NFC East: Lorenzo Alexander
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
The formula is based on players lost and gained in free agency the previous season. Washington lost Lorenzo Alexander. He was a Pro Bowl special teamer for them, but not a full-time player from scrimmage. He only played parts of three games for Arizona before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury. The Redskins signed cornerback E.J. Biggers.
According to the NFL’s release, “a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks…. Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.”
Dallas received three compensatory picks, all in the seventh round. The New York Giants received a fifth-round selection.
Philadelphia did not get any. Baltimore and the New York Jets tied for most received with four.
Washington has received only 12 compensatory draft choices since the NFL started awarding them in 1994. Only New Orleans, Denver, Houston and Cleveland have received fewer.
The area I wouldn’t say needs repair? Leadership. Which is why it was surprising to hear what Redskins Hall of Famer Darrell Green said the other day, questioning not only Robert Griffin III, but London Fletcher as well.
“I don’t know if they have a leader,” Green said on Showtime’s Inside the NFL this week.
Now, Green has a terrific perspective as a Hall of Famer and someone who played a long time and played the right way. He led as much by example, how he took care of his body and withstood numerous changes to the staff and the game to survive as long as he did. Green still occasionally talks to players, but he's not in the building or around the team that much. That in and of itself doesn't make his comments wrong. And I certainly can see why some outside the organization can view things differently. Griffin made some P.R. missteps in the offseason and the summer with comments that could, if reading between the lines, be damaging.
But when you talk to players, they don’t question his leadership. Just the opposite. They’ll point to how he prepares and how he plays and how he’s willing to say things to the group. He doesn’t duck from the responsibilities of his position or standing on the team. There are times he won’t speak on controversial topics, though that doesn't necessarily make you a leader, and other times he might not want to admit a failing or a play he did wrong. I think he'll always need to be careful balancing the attention he receives without coming across a certain way in the locker room. But even after an offseason of attention and much focus on him, players who don't hang around him still view him as a leader.
He’s not an in-your-face guy who is going to threaten someone if they don’t play better. It’s not his style. If that’s what someone wants, they have the wrong guy.
But the players he’s with view him as a leader. They want to follow him because they also know he lives what he says about work, and that he’ll do what it takes to win. Hence the dives in traffic each of the past two games. He can improve as a leader, but he is a leader and it does not seem unnatural for him at all.
Green also said Fletcher’s age prevents him from being the sort of leader the Redskins need. Green played a long time, so he has a unique perspective and felt he was not the same leader when he was older. But again, I disagree that it means Fletcher isn’t as well. Fletcher’s play hasn’t been the same this season; I’m not breaking news with that comment. However, Green was not the same sort of leader that Fletcher has been throughout his career. Green was highly respected, no doubt. But it’s tough for corners to be true leaders. Green was never considered a coach on the field. Like Fletcher.
No player is thought of the same way by everyone in the locker room. There will be some who dislike a guy or think he’s just out for himself. It’s true of many players I’ve covered. But Fletcher remains a voice players listen to. In the end, leadership also is about making plays, and if you say that’s where Fletcher hasn’t led this season, that’s fine. But I haven’t seen or sensed a big drop-off in this area in the locker room since last season.
The Redskins do miss former special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But it's his play as much as anything that they miss most. Despite being 3-6, the Redskins haven’t changed their approach. What they need are more playmakers who can change their record.
That much was obvious. And it was obvious watching the Redskins this summer that Orakpo makes a difference, even if he's not the one getting the sack. No pass-rusher in 2012 could set up anyone else the way Orakpo did the previous year. That will help the interior rushers, Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield in particular, as lines really can only double-team one of them. Otherwise, they risk leaving Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in one-on-one situations on the outside. Or they'll have to commit extra blockers. That means fewer receivers for the secondary to cover -- and, with more four-man rushes, more to help in coverage. It sounds good on paper, at least.
