NFC East: 2012 NFL Free Agency

Interesting little transaction of NFC East interest today as the Washington Redskins announced the signing of former New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff. Nice pickup for the Redskins. A year ago, before tearing his ACL in the preseason, Goff was slated to be the starting middle linebacker for a team that would go on to win the Super Bowl. Now, he comes into Washington as insurance (assuming he's healthy) at a position at which the Redskins suddenly have some interesting depth.

Goff won't be a starting inside linebacker for the Redskins, as those two spots in Washington's 3-4 defense belong to London Fletcher and Perry Riley. But Fletcher's quite old and Riley's still quite young and so you never know when you might need help at one of those spots. Adding Goff to a backup mix that includes Lorenzo Alexander, recently signed Bryan Kehl and fourth-round draft pick Keenan Robinson is a low-risk, high-upside move.

From Goff's perspective, it appears he misread the market. The Giants would have had him back (at their price, which was what they told all of their own free agents), but he wanted to see if he could find greener pastures. But while he visited places like Cleveland and Miami, the Giants went out and traded for linebacker Keith Rivers, likely costing Goff a chance to go back to New York and reclaim his starting middle linebacker job. Now, if he'd like to be an NFL starter again, he'll have to work his way back into such a role from a backup spot. At least the Redskins' linebacker group is a good one around which to spend time. Prolonged exposure to Fletcher is the kind of thing that can help a guy's career if he pays attention.
So, Anthony Spencer has changed agents, according to my friends at ESPNDallas.com, in an effort to secure a long-term contract. Seems Spencer isn't satisfied with the $8.8 million franchise number and would prefer the security of knowing where he's going to be playing (and for how much) in 2013 and beyond. Indications are that he'd like to stay in Dallas, just not on a one-year franchise tender.

I think this is a case of a player (and at least one agent) making an inaccurate assessment of his value. The Cowboys' alternative, when they chose to designate Spencer their franchise player, wasn't to lock him up long-term. It was to let him walk and go find a replacement on the market or in the draft. That was the original plan, in fact, but when the Cowboys looked around they discovered that there really weren't any options they believed were better than Spencer. So they franchised him, figuring that gave him another year to become a bigger factor in their pass rush and themselves another year to look for an upgrade.

Spencer is a good player. The Cowboys like what he brings to the run defense, and they like the way he fits into their defense. But he's not a great player, and they do wish he was better at getting to the quarterback. Had there been a half-dozen good pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebackers on the market, they probably would have pursued one and wished Spencer well. It's important, as he considers his value on the market and his place in the Cowboys' plans, that Spencer remembers this.

A one-year, $8.8 million contract is a pretty good deal for a 3-4 outside linebacker who gets five or six sacks a year. If Spencer's looking for a multi-year deal that pays him more, on average, than that $8.8 million, I'm not sure where he thinks he would be able to get that. In fact, there's probably not a team out there that values him as highly as the Cowboys do, since they've seen him up close, had him in their locker room and know what he brings to the table in lieu of eye-popping stats.

Spencer's 28 years old and entering his sixth year in the league. There's a chance he gets better -- that something changes and he becomes a fearsome bookend pass rusher opposite DeMarcus Ware. But it's more likely that he already is the player he's going to be, and that the Cowboys are going to be facing a similar decision on him a year from now. If I were in Spencer's shoes, I'd sign my franchise tender. Because at this point in free agency, if something were to change and the Cowboys were to revoke it and set him free on the open market, I don't see how Spencer could do any better.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Spencer's new agent can make the Cowboys see something in Spencer they haven't seen to this point. But while the point of the franchise player designation might be to buy time for the sides to work on a long-term deal, I don't think that's the way the Cowboys are using it in this case. I think they're just buying another year to see if Spencer blossoms into the player they hope he can be or if a better option presents itself. The sooner Spencer understands that, the better off he'll be.

