NFC East: Demetrius Bell

Another week over, another Saturday upon us, another trip into the mailbag to see what's on your mind.

Miguel from San Diego wants to know why everyone assumes the New York Giants would move David Diehl to right tackle to replace Kareem McKenzie rather than move Will Beatty there and keep Diehl on the left side: "I feel like, when Diehl stepped in, he did a better job than Beatty and he's now been protecting Eli Manning's blind side for the past two seasons.[Manning] 's got to feel comfortable with Diehl on the left."

Dan Graziano: Interesting point, Miguel, and it's certainly one possible solution if the Giants don't find a starting-caliber tackle in the draft later this month. But while it's true the Giants' line played better as a unit after the Beatty injury when Diehl moved from guard to tackle, I didn't see much to indicate that Diehl's individual performance at left tackle graded out better than Beatty's had. Diehl played fine, don't get me wrong, but I think a lot of their success had to do with how well Kevin Boothe played at left guard and the way the group came together as a whole. Regardless, the reason they'd likely move Diehl to the right side rather than Beatty is if they still believe Beatty can be their long-term solution at left tackle. Diehl turns 32 in September and isn't the long-term solution anywhere. I personally didn't see much from Beatty to indicate he's a long-term left tackle fix, but it's possible (and reasonable) the Giants might want to see more before making that judgment. Finally, Diehl has always been willing to move around to different positions on the line when needed, and he might respond better to such a move than Beatty, who could view it as a demotion.

Hamad from Kansas City asks whether it would make sense for the Dallas Cowboys to extend the contract of cornerback Mike Jenkins if he plays LIGHTS OUT this year. (The caps are Hamad's, not mine.)

DG: Yeah, I think Jenkins will be their best cornerback this year if he can stay fully healthy. He played very well in 2011 when he wasn't being affected by his various injuries, and if he can get through 2012 without getting hurt, he'd be a strong candidate for an extension, even with Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick already signed long-term. I don't think they have much committed to Scandrick beyond this season.

Patrick from Elkins, WV wants to know what the Washington Redskins are planning to do about the offensive line. He's concerned about the safety of Washington's rookie quarterback-to-be.

DG: They tried early in free agency on guys like Ben Grubbs and Demetress Bell, but those guys signed elsewhere (and the second one changed his name so other interested teams couldn't find him). Now, it seems as though their free-agency efforts are focused on re-signing guys like London Fletcher and Tim Hightower and continuing to find help for the secondary. This leads me to believe they're planning to look for offensive linemen with their third-round and fourth-round draft picks and hope for quick recoveries and sustained health from Kory Lichtensteiger and Jammal Brown. They really liked the way last year's line was playing before the injuries to Brown, Lichtensteiger and Trent Williams hit around Week 6, and if all of those guys are fully healthy, they could go with the same five. That's a big "if," though, and so I believe they'll work hard on offensive line in the draft and maybe find a late flier on the free-agent market who can help. The Philadelphia Eagles picked up Evan Mathis late last year, and he became a big part of the success their line had. So it's possible.

P. Quinn of Absaraka, ND wants to know how much of a dropoff Demetress Bell will be from Jason Peters as the Eagles' left tackle.

DG: The first part of the answer is that almost any tackle in the league would be a significant dropoff from Peters, who was the very best there was last year. Peters can take out a defensive end in a second and then get to the second level and attack linebackers to clear room for the running back or help an intermediate receiver get or stay open. He's a perfect fit with Michael Vick, too, since Vick likes to keep plays alive much longer than most quarterbacks do. Bell played in Buffalo, where quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick gets rid of the ball as quickly as any quarterback in the league. So it's hard to know how he'll do with Vick playing behind him and running around all day to keep plays alive forever. He's athletic enough to handle it, but he'll have to get used to it, and that's something we'll have to watch in the offseason and in training camp. He won't be as good as Peters, because very few are. But he's got the ability to be a solid replacement, assuming he can get up to speed quickly on the differences between the way the Eagles play and block versus the way those things are done in Buffalo.
Dallas Cowboys

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

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

New York Giants

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

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

Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

Washington Redskins

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

The release a few weeks ago of veteran fullback Mike Sellers didn't get a lot of attention, but it had an effect on current fullback Darrel Young, who credits Sellers for help with his development.
Part of the fallout from the Philadelphia Eagles' signing of tackle Demetress (nee Demetrius) Bell is that the Washington Redskins, who'd wanted to sign Bell to fortify their offensive line, will not. The Redskins, as Mike Jones points out, have missed on a number of offensive line targets in free agency this year and right now would start the same five offensive linemen they started in Week 1 last year. That's okay from the standpoint that the line played very well in the first four games before injuries set in. But it's less okay from the standpoint of left guard Kory Lichtensteiger trying to recover from two torn knee ligaments and right tackle Jammal Brown dealing with a persistent hip problem.

