NFC East: John Harbaugh

NEW ORLEANS -- Thanks to you all for bearing with me while I helped out on ESPN.com's Super Bowl coverage here for the past week. I tried to keep the blog running while otherwise occupied, but now it's officially the offseason and every team is in the same boat. Nobody plays again until the 2013 regular season begins in September, apparently in Baltimore. (None of our division's teams is scheduled to play in Baltimore next year, by the way, so the Super Bowl champion Ravens will not have an NFC East opponent for their opener.)

Anyway, travel day today, after a very exhausting week of work, so the blog may be light. And since everyone was covering the Super Bowl, the links ain't exactly super-fresh. But they are links nonetheless, and I hope you enjoy.

Washington Redskins

When he showed up here Saturday to collect his Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, Robert Griffin III said he had no doubt he and his surgically-repaired knee would be ready for Week 1.

London Fletcher is speaking out in favor of HGH testing in the NFL. The NFLPA would like Fletcher to understand its position on this as well, which is nuanced. Lots of folks don't like nuance these days. The union will sign off on HGH testing once it's convinced there's a reliable test. To this point, it is not.

New York Giants

Michael Strahan has already had a pretty good year, so it's no surprise he took his Hall of Fame snub in stride. I think Strahan fell victim to the committee's desire to get one of those wide receivers in, and likely lost his spot to Cris Carter. I still don't understand, however, how Warren Sapp was better than Strahan. But they don't ask me.

Chris Canty has his eye on a broadcasting career when his football playing days are over. Sure, I could see that.

Dallas Cowboys

Calvin Watkins admits it's not a cut-and-dried issue, but he believes Jay Ratliff will still be a Cowboy in 2013, in spite of the mounting reasons they will at least think about cutting him.

Strahan was snubbed, but so was Charles Haley ... again. Like Strahan, I have to think Haley eventually gets in, but he's had to wait longer than appears to make sense.

Philadelphia Eagles

Before he was a Super Bowl champion head coach, John Harbaugh was an Eagles special teams coach, and that experience helped mold him into what he is today. Which is a Super Bowl champion head coach.

Will the Eagles look into acquiring 49ers backup quarterback Alex Smith? It makes sense. And apparently they have shown some interest in Smith in the recent past.

NEW ORLEANS -- The glitz is still here, but the tone this Super Bowl week just doesn’t seem to fit with the celebrations on Bourbon Street or the free and easy nature of the host city.

The issue of player safety has been as topical as Ray Lewis' last game or brothers Jim and John Harbaugh coaching against each other.

We've heard predictions that the NFL will be gone in 30 years, or at least reduced to a game of two-hand touch. President Barack Obama hypothetically has wondered whether or not he would let a son play football. Current players have said they "signed up" for a violent game and all that may eventually come with it, even as thousands of former players are pursuing lawsuits claiming the NFL failed to warn them of the long-term effects of concussions.

ESPN.com surveyed a group of current and former players and executives to get their thoughts on the player-safety issues.

The group included current San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman, former NFL cornerback Eric Davis, current Baltimore safety Ed Reed, retired quarterback Bobby Hebert, former NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira, former linebacker Willie McGinest, current San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth, current Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, retired lineman Shaun O’Hara, current San Francisco fullback Bruce Miller, longtime Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt and current San Francisco guard Alex Boone.

[+] EnlargeEric Davis
AP Photo/Kevin Terrell"Let's be real honest," former NFL safety Eric Davis said. "It's a gladiator sport. Coliseums were built for it."
Here are the highlights of their answers to the hot-button questions:

Where do you see the NFL in 30 years?

Brandt: "I don’t think we’re Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward, at one time, was the leading retailer in the world and they made the mistake of saying we’re not going to go into the little towns, we’re just going to go into these big places, and they stood still. The league may doze, but it will never close. They’re always looking for ways to make things better. They’ve been working on making the game safer and they’ll continue to make it safer."

Pereria: "I see it not a whole lot different than it is. I think the league will go as far as it can and still go further than it is now to try to make the game safer. But I don’t think it’s going to make the league disappear as some people have said. I think this is still a once-a-week game that people get very passionate about their games."

McGinest: "I think the NFL definitely is going to be here to stay. I think that this is the best game in the world. I think that they’re doing everything in their power to keep it that way and to make it one of the safest games. I don't think it's going to look different. I think they're just changing certain things to make it safer. If you're talking about hit zones, if you're talking about staying away from head shots and stuff like that, that's not something we're not used to hearing. So I don't think we're going to go back to leather helmets with no face masks or no helmets. This game is going to be the way it is. I just think they're doing everything and taking every precaution to make it safer."

