NFC East: colt anderson

PHILADELPHIA -- Since Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said the team would like to address the safety position before the draft -- in other words, during free agency -- he couldn't be certain what the market would look like.

He still can't. But as other teams clear roster spots (and cap space) and with the window open for using franchise and transition tags now open, there is more clarity every day.

Two of the elite safeties due for free agency, Cleveland's T.J. Ward and Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, could be tagged. That would not only take them off the market, it would have a domino effect on the players who do hit free agency. A guy like Miami's Chris Clemons might command more money than he would if Ward and Byrd were in the market.

And then there's San Francisco's Donte Whitner. The 49ers want him back, but it might be tougher to negotiate a new deal without using a tag on him if he is by far the best safety available.

Judging by Roseman's comments, he isn't likely to get in a mad bidding war for the hot commodity. The Eagles' recent approach has been to look for value among players in the second tier, after the market settles a little bit.

In that sense, the picture has improved for the Eagles in recent days. New Orleans released Roman Harper and Detroit parted ways with Louis Delmas late last week. Whether they are good fits in Philadelphia or not, they add to the pool of available talent and create more options.

Delmas is an interesting possibility. He is only 27, same as Ward and Byrd. He is a relatively physical player who has had some knee trouble. That could actually help keep his asking price down, which might make him that much more appealing to the Eagles.

Delmas was taken one pick ahead of Patrick Chung in the 2009 draft. But then, the Eagles took Nate Allen one pick ahead of Ward in the 2010 draft.

Allen and Chung finished the season as the Eagles' starting safeties. Rookie Earl Wolff had taken Chung's starting job before injuring his knee in Green Bay in October.

Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, as will safeties/special-teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson. With the Eagles lukewarm on Chung, there could be as many as four roster spots open for safeties.

Roseman said recently that he doesn't want to go into the draft with a gaping hole on his roster. That, he said, leads to mistakes as teams reach for a position of need. So it is likely the Eagles will look to add safeties in free agency. The market is shaping up.
PHILADELPHIA -- The secondary was already the Philadelphia Eagles' most obvious need area. After watching the NFL postseason, especially the Super Bowl, that need looked even more glaring.

Put another way: The Eagles got by with their secondary in 2013. Elite defenses do better than get by. Their safeties and cornerbacks are impact players.

Let’s look at the more dire safety situation first. We’ll address the cornerback position in a separate post.

Good safeties have been as elusive as unicorns for the Eagles since Brian Dawkins' unfortunate departure five years ago. (Say that out loud: Dawk's been gone for five years.) They have tried nearly everything to fill that void: second-round draft picks, second-day draft picks, midlevel free agents.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Ward
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesIt might be time for the Eagles to pursue a starting safety in free agency, like Cleveland's T.J. Ward.
As it happens, three of the safeties on the Eagles’ roster are to become unrestricted free agents next month: starter Nate Allen, former starter Kurt Coleman, and special-teamer Colt Anderson.

That should be viewed as an opportunity more than a problem. By doing nothing, the Eagles can start the process of turning over this part of their roster. They can really turn the page if they release Patrick Chung, who lost his starting job twice during the season.

That would leave Earl Wolff, last year’s fifth-round draft pick and the guy who took Chung’s job before getting hurt, and Keelan Johnson as the only two safeties on the roster.

When we said the Eagles have tried nearly everything, it’s because the one thing they haven’t done is sign a top-level free agent. For years, the Eagles rated the safety position fairly low on their list of priorities. Dawkins was a homegrown superstar who transcended the position, but their emphasis was always on edge pass-rushers and cornerbacks.

General manager Howie Roseman has said the team will avoid splurging on big-ticket signings, and that is a reasonable position. But one reason the team has struggled to resolve the safety problem is its insistence on mediocre, small-ticket free agents. Chung and Kenny Phillips were last year’s additions to a list that includes Sean Jones, Jarrad Page, Marlin Jackson and O.J. Atogwe.

Maybe Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd or Cleveland’s T.J. Ward will demand too much money to be options, but this might be the year the Eagles have to pay full-market price at this most challenging of positions. Miami’s Chris Clemons might be a better value signing.

You could make a case for retaining Allen, who had his best season. Maybe spending more time in Bill Davis’ defense will help Allen continue to grow. But the feeling here is that Allen personifies the concept of just getting by at the safety spot. The Eagles are not going to be a tough, hard-hitting, intimidating defense like Seattle or San Francisco by just getting by.

