NFC East: Laron Landry

Riddick on DeSean Jackson, Part 2

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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Louis Riddick wasn't surprised by DeSean Jackson's release. He also knows what Jackson would provide a team, having arrived in Philadelphia the same year as Jackson (2008) and rising to become the Eagles' director of pro personnel two years later. Riddick, now an ESPN NFL Insider, offers insight into what Jackson would provide an offense and how the Redskins, or any team, need to have a well-constructed plan. This is Part 2 of Riddick's thoughts; Part 1 ran earlier on Monday.

Jackson arrives in Washington Monday, but the bulk of his visit will take place Tuesday, a team source said.

Were you surprised by his release?

Louis Riddick: From a football sense, sure. From a team sense, no. The battle that team builders have all the time, the battle they fight, is weighing off-field personal character with on-field skills and potential production. … It’s a lot easier to do it at this point because Chip Kelly is the new sheriff. The investment emotionally and professionally is not bad for him. He wasn’t the guy who decided to give him an extension or who called him on draft day. So it’s easier for him to say if you’re not doing things exactly the way I want, you’re out. It’s obvious that it shows Chip is in charge because two years ago the same people who decided to give DeSean an extension are still there. I have a hard time believing it’s easy for them to say two years later now we’ll cut him. They know DeSean; they know the good and the bad. This is Chip’s decision. He’s running things there.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesNew regimes face unique challenges when considering adding a veteran like DeSean Jackson, who has established a way of doing things.
DeSean has growing up to do. That’s fine. That’s not a crime. That’s just the way it is. You’re not dealing with the easiest guy to deal with. That’s been known. I played with players like that, as teammates, as friends. That’s OK. You just better have a plan. Everybody is at different stages in their program. Philadelphia is a year into their program build. So they’re still trying to implement and get to where everyone they have is on board with it and Chip was the overseer of that.

The Redskins are three months into their new program. Now you’re considering bringing in a player who doesn’t fit with one program. You don’t know what the program will be yet because you haven’t seen it in action yet. They haven’t been around you. You haven’t interacted with them in a setting that matters and now you’re possibly taking on the task of implementing a guy who likes to do things in a certain way and you don’t know how he’ll do them in your program. I know it sounds redundant to say you have to have a plan, but the implementation part of player acquisition is where it all goes wrong. They spend so much time daydreaming how beautiful it can look on the field. I lived through it.

He’s a guy who could make an impact with just one or two catches, as the Redskins saw in 2010. He had that opening touchdown and one other catch in that game. Yet he made a huge impact.

Riddick: He did that kind of thing multiple times during my time in Philadelphia, as someone who was very involved with advance scouting and how we attacked opponents back then. Every week we’d ask, is there someone on that defense we can exploit and match up our No. 1 game-breaker against? We knew he would turn them inside out.

The first play against LaRon [Landry] -- he’s a 4.3 guy in the 40 -- and DeSean basically strided past him and it didn’t look like he was even trying. The ball was in the air and you saw him kick into another gear. But it wasn’t a strain, it was, ‘OK, I need to go from sixth gear or seventh gear.'

DeSean’s top-end speed is transcendent. It’s not like anything you’ve really seen in the NFL ever. That’s the intoxication I’m talking about when scouting a guy like him. In this case you have to weigh that with the fit and the program you have in place and whether it can be managed, whether he is still maturing and still wants to change some of the ways he conducts himself in the building, in the classroom or on the practice field. The Redskins have largely a new staff, especially on offense. It’s a total unknown and there are people there who have never proven themselves as administrators in this regard.

Can it help Jay Gruden having seen how Marvin Lewis implemented plans when bringing on guys like Adam Jones in Cincinnati?

Riddick: Marvin was established. Mike Zimmer was there and that played a role in implementing a plan. He had a nice program rolling there. You’re talking about a place where the coaching staff has been together since January. They’ve never been on the field with these guys. It’s a lot for them, but if they feel up to it, more power to them.

Redskins should say no to Jackson

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
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He only needs one play to change a game -- and you never know when it will come. In 2010, it came on the first play of the game, with then-Redskins safety LaRon Landry probably still in full yapping mode.

And DeSean Jackson's 88-yard touchdown catch ignited one of the most explosive nights by an offense you’ll ever see. By the way, Jackson had just one catch after that touchdown. But no matter; he had done what the Eagles needed. Jackson did this quite often, and it’s why he’s a fantastic talent.

Now he’s free. So now comes the question: Should the Washington Redskins pursue?

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesDeSean Jackson is among the most explosive receivers in the NFL, but might fit best with a coach who has worked with him before.
No. The best place for Jackson to land is with a coach who has a history with him: Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg. Both their teams -- the Chiefs and the Jets -- are interested. And that’s telling. To best deal with Jackson, you had better really know Jackson. You can’t just sign him thinking he’d be a great fit because he has a lot of talent. You must know him, have a history with him. That is, if you want the best chance to make the investment work. This isn’t just about alleged gang ties, it’s about having the infrastructure to handle Jackson. The Redskins have not yet shown they can handle a talented but, perhaps, difficult player -- especially one they don't really know.

It would be a tough job for a first-year head coach.

Besides, if I'm his agent, I'd steer him to a coach who knows him well.

In the past 10 days, I had a brief conversation with one person in the Redskins' organization about Jackson. The question wasn't whether the Skins would have interest, but rather why the Eagles would consider releasing such a talent. It was a casual conversation, so I’m not going to repeat what he said, but I can safely say that one person in the Skins' organization would not be interested. Does that mean others would not be, or that they wouldn’t at least inquire? Can’t say that.