O’Hara: "Football is not going to disappear in 30 years. Will it look different? Of course it'll look different. Look at the game 30 years ago to today -- different game, different rules, different equipment. So 30 years from now, absolutely, it'll be a different game."

Are the safety concerns overblown?

Foxworth: "My responsibility is just to protect the rights of the players and their health and safety, so I don't think that there can be enough [attention given to safety issues], especially given some of the things that have happened as a result of some of the head injuries. I'm pretty sure that those players and their families would say that there's no such thing as too much attention on the health and safety of the guys. So I come from that standpoint, and, being a former player, it's something I'm keenly aware of from a personal standpoint, and a lot of my friends are in this league and I know a lot of our kids may potentially be in this league. So it's very important that we put as much effort, time and money toward evolving the game and the science of the game as we can."

Smith: "The game is what we signed up for. We didn’t sign up for tennis. We didn’t sign up for swimming and didn’t realize we were going to go out there and get tackled. We signed up for football, which we knew was a physical sport.”

Davis: "Let’s be real honest. It’s a gladiator sport. Coliseums were built for it. People like to watch it and we’re talking about big, strong, fast men. There are going to be collisions. There are going to be injuries. Do all the things you have to do to make it as safe as possible, but the reality is there’s always going to be some danger."

Hebert: "A little bit. But the NFL is so popular because it’s the modern-day gladiator. I mean, I don’t know what that says about mankind. But you can also look at boxing and ultimate fighting and how popular they are. Fans don’t want to see flag football. I still think football will be here. You can change it, but you can only change it so far."

McGinest: "I think it's necessary based on some of the studies, some of the former players and what they're going through, some of the players now. It's necessary. And it's also showing that the NFL cares about its players. If they're taking time to put on these full-on studies and they're going through every precaution with the testing of the gear and the helmets and they are willing to change certain things about the game to make sure that it's going to be here and be a safer game, it has all the signs of going in the right direction."

Boone: "I just never understood how you change the game when you have players who are bigger, stronger and faster every year. It’s just football. It’s going to be physical. It’s a physical sport. There are going to be injuries, but we’re doing things to correct it.''

What one change would you make to improve safety?

Pereria: "The safety issue is really all about the head. That’s something the league has been focusing on for a long time and they’ll continue to focus on making the rules broader than they are right now. Right now, only nine players are protected in certain situations. Can you go further? Possibly. The whole notion is going to try to be to get the head out of the game and get back to the wrap and tackling as opposed to lowering the head. They’re serious about that, and they should be. To me, as I watch so much football on Sundays, it’s already made a difference. You see situations where a defender really has a chance to blow up a receiver and he doesn’t. To me, that means the rules are taking effect and that the fines have made a difference."

Davis: "They’re making the game safe for quarterbacks and star players. But they’re not making it safer for all players. You never hear of a defenseless running back. You never hear of a defenseless linebacker. Defensive players aren’t protected. Unless you make it safer for all players, I don’t think you’re doing as much good as you can. You have to put everyone on equal footing."

Reed: "Defensive players should be protected, too. Offensive guys, quarterbacks in general, shouldn't be treated better than everybody on the football field.''

McGinest: "I would take out the chop-block. That's another thing we don't talk about. A lot of emphasis is on the head, guys getting concussions and stuff, but there are also a lot of players getting their ACLs knocked out because now guys are diving. Now that they know they can't go high, guys are starting to attack with chop-blocking. That's also knocking guys' careers either out or messing them up. Not everybody's Adrian Peterson coming back from those injuries. A lot of guys, they take the wrong hit on the knee, they're never the same player."

O’Hara: "I think the only real way to get everybody on the same page is to somehow get all the players in the NFL and all the coaches in the NFL and all the referees, get everybody in the same building and have, 'This is what is acceptable and this is what is not.' No second- and third-person regurgitation of the facts and, 'Here's what we're looking for,' because that needs to be consistent and everybody needs to hear the same message. Centralize the education, basically."

What else can be done to make things safer?

Hebert: "I think you truly have to take it out of the players' hands as far as whether you’re going to go back into the game or not after a head injury. As a player, when it comes to your teammates, you never want to be looked upon as a wuss. You want to be a tough son of a gun. To me, it totally has to be out of the hands of the players."

[+] EnlargeShaun O'Hara
AP Photo/Mel Evans"You wouldn't give your son a circular saw and let him go and start whittling wood," former lineman Shaun O'Hara said. "You would teach him how to use that."
Davis: "Look, the guys I played with and the guys that are playing now were schooled a certain way. It’s too late for us and maybe too late for the guys still playing in the NFL. But the next generation is where a difference can be made. The kids that are coming into Pop Warner now need to be taught how to tackle properly. And maybe, just as importantly, they have to be taught that if you get dinged, if you take a hit to the head and you don’t feel right, you go straight to the coach or the doctors and tell them immediately. People do that with ankle injuries. You hurt your ankle, you come out of the game. Head injuries need to be treated the same way."