Sign one starter (Ward, preferably) and at least one veteran who can compete for playing time. Hope Wolff can lock down one starting position with a full offseason and some experience under his belt. Give Johnson a chance to earn a roster spot with special-teams play.

The timing is treacherous. If the Eagles allow Allen, Coleman and Anderson to walk, they will have to move quickly in free agency to fill at least a couple of those spots. They can hang on to Chung as security until they do. But the worst-case scenario is going into the draft in May with a desperate need for safety help.

The Eagles have done that before, and it has not ended well. But then, nothing they’ve done at safety has gone much better.

The next big thing: Eagles

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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PHILADELPHIA -- With the draft so far off this year – May! – the next major item on the Eagles’ to-do list is deciding on a strategy for free agency, which begins March 11.

General manager Howie Roseman has repeatedly said the team will continue to avoid huge free-agent deals in favor of making a number of smaller, less risky investments on the open market. That approach brought Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Donnie Jones last offseason. It also brought Patrick Chung, James Casey and Kenny Phillips, moves that didn’t hamstring the franchise when performance didn’t equal compensation.

Before getting to March 11, though, the first order of business is deciding how to handle the current Eagles with expiring contracts. That group includes Michael Vick, who wants to explore opportunities to start, wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, and safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson.

The Eagles could have extended any of those contracts before now, so they’re clearly willing to risk losing any or all of those players once the market opens. The best guess here is the team will wait and see if the market convinces Cooper, Maclin and Allen that their best option is to remain in Philadelphia on reasonable contracts. If not, then adios.

There are a handful of veteran players whose contracts could dictate some action. Will the Eagles hang on to players like Williams, Casey, Trent Cole, Brent Celek and Jason Avant?

Once those decisions are made, the Eagles can move on to the next Next Big Thing, signing free agents and preparing for the May (May!) draft.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles may lack quality at the safety position, so they’re giving quantity a shot against the New Orleans Saints.

Wolff
Rookie safety Earl Wolff, listed as questionable with a knee injury, is active for Saturday night’s playoff game. Wolff has played only a single defensive series since injuring the knee Nov. 10 in Green Bay.

Veterans Patrick Chung and Kurt Coleman took first-team practice reps this week. So defensive coordinator Bill Davis is likely to use a rotation opposite safety Nate Allen in an attempt to find a solid combination. Colt Anderson, who is coming back from a knee injury, is also active.

The Eagles have five safeties active for this first-round playoff game. Davis only has to find two who can execute his defensive game plan.

Wide receiver/punt returner Damaris Johnson is inactive. That means DeSean Jackson will handle punt returns. It also means the Eagles will be without a speedy backup if Jackson is injured. Johnson has been active the last five games.

Backup center Julian Vandervelde is out because of a back injury. Left guard Evan Mathis, who was named to the AP All-Pro team this week, has practiced with the second team at center. He would fill in should starting center Jason Kelce be injured.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Eagles safety Earl Wolff is inactive for Sunday night's showdown against the Dallas Cowboys.

Wolff missed four games after injuring his right knee in Green Bay Nov. 10. He returned for last week's game against Chicago but left after playing one series. Veteran Patrick Chung will start at safety in place of the rookie.

Backup safety Colt Anderson (hamstring) and backup center Julian Vandervelde, who were listed as out, were both inactive. Otherwise, it was the usual group: quarterback Matt Barkley, running back Matthew Tucker, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly and cornerback Curtis Marsh.

Offensive lineman Matt Tobin is active for the second time this season. He takes Vandervelde's spot on the 46-man roster, but would not play center if anything happened to starter Jason Kelce. That role would likely fall to left guard Evan Mathis.

As expected, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and inside linebacker Sean Lee are inactive. So is former Eagle Ernie Sims, which leaves Dallas even thinner at linebacker.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly became the Eagles' head coach in January. He might have become Philadelphia's head coach Sunday night.

At about 4 p.m. ET, the Dallas Cowboys beat Washington with a late comeback, robbing the Eagles of a chance to clinch the division against the Chicago Bears. By about 9 p.m., the Eagles had a 21-0 lead on their way to a dominating 54-11 victory over a team that had its own division title on the line.

All that speculation about resting starters for the must-win game in Dallas next Sunday? Forget about it.

"Very simply, we're from Philadelphia and we fight," Kelly said. "If there's a game on, we're playing. End of story. And all this stuff about backing in, not worrying, all these other things, I have no idea.

