NFC East: Jake Ballard

The awkward part of New York Giants GM Jerry Reese's pre-draft news conference Thursday came when a reporter asked him about tight end. The exchange went like this:
Q: Historically, this team has relied on the tight end quite a bit. Would you be comfortable moving forward with the guys you have on your roster right now?

Reese: Historically we've relied on our tight end?

Q: Well, they've had a prominent role.

Reese: Really?

Q: I seem to remember tight ends catching important passes.

Reese: Yeah, well, we think we've got some tight ends that can catch some important passes. But "prominent role"? We want all of our positions to be prominent roles. I'm not sure if our tight ends have had prominent roles in the past. But we want a competent tight end. We think we've got a couple of young tight ends who have been here for a couple of years who we want to develop, and we'll continue to look as we move forward.
[+] EnlargeBrandon Myers
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsIn his one season with the Giants, Brandon Myers caught 47 passes for 522 yards.
I have been on the other end of that exchange in the past. I've been the one who asked Reese a question that posited a certain level of significance for the tight end position and had him reject the premise. Obviously, this does not show Reese at his most polite, but he views this idea that the Giants' offense has relied on a tight end as an especially irksome misperception. And the numbers support his side of it:

  • Brandon Myers' 47 receptions in 2013 were the second-most in a single season by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 passes in 2007.
  • Since 2007, the Giants have employed four different starting tight ends -- Kevin Boss from 2008-10, Jake Ballard in 2011, Martellus Bennett in 2012 and Myers last year.
  • Over that six-year stretch, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 42 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns per year, with Bennett's 55 catches and 626 yards in 2012 and Boss' six touchdowns in 2008 the high-water marks in those categories.

Reese is not shy about telling people he thinks he can find a tight end who can catch 42 passes every year, and this is the basis on which he rejects a characterization such as "prominent role." Yes, he could be nicer about making the point, but the Giants' offense has not, in point of fact, relied on the tight end. Shockey was an exceptional case -- an exceptional talent the Giants deemed worthy of a first-round pick. And Bennett's athleticism allowed them to use him a bit more than they've used other guys after they were able to get him on the cheap prior to the 2012 season.

But the thing to remember about Bennett and Shockey is that both were excellent and willing blockers at the position. Bennett's as good a run-blocking tight end as there is in the NFL right now, and the Giants had him on the field a lot for that reason. That his size and speed enabled him to be a slightly bigger factor in the passing game than some of his predecessors were was a bonus, and the Giants were fortunate that he wasn't in demand that year due to the perception that he was a huge disappointment in Dallas. Once he played well for them, he parlayed that into a big free-agent deal with the Bears, and the Giants made no effort to spend to keep him.

So the point to be taken from this is not that the Giants don't like the tight end position but that it's not a position on which they feel compelled to spend major resources. Other than that 2002 first-round pick they spent on Shockey, they've consistently sought cheap solutions at tight end, viewing whoever plays it as replaceable from year to year. They want guys who can block, and if those guys can catch the ball, so much the better.

For that reason, it's easy to convince yourself that they won't be taking North Carolina's Eric Ebron with the No. 12 pick in the first round next week. Ebron may be an exceptional talent as a receiver, and the tight end position leaguewide may have evolved to the point where it's worth spending a No. 12 overall pick to get one who can be a difference-maker in the passing game. But Reese insisted Thursday that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has not changed the way the Giants evaluate offensive players. And while Shockey was the No. 14 overall pick in that 2002 draft, it's vital to remember that Shockey was a good blocker in addition to a great pass-catcher. Ebron is a pass-catcher only. He'd be a liability as a blocker. So the comparison doesn't necessarily fit.

The Giants could find a tight end such as Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round if they really feel they need one, but it's possible they don't feel that way. They have 2012 fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson still on the roster and have been eager for some time to see him on the field more. They resisted putting Robinson on injured reserve all last year because they believed he had something to offer if he ever got healthy (which he finally did, only to injure himself again on the opening kickoff of the Week 16 game in Detroit). They signed blocking tight end Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells for depth at the position, and Larry Donnell has been a strong enough special-teams performer to earn more practice reps and show what he can do. That's the group Reese has, and he swears he doesn't feel the need to upgrade it in the draft. If their pick comes around and the best player still on their board plays tight end, sure, they could take him. But Reese isn't hunting for some huge solution at the position next week.

