NFC East: Braylon Edwards
Not great, obviously, but there are silver linings to everything. Start with Babin. It's not as though he needs extra reps or to learn the defense. He had 18 sacks in it last year and 12.5 playing for defensive line coach Jim Washburn in Tennessee the year before. As long as the injury isn't serious enough to threaten regular-season games, Babin should be able to get up to speed without any trouble, and in the meantime guys like Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry can get the extra reps they need at the position.
Same deal at wide receiver, where Cooper's absence opens the door for players like Marvin McNutt and Damaris Johnson to get some of his reps. Cooper's status for Week 1 is in question, as he'll need to have surgery Monday to fix the collarbone, and McNutt is the one receiver on the roster who's nearly as big as Cooper. The Eagles don't have much size in their wide receiver corps, so they'd like to see if McNutt can offer something. If the rookies don't look good enough, there will still be time for the Eagles to look over the remaining free agents at wide receiver (guys like Plaxico Burress, Braylon Edwards, etc.), but Reid is saying they have no plans to do that now, and there's no rush.
"I don’t want to go nowhere," Manningham said. "But if it is somewhere else, that is where my path continues. I want to come back. I can't wait to see what is going on, am I going to be here or not. I want to be here."
Sure, but he doesn't mean that. Because staying with the Giants would mean making a heck of a lot less money than he will make if he takes his talents to the open free-agent market and sells them to the highest bidder. And that matters, folks. In a league built on non-guaranteed contracts in which you're one freak injury away from never playing again, you get what you get when you can get it. And for Manningham, this is when he can get it.
This is a partial list of teams that are looking for starting-caliber wide receivers this offseason:
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis Rams
New England Patriots
New York Jets
San Diego Chargers
And here's a list of the available, non-franchised free-agent wide receivers who probably rank ahead of Manningham:
Get the picture? Yeah, first list is a heck of a lot longer than the second list. That means, unless Jackson can figure out a way to clone himself and sign with 11 teams, there are still going to be a lot of teams looking for starting-caliber wide receivers once the top guys sign. Manningham is right there in that next group with guys like Pierre Garcon, Robert Meachem, Braylon Edwards ... guys like that. And he has the advantage of just having played big in the playoffs and the Super Bowl, which ups a guy's value.
Manningham is positioned to cash in — to sign with a team for No. 2 wide receiver money — maybe even for a little bit more than that. The Giants have Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and no room under the salary cap, and they're not about to pay Manningham No. 2 wide receiver money to stay. If he'd like to stay for No. 3 wide receiver money, I'm sure they'd be happy to talk to him about it. But that wouldn't be the shrewdest career move on Manningham's part.
So, while it's nice that he's saying what he's saying about wanting to stay with the Giants, Manningham doesn't really mean it. It just wouldn't make sense.
There had been much chatter this week about Burress -- who was released from prison last month after serving two years for firing an unlicensed gun in a New York nightclub -- possibly returning to the Giants, with whom he won the Super Bowl four years ago. Burress had said unflattering things about Giants coach Tom Coughlin in a post-release interview, but the Giants made a push to sign him anyway and he met with Coughlin on Friday night at the team's training facility in New Jersey.
But Burress never backed off his comments, and all along I told you I believed he was only using the Giants' interest as leverage to get what he wanted from a team whose coach he didn't dislike. He visited the Steelers on Saturday and apparently also had some nice conversations with the Jets, who are cutting ties with Braylon Edwards and needed a replacement.
There had also been some discussion about Burress and the Eagles, because Philadelphia seems to be signing every free agent in the world and Burress was very public about his desire to play for them. But there was never any indication from the Eagles that the interest was mutual.
For the Jets, this has to be a money move. They re-signed receiver Santonio Holmes last week, and they need money to re-sign cornerback Antonio Cromartie and for a new deal for linebacker David Harris. Edwards surely would have cost more than one year and $3.017 million, and Burress replaces him in the role of big-bodied downfield threat for Mark Sanchez. It seems a little bit of a downgrade, since Burress is an unknown quantity after two years in prison and the Jets and Edwards had a very nice relationship for the past two years. Edwards played well for the Jets and (other than his early-season DUI arrest last year) seemed to have kept his head on straight as a teammate and a reliable contributor. He should get a much larger deal elsewhere than what Burress just got from the Jets.
As for the Giants, their interest in Burress likely had something to do with Steve Smith's knee injury and the fact that they still haven't re-signed him. The Giants losing out on Burress could help Smith's leverage and/or prod the Giants to look at Edwards or some of the other wideouts still on the market.
Regardless, while the Giants were interested in Burress, it doesn't look as if he was really ever interested in returning to play for them.
"Patient." No, the fans aren't patient, but the Cowboys are. They still need those two safeties. But they began the day with the news that they were bringing in Kenyon Coleman for the defensive line, and they haven't reacted to the Eagles' spree by doing anything rash. No one could reasonably look back over this week and claim it's been a very good one for the Cowboys. And Saturday saw a bunch of lousy things happen that had nothing to do with the Eagles and all of their good fortune. They've got injuries all over the place, from running back (DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice) to punter (Mat McBriar) to linebacker (Keith Brooking) to wide receivers coach (Jimmy Robinson, who was knocked unconscious during a special teams drill and briefly hospitalized). Their salary cap issues have forced them to go slower than they'd prefer to go in free agency. But Jerry Jones spoke Saturday about the mistakes of offseasons past, and listening to that, maybe it's not a bad idea to be a little bit patient for a change.