Nobody doubts Jackson’s ability, but can you trust him going forward? If multiple teams have called about him, as has been reported, then the price will be out of the Redskins’ range anyway.

We don’t know if Jackson indeed had gang ties, as has been alleged. He says he doesn’t. But if nothing else, the image he presents in certain pictures would likely scare some teams.

Then again, the Redskins are interested in Kenny Britt, who has been arrested at least nine times to Jackson’s one. Alas, Britt did not match Jackson’s on-field production. I wouldn't want Britt because of his knee and off-field issues. But the Redskins still would take him.

And that leads me back to: What do the Eagles really know? It’s the same question I’ve wanted to know since news of Jackson's availability first surfaced. They clearly knew a lot about him before he signed his big contract, and still kept him around. But it took only one year for the coach who knew him best to end Jackson’s time in Philly.

Sean Taylor's death still resonates

November, 4, 2013
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The trial of his shooter is over (four other men were charged in the case and three await trial), which can’t bring a whole lot of joy and relief to anyone who was close to late Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. Closure, maybe, but even that will be tough. Taylor is still gone. His daughter will still grow up without her dad and a son will never return to see his parents.

That’s the saddest part, of course. That won’t be forgotten.

Sean Taylor
G Fiume/Getty ImagesFormer Redskins safety Sean Taylor was shot and killed in a 2007 burglary of his home. On Monday, Eric Rivera Jr. was convicted of second-degree murder, six years after Taylor's death.
The media did not get to know Taylor that well during his time in Washington; he allowed some people in, but rarely revealed much of himself. You had to earn his trust, something even the coaches discovered. Then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spoke of this often, before and after Taylor’s death.

Was there real growth in Taylor during his four seasons there? Teammates I spoke to at the time said yes. One of them said his opinion of Taylor changed because he saw a young kid maturing. No players are 100-percent beloved, and everyone has critics. Still, players I trust recalled a kid they saw evolving. They knew him better.

For myself, I didn't know Taylor all that well. In all honesty, for most of us, he was the moody, young kid we were trying to get to know, but every time a corner was turned, another obstacle emerged. In time, I thought, he’ll come around. He was getting closer. It takes time for some.

But from a football perspective, I knew him well. And his death still haunts the franchise at the safety position. They've had plenty of time to recover, from a football point of view; it’s hard to find a similar talent, but that doesn't mean they've done a good job in doing so. They've made too many poor decisions here, and that haunts them as well. You can only blame his death for so long. But had Taylor lived, he would have been in his 10th season, probably with a handful of Pro Bowls on his resume and, assuming good health, several more years to go.

Taylor was playing at an elite level in 2007, prior to his knee injury and murder. He could move like few other safeties, allowing the Redskins to disguise coverages longer. For example, he would be over a slot receiver on the left side only to drop to a Cover 2 on the other side. I haven’t seen that since.

He would have been the perfect safety for how the NFL has evolved, too. When offenses go to empty sets, if you have a safety who can run like Taylor and cover like a corner, then you can stay with your base defense and not limit your calls. His speed and aggressiveness would have been a good foil to help defend the read option, too. A corner blitz from the numbers? Go ahead; Taylor could get to the receiver in a hurry. After Taylor died, they had to move rookie LaRon Landry to free safety; he's better at strong but could get away playing free.

It’s too bad NFL.com did not offer the All-22 coaches film when Taylor played, to see how much ground he covered and to see the multitude of ways the Redskins used him to disguise coverages. It would have been revealing.

Taylor played with a passion few have for the sport. He left behind a legacy with his play. He also left behind a lifetime of what-ifs for anyone who watched him.
*Even if Brandon Meriweather wins an appeal on his two-game suspension, he might still end up serving one game. Tampa Bay’s Dashon Goldson earlier this season and then-Baltimore safety Ed Reed a year ago both had their one-game suspensions reduced to fines. By giving Meriweather two games the NFL, it would appear, made it so that if the suspension were reduced he’d still sit out a game. I'd imagine someone with Meriweather's repeat offender history would have a hard time getting it reduced to just a fine. Meriweather has three days to appeal the ruling that was handed down Monday.

*The Redskins’ safety situation goes back to their inability to develop a player at that position or find a solution via free agency. They signed an aging O.J. Atogwe right before the lockout. Some executives and scouts I had spoken with said Atogwe was done -- and had been for a year. He turned out to be slow and ineffective. And done. They followed it up a year later by signing a two-time drug offender in Tanard Jackson who was then ... suspended indefinitely (and remains out) for drugs. They signed a player in Meriweather with a history of undisciplined play. Yes, at times he has helped them and when he’s going good the defense is better, but they’re in a bind now because of ... undisciplined play. They signed another aging vet in Madieu Williams, who was only supposed to be a backup but was forced into starting. And looked like an aging vet.

[+] EnlargeReed Doughty
AP Photo/Greg TrottReed Doughty has been a steady contributor at safety for the Redskins.
*This position has been greatly affected by the salary-cap penalty. I’m quite sure they would have signed someone of a higher caliber than the guys they had to settle on. But remember, their first choice a few years ago was Atogwe, back when the cap wasn’t an issue. So there’s no guarantee. But it has to be a top priority in the offseason.

*The only steady player at safety has been veteran Reed Doughty, who was here before this regime. Doughty gets a terrible rap by the fans, but he’s the lone player they can count on -- no off-field worries; no undisciplined play, etc. He’s best as a backup, but he’s a quality one and the Redskins are fortunate he’s still around. He does his job and the coaches know exactly what they’ll give them; they can work with that.

