NFC East: Bill Polian

IRVING, Texas -- Bill Polian was a successful personnel man with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. He is now an ESPN Insider and has offered up a dos and don'ts list Insider when it comes to free agency.

Basically, Polian, who is among Jerry Jones' circle of trust outside Valley Ranch, subscribes to the theory that a free agent can be a useful tool if you spend wisely, but the economic risk almost always outweighs the on-field production.

Let's highlight a couple of Polian's positions from the Insider story.
2. Don't sign a player and change his techniques.
It is hard enough for players to adapt to a new team. For example, don't take a Tampa 2, 3-technique and expect him to become a Parcells/Belichick 3-4 DE. Those are totally different techniques, and players who have to make that type of adjustment don't make the transition well. Adapting and then trying to learn a new role on top of that adds complications that can ruin your investment. You could have a relatively brief window of return, so retraining shouldn't be a big part of it.
Cowboys' take: Dallas invested heavily in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency and the draft in 2012 and moved away from their supposed strengths -- man coverage -- to play mostly zone when they switched to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme. The Cowboys need to find a way to blend their coverages more to play to the strengths of Carr and Claiborne.
7. Don't pay a player above his grade.
Don't give A-money (or years) to a B-player, and so on down the line. As discussed at the start of this article, the free-agent market as a whole is almost always a losing investment. Just because another team is willing to give a player a certain contract doesn't mean he's worth that price to your team. There is no universal price for a player because every player has a different value to each team. You need to trust your internal valuations and proceed off those figures, not the market.
Cowboys' take: Let's stick with Carr again. The Cowboys overpaid for him (five years, $50 million) but that was the market for free-agent corners. The St. Louis Rams paid Cortland Finnegan the same amount and will cut him once the league year starts. At the time of the signing, the Cowboys were not criticized for signing Carr, who has not missed a game in his career and was young. But they have yet to see the on-field production for their off-field pay out.
11. Do beware of players whose production dramatically increases in their contract year.
If a player is lousy for three years and then spikes in Year 4 and becomes a world-beater, be careful. You're more likely to get the production from those first three seasons, but you'll be paying for the results of the fourth. It's not a knock on the effort of the first three years, it's a trust in the bigger sample size.
Cowboys' take: It's not that Jason Hatcher was lousy, but he never produced more than 4.5 sacks in a season before 2013. Polian also has a 'don't pay age' axiom, which could affect Hatcher, who turns 32 in July, but could teams be worried about his 11-sack spike in a contract year?
Former Indianapolis Colts general manager, and current ESPN NFL Insider, Bill Polian said the NFL’s middle class will benefit from the increased cap space. That, of course, makes sense. And I wonder what that could mean for a player such as Perry Riley, who is not a high-profile linebacker nor is he a budding Pro Bowler. But he is in that middle class of free agents and he does play a position without a lot of depth. So it will be interesting to watch.

Polian also touched on several other matters during a conference call Wednesday that pertain to the Redskins and free agency:

Retaining your own players: “Free agency in and of itself is an overpayment situation. That said, if your own players are quality players and you believe they can help you win then it’s better off to pay them because they’re as good or better as you can find in the market and you know them better than you know a player from another team. You’re paying a premium, but you put it into a player you know and believe in. He has no adjustments coming into your system. It’s pretty seamless. When you have good players, when you’ve drafted well, it follows that the more you can keep the better off you are. That’s the right way to go rather than trying to get someone else’s players.“
My take: That’s partly why they placed the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo. And it’s why they’d like to re-sign Riley, albeit not at the price he’s currently asking. Look for a few others to return, notably guys like Santana Moss and probably a Reed Doughty.

Free agency in general: “The dangers are you don’t know the player as well as you know the player coming out in the draft and certainly not as well as your player. The best players are [already] signed. These are 'B' players whose agents are looking for 'A' money. That in itself is not the best of buys. You recognize that as a general manager. When the player changes teams and changes systems and changes local, he’s going to have an adjustment period. That is something that is missed by most analysts and most fans. Football is not a seamless transition. Basketball is; baseball is. Football is not. Systems change. People have a difficult time adjusting to begin with and then if the system changes or technique changes, it’s even worse. You typically find a player doesn’t play to his maximum in a new situation. It may take a year to get adjusted. That’s a year you lost but paid big money for.”
My take: There is more homework done on players entering the draft than on free agents. One benefit Washington had during the lockout three years ago is that it gave the front office more time to research free agents they wanted. But one reason you talk to so many potential draft picks is to have a book on them for when they do become free. Still, four years is a long time and things change.