So, while we know the Redskins' first pick in the draft three weeks from tonight will be a quarterback, and that they don't have a pick in the second round, I don't think it's unfair to suggest that, once they start picking again in Round 3, they start picking offensive linemen.

The aforementioned quarterback -- be he Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck -- is going to need help. As great as those guys project to be down the road, the Redskins' starting quarterback in 2012 is going to be a rookie, and he's going to need protection. The Redskins' offensive line last year, when fully healthy, played fairly well. It blocked for the running game and did a good job of protecting the passer. But the passer, in those first four games, was a veteran NFL quarterback somewhat used to the speed of the game and the complex looks he was seeing from opposing defenses. The offensive line in front of Griffin or Luck will have to be even better than it was in 2011.

The Redskins know this, and it's why they were looking at upgrades over Lichtensteiger and Brown. They wouldn't mind finding a new center, moving Will Montgomery out to guard and deepening their personnel across the whole line -- maybe even giving Lichtensteiger and Brown a little more time to get whole. Best available offensive lineman, regardless of position, looks like the way for Washington to go in the third round, and maybe even with one of their fourth-round picks as well. The only other area I think they'll specifically target is the secondary, but they actually had some success there in free agency, so it's less of a priority than the line.
Three weeks until the draft. Given the current state of fan agitation, I estimate our chances of surviving that long at around 21 percent. But they go up if we make sure and get our links.

Dallas Cowboys

In this clip from NFL 32, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten asks our NFL analysts who the Cowboys should take with the No. 14 pick in the draft. Todd McShay says that, if Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is still on the board, he's the guy they should take. On a related note, Calvin writes that Cox is headed to Valley Ranch for a pre-draft visit.

The Cowboys' official site takes a look at cornerback Mike Jenkins, who was one of the bright spots on the Cowboys' 2011 defense when various injuries weren't limiting his playing time or production. A healthy Jenkins would be an asset in 2012, and if he gets through the season fully healthy, he might be able to that new contract he's looking for.

New York Giants

Speaking of Witten, he has good things to say about former teammate Martellus Bennett and Bennett's chances for success with the Giants.

Travis Beckum, one of two Giants tight ends to tear an ACL in the Super Bowl, said on Twitter on Wednesday that he got great news from his doctors and that there's a "very good chance" he could be ready by the start of the season. If that turns out to be true, it lessens the Giants' need to look for a tight end in the draft.

Philadelphia Eagles

Sheil Kapadia looks at the number of different players on the Eagles' roster who will be affected by the performance of Demetress "Don't Call Me Demetrius" Bell, who's the new left tackle after signing Wednesday to replace the injured Jason Peters. The numbers on how often and how successfully the Eagles ran to the left side in 2011 are eye-opening.

Nnamdi Asomugha, a California guy at heart, has been bicoastal this offseason, showing up in Philadelphia to work out with teammates in preparation for what he and the Eagles hope is a much better second season than his first.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan told the Washington Post that he'd rather "take the high road" than respond to the sour-grape foolishness Donovan McNabb was spouting on First Take last week.

Mark Maske looks at the complicated questions at the heart of the Redskins' and Cowboys' grievance against the NFL and the NFLPA over the salary cap sanctions that were imposed just before free agency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the topics our man Adam Schefter addressed in his regular SportsCenter spot Monday morning was the Philadelphia Eagles' effort to replace left tackle Jason Peters, who ruptured his Achilles tendon last week and could miss the entire 2012 season. Adam notes that free-agent Demetrius Bell was in for a visit this weekend but didn't sign, and that Bell also has visited the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins, and he says the Eagles might not be willing to pay him what he seeks.

Schefter also discusses free-agent Marcus McNeill, but he says injury concerns have knocked him out of the picture for Philadelphia.