*Yes, they allowed LaRon Landry to leave. Given his two-year run of Achilles' issues, that was a 50-50 call and Landry wasn't all that thrilled with the Redskins' training staff, so he was looking to get out. Even coaches here who liked him were quick to bring up his health long before he left. Landry played every game last season but has missed four because of a high-ankle sprain this year with the Indianapolis Colts.

*Drafting and developing has been a problem too. The Redskins haven’t selected a safety above the fourth round, but they’ve had misfortune (2012 seventh-rounder Jordan Bernstine with terrible ligament tears that ended his time here; 2013 fourth-rounder Phillip Thomas with a Lisfranc injury) and some who didn’t develop (2011 fifth-rounder DeJon Gomes). They also have rookie Bacarri Rambo, a sixth-round pick who went from starter the first two games to inactive the past three.

*Being inactive is a reflection on Rambo’s special-teams performance. But if you lose your starting job, one way to get it back is to become a force on special teams. Defensive coaches love guys like that; also says something about how you respond. If and when Rambo gets back on the field he'll have a lot to prove. He was not ready to start initially (sixth-round picks rarely are) and his inclusion in the lineup always was as much about what they didn't have as what he could do.

*My preseason prediction of who would start at safety? Meriweather and Doughty. Why? Because it’s very, very tough for a rookie low-round pick to become an instant starter with how much they had to adjust to from college and learn. Maybe Thomas and Rambo become the starters in future seasons, but it’s way too early to believe that definitely will happen.

*What could save them, or at least help them, is the versatility of their corners. That’s something they talked about after the draft, following their selection of corner David Amerson. For now, he’s not the versatile one. But they can use E.J. Biggers in a safety role and they have used Josh Wilson in a variety of roles as well as DeAngelo Hall (more so in the past). You need to be a smart player to handle such a role. If they’re saved Sunday, this versatility will be part of the reason. It allows them to do more with their coverages, which has helped a great deal in recent weeks, until the second half Sunday. It hasn’t always worked, but the real issue in the opener versus Philadelphia, when Biggers started at safety, was having to be in a nickel front all game.

*I really don’t know what they’ll do in Meriweather’s place Sunday, though I’d imagine Biggers will play a key role. Can they really trust Jose Gumbs (nine career defensive snaps) or Trenton Robinson (zero career defensive snaps)? Against Peyton Manning? Re-sign Jordan Pugh? The pass rush will need to be outstanding Sunday.

Breakfast links: Happy New Year

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
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Yes, the start of the new NFL league year and the free-agent signing period is at 4 p.m. ET today. The moment for which many of you have been waiting. Now, I don't think it's going to be an especially exciting free-agent signing period in our division, as only the Eagles have cap room to spend, but there are always a few surprises. So let's get the big day started with some links.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins are reportedly interested in cornerback Aqib Talib of the Patriots. Makes sense given his Tampa Bay connections with Bruce Allen and Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris. Makes less sense because of his off-field baggage and likely price tag. It's not that the Redskins can't sign players like this. It's that, if they do, they'll have to cut elsewhere. A Talib signing could be bad news for Santana Moss.

Mike Shanahan joined the chorus of those who are telling us Robert Griffin III's recovery from knee surgery is going well. But Shanahan said he doesn't know whether he can count on Griffin for Week 1 of the 2013 season. Too early to tell.

New York Giants

Jenny Vrentas has a comprehensive free-agency primer on the Giants. She seems to be of the opinion that they'll let safety Kenny Phillips leave, and in answer to many of your questions, she doesn't rule out a return by recently released former Giant and Jaguar Aaron Ross.

Steve Serby implores both sides in the Giants-Victor Cruz negotiations to get a deal done.

Dallas Cowboys

The main reason the Cowboys aren't likely to be active in free agency is that they're barely under the salary cap after a week's worth of work to get there. But another reason could be that they don't seem to be very good at it. The release Monday of linebacker Dan Connor, who was one of last year's big free-agent signings, sort of brought that all back.

Calvin Watkins wonders whether the Cowboys need to bring in another tight end to pair with Jason Witten.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles, with about $34 million in cap room, are the most likely big-game free-agent hunters in this division. And to that end, Reuben Frank reports, they're looking at safeties Dashon Goldson and LaRon Landry. Doesn't get a lot bigger than that. Here in the NFC East, we of course know Landry. The Redskins cut him last year because he wasn't able to stay healthy for them, but he did just play all 16 games for the Jets in 2012. Buyer beware. Landry's a great player, but that injury history is no joke.

And this could be something or it could be nothing, but the Eagles went to West Virginia on Monday to check out quarterback Geno Smith. Could they be considering him with the No. 4 pick in the draft? Could they be assessing his value in case of a trade down? Could they just be trying to get information about quarterbacks, as many teams do whether they're drafting one or not? Intriguing, to say the least.

Safety: Some names for the Redskins

January, 17, 2013
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Safety is a significant position of need this offseason for the Washington Redskins, who lost one projected starter (Tanard Jackson) to a drug suspension in late August and another (Brandon Meriweather) to recurring knee injuries. Assuming he comes back healthy, there's a reasonable chance the Redskins keep Meriweather as their strong safety, since Washington's coaching staff sees him as a perfect fit for that role in their defense. But assuming is bad business, so you have to believe the Redskins will look to cover themselves at that position, as well as replace Madieu Williams as the starting free safety, once free agency begins.

To that end, here's a partial list of some potential free-agent solutions, keeping in mind the Redskins currently project to be about $4 million over the salary cap because of the league-imposed penalty from last year.

