Cowboys hadn't ignored him in the first quarter.

Bryant caught just nine passes for 104 yards in the first quarter last season. For a guy who finished with 93 receptions for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, that's a joke.

Detroit's Calvin Johnson caught 24 first quarter passes, and Houston's Andre Johnson caught 31. Chicago's Brandon Marshall caught 21 first-quarter passes and Denver's Demaryius Thomas had 24. Even Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson had 15 catches in the first quarter.

Those are the only receivers with more yards than Bryant last season.

See the trend? All but Jackson were offensive focal points in the first quarter. Bryant is the Cowboys' most dynamic offensive player, so the Cowboys need to make it a priority to get him the ball.

And they need to get it to him in the first quarter, if for no other reason than he will create opportunities for others with the coverage he draws.

Coach Jason Garrett loves to spread the ball around and take what the defense gives him. Let's hope Bill Callahan is more persistent in getting his best player the ball.

Dez Bryant making case for Pro Bowl

December, 19, 2012

IRVING, Texas – Fan voting for the Pro Bowl ended Monday and players, coaches and executives will vote this week.

The folks on NFL Live said the other day that Dez Bryant deserves to be on the NFC roster and it’s difficult to argue otherwise. Bryant has career highs in catches (79), yards (1,087) and touchdowns (10) this season and has been among the best receivers in the league – never mind the conference – in the second half of the season.

Bryant’s selection won’t be a lock. Only four receivers are picked for the team.

Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall have more catches and yards. Atlanta’s Roddy White has the same catches as Bryant, but more yards. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald has been hurt by the Cardinals’ quarterback play but he has the respect of every defender. Green Bay’s James Jones has only 51 catches for 622 yards, but he has 12 touchdowns. How do you factor in Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson, who has 1,226 yards and eight touchdowns?

Bryant would be the third Cowboys receiver to make the Pro Bowl since 2000, joining Terrell Owens (2007) and Miles Austin (2009, ’10) if he is selected.

Even if Bryant is selected, he likely wouldn’t play in the game because he will need finger surgery whenever the Cowboys’ season ends.

A look back: Bad all around for Cowboys O

September, 25, 2012

IRVING, Texas -- Sometimes when reviewing a game, you see things that are not as bad as you thought. In this week’s "A Look Back," that was not the case for the Cowboys offense against Tampa Bay. It was just bad.

The run blocking: There’s a reason why the Cowboys had only 38 yards on the ground. There were no holes for DeMarco Murray to run. Heck, there were no places where he could make it up as he went. The Tampa Bay defensive line just dominated up front, and it wasn’t a case of one guy breaking down here and another guy breaking down on the next play. All five linemen had a hand in the poor running. Fullback Lawrence Vickers added little help as well.

On a delay run that looked promising, Murray had some room but Mackenzy Bernadeau got stuffed at the line and could not get to the second level. If Bernadeau gets there, it’s a big run. Center Ryan Cook had a hard time getting off the line and to the linebackers because of all the slanting done by the Bucs up front.

Throwing more effectively could have loosened things up, but the pass protection wasn’t much better.

Tampa Bay brought five or more rushers 16 times, but none of the four sacks of Tony Romo came off Bucs’ pressure. Three came on four-man rushes and one came on a three-man rush when Michael Bennett bulled Jason Witten and Doug Free was looking to his left. I don’t know what the line call was, but the Bucs had three guys on the line. Bennett is lined up outside of Witten at the snap. At some point common sense should kick in and Free should know he needs to help Witten. He didn’t and Romo was sacked.

Romo was hit 11 times out of 39 pass attempts. He was sacked four times and scrambled once.

Let’s talk about the one running play that did work: Murray’s 11-yard touchdown run. This was blocked perfectly. Tyron Smith smothered Adrian Clayborn at the line. Witten dominated Brandon McDonald. Miles Austin got just enough of a rushing Ronde Barber to push him by Murray. Kevin Ogletree locked up Eric Wright.

The only player to touch Murray on the play was Austin.

Who says we can’t be positive?

Defensively, it’s hard not to be positive with that kind of game. Maybe Josh Freeman had something to do with it, but the Cowboys were aggressive. Just maybe not as aggressive as you would think

I had the Cowboys for nine rushes of five or more in the game. They had seven five-man pressures in each of the first two games. So Rob Ryan called two more blitzes. Both of DeMarcus Ware’s sacks came on five-man or more rushes.