One number stands out from the past two seasons, with and without Orakpo: The Redskins had 41 sacks out of 509 pass attempts in 2011; they had 32 in 636 pass attempts in 2012. It should be noted, too, that losing Adam Carriker hurt after his 5.5-sack season of 2011, especially from the base package (his replacement, Jarvis Jenkins, had zero sacks). But the guy the coaches really missed in these situations was Orakpo.
Base package: The Redskins recorded 15 sacks from their base package in 2011 but only seven from that look a year ago (all without Orakpo). And of those 15 sacks in 2011, Orakpo recorded one on his own but had a hand in six others, whether from drawing a double-team, applying pressure or by freeing up LaRon Landry on a blitz to his side. Orakpo dropped into coverage five times. So, of the 10 times they recorded a sack from the base package, he helped 70 percent of the time.
Four-man pressures: Once again, a substantial difference. In 2012, the Redskins recorded a sack from a four-man look 14 times, with two other sacks from a three-man rush. They did not get a sack from a three-man rush in 2011, but they did get 22 of their 41 sacks from a four-man rush.
Basic looks: I don't think this will be repeated in 2013, mainly because Kerrigan is more versatile, but: In 2011, of the 41 sacks, Kerrigan and Orakpo were aligned at their usual spots on 29 occasions. Orakpo lined up in a four-point stance on nine sacks and Kerrigan did so three times. Orakpo recorded six sacks when he was either in a four-point stance or aligned somewhere other than as a right outside linebacker. Last season Kerrigan had to move around more, playing Orakpo's role. It helped him because he could rush inside or at a guard. But now having two such players adds to the defensive package. Last year, the Redskins could move Kerrigan around, but having two such players makes the defense more versatile.
"It keeps offenses on their heels," Kerrigan said. "That allows us more versatility in our defense, and having Rak and I have the ability to play multiple positions is good because everything is so well-disguised."
Games: It also made a difference in how they got the sack. In 2011, the Redskins did not get many sacks off a stunt (I counted only four, in fact). In 2012, I counted at least 10 sacks that occurred on a play in which the Redskins stunted or used some sort of game. They were also forced to be more creative in where they placed guys, especially Kerrigan and inside linebacker Perry Riley. Both of them moved around a decent amount in 2012.
That’s not to say the Redskins did not have success running a game with Orakpo and Bowen. They did. One such action resulted in a sack by Bowen. On the play, against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, Orakpo was aligned over the center about three yards back with Bowen at right end. At the snap, Orakpo ran directly at the outside shoulder of the left guard as Bowen took two steps upfield. Orakpo also caught enough of the tackle to allow Bowen to head inside for a sack.
“When [Bowen] first got here, we used to always talk,” Orakpo said. “He worked with DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and that made it easy with me. We have the same qualities as far as our get off and making things happen. Stephen was used to having a guy on the side like that. He used to tell me what DeMarcus would do to set stuff and I would tell him things. We meshed well together. That’s why he was able to have a great year and I had a good year as well.”
Ware and Orakpo don’t rush exactly the same. Orakpo said Ware has longer arms and uses that to his advantage, whereas Orakpo is more apt to use both hands. Still, he and Bowen clicked because their steps were in sync.
“I’ve been looking forward to Brian coming back,” Bowen said. “We developed a chemistry the year before so we’re trying to build off that.”
It was evident this summer how the two could help one another. On the first sack of the summer against Tennessee, Bowen initially drew the attention of the left guard and center. The guard quickly moved off to help the left tackle. But Orakpo had gone wide, leaving the guard blocking no one. Meanwhile, Bowen collapsed the middle and Kerrigan swooped in from the other side of a narrowing pocket for the sack.
On another rush this summer, Bowen slanted directly at the outside shoulder of the guard. Why is that important? It forced the guard to engage and left Orakpo with a one-on-one situation. More pressure -- and a way to do so minus always sending extra rushers.
They can do that by moving Kerrigan around, pairing him next to Orakpo, as they started to do two years ago and also tried this summer (though they had more success with Orakpo and Bowen on the same side).
