NFC East: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:

Can the pass rush bounce back?

Only five teams in the NFL had fewer sacks than the 34 the Giants had in 2013, and 14 of those 34 walked out the door with the free-agent departures of Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. The only addition they have made to the defensive line is former Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong edge defender against the run but has only 12 sacks in five NFL seasons so far and was mainly a part-time player in Denver in spite of having been a first-round pick in 2009.

The Giants did beef up on the back end of the defense, adding cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman and bringing back Trumaine McBride to go with Prince Amukamara. The hope there is that better coverage down the field will help enable their pass-rushers to get to the quarterback more quickly. That could represent a big philosophy shift for an organization that's always believed in building a defense front to back, but the Giants have spent a fair amount of time over the past two years lamenting teams' ability to get the ball out quickly against them and neutralize their pass rush.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Giants need a healthy and productive Jason Pierre-Paul.
Anyway, that's all just the setup. Only one player matters in regard to today's question, and he's not a cornerback. Nor is he Ayers or Mathias Kiwanuka or Damontre Moore, whichever of those guys claims Tuck's starting spot at left defensive end. The player on whom the Giants' 2014 pass rush will rise and fall is Jason Pierre-Paul, who is far from new but is capable of transforming the pass rush all by himself.

Pierre-Paul followed up his 16.5-sack 2011 season with a hot start in 2012, but back problems plagued him throughout the second half of that season. He had surgery on his back last June, and the effects of that surgery slowed him significantly in the first half of 2013. Once he was finally feeling like himself again, he hurt his shoulder and was unable to play in the final month. He ended up with two sacks for the season -- the only two he's had since the first week of November 2012.

So this is your answer, folks. The Giants' plan for the pass rush is to hope Pierre-Paul is as healthy as he says he feels and that he returns to the monster form he flashed during that last Super Bowl season in 2011. Everything rides on this. If he can do it, it's going to make the whole defensive line look good, not to mention that rebuilt secondary.

Moore looks like a big-time athletic talent, but the Giants can't know when or if he'll be reliable enough to be counted on as a starter. Kiwanuka is what he is -- a reliable veteran who does everything he's asked, but not a big-time playmaker at the defensive end position. Ayers cold be a late bloomer about to pop, but he also could just continue to be what he was in Denver, which would make him a helpful rotational piece and nothing more.

But Pierre-Paul, as we all know, can be a dominating player when he's on his game. Just two years ago, following that 2011 season, he was in the conversation about the best defensive players in the entire league. He is still only 25 years old and surely capable of doing what he did in 2011 or more. If he does, he's the kind of player who can elevate a defense from good to great. He could make those defensive ends on the other side of the line look better just by drawing blocking attention away from them. Pierre-Paul is the player in whom the Giants are putting their faith this year on defense. They believe he will justify it.

It's a big year for Pierre-Paul personally, as he's eligible for free agency when it's over. So he has that added incentive along with his built-in motivation to show the world he's still the player he was in his breakout second season. The Giants are counting on him to be that player. If he is, that's a bigger "addition" than any they made in free agency, by far.
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Stop me if you've heard this one before: The free agent with whom the New York Giants agreed to terms Wednesday is 28 years old, was a high draft pick not too long ago, and has shown some quality flashes while not living all the way up to expectations so far in the NFL. The Giants were able to get him at a relatively low price, which is important given the remarkably high number of free agents they've had to sign this offseason to replenish their roster. He adds depth at a position of need, and if the light goes on and he plays to his pre-draft potential, they could really have something here.

When you put it that way, defensive end Robert Ayers sounds like almost every other free agent the Giants have signed in the past three weeks.

[+] EnlargeRobert Ayers
Paul Spinelli/AP PhotoThe Giants have added Robert Ayers, a former first-round pick, to their defensive line rotation.
Ayers is the 23rd free agent the Giants have signed so far, the 12th from another team and the fourth who was once a first-round draft pick. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Denver Broncos, a highly regarded pass-rusher out of Tennessee. He's never really developed as an NFL pass-rusher, recording just 12 sacks in five professional seasons. But his 5.5 sacks in 2013 were a career high, and he's well regarded as a run defender.