Cowboys still hunting tight ends

April, 12, 2012
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It's not that the Dallas Cowboys were terribly sorry to see Martellus Bennett go -- even to the division-rival Giants. The Cowboys had seen enough of Bennett, suffered enough dropped passes and waited long enough for him to make good on what they believed was his vast potential. But Bennet did serve a role, especially in the Cowboys' two-tight end sets, and he has not been replaced. The only two tight ends on the Cowboys' roster are Jason Witten and John Phillips, and it's an area the team still would like to address before the season begins.

They could look for a tight end in the draft, and the middle rounds do offer some options. But they're looking in a number of places. Todd Archer reports that the Cowboys are looking at former Packers and Dolphins tight end Joey Haynos, who appears to be some sort of mountain and could help as a blocker if not a pass-catcher. The Cowboys have plenty of pass-catchers, including Witten, and need a tight end who can help them set the perimeter.

Expect the Cowboys to continue to look at tight end options between now and the draft and possibly even beyond, if they don't get the situation resolved on draft weekend.
Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin IIIAP Photo/Tony GutierrezRedskins coach Mike Shanahan will most likely be breaking in a rookie QB in the NFC East next season.
Two weeks from now, the Washington Redskins will envidently select, with the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft, their quarterback of the future. In all likelihood, this will be Baylor's Heisman Trophy-winning Robert Griffin III, a player who has already captured the hearts and the imaginations of Redskins fans to a startling extent. There is, according to anyone who's been asked, no reason to dream anything but the biggest dreams about what Griffin can be, and the extent to which he can restore the franchise to its former glory. These are fun times to be a Redskins fan.

One of the big questions these days, then, is not whether Griffin can make the Redskins a winner, but rather how soon. The Redskins had a good young defense in 2011, and there's reason to think it could be better in 2012. Fans are happy with the past couple of drafts, and the sense that there is a plan for the future. But at the same time, no one wants another five- or six-win season in Washington. Mike Shanahan, entering his third season as head coach, needs to show some concrete, on-field improvement in 2012 to avoid spending the capital he's built up from the trade that will allow him to draft his franchise quarterback. So what is reasonable to expect from the 2012 Redskins?

The key thing to remember is that, as excited as everyone is about Griffin, he still will be a rookie quarterback in 2012. Teams with rookie quarterbacks do not often reach the playoffs, though the past four seasons have offered several examples. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco both reached the playoffs as rookies in 2008. The Jets made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game at the end of Mark Sanchez's 2009 rookie season. And last season's Bengals were a playoff team behind rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.

But for the Redskins to emulate those teams' achievements, they will have to rely on much more than their rookie quarterback. In fact, the best way to get a rookie quarterback to the playoffs is to ask him to do as little as possible.

The 2008 Ravens ranked second in the NFL in total team defense and fourth in rushing offense. The 2009 Jets ranked first in total team defense (by a stunning 32 yards per game) and first in rush offense. The 2008 Falcons were not a good defensive team, ranking 24th in the league. But they were second in the league in rushing yards, which meant Ryan was not asked to carry the offense. Last season's Bengals ranked just 19th in the NFL in rushing yards, which put more of a burden on Dalton and his superstar rookie wide receiver, A.J. Green. But they did have that superstar rookie wide receiver. And they ranked seventh in the league in total defense.

Of our four examples, the 2011 Bengals asked the most of their rookie quarterback. They averaged 33.4 pass attempts per game, which ranked 20th in the league, and threw for 209.2 passing yards per game, which also ranked 20th. The other three examples on our list? They flat-out coddled their rookie quarterbacks by comparison:

2009 Jets: 24.6 att/gm (32nd), 162.3 pass yds/gm (31st)

2008 Ravens: 27.1 att/gm (T-29th), 185.7 pass yds/gm (28th)

2008 Falcons: 27.1 att/gm (T-29th), 215.0 pass yds/gm (17th)

[+] EnlargeRyan Kerrigan
AP Photo/Cliff OwenRyan Kerrigan is part of an improving defense the Redskins might have to lean on during their new quarterback's rookie season.
Now, Shanahan is a better-regarded offensive coach than any of the men who coached those teams. Rex Ryan of the Jets, in particular, believed he could win it all with defense, and very nearly did. Shanahan will design an offense in which Griffin can flourish, utilizing his arm and accuracy as well as his athleticism, speed and mobility. He'll design an offense in which Griffin works in concert with the run game, and in which each needs the other to thrive. Shanahan is likely to ask more of his offense than Ryan did of his in 2009, or than John Harbaugh did of his in 2008.

