NFC East: kenny vaccaro

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harris (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.
Where they're picking: 19

Conventional wisdom tells us the New York Giants are a "best-player available" team that uses the draft not to address specific areas of immediate need but rather to augment and maintain a deep roster from year to year. That means the player they take at 19 is probably going to be the highest remaining player on their board, and possibly someone who falls from a projected top-10 slot the way Prince Amukamara did two years ago. So the mock drafts have the Giants taking anyone from tackle D.J. Fluker to linebacker Alec Ogletree to cornerbacks D.J. Hayden or Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant, but the Giants are generally content to wait and see what gem may fall into their laps.

History tells us that, while the Giants do stick to their board, they do apply their own beliefs about position values when assembling that board. So that while someone like Ogletree or Fluker may be the objective "best player available" at 19, he may not be the highest-ranked player on the Giants' specific board. It has been 29 years since they took a linebacker in the first round and 14 since they took an offensive lineman. And while, yes, it had been 12 since they took a running back before they picked David Wilson last year, that was the 32nd pick in the round and their pre-2000 history shows that running back is a position that carries first-round value for them. They were able to ignore it for a while due to the success of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who are now both gone. Recently, the Giants have seemed to like taking defensive backs. They've taken one with their first pick in four of the last eight drafts.

They probably won't trade up. It would be unlike the Giants to identify a specific player or need and give up later picks in order to move up in the first round -- especially since their biggest needs are at positions to which they don't generally assign first-round value. That No. 19 spot feels like a comfortable spot for the Giants, who will likely find a player who can develop in their system and work his way into a starting job over the next year or so.

They could shock us by taking Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. He'd be their first first-round linebacker since Carl Banks, so it would be a heck of a statement about what they think of him as a prospect. But it would be shocking for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the Giants' draft history or established organizational philosophy about linebackers. Te'o comes with weird off-field baggage, the likes of which the Giants don't need in their market. He's tested poorly in the pre-draft process and he was beaten like a rug in his last college game. Some have connected Te'o with the Giants during the mock-draft period, but I'd be surprised if they broke a 29-year first-round linebacker drought for him.

My prediction: I took cornerback Desmond Trufant for the Giants in the ESPN blogger mock draft earlier this week, and the reason I made that pick was because he was the highest-ranked defensive back left on the Scouts Inc. board at that time. If cornerback Dee Milliner or safety Kenny Vaccaro drops this far, I believe the Giants will run to the podium to draft him. Otherwise, Trufant, Rhodes, Hayden ... all good guesses, as are the Florida State defensive linemen.

First-round preview: Dallas Cowboys

April, 25, 2013
Where they're picking: No. 18

Conventional wisdom tells us the top six offensive linemen will be gone by 18, depriving the Cowboys of the chance to address their most significant short-term and long-term need. The mock drafts in which this happens have the Cowboys taking a defensive tackle such as Sheldon Richardson or Sylvester Williams at No. 18, and some are still connecting the Cowboys with Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, since safety is a need as well. Everybody seems to agree that the Cowboys' dream scenario is that they get one of the draft's top two guards, either Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper, but no one seems to think either will fall to 18.

History tells us that the conventional wisdom is wrong. The last time six offensive linemen went in the top 17 picks was 1966, when the league only had 15 teams in it. Guards don't tend to go early, since most teams don't assign top-half-of-first-round value to that position. History tells us the Cowboys will be able to get offensive line help if they want it in the first round. But history also tells us that the Cowboys tend to pick out a guy they really like in the first round (Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Morris Claiborne are the recent examples) and do what they can to get him.

They probably won't end up with Vaccaro. First of all, it's possible he goes earlier than 18 (say, to St. Louis at 16). Second of all, their needs on the lines and the comparative value at those positions likely will push them to take a linemen of one sort or the other in a draft whose second round is packed with starting-caliber safeties. Sure, it's possible Vaccaro is this year's Jerry Jones crush and there's nothing anyone else in the braintrust can do to talk him out of it. But I'd be surprised if they end up with the Texas safety.