New York Giants?
"Refreshing." The Giants got back to work on the practice field Saturday, holding their first practice of training camp. The Giants are having evening practices only this year. Tom Coughlin likes evening practices, so when they told him he couldn't have two-a-days anymore as a result of the new labor deal, he scrapped the morning practices and kept the evening ones. Said he wanted to use the daytime for meetings and film, since they were so far behind on installations due to the lockout. Coughlin likes to work, and getting the players on the field with the coaches at long last could help distract the Giants from the apparent fact that Plaxico Burress was only using them to drum up interest from other teams and that they still haven't come to agreements with Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss and Steve Smith, let alone the free-agent linebacker they need. They picked up veteran guard Chris White to add to their offensive line depth. And they did score a victory in their ongoing dispute with Osi Umenyiora over his contract, as Umenyiora decided to show up. Seems as though he'll keep expressing his displeasure, but that he's not going to actually do anything about it because he really can't. So that's a little victory, even if what was happening with the team down I-95 was a little bit more spectacular.
"Celebratory." The Eagles were already the talk of the league Saturday in the wake of their surprise Nnamdi Asomugha signing, and they surprised again with the announcement that they'd signed free-agent defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. They traded Brodrick Bunkley to the Browns for a fifth-round pick and to save about $2 million in salary cap space so they could keep hunting for linebacker help, offensive line help, maybe Burress and possibly look into new deals for DeSean Jackson and/or Michael Vick. So in the past three days they've added Asomugha, Jason Babin, Jenkins, Vince Young, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick and a little bit of helpful cap room. No wonder the fans of the other three teams are jealous.
"Quiet, again." Nothing, really, out of Ashburn for the second day in a row. The Redskins were having the busiest week of any team in the division until Friday, and now they have fallen silent. Nothing new on the hunt for a right guard. Some whispers that they're after Braylon Edwards, but nothing solid on that yet. (Though I do think it'd be a nice signing.) Just some calm, quiet practices where everybody's passed their conditioning tests and they're working on putting together a decent defense. The Redskins will make some news again this off-season, but remember -- they're rebuilding for the future, and are maybe the one team one this list for whom patience shouldn't be a frustrating attribute right now.
Me, my day was all right. Slept a little bit later than I had been, went for a nice five-mile run, lunch with the family, watched a little baseball. Busy, but not as all-hours, wall-to-wall busy as the week had been. More to come tomorrow, I'm sure, and then Monday I'll be on location from Redskins camp as I begin my training camp tour. So it was nice to get an hour here and an hour there to relax a bit Saturday.
How about you. How was your day?
"Infuriating." It seemed as if the Cowboys put their entire offseason plan on hold for a day because Jerry Jones decided he wanted to try and get Nnamdi Asomugha. Then it seemed, for a fleeting second when the Jets dropped out of the running just before dinnertime, as if they might have actually gotten him. Then they found out that they didn't get him. Then they found out that he'd signed in the division, with the Eagles. That's a bad day, folks. And the re-signing of Marcus Spears didn't seem like it was enough to make anybody any happier. The Cowboys still need two starting safeties and another starting defensive end, and there remain several good options on the market at both spots. So now that Asomugha is elsewhere, they can re-focus on filling needs and smoothing over the surely hurt feelings of the cornerbacks on their roster.
New York Giants?
"Punterrific!" OK, no, that's not a word. But while the Giants were busy again, the only thing that really happened for them Friday was that they agreed to terms on a new deal with former Jets punter Steve Weatherford. He will surely replace the embattled Matt Dodge to the delight of Giants fans who refuse to forgive Dodge for that whole DeSean Jackson thing. Brandon Jacobs agreed to restructure his deal to help them re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw, but Bradshaw remains unsigned, along with Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. Plaxico Burress stopped by to visit Tom Coughlin, but then he went on to Pittsburgh and I still wonder if he's just using the Giants for leverage. Oh, and Osi Umenyiora is officially holding out, so that's fun. Any or all of these sticky situations could resolve themselves in the next day or so, but in the meantime, the best thing that happened for the Giants on Friday was the punterrific addition of Weatherford, which will have to do.
"Awesome." They sneaked in at the last minute and signed the best free agent on the market. They did it right when the Cowboys thought they were about to get him. A defense that was their weak spot last season now boasts a three-man cornerback rotation of Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They also formally announced the addition of Jason Babin to the defensive line and a couple of under-the-radar moves in receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and tight end Donald Lee. Eventually, they got around to announcing the signing of Vince Young to a one-year deal to serve as Michael Vick's backup. The Phillies were so inspired that they made their own big trade, and it was party time in Philadelphia. If they Eagles can beef up a bit at linebacker and find a backup running back, they'll be just about all set. They'll just need to find a way to make Jackson happy.