How aggressive were the Cowboys outside? They lined up in press coverage 38 times out of 53 snaps. The jams provided by Mike Jenkins, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick just threw the Bucs wide receivers off. They could not beat the jam. Even Vincent Jackson’s only catch -- a 29 yarder -- came on a contested play by Scandrick.

Bruce Carter is a quick learner. On Tampa Bay’s only touchdown he never put his eyes on tight end Luke Stocker and was sucked in by the play-action fake, giving Josh Freeman an easy throw for a score in the first quarter. In the second quarter he perfectly read a Freeman throw to fullback Erik Lorig, who was sliding through the line, and made the stop for no yards on a big third and 3.

Brandon Carr is open to playing more safety

September, 24, 2012

IRVING, Texas -- Only one Cowboys player had more defensive snaps in Sunday's game against Tampa Bay than the 57 Brandon Carr picked up at cornerback/free safety. Inside linebacker Sean Lee played 60 snaps.

Carr started the game at free safety, a move made last week in practice in anticipation of the expected deep throws Tampa Bay was going to attempt and an injury to free safety Gerald Sensabaugh.

And when strong safety Barry Church was lost in the second half to a season-ending Achilles injury, Carr's time at safety was just as valuable.

Carr said he hasn't spoken to the coaches about a full-time spot at safety, but his openness about moving was considered invaluable for a team in desperate need for secondary help.

Carr said he would play the position again if needed against the Chicago Bears on Monday night at Cowboys Stadium.

"It's still an ongoing discussion, I guess," Carr said Monday at Valley Ranch. "I just told them where they need me, duty calls and I'll be available. I'm going to try my best to get the job done and it's still early in the week."

Moving Carr to free safety was an interesting decision, but it backed up what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said to team owner/general manager Jerry Jones this summer: He planned on getting Mike Jenkins onto the field at cornerback. Carr's size -- 6-foot, 210 pounds -- and coverage skills give him the ability to make plays deep and close to the line of scrimmage by jamming receivers. While Jenkins played well against Tampa Bay in his second game back from offseason shoulder surgery, prompting coach Jason Garrett to say Jenkins played with a smile on his face, Carr was just as effective.

He had one pass breakup in the game but his coverage on various receivers including Vincent Jackson, Tampa's big play threat, didn't go unnoticed.

"I don't find it odd, it's all about the team right now," Carr said. "I feel like we got corners behind me that can get the job done. We have four corners that can play with any team in the NFL right now, and for us to be on the field at the same time and matchup and do good things and give teams different, we can be a handful (on) other teams."

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

September, 23, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn't matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.

Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush, but two key fourth-quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a late sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4, sealed the game.

Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they're expected to compete at an elite level.

What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but I can't believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams playing like this.

Witten's bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He's got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys' tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn't scored since Nov. 20, 2011, at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn't cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he's healthy.

Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury (ribs), but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn't have any more issues. With Church out, the Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn't play because of a calf injury.

False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with Romo or a lack of concentration.

Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.

What's next? The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football." Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), Sensabaugh (calf) and Church (right leg).

Matchup: Vincent Jackson vs. Cowboys secondary

September, 22, 2012
This is why the Cowboys upgraded the secondary in the offseason: For players such as Vincent Jackson.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' receiver visits Cowboys Stadium for the home opener with just nine catches for 175 yards and one touchdown through two games. But in his only appearance against the Cowboys, Dec. 13, 2009, Jackson put on a show as a member of the San Diego Chargers.

He had seven catches for 120 yards. He didn't have any touchdowns, but five of his seven catches were for first downs, and he had two catches of at least 25 yards.

To say Jackson is a big-play threat is an understatement.

Who covers the 6-5, 230 pound receiver? That brings us to why the Cowboys signed Brandon Carr in free agency. Carr is expected to take on the opponent's best receivers, such as Jackson. Carr will press Jackson at the line of scrimmage and try to redirect him from running his routes. Carr has been excellent in man coverage this season but he should expect some safety help, and this is where things could get tricky.

Safety Gerald Sensabaugh is nursing a calf injury and is doubtful for Sunday's game. Danny McCray and Barry Church have three starts combined between them in their careers and most likely will be the starters at safety.

The inexperience at the safety spot could hurt the Cowboys on Sunday when it comes to covering Jackson.