But the Redskins might find themselves limited in how quickly they can make it all work. It's possible that Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and tight end Fred Davis will be a great young receiving corps. But it's likely that it will take some time before they can really be that. There are likely to be growing pains, especially as questions persist on the offensive line, in the running game and on the back end of the defense. The 2012 Redskins are not as finished a product as the teams into which Sanchez and Flacco and Ryan were dropped, and it's unreasonable to expect instant success.

Could they contend for and even win a playoff spot? Sure. No one knows, because there are too many external factors to consider. Did the Giants get better? Did the Cowboys fix their defense? Can the Eagles make good on their mulligan? Heck, Sam Bradford's 2010 Rams weren't a very good team (12th in team defense, 24th in rush offense, by the way), but they went into the final game of that season with a chance to be an 8-8 division champion. You never know what kind of opportunity circumstances might offer.

If you're imagining big things for the 2012 Redskins, however, I think it's best to soft-pedal your expectations. In fact, those 2010 Rams might turn out to be the most apt comparison. But if the Redskins remain on the fringes of playoff contention deep into December and end up winning something like seven or eight games, as a Redskins fan you'd have to be happy with that, wouldn't you? Especially considering the direction in which things seem to be moving.

This is exciting, this idea of a new franchise quarterback. It's just important to remember how far down the Redskins have been for so long, and that fixing these things the right way can take some time.
Interesting roster move down in Tampa Bay today, as the Buccaneers cut 26-year-old safety Tanard Jackson. They said it was because he failed a physical, but indications are that last year's shoulder injury won't keep him from helping someone in 2012. There's a new coach in Tampa Bay, and as Pat Yasinskas suggests in that link, it's possible that Jackson, who comes with plenty of issues, was cut to send a message to other players on the roster. But he's good enough and young enough that he's likely to find a home somewhere, and don't be surprised if you hear the Washington Redskins mentioned as a possible suitor.

The Redskins have major needs in the secondary, even after signing Brandon Meriweather and Cedric Griffin already this offseason. And their new secondary coach, Raheem Morris, was Jackson's head coach in Tampa Bay for the past three seasons. Morris and Jackson had a very strong relationship and Morris believes in him and has stood by him through his drug suspension. Surely, Morris believes he could keep Jackson in line and coach productivity out of him should the Redskins decide to give him a chance.

It's no slam dunk, though. Mike Shanahan has preached the value of character on his roster, and if he's got concerns about off-field issues or work ethic, he's not likely to bring in Jackson just because Morris likes the guy. It's Shanahan's team, not Morris' team, after all. But a drug suspension doesn't always equate to low character. It can, in certain circumstances, equate merely to immaturity or poor judgment. The 2012 Redskins will count, after all, on major contributions from Trent Williams and Fred Davis, each of whom missed the final four games of 2011 due to drug suspensions. Shanahan doesn't question their character -- merely their judgment. If he's convinced Jackson can help the team and won't hurt the locker room, he could pursue him. And it's a fair bet that Morris will at least try to convince him.
Dallas Cowboys

Like many members of the Cowboys family, Darren Woodson says he was hit hard by the news of the death of former special-teams coach Joe Avezzano.

The Cowboys have claimed quarterback Rudy Carpenter off waivers from the Buccaneers. This says a lot, I would think, about Stephen McGee and his tenuous hold on the team's No. 3 quarterback spot behind Tony Romo and Kyle Orton.

New York Giants

Former Giant Carl Banks tells the New York Daily News that the Gregg Williams speech that got all of the attention Thursday was more or less standard Saturday-night pregame stuff, though "some of the stuff was over the line." I think that's the point. In the current NFL culture, where player safety is a paramount issue, the revelation that coaches are encouraging players to target specific existing injuries just doesn't fit. This thing that came to light Thursday wasn't about bounties. It was about intent to injure, and the warning that went out league-wide (if people were listening) was that such specifics need to stop being part of pregame speeches. No matter how common a practice it has been up until now.