"Quiet." Washington was the busiest team in the division all week until Friday, when they didn't make a move of major consequence. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan talked about what he sees as the looming quarterback competition between John Beck and Rex Grossman, which kind of reminded everybody that all the other moves the Redskins have been making could have a hard time helping too much in 2011. Washington still needs a right tackle, and I could see them making a move for Braylon Edwards before that situation resolves itself. But they'd been busy and effective all week, and there was nothing wrong with a quiet day for them.
My day? Well, I was right there with the rest of you, wondering how the Nnamdi thing would shake out and shocked when it took the final turn it took. I was watching Adam Schefter on "SportsCenter" when he got the news on his BlackBerry and broke it on the set, which was humorous. My day isn't over, either, as I have one more Eagles-related item to write before I can think about the pillow. But as always, I have enjoyed the interactions on Twitter and the work I do to try and keep you informed and entertained. I hope you're enjoying it too.
How was your day?
Good deal for Washington, I say. Jarmon was a bad fit as a defensive lineman in the 3-4 scheme. The Redskins just added Barry Cofield, who can probably play any position on their line. And as we all know, they've been a mess at receiver. They apparently agreed, because in the past 24 hours they have come to an agreement to re-sign Santana Moss; agreed with Donte' Stallworth on a one-year contract; and now added Gaffney to a wideout stable that also includes Anthony Armstrong and 2011 draft picks Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul.
I thought the Redskins might sit out the receiver market and let Armstrong and the young guys develop. But they apparently decided that wasn't good enough and they needed to get presumptive starting quarterback John Beck more help. They poked around on Santonio Holmes before he went back to the Jets Wednesday morning on a five-year deal, and some reports today have linked them to a possible pursuit of Braylon Edwards, whom the Jets likely can't afford now that they've spent so much on Holmes and seem to be driven to get Nnamdi Asomugha.
Edwards would still fit, as the Redskins could use someone of his size and big-play ability. Gaffney is more of a possession receiver who runs his routes and doesn't drop the ball. This is good, and they certainly have a use for someone like that. But they were clearly dissatisfied with what they had at the position, and it's not outrageous to think they might keep working on it, even as they continue to hunt for offensive and defensive line pieces.
INCIDENTALLY: On the McNabb deal with Minnesota, which will get its own post here once it's finalized, I think the Redskins have to be thrilled to have received anything in exchange for McNabb. One (and possibly two) sixth-round picks might not seem like much, but a week ago it appeared as though they were going to have to release him and get nothing.
Makes sense. Moss wanted to stay and the Redskins wanted to keep him. What we don't know is whether this means the Redskins still plan to follow through on their plans to pursue Jets receivers Santonio Holmes and/or Braylon Edwards. The Star-Ledger is reporting that the Jets have already made an offer to Holmes, but the news of Washington's interest leaked out a few days ago, so Holmes knows he might get a big Dan Snyder offer to compete with whatever the Jets are offering.
The Redskins surely can use the help at receiver. John Beck and/or Rex Grossman is going to need all the help he can get as the starting quarterback this season. Holmes would be a clear No. 1 ahead of Moss and a major upgrade over what the Redskins had at the position last season. And Edwards would be the big-bodied downfield target that Anthony Armstrong kind of was and kind of wasn't last season.
I was going to post on all this Deion Sanders-Dez Bryant stuff Tuesday, but it felt like a radio interview Deion had given last week and to which I'd already linked. Maybe I was wrong, though, and Deion is saying this same kind of stuff about Bryant again. Calvin Watkins thinks Deion needs to get off the kid's back, and I wonder what Bryant did to Deion to change him from a guy trying to help him out to a guy seemingly determined to tear him down. Must have been pretty bad.
I know how you guys love your Tony Romo golf updates, so here you go. Tony's a co-favorite, along with former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden, to win this weekend's American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament. If I were a player and I were tweeting about this, I'd end it with #pleaseendthelockout.
New York Giants
Jeez, it's tough to find Giants links. I'm going with this from Giants.com on sixth-round safety Tyler Sash, whose chances of cracking the Giants' very deep secondary are slightly better than yours are but whose rookie contribution should come on special teams. A couple of people have asked why we haven't listed "special teams" among the Giants' needs for the coming season. My answer is this: If you had the special-teams season the Giants had, and the guys you just drafted don't help fix the problem, you didn't have a very good draft.
Antrel Rolle says he's been hearing since March that the end of the lockout was a week or two away. My question: Who are this guy's sources? I don't remember anybody even hinting at that in March. Anyway, Rolle says the sky's the limit for the Giants this season, which is fine, to like your team's chances before the rosters are set. Again, Giants links are scarce. These are some quotes from Rolle. Enjoy them.
Over at the AFC North blog, James Walker thinks Quintin Mikell could be a target of the Cleveland Browns in free agency. James cites connections with folks such as Dick Jauron and Tom Heckert, who know Mikell from his Philly days, and seems to think Mikell is the kind of solid all-around contributor who'd fit what the Browns are looking for at the position. A couple of other names on here that have come up in some of our safety discussions as well.