"So many scenarios. What if there's a tie when we go play Dallas next week and we gave a game away last week? If we're going to line up and kick off, tell us what time to show up and we'll be there."

If there aren't “We're from Philadelphia and we fight” T-shirts rolling off a silk-screen machine somewhere, someone is missing a golden opportunity.

Kelly's demeanor might have been different if one of his key players had been injured. But that didn't happen. Even better, the players who might have been candidates for the injury-avoidance program were the ones who delivered the biggest momentum-building performances of the game.

LeSean McCoy ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns to retain his place atop the NFL rushing leaders list and position himself to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for yards in a season next week. McCoy needs just 37 yards to break the mark of 1,512 yards.

Quarterback Nick Foles was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 25 passes (84 percent) for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Coming off an inconsistent performance against the Vikings, Foles now goes to Dallas with a hot hand.

“I'm just excited to play another game,” Foles said. “I know what's on the line. Everybody knows what's on the line. I'm excited for the opportunity.”

Trent Cole, the oldest player on the Eagles' defense, sacked Jay Cutler on the Bears' third play from scrimmage, setting a tone and forcing the Bears to punt. Cole had three sacks, his most in a game in three years.

“I was very excited for this game,” Cole said. “This is just the start. Coming off a loss like that, it's good for confidence in the team. This does build momentum for us going into Dallas. That's the start of our playoffs right there.”

Kelly convinced his team to treat this as a big game. The way his players responded has to be considered a good sign as they prepare for the franchise's biggest game since a playoff loss to Green Bay here after the 2011 season.

“It's going to be the biggest show on earth,” Cole said. “It's going to be a circus down there, like always.”

“This is what we want,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who sacked Cutler twice and forced a fumble. “We're on the biggest stage. We're in Dallas' stadium, which is a great place to play. We're excited.”

Not only did the Eagles not want to sit this one out, veterans were volunteering for hazardous duty. With key special teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson sidelined by injuries, starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were covering kickoffs -- as if holding receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in check wasn't enough to worry about.

“Whatever it takes, man,” Williams said. “No 'I' in 'team.' Coach needed me to do that, then dang it, I'm going to do it. It didn't matter. It was a great game plan we had in place. There were a lot of DBs out there. It didn't bother us, because the game was so significant. We wanted to get back to winning ways.”

Fletcher forced Bears kickoff returner Devin Hester to fumble in the first quarter. Williams recovered, giving the Eagles the ball at the Chicago 39.

“That's what we do,” nickel corner and special-teams regular Brandon Boykin said. “That's our personality. The starters on kickoffs, that's the want-to, that's the attitude of our team. Get the job done no matter who's out there.”

The Eagles scored on McCoy's 1-yard run five plays later, their second touchdown in 2 minutes, 10 seconds. It was 14-0, and the Eagles were on their way.

It was hard to believe they were the same players who got crushed by the Vikings the week before.

“Redeeming ourselves,” Boykin said. “That was huge, man. It was a great team win. Knowing where we are, knowing our possibilities, we wanted to come out and get our momentum rolling again. Especially at home, Sunday night football. There's nothing better.”

It's also hard to believe this is the same Eagles offense that failed to score a touchdown against the Cowboys here in the teams' first meeting this season. That was Oct. 20. The Eagles lost the next week to the Giants, falling to 3-5 at the midway point of the season.

They are 6-1 since then, with the only loss that mystifying game in Minnesota.

“We stumbled when we were in Minnesota,” Kelly said. “Minnesota beat us and played better than us that day. But we weren't going to let Minnesota beat us twice.”

Now the task is not letting Dallas beat them twice. Win next week, and they earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. For Kelly, it also would mean eliminating the rival Cowboys. There's no better way to win over Eagles fans.

“One down, one to go,” Kelly said.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' injury report contained mixed news for Sunday night's game against the Chicago Bears.

Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) are out. That has more impact on the Eagles' special teams than their defense. Both players are key members of the kicking and return teams.

Wolff
The defense will be helped by the likely return of safety Earl Wolff, who is listed as probable after missing five games with a knee injury. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who was knocked out of last week's game with a concussion, was also listed as probable.

That gives defensive coordinator Bill Davis close to a full complement of defensive backs as he tries to cope with the Bears' array of receiving options. Chicago likes to use wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the slot a fair percentage of the time.