Schefter indicates he believes the Eagles could address the tackle position in the draft, which is an interesting idea. We did our bloggers' mock draft last week, and it'll be posted soon. I gave the Eagles Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at No. 15 in the first round, and then after the Peters news broke I was going to change it. But I don't think the Peters injury, as devastating as it is, changes the Eagles' approach in the first round. Stanford's Jonathan Martin or Georgia's Cordy Glenn are options, but if I'm the Eagles, I don't feel I need to solve this problem with my first-round pick.

The Eagles have two second-r0und picks, first of all. And it's important to remember that offensive line coach Howard Mudd seeks specific types of linemen. He found his starting center, Jason Kelce, in last year's sixth round, and afterthought free-agent signing Evan Mathis became a star at left guard. It's entirely possible the Eagles could find a viable starting tackle in the middle or late rounds if they strike out in free agency, trusting in their system to get the best out of a player on whom other teams passed.
Good morning to ya. We have some fun stuff planned for today. Our first blogger mock draft will be posted sometime during the day, so you can see who I picked for each of our division's four teams (based on who the other bloggers picked for their division's four teams). And our Redskins fans will surely be excited to catch tonight's episode of "Gruden's QB Camp," featuring Robert Griffin III. We'll get it all started the only way we know how -- with some links.

Dallas Cowboys

New Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr took a question about Giants receiver Victor Cruz and used it to promise Cowboys fans he'd do what he can to stop Cruz from salsa dancing against Dallas in 2012. Fun offseason talk, to be sure, though as Tim MacMahon points out, Carr isn't likely to be the one covering Cruz.

The Cowboys have hired Leon Lett, who achieved some measure of fame for some on-field miscues during his time as a Cowboys player, as an assistant defensive line coach. I'm always interested to see which players end up making good coaches, and while Lett is remembered for celebrating a Super Bowl touchdown before he was in the end zone and for the Thanksgiving Day goof against the Dolphins in 1993, he was a very good player.

New York Giants

The Giants' backfield, already thinned by the loss of free agent Brandon Jacobs to the 49ers, will be without aspiring vocalist Andre Brown for the first four games of 2012. Brown was suspended for violating the league's policy against performance-enhancing drugs. Ohm wonders how this might affect the Giants' offseason plans. My thinking is that if Andre Brown was a big part of the 2012 running back plan, they should already have been looking for running backs.

Kerry J. Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts is shaking his head. According to his metrics, the 2007 Giants had the worst statistical profile of any team ever to win the Super Bowl ... until the 2011 Giants came along and did it. It's hard to argue with anything Byrne writes (and I did enjoy the Bill & Ted references, because I'm old), but it seems as though this analysis really just proves that the smart thing for the rest of the NFL to do is to keep Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning out of the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles

As the Eagles scramble to replace an injured Jason Peters, they hosted free-agent tackle Demetrius Bell over the weekend. They have yet to sign him, though, and could be looking at other options.

There has been some too-easy analysis on the Peters situation that suggests, because they have a left-handed quarterback, that the Eagles' loss of a left tackle isn't as bad as it might be for some other teams. That ignores Peters' special ability and, as Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information writes, ignores Peters' contributions to the Eagles' running game.

Washington Redskins

This will be the sixth time in NFL history that quarterbacks are taken with the first two picks in the draft, as Dan Daly points out, and the first time that those two quarterbacks finished first and second in Heisman Trophy voting. Dan examines the reasons that Griffin and Andrew Luck will forever be linked, no matter which of them gets picked first later this month.

In Todd McShay's conference call late last week, he discussed some possible options at tackle for the zone-blocking Redskins if they decide to take one in the third round. Remember, the Redskins will pick second on the draft's opening night and then won't pick again until Round 3. With Jammal Brown still and always an injury concern, tackle could be next on their shopping list after quarterback. The draft, my friends, is 24 days away.
The Philadelphia Eagles announced Friday that star left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his right Achilles tendon while training earlier this week and will have surgery Monday to repair it. This is a crushing blow for an Eagles team that believed its offensive line would be a strength in 2012. The Eagles didn't reveal a timetable for recovery, but it's safe to assume that Peters will miss most and possibly all of the 2012 season.