The staff of Giants.com debates some questions regarding the team's safety position and its outlook for the 2012 season.

Philadelphia Eagles

In this story about Demetress Bell's introductory news conference in Philadelphia, we learn that Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd was the one who encouraged the tackle who used to call himself Demetrius Bell to come forward with what turns out to be the correct spelling of his first name.

The Eagles' website takes a big-picture look at the offensive line as a whole with Bell in place as its new left tackle.

Washington Redskins

Former Redskins and current 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers came to the defense of Williams, the embattled former Redskins and Saints defensive coordinator.

The release a few weeks ago of veteran fullback Mike Sellers didn't get a lot of attention, but it had an effect on current fullback Darrel Young, who credits Sellers for help with his development.

I guess this is why you save up your cap room -- in case your left tackle's season gets blown up by a late March injury and you have to go out and sign the best remaining tackle on the free-agent market in early April.

The Eagles announced Wednesday that they have signed left tackle Demetress Bell (whose name was Demetrius Bell up until this morning, when as part of the signing announcement the Eagles told us we've all been spelling it incorrectly for years) to a five-year contract. Obviously, the reason they did this was because their starting left tackle, Jason Peters, ruptured his Achilles tendon while working out last week and might miss the season.

We don't know the details of the Bell contract at this point, but while it's surely not a real "five-year contract," it's likely worth more than Bell was looking at getting from the Redskins or Steelers or Cardinals or any other interested teams at this time last week. The Eagles had a major need, and while Bell isn't close to the same player Peters is, he was their best option for filling that need. My guess is that, once the numbers come out, we'll find this deal doesn't lock the Eagles into too much responsibility beyond 2012, as they expect Peters to return by 2013 if not sooner.

It would have made little sense for the Eagles to alter their first-round draft pick plans and take a tackle, since few of the available tackles in that round appear to be ready to start right away and the Eagles need someone who can. And while they might have been able to turn up a starter in a later round, that's a lot of pressure to put on a mid-round rookie. Bell was the best solution to a bad situation, and while he won't give them what Peters gave them last season, he brings a veteran's competence and experience to a crucial position.

While the left side is not quarterback Michael Vick's "blind side," since Vick throws left-handed, the offensive line's performance in 2011 was a big reason for LeSean McCoy's monster season at running back. Bell's most important job will be jelling as quickly as possible with the rest of the Eagles' offensive linemen -- all of whom are returning 2011 starters -- and helping them continue to open holes for McCoy the way they did last season.

The Redskins, as I mentioned, were interested in Bell as a right tackle. But given their sudden level of desperation in the wake of the Peters injury, the Eagles surely were willing to offer more than the Redskins wanted to pay their right tackle. So I don't think this is a case of Washington running short on cap room because of the penalties. I think it's a case of an unforeseen event tipping the market in Bell's favor.

Giants will miss Brandon Jacobs

March, 28, 2012
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Man, the San Francisco 49ers must have really been impressed with the New York Giants team that beat them in the rain in the NFC Championship Game back in January.

According to ESPNNewYork.com, former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs has agreed to a contract with the 49ers. He's the second Giants free agent to sign with San Francisco, joining wide receiver Mario Manningham.

I know some Giants fans had been harboring hope that Jacobs might not get a good enough offer elsewhere and might eventually return to the Giants, but that always seemed unlikely, and now it appears that those hopes have been dashed.

Jacobs was a two-time Super Bowl winner in New York and will always be remembered fondly by the Giants and their fans. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was talking just this morning about how difficult it is to lose players with whom you've won championships

"It's very difficult. It's not easy. The guys who have been with you the longest, that's a natural feeling," Coughlin said. "But the great thing about the experiences I've had, for example, with Brandon, Brandon makes it easier on you. There is some sentiment involved in it, but we don't say good bye. We just say, 'Next time.'"