Jairus Byrd. Probably a pipe dream, given (a) that Buffalo wants to keep him and can use the franchise player designation to do so and (b) what he'd cost if he hit the open market. But Byrd fits the Mike Shanahan free agency profile in terms of age (he's 26) and along with San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Atlanta's William Moore, is one of the top safeties in free agency this year if he makes it there.

Kenny Phillips. Would the Giants let him go? They have cap concerns too, and Stevie Brown (also a free agent, by the way) did pretty well as a playmaking fill-in while Phillips was injured this year. If New York made the tough decision to part with Phillips, he'd be in high demand at age 26, and the Redskins know him well. I think his skills in run support make him a better fit at the strong safety spot in the Redskins' 3-4, so he could be a potential Meriweather replacement if they let Meriweather go, but I'm sure he could play the free safety spot as well.

Louis Delmas. His 2012 injury likely increases the Lions' ability to keep him, but he fits the profile as a guy who'll turn 26 in April and has the abilities as a leader and a thumper that the Redskins need on the back end.

Ryan Mundy. He turns 28 next month, which doesn't push him out of Shanahan's age window for free-agent targets, and the system in which he's played in Pittsburgh is similar enough to what the Redskins run that he could be a good fit. Another guy who probably profiles more as a strong safety in Washington, Mundy might be a cheaper and more reliable alternative if they decide they can't count on Meriweather.

LaRon Landry. Hey, he got through the season healthy with the Jets! That was the Redskins' concern about him. The odds that he and they will both want a reunion seem pretty slim, but I guess stranger things have happened, no?

DeAngelo Hall. The Redskins have a tough decision on Hall, who was one of their starting cornerbacks this year and may need to take a pay cut to return in 2013. It may also be worth exploring the idea of moving Hall to free safety, where his inconsistencies in coverage wouldn't be as much of a liability. Is he up for such a move and the pay cut that likely comes with it? Remains to be seen. His name value could help him get a cornerback job somewhere else. But for all of his quirks, he's well-liked in the Redskins' locker room and by the coaching staff, and he knows the system. Maybe they could convince him to make the switch.

Again, a partial list there, and the Redskins are going to need help at cornerback, too, no matter what happens with Hall. That's a different post for a different time. But I hope this gives Redskins fans something on which to chew for a little while.

Brandon Meriweather signing not awesome

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
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Had the Washington Redskins signed Brandon Meriweather for the sole purpose of playing a lights-out first half in their Week 11 game and leading them to a convincing victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, then you could absolutely call that a first-rate signing. Problem is, the Redskins signed Meriweather to play strong safety hoping for more than that. And at least as far a 2012 is concerned, they will not get it.

The Redskins announced Monday that Meriweather has a torn ACL in his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season. Meriweather left Sunday's game in the second half with the injury. He was playing in his first game of the season after missing the first nine with an assortment of left knee issues, including one that surfaced after he'd been cleared to play in Week 4 but re-injured the knee in a collision with teammate Aldrick Robinson in pregame warmups that day.

Add in the fact that Meriweather was signed to replace LaRon Landry, whom the Redskins cut loose because he couldn't keep himself healthy, and this whole thing really splashes right down into the middle of you-can't-make-this-stuff-up territory. From Redskins.com:
When Meriweather finally got on the field for the Redskins on Sunday, you could tell something was different. A unit that ranked 30th in the NFL in pass defense coming into the Eagles game looked like a completely different bunch.

"He was a boost for us," linebacker and captain Lorenzo Alexander said after the game. "He's a guy that loves to fly around, is real physical and has a ball of energy. He was real fresh today, and you could see that. That's a guy that you want to have out there because he plays with a lot of passion and makes a lot of big plays for us. That's somebody we definitely need, and I think he really helped our defense get off to that great start today."

He did indeed. Mike Shanahan envisioned Meriweather as a player he could use in run support and in blitz packages, and Meriweather's all-around playmaking ability was indeed on display while he was on the field Sunday against the Eagles. Now, they'll go back to Reed Doughty at starting safety and try and figure out some other way to improve a pass defense that so far this season has ranked among the worst in the league.

Breakfast links: New brand of salsa?

October, 9, 2012
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Good morning and welcome to another Tuesday of chats, Power Rankings, knee-jerk reactions and all of those other assorted Tuesday goodies. We have so many set pieces on Tuesdays, I don't even feel like I have to think creatively. Heck, throw in an RG3 update and I should be good to go. It all starts, of course, with the links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Andy Reid has a good second-half record as Eagles coach. This time last year, his team was 1-4. So the fact that the Eagles haven't played their best football yet and are somehow 3-2 does not have Reid rattled. The day after the loss in Pittsburgh, Reid was authentically preaching calm.

Since no one can seem to figure out why Michael Vick is fumbling so much, Tim McManus tried to break down whether it's a technique problem. He seems to conclude that it's probably not, which means everyone's still looking for the answer.

New York Giants

The Giants' next game is against one of the toughest teams in the entire league, and they know this. But they played the 49ers tough in San Francisco twice last year, including a victory there in the NFC Championship Game, so if there's any team that isn't scared to go into Candlestick and face the 49ers, it's probably them.

Victor Cruz is scoring so many touchdowns these days that he's thinking about changing up some of his end zone dance moves just to keep things fresh. Filing this under "You know things are going well when _____."

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys expect to have nose tackle Jay Ratliff back for Sunday's game in Baltimore, which would help everything about their defense but I think especially the pass rush. The Cowboys don't have top-level players all over the field. They have them in several places, but they don't have so many that they don't miss one when he's out. And Ratliff should help them shore things up on defense.