They could shock us by taking a tight end. The Blogfather, Matt Mosley, says he's been hearing the Cowboys love Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, and if that's the case they could be making plans to move up to get him. While that would seem silly with Jason Witten still in place and at the top of his game, it's not completely crazy to find another weapon for Tony Romo in the passing game. If Eifert is the Cowboys' best player available, they could go for it. It would be foolish, and would leave them too short in too many other areas, but I'm not sure that would stop them.

My prediction: I'm leaning on history here and saying the mocks are all wrong and the Cowboys are going to be able to get one of those guards. Since we're making a pick, I'll say it's Chance Warmack who falls either all the way to 18 or at least into the 14-15 range that would allow them to make a sensible, cost-effective trade-up to get him. Not like last year's trade for Claiborne, which cost them their second-round pick, but maybe for a later-round pick or even a 2014 one.
There was concern, I won't lie, as I sat there with the No. 18 pick for the Dallas Cowboys in the blogger mock draft. Dallas absolutely needs to come out of the first round with a new starting offensive lineman, and they were going off the board quickly. The top three tackles went in the top five picks, and when guard Chance Warmack went to Arizona at No. 7, I got worried.

Eyeing North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, who was still on the board at No. 10, I reached out to Paul Kuharsky to ask if the Titans wanted to trade down. He said they did. I offered Dallas' first-round pick and third-round pick (Picks 18 and 80) for the No. 10. Paul countered by offering Picks 10 and 142 (fifth round) for Picks 18 and 47 (second round). I said I couldn't do that, after ripping the Cowboys for giving up their second-round pick last year to move up for Morris Claiborne. Don't want to be hypocritical, right?

So Paul and I talked about some possibilities involving 2014 compensation, but we couldn't agree on it, and he ended up taking Sharrif Floyd for the Titans at No. 10. My next move was to reach out to Bill Williamson, who was picking for the Chargers at No. 11. I made the same offer to him -- the 18 and the 80 -- but he said he was going to stay put and make a pick. He picked Cooper, which obviously disappointed me-as-Cowboys.

Now I had my eye on D.J. Fluker, the Alabama tackle who would allow the Cowboys to bid goodbye to Doug Free and help solidify the run game. I think he's the absolute perfect guy for the Cowboys at 18 if the guards are gone by then, and the only team I was still afraid might snatch him away was Carolina at 14. Fluker didn't feel worthy of trading up for, so I decided I'd stay put and hope he fell to 18, and if he didn't, I'd look into trading down and going after someone like Syracuse's Justin Pugh.

But Pat Yasinskas took Sheldon Richardson for Carolina at 14. And (because I know you guys want to know) Mike Sando took safety Kenny Vaccaro for the Rams at 16. And lo and behold, there was Fluker still sitting there at 18 for the Cowboys. I ran to the podium.

Will the Cowboys do the same if the same situation plays out Thursday night? It doesn't sound like them. But I think they'd be wise to take Fluker. And I don't even think they'd be nuts to take an offensive lineman in the second round as well. The need -- short term and long term -- is that significant.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What would be the ideal first-round scenario for each NFC East team in next week's NFL draft?

Dallas Cowboys

Because of the perceived lack of top-level skill-position talent in this year's draft, a lot of the mock drafts and projections have the top offensive linemen going off the board early. Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock Insider, for example, has six offensive linemen going in the top 12 picks, which means well before the Cowboys pick at 18 and probably too early for them to make a sensible trade-up to grab someone like Alabama guard Chance Warmack or North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper. This would be unfortunate and far from ideal for the Cowboys, but history offers hope. The last time six of the first 17 picks in the draft were offensive linemen was 1966, when there were only 15 teams in the league. Only three times since then -- 1977, 1985 and 2008 -- have as many as five offensive linemen been picked in the top 17. The Cowboys probably can't expect any of the top three tackles to fall to them, but their ideal first-round situation would be for Warmack, Cooper or even Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker to fall to 18 and allow them to shore up their most significant area of short-term and long-term need. If only one of those guys is still available by 14, the Cowboys should look into trading up to get him.