Peters is one of the best tackles in the NFL and will be nearly impossible to replace. But replace him they must. The Eagles re-signed free-agent King Dunlap to a one-year contract Friday, which will help because he's their best backup tackle. But Dunlap doesn't project as a 16-game starter for a team with championship dreams, so Philadelphia have to look at other options.

The Eagles have two second-round picks in addition to the 15th overall pick in next month's draft, so it's possible they could package some picks and move up in the draft to get someone like Iowa's Riley Reiff. The Minnesota Vikings have indicated a desire to trade out of the No. 3 spot in the draft, so if the Eagles wanted to really get crazy, they could trade all the way up there and pick USC's Matt Kalil.

But those are big deals and tough to pull off, and the Eagles' efforts to make such a move likely would be hampered by the fact that everyone now knows they need a tackle. So they're more likely to look at other options. The best remaining tackle on the free-agent market is Demetrius Bell, who's had offers from teams to play right tackle but may have been holding out for a left tackle job (or at least left-tackle money). The Eagles have the cap room to sign someone like Bell, and if Peters were to come back during the season or next year they'd have impressive depth at tackle.

Regardless of what they do, the Eagles will be hurt by this. Peters was one of the few reliable players they had in 2011, and because he's so good and so athletic in a division that features so many great edge pass-rushers, his was a spot that inspired supreme confidence -- not just a lack of concern. The Eagles had planned to return their entire 2011 offensive line intact, and now the other four members of it will have to get used to a new left tackle, and whoever the new left tackle is will have to get used to them and to Howard Mudd's unique blocking schemes. Won't be easy, but it now becomes one of the major offseason issues facing the Eagles.

NFC East free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Dallas Cowboys

Key additions: CB Brandon Carr, S Brodney Pool, QB Kyle Orton, FB Lawrence Vickers, LB Dan Connor, G Nate Livings, G Mackenzy Bernadeau

Key losses: WR Laurent Robinson, TE Martellus Bennett, FB Tony Fiammetta, CB Terence Newman, G Kyle Kosier (cut)

"You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're all right": Rather than go big for the biggest names out there, the Cowboys took a more directed, focused approach to free agency this year. They did spend a lot to bring in Carr, but they had a glaring need at cornerback and they believed Carr was the best one on the market. The two guards were specifically targeted by Cowboys' scouts and new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and Connor was brought in to address a need at inside linebacker while 2011 draft pick Bruce Carter continues to develop.

The only loss that they didn't upgrade is that of Robinson, who signed with the Jaguars after coming out of nowhere to catch 11 touchdown passes from Tony Romo in 2011. The Cowboys will hope that one of the young receivers on their roster fills that No. 3 wide receiver role, or that they can catch lightning in a bottle again this year as they did with Robinson last year. They could miss Kosier's leadership on the offensive line, but he was getting old and injured and they needed to keep getting younger on the line.

What's next: While they'll keep an eye out for a bargain-bin receiver to replace Robinson, and they could try and find another tight end to replace Bennett, the Cowboys' main focus the rest of this offseason is likely to be on defense. They could add to the safety or cornerback mix in the draft or with another free agent. They'll keep looking to upgrade the pass rush, either with another outside linebacker or a defensive lineman. Those are the likely areas in which the Cowboys will focus their efforts in the draft.

Otherwise, it's going to be about sorting things out, especially on the offensive line. They need to find a pair of starting guards from a group that includes the two newcomers and the two youngsters -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- they drafted last year. Training camp should help sort out what needs to be sorted out on the offensive side of the ball. The draft will be for adding more pieces to Rob Ryan's defense.

New York Giants

Key additions: TE Martellus Bennett

Key losses: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, CB Aaron Ross, T Kareem McKenzie

"Reason to believe": The Giants don't like to make big free-agent splashes, and since they're up against the salary cap they also have little choice. But their second Super Bowl title in five years should help ease any concerns fans might have about if they're doing enough in the offseason. The Giants' way is to establish fair prices for the positions they need to fill and to be patient until they find players willing to play for their number. They'd have loved to have Jacobs or Manningham or Ross back, but not for the kind of money those guys found in free agency. They'd love to have linebacker Jonathan Goff and defensive end Dave Tollefson back, but if they get big-money deals elsewhere, the Giants will let them go too.