Starting center Phil Costa is also back at practice, but the Cowboys are saying he's not assured of reclaiming his starting spot. They've had some problems with Ryan Cook and cadences, but they've been fairly happy with the way Cook has blocked. In his short time as a starter Costa has struggled in that area, so there's no reason he should get any assurances. What works in Costa's favor is that Cook has a hamstring injury.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins signed Brandon Meriweather to replace LaRon Landry at strong safety. They gave up on Landry because he couldn't stay healthy enough that they could rely on him to play week to week. To this point, as a result of variety of injuries that began in training camp and crescendoed with a pregame collision with teammate Aldrick Robinson in Week 4, Meriweather has not played a snap for Washington. He will be sidelined at least four more weeks. As you know, I do not think it was a mistake to let Landry go. However, this situation here is something we call "irony."

If the Redskins do indeed have to try out kickers today and think about replacing Billy Cundiff for missing too many field goals the past two weeks, Dan Daly writes that it's just a continuation of recent tradition. I don't know how to handicap this. If the Redskins think this is a real problem with Cundiff, he could be gone. If they can convince themselves it was just a couple of bad weeks, they could give him another attempt to prove himself. His proficiency on kickoffs matters to them and is the reason they got him in the first place, but they also assumed he'd make his 31-yard field goals.
Yeah, I have plenty to say about what happened to the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football," but that's for a little bit later this morning. For purposes of this post, all that matters is that the Cowboys are 2-2 and their 1-0 division record puts them in second place via tiebreakers, as you can see by the order of the links.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

Andy Reid says he's happy with the way Nnamdi Asomugha has performed in his time with the Eagles, and he points out (correctly) that cornerback is a position at which you're often judged by one or two mistakes. I think Asomugha has played fine this year. The issue is that, when the Eagles signed him last summer, he was hailed as one of the top two cornerbacks in the league, and he has not played to that level. But in terms of the first four games of this season, he's struggled some to stay with very fast wide receivers but has played the position well and has been a key part of an Eagles defense that has covered very well.

One area from Sunday night's victory in which the Eagles believe they can improve dramatically is in the area of kickoff coverage, where Giants rookie David Wilson shredded them all night. Perhaps a return from injury by Colt Anderson would shore things up.

Dallas Cowboys (2-2)

After throwing five interceptions in Monday Night's loss to the Bears, Tony Romo has now turned the ball over more times this year (10) than Michael Vick has (9). The first two interceptions Monday could be blamed on wide receivers. And if you wanted to be really generous, you could lay the third on the offensive line. But all five go on Romo's ledger, and he understands that it's his responsibility to make sure they don't happen.

The Cowboys defense played its worst game of the season Monday, though it's worth noting that they were without three starters, including outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who had to miss the game with a pectoral muscle injury.

Washington Redskins (2-2)

No, the Redskins will not be working out any potential Billy Cundiff replacements this week, Mike Shanahan says. Yes, Cundiff has to do better on field goals, but they're thrilled with his work so far on kickoffs, which was the primary reason they got him, and you don't cut a guy after one bad game. And hey, he made the one that mattered at the end, did he not?

Safety Brandon Meriweather, who ironically was signed as the replacement for the too-often-injured LaRon Landry, will miss at least one more week due to Sunday's pregame collision with wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. Meriweather still hasn't played a game for the Redskins after suffering a knee injury in the final week of the preseason.

New York Giants (2-2)

The great thing about Tom Coughlin is you always get the straight story. On Monday, he said he blamed himself for the poor playcalling that cost the Giants at the end of Sunday night's loss to the Eagles. And this didn't sound like the typical coach-trying-to-shield-players-from-blame. Coughlin felt this responsibility, and it ate at him.

The Giants are likely to be without one of their best defensive players for a little while, as safety Kenny Phillips was diagnosed with a sprained MCL in his knee and is likely to miss a few games as he recovers. Phillips is a key part of the Giants' run defense as well as their coverage units, and he will be difficult to replace.
It's been a little while, but I have not forgotten our attempt to look at each team in the division on a position-by-position basis. Today we're going to do safeties, and we're going to start with the Washington Redskins, who will have two new starters after cutting O.J. Atogwe and letting LaRon Landry leave in free agency.

Projected starters: Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams

Reserves: Tanard Jackson, DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty

Potential strength: They like the depth they have at the free safety spot, and they hope a training camp battle between Williams, Jackson and Gomes produces a high-quality starter. Williams has impressed Redskins coaches with his on-field and off-field intelligence, and the speed with which he's not only been able to pick up the scheme, but help others learn it as well. More than one Redskins coach during minicamp called Williams "a coach on the field." Jackson is a top talent who ran into trouble in Tampa Bay, and the Redskins hope a reunion with former Bucs coach Raheem Morris (who is now their secondary coach) can straighten him out and bring out the best in him. And Gomes is a young player they like as a potential starter down the road -- they just don't know how soon he'll be able to be that. Doughty is seen as a reliable backup who can play either safety spot if needed.

Potential weakness: When they signed Meriweather, the Redskins saw a guy who'd been miscast in the Bears' two-deep coverage schemes last season and could flourish in their more varied and complex coverages. Rather than play a traditional strong safety role, Meriweather in Washington will be asked to rush more, help out with blitzes and work as part of different combinations in the coverage schemes. It could work, but it could also backfire. This is still a guy who was cut by two teams last year. And while the Redskins might have themselves convinced it was a personality conflict that got him booted out of New England, and a poor scheme fit that made him ineffective in Chicago, it's possible the problem is with the player himself. And if he can't handle the job, all they have behind him right now is Doughty.