Foxworth: "In nine years, you can ask me that question and I'll have a definitive answer. But I don't know. We don't know how much damage repetitive hits do or whether it's the big knockout blows that do the damage. There are just so many questions. We're not sure about the best treatments and the quicker recovery time and if there are any precursors that make someone predisposed to have these kinds of brain injuries. Those are questions that will be answered by this Harvard research, and at that point, I think we can be able to set forth clear protocols of how to treat a player after a practice or how many hits [before] it's time to sit a guy out. Those sorts of things that are changes that can be made easily."

Brandt: "I think it’s like the Internet. People that are older, like myself, are not Internet-savvy. Kids that are 7 or 8 know more about it than I do. I think it’s a thing that you build from the bottom up. Where I think we have a problem is that we have a lot of youth football leagues and the guys that are coaching sometimes get overzealous. I think we’re gradually educating that element."

Would you let a young son start playing football right now?

Bowman: "I’m not going to deter my kids from the game. When they see the game, they understand what it’s all about. It’s a physical game."

Suggs: I respect [the president's comments] for the simple fact that this is a very physical and dangerous sport, especially considering that with the concussions and the current findings of Junior Seau. A parent would be reluctant [to let] his or her child play football. I think, if you play the game right and you play it appropriately, that injuries are part of the game.''

Pereria: "Sure, I would. But I’d also be out there with him, coaching and working with the coaches to make sure that the game, at that level, is being coached properly and that kids are keeping their heads up and abiding by the rules that are still in the NFL rule book, which defines tackling as wrapping your arms around the opponent and taking him to the ground."

Miller: “Everyone has their own opinions, but I would let my kid play football. It’s a violent game, but not too violent. At the same time it builds character, hard work, dedication, responsibility. All of those things are important. They are taking caution to be careful and concerned for the players’ safety and taking that into account more.”

Foxworth: "My son's so young, I like to think that we would have made advances by the time he's old enough to play to make it safer. Given the current state of the game, I wouldn't stop him from playing it, but I'd be very cautious about the exposure and the frequency with which he may come into contact with those type of dangers."

O’Hara: "If my son wanted to play football, I would absolutely let him. I would drive him. But I would teach him. You wouldn't give your son a circular saw and let him go and start whittling wood. You would teach him how to use that. There's a proper way to use power tools. So my issue is, when I hear parents say, 'I don't want him to play football,' well, it's because you don't want to take the time to teach him how to do it right. Or you don't know how to teach him right. So that, to me, is a big sticking point. When I see kids that want to play football, I just want them to learn it the right way. We need to make sure our coaches are teaching our kids the right way to do things, because for every one kid that gets hurt, that's something that could affect a whole lifetime."
Back at it on a playoff-week Wednesday with the Redskins getting ready for the Seahawks and the division's other three teams in the keep 'em/dump 'em stages of their respective offseasons. We got links.

Washington Redskins

The team for which Alfred Morris played last year went 1-11. This year, he was the second-leading rusher in the NFL and a big reason the Redskins won the NFC East. Too good to be believed, writes Mike Wise.

Mike Shanahan says the doctors are telling him Robert Griffin III's knee is 100 percent, and he thinks the only reason Griffin doesn't look like himself while running right now is that big brace he's wearing on the knee. Doesn't sound like the brace is coming off before Sunday, though.

New York Giants

ESPNNewYork.com's take 'em/trash 'em poll says Osi Umenyiora is on the outs with Giants fans. I don't think anybody has anything to worry about. I don't think the Giants were expecting to bring back Umenyiora in 2013 no matter what happened. That relationship isn't real good.

Lots of people are getting fired this week in the NFL, but that's not the way the Giants do things. They're saying not to expect serious changes to the coaching staff, and I'd believe them. The Giants love them some stability.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis is interviewing for the Bears' vacant head coaching position. Hey, it's not completely nuts. John Harbaugh was a special teams coordinator and has done well as Ravens head coach. The special teams coordinator is generally the only assistant coach who deals with both halves of the roster, and if a guy can lead, a guy can lead.

Same way Umenyiora is likely out in New York, cornerback Mike Jenkins looks like a good bet to be gone from the Cowboys. We all know Jenkins wasn't happy being shoved into a reserve role when the team signed Brandon Carr and drafted Morris Claiborne, and there's enough demand around the league for corners that Jenkins should find a starting role somewhere.