Ayers is not a Justin Tuck replacement, per se. Tuck had 11 sacks just last season; you don't replace him with a guy who has only had 12 in five years. But as an edge rusher who can play the run, he could be a valuable part of the rotation at defensive end. Heck, it's not ridiculous to think that, with a good training camp, he could beat out veteran Mathias Kiwanuka and 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore for the starting defensive end spot opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. He isn't Tuck, but he's younger and cheaper, and the extent of the Giants' free-agent roster overhaul this offseason has been predicated on those two traits.

It's also worth pointing out a bit of a trend in these bargain-bin guys the Giants have picked up. Ayers is like center J.D. Walton and tackle Charles Brown in that he was regarded well enough out of college to be a relatively high pick but hasn't produced the way his original team had hoped. Adding guys like that -- who have talent but haven't put it all together -- can be a smart way of playing the bargain end of free agency, especially when the players are still young, as these three are. (You could add Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to this list, since he's played well as a pro but is thought to have elite talent, but he was a big-money signing and thus more of a gamble.)

There are worse bets to make than one on a former first-round pass-rusher (or former third-round center, or former second-round tackle) who has experience as a starter in the league. And if you make three or four such bets, and you believe in the abilities of the people on your coaching staff, your odds of hitting on one or two of them are pretty good. We'll see which of the Giants' signings work out and which don't. But at worst, the Ayers signing continues at least the following theme: The Giants had a hole and filled it with what they believed was the best option available at this point in free agency. It will be months before we can accurately judge which of their many holes they've filled well and which will need filling again next March and April.
The New York Giants invested heavily in free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they're going to use him accordingly. Speaking at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Wednesday, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would be deployed as the team's No. 1 cornerback. Per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com:

When asked how exactly DRC would be employed within defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defensive system, head coach Tom Coughlin didn't hesitate.

"Are you the best receiver of their team? [He's] following you then," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL Meetings.

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNew Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, left, can expect to be matched up with elite receivers like Dallas' Dez Bryant next season.
Coughlin and the Giants targeted that type of player right from the start of free agency. They checked in on all the top cornerbacks, before landing Rodgers-Cromartie when the options were slimming. It's clear what drew them to talented cornerback.

"He's physical enough. When you watch him closely, he doesn't shy away," Coughlin said. "He's got great big long arms, he's tall, he's fast, he can match up."

So that's the answer to a lot of the questions that were asked when the Giants signed Rodgers-Cromartie. The question is whether he can handle the assignment of tailing guys like Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones and maybe DeSean Jackson around the field for a whole game. All of those guys are on the Giants' 2014 schedule (unless Jackson gets traded to a team that is not), and each is a tough matchup for even the best cornerbacks in the league.

Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't really been used that way in previous stops, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. I asked my NFL Insiders colleague Louis Riddick what he thought. Louis is a former defensive back himself who worked in the Eagles' front office when Rodgers-Cromartie was there in 2011 and 2012.

"He may actually respond favorably to that, to be honest, especially if there are guys like [Antrel] Rolle who he doesn't want to let down," Louis said. "While we had him, no, he would not have reacted well to that kind of responsibility."

Interesting point about safety Rolle, who is the Giants' defensive team captain and was a teammate of Rodgers-Cromartie's in Arizona earlier in their careers. Rodgers-Cromartie was calling Rolle "big bro" around the time of his signing and clearly looks up to him. Part of the reason the Giants have confidence Rodgers-Cromartie can harness his talent and establish a level of consistency with them that he hasn't shown to this point in his career is that they expect Rolle's influence to be strong and positive.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can handle that "shut-down" responsibility with regard to the opponent's top wideout every week, that would obviously be a huge asset to the Giants' defense and justify their five-year, $35 million investment in him. It would ease some of the pressure on Prince Amukamara, who tried gamely to fill the No. 1 cornerback spot in 2014 but isn't really suited for that role full-time. It would allow fellow newcomer Walter Thurmond to stay on the slot receiver, where he should be a tough matchup every week. And the overall depth at corner now should allow Rolle to stay at safety for a whole season, which he prefers and will likely make him as effective as he can be.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can't handle that assignment ... well, then they're going to have to move a lot of pieces around to make up for that. The positive thing there is that they have a good number of quality pieces to move around in case Plan A doesn't work out.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Before visiting with the New York Giants, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spent time at the New York Jets' facility, meeting with team officials. Giants coach Tom Coughlin wasn't worried about losing the free-agent cornerback to his local rival.