“On third-and-long that tackle will be fixated on [Orakpo] so you might be able to accomplish a stunt inside that you wouldn’t be able to do without that edge presence,” Cofield said. “When you have outstanding edge guys, that makes the inside guys’ job better.”
A look at the one move each team in the NFC East needed to make but didn't.
Dallas Cowboys: Upgrade at right tackle. The Cowboys believe they improved their offensive line with the first-round draft selection of center Travis Frederick, and they may be right. But the problem is the line needed more help than that. Instead of getting the disappointing Doug Free to take a pay cut and stay, the Cowboys could have explored other options, such as using another early-round pick on a tackle or signing one of the veterans (Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston) who were cut during free agency. Cap issues were one factor, but basically the Cowboys seemed content with the idea of a right tackle platoon or training camp competition between Free and Jermey Parnell. They claim the platoon of that pair worked well late last season, but it's likely the right tackle's play looked good only in comparison to Free's terrible first-half performance.
New York Giants: Anything of consequence at linebacker. Sure, they brought back Keith Rivers. Yawn. And they signed Dan Connor. Double yawn. And they took a chance on Aaron Curry, who was once one of the top prospects in the league but has already washed out with two teams. Interesting, but certainly not a confidence-boosting sign. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of their starting linebackers the past two years, will move back up to defensive end to help replace Osi Umenyiora, who left as a free agent. And there are some young guys the Giants brought in as rookies two years ago who may be good enough to play or start. The Giants feel they got stronger up front at defensive tackle and never mind spending on defensive backs, but the middle of the field remains a weakness for them against offenses that are willing to exploit it. Some guys are going to have to outperform expectations at linebacker in 2013.
Philadelphia Eagles: Spend some money on the secondary. The Eagles were the only NFC East team that had cap room to burn. Even though they needed to improve all four starting positions in the secondary, they chose to go the economic route, bringing in uninspiring cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung. Former Giant Kenny Phillips is a premium talent at safety, but they got him inexpensively as well, and the reason is a chronic knee problem that could keep him from ever playing for them. New coach Chip Kelly was looking for physical cornerbacks with the ability to tackle, which is fine, and I can understand that the Eagles felt burned by the way the Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moves of two years ago worked out. But the moves at defensive back feel like half-measures, and you get the feeling they'll be looking to upgrade the same spots next year. This was a team that should have at least looked into trading for Darrelle Revis, though it would have been hard to justify giving up the No. 4 overall pick in the draft for him.
Washington Redskins: Get Pierre Garcon's foot fixed. This one is on Garcon, of course. The team can't force a player to have surgery if he doesn't want to have surgery. Garcon did have a procedure to repair a shoulder problem, which is good, but it was the torn ligament in his foot that bothered him last season, cost him six games and is at risk of flaring up again if rest didn't cure it completely. Garcon was a hugely valuable part of the Redskins' offense as Robert Griffin III's No. 1 wide receiver. Everyone has heard that the Redskins were 9-1 in regular-season games in which Garcon played. The Redskins' cap problems prevented them from improving the secondary or the offensive line and from keeping special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But when they look back on this offseason, their biggest regret may be that Garcon didn't get the foot surgery he needed.
Rich Campbell of the Washington Times has a story about the scheme changes on special teams under new coordinator Keith Burns. Example:
Tight end Niles Paul, Washington’s third-leading special teams tackler last season behind Alexander and Reed Doughty, explained how Burns has assigned those on the kickoff coverage team different responsibilities than they had under Smith.
As a result, the Redskins will have four “people coming in hot to the ball making the play” instead of the two they had last season.
“It’s different rules,” Paul said. “You’re in different areas. Now I have the freedom to kind of roam, so I’m loving that one.”