They targeted Bennett right away and signed him on the second day of free agency, since they saw in him a young talent at a position where they lost two players to major knee injuries in the Super Bowl. And they re-signed cornerback Terrell Thomas and punter Steve Weatherford, two of their offseason priorities. But since then, the Giants have been quiet, content that they have a good, deep, championship roster and willing to let the market come to them.

What's next: The areas of concern, if there are any for the Giants, are linebacker and offensive line. And if Goff comes back, they like what they have at linebacker with the incumbents and last year's rookies. With McKenzie leaving, they could move David Diehl from left tackle to right tackle, but they'll still need to add depth at tackle as they look to the future on the offensive line.

There remains the chance that the Giants could trade defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who was disgruntled about his contract this time last year and now only has one year to go. If they did that, they could move Mathias Kiwanuka from linebacker back to his old pass-rushing spot on the line. But the Giants would have to be really blown away by an offer to move Umenyiora, who has relaxed a great deal about his contract situation and said he'd like to stay.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key additions: LB DeMeco Ryans (trade), G Mike Gibson

Key losses: DE Juqua Parker, WR Steve Smith, QB Vince Young

"We take care of our own": The Eagles' focus so far this offseason has been internal. They extended the contracts of right tackle Todd Herremans and defensive end Trent Cole, signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson to a long-term deal and re-signed free-agent guard Evan Mathis. The Eagles believe last year's team was a good roster that underachieved, and they basically are taking a mulligan and hoping it works this time.

The one exception is a big one -- the trade that brought them Ryans from Houston in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. The Eagles were pitifully weak at linebacker last year, and that weakness hurt their otherwise successful implementation of the "Wide 9" defensive line formation. They could get to the passer with their front four, but teams were able to attack the middle of their defense at will. The addition of Ryans, a veteran middle linebacker who was a productive tackler and beloved leader with the Texans, should help solve a lot of those problems.

What's next: There remains a strong chance the Eagles will trade cornerback Asante Samuel before or during the draft. They can afford to do so because they'd still be left with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as starting cornerbacks and the underrated Joselio Hanson at nickel corner. Other than that, the Eagles figure to be fairly quiet the rest of the way.

They're most likely to use their first-round pick on a defensive player, though Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who'd be a great addition, now looks likely to be gone by the time they pick at No. 15. So they could pick up another veteran linebacker and use the draft to add to their defensive line rotation. It's also likely they add a veteran safety and a veteran running back to back up LeSean McCoy, who's next in line for a new contract.

Washington Redskins

Key additions: WR Pierre Garcon, WR Josh Morgan, CB Cedric Griffin, S Brandon Meriweather

Key losses: S O.J. Atogwe (cut), S LaRon Landry, WR Donte' Stallworth

"When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band": The Redskins' biggest move of the offseason was the draft-picks trade they made with the Rams, sending three first-round picks and a second-round pick to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. That pick ensures that Washington, which has been looking for a franchise quarterback for a couple of decades, will be in position to take one of the two quarterbacks in this year's draft that projects as a franchise guy. They're most likely getting Baylor's Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner who's got Redskins fans in a tizzy already.

The Redskins' first big moves when free agency opened were aimed at building a new offense for their rookie quarterback to run. Garcon and Morgan are, the Redskins believe, receivers with big-play talent who will fit well into the offense they like to run. The other two big additions -- Griffin and Meriwether -- were brought in to beef up the secondary, which lost its two starting safeties. It's possible Griffin could play safety, though he played cornerback in Minnesota.

What's next: The Redskins continue to try to re-sign veteran linebacker London Fletcher, and they're confident they can do that. They also want to bring back running back Tim Hightower, assuming he's recovered from his ACL injury, and they're in talks with him about doing just that. If they fail in either or both of those efforts, they'll need backup plans, as they'll lack depth at running back and inside linebacker.

Washington still could stand to add to its secondary and find help for the offensive line. Right tackle Jammal Brown has injury problems, and the team is looking for a better option. Demetrius Bell remains on the market and is a player Washington likes for that right tackle spot.

Mailbag: Free agency on the brain

March, 17, 2012
All that's been on anyone's mind this week is free agency and college basketball. We'll skip the hoops questions in this week's mailbag and try and stick to that first thing. If you don't mind.

Barry from DC is concerned that he hasn't heard more about the Washington Redskins trying to sign offensive linemen.