Grantland.com's Bill Barnwell did a list of the 25 Least Valuable Players in the NFL, which is a delightfully cranky idea he carried off quite well. The only NFC East player on the list was Eagles cornerback Dmitri Patterson, of whom Barnwell writes, "Patterson was a last resort at cornerback forced into action by injuries; teams avoided Asante Samuel and spent the second half throwing at the guy who the Philadelphia Inquirer politely noted ' … is better suited to special teams.'"
Our man in Chicago, Michael Wright, ponders whether Albert Haynesworth would be a good fit with the Bears. Michael believes he would, and I agree. Big Al in a 4-3, away from Mike Shanahan and motivated to play for a contender, is going to be a dangerous dude. Because of that, I also agree with Michael that Shanahan will demand a lot in return for Big Al, and it'll be interesting to see who's willing to pay the price. I've heard some recent speculation about Denver and St. Louis for Al as well. Still say no chance the Eagles can get him, even though that's the best and most obvious fit.
And sticking with the Redskins/Bears theme for some reason, the Chicago Tribune reports that Devin Hester wants the Bears to sign Santana Moss. I think we've all been expecting Moss to sign back with Washington, but if he were to leave, it would create a tough situation for the Skins. It will be tough for them to lure veteran free-agent receivers given their unstable quarterback situation. They'd likely have to overpay to get someone line Braylon Edwards to replace Moss, which would leave them short in their pursuit of other free agents, and could end up having to just let their young guys develop without Moss' guidance.
Hump Day, they call this. We can all get over it together.
NFC East teams in need
Redskins: This is a big-time need position for Washington, and what the Redskins do in free agency could be a very interesting signal about their long-term plans. The thought is that they'll just re-sign Santana Moss and let Anthony Armstrong, Leonard Hankerson and the young guys develop. And it could be difficult to lure a big free-agent wideout when they don't know who their quarterback is going to be. But if they pass up the chance to fill a need this serious, it could be the best indication yet that they plan to make their big play for their franchise quarterback in next year's draft and want to conserve the resources they'll need to (a) draft him, (b) pay him and (c) put the pieces around him once they know who he is.
Giants: Steve Smith's knee injury hurt his chances of getting the great big deal he wanted, and as a result it might help keep him in New York. The Giants want him back, since he fits his role so perfectly and therefore allows Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham to thrive in theirs. Should Smith leave, the Giants would be in the market for receiver help, though it's doubtful they'd have very much in the budget with which to pursue the top available guys.
Eagles: The Eagles don't "need" a receiver. They're in here because they've been linked to Plaxico Burress, whose size and physicality would enable him to fill a very specific role for them if that's what he wants to do. Malcom Floyd, who's on this list, is also the kind of big, physical guy who could be that red zone presence for the Eagles. But he's liable to command a bigger deal than is Burress, and the Eagles have other needs on which to spend money.
Top five potential unrestricted free-agent wide receivers:
1. Santonio Holmes. Given all of the supposed baggage, the early season suspension and the issues he was supposed to have after the trade, Holmes had an incredible year for the Jets, who have said they intend to keep him. Of course, if they do keep him, that could mean teammate Braylon Edwards is on the market.
2. Sidney Rice. The big question with Rice is about his hip, which cost him almost all of the 2010 season. He was a revelation in 2009, teaming with Brett Favre to get the Vikings within an interception or two of the Super Bowl. If he's healthy, he could be a tremendous asset to whomever the Redskins have at quarterback -- this year and beyond.
3. Edwards. Not the same kind of player Holmes is, but not a bad consolation prize either. The knock on him has always been dropped balls, but he showed improvement in that critical area in 2010.
4. Floyd. Assuming the Chargers don't finally trade Vincent Jackson, they're probably going to let the 6-foot-5 Floyd hit the market. He'll be appealing to teams looking for that big, strong red zone target. He just hasn't shown the ability to produce over the long haul the way some of the guys ahead of him on this list have.
5. Smith. His big year was 2009, and had he been an unrestricted free agent then, he'd likely have cashed in big-time on his 100-catch season. But the knee injury that knocked him out in 2010 is likely to hurt his value, and if he can't prove to teams he's 100 percent healthy, he's going to have to wait for that big payday.
Predictions that mean nothing: The Redskins bring back Moss and decide to sit out the bigger-name market while they see what they have in Armstrong et al. The Eagles make a play for Burress, but another team offers more money and a bigger job and he goes to a situation that's less ideal for him. The Eagles then sit out the receiver market as well. Giants sign Smith, though not before Lance Moore's name is thrown around a lot as a potential fallback option.
tmcsfinest from Toronto thrilled us all Friday morning with a stirring tale of his efforts to post a question on the mailbag. His problem apparently was that his question was too long, so he posted it instead as a comment on a post about the Giants hiring Larry Izzo. Fortunately for him, I read almost all of the comments -- even the ones that have nothing to do with the post under which they sit. Unfortunately for him, he was right about his question being too long, so I can't copy/paste the whole thing here. Basically, he asks if I think it'd be smart for the Redskins to add to their wide receiving corps via trade or free agency, because what they have there isn't great and there are some interesting options on the market.