The question is whether he's right. I personally think the Giants would benefit from having a more permanent solution at this position than they've employed over the past four years. I think the way the league is going, it's more important than it used to be to have a big-time weapon at that position who can split out wide and bust matchups in the secondary. But I don't run the Giants. Jerry Reese does. And he and the Giants do things their way, and they believe in it. You can respect someone's conviction even if your opinion differs from theirs. Reese thinks he's OK at tight end -- or at least that he will be. And it's clear when he's asked about it that he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.
You don't even have to wait for an invitation, though I do tend to tweet a few out toward the end of the week. You can always submit a question for the Twitter mailbag just by posting it on Twitter with the hashtag #nfceastmail. Once a week I sort through them and come up with something a little bit like this.

Giants keep breaking up the band

March, 28, 2013
3/28/13
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News overnight Wednesday included the official (and long-expected) signing of Osi Umenyiora with the Falcons and the signing of Chase Blackburn with the Panthers. Neither of these New York Giants Super Bowl heroes had been expected back in 2013, and it does not appear the Giants made any real effort to keep either one. That's the way the Giants roll when it comes to players -- they look forward and not back. But it's worth a moment to stop and consider the changes they've seen in a little over a year.

Blackburn
Umenyiora
It's been less than 14 months since the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, and 22 of the 45 players who played for them in that game are no longer on the roster. Another -- cornerback Aaron Ross -- left for a year and came back. This is the list of the 22:
  1. DE Osi Umenyiora
  2. LB Chase Blackburn
  3. RB Ahmad Bradshaw
  4. RB Brandon Jacobs
  5. RB D.J. Ware
  6. WR Mario Manningham
  7. TE Jake Ballard
  8. TE Travis Beckum
  9. OT Kareem McKenzie
  10. G Mitch Petrus
  11. OT Tony Ugoh
  12. WR Devin Thomas
  13. K Lawrence Tynes
  14. CB Will Blackmon
  15. LB Michael Boley
  16. S Kenny Phillips
  17. S Deon Grant
  18. DT Rocky Bernard (still a free agent, could return)
  19. DT Chris Canty
  20. DE Dave Tollefson
  21. CB Derrick Martin
  22. LB Greg Jones

Some fairly significant names in there, and while I don't think any of their departures represents a bad or ill-considered decision on the team's part, I just felt like it was worth looking back and assessing the turnover in light of the Umenyiora and Blackburn departures.

This is the way things work in the NFL. The Super Bowl champion Ravens have turned over basically their whole defense, and their title was less than two months ago. So the Giants haven't been gutted or pillaged or anything like that. They view their roster as an organic, constantly evolving entity, and they're not going to hold onto guys they shouldn't keep just because those guys helped win them a Super Bowl (or, in some cases, two). Some of these players will be missed, others will not, but if the Giants get back to the Super Bowl again in the next couple of years, the team is going to have a much different look at many positions than it did in the Super Bowl they won just last year.
The New York Giants have agreed to terms on a contract with tight end Brandon Myers, according to Mike Garafolo. He replaces Martellus Bennett, who left for Chicago after one year with the Giants, and he represents a departure from Giants tight ends of recent past.

Myers was a pass-catching tight end in Oakland. He graded out as the worst blocking tight end in the league according to Pro Football Focus (by quite a wide margin), and it's surprising that the Giants decided to go with a tight end who's more of a receiver than a blocker. It makes you wonder if we can expect to see Myers used differently than Bennett and Jake Ballard were used the past two years. Those guys were blockers primarily, and the Giants picked their spots for using them as receivers in the passing game.

If Myers doesn't show improvement as a blocker this spring and summer over what he showed in Oakland, that might mean more playing time for someone like Bear Pascoe in the Giants' offense, especially on running downs. But it seems clear that they have added a nice passing-game weapon for Eli Manning with their latest pickup.
This one is for New York Giants fans in a panic about tight end, even though the team changes tight ends every year and always seems to get the same production out of whoever they bring in. Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News reports that the Giants are bringing in Raiders free-agent tight end Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns in his breakout 2012 season in Oakland.