Rodgers-Cromartie
"It seemed as if he was going to continue to visit until he found what he wanted," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings.

Rodgers-Cromartie found it with the Giants, who gave him a five-year, $35 million contract that includes $13.98 million guaranteed. Putting the money aside for a moment, the Giants believe they landed the talented corner by providing two important elements: A specific plan for him on defense and stablity.

This will be DRC's third team in three years, and he wants to settle down with one team, according to Coughlin. The Jets didn't provide that opportunity, reportedly offering what amounted to a one-year contract for about $6 million.

"To be honest with you, he was looking for a place to sink his roots and become a guy who represented a team and stayed there, and worked his way through some things," Coughlin said. "He wanted to be part of something instead of one year here, one year there. ...He jumped on that. He wanted to be a guy who’s associated with a team and be recognized."

Rodgers-Cromartie is a talented, but inconsistent player. He played well last season for the Denver Broncos, but he was a disappointment in the two previous seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Coughlin said the Giants' coaches studied him closely, formulating a plan to maximize his strengths. He wouldn't divulge the plan.

"We have a young man that really wants to be coached," he said. "We studied and we saw some areas we can help him in, and we were very specific about how that would happen. He was very open and receptive to it. We did a good job of it. Our coaches worked their tails off. They spent a lot of time on it, a lot of time."

And the Jets still have a gaping hole at cornerback, with general manager John Idzik taking heat for failing to address a need.
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On paper, following their flurry of free-agent activity this week, the defensive backfield is the strength of the New York Giants' roster. We say "on paper," because it's March 19 and paper's all we have. The Giants don't play a real game for another five-plus months, which means all we can do is project what we think will happen based on the way everything looks from this far out.

So let's. Let's take a look at the Giants' new secondary, piece-by-piece, to get everybody fired up about how much better it has a chance to be in 2014. Assuming, of course, that they haven't improved it at the expense of the pass rush. Which they may have. But that's a different story for another time. This is about the secondary, whose members now include:

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
AP Photo/Seth WenigIn 2014, Antrel Rolle should see more help in pass coverage given the Giants' additions at cornerback.
Antrel Rolle, safety: The lone remaining defensive captain, Rolle should be well served by the addition of all this cornerback depth. He's been asked to handle too much cornerback duty the past several years due to injuries and depth issues at that position. With everyone they now have at corner, Rolle should be able to stick to safety as he prefers. He's a leader on the Giants' defense, which is the main reason he was never a real candidate to be cut in spite of his whopping $9.25 million cap number. Ideally, he'll be able to switch off seamlessly between strong safety and free safety in the Giants' defensive scheme because his fellow starting safety will be able to handle either role.

Prince Amukamara, CB: I believe Amukamara is a good player. His technique is good, he's willing to mix it up physically, he can tackle, he's willing to help out against the run. Smart, studies hard, keeps himself in excellent shape... solid, all-around player. What I do not think he is is a star cornerback, a "shutdown" type who you can put on the other team's best receiver and expect him to take the guy out of the game. Not a knock, mind you -- there are very few guys like that. Just saying that I think the additions around him will help alleviate some of the pressure and responsibility Amukamara took on himself last year as the team's clear No. 1 corner.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB: He doesn't fit that "shutdown corner" description either, but his speed and athleticism enable Rodgers-Cromartie to make spectacular plays and sometimes even outrun his mistakes. The Giants should be able to split the field with him on one side and Amukamara on the other and feel very good about their chances in coverage. Depending on week-by-week matchups, they can isolate Rodgers-Cromartie in coverage as warranted without having to lean on him as a one-on-one difference-maker every week. He looks up to Rolle, his former Arizona Cardinals teammate, and should benefit from that relationship.