In the first two weeks, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan based his blitzes on how the offenses were running their game plans. If the Bucs try to go deep by targeting Jackson -- he was targeted 11 times with the Chargers back in 2009 -- maybe Ryan dials it up with the blitzes again.

The big problem with covering Jackson is it could open the door for another receiver to go off against Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins. So even if the Cowboys take Jackson out, someone else might hurt them.

Stat you probably need to know: Since 2008, Jackson has averaged 18.1 yards per catch, third best in the NFL.

Stats & Info preview: Cowboys vs. Bucs

September, 21, 2012
The Dallas Cowboys should be able to move the ball through the air Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have allowed a league-high 801 passing yards through two games, including 510 yards to the Giants in Week 2.

Big plays have burned the Buccaneers. They have allowed seven pass plays of at least 30 yards in their first two games and 21 completions of 11-plus yards, both of which are the most in the NFL. Tony Romo had three 30-yard pass plays in the Cowboys’ Week 1 win over the New York Giants but none in last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Here are three other statistical areas to watch Sunday:

* Josh Freeman struggled to throw the ball deep last season, but he's off to a better start in 2012. The Bucs' quarterback has completed eight of his first 14 pass attempts of at least 15 yards downfield this season, including a pair of touchdowns. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson could be making the difference in Freeman’s deep passing success. Jackson already has six receptions of 15-plus yards in two games. Since the start of the 2011 season, Jackson leads the NFL in targets (72) and is third in receptions (33) on such passes. Jackson had 128 receiving yards last week against the Giants, the first Buccaneers wide receiver with at least 125 receiving yards and a touchdown reception since Antonio Bryant in Week 16 of the 2008 season.

* The Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray has shown the ability to pick up rushing yards between the tackles and outside of them this season. The Buccaneers’ run defense has been especially tight on rushing attempts outside the tackles in their first two games. The Buccaneers have allowed just 15 yards (tied for second fewest in the league) on 10 rushing attempts outside the tackles. Last season, teams consistently rushed outside the tackles with success against the Buccaneers as they allowed a league-high 969 yards on such attempts, including 16 rushes of 20-plus yards, which was also the most in the NFL.

* Lost in the high number of passing yards the Buccaneers have allowed is the fact they are tied for the league lead in passes defended with 14, including 10 against the Giants in Week 2. The Buccaneers' Aqib Talib is the individual league leader in passes defended with five. Since the start of the 2008 season, Romo has averaged 11.8 pass attempts per pass defended.

More shuffling at WR for Buccaneers

September, 21, 2012
The revolving door at wide receiver continues for the Buccaneers.

The team just announced it has placed receiver Sammie Stroughter on injured reserve and signed receiver Chris Owusu.

That comes in a week in which the team signed receivers Tiquan Underwood and Jordan Shipley and released Preston Parker. Stroughter was used as a backup receiver and punt returner in the first two games, but suffered a foot injury.

Owusu comes from San Diego’s practice squad after spending the preseason with San Francisco. Owusu was an undrafted free agent out of Stanford this year.

The Bucs are set with Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson as their starters and are hoping Arrelious Benn can stay healthy and be the third receiver, but the Bucs need some of the new guys to step up and provide depth.

The Other Side: Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times

September, 20, 2012
IRVING, Texas – For this week’s episode from The Other Side we bring in long-time Buccaneers’ beat man Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

Mike Golic from Mike and Mike joins Coop and Nate to discuss the Cowboys' loss to Seattle, the upcoming matchup with Tampa Bay and more.

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Todd Archer: What's the biggest difference Greg Schiano has made? When we saw the Bucs last December they seemed, to be polite, disinterested under Raheem Morris?

Rick Stroud: Schiano has done a great job of changing the culture of the Buccaneers. He developed a reputation for being highly organized and a disciplinarian in 11 seasons at Rutgers. But the Bucs had one of the youngest teams in the NFL last season, coming off a lockout, and they didn’t handle their success very well from 2010, when they went 10-6 under Morris.

Schiano has a saying: TBA – Trust, Belief, Accountability. He has weeded out the players who didn’t buy in, as evidenced by the release of S Tanard Jackson and the trade of TE Kellen Winslow and DT Brian Price.

That got the players’ attention. On the field, he is a stickler for details and a bit of a control freak, quite frankly. Nothing escapes his attention, from the way players must have their ‘toes on the line,’ during warm-ups to the temperature in meeting rooms.