Myers would certainly be a capable replacement for Martellus Bennett, who signed with the Bears as a free agent after one season with the Giants. He would also be the Giants' fourth starting tight end in four years, following Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard and Bennett. The Giants generally tend to look for tight ends who can help as run-blockers first, as they rely on their wide receivers to carry the load in the passing game, but there's little doubt that Myers' ability as a receiver could help the offense.

The Giants appear to be busy this weekend, as they have reportedly signed a one-year deal with former Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor and also reportedly added wide receiver Louis Murphy. Connor spent just one season in Dallas before being cut last week and didn't make much of an impact, being beaten out for playing time by Bruce Carter. Murphy is a 24-year-old speedster who hasn't been a very good NFL receiver to this point, and my guess would be that the Giants are thinking he might be able to help them as a punt returner.
It appears as though tight end Martellus Bennett's stay with the New York Giants has lasted just one season. According to ESPNChicago.com, Bennett has agreed in principle on an unrestricted free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears.

The Giants signed Bennett away from the Dallas Cowboys last year because they saw him as a young, talented, physical player who could certainly help them as a run-blocker and hopefully help in the passing game as a receiver. He played well, and likely exceeded expectations in the passing game, but tight end is not a position on which the Giants like to spend significant resources. So when Bennett decided he wanted to test the open market, the Giants decided to let him do that and move on without him. The Giants are likely to go with their fourth different starting tight end in as many years now, but they tend to cite the past production of Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard and Bennett as proof that quarterback Eli Manning can get sufficient production out of the tight end position no matter who's in there.

I'd expect the Giants to find a tight end on the free-agent market or maybe in the draft, but I wouldn't expect a big-money deal for a free agent or a first-round tight end. Again, this isn't one of the positions on which the Giants like to spend significant resources.

The Giants also have agreed on a one-year contract with cornerback Aaron Ross, who played the first five years of his career with the Giants and won two Super Bowls before leaving last year as a free agent for Jacksonville. The Jaguars released Ross a couple of days ago and he returns home to bolster the Giants' cornerback corps behind Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara.

NFC East fantasy tidbits

August, 16, 2012
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Our man Matthew Berry has his latest fantasy football column up, and it's 10 lists of 10. Here are some NFC East-related snippets from it, and my thoughts on each:
Last season, when DeMarco Murray got 20-plus carries, the Cowboys were 5-0. When he got fewer or didn't play? They were 3-8.
My take: Those who are still expecting a timeshare between Murray and Felix Jones aren't paying attention. If Murray's healthy, he is the running back in Dallas. The offense works best with him carrying the load, and I would expect Jones to be used only as an injury replacement or to give Murray a breather.
Last year, Mario Manningham had 12 red zone targets. And Jake Ballard had 13 red zone targets, tied for the team lead with Hakeem Nicks. What if a majority of those red zone targets go to Martellus Bennett?
My take: A very interesting point. While the Giants don't throw to their tight ends as much as some other teams do these days, they do seem to like going to them in the red zone. The thing to remember, though, is that Bennett must show he can run his routes and catch the passes thrown to him, or Eli Manning will look elsewhere. (He does have quite a few good options, even with Manningham and Ballard gone.) Route-running and pass-catching were Bennett's problems in Dallas, and Giants GM Jerry Reese has said Bennett was brought in mainly to help as a run-blocker. So don't assume he becomes the new Ballard. It would be a surprise and a bonus.
Evan Royster, Redskins (16th round): At some point this year, he will start. The question is ... will you have the guts to start him, too? By the way, don't be shocked if Alfred Morris gets a start. It's Mike Shanahan.
My take: Matthew reads my stuff! I am flattered.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- I have lots of stuff still in the notebook from my time at New York Giants training camp. Our "Camp Confidential" on the Giants should roll out at some point today, and I have more stories and notes planned on the Giants for the early part of this week, even while I'm at Eagles and Redskins camp. But a lot of people -- Giants fans as well as Dallas Cowboys fans -- are asking about tight end Martellus Bennett, the former Cowboy who signed with the Giants at the start of free agency. So I thought a post on him was in order. This is what Giants GM Jerry Reese told me Saturday afternoon when I asked him about Bennett:
"I think he's going to really help our run game, because he's a tremendous blocker. We think he could be a good receiver, but what he gives us as a receiver is going to be a bonus. We think he can really help us get our run game going, because he's the blocking tight end that we haven't had. Jake [Ballard] was an okay blocker, Bear [Pascoe] has been an okay blocker. But Martellus could be a dominating blocker, and that's what we haven't had, really for a while. We haven't had a dominating guy since, like, Howard Cross."