Stevie Brown, safety: When training camp 2013 opened, Brown was coming off an eight-interception breakout season and was talking about his development as a player. The hope was he would evolve into the kind of safety who could switch off with Rolle as Kenny Phillips used to do, and Brown and the team were confident he could. Brown tore his ACL in the 2013 preseason and hasn't played since, so his health will be a question mark going into the year. But if he is healthy, he will get a chance to win back that starting safety spot and show off his ballhawking skills again.

Will Hill, safety: He emerged as the starter opposite Rolle as the 2013 season went on after missing the first four games on a drug suspension. Rolle made the Pro Bowl, but I believed Hill was the better player at times in 2013, which is more a compliment to Hill than it is an insult of Rolle's play. The questions with Hill are of off-field issues, but if he's got his life in order away from the football field, he's a force on it. If Hill stays out of trouble and Brown stays healthy, the Giants have enviable safety depth.

Walter Thurmond, CB: He was one of the cornerbacks called upon to fill a larger role in Seattle last year following the drug suspension of Brandon Browner, and it's generally believed the Seahawks' cornerback play improved. Thurmond is an elite-level talent as a slot cornerback, which is the role he'll likely fill with the Giants, but he's also capable of handling himself on the outside should one of the starters get injured.

Trumaine McBride, CB: The Giants were impressed enough with his 2013 work as an injury-replacement starter that they signed him back on a two-year contract. Undersized but extremely determined, McBride showed an ability to handle himself on the outside and can play the slot as well. He'll function as a reliable backup.

Cooper Taylor, safety: Late-round 2013 draft pick is already a helper on special teams, and with all of the veteran safeties they have in front of him, he can take his time developing as a defensive player.

Jayron Hosley, CB: The Giants' 2012 third-rounder has been slow to develop due to health issues. The Giants liked him as a slot corner option when they picked him, but he's got to show a lot to stay in the long-range plans at this point.

Quintin Demps, safety: Signed primarily as a kick returner, he's a last-resort option if injuries dictate that he fill in at safety. He did start six games there for Kansas City in 2013.

Charles James, CB: Saw some work in the return game last preseason, but they have other guys for that now. James has some value as a special teams player but will have to fight his way up the depth chart.

Free-agency review: Giants

March, 18, 2014
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Rodgers-Cromartie
Most significant signing: We'll go with the most expensive and most recent one, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed for five years and $39 million ($15 million guaranteed) on Monday evening. He completes the Giants' project of deepening and strengthening themselves at cornerback, will allow newly signed Walter Thurmond to handle the slot, and will help make sure Antrel Rolle can focus completely on safety. Prior to the Rodgers-Cromartie signing, guard Geoff Schwartz was the winner here.

Most significant loss: Defensive end Justin Tuck, who was a co-captain and two-time Super Bowl champion, had 11 sacks last season. What's lost with Tuck isn't just the sacks but also his ability (and willingness) to do the inglorious run-defense work that not every pass-rushing defensive end likes to do. And the biggest loss might be in leadership. Tuck was a link to glory days and an anchor for young and old players in the meeting rooms, on the field and in the locker room. He will be very difficult to replace. The honorable mention here goes to defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is only 25 and for some reason didn't even merit a serious effort to keep.

Walton
Biggest surprise: Desperately needing a new center, the Giants committed a surprising amount of money to former Broncos center J.D. Walton, who hasn't played since Week 4 of 2012 due to a significant ankle injury. Walton is an upside play for the Giants, but the $3 million in guaranteed money in his two-year contract indicates the Giants expect him to play. At this point, he's the only center they have, and they wouldn't seem to have enough to make a big play to upgrade.

