NFC East: 09 owners' meeting

NFL owners' meeting is over

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
6:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

As hard as this is for me to accept, the owners' meeting has come to a halt. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stopped by the media tent, helped himself to a churro and then held a news conference during which he indicated that owners could vote on a 17- or 18-game schedule as soon as May. He also talked about the prospect of a developmental league that would help supply talent to the NFL.

With a bit a free time on my hands, I drove into Laguna Beach for lunch. I bumped into Cowboys coach Wade Phillips and his wife Laurie on the street and had a nice visit. They will celebrate 40 years of marriage Sunday, so I congratulated them on behalf of the Beast.

Now it's time for me to board a plane and write an Eagles column. Look forward to visiting with you tomorrow.

Phillips talks T.O., Romo and gag orders

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
4:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Reporters started arriving at Wade Phillips' breakfast table at 6:55 a.m. Wednesday morning. This was supposed to be the one day the Jerry Jones gag order was lifted, although Phillips had gone rogue a couple of times during the NFL owners' meeting.

I arrived on the scene a little late because Andy Reid was kind enough to ask me to share some dry cereal and buttered toast with him as I made my way toward the Phillips table. As he'd told another publication Tuesday, Phillips said he never protested Jones' unprecedented gag order because he'd grown tired of trying to refute the various reports coming out of Valley Ranch. He made a reference to "yellow journalism" and then said that certain members of the media had engaged in "name-calling" that had become far too personal. (He may have been referring to a prominent journalist from Grand Prairie, Texas, who insists on referring to Phillips as "Coach Doofus").

"I won't say I enjoy, but I've talked to the media, all the media and been quite honest with them," said Phillips. "I think they've taken it a little bit far in some situations. I've got to be more mindful now. That's part of it. If people are just going to go after you no matter what you say, then don't say anything in some cases."

But actually Phillips did a nice job addressing several topics. He was typically thin-skinned at times (We're 22-10 for goodness sakes!), but he was also funny and quite forthcoming. The scary thing for Cowboys fans, though, is that Phillips and Jones both seem to think Tony Romo's injury last season was the only thing that held the club back.

"We needed one more win and we would've been a lock in the playoffs," Phillips said. "We lost two of three without Tony. That one game cost us the playoffs."

Phillips said he's excited about having a capable backup quarterback in Jon Kitna, whom the Cowboys obtained in a trade with the Lions. Phillips praised Kitna's arm strength and likes the fact that he's played with Roy Williams.

"Roy Williams loves him," gushed Phillips. "[Kitna's] excited about being a Dallas Cowboy."

Wearing a yellow dress shirt and blue tie, Phillips talked for about 45 minutes. When a reporter from the Palm Beach Post kept asking about the Bill Parcells regime, Phillips pointed to the fact that his regime had gone 22-10 in two years. And he reminded us that the previous group had gone 34-32. For those of us who know Phillips, this is very familiar territory. My former colleague Todd Archer deftly asked a question regarding whether Phillips was grateful to have a third year in Dallas based on the fact he was quickly dismissed in both Denver and Buffalo.

"Well, in most cases it takes four years to find out how good a coach is," Phillips said.

And while that might be true, Phillips isn't the type personality who's given four years to succeed. The coach also took time to praise T.O. for his contribution over the past two seasons.

"He works hard, he tries to win and he has great talent and produces," said Phillips. "The big thing is replacing his numbers. We have some young players that will help us do that."

Phillips also joined Jones in praising the work of undrafted wide receiver Miles Austin.

"He's a good receiver," said Phillips. "He was really coming on last year when he got banged up. That hurt his progress. He has the speed, size and hands. I think he has the chance to be a real force for us."

Short lunch break (two hours sound OK?) and then I'll be back with more.

Baylor's Smith hoping to lasso No. 1 pick

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
2:59
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- For those of you who expressed concern about my lack of production last week, here's what I was working on. Baylor's Jason Smith is a remarkable kid who always knew where he was headed. I had three different NFL executives tell me at the owners' meeting that he was the safest pick in the draft.