TA: What's been the reaction to the kneel-down controversy?

RS: Surprisingly, it’s been split. The Giants and Tom Coughlin obviously didn’t like it. Heck, most of the Bucs own players would only respond by saying they do whatever coach asks them to do. But Schiano is a hard-nosed coach who is trying to get his team to play every play hard. Also, he says that tactic has produced four fumbles at Rutgers in the past five years.

A lot of former players have supported Schiano, who says he has no regret about the move. Among them is Herm Edwards. The former Jets and Chiefs head coach may be just as well known for the hero in the Miracle of the Meadowlands. Edwards returned a fumble from Giants QB Joe Pisarcik 26 yards for a touchdown. What you may not have known was that two plays earlier, the Giants attempted a kneel down and the Eagles fired off the ball. That prompted the Giants to decide to call a running play. Edwards agrees with Schiano, so long as the team is only trailing by one score. But since the Miracle in the Meadowlands, teams have developed the ‘victory formation,’ whereby a receiver or defensive back lines up 10 yards behind the QB in case there is a fumble.

TA: I think Tampa has been a Tampa-2 team since the leather-helmet era, but has there been a change in scheme with Bill Sheridan as coordinator from the Monte Kiffin/Morris led defenses?

RS: Yes. The Bucs, like other teams, still play two deep safeties, but nowhere near as much as they used to. Sheridan likes to apply pressure to the quarterback and mixes up coverage and blitzes. He will bring it in a variety of ways -- linebackers through the A-gap, a linebacker and defensive back stacked, corners off the edge and nickel backs in the slot. Almost always, however, there is a single high safety. From a pass defense standpoint, the Bucs have been riddled for 813 yards passing in the first two games. Sheridan blamed the high number of stunts and games he ordered on the defensive front last week against the Giants and said they will have to curtail those. The other change is that the Bucs linebackers come downhill. They're not running laterally. Rookie Lavonte David has been an impact player.

TA: The Bucs added Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks in free agency to help Josh Freeman (Dallas Clark, too, I guess). How much have they helped Freeman and how has he done the first two weeks?

RS: Jackson, Nicks and Clark have had an instant impact on Freeman’s production. Jackson has been targeted 24 times in two games and has nine catches for 175 yards (19.4 avg) and one touchdown. He’s also created better looks for WR Mike Williams, who has a TD reception in each of the Bucs two games. Nicks has helped in the run game and as a pass protector. Clark caught only one ball in the Bucs win over Carolina, but it was a 33-yarder. Last week, he had four receptions.

TA: The Cowboys really liked Mark Barron but moved up for Morris Claiborne instead. How's the rookie safety look?

RS: Barron has been a quick study and is the big hitter in the secondary the Bucs hoped he would be. His coverage skills are better than advertised and he likely won the game against Carolinawith a late breakup of a pass to Louis Murphy that would’ve gone for a touchdown. Barron is a serious football player who was raised in a pro-style defense under Nick Saban at Alabama. The bright lights of the NFL don’t faze him.

Brandon Carr ready to size up vs. Vincent Jackson

September, 20, 2012
IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys signed cornerback Brandon Carr in the offseason away from Kansas City, they highlighted his work against bigger receivers over the years, including then-San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Cowboys CB Brandon Carr talks about going up against Buccaneer WR Vincent Jackson, bouncing back after a disappointing loss and more.

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In two games last year, Jackson caught eight passes for 112 yards against the Chiefs and did not find the end zone.

Jackson is now in Tampa Bay and will visit Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.

“He looks like he’s picking up where he left off in San Diego,” Carr said. “Just from my first-hand experiences with Vincent Jackson, he’s a big, fast, physical receiver. I’ll have my work cut out for me the whole 60 minutes.”

In his first two games, Jackson has nine catches for 175 yards and a 41-yard touchdown, quickly developing into Josh Freeman's go-to receiver.

In the season opener against the New York Giants, Carr shadowed Victor Cruz and helped limit him to six catches for 58 yards. Will Carr shadow Jackson on Sunday?

“I don’t even know,” Carr said. “We’re not going to find out until Sunday.”

At 6-5, 230 pounds, Jackson is among the biggest receivers in the NFL. At 6-0, 210 pounds, Carr is big for a cornerback.

“I like checking big receivers,” Carr said. “It should be a good matchup for me, a good test. I’m ready for the challenge. I can’t wait for Sunday to get here.”