Keep an eye on: Jackson. He's four years younger than Williams, and if he keeps his focus on the field and plays the way he's capable of playing, he's probably the better player at this point in his career. The Redskins aren't skeptical about his ability. They just wonder if a guy with his off-field history is always going to have those problems, or if he can really be counted on to change. It's hard to say what they'd have to see to convince them they can trust him. But if he outplays Williams and doesn't fail any more drug tests along the way, he could see a lot of time in that Redskins' defensive backfield, and potentially be a major help at a position that's a question mark right now.
So John Clayton has this piece on the 10 best position battles brewing this summer between rookies and veterans in the NFL. I scrolled through it, thinking it would provide me with some material for a late-Friday afternoon post, and to my shock and dismay there wasn't one NFC East mention in the whole thing. Come on, John! Help a guy out, will ya?

Anyway, it got me thinking: There must be some interesting position battles to keep an eye on throughout the offseason and training camps in our division, right? I mean, some situations where things aren't yet set in stone? There are, and here's one for each team.

Dallas Cowboys' inside linebackers: Sean Lee is set at one of these spots, but the other will be interesting to watch. The team drafted Bruce Carter in the second round in 2011, and they believe he's part of their future on defense. But he was coming off an injury when they drafted him and played in just 10 games as a rookie, and they can't be sure he'll be ready to hold down a starter's spot full-time in 2012. So they went out on the free-agent market and signed Dan Connor, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to start next to Lee while Carter continues to acclimate himself to the pro game. The interesting aspect of this will be how good Carter looks in training camp and whether he can play well enough to demand to take reps and snaps away from Connor. The veteran, Connor, will start with the job, but Carter is the future there, and it's just a question of when he's ready.

New York Giants running backs: Ahmad Bradshaw is the unquestioned veteran starter, but he doesn't come without questions. Foot injuries have limited him over the past several seasons, and his good friend and veteran safety net, Brandon Jacobs, is off to San Francisco to play for the 49ers. Assuming Bradshaw won't be able to make it through the season fully healthy on a starter's workload, there are going to be plenty of snaps to go around. The question is how many of those snaps first-round pick David Wilson can steal from holdover youngsters like D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown (who's suspended for the first four games for drugs).

Philadelphia Eagles safeties: The team wants Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, its second-round picks from the 2010 and 2011 drafts, respectively, to be the starters. Of the two, they're more confident about Allen, who's had some injury issues but played well when healthy last season. They have him penciled in as a starter. Whether Jarrett can fight off Kurt Coleman for the other starting spot is one of the training-camp questions the Eagles will face. It's also possible they'll add a free-agent veteran to the mix, but they'd rather get the production they need from their young guys if they can.

Washington Redskins secondary: There are currently 15 defensive backs listed on the Redskins' roster, and it's safe to assume they can't all make the team. The question is which of them will play. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall would appear to be set as the starting cornerbacks, but the team did sign free agent Cedric Griffin, and intriguing undrafted free-agent cornerback Chase Minnifield will be a name to watch in the summer. The more interesting questions are at safety, where the Redskins lost starters LaRon Landry and O.J. Atowge and things are wide open. The guy they like the best for the future is 2011 draft pick DeJon Gomes, but while they view him as a starter at some point, they don't know yet whether that point is this year. Their free-agent safety signing list is a fascinating one, including Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson, any of whom c0uld emerge as a starter. Griffin also might have been brought in with an eye toward playing him at safety, and Reed Doughty was a valuable injury fill-in last season and could get a shot at more playing time in this crowded field. The Redskins appear to be installing an all-out competition for safety roles, and from here it's impossible to know who will play well enough to nail them down.
Our friends at ESPN 980 in Washington, D.C., report that free-agent safety Madieu Williams visited the Washington Redskins on Friday as the team continues to work to upgrade its secondary.

Williams isn't a perfect solution, but there aren't many of those at this point on the market. The Redskins cut O.J. Atogwe and lost LaRon Landry to free agency, so they're working to replace both of last year's starting safeties. They signed Brandon Meriweather and cornerback Cedric Griffin, who could be used at safety, but neither of those players fits the "center fielder" mold that would solidify the back end of their pass defense.

The Redskins like DeJon Gomes, whom they drafted last year, and hope he can develop into such a player. But in case he isn't ready to fill that role this year, expect the Redskins to look into stopgap veteran solutions such as Williams.

The Redskins will be unable to address the safety position early in the draft, as they're using their first-round pick on a quarterback and traded their second-round pick as part of the deal that got them their first-round pick and they also must find offensive line help. So they'll hope for Gomes to come along quickly and to patch the holes in the meantime with veteran free agents.

NFC East free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Dallas Cowboys

Key additions: CB Brandon Carr, S Brodney Pool, QB Kyle Orton, FB Lawrence Vickers, LB Dan Connor, G Nate Livings, G Mackenzy Bernadeau

Key losses: WR Laurent Robinson, TE Martellus Bennett, FB Tony Fiammetta, CB Terence Newman, G Kyle Kosier (cut)

"You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're all right": Rather than go big for the biggest names out there, the Cowboys took a more directed, focused approach to free agency this year. They did spend a lot to bring in Carr, but they had a glaring need at cornerback and they believed Carr was the best one on the market. The two guards were specifically targeted by Cowboys' scouts and new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and Connor was brought in to address a need at inside linebacker while 2011 draft pick Bruce Carter continues to develop.