Boykin
"They look for him," Boykin said. "I plan on being matched up with him quite a bit."

Although the Eagles have faced Denver's group, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, Boykin said he thought the Bears' Marshall and Alshon Jeffery presented the biggest overall challenge to the secondary.

"You're talking about guys that are 6-3, 6-4 and they're both playing at a very, very high level," Boykin said. "Normally, you might have two big guys, but one of them is better than the other. I don't think that's the case. They can throw to either one of them."

"Whenever the quarterback throws the ball in the air," Wolff said, "they go and get it. Those are the big plays we're going to have to stop. I feel like we're up for the challenge."

Wolff may be eased back into action after missing so much time. Patrick Chung could start and play a fair amount.

"I feel like I came in this week in a groove more than I was last week," Wolff said. "Last week, I was still kind of trying to get back into it. Now I feel like I'm pretty much back to where I was before."

As for special teams, the Eagles are likely to have linebacker Najee Goode back from his hamstring injury. He was also listed as questionable. Keelan Johnson, a safety signed off the practice squad earlier in the week, could also be active and help fill in for Coleman and Anderson.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) and wide receiver/special teamer Brad Smith (hamstring) were also listed as questionable.

Eagles add safety to muddled secondary

December, 17, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA – Figuring there’s safety in numbers, the Philadelphia Eagles added to the number of safeties in their injury-strewn secondary Tuesday. They signed Keelan Johnson off their practice squad, releasing linebacker Emmanuel Acho to create a roster spot.

Going into their Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears’ high-powered offense, the Eagles have serious issues with four of their safeties, plus nickel corner Brandon Boykin.

Rookie starter Earl Wolff, who injured his knee six weeks ago in Green Bay, said he expects to play.

“I’ll be probable, which means I’ll probably play,” Wolff said. “If the game was today, I would play. On Sunday, it just didn’t feel right. I thought this would be three or four weeks. I didn’t think it would be this long.”

Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) were injured Sunday in Minnesota. Both are also important special-teams players. That is the role Johnson likely would fill if he is active for the Bears game.

“Right now, it’s just about trying to get healthy and help this team out,” Coleman said. “We’re trying to make a push for the playoffs. I’ve got to get better as fast as possible because we need everyone out there.”

The other safety with issues is veteran Patrick Chung. In his case, the issues are related to performance, not any injury. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Chung was in “a slump” that had the coaches moving Coleman into the lineup before he was hurt.

“Until they separate themselves,” Davis said, “I’ll let the competition get the best out of both of them.”

Wolff had separated himself from Chung earlier in the season before getting hurt.

“He was starting to really show some playmaking ability,” Davis said. “He got injured and has been out for a while. We have to crawl him back into the mix as we go.”

Boykin was knocked out of the Minnesota game with a concussion. He was out on the practice field Tuesday, which is a positive sign, but he still has to be cleared according to the NFL concussion protocol. If Boykin can’t play, Davis said, either Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael would move into his role in the slot.

“For me, I like playing outside more,” Carmichael said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career. But going into the inside, it’s still a defensive-back position. Playing man will be the same, but now I have to learn more of the zones – which 'backer do I have to help, is the end going to drop, little things like that.”

The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Johnson was in training camp with the Miami Dolphins. He signed to the Eagles' practice squad in September.

Eagles' defense regroups for Bears

December, 17, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Coming off a game in which his defense gave up 48 points and lost three more defensive backs to injuries, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Sunday’s visit from the Chicago Bears “our biggest challenge of the season.”

That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).

But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.

“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”

That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.

Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.

Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.

“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”

Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.

Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”

And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.

“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' ugly 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday:

What it means: Eagles coach Chip Kelly officially has a bad loss on his NFL résumé. His Eagles were in first place in the NFC East, facing a 3-9-1 team without its best player, running back Adrian Peterson. Instead of securing their hold on a playoff berth, the Eagles were flat and looked unprepared and poorly coached in all three phases. Kelly didn’t use running back LeSean McCoy enough and handed the Vikings three points by going for a fourth-and-1 at his own 24-yard line in the third quarter. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had no answers for Matt Cassel, even with the Vikings down to a practice-squad running back. Special-teams coach Dave Fipp’s plan to kick away from Cordarrelle Patterson gave the Vikings great field position all game.