Brandon Carr ready for Cowboys' island life

March, 20, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Brandon Carr did not know Rob Ryan before the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator got off Jerry Jones’ private plane in Kansas City the day free agency began, but he quickly liked what he heard.

“His bread and butter is go rush the quarterback, put pressure on them and put your cornerback on an island,” Carr said.

Carr does not mind the island life. At 6-0, 207 pounds, Carr likes to play physically on the outside.

“It’s a challenge and I’m all about challenges,” Carr said. “With me signing that contract, I knew even before it was going to be a big challenge playing for the Cowboys and getting the attention they get. I know pretty much every game, I’ve got to bring my A game.”

Coach Jason Garrett said what attracted the Cowboys to Carr was how he fared against some of the top receivers in the game, like Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and San Diego’s Vincent Jackson while playing against the Chiefs

Johnson had two touchdown catches vs. the Chiefs last year but had just three catches in the game for 29 yards. Jackson had eight catches for 112 yards in two games vs. the Chiefs for San Diego. Green Bay’s Greg Jennings did not play against Kansas City in the Packers’ only regular-season loss of the year, but Jordy Nelson was limited to two catches for 29 yards and Donald Driver had two for seven yards. Aaron Rodgers threw for a season-low 235 yards.

“Those games you don’t need any kind of motivation,” Carr said. “You know what’s ahead of you when you’re playing against receives that are big playmakers. You have to go out there and really trust in your training and coaching and believe in yourself to make plays, that this is a guy you’re going to shut down. I’m up for all of those challenges and I know going to the NFC East there’s some great offenses that put up points and can move up and down the field. That’s a big challenge. I’m going to keep working hard and try to perfect my craft.”
IRVING, Texas -- Terence Newman had been the Dallas Cowboys' starter at left cornerback since 2003, but his replacement, Brandon Carr, is not necessarily moving to that spot.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the decision will ultimately be Jason Garrett’s to make but said the team will play Carr and Jenkins on both sides in training camp and make a final call on who plays what side best.

Carr was a right cornerback for Kansas City, where Jenkins has played the last four seasons. Jenkins is not likely to be able to take part in the organized team activities and June mini-camp because of offseason shoulder surgery but should be ready for training camp.

Garrett called Carr one of the best cornerbacks in the game and cited Carr’s work vs. Calvin Johnson and Vincent Jackson last year as one of the reasons the Cowboys were attracted to him

Johnson had two touchdown catches vs. the Chiefs last year but had just three catches in the game for 29 yards. Jackson had eight catches for 112 yards in two games vs. the Chiefs for San Diego.

“We think he’s an outstanding cover corner,” Garrett said. “He excels in press coverage. He’s big. He has long arms. He’s a very good press cover corner. We think he’s the right kind of guy. He plays tough. He plays the right way. He does a lot of things we aspire to do on defense, which is play that hard, press, physical kind of man-to-man coverage that he’s played throughout his entire career there with Kansas City.”

Timing was a key to Redskins' big deal

March, 10, 2012
Officially, the trade that will send three first-round draft picks and a second-rounder from the Washington Redskins to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for this year's No. 2 pick can't be announced or finalized until the new league year opens Tuesday. But it has been agreed upon several days early, and there are some good reasons for that from the Redskins' standpoint.

With that pick, and assuming the Colts draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck at No. 1, the Redskins are expected to draft Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. And the fact that the rest of the NFL knows or assumes that is vital to the Redskins as they begin their plans for free agency.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Dave MartinKnowing, and letting it be known, that they'll draft Robert Griffin III can help the Redskins in many areas as they prepare for 2012.
The Redskins have upwards of $40 million in projected salary-cap room, so they'll be able to make very competitive offers for high-profile free agents. But with this deal done before any of those, they'll also be able to answer a lot of the questions those prospective free agents were going to be asking them. Chief among those questions is "Who's your quarterback?"

Coach Mike Shanahan wants to go out and get a No. 1 wide receiver -- someone like Vincent Jackson of the Chargers. And while a big pile of money surely would have been an enticement, the Redskins are not the only team that's going to be offering Jackson a big pile of money. Now they can go to him with the money and the promise of Griffin -- a player who generates a great deal of positive buzz. Not only do the Redskins have their answer at quarterback, they have an answer that's liable to get prospective free agents excited.

