NFC East: Jeremy Green
Can Rob Ryan fix this defense?
I understand that folks are already predicting a bounce-back season under new coach Jason Garrett, but that would have to be fueled by the defense. The defense caused a lot more turnovers once Wade Phillips was fired at midseason, but teams still put up plenty of points.
The Cowboys gave up an embarrassing 27.2 points per game, which ranked 31st in the league. The passing defense was ranked 26th. And help might not be on the way when you consider the fact that a lockout could wipe out free agency this offseason. (Do we really think free agency could take place during a one-week period in, say, late August?) The Cowboys need to make changes at safety and cornerback. But at this point, their best hope is landing a starter in the draft.
The thought is that Ryan's fiery presence will spark some of the veteran players. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff's coming off a down season -- by his standards. Perhaps Ryan will turn him loose as a defensive end this season if the Cowboys can find a suitable replacement in the middle. And it will be interesting to see what Ryan does with second-year inside linebacker Sean Lee. Will this be the season when Lee supplants veteran Keith Brooking on the field?
NEW YORK GIANTS
What can GM Jerry Reese do about the back end of this defense?
It would be a mistake to make massive changes to this talented unit, but a major flaw was revealed down the stretch. With a chance to lock up the division, the Giants' defense out and out collapsed against the Eagles and Packers. It was a stunning turn of events for a team that had fed off its defense throughout the season. Reese has vowed to address the situation that allowed Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers to put up monster numbers in consecutive weeks.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was a head-coaching candidate after the 2010 season, but he'll be back with the Giants for at least one more season. I didn't like the fact that he was bemoaning the loss of the versatile Mathias Kiwanuka late in the season. Did anyone hear the Green Bay Packers complaining about losing all those starters to injured reserve?
As defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul continues to develop, it can only help this secondary. It took him a while to find the quarterback, but once he did, Pierre-Paul began causing havoc. I think this defense will be a lot more instinctive in its second year with Fewell. I like the three-safety look with Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant, but Reese won't be complacent when it comes to acquiring talent. He needs more speed on the back end. Terrell Thomas has emerged as a solid cornerback, but he needs more help. Watch what the Giants do in this draft. Something tells me Reese will continue to focus on defense.
How will Juan Castillo perform as defensive coordinator?
You have to hand it to coach Andy Reid. The man knows how to keep us on our toes during a coaching search. Who knew that he was disguising his future defensive coordinator as an offensive line coach all these years? I've discussed the O-line with Castillo over the years, and I believe him to be one of the most underrated offensive assistants in the league. How does that translate to defense? I have no clue.
I do think he'll bring a tremendous amount of energy to the job. Sean McDermott was undermined by injuries in his two years in that role. The Eagles didn't take enough quality cornerbacks into the 2010 season, and they paid dearly. You can't afford to send Asante Samuel and the Funky Bunch out there in 2011. Dimitri Patterson and Joselio Hanson are serviceable players, but they were eventually exposed. Howie Roseman and Reid have to address this position. And then Castillo has to figure out a way to put the teeth back in this pass-rush. At least the man knows what a quarterback sack looks like.
What will Mike Shanahan do about this quarterback situation?
Seems like we're asking this same question every year. It looked like the Redskins had the answer heading into 2010, but the Donovan McNabb experiment was an epic failure for all involved. Shanahan certainly bears a lot of the blame. Now we'll see what he can do with a young quarterback. Cam Newton's suddenly vaulted into the top five in some of the mock drafts, so the Redskins might be looking at Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert has less of a boom-or-bust factor, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper. He might be ready for prime time sooner than Newton. Shanahan and son Kyle will have to get Rex Grossman ready as the starter until a young quarterback is ready to take over. And that can't sound good to Redskins fans who are starving for a playoff appearance.
Dan Snyder told me two weeks ago that he hopes McNabb will return as his starting quarterback. That's nonsense when you consider what happened last season. But no matter who lines up behind center, Shanahan has to surround him with more talent. The Redskins might be able to re-sign Santana Moss, but he's no longer a true No. 1 receiver. The Redskins desperately need an impact player at that position. At running back, it looks like Ryan Torain will get a shot as the starter. The only way Clinton Portis is coming back is if he restructures his contract. He may have a season or two left, but you can't count on him to make it through 16 games anymore.