Bennett's problem in Dallas was running his routes and holding onto the ball, but he always graded out as an excellent blocker. So it sounds as though the Giants did their homework here. And as Reese pointed out, it's not as though the Giants have been relying on their tight end as a huge part of the passing game the past few years anyway:
"We've had some young guys really do good jobs for us. Kevin Boss caught like 35, 45 balls. Then you get Jake in, he catches 35, 45 balls. Somebody else will do that. That's not a staple in our offense, the tight end. I think our offense is more receiver-oriented and back-oriented. Henry Hynoski caught a bunch of passes last year out of the backfield, our fullback. So there's different ways to skin a cat."

So now you know why the Giants signed Bennett and what they expect of him. As I said, much more to come.

Breakfast links: Six weeks to go

July, 25, 2012
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Yes, six weeks from tonight, the Giants and the Cowboys will begin the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It's coming. It may be coming slowly, but it's coming. Meantime, you can always count on the links.

Dallas Cowboys

Man, Sean Lee sure gets it about Penn State. In spite of his loyalty to his alma mater, Lee actually believes the most important part of this whole sad mess is the victims, and he's fine with the heavy sanctions and the removal of the Joe Paterno statue as long as it all helps make sure nothing similar ever happens again.

Dez Bryant's college coach says "we were with him all the time every step of the way" at Oklahoma State. Obviously, that's tough for the Cowboys to do, but the trick to fixing what ails Bryant is finding ways to better monitor what he's up to when he's not with the team. Not sure how that can work for a grown professional athlete (as opposed to a collegiate one), but that's surely at least part of the team's goal.

New York Giants

Ohm's position-by-position camp preview looks at tight ends, including the possibility that Christian Hopkins is this year's Jake Ballard. We've not touched on Hopkins much here when discussing the Giants' tight ends, but given the team's and Eli Manning's record of developing guys on the roster into productive players, we can't overlook Jerry Reese's assertion that Hopkins might be one this year.

Not catching one single pass during his rookie season is not what Jerrel Jernigan expected, and he tells Paul Schwartz that troublesome stat got his attention. Jernigan understands he's not at Troy anymore, and says he wants to work to earn that No. 3 receiver spot vacated by Mario Manningham.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles announced this morning that they have signed former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar to a one-year contract. This is interesting because they appeared to like punter Chas Henry last year during his rookie season and because the reason the Cowboys hadn't yet brought back McBriar was health. One of the best punters in the league before last season's foot injuries, McBriar obviously showed the Eagles he's healthy enough to kick during camp. The move could simply be for camp depth and/or to push Henry. But given McBriar's track record when healthy, it at least raises the possibility that the Eagles could make a change at the position this year.

Special teams coach Bobby April says the team may use DeSean Jackson less as a punt returner this year. Not for nothing, but Jackson's punt-return totals over his four-year career have been, in order, 50, 29, 20 and 17. So it kind of looks as though they've been using him less as a punt returner every year. And honestly, if you're going to cut his returns from 17... why put him back there at all? Personally, I think he's the best in the league and should return every punt. But they just signed him and, I'm sure, don't want to get him hurt if they can help it.

Washington Redskins

Brandon Meriweather says "don't nobody have a job yet" at safety for the Redskins, but the strong safety spot is actually his to lose. As Mike Jones writes, this is a big question-mark area for the Redskins as they open training camp today.