The only loss that they didn't upgrade is that of Robinson, who signed with the Jaguars after coming out of nowhere to catch 11 touchdown passes from Tony Romo in 2011. The Cowboys will hope that one of the young receivers on their roster fills that No. 3 wide receiver role, or that they can catch lightning in a bottle again this year as they did with Robinson last year. They could miss Kosier's leadership on the offensive line, but he was getting old and injured and they needed to keep getting younger on the line.

What's next: While they'll keep an eye out for a bargain-bin receiver to replace Robinson, and they could try and find another tight end to replace Bennett, the Cowboys' main focus the rest of this offseason is likely to be on defense. They could add to the safety or cornerback mix in the draft or with another free agent. They'll keep looking to upgrade the pass rush, either with another outside linebacker or a defensive lineman. Those are the likely areas in which the Cowboys will focus their efforts in the draft.

Otherwise, it's going to be about sorting things out, especially on the offensive line. They need to find a pair of starting guards from a group that includes the two newcomers and the two youngsters -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- they drafted last year. Training camp should help sort out what needs to be sorted out on the offensive side of the ball. The draft will be for adding more pieces to Rob Ryan's defense.

New York Giants

Key additions: TE Martellus Bennett

Key losses: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, CB Aaron Ross, T Kareem McKenzie

"Reason to believe": The Giants don't like to make big free-agent splashes, and since they're up against the salary cap they also have little choice. But their second Super Bowl title in five years should help ease any concerns fans might have about if they're doing enough in the offseason. The Giants' way is to establish fair prices for the positions they need to fill and to be patient until they find players willing to play for their number. They'd have loved to have Jacobs or Manningham or Ross back, but not for the kind of money those guys found in free agency. They'd love to have linebacker Jonathan Goff and defensive end Dave Tollefson back, but if they get big-money deals elsewhere, the Giants will let them go too.

They targeted Bennett right away and signed him on the second day of free agency, since they saw in him a young talent at a position where they lost two players to major knee injuries in the Super Bowl. And they re-signed cornerback Terrell Thomas and punter Steve Weatherford, two of their offseason priorities. But since then, the Giants have been quiet, content that they have a good, deep, championship roster and willing to let the market come to them.

What's next: The areas of concern, if there are any for the Giants, are linebacker and offensive line. And if Goff comes back, they like what they have at linebacker with the incumbents and last year's rookies. With McKenzie leaving, they could move David Diehl from left tackle to right tackle, but they'll still need to add depth at tackle as they look to the future on the offensive line.

There remains the chance that the Giants could trade defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who was disgruntled about his contract this time last year and now only has one year to go. If they did that, they could move Mathias Kiwanuka from linebacker back to his old pass-rushing spot on the line. But the Giants would have to be really blown away by an offer to move Umenyiora, who has relaxed a great deal about his contract situation and said he'd like to stay.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key additions: LB DeMeco Ryans (trade), G Mike Gibson

Key losses: DE Juqua Parker, WR Steve Smith, QB Vince Young

"We take care of our own": The Eagles' focus so far this offseason has been internal. They extended the contracts of right tackle Todd Herremans and defensive end Trent Cole, signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson to a long-term deal and re-signed free-agent guard Evan Mathis. The Eagles believe last year's team was a good roster that underachieved, and they basically are taking a mulligan and hoping it works this time.

The one exception is a big one -- the trade that brought them Ryans from Houston in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. The Eagles were pitifully weak at linebacker last year, and that weakness hurt their otherwise successful implementation of the "Wide 9" defensive line formation. They could get to the passer with their front four, but teams were able to attack the middle of their defense at will. The addition of Ryans, a veteran middle linebacker who was a productive tackler and beloved leader with the Texans, should help solve a lot of those problems.

What's next: There remains a strong chance the Eagles will trade cornerback Asante Samuel before or during the draft. They can afford to do so because they'd still be left with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as starting cornerbacks and the underrated Joselio Hanson at nickel corner. Other than that, the Eagles figure to be fairly quiet the rest of the way.

They're most likely to use their first-round pick on a defensive player, though Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who'd be a great addition, now looks likely to be gone by the time they pick at No. 15. So they could pick up another veteran linebacker and use the draft to add to their defensive line rotation. It's also likely they add a veteran safety and a veteran running back to back up LeSean McCoy, who's next in line for a new contract.

Washington Redskins

Key additions: WR Pierre Garcon, WR Josh Morgan, CB Cedric Griffin, S Brandon Meriweather

Key losses: S O.J. Atogwe (cut), S LaRon Landry, WR Donte' Stallworth

"When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band": The Redskins' biggest move of the offseason was the draft-picks trade they made with the Rams, sending three first-round picks and a second-round pick to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. That pick ensures that Washington, which has been looking for a franchise quarterback for a couple of decades, will be in position to take one of the two quarterbacks in this year's draft that projects as a franchise guy. They're most likely getting Baylor's Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner who's got Redskins fans in a tizzy already.

The Redskins' first big moves when free agency opened were aimed at building a new offense for their rookie quarterback to run. Garcon and Morgan are, the Redskins believe, receivers with big-play talent who will fit well into the offense they like to run. The other two big additions -- Griffin and Meriwether -- were brought in to beef up the secondary, which lost its two starting safeties. It's possible Griffin could play safety, though he played cornerback in Minnesota.

What's next: The Redskins continue to try to re-sign veteran linebacker London Fletcher, and they're confident they can do that. They also want to bring back running back Tim Hightower, assuming he's recovered from his ACL injury, and they're in talks with him about doing just that. If they fail in either or both of those efforts, they'll need backup plans, as they'll lack depth at running back and inside linebacker.