New York Giants

The Giants live for value in the first round, so their ideal scenario is that someone who's very high (say, top-10) on their draft board falls to them at No. 19. It happened two years ago, when they were picking in the exact same spot and were stunned to find cornerback Prince Amukamara still there. It could happen again, especially if the Cowboys get their aforementioned wish and those offensive linemen drop into the second half of the first round. Although the Giants haven't picked an offensive lineman in the first round since 1999, the value on someone like Warmack or Fluker, if either is still there at 19, might be too good to pass up. It's easy to look at linebacker as a glaring need and project someone like Alec Ogletree here, but the Giants haven't taken a first-round linebacker since 1984, and it's unlikely they have a first-round grade assigned to any linebacker in the draft. The Giants' ideal scenario is not to draft for need but to wait and hope some highly talented prospect at one of their premium positions (Tavon Austin? Kenny Vaccaro? Dee Milliner?) drops into their laps.

Philadelphia Eagles

Sitting at No. 4 in the first round, the Eagles probably would be excited to see one of the draft's top two tackles -- Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel -- available to them at that spot. Drafting one of those players would allow the Eagles to move Todd Herremans inside from right tackle to right guard, play the rookie at right tackle and groom him to replace Jason Peters eventually at left tackle. It's an immediate-need pick and a future building-block pick all wrapped up in one package. The Eagles also probably would be happy to take a defensive lineman like Star Lotulelei or a pass-rusher like Dion Jordan here, but in my opinion the tackle scenario is more ideal given their situation. I also think part of their ideal situation would include a drop for West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, which would allow them to trade back into the first round to take him somewhere in the 20s, as Kiper suggested in his recent "Grade A" draft post Insider.

Washington Redskins

As a result of last year's trade for quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Redskins don't have a first-round draft pick and don't pick until 19th in the second round, so a trade-up into the first is unlikely. Their ideal first-round scenario is that the teams picking in the first round believe they can wait on safety and cornerback, and that some of the top players at those positions of significant need are still there by the time Washington starts picking at 51.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Todd McShay's latest mock draft Insider is out and it covers the first two rounds, which means Redskins fans get to play too! Here's what Todd projects, along with my thoughts on his picks for each NFC East team:

Philadelphia Eagles

4. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

35. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State

Yes, even with cornerback Dee Milliner still on the board, I like Fisher for the Eagles at 4. I think they need to get a long-term building block at that spot, and an elite tackle is just that. As for Manuel at 35, I like it find if they think he has franchise quarterback potential. If not, they're just adding to a stable of caretaker backups and developmental guys, and the pick could be used better. I do know which of those categories fits Manuel, and I imagine if the Eagles are talking about him, they're trying to figure that out as well.

Dallas Cowboys

18. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

47. Kyle Long, G, Oregon

I have no problem with the Cowboys coming out of the first two rounds with a safety and an offensive lineman. I just think they need to pick them in the reverse order. In Todd's mock, the top five offensive linemen go in the first 17 picks -- something that's only happened once in the last 15 drafts. But even if that happens, I'd have no issue with the Cowboys taking the tackle Todd projects to go with the very next pick to the Giants. They need elite offensive line talent more than they need this draft's top safety.

New York Giants

19. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

49. Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State

Got to be honest, I have no idea what the Giants will or should do in the first round, and it doesn't seem as though most of the draft analysts do either. Offensive line seems to make sense, but they don't like to draft offensive linemen in the first round. I keep thinking they'll take the highest-ranked defensive lineman on their board in the first round, or maybe a defensive back. But maybe I'm relying too much on Giants draft history and this is a year in which they'll go against it.