Chase Minnifield's agent says the reason for the move the Redskins made Tuesday to cut Minnifield was related to a procedure he had done recently on his knee, and that Minnifield isn't going to be able to play for anyone this season. The Redskins hope to get Minnifield through waivers and put him on injured reserve so they can try and work him into the mix again next year. They do like him, but they knew his knee was the big question mark going in.
It is Thursday of fantasy week here on the NFC East blog, and for no reason whatsoever today's links will be presented in order of 2011 fantasy points scored by each team's top-scoring tight end.

Dallas Cowboys (Jason Witten, 117)

Hey, nothing like a little Twitter war between the official Twitter accounts of two division rivals, right? I mean, talk about old-school. The Cowboys "wished" Eagles quarterback Michael Vick a happy birthday with a photo of DeMarcus Ware sacking him and saying they couldn't wait to see him in November. The Eagles, whose best two games of the 2011 season might have been their twin beatdowns of the Cowboys, shot back with a question about whether the poster had burned the 2011 game tapes. How many days until real football again?

If the third year in the NFL is traditionally a player's breakout year, the Cowboys have some candidates, including Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, John Phillips and Phil Costa. The Cowboys' official site has the rundown on potential third-year breakout guys. (And yeah, I know Lee broke out last year. So do they. Don't be so doggone nitpicky, mmkay?)

Philadelphia Eagles (Brent Celek, 105)

Yeah, I'm linking to Sheil Kapadia every day. Because how many people besides him are writing fresh stuff on the Eagles every day right now? His latest notes the appearances of Vick and DeSean Jackson on another NFL columnist's "biggest jerk" list, which is one of those lists that makes me ask, "How many days until real football again?"

Jason Brewer wonders if Jason Babin could lose snaps to a healthy Brandon Graham, making Babin a situational pass rusher, and still produce at a starter's level. Jimmy thinks he could, and I agree. It's all Babin likes to do -- pressure the quarterback. Babin himself will admit this if you ask him. I don't think he'd mind being deployed in situations where he had no other responsibilities.

Washington Redskins (Fred Davis, 90)

The dude accused of trying to extort money from Robert Griffin III has been on "Judge Judy." It's like day-and-a-half-old news, but I thought you'd like to know if you didn't already. Judge Judy. Have I asked yet when real football starts again?

And here's Griffin posing with the Hall of Fame bust of Sammy Baugh, with links to stories about his and the other NFL rookies' trip to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, while there as part of the rookie symposium. Sammy Baugh has never been on Judge Judy, and to my knowledge made no attempt to extort money from Griffin while this photo was being taken.

New York Giants (Jake Ballard, 78)

Chris Canty, the same guy who compared Jason Pierre-Paul to Reggie White the other day while up in Bristol, is apparently really into comparison. This time, he says Eli Manning is more clutch than Tony Romo. I think we can all basically sign off on that one, no? Two Super Bowl MVP awards, one attained by beating Romo along the way, yada, yada. What I want to know is how Eli compares to Reggie White.

When Mark Herzlich asks how many days until real football starts again, it's not because he's bored with the offseason. To hear Herzlich tell it, he lives for this time of year. You don't have to be a Giants fan to root for Herzlich, who's not out of the mix for a potential starting linebacker spot at some point down the road.

Our fantasy football analysts have put together a stunning amount of video roundtable content as part of our fantasy draft kit, and this is going to be very useful to us here on fantasy week on the NFC East blog. As I was perusing some of it, I came across this one on sleeper tight ends, and I noticed that two of the three names raised in this discussion happen to play in our division.

The first is New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, whose name is being raised in the video by K.C. Joyner. The former Cowboys tight end signed with the Giants early in free agency, and the Giants are hoping that he can finally realize his potential as a passing-game weapon after disappointing in Dallas. K.C. points out that Jake Ballard came out of nowhere to finish third in yards per catch among tight ends last year, and suggests that Bennett's raw ability could therefore translate into "top-end productivity" if he got a similar opportunity.

For me, it's the opportunity that's the issue for Bennett in New York. Yes, Ballard is gone and Travis Beckum is recovering from his own ACL injury, and there is an opportunity for a tight end to step in and do very well with Eli Manning as his quarterback. But the Giants don't mess around. As we've discussed many times, their roster is a meritocracy. Bennett will have to play well in order to get his opportunity. If he goofs off about his route-running and can't hold onto the ball, Manning simply won't throw it to him. Bear Pascoe is still there and knows the system, and I have little doubt that Manning can make something of him just as he did with Ballard. Bennett will be useful as a blocker, as he was in Dallas, and for that reason I'm sure they'll try to come up with some pass plays for him. But if he doesn't show he can be productive, there are plenty of other people to whom Manning can throw the ball.