The Giants will struggle to replace Jacobs. Sure, he'd slowed down a bit in recent years and hadn't been as much a part of the offense. But he still brings something that few if any other running backs in the league bring, in terms of the speed and athleticism he has at his remarkable size. They will need some capable veteran to team with Ahmad Bradshaw and his perpetually banged-up foot, and they've already been at work on finding one.

"It's kind of like the questions that have been asked about what it's like right after being world champions," Coughlin said. "We go to the parade, we come back from the parade, and the next day we're grading players, we're ranking players. The business just goes on. Enjoy it while you can, because you've got the next hurdle, and in order to get back on schedule, you've got to deal with these kinds of things."
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One more day here by the beach. As you read this, I am at the NFC coaches' breakfast listening to what Andy Reid, Jason Garrett, Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan have to say. I shall spend the remainder of the morning and the afternoon working feverishly to communicate back to you the items of NFC East interest from this session before my flight leaves for home this evening. They had links at the AFC coaches' breakfast Tuesday, along with bacon and some kind of cool steak eggs benedict deal. Not sure if today's spread will be the same, but you know you can always count on having links right here, every morning at 8 a.m.

Dallas Cowboys

The only thing you know for sure about the draft this time of year is that everybody's lying. Everything's a smokescreen and no one's telling you what they really think or plan. So take this with a grain of salt, even though I agree with Jerry Jones that it wouldn't be a great idea for him to take an offensive lineman in the first round after drafting three of them last year and signing two more earlier this month.

Yeah, I wish Jones would tell us what he really feels about the salary-cap penalties, too, but he's smart to keep his mouth shut until the arbitrator rules on it, and so this little crack about wanting to settle his dispute with John Mara on the field will have to do for now.

New York Giants

Coughlin's getting a contract extension, obviously. Mara told the New York Post that he expects the deal to be done within four to six weeks, and there's every reason to think the Giants coach, who's won two Super Bowl titles in the past five years, will get paid a salary similar to those of the best coaches in the league -- upward of $7 million per year. I'm thinking it ends up being a three-year deal.

Defensive end Dave Tollefson continues to draw interest on the free-agent market, now scheduled to visit the suddenly free-agent-happy Green Bay Packers. As they are with Jonathan Goff and, to some extent, Brandon Jacobs, the Giants are letting Tollefson test the market while also letting him know they'd like to have him back. If he can't find a better offer than what the Giants are willing to give him, he comes back. If not, they move on and find a replacement. It's how they roll.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman sure made it sound as though the team believes it can find a trade market for cornerback Asante Samuel between now and the draft. Roseman discussed that issue and several others Tuesday with Jeff McLane. One point further down in the notes: Roseman declined to say where he expected Jamar Chaney to play because the Eagles are "still in the talent acquisition phase" of the offseason. Says to me they're still looking for linebackers, even with DeMeco Ryans in the fold.

Former Andy Reid assistants Pat Shurmur and John Harbaugh, now the head coaches of the Browns and Ravens, respectively, came to the defense of their former boss -- and of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo -- in conversations with Paul Domowitch at the aforementioned AFC coaches' breakfast.

Washington Redskins

Yes, the Redskins were seriously interested in Peyton Manning when he was on the market. No, it's not clear how good their chances were of getting him. But Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan met with Manning even after trading for the No. 2 pick in the draft, and it's clear that he was a serious option in their minds if they hadn't been able to move up to the spot from which they now plan to draft their next franchise quarterback.

Former Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien is at the front of the latest lawsuit by former players against the league over head injuries. These suits continue to be filed, and will continue to be filed, and if you don't think they worry the league, then think again about why the punishments against the Saints for the bounty stuff was so severe.
One of the most common questions I've been getting from readers this week is: "Why haven't the Washington Redskins signed London Fletcher yet??????" And I honestly don't know. Mike Shanahan said during the final week of the season that Fletcher was a top priority. Fletcher has said he'd like to be back. The Redskins haven't exactly been offseason wallflowers. So it would stand to reason that Fletcher would be re-signed by now.