What's next? The Giants still have many needs, even beyond those we've already addressed here on the offensive and defensive lines. They could use a wide receiver to replace Hakeem Nicks, and they don't have a tight end on the roster who's qualified to start an NFL game. My guess is they'll look to address the defensive line rotation next in free agency and then use the first and second rounds of the draft to add weapons and protection for Eli Manning.
The signing of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a good move for the New York Giants. I wrote Sunday night that it would be if they signed him, and now that they have, I reiterate this. He's a good player who's played in the Super Bowl and will only be 28 when the season starts. Five years, $39 million with $15 million guaranteed is a whopper of a deal and likely will force a contract restructure or two elsewhere on the roster, but Rodgers-Cromartie has the kind of ability on which it's worth placing a bet, and part of my problem with the Giants' offseason this year has been their seeming unwillingness to place a big bet. So I'm not going to rip this move. One of the Giants' goals when this offseason began was to strengthen their secondary, and they have done so. On paper, it is clearly the strongest part of their roster as currently constructed.

Rodgers-Cromartie
Which brings us to the forward-looking portion of today's program, where we must remind ourselves that the Giants' roster is not yet fully constructed. In fact, it still needs a great deal of work before this can be labeled a 2014 title contender. And if I were making the decisions in East Rutherford, my next focus would be on the line. Either line, defensive or offensive. Because they both need a lot of work.

For argument's sake, and because most of the Giants' offseason work so far has been on defense, let's start with the defensive line. Their best two players on the defensive line last year were, without much competition, Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. Tuck is now a Raider and Joseph a Viking, which (a) is terrible news if you fear an invasion by marauders and (b) requires the Giants to contemplate their replacements.

Even if you believe that Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins will be ready to step into starting roles in their second years and replace the production that Tuck and Joseph delivered in 2013, the Giants still need to add depth at positions where deep rotations are critical. And believing that Moore and Hankins will be ready to do that is a major, major leap of faith in players who didn't see the field much as rookies. Holes remain at this critical spot on which the Giants have built their championship teams, and there's nothing that makes a secondary look bad quicker than an absent pass rush.

As for the offensive line...

Wait a second. Let's call this section "the offense in general." The Giants still have only one viable outside-the-numbers receiver, and that's the still-green Rueben Randle. They have no real tight end, they're hoping banged-up war horse Chris Snee can answer the bell at right guard and their choices right now at center are (a) J.D. Walton, who was a terrible player in 2011 and hasn't played since September of 2012 or (b) Eli Manning hikes the ball to himself like you do in the front yard when your brother is screaming "One Mississippi!"

The Giants have fewer holes than they did a week ago, but they still have plenty of them. And I think that's the cautionary point I'd make here. Yes, there are still free agents to sign, but we all know this process offers no perfect solutions. Yes, the draft looms in May, but how many right-away starters can you hope to get from a draft? Two if you have a good one, three if you really nail it. The Giants, as of this morning, were not Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie away from the Super Bowl, and they remain in the midst of a significant roster rebuild. Some of the choices they have made over the past week will turn out to have been good ones. Others will not. A year from now, they'll re-assess them all and continue working.

But continue working is what the Giants must do. Their 2013 team was a terrible one -- a wheezing husk of a championship team that won seven of its final 10 games because it kept fighting when teams that had more talent but less character rolled over. The manner in which the Giants have operated this offseason so far shows that they weren't fooled by their strong finish and know how large the project that lies in front of them still is. They must and will continue to keep working, because they still have a lot of work to do.
Our man Adam Schefter reported Sunday night that free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who spent Sunday meeting with the Giants, will return to the Giants' facility in East Rutherford, N.J., on Monday to undergo a physical. I take this as a sign that Rodgers-Cromartie and the Giants are making good progress toward an eventual signing.

Rodgers-Cromartie
It doesn't have to mean that, especially since the guy spent Saturday meeting with the Jets and it's only like a half-hour from the Giants' facility to the Jets' facility (depending on which way you go). If he wanted to, Rodgers-Cromartie could hit the Giants with a thanks-but-no-thanks and be in Florham Park in time for a noon news conference. But for the purpose of this particular post, let's operate as though Rodgers-Cromartie is likely to be a Giant and analyze what it would mean.