Matthew Berry wraps the video by bringing up the Philadelphia Eagles' Brent Celek and the strong second half he had. Matthew says Celek finished fourth in the NFL in total yards among tight ends in the second half of the season, and wonders if that might be a sign of good things to come in 2012. It seems clear that Michael Vick likes throwing to him, so that's not a concern. And it's worth mentioning that Celek had sports hernia surgery and hip surgery after the season ended, so he's an incredibly tough dude who put up those solid second-half numbers in spite of considerable and perpetual pain. But if we assume (as many have been) that DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin bounce back, and that the loss of Jason Peters might require Celek to stay in more as a blocker as he did early last year before the offensive line jelled, then there are at least a couple of reasons to worry.

Thing is, both Bennett and Celek will be late-round options whose potential and pedigree, respectively, merit at least some attention. Our experts rank Celek the No. 14 tight end and Bennett the No. 17, which is why they're sleepers.

Elsewhere in the division, in case you're curious, the Cowboys' Jason Witten ranks fifth and the Redskins' Fred Davis ninth among tight ends in the preseason projections.
No better way to wrap up a week on the road than to sift through the ol' mailbag and see what's on the pigskin-crazed minds of my dear, dear readers.

David from Dunmore, Pa., has a theory: "I think if the Philadelphia Eagles don't do well (particularly if it appears to be poor execution and not poor personnel) Andy Reid moves to front office while they hire a new coach (providing Reid is willing)."

Dan Graziano: Maybe, but I wouldn't be too sure about that. Reid burns to win a Super Bowl as a head coach. He's proud of what he's done in Philadelphia (as he should be), but he hates the idea that history would remember him for what he couldn't do rather than what he did do. So, while your theory makes some sense, it would require Reid to (a) admit to some deficiencies as a head coach and (b) give up on the idea of winning a Super Bowl as one. I'd be surprised if either of those things happened in the 2013 offseason. If this season doesn't go well, and the Eagles decide they have to make a change, I believe Reid would be heavily courted by other teams and would take another head coaching job somewhere else. But I could certainly be wrong.

Jon from Atlanta read the post earlier this week in which I referenced Mike Sando's NFC West blog post that featured a video from Dallas Cowboys practice. Jon points out that, while there was some contact in the video, it does not appear as though it was the result of coaches ordering players to hit each other. And that there's a difference.

DG: Completely worthwhile point, Jon. And for the record, I wasn't accusing the Cowboys of anything and I don't think Sando was either. Guys are bound to bump into each other while running around on the football field, and I'd be surprised if what showed up on that video rose to the level of what the Seahawks were penalized for. The point of the rule is to limit what players can be ordered to do by their coaches during the offseason, since the players felt coaches were asking too much and overworking them in offseasons past. So your point is well taken, and I agree with it.

Bill from Reading, Pa., asks if I think the Patriots claiming New York Giants tight end Jake Ballard this week was a "low-blow move."

DG: I think it's pretty obvious that it was, Bill, as Ballard won't play in 2012 and (as you point out) isn't likely to dent the Patriots' tight end depth chart in 2013. But Jerry Reese surely knew when he put Ballard on waivers that the league isn't exclusively populated by scrupulous gentlemen and that there was a risk he'd lose him. Reese determined the risk was worth it, and it was a gamble he ended up losing. In the end, I really don't see it as a huge deal. Ballard is pretty much just a guy, and I think the Giants will find and develop at least one guy on their roster who can give them at least what they got from Ballard at the tight end position, if not more. And I'd be shocked if the guy plays meaningful snaps for the Patriots at any point in his life.

Dakota from Sykesville, Md., and Jonathan from Annapolis, Md., both asked how second-year defensive end Jarvis Jenkins was looking at Washington Redskins minicamp this week.