Should be interesting to watch and see what the differences are, especially for those fans who were quick to criticize Smith for the Redskins' poor results on special teams. But I still think special teams more often than not comes down to individual effort, and for that reason I expect that Alexander's departure will have a greater impact than that of Smith. Alexander was the unit's inspirational leader, hardest worker and most serious and devoted practitioner. Doubtless, the players who played special teams with Alexander will continue to play the way he helped teach and inspire them to play. But it remains to be seen whether the Redskins' special teams unit can replace Alexander's production and energy.
So far this offseason, the Redskins have released and re-signed DeAngelo Hall, signed E.J. Biggers and openly pursued other cornerback help, most recently bringing in veteran Quentin Jammer for a visit. With the second and third rounds of the draft tonight and cornerback a deep position group from which the Redskins should be able to select, it's certainly conceivable that Wilson became convinced a pay cut now was preferable to being cut in the next few days or weeks. But he's one of many Redskins players to reduce their salaries and stay with the team this offseason, including Hall, Santana Moss, Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather.
The Redskins are dealing this offseason with $18 million worth of salary-cap penalties left over from last year's league-imposed discipline for their spending behavior during the uncapped 2010 season. But they've managed to keep almost everyone they wanted to keep from their 2012 division-champion roster. Linebacker and special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander has been their only significant defection to this point.
That's all from me on this, because honestly what more is there to say? You may now enjoy your daily football links.
New York Giants
Victor Cruz wasn't present for the first day of the Giants' offseason workout program, but fellow star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was and said he felt great after a year in which he was limited by leg injuries. A healthy Nicks would obviously be a huge help to the Giants, both in their negotiations with Cruz and, of course, on the field of play.
Ohm Youngmisuk wonders whether the Giants will consider breaking with tradition and taking an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft nine days from now. I wonder the same, since it would seem to make so much sense for them if it didn't run counter to their organizational philosophy about the value of first-round picks.
Howie Roseman calls this year's draft a "meat and potatoes" draft, which he says is a good thing because building through the lines is the right way to go. I don't know anyone who feels confident predicting the Eagles' pick with any certainty, but you do start to get the feeling it will be a lineman of one sort or the other.
The Eagles are one of many teams who are finding it important to look beyond the traditional methods of evaluating draft picks in the social media era.
The way the Redskins decided to deal with their salary cap problems this year was to realize they had a 10-6 division champion team and worry more about keeping that together than adding a bunch of new pieces from the outside.
The one player the Redskins really wanted to keep and couldn't this offseason was special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. Mike Wise writes that Alexander will be missed for a wide variety of very good reasons.
The change to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin has the Cowboys evaluating linebackers differently for this year's draft than they had in past years.
The Cowboys are likely to address the running back position at some point in this draft, as Felix Jones is moving on and they need someone reliable behind DeMarco Murray. They have quite a number of different options.
Hall is not without his flaws as a cornerback, but the Redskins know him and like him and have seen him have success in their defensive system. They prefer to sign younger free agents to longer-term deals, but their salary cap problems this year have limited their ability to do that, and their best option in the secondary at this point is to sign a veteran to a one-year deal and then address the situation in a longer-term way next offseason. They courted free-agent cornerback Antoine Winfield, and some reports Monday night were saying they were still in the running for his services, but it's hard to imagine how they can pay him and Hall.
Assuming no further additions at corner, it's likely they'd use Hall and Josh Wilson as starters as they did last year and that Hall would move inside to cover slot receivers when opponents go to three-receiver sets, with E.J. Biggers filling the outside cornerback role Cedric Griffin filled last year. They still need to find a free safety (a role for which I actually think Hall would be well suited if he'd be willing to make the move), but it's likely they'll address that need in the draft later this month. They don't have a first-round pick, but most draft analysts believe the draft is deep at safety and that starters will be available in the second round.
What's remarkable at this point about the Redskins' offseason is how little they've lost from their 10-6 division champion team. With Hall back, reserve linebacker and special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander is the only significant loss they have suffered in free agency. Part of the reason is that the market didn't take off the way guys like Hall or tight end Fred Davis may have hoped it would, and another part of the reason is that they were able to convince several of their current players and restricted free agents to do deals that helped them fit others under the cap.