Dan Graziano: No doubt, receiver is a need the Redskins should address if they can. The issue is that some of the names you suggest (Lee Evans, Darrius Heyward-Bey) likely wouldn't be big enough upgrades over what they already have to justify parting with resources to acquire them. Free agents such as Braylon Edwards and New York Steve Smith don't fit the No. 1 wideout description. Sidney Rice is an injury question, and Vincent Jackson and Carolina's Steve Smith will be pricey. Considering that no one they bring in will have an established NFL quarterback throwing to him, I'm not sure it's wise for Washington to deal away a bunch of picks for a star or commit long-term dollars to the relative flotsam that's out there on the free agent market when they're probably gearing up to position themselves to draft their quarterback of the future next spring. Yes, they need help at receiver. But given the probable price of upgrading, I wonder if they might just be better off bringing back Santana Moss and finding out a little bit more about what Anthony Armstrong's got.
Evan O'Gibney, a Long Branch, N.J. native, checks in from Baghdad with a question about the Giants. Evan is "worried about the Giants" because "Jerry Reese is too conservative, Coughlin is starting to get surrounded by more players who weren't there when they won the big one and just see the hard-nosed coach and don't respond well. Brandon Jacobs is not worth the money he's making over the next two seasons and our O-line is all but about to start collecting social security. And I'm still not over the decision to not trade up to get Rolando McClain when ILB is by far our biggest need instead of getting ANOTHER DE. (i like JPP, but it wasnt the right move, backflips dont count in hall of fame votes)"
DG: Couldn't have said it better myself, Evan. I don't like the way the Giants have made their offseason decisions the past couple of years. I've been clear on this. And I think, if they don't address that linebacker position in free agency and add some offensive line depth, they're setting themselves up for disappointment. But as you'll see if you check back on the comments in a few hours, there are many Giants fans who think I'm all about unwarranted doom and gloom. I'll just point out, again, that you and I have played in as many playoff games as the Giants have in the past two seasons.
Bill in D.C. wonders what will become of Barry Cofield if he and the Giants part ways in free agency, and if I "think he could play the 5 technique in a 3-4? He seems to have the speed and size (6'4", 309) to do so. If so, he might make an interesting addition to the Dallas D line."
DG: Cofield has played on the inside in the 4-3 in New York, and I confess I don't know much about the technical aspects of making a position switch like that. My gut tells me it'd be easier than, say, switching to 4-3 defensive end. And given the freedoms that talented players enjoy in Rob Ryan's scheme, it's possible the five-technique in Dallas won't be a traditional five-technique position. Certainly, if you put him on the same side as DeMarcus Ware, he might not have to worry as much about rushing the passer or keeping offensive tackles off his linebacker. It's an interesting thought, but I can't offer any insight into whether it's something Cofield himself would want to do.
Andrew in Dallas wants to know, if the Eagles are going to have as much cap room as it appears they will, "why don't they re-sign some key players (like DeSean Jackson) to a contract with a lot of money this season to lower the price for later years? By front-loading the contracts, they could build in more room in later caps, in addition to locking up vital players."
DG: In theory, sure. But the Eagles are thinking about winning this year, and I imagine they'd rather dole out up-front money to players who can help with that than worry about the long-term situation with Jackson. And Jackson's situation is its own mess, as I believe he plans to hit the open market with Drew Rosenhaus at his side and see what he can get. I'm not even sure Jackson would be interested in locking up long-term at a price the Eagles would find acceptable right now. In short, I think the Eagles are focused a lot more on a 2011 Super Bowl run than they are on cap room in future years.
Keep the questions coming, folks. And if they don't fit in the mailbag, as tmcsfinest showed, you can always just throw them into some random post during the week and hope I find them. It's a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world...
|Quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jason Campbell lead the two most overrated teams in the Beast.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
It's much too early to make any sweeping statements about the '09 season, but I'm planning to do it anyway. The NFC East is overrated.
I know the division is still showing up atop ESPN.com's Power Rankings -- now syndicated in more than 100 nations -- but that will soon change. The NFC North, commonly referred to as the Favre Division, is on pace to overtake the Beast by next Tuesday -- especially if John "The Professor" Clayton continues to rank the mighty New York Giants sixth overall.
As a former power rankings panelist, I believe the Giants are the best team in the league heading into Week 4. But after that, all bets are off. The Cowboys are 2-1, but our four distinguished voters don't even have them in the top half of the league (No. 17). And only by the grace of God and Clayton did the Redskins end up at No. 26 overall. They deserved much worse after their performance in Detroit.
Now let's take a look at all four teams to see where we may have overrated them. We'll assign them an overrated score on a 1-10 scale. The teams with the highest scores are the most overrated. If you're confused by this ranking system, please skip to the next blog entry:
Anyone who says they have the Eagles figured out is not being truthful: Seriously, how in the world are we supposed to have any feel for this team? They opened by destroying Jake Delhomme's fake elbow and the rest of the Panthers. Now that the Panthers are 0-3, that win doesn't seem quite as impressive. And the Eagles' defense, an alleged strength after Week 1, was awful against the high-flying Saints. The Eagles bounced back with a dominating performance against the Chiefs, but that's a team most teams should dominate.