Some of that has to do with his rare athletic ability and power. But a lot of it has to do with his character. Smith simply doesn't have any baggage that would make him a risk. And that's what might elevate him from, say, the No. 5 pick to the No. 1 pick.

OK, let's meet back here and talk about Wade Phillips in a little while.

Video: Cowboys moving forward

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
1:25
PM ET

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips feels last year was blown out of proportion and the team is moving ahead with its plans.

Breakfast with Tom Coughlin

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
1:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- It should come as no surprise that Tom Coughlin was running about 10 minutes ahead at the NFC coaches' breakfast. While reporters staked out Wade Phillips' table, Coughlin quietly took a seat at his table and waited at least three minutes before Daily News columnist Gary Myers came trotting over.

Because I bumped into Jim Zorn on Tuesday, I started out at Andy Reid's table, had a solid run with Wade Phillips and then spent the last 15 minutes with Coughlin. It worked out great because I asked him about 14 consecutive questions, only one of which produced an icy stare. In this type of setting ($600 per night resort), Coughlin is remarkably relaxed and forthcoming.

When someone at the table remarked that they were concerned former Giants assistant Steve Spagnuolo was too nice to be a head coach, Coughlin deadpanned, "That may be a problem for him."

He then praised Spagnuolo for several minutes and talked about how he persevered through a lot of grunt jobs to eventually become successful. But enough about the charming side of Coughlin.

Now that he's had time to gain some perspective, he's very proud of the way the Giants overcame a series of setbacks to earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs.

"We were challenged from the [2007] Super Bowl on to see whether we were going to be complacent. Were we going to rest on our laurels? We overcame some issues with injuries and suspensions. We were able to overcome all of that, and when we had a chance [to clinch the No. 1 seed], we beat Carolina. And we had a great chance to beat Minnesota even though we were playing a lot of different players."

Coughlin also talked about how bolstering the defensive line was a huge priority after watching it wear down late last season. He noted that defensive tackle Fred Robbins was playing with an injury the last several games and that Justin Tuck was also banged up.

He said he realized that Chris Canty had the potential to play the three-technique after playing against him in the NFC East so many times.

"He seemed to have some of his best games against us," Coughlin said.

Obviously I had to ask about the Plaxico Burress situation. His court hearing is coming up next week.

"There's nothing new," Coughlin said. "It's all been documented. We're waiting just like everyone else is waiting."

Coughlin said the Giants will have a plan no matter what the outcome of Burress' case. I asked him point-blank whether he wanted Burress if he was willing to make some personal changes and Coughlin responded, "I've said all I'm going to say on that topic."

OK, I'll be back with some classic Wade Phillips quotes in a moment. I had a long visit with Andy Reid, but you'll see most of that in my Thursday column. Thanks for your continued support.

Umenyiora set to chase gazelles

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

It's pretty apparent that Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora is starting to regain his swagger. He showed up Monday for the Giants' first day of voluntary workouts and he was flexing his muscles to teammates.

"Osi's been benching since the fall, so he's been bragging about how strong he is," backup defensive end Dave Tollefson said. "But when Tuck and I were doing squats, he wouldn't come within a 5-yard radius of us."

Umenyiora also delivered some good, old-fashioned Nigerian trash talk in describing his speed.

"[Justin] Tuck and [Mathias Kiwanuka] need some rest," said Umenyiora, who was born in London but grew up in Nigeria. "I'm from Africa; I don't need rest. I like to chase my food where I'm from. You ever chase a gazelle before? Chase a gazelle and you'll know running around and chasing Donovan McNabb is nothing."

Governor's Cup will take a year off

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- One of the most storied preseason matchups in the league will be interrupted in 2009. The Cowboys and Texans will take a season off due to a scheduling conflict that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Houston owner Bob McNair, the best-dressed executive at the NFL owners' meeting (if you like linen), said the rivalry will resume in 2010. He'd also like to see it become a regular-season matchup if the schedule is expanded to 18 games -- as several owners are hoping.

"With the rotation of the schedule, I don't know if you could do that," McNair said, "but that's something we would be very interested in."

Something tells me that Cowboys fans wouldn't be overly excited about a regular-season matchup with the Texans. Even though the teams are in the same state, there's no real rivalry -- unless you talk to Texans fans. If I'm wrong, let me know in the "comments" section.