Shredded and wounded: Philadelphia's secondary was terrible even before losing nickel corner Brandon Boykin (possible concussion) and safety Kurt Coleman (hamstring). Cassel beat the Eagles deep for a 57-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings in the first quarter. He was able to convert third downs all too easily. Safety Patrick Chung was benched in favor of Coleman, then had to return when Coleman got hurt. Colt Anderson, forced into action, got burned on a big play by tight end Chase Ford. To make matters worse, the secondary committed a rash of penalties in the fourth quarter to fuel a Vikings touchdown drive.

Stock watch: Falling: Nick Foles. He wasn’t Sports Illustrated-cover-jinx terrible, but the magic carpet ride is over. Foles took sacks by holding the ball too long. He threw a jump ball for DeSean Jackson that was intercepted. Foles was also called for a penalty for an illegal block, which negated a Jackson touchdown run on a reverse. Foles threw three second-half touchdown passes, but his chance to stage a comeback win was undermined by the Eagles’ inability to stop the Vikings at all.

What’s next: The Eagles face two must-win games. They host the Chicago Bears next week in a game that was flexed into prime time. Then they finish the regular season at the Dallas Cowboys, a game that could decide the NFC East title. The Eagles, who would lose on tiebreakers if they finish with the same record as the Cowboys, made things harder on themselves by not taking care of the Vikings.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ waiver-wire spree didn’t really materialize Sunday. The team was awarded just one player, former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Shaun Prater.

One possible reason for the relatively light activity: The Jacksonville Jaguars, who are two spots higher than the Eagles on waiver claims, were awarded a stunning seven players. That included two players, DE/LB Chris McCoy and TE Clay Harbor, who were released by the Eagles.

Prater is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. A fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year, Prater spent his rookie season on injured reserve with patellar tendinitis. He is not expected to be a factor right away. The Eagles will roll with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher (who played with Prater at Iowa) outside and Brandon Boykin in the slot.

But at least Prater can practice and play. To make room for him, the Eagles released Curtis Marsh, another member of their disastrous 2011 draft class. Marsh had surgery on his broken hand last month and was not available for the last two preseason games.

A couple of other roster-related notes:
  • The Eagles signed four players to their practice squad, all of whom were released over the weekend: OT Michael Bamiro, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Greg Salas and LB Travis Long. They have four more spots to fill.
  • Didn’t do too poorly on my projected 53-man roster, which was posted Friday morning. I had 48 players right. And where I was incorrect, I might have been right in a couple of spots where the Eagles turn out to be wrong.I had McCoy staying and Casey Matthews going. We’ll see how that one turns out.

    I had Salas and Russell Shepard among six wide receivers. The Eagles kept five, including Jeff Maehl. That’s two Oregon guys who made the team that I didn’t expect.

    I thought they’d keep 10 offensive linemen, including Matt Tennant. They went light there, cutting Tennant, and kept one more tight end than I expected: Emil Igwenagu.

    Finally, they kept two more DBs than I expected. One was Colt Anderson, who will play only on special teams. The other was Marsh, who was released today. So maybe I had 4.5 players wrong.
  • Roseman made two trades involving a running back for a linebacker. He got Emmanuel Acho, who made the team, for Dion Lewis, who is on IR in Cleveland. And he got Adrian Robinson, who was cut Friday, for Felix Jones, who made the Steelers roster.
  • The Eagles were off today and have some conditioning work scheduled for Monday. They’ll be off again Tuesday. The practice week for Monday night’s game at Washington begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Eight in the Box: Under the radar

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each NFC East team thus far this offseason:

Dallas Cowboys: Cutting safety Gerald Sensabaugh.

This move was significant in a couple of ways. Its most immediate impact was that it created enough salary-cap room to allow the Cowboys, later that same day, to designate defensive end Anthony Spencer as their franchise player for the second year in a row. Spencer still stands as the team's most significant "free-agent acquisition," and franchising him left the Cowboys with very little room under the cap for the ensuing few weeks. Although it helped the Cowboys cross starting defensive end off of their offseason shopping list, it left safety as a position of some concern. The projected starters right now are Barry Church, who's coming off injury, and Matt Johnson, a second-year man who didn't play at all as a rookie. They signed veteran Will Allen for depth, but it's a position they might have to address early in the draft as well.

New York Giants: Signing defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.