Eagles coach Andy Reid has brought in the prototypical Wildcat quarterback in Michael Vick, but the formation had nothing to do with the Eagles' win over the Chiefs. The Eagles have an aging star quarterback recovering from a cracked rib and an aging star running back trying to bounce back from an ankle injury. There are simply too many uncertainties in Philly to make any logical guess as to where this team is headed. Reid made the mistake of banking on the highly unpredictable Shawn Andrews to start at right tackle. That's already backfired and I'm not convinced Winston Justice is the answer. Some of us thought the Eagles might have one of the better offensive lines in football heading into the season. That doesn't appear to be the case now.
Overrated factor: 7
I'm pretty sure the Cowboys' pass rush is overrated: The Cowboys are about to face one of the worst 3-0 teams (Denver Broncos) since the merger. After wins over Denver and Kansas City, Dallas will head into a bye with a nice-looking 4-1 record. But there are still some flaws that have emerged. A year removed from leading the league in sacks, the Cowboys were shut out the first two games. They had three sacks in the Monday night win over the Panthers, but two of them came after the game had already been decided.
The Cowboys won't win many games scoring 14 points on offense, although they pulled it off against Carolina. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett seems to be realizing that this team has a new identity. In the post-T.O. era, the Cowboys' best chance for success is in a run-based offense. When Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are all healthy, the Cowboys potentially have the most dangerous running attack in the league. Unfortunately, Jones and Barber appear to be injury prone at this point in their careers. This may sound crazy, but I think the Cowboys are actually the most underrated team in the division right now. Our power rankings specialists put them at No. 17, which seems ridiculously low.
If this team can find anyone to rush the quarterback opposite DeMarcus Ware (hello, Anthony Spencer?), the Cowboys could get on a roll.
Overrated factor: 3
Why do we always fall for the Skins' offseason tricks? Most of us had the Redskins finishing fourth in the division, but a few brave souls (Mort) felt like they belonged in the playoff conversation. The signing of All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was supposed to make this an intimidating defense. But when Lions rookie Matt Stafford calmly picks your defense apart in a 99-yard drive early in a game, you have some problems.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder spent an enormous amount of money on Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the offseason, but he neglected other areas. Take the offensive line for instance. The Skins brought in Derrick Dockery to address one of the guard spots and they plucked Mike Williams from the Duke weight loss program. The Skins' other starting guard, Randy Thomas, is already out for the season with a triceps injury and he's been replaced by a former third-round pick who appears to be nothing more than a stopgap.
Throw in the team's embattled head coach/quarterback guru Jim Zorn and you have the recipe for a 6-10 season.
Overrated factor: 9.3
At least the Giants are pulling their weight. Unlike some other coaches in the Beast, Tom Coughlin never makes excuses for his team. This a locker room that has battled through a lot of adversity over the past couple years and it seems to inspire the team rather than bring it down. Losing safety Kenny Phillips to a season-ending knee injury is a big deal because he was on his way to becoming a star, but this team will recover.
Eli Manning's also gaining confidence in his young receivers each week. We spent a large portion of the offseason tracking rumors about Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards, but the Giants are getting it done with in-house players. Steve Smith and Mario Manningham have already made some clutch plays this season. I think beating the Cowboys in a close game in front of more than 100,000 fans is something that gave this team a huge boost.
The Giants have definitely replaced the Eagles as the Beast's flagship team. And I don't see that changing any time soon.
Overrated factor: 3.2
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
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2. The Skins' red-zone offense: How awful was that? The Redskins moved the ball up and down the field, but they kept settling for short field goals. They're very lucky the Rams had a turnover in the fourth quarter -- or they probably lose that game. Coach Jim Zorn tried to show confidence in his offense by going for it on fourth-and-1 late in the game. They rewarded him by getting stuffed. And don't blame this one on Jason Campbell. There were two touchdowns dropped in the end zone. You have to put points on the board to beat most of the teams in the league. Good thing the Redskins were playing the Rams.
3. The Eagles' D: It's tough to single out an individual when an entire unit plays so poorly. You knew Drew Brees was going to live off the three-step drop -- yet there was almost no resistance offered. A week after causing seven turnovers by the Panthers, the Eagles' defense didn't have a chance against the Saints. This was a really big spot for the defense, too, because of the loss of Donovan McNabb. Just a poor overall effort. And let's give the special teams a mention for its horrid play. The Ellis Hobbs fumble at the start of the second half on a kickoff return pretty much set the tone.
There was much speculation that the Giants would add Braylon Edwards in the offseason, but that never materialized. Instead, they used their late first-round selection on North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is fairly refined for a rookie and the Tar Heels used a lot of NFL principles in their offense, but he is still a rookie and an adjustment period is a given. Nicks is an intriguing option, and there are other young wideouts on this squad who also have a lot of upside.
|Al Bello/Getty Images|
|The Giants' offense faltered down the stretch last season without Plaxico Burress in the lineup.|
Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith don't have as high of a ceiling as Nicks, but both, especially Smith, are steady players. Smith should be a fine No. 2 wideout or slot guy for the foreseeable future, but he and Hixon would be far more effective with a true difference-maker on the opposite side. Hixon did lead the team in receiving last year and has some big-play abilities.