Philadelphia Eagles

The list of potential Eagles head coaches continues to expand, and it appears to include Syracuse's Doug Marrone as well as fellow college head coaches Chip Kelly and Bill O'Brien. Doesn't sound like Kelly's real likely at this point, which is why you're hearing so many new names this week.

As for the guy that used to coach the Eagles, it sounds as though Andy Reid has a chance to be the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Be pretty funny if he could get something for Kevin Kolb again, right?

Justin Tuck seems grumpy

December, 20, 2012
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New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck has a shoulder injury, hasn't practiced this week and says he doesn't know if he'll be able to play Sunday in Baltimore in a game the Giants almost* have to win. Giants coach Tom Coughlin sounds more optimistic than Tuck does about Tuck's status in this Star-Ledger report. And though Tuck's the one whose shoulder hurts, the rest of his comments from Thursday indicate that he may just be in a grouchy mood:
Tuck
"Maybe we're giving o-lines and offensive coordinators and offenses too much credit," said Tuck, who has just three sacks this season. "Honestly, I think we just need to stop worrying about what people are writing, what people say about our pass rush and just get back to beating people up front. I think if you start listening to what people say about 'You're not getting sacks, you're not doing this,' you start trying to look for answers instead of focusing on the answer, which is you beating the guy in front of you."

The Giants are tied for 16th in the NFL with 32 sacks. They only had one sack Sunday against the Falcons when defensive tackle Chris Canty got to Matt Ryan. According to football statistics website Pro Football Focus, Ryan was only pressured on 14 percent of his dropbacks.

Those numbers aren't going to strike any fear into any opponent and that includes the Ravens. Head coach John Harbaugh said he wouldn't use that word, though he did go on to sing the unit's praises on a conference call Wednesday.

"He shouldn't," Tuck said. "Because there's been years that it should be, should've been fear, but this year we haven't had that. So what have you done lately? That's how the league looks at you and lately we haven't did much of anything as far as getting after the quarterback."

The world waits to see whether this year's Giants team can kick into gear with two weeks left in the regular season the way last year's Giants did, or whether that gear isn't going to be available to them this time around. You can't count the Giants out until they're out, but there are some disturbing signs. For instance, one of the keys to last year's turnaround was a pep talk Coughlin gave to Tuck at around this time about the dangers of feeling sorry for yourself and the importance of fighting through nicks and bruises and other injuries. Whether it's because this shoulder problem is more serious than whatever he was dealing with last year, or whether it's for some other reason, Tuck appears to be giving off that down-in-the-dumps vibe again, and there's no Giants good that can come of that.

*The Giants can be eliminated from playoff contention this week with a loss in Baltimore and wins by the Redskins, Cowboys and Seahawks. If they lose this week and those other three teams don't all win, they'll retain hope for a wild-card berth but not the division title.
In a world and a sports scene increasingly full of self-aggrandizing phonies, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is the real deal. He says what he feels, stands by what he believes and puts on no airs. He's refreshing for this, and the acclaim he's received after coolly and brilliantly coaching his Giants to a second Super Bowl title in five years has had the rare quality of being universally hailed as well deserved.

lastname
Coughlin
Coughlin's genuine away from the football field too, and that's a big reason why he was in Virginia on Wednesday night to be honored by the U.S. Army for his volunteer work with military personnel, veterans and wounded soldiers. Coughlin and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh were honored at the ceremony, and Coughlin said he was humbled to receive the Outstanding Civilian Service Award. Per Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post:
"When the general was standing there reading off that stuff about me, it was almost like I was saying to myself, 'Who's he talking about?'" Coughlin told The Post after the hour-long celebration overlooking the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.

"It was unbelievable to me," continued Coughlin, who was accompanied to the event by wife Judy. "The patriotism just came pouring out of me with all of the pomp and circumstance and standing there next to a four-star general. That's what you call humbling."

The Army honored Coughlin for allowing soldiers and the families to attend practices and games, for repeatedly visiting wounded soldiers at both Walter Reed Medical Center and other installations and for flying to Iraq in 2009 as part of a USO tour with John Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden.

Again, the real deal. Coughlin doesn't make a show of having military personnel at his games and practices. He'll drop a line here and there to make sure they're recognized and thanked for their service, but it comes from the heart. He feels this stuff deeply, and there's no doubt he means it when he says the ceremony Wednesday night ranked among his great professional thrills. The general who oversaw the ceremony, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno, is a Giants fan from New Jersey. But he said that had nothing to do with the fact that Coughlin was honored.
"You're talking about someone who has really dedicated himself over a long period of time to caring about our soldiers and their families," Onierno told The Post. "His dedication to the military is quite significant."