DG: The good news on Jenkins is that he hasn't lost any speed or quickness as a result of the injury that cost him his rookie season. That said, he's still getting used to playing football again after that lost year. The coaches have said several times that Jenkins has been behind the other defensive lineman throughout the offseason program, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he expects Jenkins to struggle some more once the pads go on in training camp, if only because he hasn't worn them in a while. All of that said, the Redskins expect Jenkins to be a major part of their defensive line rotation this year and have high hopes for him in the short and long term. He just may have to endure some struggles this offseason and preseason as he gets his feet back under him.

That's all for this week's mailbag. I'm off to enjoy the weekend, but I would like to wish a Happy Father's Day to all of my fellow members of the world's coolest club. Enjoy it.
Yeah, back home this morning after my two-day trip down to Virginia. Plenty more to come from Redskins minicamp, I promise, but I couldn't let you guys start your day without your links.

Dallas Cowboys

So Mike Jenkins didn't show up for any non-mandatory portion of the offseason even though the Cowboys asked him to come in so they could monitor his shoulder rehab. When he did show up for mandatory minicamp this week, the team learned that he's behind in his shoulder rehab and likely will be placed on the PUP list come training camp. They asked him to stay around in Dallas to continue his rehab, but he went home instead. So it's not going well with Jenkins, who has been rebuffed this offseason in his requests for a new contract and for a trade. And yeah, you can say it doesn't matter because he's the third cornerback. But one of the first two is a rookie, and the plan was to be super-deep at the position, and right now Jenkins is making the Cowboys' life difficult.

You may or may not have heard anyone mention this, but there was no offseason program last year for any team because of the lockout. Cowboys guard/center Bill Nagy, who was a rookie last year, is jealous of this year's rookies because they have one. He also talks about playing guard and center.

New York Giants

Tom Coughlin is not too happy the Giants lost tight end Jake Ballard on waivers to the Patriots. Ballard's knee injury took him out of the Giants' 2012 plans, but he was in their 2013 plans and they assumed no one would claim him because, well, he's not going to play in 2012. Can't tell whether Coughlin just really liked Ballard that much or if he thinks the Patriots did something they shouldn't have done or if it's a combination of things. But it's clear this is one move that didn't turn out the way the Giants wanted it to turn out.

In Ohm Youngmisuk's minicamp observations, we learn that Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan are playing like guys who want in on that race for the No. 3 receiver spot. We also learn that David Wilson looks fast and that Sean Locklear, not "Guy to Watch" James Brewer, is filling in for the injured Will Beatty at first-time left tackle in drills.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jason Kelce says he's ready to add the protection calls to his list of responsibilities as he prepares for his second year as an NFL center. Apparently, Howard Mudd prefers it this way (as opposed to last year's way, which had quarterback Michael Vick calling the protections) but didn't want to give Kelce too much too soon. I think it'll be a good thing for Vick to have this taken off his plate.

And here's all you wanted to know and more about the Eagles' partnership with the "Angry Birds" video game, which is (a) not a joke and (b) too ridiculous for the Breakfast Links to ignore.

Washington Redskins

John Keim's notebook from Wednesday's minicamp practice deals with such issues as Brandon Banks (who needs to make the team as a wide receiver this time and not just a return man) and Chris Cooley, who sat out practice with a hamstring injury. Cooley's not a sure thing to make this team, I don't think. To do so, he's going to have to prove he's healthy and probably take a pay cut. So stay tuned through the rest of the summer for the rest of the still-to-be-decided Cooley story.

And here's some more on undrafted cornerback Chase Minnifield and his surprisingly good chances to make the roster.
Bill Belichick's quest to take over the world with an army of tight ends has cost the New York Giants Jake Ballard. The Giants waived Ballard, who tore his ACL in the Super Bowl, on Monday thinking he'd clear waivers and they'd be able to sign him right back and put him on injured reserve because he was probably going to miss the season anyway. They told him he was in their plans for 2013, and as far as they knew, he was.

But Ballard did not clear waivers. He was claimed by the Patriots, who likely will be able to retain him next year as an exclusive rights free agent if he gets healthy in the meantime. The Patriots now have five tight ends on their roster, including star starters Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and obviously did not have a need at the position.