But he isn't, and it's a concern for the Redskins and their fans. Even as they get younger, the soon-to-be-37-year-old Fletcher is a critical part of what the Redskins do -- a leader on the field and in the locker room, an example to the younger players and still possibly the most productive player on what's becoming a pretty good defense.

Alex Marvez of Sirius XM Radio spoke with Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander on Friday, and Alexander said he believes the $36 million salary cap penalty with which the NFL hit the Redskins on the day before free agency is the reason for the holdup. Alex tweeted this:
#Redskins LB Lorenzo Alexander says NFL cap penalty hindering contract talks 2 re-sign LB London Fletcher & could lead 2 vets leaving in '13

The second part isn't likely to matter too much, since as I said the Redskins are getting younger and there are probably few veterans at risk of leaving in 2013 without whom the Redskins could survive. But the idea -- whether speculative or otherwise -- that the cap penalty is the reason for the holdup in Fletcher's deal makes sense.

The Redskins were able to sign younger players like Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to long-term deals because they're able to pay signing bonuses and spread out the cap hit over several years. But Fletcher's deal, since he's about to turn 37, isn't likely to be a very long one. And since Fletcher is still so valuable as a player and otherwise, it's not likely to be a cheap one either. So it's entirely possible the Redskins are stuck with the problem of how to fit a significant portion of a new Fletcher deal under this year's cap, and that such a problem is one they haven't faced with the other contracts they've handed out this offseason.

This isn't to say Fletcher won't be back, but it's obviously been a trickier process than the Redskins would have wanted it to be. And the longer it goes, the greater the chance there is that some other team snatches Fletcher away. The Redskins had a ton of salary cap room before the penalty hit, but losing $18 million this year and $18 million more next year against the cap is making some things more difficult, as you'd expect.
Man, running back really is a funny position these days in the NFL, isn't it? Last week, Mike Tolbert, who has 303 carries and 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons, signed a free-agent deal to be a fullback on a Carolina Panthers team that has two starting-caliber tailbacks. Thursday, Michael Bush, who had 977 rushing yards and 418 receiving yards in 2011, signed a free-agent deal with the Bears, who have designated star running back Matt Forte as their franchise player.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
Debby Wong/US PresswireIn an odd year for free-agent running backs, it's possible Brandon Jacobs could return to the Giants.
I have New York Giants asking me what all of this means for Brandon Jacobs, who was released a couple of weeks ago after he and the Giants couldn't agree on the size of the pay cut he would take in order to remain on the team. A lot of people think the slow and weird running back market means Jacobs is likely to return to the Giants, since it portends a lack of opportunity to find a better deal elsewhere. I think that's possible, but I don't think it's that cut and dried. I think it comes down to whether there's a team out there that has a specific role in mind for Jacobs.

Of the top 15 running backs (according to our Scouts Inc. grades) who hit the open market when free agency opened last Tuesday, Bush is just the fourth to sign. And all four have been backs who spent 2011 in time-share or backup roles. (Jacobs ranks No. 3 on this list, since I'm not counting the two guys at the top who got franchised and therefore didn't hit the open market.)

What's it all mean? Well, teams have come to realize that there's not much value in throwing big free-agent bucks at running backs when good ones can be found in the middle and late rounds of the draft. But it also shows that running back beauty today is very much in the eye of the beholder.

If you're a free-agent running back on this year's market, you need to hope some team has a very specific role or job in mind for you. The Panthers wanted Tolbert because they saw in him a fullback who could pick up big yards for them in short-yardage spots or at the goal line. The Bears wanted Bush because ... well, they always seem to want a high-profile backup behind Forte since they don't like to give Forte the goal-line carries. Also, it's possible Forte could hold out, demand a trade or refuse to sign his franchise tender. Forte's unhappy in Chicago, and the Bears helped their leverage by signing a guy who showed he could handle starter's duties last year in Oakland when Darren McFadden got hurt.