Washington Redskins

51. Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State

Obviously, this is a pick that assumes they don't re-sign Fred Davis. If they do, I have to think they look for a safety here like D.J. Swearinger or Jon Cyprien.
The most recent edition of the Todd McShay/Mel Kiper Jr. "First Draft " podcast discusses picks 16 through 20 in the first round of next month's NFL draft. And you devoted readers of the NFC East blog know that the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants are picking 18th and 19th, respectively. If you'd like, you can skip to the 11:28 mark to hear them discuss the Cowboys' pick and to the 12:58 mark to hear them discuss the Giants' pick.

I found the Giants discussion interesting, because Mel cites a long-held organizational philosophy established by former GM Ernie Accorsi to support his belief that the Giants will not draft an offensive lineman in the first round. They don't believe in it, he says, unless it's for a "super-elite left tackle." They believe they can develop offensive line talent. Their recent long-term signing of former second-round pick Will Beatty as their left tackle supports this, as does the fact that they haven't drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since 1999.

But this leaves Mel and Todd (who says, "I think offensive line makes a lot of sense," which it does for the Giants) to speculate about the Giants taking an inside linebacker with this pick, and they haven't drafted a linebacker in the first round since 1984. So if passing on offensive lineman in the first round is an organizational philosophy, passing on linebackers in the first round feels more like a religious belief. Todd mentions that they could still use cornerback depth even after using high picks on corners in recent drafts, and their history shows that to be a far greater likelihood than either offensive line or linebacker.

If linebacker Alec Ogletree is on the board at 19, Todd says the Giants should "run up to the podium." We will see whether that happens. Color me skeptical.

As for the Cowboys, Mel and Todd seem to think one of the top guards, Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper, will be available at 18 and would make way too much sense for the Cowboys to pass up there. I agree on both counts. Talking about safety, Mel thinks "there are going to be safeties as good as Kenny Vaccaro that go in the second round," so the Cowboys should wait on that position and running back, which are both needs, while using the first round to address the offensive line. Smart guy, that Kiper. Smart, smart guy.
Yes, I know we've been Dallas Cowboys-heavy here the past couple of days, but they're the team that's actually making news all of a sudden, so that's the way the cookie bounces or whatever. The latest is Adam Schefter reporting via Twitter that the Cowboys have reached agreement on a contract with veteran safety Will Allen, who will sign once they clear some cap room. Adam reported Tuesday that they'd reached the same arrangement with linebacker Justin Durant.

Now, Clarence Hill points out that such informal deals are (understandably) illegal according to the CBA and the Cowboys are at risk of a fine if they've been found to have violated the rules. And that's why the Cowboys aren't acknowledging the deals yet. But while I wrote yesterday that these psuedo-agreements could be a sign that contract extensions for Tony Romo and/or Anthony Spencer are nigh, Calvin Watkins writes that the team is looking to cut or restructure the contract of another player on their roster and that they can add the players in question without the new deals for Romo and/or Spencer.

Adding Allen would, I assume, take the Cowboys out of play for free-agent safety Michael Huff, who also visited earlier in the week. And it should quash the notion that they're targeting Kenny Vaccaro in the first round of the draft (though I doubt it will), since it seems clear their plan all along has been to add a veteran safety to cover them in case Barry Church or Matt Johnson doesn't work out as a starter.
Morning. No elephants yet today, but it's early. Links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Former Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler visited the Eagles but left without signing a deal. I know this situation is getting a lot of attention, but the Eagles are likely looking at Butler as a rotational player and special teamer. I wouldn't get too excited if he signs or disappointed if he doesn't.

Remember back around Super Bowl time when DeSean Jackson talked about new Eagles coach Chip Kelly using him the way Kelly used running back De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon? Well, Paul Domowitch has a more realistic view on that.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins' team physician may think Robert Griffin III is "superhuman," but Griffin himself offered a much more level-headed assessment of his status and his plans for a responsible recovery from his knee surgery.

