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Saturday, December 22, 2012
Twitter mailbag: What if Dallas had Watt?

By Dan Graziano

You tweet, I tweet back. It's a mailbag for a post-Mayan age.

@MD_in_MD: Which player has exceeded your expectations most from each team?

@ESPN_NFCEast: I like questions like this. For the New York Giants, left tackle Will Beatty. I thought he was just-okay last year, and the way this year started for him, with the offseason injury problems leaking into the regular season and it looking as though he'd made it into the doghouse, I didn't expect much. He's performed at a high level. Got to go with running back Alfred Morris for the Washington Redskins. Who imagined the same guy would keep that job all year, much less rank third in the league in rushing yards with two weeks to go? I didn't expect Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer to take his game to the level at which he's playing right now. And for the Philadelphia Eagles... um... er... is running back Bryce Brown a good enough answer? Not a lot of expectation-exceeding going on in Philly this year.

@digi7alph0enix: Do you see the Eagles quickly returning to contend in the division in spite of rumored coach and player changes?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Well, it's all in how they handle those changes, now, isn't it? The thing that will keep the Eagles alive as possible contenders is that this division continues to require only nine or maybe 10 wins to be its champion. So unless one of the other three teams goes off and turns into a 13-win powerhouse next year, the Eagles will retain hope. My biggest concern for them -- and the reason I think the turnaround there is going to take longer than people may want to believe -- is the quarterback situation. I don't think they have their long-term answer on the roster right now. I don't think they're going to find a first-round quarterback anything like the guys who went at the top of this year's draft. And the free-agent market offers no great options either. I think the Eagles are going to have to add pieces around Nick Foles and hope that he can keep them afloat while they continue to look for opportunities to upgrade there. And I don't feel that's a recipe for instant success.

@dylan_stone4: cowboys make right choice taking tyron smith over jj watt?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Yeah, as fantastic as Watt is, I don't think you can question that decision. The Cowboys took Smith, the USC tackle, with the ninth pick in the 2011 NFL draft, and two picks later the Houston Texans took Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt has been the top defensive player in the league this season while Smith spent much of it struggling with the transition from right tackle to left tackle. But as brilliant as Watt is, Smith has the makings of a franchise left tackle, and the Cowboys obviously needed one since Doug Free has dropped off the face of the earth. As a rookie right tackle, Smith was one of the best offensive linemen in the league. He's played considerably better at left tackle in the second half of this season, he just turned 22 years old 10 days ago and I think Cowboys fans have good reason to feel as though that vital position is set for a long time. Sure, if anyone has known that Watt would become what he's become so quickly, the whole top 10 that year might have gone differently. But it's not often you see a 3-4 defensive end dominate games the way Watt has. Good for former Cowboys coach and current Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for helping develop Watt so quickly, but I think it's pure hindsight to say he should have gone higher, and I think the Cowboys are and should be very happy with Smith.

@ChrisSca: I'm not giving up on the season, but I wanted to ask about Cruz's contract. Are you thinking Vjax money?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Victor Cruz and the Giants have been working on a new contract for a while now, and I do think the five-year, $55 million free-agent contract Vincent Jackson signed with the Buccaneers last summer has likely come up as some sort of benchmark. I personally have been thinking Cruz is likely in line to make a little bit less per year (say, $9.5 million - $10 million) since he's not on the open market and doesn't have as much track record as Jackson had. But Jackson is 29 and Cruz is 26, and I think that makes it likely Cruz can get six years. So look at six years and maybe something like $57 million - $60 million if you're trying to predict the Cruz contract. The key, as always, will be the guarantee.

@KalaalitNunaat: What's been the key to the WAS turnaround on D. Playing much better then the beginning of the season.

@ESPN_NFCEast: I think the Redskins' defensive success is literally a week-to-week, sometimes quarter-to-quarter story of scheme adjustments and individual assignment adjustments. The Redskins are generally outmanned on defense due to injury and personnel issues, and I really think the coaching staff has done an excellent job of altering what they do in terms of schemes and looks to confuse opposing offenses and press advantages wherever they may come up. But I have written that many times. I think it's also important to note the ability of some of the key players to adapt and change what they're doing within the course of a game. Look at this Rob Jackson they have playing linebacker. He'll play coverage in the first half and rush the passer in the second, or vice-versa, and he seems to be fine switching back and forth. The Redskins have a group that's willing to do whatever it takes in terms of roles and positions and playing time in order to keep the defense working well enough. And over the past five games, that's what we've seen.

Remember, you can send in a Twitter mailbag question at any time just by using the hashtag #nfceastmail. I'll see it, I promise. Even if you don't send it to my account. Just use that hashtag, and I will find it. Enjoy your game Sunday, whichever it may be.