But in the end, Davis decided to return to the Washington Redskins on a one-year deal, which is the way it looked as though it would go all along and is the best thing for him and for the Redskins. According to John Keim, Buffalo's offer was a two-year deal (such as they are in the NFL) and could have been worth $700,000 more than the Redskins offered.
So why didn't Davis jump? Well, the Bills don't currently have a real NFL starting quarterback and are petitioning the league to allow them to use one of those Jugs machines (you know, with the two spinning rubber wheels, where you put the football in and it kind of shoots out?) in games instead. That appeal is unlikely to work, which means Tarvaris Jackson (or, more likely, a drafted rookie) will be throwing the passes in Buffalo this year. And Davis, coming off an Achilles injury and looking to put up big receiving numbers to prove himself and get a better deal next year, is better off catching passes from Robert Griffin III and/or Kirk Cousins.
This is a very good re-sign for the Redskins, who have had salary-cap problems this offseason as a result of league-impose penalties but have nonetheless been able to retain a good number of the free-agent players from their 2012 NFC East title team. They had to cut starting cornerback DeAngelo Hall, and reserve linebacker and special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander signed with Arizona, but everyone else they wanted to keep they have kept. Should Davis make a full recovery from his injury, he'll be a valuable passing-game weapon for the Redskins this year and will put himself in a position to really cash in this time next year. At that point, the Redskins will have cap room to offer him the deal he seeks.
So this is a win for both sides. The Redskins get back a player they wanted to keep. Davis got to dip his toe into free agency and still ended up back where he belongs. Sometimes these things take longer than the fans want them to, but this one all worked out in the end.
Glaring holes remain unfilled in the secondary. A couple of valued veterans were cut or allowed to leave. They can't sign their tight end. A massive salary-cap penalty imposed by the league a year ago has paralyzed the Redskins' offseason, and so far they've been ... patient? Practical? Smart about the way they've handled it?
The Redskins are being all of these things. In March? Brave new world, indeed.
I asked Shanahan last week at the owners meetings in Phoenix whether his plan was to keep the cap-penalty issue a one-year problem -- to take a few hits this year but avoid trying to solve the problem by restructuring player contracts and pushing money back into future years. His answer was "I think so, yes," which meant that was his preference but that he can't rule out an odious restructuring or two depending on circumstances and need. Shanahan is on record as opposing that too-common NFL practice of solving today's cap problems by creating future ones. The Redskins used to do it quite liberally, but since Shanahan arrived they've responsibly avoided it. So while restructuring with someone like Pierre Garcon or Trent Williams or Chris Chester or Barry Cofield might help the Redskins fill those holes at safety and cornerback or re-sign Fred Davis, Shanahan prefers to keep that to last-resort territory.
This was not an easy decision to make, nor is it an easy one with which to live. The Redskins are furious about the $18 million in cap penalties they were assessed in each of the past two offseasons for their spending behavior during the uncapped 2010 season. They huffed and puffed and threatened to sue, as people do when they feel they've been wronged but know they have no recourse. They held out real (if unrealistic) hope that the league would cut them a break and give them some of the money back. They tried being nasty about it and they tried being nice. But none of it worked, and so here they are.
DeAngelo Hall (cap cut) and Lorenzo Alexander (signed with Arizona) are the only two players so far they wanted to keep and could not. They managed to hold onto starters like Darrel Young, Kory Lichtensteiger and Tyler Polumbus. They talked some veterans into helpful, this-year-only restructures that involved pay cuts or converting guaranteed money into incentive clauses. They signed a free-agent cornerback, E.J. Biggers, who fills a need even if he's only a No. 3.
The Redskins have managed to operate, under difficult circumstances, in a manner that allows them to believe they can defend their title as long as Robert Griffin III can get back on the field following knee surgery. They haven't done anything exciting, because they haven't been able to. But the fact that they've chosen to handle this situation in a prudent and responsible manner -- and the fact that Snyder hasn't stepped in and commanded anyone to do otherwise -- is a strong indication that the Redskins' franchise is in a much better place than it was three years ago.