The Redskins also have been trying to re-sign veteran linebacker London Fletcher. They consider him a top priority and would love to get him signed before the free-agent market opens Tuesday. Fletcher likes it in Washington but was probably justifiably curious about what the team was doing at quarterback for next season. This deal is an easy one to sell to Fletcher. He's about to turn 37. He doesn't care about the Redskins' 2013 and 2014 draft. He's thinking about the 2012 season, and this deal makes it look a lot brighter for Washington than it did 24 hours ago. Maybe this is the kind of thing, along with some of that big money, that helps bring back this vital veteran piece.

Washington needs to do a lot yet to build around Griffin, for now and for the future. But it has the means with which to do that. If the Redskins hadn't done this deal when they did it, every free-agent signing (heck, every draft pick) they made would have been accompanied by cries of "Yeah, great, but who's the quarterback?" Having done this when they did it, they no longer have to worry about that. They have solved their greatest need early in their offseason, and they still have plenty of money with which to play in the market.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 9, 2012
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Dallas Cowboys

Key free agents: WR Laurent Robinson, S Abram Elam, LB Keith Brooking, LB Anthony Spencer (franchise)

Where they stand: Dallas needs serious help in the secondary and will have to decide whether it wants Elam back at safety while it pursues at least one cornerback. The Cowboys are expected to release Terence Newman, and they could look to add depth at that position and a new starter. Franchising Spencer indicates that while they would like to improve their pass rush, they won't be players in the Mario Williams market. Expect their free-agent focus to be on defensive backs and possibly some upgrades on the interior of the offensive line. They would like Robinson back as their No. 3 receiver, but if he's going to get No. 2 receiver-type offers, they'll likely let him walk.

What to expect: The top two cornerback targets are likely Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan. You can't rule out Dallas making a play for Saints guard Carl Nicks, who'd be a huge help to their offensive line. But someone like Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is likely to be more attainable financially. What the Cowboys really need on the line is a center, but it's not a great market for those unless they can get their hands on Houston's Chris Myers. The Cowboys likely will hunt for some second-tier safeties and inside linebackers to add depth, then target defensive back again early in the draft.

New York Giants

Key free agents: WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, CB Aaron Ross, CB Terrell Thomas, LB Jonathan Goff, P Steve Weatherford (franchise).

Where they stand: The Super Bowl champs must get their own cap situation in order first, as they project to be about $7.25 million over the projected cap. That may mean tough cuts of people like Brandon Jacobs or David Diehl, or it may just mean some contract restructuring (like the big one they apparently just did with Eli Manning). Regardless, don't expect the Giants to spend big to keep Manningham or Ross. They're likely to bring back Thomas on a team-favorable deal as a result of the knee injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, and they'll probably let McKenzie walk and try to replace him internally (which favors Diehl's chances of sticking around).

What to expect: Just like last year, don't expect the Giants to be big-game hunters. They like to grow their own replacements. If Manningham leaves, they won't go after the top wide receivers but might try to find a bargain or two to supplement the young players from whom they're expecting more production next season. They could find a midlevel safety if they don't bring back Deon Grant, and if Jacobs leaves they'll probably bring in a veteran running back or two to compete in training camp with their youngsters. They liked Ronnie Brown last year as a possible Ahmad Bradshaw replacement when Bradshaw was a pending free agent, so there's a name to watch for if you want one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key free agents: G Evan Mathis, DT Trevor Laws, DT Antonio Dixon (restricted), WR DeSean Jackson (franchise), QB Vince Young

Where they stand: Other than Mathis, whom they're working to try and re-sign before he his the market, the Eagles don't have many internal free-agent issues to worry about. They franchised Jackson because they're not ready to give him a long-term deal just yet. He's a candidate for a trade, but it would have to be a very nice offer. If they traded him, they'd hunt for a wide receiver, but they may do so anyway -- just at a lower level (think Plaxico Burress). The interior of the defensive line is in fairly good hands with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as starters, but they could stand to add depth to that rotation. And while they signed Trent Edwards a couple of weeks ago, they'll keep looking for a better veteran backup quarterback option with Young sure to be gone.

What to expect: Do not -- I repeat, do not -- expect the Eagles to be the same kind of player they were in free agency a year ago. Andy Reid made it very clear several times during the 2011 offseason and season that last year was unique, and the Eagles don't like to do business that way in general. They do need linebackers, and they have the cap room to play on guys like Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton or even, if they wanted to get really nutty, London Fletcher. But while you can expect them to add a veteran or two at the position, don't be surprised if they sit out the higher-priced auctions this time around.