First of all, I think it would be a good signing for the Giants, who had a rough time locking in their top targets at cornerback last week but could end up benefiting by having to "settle" for a better player later in the market.

Rodgers-Cromartie is tall and fast and extremely talented and three weeks shy of his 28th birthday. He's an exciting player, which isn't necessarily the best thing you can say about a cornerback, but I mean it at least as much in its positive connotation as in its negative. He can be beaten deep and will drive you nuts from time to time when he bites on a double-move. But he's fast and athletic enough to compensate for mistakes, and he's got an ability to make plays on the ball. Eagles fans still justifiably bitter about the way things went in 2011 and 2012 will tell you he can't (or won't) tackle, and they may be right, but that's a nitpick. A cornerback who's doing his job (i.e., covering receivers and breaking up passes) doesn't have to tackle. And by the middle of 2012, the entire Eagles defense had mailed it in and nobody wanted to tackle. Rodgers-Cromartie had a fine year in 2013 with the AFC champion Broncos, who likely would have brought him back if they hadn't been able to upgrade to Aqib Talib. And he's young enough to make you believe he's on the upswing.

This would be the best player the Giants have yet signed in free agency -- a starting outside cornerback along with Prince Amukamara. With Walter Thurmond, who signed Sunday, in the slot and Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley on the bench, the Giants would boast a deep cornerback corps and finally be able to keep safety Antrel Rolle from having to play any corner at all, which would make him happy and maximize his value at safety. You could accurately call the secondary the strongest part of the Giants' roster.

I wonder whether the Giants will have to restructure a contract or two (Mathias Kiwanuka and Eli Manning are obvious candidates) to fit Rodgers-Cromartie under the cap. They had about $12 million in cap room at last check without counting the Jon Beason, Thurmond or Quintin Demps deals, so they're getting close to the number and have other needs yet to fill at wide receiver, tight end and on the offensive and defensive lines. (Remember, they don't get the $5 million in cap relief from David Baas' release until June 2. They'll use that to sign their draft picks.)

And from a purely selfish standpoint, the idea of having to type "Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie" every time I refer to the Giants' starting cornerback duo sounds like a pain. But I'd do it for you guys, because I know it would make you happy. And that's what I'm here for.

Last week, I wrote that the Giants were playing a risky game by targeting certain specific players and signing them early in free agency rather than letting the market come to them. Surely, Rashad Jennings and J.D. Walton could have been had for less money, and if not then similar players could. In this case, however, if they do end up signing this player, they could benefit from having patience forced on them. I think Rodgers-Cromartie is better than Tracy Porter or Corey Graham, whom they eyeballed early last week. And since they obviously weren't going to make the big-splash play for Talib or Darrelle Revis, he's basically the best they were going to do at this point. Assuming they can afford him and keep him from sneaking down I-80 to Florham Park, this is a move that would make the Giants better.
The New York Giants continue to hunt for cornerback help, and the top cornerback still on the market might be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the former Cardinal, Eagle and Bronco. According to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, Rodgers-Cromartie has scheduled a visit with the Giants after he stops in to visit the Jets this weekend.

Rodgers-Cromartie
He fits the profile, as he doesn't turn 28 until next month. (Rodgers-Cromartie, that is. I think Conor is actually younger.) And Rodgers-Cromartie has played pretty well the past couple seasons in Philadelphia and Denver. He's got a bit of a reputation as a flake, but a player who's very athletic, very fast and very effective when he's focused. He'd slot in as a starter opposite Prince Amukamara, and slide Trumaine McBride down to a slot or backup role where he'd likely be more effective.

Problem is, Rodgers-Cromartie is visiting the Jets first, and as you know, a lot of times these guys sign with the team they're visiting and cancel all of their other visits. Rodgers-Cromartie also was thought to have been seeking a bank-breaking, $10 million-per-year deal when free agency began. And while he's not likely to get that from anyone, let alone the Giants, there remains a chance he scheduled a Giants visit in part to scare the Jets into upping whatever offer they make to him. So I guess I'm saying don't get your hopes up.
The Denver Broncos have won the offseason title and free agency is not even four days old.