Things run coolly and intelligently in Ashburn these days. Even when the people in charge have a ready-made excuse to veer from the plan, they appear determined not to do so. And if you're a Redskins fan frustrated by the lack of offseason activity, that has to give you confidence about the direction of the franchise and the way it's being run.
A look at whether each NFC East team has been a winner or a loser in free agency:
Dallas Cowboys: Loser. The only significant free-agent move the Cowboys have made is the franchising of Anthony Spencer, who will be one of the starting defensive ends in their new 4-3 defensive alignment. Even if you like that move, you have to acknowledge that its $10.6 million cost has worked as a detriment for a team that had no cap room to start with. The Cowboys still need a lot of help on the offensive line and at safety but have been unable to maneuver around the cap. Their inability so far to reach agreement on a long-term deal with quarterback Tony Romo -- a move that would reduce his 2013 cap cost -- has also deprived them of the ability to address needs so far. The Cowboys haven't lost any significant pieces in free agency, but a lack of flexibility compounded by $5 million in leftover cap penalties has kept them from adding where they need to add.
New York Giants: Winner. I mean, not in the same way that teams like the Seahawks or the Chiefs have been winners, but in their own, Giant-like way. Replacing tight end Martellus Bennett with Brandon Myers at low cost, re-signing left tackle Will Beatty before the market opened, signing Keith Rivers and Dan Connor at linebacker ... nothing that's going to knock your socks off, but some targeted, low-financial-impact moves designed to keep the program winning. The Giants still could turn out to be losers if they don't do at least some work on the offensive line. And I think it's possible they'll end up missing safety Kenny Phillips more than they think. But to this point, they're operating their offseason the way they like to operate it. Low-key but productive.
Philadelphia Eagles: Winner. Again, we're operating on a curve here. This division in general has not been the league's most exciting since the start of the free-agency period. But the Eagles have added two starting safeties (Patrick Chung and Phillips, on a low-risk/high-reward deal), two starting cornerbacks (Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher), pass-rusher Connor Barwin, a versatile fullback/tight end type in James Casey and a big, 24-year-old wide receiver in Arrelious Benn. The Eagles still have plenty of cap room with which to pursue the right tackle they need, and they've addressed enough positions to allow them flexibility with the No. 4 pick in next month's draft. No one can predict how their new additions will play, but they do seem to have targeted and acquired the players they wanted.
Washington Redskins: Loser. They've actually done well to hold together as much of their division-champion team as they have, considering the $18 million in cap penalties they're still dealing with this year. But they had to cut cornerback DeAngelo Hall, lost special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, and have yet to re-sign tight end Fred Davis. More importantly, though, they still have major needs in the secondary and have been unable to land the free safety or the starting cornerback they need. E.J. Biggers is probably better as a No. 3 cornerback, though at this point he may project as one of their starters. The good thing is that the safety and cornerback market still has lots of options, and the prices aren't going up. But the Redskins have no first-round pick next month, so they have some challenges ahead.
New York Giants
Eli Manning says he'd be willing to restructure his contract if it helped the team work out a long-term deal with Victor Cruz. It's a nice sentiment, since Manning's cap number this year is $20.85 million. The problem is that his cap number is right around $20 million in each of the next two years, too, and it's hard to see the Giants wanting to add to that.
Free-agent defensive end Osi Umenyiora is drawing interest from the Atlanta Falcons, who could use them as their John Abraham replacement.
Chip Kelly says he doesn't think it's impossible for an NFL team to succeed without a franchise quarterback. This is what NFL coaches say when they do not have a franchise quarterback. Someday, perhaps, Kelly will have one, and he will likely speak of this time as difficult for that lack.
Kelly also said he believes he'll have left tackle Jason Peters healthy for the start of the team's offseason program in April. Peters missed the 2012 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon twice last summer.