Beast exclusive: A conversation with Jim Zorn

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
7:36
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Had a nice visit with Redskins head coach Jim Zorn and his teenage son Isaac on Tuesday at the NFL owners' meeting. I'll stop by and visit with Zorn again tomorrow morning at the NFC coaches' breakfast, but here's what I came up with during our 10-minute chat:

Beast: How did Albert Haynesworth's first week in the conditioning program go?

Zorn: I was excited when he showed up Monday morning. He showed up with a great attitude. And then the same thing happened the next day and the next day.

Beast: What will Haynesworth bring to your team?

Zorn: He can No. 1 create distortion inside, which will draw attention. He can destroy blocking schemes. He will help. Our hope is that he helps the rest of the D-line and defensive backs. Some of it you're not going to be able to see. We'll make a play downfield, and it may have been because of his pressure.

Beast: Does Haynesworth remind you of anyone?

Zorn: I know he likes to look at Reggie White as a guy he wants to be like. He wants to be that type of impact player.

Beast: He's had his best couple of years when the Titans were dangling a contract in front of him. Does that concern you at all?

Zorn: Our job is to help him to realize all the potential that he wants to achieve. He is motivated and I think it's a lot of inner-motivation. He wants to achieve a lot of things. It's just about working hard and then us trying to envelop him into our program and into our team.

Beast: Are you concerned that you have old players at defensive end?

Zorn: It's still a need. We have to definitely be looking at that. But we think he can make some of the guys we already have even better.

Beast: When you look back on the second half of the 2008 season, what was the biggest thing that went wrong?

Zorn: It was an area on the field, from plus-50 to plus-20. That was a nemesis for us. When you look overall, that's where we struggled.

Beast: What are you looking for from Jason Campbell this season?

Zorn: We're looking for him to improve and have a great attitude and we're not worried about the contract issues.

Beast: Do you see him as the quarterback in Washington for years to come?

Zorn: Yes, he's on a good road. He's progressing and I look forward to him working through his second offseason in this offense. We want him to just work through the football program and find his comfort zone. I want him to have the same learning curve and develop a mastery of what his duties are.

Beast: Where are Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis in terms of their development?

Zorn: They had to catch back up. And Devin and Fred caught back up late in the season. You would've seen a lot more from them had the season been longer.

Beast: How much different do you feel now as opposed to last year at this time?

Zorn: Last year, I was getting to know part of the staff. There was so much start-up going on. Now I know our players and they know me. We have a better understanding of all the players, coaches and the entire system.

We then talked about the time Zorn and his son went mountain-biking with President Bush last year. But we'll stick to football for now. Thanks for your continued support.

NFL releases official draft order

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
7:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Now that the compensatory picks have been awarded, the NFL has provided the entire seven-round draft order. Of course, NFC West blogger/chart czar Mike Sando had already released his own version Monday.

Sando has made it possible to download the draft order -- if you're into that sort of thing. I have my eye on the Redskins' pick at No. 243 overall. They landed safety Chris Horton with at No. 249 in last April's draft.

Jerry Jones: 'I wouldn't trade Tony for anybody'

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
6:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- In Tony we trust. That seems to be the offseason mantra for the Dallas Cowboys -- especially if you listen to Jerry Jones for 30 minutes or so. After darting past reporters for two days, Jones made himself available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

 
  AP Photo
  Tony Romo got a ringing endorsement from Jerry Jones on Tuesday.

His main message was that releasing Terrell Owens was mostly about putting Tony Romo in a better position to succeed. But as I've already pointed out, Jones also said that the presence of undrafted wide receiver Miles Austin made his decision easier. (No, that's not a misprint).

He ended his 30-minute session by saying, "I wouldn't trade Tony for anybody." I think that was in response to some of the fantasy talk about trading Romo for Jay Cutler. Here's the other stuff Jones said about Romo:

"I've always been so amused about any talk of Tony and his focus on football and his work ethic," Jones said. "Tony's boring. He won't talk about anything but football and the Cowboys and how to move the ball and what plays we can run. I don't know if I've been around anybody that's just that into football. I wish he would talk more about spicy things, but I can't get him to."