Jacobs wouldn't have fit either of those roles, which is why he's not a Panther or a Bear. But that doesn't mean there's not a team out there who sees Jacobs as a fit for what they need in their backfield. He brings some things other running backs don't bring. He's by far the biggest and most physical back on that Scouts Inc. list, taller and heavier than even the guys who are being signed for fullback roles. He's as physical a runner as there is in the league, and he's got open-field speed that befits a much smaller guy. No, he's not the same terrifying force he was earlier in his career, but he can help, as he did the Giants in 2011. He's also got two Super Bowl rings, which is something I'm fairly certain no one else on the list can claim. And yeah, that kind of thing does appeal to teams.

The Giants have a spot for him -- in the same championship time-share in which he spent 2011 with his buddy Ahmad Bradshaw. They haven't filled it yet, and as the central point of this post indicates, there's no rush for them to do so. If Jacobs decides he wants to go back and take the offer they gave him two weeks ago, there's a decent chance that spot will still be waiting for him. But he's not in any rush either. There are still teams with holes in their backfields, and one of those teams might just decide Jacobs is the guy they want. Running back is a strange and sl0w-moving market this year, and I don't think we can know anything just yet about where Jacobs fits into it, and whether he goes back to the Giants or not.
The day after the surprising trade for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, Paul Domowitch has a piece about what the Philadelphia Eagles might do in the draft. Just because they traded for a linebacker, Paul writes, doesn't mean you should rule out the possibility that they take another, such as Boston College's Luke Kuechly, in the first round next month:
Kuechly, who scouts think could be a Day 1 starter both in the middle and on the strong side, still certainly could be a possibility, depending on the Eagles’ opinion right now of Jamar Chaney, Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou.


Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo moved Chaney from MIKE to SAM at the beginning of training camp last year because he said the SAM spot was a more critical position in his defense. But after rookie Casey Matthews struggled in the middle in the first two games, Chaney was moved back inside. Whether Castillo and linebackers coach Mike Caldwell still are bullish on Chaney at SAM remains to be seen.

I'm pretty sure the Eagles like Chaney, at least in the long term, but are aware that linebacker was a major problem last year and remain open-minded about changing any and every aspect of their starting linebacker corps. So if Kuechly is there at 15 (which he may not be, if his pre-draft buzz stays hot), it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see them take him. Nor would it be a surprise to see the Eagles, between now and the draft, sign a free-agent linebacker. It wouldn't be someone on the level of Ryans -- no Curtis Lofton or London Fletcher -- but the linebacker market has been slow, and that makes you think the prices on some of the guys in the middle of the pack of available linebackers will be reasonable.

Paul also outlines the possibility of the Eagles addressing quarterback at some point in the early rounds with someone like Brandon Weeden or Kirk Cousins as a long-range possible Michael Vick replacement. And he believes that the Eagles won't draft a safety early, mainly because they've done that in recent drafts and still believe in the abilities of guys like Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. I agree and think it's more likely the Eagles bring in a veteran safety for depth and go into camp projecting two of their young guys as starters.

But the main point I wanted to make, since people have been asking about it over the last 24 hours, is that no, the Ryans acquisition doesn't take the Eagles out of the linebacker market, and it shouldn't.
Those of you who've been waiting for the Philadelphia Eagles to sign a free-agent linebacker are still going to be waiting for a while. The Eagles have decided instead to address their most pressing need with a trade. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle earlier reported, and the team has since announced, that the Eagles have agreed to trade a fourth-round draft pick (the fourth pick in that round) to the Houston Texans for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The Eagles also announced the teams will swap third-round picks, with Houston getting the 77th overall pick in the draft and the Eagles getting the 89th.

John says the trade is contingent upon Ryans, who tore his Achilles tendon in 2010, passing a physical Wednesday. But assuming he passes the physical, Ryan is a great pickup for the Eagles. He was a leader of the Texans' defense and one of the emerging defensive stars of the league before his injury. Once fully healed in 2011, he played well, but he was a poor fit in the 3-4 defensive alignment to which the Texans had switched under Wade Phillips. He's better suited as a true middle linebacker in a 4-3, and that's surely the role the Eagles acquired him to play.