Better to find a receiver in free agency or the draft: “Our philosophy was to build from within with those kind of players. You can add one or two special skill sets through free agency, but keep in mind the best players are not in free agency. They are tagged or signed. By definition you’re getting a guy who’s not someone else’s No. 1 and you’re probably overpaying for him. If you don’t have anybody it usually helps to get a veteran who can fill a hole in the short run in free agency. Then the question becomes how much do you pay for that player, how much tread is left on his tires and what kind of person is he?”
My take: It’s hard for young receivers to contribute immediately. The Redskins have enough holes here that they could sign a veteran (Hakeem Nicks, perhaps, for a medium- or low-end deal) and then draft one to develop. Again.

Signing offensive linemen: “The offensive line is the one area where maybe free agency can benefit you, or maybe you need to try and make it benefit you if you have a lot of spots to fill. Free agency is a good place to get specific veteran players who fit your parameters and who are a reasonable cost. You can find pretty good buys -- I put that in quotation marks because it’s all relative.”
My take: The Redskins need some help in the interior, but they also have some young options -- guys we really don’t know how they’d perform (though obviously the coaches have a good idea). But after three years, this is when one or two of them should be ready. So the Redskins have three option here: free agency, the draft or in house.
Quick hit thoughts on the Redskins:
  1. Robert Griffin III’s absence has helped Kirk Cousins. While Griffin has a full season on which to build, Cousins only had 48 passes and a lot of reps with backups. But a full offseason of work with the starters has put him in a better spot. Cousins completed six of seven passes for 52 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener vs. Tennessee. “I like what I see,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He has a good feel for what we’re doing and he has a good command of the offense. He did an excellent job in the game going through his progressions. There are a lot of times when as the second-team quarterback you don’t get the reps like you want. He’ll get those reps so it’s a big plus for his development.”
  2. Griffin understands the connection a fan wants to have with players. Griffin always manages to pump his helmet, give a wink or point in the direction of fans shouting to him during practice (during a down time). And he signs autographs every day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Griffin is aware of how fans respond to him compared to others. He said, “The only thing I worry about, and I talk to my teammates about it every day, I don’t want them to feel bad because the fans are cheering my name and not theirs. I don’t want them to feel bad because a little kid comes on the field and is supposed to be with them and comes to me. That’s the stuff that makes me feel bad. But as long as they don’t mind, then I don’t mind either. But the second that starts getting on their nerves then we’ll curb that real quick and make sure that all these guys get the appreciation and the attention they deserve.”
  3. Donte Stallworth's hamstring sidelined him for several days already and will keep him out of the second preseason game. But, mostly because of the depth at receiver, Stallworth still has a chance to make the Redskins’ roster. After their first five -- Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson -- the Redskins are thin. The sixth receiver, Dez Briscoe, had a rough preseason debut and is no lock. No young receiver has emerged and veteran Devery Henderson hasn’t stood out in camp. So Stallworth, if he can stay healthy, has a shot because he can block (a key component for an outside zone team) and play special teams. If you’re going to be one of the last wideouts on the roster you’d best do both. Of course, this assumes the Redskins keep six wideouts.
  4. Because the Redskins will keep four tight ends and, it appears, three quarterbacks, they’ll have interesting choices at other positions. They could go with four backs, including fullback Darrel Young, and stash one of their two rookie backs – Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison – on the practice squad. Or, if Thompson can’t get healthy, on injured reserve. But a big debate could be along the line. Do they keep eight or nine? They kept nine last year but eight in the previous two seasons. How important is it to them to keep a veteran backup? Because there’s a chance, if they kept eight, all three would be young and unproven: tackle Tom Compton and guards Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. The vet backup tackle in 2010 was Stephon Heyer; in ’11 it was Sean Locklear and last season it was Jordan Black. If one is kept this year it likely would be Tony Pashos. But he’s still feeling the effects of not only a year’s absence in 2012, but also from developing bad habits while playing with torn tendons in his ankle in 2011.
  5. The Redskins have focused hard on the draft in this regime and there’s a good chance that 20 of their last 28 picks will make the final roster (with one, Keenan Robinson, on injured reserve). And seven draft choices in this regime are projected starters. Building through the draft (and having a franchise quarterback) will give them a chance to buck their history of the past two decades. They haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1991-92. Many factors go into this, but an inability to grow and develop their own talent is high on the list. Only two of their first six picks from the 2010 draft remain -- but those two are left tackle Trent Williams and linebacker Perry Riley. Only two starters remain from the previous regime’s drafts: Brian Orakpo and tight end Fred Davis.
  6. The Redskins have not made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1991-92. They’ve only made the postseason four times since then, including last season. Their win total in seasons following a playoff berth: 8, 5, 8. This is a different team, with more stability -- and better players for that matter -- at key positions. Still, it’s been a long time since they’ve had sustained success. Now you understand why there’s so much love for Griffin -- and anxiety over his knee. Another factor will be turnovers. The Redskins were plus-17 in turnover differential last season. A big reason was Griffin’s ability to avoid killer mistakes. He did not throw an interception in the red zone last season.
  7. The Eagles could threaten the 1,100-play barrier on offense under coach Chip Kelly. Not that this is a guarantee for team success as no team has won a title since 1981 while cracking that mark. And there are still doubts about whether or not the Eagles have the right quarterback to run this attack. The Redskins, incidentally, ran 994 plays on offense and were fourth in points and fifth in yards. Just remember: quality, not quantity. "You want wins, and you want points, and you don't necessarily need more plays to do that -- you just need good ones," said Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold. “It will always be more about how you do it rather than how fast. You can have 50-play games where you were really good and 75-play games when it was a struggle."
  8. I agree with ESPN analyst, and former NFL general manager Bill Polian on this thought: “For people who really like Xs and Os, for football junkies like [Ron Jaworski] and myself and others at ESPN, this NFL season is going to be one of the most interesting in a long time… the idea of how people are going to defense the option is interesting and exciting, and how the new parts of the spread offense and the up tempo offense come into the National Football League and how they function and how people defend against them will be interesting.”
  9. It’s understandable that a team would be sloppier in the first preseason game, but 11 penalties is still way too many. The Redskins committed 116 penalties (16 more than the opposition) in 2012 so this was a bad way to begin. They were flagged for at least seven penalties nine times last year, though only once in the final six regular-season games. You can blame some of it on the replacement refs, but the Redskins averaged 8.4 penalties in the seven weeks after the real refs returned. They need to play more disciplined.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay says his team likes Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III and hasn't decided which of the two star quarterbacks it will take with the No. 1 pick in next month's draft.