John Elway signed safety T.J. Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal that guarantees him $14 million. He stole cornerback Aqib Talib away from the New England Patriots with a six-year, $57 million deal that guarantees him $26 million. Then he thanked the Dallas Cowboys for their cap woes and unwillingness to pay DeMarcus Ware and signed Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed.

Ware will make $250,000 more with the Broncos this year than he would have with the Cowboys.

Add those three to an offense that will still put up points even if Eric Decker leaves and Denver should be viewed as the favorites in the AFC.

In fact, they might look like a "Dream …" Sorry. Got something stuck in my throat. "A Dream …" Man, there it goes again.

One more time: A dream team.

Could the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles serve as a reminder that a "dream team" doesn’t mean a Super Bowl team?

To refresh: The Eagles loaded up with Jason Babin (five years, $28 million), Cullen Jenkins (five years, $25 million) and Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, $60 million). They traded Kevin Kolb and got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return. They added serviceable pieces in Ronnie Brown and Evan Mathis turned out to be a steal.

Then they signed Vince Young, who came up with the dream-team tag.

And Philadelphia finished 8-8.

The Broncos have Peyton Manning, so it’s hard to see an 8-8 season. But what happens if Manning gets hurt?

Free-agent dossier: Nate Allen

February, 26, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- Taken individually, each of safety Nate Allen's four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles gets an asterisk.

In 2010, the second-round pick was a rookie on a team that still had championship aspirations (or delusions, depending on your perspective). Allen tore the patellar tendon in his right knee late in the season.

Allen
That injury provided an asterisk for 2011, as did the disastrous promotion of offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. Allen was part of a mismatched secondary that included marquee acquisitions Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

As for 2012, that was a lost season for the entire franchise, and Allen was hardly the biggest problem. In 2013, Allen spent his first season in the system of new defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He also had arguably his best all-around season, as far as that goes.

Taken all together, though, Allen’s tenure with the Eagles amounts to very little -- he has as many career interceptions (six) as Brandon Boykin had in 2013. Maybe the odds were against him to some degree, but there is no escaping the sense that a better, more aggressive safety would have left more of a mark than Allen did.

It is not out of the question that he will be back. The defense as a whole improved over the course of Davis’ first season. While general manager Howie Roseman has acknowledged the need to improve the back end of the defense, there is a chance he won’t be able to acquire a significantly better safety during free agency. If it comes down to Allen or Patrick Chung, the Eagles might be better off with the 6-1, 210-pound Allen. He is, after all, only 26.

But then there is the flip side. Allen said immediately after the season that he would like to return to the Eagles. But it might be that he finds a change of scenery appealing once he hits the market. If several of the top safeties -- Jairus Byrd, Donte Whitner, T.J. Ward -- never reach free agency, Allen could be attractive to a team looking for a reasonably priced alternative.

Some teams, especially those that liked Allen coming out of South Florida in 2010, might see the asterisks more clearly than the Eagles do.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles were much better off at cornerback than at safety last year, and a million times better there than they were for the Nnamdi Asomugha/Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie jogathon of 2012.

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Cary Williams
AP Photo/Michael PerezCary Williams' presence among the Eagles' cornerbacks can't be understated.
Still, cornerback is such a premium position, you can expect general manager Howie Roseman to look to upgrade there if he can. It is not an A-1 priority, not compared to safety, but it should always be a priority.

In many ways, Chip Kelly inherited an Eagles team much like the one Andy Reid did 14 years earlier, only in reverse. The 1998 Eagles were 3-13 but had the defensive personnel in place for a quick turnaround: Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter and others.

The offense was another matter, especially at wide receiver. Saying the "cupboard was bare," Reid quickly added solid veterans Charles Johnson and Torrance Small just to get some inventory at the position.

For Kelly, it was the offense that was stocked and the defense that required the most attention. Roseman signed cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, along with safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips, just to stock that mostly empty cupboard.