Ryan will turn 28 years old in July and is signed through 2015 at about $6.5 million per year, although none of the money is guaranteed past this season. He immediately becomes the best linebacker on the Eagles' roster and is as strong an option as any they would have found on the free-agent market. It's an excellent pickup for the Eagles, who needed as much help as possible at the position, and to answer a lot of people's first question, no, I do not think it precludes them from getting another linebacker or taking someone such as Boston College's Luke Kuechly in next month's draft.

What it does do is solidify the middle of a defense that was extremely vulnerable in that part of the field in 2011 and show the Eagles are serious about addressing a position they ignored to their detriment during their free-agent signing spree last summer.
Cornerback Aaron Ross became the second member of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants to leave via free agency, signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars for three years and $15.3 million. As with the departure of wide receiver Mario Manningham, who signed with the 49ers over the weekend, Ross' defection was expected. Earlier this offseason there had been some talk of finding a way to keep Ross. But after the Giants re-signed cornerback Terrell Thomas last week, they looked at Ross as a reserve cornerback behind Thomas, Corey Webster and possibly even 2011 first-round draft pick Prince Amukamara. With that kind of depth at the position, they were only going to bring Ross back at their price, which was surely less than what he got from Jacksonville.

The Washington Redskins, looking to deepen their own secondary, had Ross in for a visit late last week and had interest in signing him as well. But as with the Giants, the Redskins weren't necessarily looking for a starter. They have DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and the newly signed Cedric Griffin at cornerback. And while they would have liked to add Ross to that mix, they weren't willing to go as high as Jacksonville was to do so.

So the Giants feel they have the depth on their roster already to allow them to handle the loss of Ross, who won two Super Bowls with them and performed, overall, fairly well once he was thrust into a starter's role this past season due to Thomas' preseason knee injury. A former first-round pick, Ross had some 2011 games in which he flashed that first-round talent, and surely that's what caught the eye of Jacksonville, Washington and other interested teams.

Expect the Redskins to continue to hunt for free agents who can help add depth to their secondary, and don't rule out cornerback for them as a possibility in the middle rounds of the draft next month. They're picking a quarterback in the first round and don't have a second-round pick, but they still have a third-rounder and two fourths, and they still could use reinforcements in the secondary.

Manningham was a Giants luxury

March, 18, 2012
3/18/12
6:10
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The catch, in traffic, 38 yards up the left sideline with his toes just in bounds in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, isn't going anywhere. That's part of New York Giants lore forever, and because of it Mario Manningham won't ever get booed by Giants fans unless he does something to beat their team. But before, during and after that catch, which was such a key part of the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots last month, the Giants and everyone else knew Manningham wasn't going to be on their team in 2012.

He found his new home late Saturday night, agreeing with the San Francisco 49ers on a two-year contract. He becomes the first to defect from the Giants' latest championship team. The cost of doing business in the NFL is that if someone does something to help you win a championship, other teams want him.

In the Giants' case, they knew they'd lose Manningham because they knew the free-agent market for wide receivers would deliver him offers that were higher than what they wanted to pay for their No. 3 wide receiver. They have superstar-caliber players at the position in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz -- players who will be needing their own new contracts before long -- and with salary-cap concerns and other needs to fill, they've long been prepared to bid farewell to Manningham. The offense functioned very well when he came back healthy at the end of the season and gave Eli Manning another option, but it's not as though Manning had been incapable of functioning without him. He threw for 406 yards in New Orleans, 347 in the regular-season loss to the Packers, and Manningham didn't suit up for those games.

The Giants will find their No. 3 receiver somewhere, be it in the draft or from a holdover group that includes Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon. The Giants, as much as any other team, always believe the potential solution can be found on their roster. Manningham was a fine player for them, but once Cruz exploded onto the scene he became a luxury. Their offseason priorities at this point are linebacker, offensive line and running back.

As for their own free agents, they've been told go out on the market and see what they can get. If Aaron Ross, Jonathan Goff and even Brandon Jacobs come back and want to sign for the low, low prices the Giants have budgeted for them, they'll be welcomed back. If not, they'll be replaced. But they knew all along that Manningham would find something better than what they had to offer him. They'll wish him well, and thank him for all he did, and then they'll move on without him, just as they'd planned to.

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