Asked jokingly if the fact he also bleeds Giant blue had anything to do with Coughlin's award, Odierno smiled and shook his head.

"Absolutely nothing to do with that," he said. "Absolutely everything to do with what he's done for the military."

Not much more to say on this. I just really thought it was worth writing about, in case you guys missed it.
Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin IIIAP Photo/Tony GutierrezRedskins coach Mike Shanahan will most likely be breaking in a rookie QB in the NFC East next season.
Two weeks from now, the Washington Redskins will envidently select, with the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft, their quarterback of the future. In all likelihood, this will be Baylor's Heisman Trophy-winning Robert Griffin III, a player who has already captured the hearts and the imaginations of Redskins fans to a startling extent. There is, according to anyone who's been asked, no reason to dream anything but the biggest dreams about what Griffin can be, and the extent to which he can restore the franchise to its former glory. These are fun times to be a Redskins fan.

One of the big questions these days, then, is not whether Griffin can make the Redskins a winner, but rather how soon. The Redskins had a good young defense in 2011, and there's reason to think it could be better in 2012. Fans are happy with the past couple of drafts, and the sense that there is a plan for the future. But at the same time, no one wants another five- or six-win season in Washington. Mike Shanahan, entering his third season as head coach, needs to show some concrete, on-field improvement in 2012 to avoid spending the capital he's built up from the trade that will allow him to draft his franchise quarterback. So what is reasonable to expect from the 2012 Redskins?

The key thing to remember is that, as excited as everyone is about Griffin, he still will be a rookie quarterback in 2012. Teams with rookie quarterbacks do not often reach the playoffs, though the past four seasons have offered several examples. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco both reached the playoffs as rookies in 2008. The Jets made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game at the end of Mark Sanchez's 2009 rookie season. And last season's Bengals were a playoff team behind rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.

But for the Redskins to emulate those teams' achievements, they will have to rely on much more than their rookie quarterback. In fact, the best way to get a rookie quarterback to the playoffs is to ask him to do as little as possible.

The 2008 Ravens ranked second in the NFL in total team defense and fourth in rushing offense. The 2009 Jets ranked first in total team defense (by a stunning 32 yards per game) and first in rush offense. The 2008 Falcons were not a good defensive team, ranking 24th in the league. But they were second in the league in rushing yards, which meant Ryan was not asked to carry the offense. Last season's Bengals ranked just 19th in the NFL in rushing yards, which put more of a burden on Dalton and his superstar rookie wide receiver, A.J. Green. But they did have that superstar rookie wide receiver. And they ranked seventh in the league in total defense.

Of our four examples, the 2011 Bengals asked the most of their rookie quarterback. They averaged 33.4 pass attempts per game, which ranked 20th in the league, and threw for 209.2 passing yards per game, which also ranked 20th. The other three examples on our list? They flat-out coddled their rookie quarterbacks by comparison:

2009 Jets: 24.6 att/gm (32nd), 162.3 pass yds/gm (31st)

2008 Ravens: 27.1 att/gm (T-29th), 185.7 pass yds/gm (28th)

2008 Falcons: 27.1 att/gm (T-29th), 215.0 pass yds/gm (17th)

[+] EnlargeRyan Kerrigan
AP Photo/Cliff OwenRyan Kerrigan is part of an improving defense the Redskins might have to lean on during their new quarterback's rookie season.
Now, Shanahan is a better-regarded offensive coach than any of the men who coached those teams. Rex Ryan of the Jets, in particular, believed he could win it all with defense, and very nearly did. Shanahan will design an offense in which Griffin can flourish, utilizing his arm and accuracy as well as his athleticism, speed and mobility. He'll design an offense in which Griffin works in concert with the run game, and in which each needs the other to thrive. Shanahan is likely to ask more of his offense than Ryan did of his in 2009, or than John Harbaugh did of his in 2008.

But the Redskins might find themselves limited in how quickly they can make it all work. It's possible that Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and tight end Fred Davis will be a great young receiving corps. But it's likely that it will take some time before they can really be that. There are likely to be growing pains, especially as questions persist on the offensive line, in the running game and on the back end of the defense. The 2012 Redskins are not as finished a product as the teams into which Sanchez and Flacco and Ryan were dropped, and it's unreasonable to expect instant success.

Could they contend for and even win a playoff spot? Sure. No one knows, because there are too many external factors to consider. Did the Giants get better? Did the Cowboys fix their defense? Can the Eagles make good on their mulligan? Heck, Sam Bradford's 2010 Rams weren't a very good team (12th in team defense, 24th in rush offense, by the way), but they went into the final game of that season with a chance to be an 8-8 division champion. You never know what kind of opportunity circumstances might offer.