Williams and Fletcher turned out to be better performers at cornerback than Johnson and Small were at wide receiver. They also have a better chance to stick around while their side of the ball develops. Their presence gives Roseman a little breathing room. If he can upgrade the position, he should. But he can address more pressing needs, especially safety, because Williams, Fletcher and Brandon Boykin represent a solid group of corners.

Aside: These corners would be that much more effective with an improved pass rush. So that becomes an even higher priority.

As the oldest of the three, Williams would appear most vulnerable to being replaced. But his value to the chemistry and personality of the Eagles defense in 2013 cannot be overstated. The Eagles were soft with DRC and Asomugha at the corners. Williams wasn't having any of that.

Fletcher was the polar opposite, personality-wise. He's as soft-spoken as Williams is outspoken. But he played a solid, reliable cornerback pretty much all season. Fletcher is 27 and another year removed from the ACL tear that cost him most of the 2011 season and made him expendable to the St. Louis Rams after the 2012 season.

Williams is 6-foot-1, Fletcher 6-0. They give the Eagles decent size and tackling ability (and willingness to tackle, which is not the same thing) on the outside. Each was also able to remain on one side, regardless of which receivers were matched up there. That allowed Davis the freedom to draw up schemes without having to move one shutdown corner around to compensate for a less competent player.

As for Boykin, he simply had a terrific season as the Eagles' nickel cornerback. Maybe too terrific, since he gave Davis a good reason to leave him where he excels rather than allow him to play outside. It's a win-win situation for the Eagles, though. If Boykin does develop into an outside corner, that gives them depth and flexibility. If he stays put, they have a nickel corner who was tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions despite limited playing time.

With so much work going into gradually improving the defense, there wasn't time to bring along young cornerback Roc Carmichael. He played almost exclusively when Fletcher or Williams was out because of injury or, in one case, Williams' temper tantrum in Minnesota. When Carmichael was in, he was targeted. He should benefit from a full offseason and training camp with Davis.

Curtis Marsh, a 2011 draft pick who spent part of the season with Cincinnati, was active for only one game after being resigned by the Eagles in early November. It's hard to see a role for Marsh in 2014.

A look at the 16th, 17th pick

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
11:05
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will not know until a coin flip at the NFL scouting combine if they or the Baltimore Ravens will pick 16th or 17th in the first round of the May draft.

The only time the Cowboys used the 16th pick in the draft came in 1961 when they selected E.J. Holub in the second round. They have not taken a player with the 17th overall pick since cornerback Kevin Smith in 1992. Before that? In 1990 they took Emmitt Smith, who is now the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

What type of player has been available at Nos. 16 and 17? Here’s a look at the past 10 years.

2013 – EJ Manuel, Buffalo; Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh
2012 – Quinton Coples, New York Jets; Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati
2011 – Ryan Kerrigan, Washington; Nate Solder, New England
2010 – Derrick Morgan, Tennessee; Mike Iupati, San Francisco
2009 – Larry English, San Diego; Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
2008 – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Arizona; Gosder Cherilus, Detroit
2007 – Justin Harrell, Green Bay; Jarvis Moss, Denver
2006 – Jason Allen, Miami; Chad Greenway, Minnesota
2005 – Travis Johnson, Houston; David Pollack, Cincinnati
2004 – Shawn Andrews, Philadelphia; D.J. Williams, Denver
2003 – Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Bryant Johnson, Arizona.

Polamalu is by far the best player selected in either spot. He will be in the Hall of Fame. There are quality players in there like Williams, Greenway, Rodgers-Cromartie, Iupati, Solder and Kerrigan. Andrews had a pretty good short run as well. Kerrigan is solid and has done some good things versus the Cowboys. Coples has showed some pass rush his first two seasons. I expected more from Kirkpatrick, who was on the Cowboys’ radar in 2012.

The Cowboys held the No. 18 pick in 2013 and traded down to No. 31 with the Niners where they took Travis Frederick. They felt they were in a position to trade down and still pick up a quality player. When they saw Eric Reid, Justin Pugh, Kyle Long and Tyler Eifert go off the board in the next four picks they were left sweating it out until they got Frederick.

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