Washington still could stand to add to its secondary and find help for the offensive line. Right tackle Jammal Brown has injury problems, and the team is looking for a better option. Demetrius Bell remains on the market and is a player Washington likes for that right tackle spot.
Busy Tuesday upcoming here on the blog. You know things are cookin' when there's a post up before the links. We'll have a chat at noon ET, as we do each week, and plenty more goodies coming your way as the first full week of free agency wraps up with work still to be done for all four of our teams. Keep it right here for all your NFC East needs. Including, of course, your morning links.

Dallas Cowboys

ESPNDallas.com's draft preview series focuses on Wisconsin's Peter Konz, who's the No. 1 center in the draft and actually what the Cowboys really need on the offensive line but might be a reach, value-wise, at No. 14 in the first round. Lots of people calling for the Cowboys to take Stanford guard David DeCastro with that pick, but center was a real weak spot last year and they have quite a number of guards on the roster all of a sudden. I wonder if it makes sense to deal back and try to get a center.

Mac Engel thinks the Cowboys should trade for Tim Tebow. I think Mac's argument is unsound. It is based, as are so many unsound Cowboys-related argument, on the tired premise that "Yeah, Tony Romo is really good, but they haven't won with him," as though Romo were supposed to magically appear on the field and tackle the Giants fullbacks who were all jumping over Terence Newman on New Year's Day. The Cowboys have a plan, and it appears to be a good one, and I can't see a legitimate way in which Tebow fits into it. Especially if he's going to cost draft picks.

New York Giants

Victor Cruz has a new agent, but Mike Garafolo cautions us not to worry that this means he'll make an ugly scene about his contract anytime soon. Cruz would like to make more money and cash in on the monster year he just had, and he's said as much publicly. But the Giants have told him he must wait in line behind more pressing priorities, and he seems content to do that.

After having training camp in East Rutherford, N.J., last year due to the lockout, the Giants will return to their regular training camp home in Albany, N.Y., this year, and Albany is psyched.

Philadelphia Eagles

So, while we're on the topic, Rich Hofmann thinks the Eagles would be wise to at least consider Tebow. He's not the first to bring this up, and while I maintain that the Eagles don't need to throw the Tebow circus on top of everything else they already have going on this year, you can't entirely rule out the possibility that they do it anyway, against my sage advice. You know Andy Reid is always at least intrigued when a new quarterback hits the market, and the people who run the Eagles are thorough enough that they've surely at least discussed how it might work. I dispute the notion that Tebow could plug right into the Eagles' offense because he's left-handed and likes to run and is therefore a similar player to Michael Vick. I do not think they are, in fact, similar players, and I believe the Eagles would have to totally overhaul their offense if Vick were to suffer an injury and Tebow had to play. But look at it this way: Nobody imagined the Eagles signing Vick three years ago when he got out of jail, and once they did, no one could figure out how they planned to use him. So, stranger things have happened -- and worked out all right -- with the Eagles.

The re-signing of guard Evan Mathis is a popular move among Eagles fans, and not just because of how well Mathis played in 2011. The fans also like Mathis' personality.

Washington Redskins

Mark Maske reports that the Redskins are considering challenging the NFL's decision to strip them of $36 million in salary-cap room due to the way they structured contracts in the uncapped 2010 season. The challenge would be through arbitration, not through an antitrust lawsuit, and Mark reports that the Cowboys (who lost $10 million in cap space for the same ridiculous reason) could join them in seeking arbitration. I still don't know if they'll do this, or how likely it would be to work given the way the CBA is worded. But it's clear the Redskins are upset, as they should be, and haven't yet let this go, as they shouldn't.

John Keim thinks back to the early days of LaRon Landry's time in Washington, when he and the late Sean Taylor looked as though they'd make for one of the most fearsome safety tandems in the league, and wonders what might have been.

Our last LaRon Landry post

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
5:05
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Somebody asked me on Twitter what the Washington Redskins offered safety LaRon Landry to try and keep him. I was a little bit surprised by the question, because there's no reason to believe the Redskins offered Landry anything. When I visited the Redskins in December, it was clear the team had grown tired of wondering from week to week whether Landry was going to play and that they didn't plan to offer him any real guaranteed money. Once it became clear there was a market for his services, it also became clear that the Redskins were fine with letting him leave.

Landry
Leave he did, agreeing to terms with the Jets on a one-year, $4 million deal, which doesn't sound like very much, especially if not all of that money is guaranteed. So the Redskins surely could have brought him back if they'd wanted to. But the key thing for Redskins fans to understand is that they didn't. Landry is an injured player. He's not "a player with a history of injuries." He's not "a player who comes with injury concerns." He is a player that his currently injured.

The same Achilles tendon injury has, for the past two years, been restricting not just his playing time but also his effectiveness in the rare games in which he does play. For the second straight offseason, in spite of it not working last year, Landry has refused to get the doctor-recommended surgery to fix the injury. Everybody remembers how great Landry was as a fearsome hitter early in his career. This is a guy who was the sixth pick in the draft just five years ago, for goodness' sake. His talent is not in question. What is in question is his ability to actually suit up and play every week, and the Redskins were tired of having to keep asking the question.

ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, in the above link, puts it very well, calling Landry "a once-feared defensive player trying to revitalize his career on a once-feared defense." Jets coach Rex Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum have a track record of falling in love with big names, so it's no surprise that that's where Landry ended up. And for the Jets, the chance that Landry magically gets healthy and plays at something close to his early-career level is probably worth the risk. The Redskins had decided that it wasn't anymore. And they decided it long before today.

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