Washington Redskins

Key free agents: S LaRon Landry, LB London Fletcher, DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis (franchise), QB Rex Grossman

Where they stand: Mike Shanahan said in December that Fletcher was a priority, but he remains unsigned with less than a week to go before free agency. Presumably, they'd still like to lock him up before he hits the market. If they can't, they'll have to replace a major on-field and off-field presence. Carriker is likely to be back, but the Fletcher situation has to be settled first. Landry likely is gone unless he wants to take a low-base, high-incentive deal to stay. The Redskins are sick of not knowing whether he'll be able to take the field from week to week. Grossman could return, but only as a backup to whatever quarterback upgrade they find.

What to expect: The Redskins could have more than $40 million in cap room with which to maneuver in free agency, and they're going to need it. They need a quarterback, of course, and if they can't make the trade with the Rams to move up to No. 2 in the draft and pick Robert Griffin III, they'll look at Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton and possibly Matt Flynn, though he doesn't appear to be high on their list. What Shanahan really wants is a true playmaking No. 1 wide receiver, which is why the Redskins have their eyes on Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, who are at the very top end of that market. They'll be able to outbid almost anyone for those guys if they want to, but they may have to get quarterback figured out first if they want to persuade one of them to take their offer over similar ones. They'll also hunt for help on the offensive line and in the secondary, as they need depth in both places.

Cowboys position series: Wide receivers

February, 7, 2012
This is the third in a 12-part series on the Cowboys roster.

[+] EnlargeLaurent Robinson
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe Cowboys' biggest offseason decision regarding the receiving corps will be whether to re-sign Laurent Robinson.
Players: Miles Austin (signed through 2016), Dez Bryant (signed through 2014), Laurent Robinson (unrestricted free agent), Kevin Ogletree (restricted free agent), Dwayne Harris (signed through 2014), Andre Holmes (signed through 2013), Raymond Radway (signed through 2013), Teddy Williams (reserves/future contract)

Top free agents: Wes Welker, New England Patriots; Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles; Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers; Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs.

Top draft prospects: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State; Michael Floyd, Notre Dame; Kendall Wright, Baylor; Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina; Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers.

2011 review: Robinson, who was signed in early September after being cut by the Chargers, ended up being the Cowboys’ most effective receiver. It took an injury to Austin and ineffectiveness by Ogletree for Robinson to get a significant role, but he led the Cowboys with 11 touchdown catches and was second among the team’s wideouts in catches (54) and receiving yards (858). Bryant didn’t have a 100-yard game all season, but he made significant progress, finishing his second year with 63 catches for 928 yards and nine touchdowns. Austin was a disappointment in the second year of a $54 million contract. He missed six games due to two hamstring strains, finishing the season with only 43 catches for 579 yards and seven touchdowns.

Offseason preview: The Cowboys’ biggest decision regarding the receiving corps will be whether to re-sign Robinson. He’s made it clear that he wants to return to Valley Ranch and has indicated that the Cowboys wouldn’t necessarily have to be the top bidders to keep him. What the Cowboys would be willing to pay for a No. 3 receiver who has proven he can be a quality fill-in starter isn’t clear. If the Cowboys don’t re-sign Robinson, they’ll need to find another third receiver, whether it’s in the draft or another free-agency bargain.

Bryan Broaddus’ Scout’s Eye: The Cowboys will be set at starters with Austin and Bryant. The biggest question will be if the club makes the effort to try and re-sign Robinson or if it allows him to leave via free agency. I would not be surprised if the front office allows Robinson to walk. If that is the case, then his numbers will need to be replaced. Let's be honest, Ogletree can't do the job as the third receiver. Ogletree has been given every opportunity to step up and take that job, but he can't do it. If not Robinson or Ogletree, there is Holley, Harris, Radway and Holmes. Holley had some productive snaps but mainly on special teams. Harris was off and on the practice squad. Radway is an interesting player because if he didn't get injured on the last play of the preseason game against the Dolphins, there was a great chance he was going to make the roster. The plan will be to try and find another Robinson in free agency with the available receivers. I don't see them using a high pick on a receiver but taking the approach of looking at a height-weight-speed player later.

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