Two wild cards are Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss. Neither is particularly big, but they can get deep. Manningham in particular could take a big step forward this year, while Moss needs to step up to see the field.
The Giants also used a third-round selection on Ramses Barden. His stature is extremely impressive, but he looked overwhelmed at the Senior Bowl and I expect that to be the case in Year One for someone trying to make the transition from a tiny school like Cal Poly. He is a long-term project.
Overall, this is a very good team. Even with Steve Spagnuolo now in St. Louis, I expect the defense to be much improved -- which is really saying something. The running game should once again be among the top few in the league. Manning did a better job of valuing the football last year and that improvement needs to continue. He also needs to be more confident in spreading the ball around -- he clearly missed his safety blanket when Burress was out. A wideout or two could step up as well. Even without a true No. 1 option at that position, the Giants should win plenty of 13-9, grind-it-out games. It would just be much easier with someone of Burress' or Edwards' caliber in the mix.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
|Will Tony Romo be more productive as a quarterback without Terrell Owens?|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley and John Clayton
For a discussion about T.O. and Tony Romo, ESPN.com called upon two of its most divisive newsroom personalities: John "The Professor" Clayton and me. Will Romo be better off without the most polarizing player in the league, or will the Cowboys' offense sputter without T.O.'s production?
John and I essentially agree that the Cowboys will be better off without Terrell Owens in the long run, but it's a bit premature to say they will see immediate results on the field. Let's delve into this fascinating topic with two men who've watched this once beautiful relationship -- "That's my quarterback!" -- lose its bloom.
John starts off by answering this all-important question: Is Romo better off without T.O.?
JC: Statistically, no. Emotionally, yes. The problem is in the transition, because there is no way you can take away T.O's ability to have a 1,000-yard season along with getting 10 or more touchdowns and think Romo can be as effective. Even with T.O. on the roster last season, Romo's accuracy dropped from 64.4 to 61.3. But he still stayed at the two-touchdown-pass-per-game level. That's a tribute to his skills.
Romo isn't overrated as a quarterback, but the talent around him might be. Roy Williams has one Pro Bowl season to his credit and he's clearly not T.O. In the end, the Cowboys could be better without T.O., but the evidence may not be there this season. They needed to make a change because of the tension created when T.O. didn't get the ball. You and I sat near each other at the Redskins game in Dallas last season and we watched T.O. at his worst. Owens was clearly showing his frustration with not getting the ball in the first half, so the Cowboys changed their game plan at halftime and forced too many throws to Owens in the second half. That threw off the rhythm of the offense and eventually allowed the Redskins to take control and win the game.
|AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez|
|Despite a bitter ending, Tony Romo and Terrell Owens had their share of happy moments in Dallas.|
Williams was obviously acquired to bridge the changeover when Owens wasn't going to be a Cowboy, but here's my fear: The situation in Dallas for Romo is what Trent Edwards went through in Buffalo in 2008. After seven weeks, teams found out that if you stuff the run and double-team Lee Evans, the Bills' offense was totally solved. Romo does have the benefit of having Jason Witten -- his favorite target -- to bail him out of being completely shut out if Williams is double covered. To get back to the level of his 4,211-yard season in 2007, Romo needs another stud at split end. That's not going to be found this season. Patrick Crayton is good enough to start, but he's like Josh Reed on the other side of Evans. He doesn't change the coverage tendencies. Miles Austin is serviceable. And I'm definitely not buying into the notion that a healthy Felix Jones can completely fill the void for Owens. Only eight running backs caught 50 or more passes and Marion Barber was one of them. Jones can help in the short zones, but he's not going to stretch the offense like a T.O. My forecast would be a 3,700-yard season and maybe 20 to 23 touchdowns. I also think his sack numbers might go up. Remember, Romo has never had anything worse than a 24-sack season. The heat will be on this year, and Tony doesn't have the supporting cast to cool things off.
Mosley: John, I agree that this is one of those "be careful what you wish for" moments for the Cowboys. T.O. had become a toxic presence in the locker room, and releasing him was the best thing for the long-term health of the club. But the guy put up big (although somewhat empty) numbers in three years and he was a constant threat. But I think you hit on the biggest reason T.O.'s release has a chance to yield immediate results. In that Skins game you referenced, you could tell that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett steered the game plan toward T.O. in the second half to the detriment of weapons such as Jones.
I think you'll see more of a team concept this season. In order to cut down on Romo's alarming turnover rate -- he threw at least one interception in 10 of the 13 games he started and fumbled seven times -- Garrett has to rely more on the running game. And with Derrick Ward leaving the Giants, the Cowboys could challenge them for the best trio in the loaded NFC East. There's a theory in Dallas that Garrett felt hamstrung in dealing with issues (T.O.'s complaining) because he wanted to avoid stepping on Wade Phillips' toes. In paying Garrett $3 million a year to stay in Dallas two years ago, Jerry Jones sent the message that he was the head coach in waiting. This season, Garrett's squarely on the hot seat. I've been told that he's carrying himself a lot differently at Valley Ranch -- and I've observed him taking a more fiery approach on the practice field. I think the departure of T.O. is something Garrett privately celebrated -- perhaps with champagne. T.O. had a direct route to Jerry Jones, which pretty much made Phillips and Garrett powerless much of the time.