It looks as though Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson is going to miss the first four games of the 2013 season on a drug suspension. Disappointing news for a linebacking corps that has already lost reserve Lorenzo Alexander to free agency.
With the team struggling to maneuver around a tight salary cap, it was somewhat surprising that veteran wide receiver Santana Moss was not among the cuts. Mike Shanahan explained Wednesday what went into the decision to bring Moss back for another year instead of pocket the savings.
People make all kinds of cracks when we write about the contract extension Tony Romo is about to get from the Cowboys. But Jean-Jacques Taylor writes that having to replace Romo wouldn't be as enjoyable an experience as some Cowboys fans sometimes seem to think.
As he enters his third full season as their head coach, Jason Garrett says it finally feels as though the Cowboys have his stamp on them from top to bottom.
It's a good move for the Redskins, whose cap problems prevent them from playing in the deep end of the free-agent tackle pool with guys like Andre Smith and Sebastian Vollmer. Polumbus was something of a surprise as he turned into a reliable starter in place of the perpetually injured Jammal Brown. And while he's not perfect, if you can't upgrade, why not bring back a guy who's been successful in your system?
As we've mentioned a few times here, the Redskins did go 10-6 and win the NFC East last year, so holding together their 2012 roster isn't a terrible idea on its face. To this point, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and reserve linebacker/special teamer Lorenzo Alexander are the only players they wanted to keep and haven't been able to keep. Tight end Fred Davis remains a free agent they're hoping to re-sign.
Mike Wise is of the opinion that the Redskins have themselves to blame for the salary-cap penalties the league imposed on them a year ago. And while I think what the league did was ridiculous and inexcusable, Mike's point is one I've also made and is worth considering as everybody remains so angry about it. The Redskins and the Cowboys didn't do what they did to take a stand against the league-endorsed collusion that was going on. They did it to try to gain a competitive advantage. That's what ticked off the management council and led to the penalties. And while it's crazy to think that spending behavior in an uncapped season could be subject to discipline, there are no "good guys" in this mess. The Redskins and Cowboys are victims, and this should not have happened to them. But they are not innocent victims. This whole thing was a mess, and no one has reason to be proud of anything they did.
To help fill the void left by Lorenzo Alexander's free-agent defection to Arizona, the Redskins re-signed linbacker Bryan Kehl, who'll presumably take on a little more responsibility as a backup and special-teamer.
New York Giants
Aaron Ross says he always had it in his mind that he would return someday to the Giants, who were happy to welcome him back to their secondary after a year away in Jacksonville.
John Mara hopes the fact that Victor Cruz's new agent is the same one Eli Manning has helps lead to a new deal with the Giants' dynamic slot receiver. But we all know that what Mara's hoping is that Cruz's new agent talks Cruz into accepting what the Giants want to pay him, right?
Teams can have as many as 30 pre-draft visits with prospective draft picks, and one of the guys the Cowboys are having in is Alabama guard Chance Warmack. I believe this would be their dream pick at No. 18 in the first round -- a blue-chip guard prospect who would immediately become either the best or second-best player on their line.
Remember how great Kevin Ogletree was in the Week 1 victory over the Giants? Well, they'll always have East Rutherford. But Ogletree is going to go play for the Buccaneers now.
Reputations are tough to shake, and new Eagles cornerback Cary Williams would really like to find a way to shed his reputation as a loose cannon. Williams is penciled in right now as one of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks, and I'm not sure how it's going to go. He's got his pluses, but he struggles downfield in one-on-one matchups against physical wide receivers, and he can be beaten for the big play. Maybe he should play up the whole crazy-guy thing instead of trying to shake it. Somebody told me the Eagles fans like passion and stuff.
Jeff McLane assesses the pickups the Eagles have made on defense, and looks at the ways in which the new pieces and the returning ones might fit into Chip Kelly's and Bill Davis' expected defensive scheme.