If you're imagining big things for the 2012 Redskins, however, I think it's best to soft-pedal your expectations. In fact, those 2010 Rams might turn out to be the most apt comparison. But if the Redskins remain on the fringes of playoff contention deep into December and end up winning something like seven or eight games, as a Redskins fan you'd have to be happy with that, wouldn't you? Especially considering the direction in which things seem to be moving.

This is exciting, this idea of a new franchise quarterback. It's just important to remember how far down the Redskins have been for so long, and that fixing these things the right way can take some time.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One more day here by the beach. As you read this, I am at the NFC coaches' breakfast listening to what Andy Reid, Jason Garrett, Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan have to say. I shall spend the remainder of the morning and the afternoon working feverishly to communicate back to you the items of NFC East interest from this session before my flight leaves for home this evening. They had links at the AFC coaches' breakfast Tuesday, along with bacon and some kind of cool steak eggs benedict deal. Not sure if today's spread will be the same, but you know you can always count on having links right here, every morning at 8 a.m.

Dallas Cowboys

The only thing you know for sure about the draft this time of year is that everybody's lying. Everything's a smokescreen and no one's telling you what they really think or plan. So take this with a grain of salt, even though I agree with Jerry Jones that it wouldn't be a great idea for him to take an offensive lineman in the first round after drafting three of them last year and signing two more earlier this month.

Yeah, I wish Jones would tell us what he really feels about the salary-cap penalties, too, but he's smart to keep his mouth shut until the arbitrator rules on it, and so this little crack about wanting to settle his dispute with John Mara on the field will have to do for now.

New York Giants

Coughlin's getting a contract extension, obviously. Mara told the New York Post that he expects the deal to be done within four to six weeks, and there's every reason to think the Giants coach, who's won two Super Bowl titles in the past five years, will get paid a salary similar to those of the best coaches in the league -- upward of $7 million per year. I'm thinking it ends up being a three-year deal.

Defensive end Dave Tollefson continues to draw interest on the free-agent market, now scheduled to visit the suddenly free-agent-happy Green Bay Packers. As they are with Jonathan Goff and, to some extent, Brandon Jacobs, the Giants are letting Tollefson test the market while also letting him know they'd like to have him back. If he can't find a better offer than what the Giants are willing to give him, he comes back. If not, they move on and find a replacement. It's how they roll.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman sure made it sound as though the team believes it can find a trade market for cornerback Asante Samuel between now and the draft. Roseman discussed that issue and several others Tuesday with Jeff McLane. One point further down in the notes: Roseman declined to say where he expected Jamar Chaney to play because the Eagles are "still in the talent acquisition phase" of the offseason. Says to me they're still looking for linebackers, even with DeMeco Ryans in the fold.

Former Andy Reid assistants Pat Shurmur and John Harbaugh, now the head coaches of the Browns and Ravens, respectively, came to the defense of their former boss -- and of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo -- in conversations with Paul Domowitch at the aforementioned AFC coaches' breakfast.

Washington Redskins

Yes, the Redskins were seriously interested in Peyton Manning when he was on the market. No, it's not clear how good their chances were of getting him. But Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan met with Manning even after trading for the No. 2 pick in the draft, and it's clear that he was a serious option in their minds if they hadn't been able to move up to the spot from which they now plan to draft their next franchise quarterback.

Former Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien is at the front of the latest lawsuit by former players against the league over head injuries. These suits continue to be filed, and will continue to be filed, and if you don't think they worry the league, then think again about why the punishments against the Saints for the bounty stuff was so severe.

Jim Zorn gets fired again

January, 28, 2011
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I thought former Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn would be a good fit as the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens. And by all accounts, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a tremendous relationship with Zorn.

But that didn't keep Zorn from getting fired Thursday after just one season. Apparently Ravens head coach John Harbaugh decided that offensive coordinatoor Cam Cameron needed to work directly with Flacco. And there's talk that Zorn was insubordinate to Cameron.

"We've talked about this since the end of the season, and we believe this will help improve our offense," Harbaugh said.

It seemed like Zorn was safe after surviving a seven-hour meeting with Harbaugh and Cameron last week. But obviously the Ravens changed their minds. Zorn was great to deal with when he was with the Redskins and hopefully he'll land a job quickly. But for now, he'll continue to get by on those paychecks from Dan Snyder.