Dan Graziano: Clearly, Barry, wide receiver was their first priority (after quarterback, of course, which is fixed through the draft). Then they got to work on the secondary. But I agree with you that right tackle and left guard remain areas of concern. Reports out of Washington say they had tackle Demetrius Bell in for a visit Friday, and everything I'm told indicates they're interested in tackle Eric Winston (though he spent a lot of time with the Chiefs this week). They weren't in the mix seriously for Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs at guard. They may not land any big O-line names, but I know they're looking to add, and they're targeting guys they think can work well in their zone-blocking run game schemes.

Like a lot of people, Jason from Bryn Mawr, PA gives the Dallas Cowboys a lot of credit for the moves they've made so far in free agency. He wonders if the focused, targeted approach they're taking reflects coach Jason Garrett's influence on personnel decisions.

DG: I do, Jason. I think you saw that begin last year, when the Cowboys cut players like Roy Williams and Marion Barber in order to go with more sensible options. I think you saw it this year with the overhaul of the coaching staff that got rid of some long-timers and replaced them with fresh faces. I believe Jerry Jones really wants Garrett to succeed and is willing to let him run the team his way, and I believe that means Garrett has a great deal of say in the kinds of players the team is pursuing. Things are making more sense in Dallas than Jones' old reputation usually leads people to believe they are.

George from Lexington, VA is watching the New York Giants sign free agents "to modest contracts so that they can fill specific roles in their system" and asks whether their approach is at all similar to the Billy Beane Oakland A's model that inspired the book and movie "Moneyball."

DG: I think it's an imperfect comparison, George. "Moneyball" is the story of a low-revenue team trying to find a way to compete in a game that has no salary cap and was at the time heavily tilted in favor of the high-revenue teams. The NFL's salary cap eliminates this problem by effectively eliminating the concept of low-revenue teams. All NFL teams are rolling in money, and those that don't spend as much as the others do so by choice. The Giants have been right up against the cap the last two years as a result of some big contracts that would make Billy Beane pass out, so part of the reason they haven't made big free-agent moves is because they're unable to. But I think the main reason the Giants are so comfortable with their simple moves is their belief in their coaching staff and the veteran-inspired environment in their locker room. They really believe they can find most of their solutions internally, because they believe their program develops prospects into good players. And they've been proven right a lot in recent years.

Now, when I do the mailbag, I like to make sure all four teams are represented. But man, was it hard to find a Philadelphia Eagles question this week. I scrolled back and scrolled back through Redskins question after Redskins question, and the first Eagles questions I found were from March 11! Thomas Hanson from D.C. asking if the Eagles would bring back Kevin Kolb as Michael Vick's backup if the Cardinals let Kolb go and gwh from Downingtown, PA asking if Donovan McNabb would be open to coming back as Vick's backup and if the Eagles would consider that.

DG: Obviously, since these questions came in, Arizona has decided to stick with Kolb, so that's out. And I guess, if there is an NFL team out there that would consider giving McNabb a job (and we have no proof that there is at this point), the Eagles would be a leading candidate. I thought the two best backup quarterback options were Jason Campbell and Kyle Orton, but they got snatched up right away by the Bears and Cowboys. The Eagles make that position a priority, as you know, and they're surely looking around for better options than Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards. But the list of the remaining candidates isn't awe-inspiring. David Garrard may be the best of a bunch that includes Rex Grossman, Shaun Hill, Jake Delhomme, Dennis Dixon and old friend Jeff Garcia.

Anyway, Eagles fans, come on! Where are the questions?

NFC East Friday: How was your day?

March, 16, 2012
I've got to be honest. I'm a little jealous. I'm so used to our division being in the middle of the action, that I almost wish we had a team in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. That's the story getting all of the attention, but our four teams feel good about quarterback, so I just read Williamson and Kuharsky and Sando with blog envy. Ah well. We'll always have Indianapolis.

Anyway, how was your day...

Dallas Cowboys?