Free-agent cornerback Antoine Winfield is planning to visit the Redskins, who'd love to find a way to fit him under the salary cap. But he's considering other offers in the meantime, which is not encouraging for the Redskins' prospects.

Dallas Cowboys

Free-agent safety Michael Huff says he's intrigued by the idea of signing with the Cowboys. But just because (as Adam Schefter reported) linebacker Justin Durant may have agreed to wait on finalizing his deal until the Cowboys cleared enough cap space doesn't mean Huff is willing to do the same.

If the Cowboys want to take safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round of the draft (and again, I don't see why people are assuming they do when it appears what they want is to augment their current safety duo with a veteran), they could have competition.

New York Giants

David Diehl has agreed to a pay cut of nearly 80 percent in order to remain with the Giants in 2013. This indicates that they plan to use him as a versatile backup and several line positions, rather than as the starting right tackle. But Diehl has won out in similar situations in the past when other options have proven insufficient.

Former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has a visit lined up with the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he can prove he's healthy, I believe Bradshaw can help someone, even as their No. 1 back in 2013. The Steelers seem like a very good place for him. I think the Packers make sense as well, but they don't sign free agents.
Tom Coughlin's new book, "Earn the Right to Win," hits the shelves today. (Honestly, is that the most Tom Coughlin book title you could ever imagine? "Earn the Right to Win?") You can catch the Giants coach with one of his former players Wednesday morning when he stops by "Live" with Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan. Coughlin's making the rounds this week. I'm curious to see whether Strahan or any of these other morning talk-show hosts asks any good questions about whether Kenny Phillips is coming back. Anyway, links.

Washington Redskins

Though they had options, and at least one player (Fred Davis) on whom they likely would have used it under different circumstances, the Redskins did not use the franchise player designation on anyone this year. Due to their salary-cap penalty, they really count not afford to.

I very much enjoyed Rich Campbell's feature on NFL players and their off-field businesses. It includes the Redskins' Lorenzo Alexander and Kedric Golston, who are operating a brand-new Pilates studio in Ashburn, Va. as well as Giants receiver Victor Cruz's "Young Whales" clothing line.

New York Giants

The Giants could plausibly have used the franchise tag on safety Kenny Phillips or tight end Martellus Bennett, but as Ohm points out, that's not how they roll. They use the tag for its originally intended purpose -- to buy themselves extra time to work out a long-term deal already in progress. With Will Beatty's deal wrapped up last week, there was no other player for whom the franchise designation would have suited the Giants' purpose.

Assuming Bennett goes elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, I'd expect the Giants to bring in some veteran tight end to replace him. But I doubt it'd be a high-level guy, since they don't tend to spend on that position. And regardless, they'll be keeping an eye this offseason on the development of Adrien Robinson.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer isn't ruling out the possibility that the Cowboys trade Anthony Spencer, even after they franchised him. I think it's farfetched to believe a team would trade a draft pick for Spencer knowing they have to either pay him $10.6 million or sign him long-term, but as Todd points out it's not unprecedented.

And Calvin wondered whether the franchising of Spencer and the release of safety Gerald Sensabaugh made it more likely that the Cowboys would target safety Kenny Vaccaro with their first-round draft pick. I have nothing against Vaccaro, and it's possible the Cowboys will target him or would have anyway. But with Spencer locked up to play defensive end for at least one more year, I think it's absolutely vital that the Cowboys use that pick on a building-block offensive lineman. To think they need a first-round safety to replace what Sensabaugh gave them is to overrate Sensabaugh.

Philadelphia Eagles

This recent look by Zach Berman at the Eagles' defensive line has me thinking that defensive line could be a major area of offseason emphasis, in free agency as well as in the draft.

Seems like everybody needs safeties around here, and the Eagles are obviously no exception. Sheil Kapadia has names of some potential targets, including some future Hall of Famers. Hard to see the Eagles signing someone as old as Ed Reed, but who knows? Maybe Chip Kelly feels differently about old guys than Andy Reid did.