Perry Fewell making the rounds

January, 10, 2011
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I'm sure Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell would rather be in the playoffs right now, but New York's abrupt ending to the season did provide him a head start on interviewing for some of the head-coaching vacancies around the league. The Denver Broncos were an open book when it came to Fewell's recent interview.

Fewell has emerged as a serious candidate in Denver, although you have to wonder if John Fox's experience will eventually give him the edge. Fox was scheduled to interview in Denver on Tuesday, but it's been postponed due to weather issues in North Carolina. I think Fox is a good coach, but I'm not sure the Denver fan base would be that enthusiastic about a retread.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
AP Photo/Mike GrollPerry Fewell is a candidate for the head-coaching job with the Broncos, Panthers and Browns.
With the success of first-time head coaches such as Mike Smith, Raheem Morris, John Harbaugh and Todd Haley in recent years, everyone's trying to identify who's next. The Broncos just tried to go that route, though, and failed miserably.

Fewell certainly brought some much-needed energy to the Giants' coaching staff and several of his new players put up big numbers. But I think teams such as the Broncos, Panthers and Browns are more interested in how Fewell functioned when he was the interim coach for the Bills for part of the '09 season. His players swore by him and it's obvious that he has some unique leadership skills. If Fewell doesn't land a job, I think he'll be perfectly happy to try to help lead the Giants back to the playoffs. But he's having trouble containing his excitement right now.

"It’s constantly on your mind,” said Fewell during an interview that appeared on the team's website. “It’s a situation that you are so excited about that you are ready to jump out of your skin.

"But you’ve got all these plans that you want to put into action. You have these beliefs and you’re trying to draw upon your years of experience in coaching to say ‘Yes, I can do this job. Yes, I can relate to the management staff. I can identify with the fans and I can help coach and teach the players.’ And we can put together a quality staff. It seems like your dreams are like almost coming true, but then they haven’t come true yet."

Fewell did a tremendous job communicating with his players this season. Justin Tuck has told me before that he and his teammates aren't easily impressed. They're actually a pretty skeptical bunch, but Fewell won them over quickly with his positive and energetic approach. Training camp in Albany was a completely different experience with Fewell racing around the practice field to praise or chastise players. Coughlin seemed amused when Fewell would run next to one of his safeties when he made an interception.

It will be interesting to see if the Giants do anything to persuade Fewell to stay. When Sean Payton nearly left Dallas to take the Oakland job six years ago, Jerry Jones gave him a $500,000 raise to stay. It's probably the best decision of Payton's career. And we all remember Jason Garrett getting $3 million to remain offensive coordinator of the Cowboys following the '07 season.

No matter what happens with these openings, I do think Fewell is destined to be a head coach. But I bet a few of his players are secretly hoping it won't happen this time around.

Wednesday Beastlines: Non-print edition

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Let's take a quick look at what's going on around the NFC East this morning.

Cowboys
Eagles
Giants
Redskins

Harbaugh blasts Cowboys in new book

November, 6, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

During the course of a year, I'll have somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 sports books show up in my mailbox. Unless the book was written by a close friend or my spouse, I don't normally bring it to your attention on the Beast. But while thumbing through Reuben Frank and Mark Eckel's excellent new book "Game Changers: The 50 Greatest Plays in Philadelphia Eagles Football History," I came across an explosive quote from former Eagles assistant and current Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

Asked why the Eagles have had so much success from 1999-2008 and the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game during that period, Harbaugh had this to say:

"Why is that? Because what Andy Reid and his program stand for is the opposite of what the Cowboys stand for. The Cowboys are a star system. It's all about building around individuals first and collecting talent, collecting great players. Andy has always been about building a team. And over the long haul, it's a team sport, and one of the greatest examples of that is what's happened with the Eagles and the Cowboys over the last 10 years. The Cowboys stand for everything that's wrong with the NFL."


Harbaugh spent nine years with the Eagles as a special teams and secondary coach before becoming the head coach in Baltimore in 2008. Obviously, his dislike of the Cowboys hasn't faded over time. Harbaugh made that comment last March.

Of the 50 greatest plays selected by the authors, 11 of them occurred in games against the Cowboys. Harbaugh was involved in the Pickle Juice game at Texas Stadium on Sept. 3, 2000. It was his idea to open the season with an onside kick, which the Eagles recovered to set up a touchdown drive. The Eagles won that game, 41-14, and Harbaugh was given a lot of credit for his daring idea. It was called the Pickle Juice game because the Eagles drank the stuff to overcome the Texas heat. The temperature soared to 109 that afternoon.

I just thought you guys might enjoy that quote during Eagles-Cowboys week.