It's all about the quarterback, though. As usual.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Did you see this one coming, Matt?
MW: No, initially I was very surprised. But it does make some sense to me from a personnel perspective. Pittsburgh and New England were mentioned because of their strong locker rooms and winning teams. Philly fits that same mold.
Do you think he's a good fit for the Eagles?
MW: That's questionable. I don't know if he's a great fit as a thrower. He's never had the type of pinpoint accuracy that offense requires. You need to be able to hit receivers like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in stride so they can catch it and keep on running. But it's obvious they're in a win-now mode.
How long will it take for him to get in football shape?
MW: I don't know how anyone can speculate on that one. His best weapons are his legs, and I would have to think his legs have deteriorated in prison. That's what set him apart. He was an extremely dangerous ball carrier. He's not a great thrower and he's never been one. That's what makes it a little strange that he's going to a predominately passing offense.
What do you think is the best thing about this move for the Eagles?
MW: Well, defensive coordinators only have so much prep time. When you're worrying about Vick, you end up not preparing for something else. I think that would be a huge part of the move.
How do you think he'd function in the Wildcat formation?
MW: I know that LeSean McCoy ran the Wildcat some at Pitt, but the fact that Vick could throw out of the formation brings a completely different dimension.
I understand that you and Jeremy Green have been ranking the backups recently? Does this change anything?
MW: I had Jeff Garcia No. 1. And when we started ranking them, you realized how bad a lot of them were. I think Michael Vick might automatically become the No. 1 backup in the league.
Could Vick play running back or receiver in this league?
MW: He'd get broken in half as a running back. He's already injury prone as a quarterback. You send him up the middle against the Cowboys or Giants and he'd get killed.
How long would it take him to learn how to play receiver?
MW: A long while. Philly already has a ton of those guys. I'd rather have Maclin and Jackson and those guys catching passes.
Does this feel like overkill on the part of the Eagles?
MW: A little bit, yes. But it gives them one more toy to play with. I guess there's a chance he never sees the field. And that wouldn't be an awful thing. It would mean [Donovan] McNabb's playing well and staying healthy.
Sal Paolantonio and Herm Edwards discuss where Vick will fit in the Eagles' offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
It's been fascinating to watch this Tony Gonzalez situation play out over the last few days. In an interview with FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer on Wednesday, Gonzalez called out Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, saying he was misled regarding a potential trade to a playoff contender such as the Giants or Eagles.
"Last night I talked to Carl and I point-blank asked him what it would take to get it done," Gonzalez told Glazer. "I wanted to know if it could happen with a fourth. He started talking about a second and a fifth like the Shockey deal. Nobody is going to trade a second for a 32-year-old tight end. All along Carl said he would do something that works for both parties. Then he talked about how he traded a third for Willie Roaf, and he made it pretty clear to me that's what was going to get it done. That was certainly fair."
As you all know, the deadline passed without Gonzalez finding a new team. And in his report, Glazer says that two teams offered third-round picks as the deadline approached. I'll try to find out if either NFC East team I mentioned offered a third. If one of them did, it's amazing that Peterson didn't pull the trigger. The Chiefs are awful, and trading Gonzalez would've been a good gesture for a guy who's given everything he has to the organization. And if he really had a chance at a third-rounder, Peterson made a serious mistake. He's trying to rebuild a team through the draft, but he decided to keep an aging veteran over a third-round pick. Does that make sense to you?
I think Gonzalez could've given the Eagles the red zone threat they desperately need, although L.J. Smith actually found the end zone Sunday. In New York, Gonzalez would've brought some firepower to a position that's been somewhat lacking this season. But the one thing we know about Kevin Boss is that he can block. It's amazing how well the team runs to his side.
OK, much more to come. I also have a podcast to bang out with Jeremy Green. I'm guessing he might ask about the current situation in Dallas.