So other than his desire for Romo to spice up his conversations, Jones seems to feel pretty good about the quarterback. He talked about how pleased he was that wide receiver Roy Williams (remember him?) and Romo have been working out together so much at Valley Ranch. Jones said that Williams showed up for workouts three weeks before the actual voluntary workouts began.

In other news, Jones said it was his hope that the league would soon employ an 18-game regular schedule and only have two preseason games.

"I think it would improve our options inventory wise," he said.

I also asked Jones if he was disappointed the Cowboys weren't awarded a prime-time game during opening weekend so that he could show off his new stadium.

"Not at all," he quickly said. "We probably needed the time."

OK, I'll roll out some more quotes later. Don't forget that I'm sitting on a Zorn exclusive. We'll have that when we come back.

Jerry expresses love for Miles Austin

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
5:37
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- After a three-hour stakeout that took several twists and turns, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke with the Beast -- and a handful of other reporters.

There were several economic questions that a lot of you won't care about, so let's quickly skip to the good part. For the first time since his surprising decision to release T.O., Jones admitted that he made the move because he thought it would make Tony Romo a better quarterback. He said he never sought input from Romo while deciding what to do with T.O, but in the end, he thought the combination of Roy Williams and Miles Austin was a more appealing option.

That's when my ears really perked up. Jones has talked about Austin's potential in the past, but on Tuesday he indicated that the undrafted wide receiver was already in T.O.'s league.

"We know this, if [Austin] is close, then you're ahead of the game simply because of where they are in their careers," said Jones.  

I then asked Jones if he truly thought Austin could be as good as T.O., which quite honestly, sounded absurd to me.

"I certainly think he has a chance to be or I would've never released Terrell," said the owner.

This was a whole new angle for Jones. So far, we'd heard him talk about how Williams was poised to have a breakout season once he had an entire offseason with the club. Now, he apparently thinks Miles Austin is a Pro Bowler in waiting.

Lots more to come on Tony Romo, including a classic quote from Jones regarding his quarterback's private life. Chew on this stuff and I'll return in a little bit.

Waiting for Jerry

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
3:22
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

I've visited with two of Jerry Jones' three children in the past 20 minutes, but the owner is still stuck in a meeting. For whatever reason (perhaps boredom), the Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch are leading the league in bathroom breaks.

Eagles president Joe Banner, who was sporting a vintage 1970s black pullover, ducked into the meeting late (and lo and behold) Jerry Jones just came racing through, making no eye contact along the way. I'm now in hot pursuit of Redskins coach Jim Zorn.

I'll let you know how that goes. He has his teenage son with him, so I don't like my chances.

League mulls over two-hand touch rule

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
2:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Every now and then, a man dressed in a dark suit and pink tie will duck into the media tent on the South Lawn of the St. Regis Resort and hand out some press releases. This makes it possible for reporters to never leave their seats, which is something we've perfected over the years -- unless there's free food within a mile radius.

Anyway, I'm now staring at a list of rule proposals that were adopted by the owners Tuesday. On an onside kick, at least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, one of whom must be outside the yard-line number. Folks, this is the type of change we can believe in. This basically eliminates the "bunch" onside kick formation, which the competition committee felt was causing too many injuries.

And in another shocking twist, the league has done away with the three-man wedge that once allowed three grown men to hold hands and race up the field together on kick returns. Here's how Rule 6, Section 1, Article 3(d) now reads:

"After the ball is kicked, no more than two receiving team players may intentionally form a wedge in an attempt to block for the runner. An illegal wedge is defined as three or more players lined up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other."

Reached for a response soon after the rule change, an NFC special teams coach said, "Whew! It's about time."

The league also adopted an amended rule that prohibits a blindside block "if the initial force of the contact by a blocker's helmet, forearm or shoulder is to the head or neck area of an opponent when: a. the blocker is moving toward his own endline and b. he approaches the opponent from behind or from the side."

The fourth rule change is another player safety issue. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8(k) now says that it's a penalty "if the initial force of the contact by a defender's helmet, forearm or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass."