"I think they're both outstanding young men," Irsay said during a break in the owners meetings here Monday. "I don't think it's either-or, where only one of them is going to succeed. I think they're both going to be great."

Luck
Luck
Griffin
Griffin
It's long been assumed the Colts would take Luck with the first pick, and after the Washington Redskins traded up to get the No. 2 pick in the draft, it's been assumed that they'd take Griffin. In truth, the Redskins are expecting the Colts to take Luck and excited to have Griffin. But if the Colts did take Griffin instead, the Redskins would be thrilled to have Luck fall to their spot.

Since they have the No. 1 pick, the Colts could, if they so choose, do a contract with Luck (or Griffin, or any player they want, actually) in advance of the draft.

"If we decided to do a deal early with one of them, that's something we could definitely look into," Irsay said. "But we're still in the evaluation process right now."

It's possible the Colts have always been and remain set on taking Luck, and that the public interest in Griffin is a negotiating tactic Irsay is attempting to use with Luck. The Colts have been enamored with Luck for a long time. ESPN analyst Bill Polian, who was the Colts' GM until a couple of months ago, has said last week on NFL Live that he believes Irsay is set on Luck as Peyton Manning's successor in Indianapolis.

The key thing to remember, though, if you're a Redskins fan, is the team believes (as Irsay says his team does) that there are two can't-miss quarterback prospects in this year's draft, and the trade the Redskins made with St. Louis ensured they will get one of them. Which one it is doesn't matter as much as the fact that the Redskins believe that No. 2 pick sets them up at quarterback for years to come.