But John, you've been covering the league for a season or two. Is locker-room chemistry overrated or do you believe in this idea of addition by subtraction when it comes to a polarizing player such as T.O.? How's our chemistry during this e-mail exchange?
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning knows exactly what happened last season.
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|Giants quarterback Eli Manning enters the season without a true No. 1 receiver.|
But last year, that something special -- an 11-1 start -- was shot down, literally, when Pro Bowl wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the thigh and was arrested for illegal possession of a handgun in Manhattan. He was suspended for the final four games of the season.
The Giants could not beat the Eagles and exited the playoffs in the second round -- at home, no less. In the final 23 quarters of the season, with Burress at home nursing his self-inflicted wound, Manning did not throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver.
Fast-forward to Monday's OTA, the beginning of Manning's sixth NFL season. He has a Lombardi trophy in his case. But as he hungers for another title shot, he begins 2009 without a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver.
On the first play of the morning practice, he strolled up to the line of scrimmage with that near-nonchalant gait of his and looked at the Giants' first-team offense. Burress is long gone, released by the team. Also released: Amani Toomer, who was unceremoniously jettisoned after 13 seasons in New York.
Instead, playing in the No. 1 spot was Steve Smith, the third-year pro out of USC who is moving from the slot position he occupied in 2008. On the other side was Domenik Hixon, the speedy kick returner who is being asked to assume a more dominant role in an offense that sputtered down the stretch last season.
"No Plax, no Toomer -- it feels different without those guys," Manning said, "but I like this group. It's a competitive group. It's a group that works hard. Nobody's getting any special treatment. Nobody has an ego. It's a group that cares about everybody else. It's a good group."
Indeed, it's a group in every sense of that word: Nobody stands out. In the slot is underachieving Sinorice Moss, who came out of Miami four years ago with the promise of his brother, Santana, but had just 12 catches and two touchdowns last season. Behind him is Mario Manningham, who never got traction as a rookie in 2008.
David Tyree, coming back from an injury-plagued season, rounds out the top five.
Those two picks -- a first- and a third-rounder -- might have been parlayed into a trade for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, a trade the Giants flirted with this spring but not could not get done.
And this is the big question that will hang over this team: Having decided not to pull the trigger on the Edwards trade (or one for disgruntled Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin), do the Giants have enough in this crop of inexperienced, underachieving wide receivers to get back to the NFC Championship Game?
"It's not exactly like starting over, but we are trying right now to get on the same page," said Manning. "I'm trying to learn their body language. I'm trying to talk to them on the field and in the huddle and in the meetings, trying to develop chemistry. You don't want any bad habits to develop."
Manning said he's got to do some things differently, too. "There is more speed on the field now, so I have to get the ball out quicker," he said.
For the first time in his career, Manning said he feels more like a coach on the field.
"With some of the young receivers and the young guys at quarterback, I'm just trying to get into it a little more with them and help them out, and it's helping me out, too, getting to down the kindergarten level of the offense and keep the basics sharp," he said.
There is particular focus and pressure on Smith, who is moving from the slot to the No. 1 spot.
"I want to play faster, be more productive," said Smith, who averaged just 10.1 yards a catch and had only one touchdown reception last year. "I'm just trying to develop something with Eli."
Smith's mere presence, in fact, the perfect attendance of the entire receiving corps, puts Manning ahead of the game from the years with Burress, who often spent the spring in Miami, working out on his own or with Jeremy Shockey, who was sent packing to New Orleans last year.
There is one guy who loves to see everybody participating -- the head coach.
"It sends the right message," Tom Coughlin said. "It tells everybody that every guy is here for the same reason and trying to help our team be as good as it can be. It is very difficult to get that done when we are not here. Guys are here working. You have the older guys sharing with the younger guys. You have that natural process. And obviously you are trying to create the team concept with everything that you do. And to have everyone here certainly helps escalate that."
But Manning relied a lot on Burress, who often drew a double-team and used his size and wingspan to convert poor throws into big plays. Right now, there is no replacement for that threat combination -- no go-to guy who can make Manning look good when he lapses into one of his frequent bouts of inconsistency.
"I don't think you necessarily need that one guy," Manning said. "You can have three or four guys step up. If one guy steps up, he will push the others, no question."
Right now, with practice in shorts and helmets, Manning is impressed by the two rookies. Hicks is clearly polished and will push to be the starting slot receiver. And at 6-foot-6, Barden looks like a nice red zone battery mate -- he better be because Barden has virtually no separation speed.
"They both catch the ball with ease, very naturally," Manning said. "When you're thinking too much, the first thing to go are the hands. And we haven't seen that with them."
But right now, both are buried on the depth
chart, trying to learn the intricacies of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's offense, and learning to block, which is critical when the Giants roll out a heavy dose of Brandon Jacobs, which is often.