This eliminates initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver. When in doubt, the league would like to encourage defensive backs to make a high-pitched whistling sound in order to prepare receivers for their arrival. The league is hoping to increase both player safety and yards after catch.

I'll be back with some Dick Jauron nuggets once I take a walk around the resort. Quick question: Do we receive St. Regis points for spending several hours hanging out in the lobby?

Phillips has become a livewire at owners' meeting

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
12:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Last night at an NFL reception on the Pacific Lawn of the St. Regis Resort Monarch Beach, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips let down his guard for a few minutes. He was standing next to owner Jerry Jones, so I wasn't sure what the protocol was regarding his offseason gag order.

It wasn't the type of event where you whip out a notepad, so we simply discussed his daughter's acting career in Los Angeles and the fact that he and his wife, Laurie, are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary Sunday. He said he was very pleased with the Cowboys' offseason moves so far and then he told me a story about potential No. 1 overall pick Jason Smith, whom I've been writing a feature on.

Because the Cowboys have the No. 51 pick in the second round, they didn't bother interviewing Smith at the combine. But at one point, Phillips said he noticed Smith standing in the team's doorway.

"He said he just wanted to hang around with our coaches for a little bit," Phillips said. "He grew up a Cowboys fan, so I thought that was pretty neat."

Earlier in the day, Phillips talked to Dallas Morning News beat man Todd Archer about the offseason. It was the first time he'd spoken to a reporter since his end-of-the-season news conference in January. Nothing too revealing here, but it was still notable that Phillips was allowed to (or decided on his own to) speak to a reporter.

Asked about T.O.'s release, Phillips said: "That's what we've got to address. He had over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and the year before, he had more than that. We do think we have good players, young players especially, that we think can come through. And plus, we've got Roy Williams."

Phillips thinks having a full offseason with the Cowboys will be a huge benefit.

"He can help us, and I think he will once he gets in with the quarterback and the offseason and the regular season and preseason and all that," Phillips said. "He's got great talent and he works hard. He's going to fit in well with our guys."

In other news, the Beast joined the AFC head coaches for an intimate breakfast this morning. We had long conversations with Dick Jauron (T.O.), Tony Sparano and Todd Haley. When I walked in the room at 7 a.m. Pacific time, there were already about 25 reporters surrounding Broncos coach Josh McDaniels table. I held a spot for AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and then escaped to Jauron's table.

Part 2 of the Jerry Reese interview

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

DANA POINT, Calif. -- When we bumped into the Jerry Reese family last night at a league reception, he was surprised to hear that the Beast had broken his interview into two parts. Reese doesn't belief in cliffhangers when it comes to blog interviews, but he eventually came around on the idea.

In case you missed the critically acclaimed Part 1, it's been preserved in this non-print format. Part 2 begins now:

Beast: Would you be open to trading for a receiver this offseason (wink wink Anquan Boldin)?

Reese: We leave all our options open. All of our options are open and anything can happen.

Beast: How is Osi Umenyiora's recovery coming along?

Reese: He's in the offseason program working hard. I'm not sure when we'll see him at full speed. He'll be ready to go in the fall. I know he's going to be chomping at the bit to get back out there.

Beast: You don't appear to have a lot of spots to fill. Do you prepare any different for a draft when your team is set at pretty much every position?

Reese: We like to create competition. Everyone has to come in and earn the job. We like that. We have to keep creating that.

Beast: What does Michael Boley bring to this team?

Reese: He gives us more speed. He covers really well for a linebacker and he just brings a lot to the table. He'll compete with guys like [Bryan] Kehl, Chase Blackburn and Gerris Wilkinson.

Beast: Which player on your team is set to make a big move this offseason?

Reese: I think it was Barry Cofield last year. Who will it be this year? I expect Kenny Phillips to compete for the starting job and Michael Johnson is an exciting young safety. You can look to some of the young linebackers such as Kehl and Goff.

Beast: Is Danny Ware one of those guys?

Reese: He's an interesting guy. We like him a lot.

I'll have full coverage from the AFC coaches' breakfast in a little while. Not sure we'll come up with a lot for the Beast, but Tony Sparano has promised to share his pancakes.

OK, let's do this again soon.

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