Could Grigson take Marty Mornhinweg?

January, 11, 2012
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The Indianapolis Colts have hired Ryan Grigson, who had been the Philadelphia Eagles' director of player personnel, as their new general manager. The Colts announced Wednesday morning that Grigson would replace Bill Polian, who was fired last week.

Not fired last week was Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, though it's entirely possible that (a) Colts ownership wanted the new GM to decide on a head coach and (b) Grigson will want to bring in his own coach. Albert Breer of the NFL Network speculated on Twitter that the Grigson hire could open up an opportunity for Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to get another shot at head coaching, and that makes a lot of sense.

In spite of his flop as Lions head coach, Mornhinweg is extremely well respected in NFL circles. Many people believe he wasn't ready for the Detroit opportunity, and that Lions management didn't provide him with a chance to succeed in the role. As a result, he's on a lot of short lists of head-coaching candidates around the league.

Furthermore, Mornhinweg is well known for his ability to develop quarterbacks. And with the Colts apparently set to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in April's draft, they're likely looking for a coach with such a reputation.

No idea, of course, what Grigson is planning. And as mentioned, the head coach job in Indy is not, currently, open. But this is one possible consequence of the Colts snatching away an Eagles personnel guy to run their front office, and it's worth keeping an eye on.

Breakfast links: What about Juan?

January, 4, 2012
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Wednesday of wild-card playoff week. I'll head to Giants practice to see what's what over there. But you know I won't ignore the rest of the teams in the division. Heck, I have another Mike Shanahan interview post right here ready to go. Oh, and it's All-Division Team day! The last one. Who will be quarterback? Got to mull that one over. Better have some links.

New York Giants

Osi Umenyiora's big game against Dallas in the division-clincher came with a price, Ralph Vacchiano writes, and the ankle injury that kept him out of the previous four games could cost him some practice time this week. No way he misses the playoff game Sunday against the Falcons, though. Question is how much the injury will affect him/allow him to play.

Mike Mazzeo did a post on ESPNNewYork.com looking at Victor Cruz's six most sizzling touchdown catches of the year, and asking you to pick your favorite. I'm going with the 99-yarder against the Jets, but there are some pretty strong candidates, and you can watch the highlight of each one by clicking through on Mike's post.

Philadelphia Eagles

The next big coaching decision, now that Eagles owner Jeff Lurie has announced that Andy Reid is coming back, is what to do about defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. There seems to be agreement that he can't come back in the same role, but no one seems to know what to do with him instead. Tough to just make him the scapegoat when Reid himself gets a pass for a rotten year.

Lurie also said he'd welcome back wide receiver DeSean Jackson "if the right terms develop." As our man Andrew Brandt has written recently, the application of the franchise player designation is supposed to indicate an "intent to sign," not just freeze a guy in place for a year because a team can, and the NFLPA has its eye on these situations. So if the Eagles are serious about keeping Jackson around long term, franchising him could make sense. If all they want to do is keep him away from the Redskins, things could get dicey.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer writes that this offseason will be the first time since he became head coach of the Cowboys that Jason Garrett has some time to prepare and implement his own program. He got the job midseason in 2010, and last year's offseason didn't happen because of the lockout. Patience, people. Garrett is a young coach with room and opportunity to grow and improve.

After Bill Polian got fired in Indianapolis, some people started asking if Jerry Jones would ever consider hiring a GM to replace ... well, himself. Jones made it clear that such an idea is not even remotely under consideration and never will be. And hey, how many other GMs have three Super Bowl titles on their résumé?

Washington Redskins

Chris Cooley says he has no doubt he'll be back in Washington next year. When I talked to Shanahan last week, he mentioned the Cooley injury as a particularly crushing one, since he liked having both Cooley and Fred Davis in the game at the same time because it allowed his offense to "set the perimeter." With two years left on his contract, my sense is that Cooley is right to have no doubt about a return.

Mike Wise writes that there's a difference between stepping back and letting your coach coach the way he wants to, as Dan Snyder promised he would when he brought in Shanahan, and just blindly letting that coach do whatever he wants as the team continues to lose games. Mike's conclusion is that, absent tangible 2012 results, Shanahan's seat needs to warm up.