Harbaugh, Coughlin pay tribute to Johnson

July, 28, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The loss of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson earlier this afternoon has saddened folks across the league. Johnson was admired by many coaches -- especially those on the defensive side of the ball. He served as a mentor for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who just released this statement:

"I loved Jim Johnson," said Harbaugh. "This is a sad day for so many people who were touched by this great man. Ingrid and I, the Harbaugh family, and the Ravens have Jim's wife, Vicky, and the Johnson family in our thoughts and prayers. Jim was a tremendous teacher of football and life. He had a special ability to bring out the best in people while getting you to see the best in yourself. He saw potential and developed it. He made me believe I could coach at this level. In football, he was a pioneering and brilliant strategist, changing the way defense is played in the NFL. For me, he was a father-type mentor, and above all, a cherished friend. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. I will miss him so much."

That is one of the coolest things that I have always heard about Johnson. He never felt threatened by up-and-coming assistants. In fact, he went out of his way to impart wisdom so that they could advance in the profession. Johnson is a huge reason why Harbaugh and Steve Spagnuolo are head coaches in this league. He was a confident guy who never let ambition get in the way of creating valuable relationships. 

Giants coach Tom Coughlin also released a statement about Johnson's passing:

"It is a sad, very sad, day," said Coughlin. "I talked recently to (Eagles video director) Mike Dougherty and asked him to let Jim know that I was thinking about him, and I had dropped Jim a note to let him know as well. Forget about what kind of coach he was…he was an excellent, excellent defensive coach, and he trained others to be the same. We know what Steve Spagnuolo meant to us. We had great respect for Jim, and he had great respect for us. I didn't know Jim personally, but we would always talk to each other, mostly about the NFC East and what a great, competitive division it is. It was a respectful critique about what great players, coaches and organizations there are within the division. In talking with people who worked with Jim, you sense what a class act Jim was. He was great to work with and for, and he had his priorities in order. His players loved to play for him and his coaches loved to coach with him. It is a sad day for the National Football League to lose somebody the quality of Jim Johnson. It is a sad note on which to start the season. He coached right up to the very end.”

 

Coughlin headed to Iraq

June, 9, 2009
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10:18
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Tom Coughlin, who has been quite vocal in his support of our troops, will join a delegation of current and former NFL head coaches on a visit to Iraq later this month.

The visit is part of the inaugural NFL-USO Coaches Tour, which will include Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden and John Harbaugh. Coughlin has always been interested in the military, and he constantly talks to his players about the sacrifices our troops are making. In fact, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commanding general of the multi-national force in Iraq, has become an inspiration to the team. A huge Giants fan, Odierno had already invited Coughlin to visit Iraq this offseason. 

"This is something I've wanted to do for years,” Coughlin told SI.com's Peter King. "And I can't tell you how excited I am, and all the coaches are, to be making this trip. It's a great chance for us to recognize the real heroes of this country. Our troops need to know how much we appreciate what they're doing, and I mean every one of us in the NFL and every one of us in the country.”

Coughlin has used his celebrity to do some pretty special things over the years. His deep appreciation for the military makes him the perfect candidate for a trip like this. 

Eagles' TE Smith headed to Baltimore

March, 17, 2009
3/17/09
5:40
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The Baltimore Ravens have agreed to a one-year contract with former Eagles tight end L.J. Smith, according to AFC North blogger James Walker. A former second-round pick in 2003, Smith never lived up to the potential he showed during the Eagles' Super Bowl run in 2004. Former Eagles assistant John Harbaugh is hoping Smith can complement Todd Heap in the passing game.

If put in the right situation, there's a chance Smith could be a 40-catch, four or five touchdown player.

Cowboys assistant to interview with Rams

January, 1, 2009
1/01/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

We interrupt your New Year's Day bowl game watching party to let you know the Rams have asked permission to speak to Cowboys wide receivers coach Ray Sherman about their opening at head coach. There's never been a better time to go from a position coach to head coach in the NFL.

Teams have paid close attention to what happened with Tony Sparano in Miami and John Harbaugh in Baltimore, and they're trying to identify the right fit. In the past, teams would either recycle former head coaches or pluck an offensive or defensive coordinator. Now, there's a thought that guys such as Sparano (offensive line in Dallas) and Harbaugh (secondary in Philly) can make the leap to head coach. Of course, Sparano had a season of play calling under his belt before Jerry Jones brought in Jason Garrett.

Now some folks on Sparano's staff in Miami are beginning to receive interest. Todd Bowles was an excellent secondary coach with the Cowboys and it looks like he'll land a couple of interviews. Quarterbacks coach David Lee is the man most responsible for the Wildcat formation that helped jump-start the Dolphins' season, and defensive coordinator coach Paul Pasqualoni is also a solid candidate.

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