"Harmless, so back off!" Hey, hey, hey. It's not me you have to worry about. It's all of these Cowboys fans I keep hearing from on Twitter who feel like everybody their team signs has to be Anthony Munoz or Jerry Rice. No, Nate Livings isn't the best guard in the league. But the Cowboys had next to nothing at guard last season. Is it wrong for them to pick out a couple of veterans they like to mix in with the kids they drafted last year and create some camp competition at those positions? I think the most surprising move of the day was the decision, as reported by Todd Archer, to part ways with veteran guard Kyle Kosier. Yeah, he's getting older and was banged up in 2011. But the Cowboys really valued him as an on-field leader and mentor for the young linemen. Looks like Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, David Arkin and Bill Nagy will fight it out for two starting guard spots (and maybe, if one of them can do it, the starting center spot) come training camp.

And yeah, Kevin Ogletree has had and blown chances to show he can handle the No. 3 wide receiver job. But just because they re-signed him doesn't mean they won't still look to upgrade there or even that he'll be on the 53-man roster come September. He visited the Giants this week, so it's not as though no one else wanted him. Maybe he helps on special teams, maybe things finally click for him in the passing game, maybe not. No real sweat either way, and wide receiver isn't a major need position for Dallas, which likely believes it can find this year's Laurent Robinson in the same bargain aisle in which they found last year's. Their need positions were defensive back, linebacker and guard, and they've addressed all three, along with backup quarterback, by signing eight players in the first four days of free agency.

People have been telling me they wish the Cowboys had signed more recognizable players, but the fact is they've whiffed badly in past years when going for the better-known names. Maybe this time around, the scouts and the coaching staff are targeting specific players for specific reasons without worrying about name recognition. Me, I say that's a good way to go.

Washington Redskins?

"Busy." They agreed to terms with defensive back Cedric Griffin, who might be a candidate for free safety or might be a candidate for nickel cornerback or might just be a guy they think can help deepen the secondary. They restructured the contract of center Will Montgomery to spare themselves about $2 million in cap space. Fred Davis signed his franchise tender, which is what they wanted -- hold one of their best 2011 playmakers for a reasonable price and give him a year to keep himself clean and prove himself reliable. They had a visit from cornerback Aaron Ross, since they're not done addressing the secondary. And since they're still determined to address the offensive line, they also hosted free-agent tackle Demetrius Bell and remain interested in free-agent tackle Eric Winston as well. Winston has been in Kansas City this week, but his scheduled visit to St. Louis was reportedly canceled after the Rams apparently blew their offensive line budget signing center Scott Wells. Lots going on, but still nothing with London Fletcher. That remains a justifiable concern of Redskins fans, but he still hasn't signed anywhere else as of this writing, and the linebacker market has yet to really flower. So, no real reason to panic just yet.

New York Giants?

"Bout the same." The Giants seem to be doing one simple thing each day. Friday's was the signing of punter Steve Weatherford to a five-year contract, which supersedes his franchise-player designation and locks up one of the most quietly valuable pieces of their Super Bowl champion team. There are reports about Mario Manningham negotiating seriously with the Rams, but the Giants have been prepared for some time to lose Manningham, for whom the market is likely to generate more than the Giants want to pay a No. 3 wide receiver. I'm curious to see whether they get involved with one of these right tackle candidates on the market, since they're saying good-bye to Kareem McKenzie. But they have the option of moving David Diehl over there if Will Beatty comes back healthy, so it's not an urgent need. The Giants will keep making the "un-sexy" moves general manager Jerry Reese enjoys so much, and as I've said before, they have earned the benefit of the doubt on this.

Philadelphia Eagles?

"Coulda been worse." The best thing that happened for the Eagles on Friday was what didn't happen -- namely, that free-agent guard Evan Mathis didn't sign with the Baltimore Ravens. Mathis is still apparently weighing offers from Baltimore and Philadelphia, and Reuben Frank reports that the Eagles have told Mathis they'll beat the Ravens' offer. So it sounds as though a resolution to this could be on the way shortly. Still nothing on linebacker, but again, not many teams are doing anything at linebacker right now. The Eagles are waiting it out kind of like the Giants are, since they feel decent about the roster they already have. They'll do something, but there is no hurry.

My day? Thanks for asking. It was fine, but I've got to be honest. I'm a little gassed. Going to turn off the laptop now and either go to bed or pass out on the couch watching basketball. No breakfast links tomorrow (we skip them on the weekends, due to concerns about high cholesterol), and I may sleep later than usual. But if something happens, I promise I'll post on it. I give you my word as a Spaniard.

(Anyone know the next line????)