Jenkins was part of the colossal disappointment that was the past two seasons in Philadelphia, but he's a veteran with something left who should make a contribution in New York in a few ways. He has experience at defensive end as well as tackle, so he'll fit in when the Giants decide to use those packages that load up the line with pass-rushers. The Giants like to lean on high-character veterans to help develop young players, and Jenkins can fill that role for someone like Marvin Austin. And with the way the Giants rotate linemen, they should be able to keep Jenkins fresh. After cutting Chris Canty, the Giants needed to add depth on the defensive line, and Jenkins was a smart pickup after the Eagles cut him just before free agency opened.

Philadelphia Eagles: Trading for wide receiver Arrelious Benn.

I have no idea whether Benn will make an impact for the Eagles as a wide receiver. Injury problems his first three years in the league led Tampa Bay to give up on him and deal him to the Eagles for basically nothing. And he's behind starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, among others, on the depth chart. But he's also just 24 years old and was a second-round draft pick only three years ago, so there is some untapped potential there. If he can get on the field in the offense, he's got enough size to offer something the Eagles' starting wideouts don't. Regardless, the move was significant as part of a clear mission by new coach Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman to improve the Eagles' disappointing special-teams units. Benn has experience as a return man and in kick coverage, and should help there right away. Along with the signing of linebacker Jason Phillips and punter Donnie Jones, and the re-signing of Colt Anderson, Benn is part of a special-teams overhaul.

Washington Redskins: Re-signing fullback Darrel Young

Except on the rare occasions when he catches a pass or powers into the end zone for a short touchdown, Young doesn't get noticed much, but he's a critical part of a Redskins running game that ranked No. 1 in the league in 2012. That run game is likely to be even more important than it was last season while starting quarterback Robert Griffin III recovers from offseason knee surgery, and the Redskins' ability to retain Young and keep their offensive line intact will benefit tailback Alfred Morris greatly in his second season.

Eight in the Box: Must-keep free agents

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to “Eight in the Box,” a new NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: Which free agent is essential for each team to keep from its 2012 roster?

Dallas Cowboys: Linebacker/defensive end Anthony Spencer. He is especially important because Dallas is switching to a 4-3 defense. If the Cowboys lose Spencer, finding a pass-rushing defensive end becomes their top priority, and that won't be easy. The Cowboys' cap issues give them little hope of outbidding anyone for Spencer, but they're going to have to try.

New York Giants: Left tackle Will Beatty. Protecting quarterback Eli Manning is the top priority, and Beatty emerged in 2012 as a top left tackle. I considered wide receiver Victor Cruz here, but he's restricted, so they can tender him and still get by. If they lose Beatty, they'll need to hunt for a new left tackle. That's no fun.

Philadelphia Eagles: Safety Colt Anderson. The Eagles have only eight free agents, and the seven unrestricted guys are either dead weight or non-essential. Argue cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if you like, but is he a "must-keep?" Anderson is a special-teams ace and a decent backup safety.

Washington Redskins: Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Another Pro Bowl-caliber special-teamer, Alexander is a valuable utility man and a heart-and-soul guy on the field and in the locker room. Fullback Darrel Young and tight end Fred Davis also were considered here. The Redskins have some tough decisions.
Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III isn't the only injured Redskin who looks on track to start Sunday's game. Injured center Will Montgomery looks as though he'll try to play through an MCL sprain, and right tackle Tyler Polumbus is optimistic that he'll be cleared of concussion symptoms in time to play. And defensive end Stephen Bowen is planning to play in spite of a torn biceps muscle. That time of year.

Jason Reid doesn't think Mike Shanahan plans to trade Kirk Cousins, and it sounds as though Jason means, like, never ever. I respectfully disagree. I don't think they'll put him on the market this offseason, but I'm 100 percent confident that part of the Redskins' long-term hope is to develop Cousins in a backup role and hope somebody's impressed enough to deal a high pick for him. Down the road a ways, but that is definitely part of their plan.

Dallas Cowboys

Can't tell the players on the Cowboys' defense without a scorecard these days even if you're one of them, Jason Hatcher says. But whoever these guys are who are filling in for Dallas' injured defensive starters, they're playing awfully well.

Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne hopes to return to action this week against the Saints after missing last week's game with a concussion. Claiborne has played much better in the second half of this season, as you'd expect from a talented rookie cornerback, and the Cowboys can surely use him as they embark on this crucial two-week stretch.

New York Giants

The main hope the Giants have that they can scramble into this year's playoffs is the resolve they showed in doing so last year. We all know this. But Jason Pierre-Paul, for one, is sick of hearing it.