Ballard did play very well against the Patriots in the Giants' regular-season victory over them last year, and he was part of the Giants team that defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl. And it's clear that Belichick thinks tight ends are the wave of the future. I'm working on confirming a report that his new house in Farmington will be built entirely out of tight ends.

For 2012, this leaves the Giants no worse off than they already were at tight end. They have Martellus Bennett and Bear Pascoe and possibly Travis Beckum at some point, though he also tore his ACL in the Super Bowl and isn't likely to be ready to start the season if he can make it back at all in 2012.
Just fine, thanks. Made really good time. Didn't hit traffic anywhere, which is pretty impressive since I drove past New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington in about a four-and-a-half-hour stretch. I'd tell you my secret, but honestly I have no idea. I left when I felt like I'd done enough work for the day.

Anyway, today's a new day. And you know how the new days start around here. With links.

Philadelphia Eagles

So I was driving past Philly around 4:45 pm ET on Monday when Michael Vick called into 97.5 FM for an interview. And it wasn't uninteresting. Sal Paolantonio, unaware of the coincidence of my travel plans, emailed me about the part of the interview in which Vick said, "Nothing is going to change about my game," and Sheil Kapadia wrote about the part where Vick laughed and said his ranking of No. 70 on the NFL Network's player-voted top 100 list was "a joke." Obviously, he's right on the last point. The idea that there are 69 better players in the league than Vick is insane. But I've already made clear what I think about that list.

Ashley Fox thinks that Andy Reid's increased power in the Eagles organization following the departure of Joe Banner increases, rather than eases, the pressure on Reid to win. I think Ashley is wise. The Eagles are planning for the future on the assumption that they have a big year in 2012, but I have little doubt that they'd change the plan if things went very poorly this season.

Washington Redskins

Want to know what Rex Grossman's still doing on the Redskins' roster? The Washington Times has you covered. I still say Grossman's the perfect backup for Robert Griffin III right now, since he knows the offense and could step in and play right away if Griffin got hurt. Yeah, he'd thrown interceptions, but there are far worse backup quarterback situations in the league than this one.

Matt Breen has a look at the chances of undrafted tight end Beau Reliford to make the Redskins' roster. So you're like, "Why a Beau Reliford link, Dan?" and I'm like, "Look, there's gonna be a ton of Redskins stuff on this blog over the next couple of days, probably none about Beau Reliford, and some of you guys like this dark-horse roster-candidate stuff." And it's June 12. So you know.

Dallas Cowboys

Calvin Watkins says Mike Jenkins will report to mandatory minicamp, which is good, since it's mandatory and missing it would cost him a lot of money, and I hate to see guys just throw away money in this day and age. Seriously, this isn't baseball, and while it'd be nice if NFL players had more contract leverage than they do, the best thing for Jenkins is to show up and bust his butt. The bad part about life as an NFL player is the lack of contract leverage. The good part is that, due to the violent nature of the game, playing time has a way of showing up for those who make sure they're ready for it.

Oh, and Adam Schefter thinks the Cowboys can make it to the Super Bowl Insider if they stay healthy. That's an Insider link, but Adam's reasoning centers on the fact that he's "always felt the Cowboys had more talent than their results indicated." I don't do June predictions unless forced, and I like Adam a great deal and consider it an honor and a pleasure to work with him. But let's just say I'm not as enthused about the 2012 Cowboys as Adam is.

New York Giants

Eli Manning says he's fired up to work with the offensive rookies in minicamp this week, and I believe him. Manning likes getting the most out of the players around him. He thinks that's part of his job, along with helping the little brothers of the world get revenge on their older siblings. Seriously, maybe now you'll treat your little brother with some respect, Peyton! Anyway, sorry. Don't know how that got off the rails. Manning has motivation to help guys like David Wilson and Rueben Randle develop quickly, and I believe he'll work hard to make sure they do.

I'd be surprised if anyone claimed Jake Ballard and his surgically repaired knee, and from what I understand Ballard is part of the Giants' long-term plans. So Monday's move was likely just procedural, and I think you can expect to see Ballard back catching passes from Manning at some point in 2013, whether Martellus Bennett works out or not.

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