OT change you can believe in

March, 23, 2010
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- So what happened in the posh halls of the Ritz-Carlton on Tuesday to cause a lot of so-called traditionalist owners to overwhelmingly vote in support of a change to the NFL's long-held overtime rule? Well, a couple members of the competition committee chalked it up to presenting a clearer message this time around.

And it probably helped that coaches weren't given an opportunity to vote on the proposal. Something tells me the league wouldn't have found 24 votes from the coaches, who will now have to take a different approach to overtime. (Can't wait to hear Tom Coughlin's thoughts tomorrow morning). But the owners' vote was 28-4, with only the Bills, Vikings, Ravens and Bengals dissenting.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder was convinced the vote would pass earlier Tuesday afternoon and Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones openly rooted for the change. At one point Tuesday, there was so much support for the overtime modification that you thought the owners might extend it to the regular-season. But in order to make sure the vote passed, the competition committee chose to simply focus on the playoffs.

Committee co-chairman Rich McKay said he didn't "envision" the owners applying the new rule to the regular-season before 2010, but he indicated there could be further discussion at the next owners meetings in May. McKay also said the NFC title game in which the Saints won the overtime coin toss and quickly scored against the Vikings did not influence the vote.

I'm not buying that line. The biggest thing the committee stressed to the owners is that the sudden-death aspect of the rule wouldn't change. If the team that receives the ball first goes down and scores a touchdown, the game ends immediately.

In the whole scheme of things, this isn't that big of a deal. It's not like we've had a rash of overtime playoff games in recent years. Basically this is a prelude to a change that will eventually be made to the regular-season. I'm not sure why Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was so frustrated with the vote. Obviously, this rule would've benefited his team in the NFC title game.

Just to be clear, the overtime modification is a permanent change. Unlike the original replay rules, this won't be revisited on an annual basis. It's certainly not the perfect solution, but it's better than the previous situation. The kickers have become so accurate that the team that wins the coin toss had an unfair advantage.

In the end, even the traditionalists could not ignore the mounting evidence. I'm hearing some writers complain that this might hamper their deadline writing. Something tells me that wasn't considered in the final vote.

The latest on the overtime rule

March, 22, 2010
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- We're just a few moments away from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell taking questions from reporters at the owners meeting. But moments ago, competition committee member and Colts GM Bill Polian responded to questions about a new proposal on overtime. The proposal is that the team that receives the ball first would have to score a touchdown for the game to immediately end. Asked if he had a gut feeling on how the vote would go, Polian said, "I do not. I do not. I'm not into predictions."

OK, Goodell's stepping to the podium.

Update on Cowboys' scoreboard/obstruction

August, 25, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

This just in from AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky, who is attending Titans practice this afternoon: Coach Jeff Fisher told him the NFL's competition committee will discuss the Cowboys' 90-foot-high video board during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. Fisher, the co-chair of the committee, has indicated that something needs to be done about the video board since his free-agent rookie punter A.J. Trapasso banged a kick off the bottom of the massive screen during a preseason game at new Cowboys Stadium on Friday.

Colts GM Bill Polian, also on the competition committee, has joined Fisher in suggesting the video board needs to be moved in some fashion. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has vehemently defended the crown jewel of his new stadium by pointing out that the board met NFL specifications. Fisher and Polian obviously hold significant weight in the league, but they can only make suggestions to commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners.

He'll be the one to ultimately decide what happens. If the Cowboys indeed received approval from the league to hang the scoreboard 90-feet above the playing field, why should they have to pay for it to be raised? That's a question Goodell may have to answer at some point this week. And since he sort of enjoys having an owner who can build a $1.2 billion stadium in tough economic times, it will be interesting to see what his solution is.

Obviously, you can't have a situation where six or seven punts a season have to be repeated because of the scoreboard. The NFL wants a level playing field -- unlike baseball with its ivy at Wrigley, Green Monster in Boston and low-hanging ceilings in St. Pete. And don't forget the famed Home Run Porch at The Ballpark in Arlington. (OK, maybe that's a stretch.) No matter what happens, we'll continue to track this story.

It's certainly not the biggest story of the preseason -- but it might be the most entertaining. The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that people seem to be interested in the scoreboard controversy.

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