Victor Cruz spoke about his visit to the home of Jack Pinto, one of the six-year-olds slain in last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. I know we had something on this in Wednesday's links, too, but Cruz deserves all of the attention he's getting for this and more.

Philadelphia Eagles

Colt Anderson's keeping his starting safety job for the final two games, and the guy who's taking a seat to make room is Nate Allen, who ranks as one of many significant individual disappointments for the 2012 Eagles.

You know who's been real good on defense, though? Linemen Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, who offer the Eagles reason to feel good about the state of the defensive line heading into the future.

Twitter mailbag: Kirk Cousins' value

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
10:52
AM ET
It is Week 3 of the Twitter mailbag and it seems to be working quite well. At various times during the week I have solicited submissions at the @ESPN_NFCEast Twitter account, but at any time you can tweet a question using the hashtag #nfceastmail and I will see it. I pick a few each week and answer them best I can. Like this, see?

@gotfanhood: Do you see the Skins trading Cousins for picks down the road?

@ESPN_NFCEast: The Washington Redskins picked quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round because Mike Shanahan liked his abilities and thought he'd make a good backup quarterback to Robert Griffin III in his system. After last season, when he toggled between Rex Grossman and John Beck with rotten results, Shanahan knew he could have taken an offensive linemen or some such "need" position in that round. But as he put it when I asked about it during minicamp, "How often do you find a quarterback you like in the fourth round?" So the primary reason Cousins was taken was to back up Griffin, and he might well get the start Sunday if Griffin can't go. However, the answer to your question is that Shanahan would be thrilled if he could develop Cousins in a backup role and trade him for a high pick or something of value in a couple of years, the way the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb last summer. It is undoubtedly in the back of Shanahan's mind that this is a possible outcome, as long as Griffin stays healthy and Cousins shows something in preseason and his relief work.




@StashingtonDC: Do you see Colt Anderson as a solution for the Eagles at S?

@ESPN_NFCEast: I don't think Anderson fits the "solution" category for the Philadelphia Eagles at safety, but he has played surprisingly well the last couple of weeks as the Eagles have needed him to fill in due to injuries. We all know what Anderson brings on special teams, but until this point he'd shown nothing to warrant any kind of role on the defense. But now that he has, it helps the Eagles' offseason plans to know he can play it and that they have some depth there. Helps their leverage with free agents, maybe makes them think twice about reaching for that position in the draft, knowing they at least have somebody who can do a competent job. If nothing else, even if they have two new starters there next year, knowing Anderson is a capable backup helps them construct the rest of their roster.




@jbeansy217: What would you suggest be done with Doug Free? Should he be traded, does he have value and should we just bench him?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Well, the Dallas Cowboys won't be able to trade underperforming tackle Doug Free for anything of legitimate value, since he's had two bad years in a row now. And cutting him will cost them. I believe the cap hit is $8.35 million, though I think they could split that up over two years if they wait until June 1 to cut him. They obviously saw something in him once -- in his 2010 contract season, to be precise -- to make them think he could be a top tackle. And he's only 28 years old, so it's not as though he's done. Maybe another offseason with Bill Callahan helps, but this is a tough call. To bench him and pay him that kind of salary while he works out his problems is almost as tough a pill to swallow as paying him not to pay. I think that June 1 cut is the most likely scenario.




@Bliz_Atl: if Bradshaw is inactive do nyg take kr duties from Wilson? He's so dangerous. But there's a reason no starting rbs return kicks

@ESPN_NFCEast: New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw will be inactive for Sunday's game in Atlanta, and the plan is to start rookie David Wilson in his place, with newly signed veterans Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin as backups. So the question is, if Wilson's now a starting running back, does it make sense to keep him on kick returns? I think the answer for Sunday is yes. He's been so good on kick returns that you really weaken yourself there if you take him out. I think spelling Wilson for a series or two with Lumpkin or Torain is a much better way to get him rest than to replace him on kickoff returns with Jerrel Jernigan or whoever else would be next in line there. Wilson is young and certainly hasn't been overworked this year. If you were talking about a full season, or even a month or two, I could see giving Wilson a break on returns. But I don't think having him return three or four kickoffs a game is going to hurt his ability to deliver as a running back. I don't see Wilson having the same kind of game he had against the Saints, by the way. He's got great talent but is still unpolished, and I expect that to show up if he gets 20-plus carries against one of the top 31 rush defenses in the league.




Thanks for all of the questions. Talk to you again next week.

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