NFC East: Marion Barber

IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

If you want to read Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

IRVING, Texas -- Hey, want in on a little secret? Come a little closer, OK? And be quiet.

You ready? Jerry Jones might not be as bad at drafting NFL players as many believe.

If we use Pro Bowl selections as a barometer, which can be dicey, then Jones ranks near the top of the league. Sometimes the Pro Bowl picks are injury replacements and were second-, third- or possibly fourth-alternates depending on whether the first-team picks were injured or playing in the Super Bowl.

That being said, since 2003, the Cowboys have drafted 12 players that earned Pro Bowl berths. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers have more with 13.

Since 2006, the Cowboys have had seven Pro Bowl selections come from their draft room. Only the 49ers (nine), Chiefs (nine), Denver Broncos (eight) and Minnesota Vikings (eight) have more.

Of the 2006-13 group all seven were one-time picks: Anthony Spencer (2012), Nick Folk (2007), Jason Hatcher (2013), DeMarco Murray (2013), Tyron Smith (2013), Dez Bryant (2013) and Mike Jenkins (2009).

Smith and Bryant have the best chance to be perennial Pro Bowlers.

The 2003-13 group consisted of five players and four made multiple Pro Bowl appearances: Terence Newman (two), Jason Witten (nine), DeMarcus Ware (seven), Marion Barber (one) and Jeremiah Ratliff (four).

Assessing a successful draft on Pro Bowls is not the best process, and the high number of Cowboys might show how top-heavy this team has been. Successful drafts are about finding starters in every round, or at least contributors over a four-year period, whether they sign second contracts with the team or not.

The Cowboys have been able to find Pro Bowlers, but Jones has not been good enough in being able to supplement those players with the bulk of their picks.

That’s a big reason why this team has missed the playoffs the past four seasons.
IRVING, Texas -- Another lively chat Wednesday with more than 100 questions from you guys wanting to know this, that and everything about the Dallas Cowboys.

SportsNation

Who would be the best first-round pick for the Cowboys?

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In the chat we talked about:

  • The return of Anthony Spencer.
  • The chances of Johnny Manziel coming to the Cowboys.
  • The chances Kony Ealy comes to the Cowboys.
  • The Morris Claiborne "trade" talks. I put quotes around that on purpose.


  • To read the whole chat, click here.

    Let's talk about the whole 'need vs. best player' debate some more:

    Kyle from Virginia asked: With Will McClay playing a bigger role in this draft, do you see Dallas taking the best player available regardless of position more often this year or just filling their needs? I am hoping they are focusing on the long-term, not just the upcoming season.

    Here is my answer: I'm not being a wise guy here, but the answer is: Yes. We always speak in this perfect world of taking the best player available, but you have to factor in need. The key is to not make the need overwhelm the evaluation process so you're inflating a player's worth. I do believe the Cowboys look at the draft as a multi-year deal not specific to one year, but need will always play a part in the process. It just has to. You can't eliminate it.

    To elaborate, much of the draft operates in a gray area. Ideally everything is crystal clear. I'm sure in the past I've said, 'You always take the best player available.' Heck, I probably said it two weeks ago, but I'd like to add two caveats:

    You always take the best player in the first round. You always take the best player when the best player's grade is much higher than the player you are going to take.

    It's clear the Cowboys need defensive line help, though I think the signings they've had in free agency helps steer them away from reaching for a player at No. 16. If they are unable to get one of their top defensive linemen at No. 16, be it Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald or whomever, then don't reach for the next-best defensive linemen if you don't believe he is better than somebody at another position.

    That's why I've had the Cowboys taking Zack Martin in the mock drafts I've been asked about. The Cowboys look to be in no-man's land at No. 16 when it comes to the top defensive linemen. Too low for Donald and Barr. Too high for Ealy or Easley. If they trade back in the first round, then it becomes a little more palatable to take one of the lower-ranked guys.

    In 2009, the Cowboys should have drafted LeSean McCoy in the second round. They had a first-round grade on McCoy but instead of taking him they traded down to get third- and fourth-round picks from the Buffalo Bills.

    At the time the Cowboys had Marion Barber on a big-time deal and drafted Felix Jones in the first round in 2008. They also liked Tashard Choice. They probably thought they were stacking it up at the position if they took McCoy. So what? You had a chance to get a first-round player with a pick in the 50s. Do it.

    We want everything to be black and white when it comes to the draft, but it's not that easy.
    IRVING, Texas -- While we have discussed the long-term futures of Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant with the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, one player we have not touched on much is DeMarco Murray.

    Murray is scheduled to be a free agent after this season. He was named to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns, and catching 53 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown. When Murray has played well and been given a chance to carry the ball, the Cowboys have won.

    Murray
    But running backs’ values have dropped dramatically in the past few years. If they aren’t Adrian Peterson, they don’t get paid the mega deals. And the guys that have been paid in recent years, like Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, have taken a downturn.

    In 2008, the Cowboys signed Marion Barber to a seven-year deal worth $45 million that included $16 million in guarantees.

    Those days are long gone.

    The best free-agent deals for running backs so far have been to Donald Brown and Toby Gerhart, who received three-year, $10.5 million deals from the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. Brown has never rushed for more than 645 yards in a season. Gerhart has never rushed for more than 531 yards, though he was playing behind Peterson.

    Knowshon Moreno is joining the Miami Dolphins on a one-year, $3 million deal after rushing for 1,038 yards in 2013 for the Denver Broncos. Rashad Jennings received a three-year, $10 million deal from the New York Giants after rushing for 733 yards last season with the Oakland Raiders.

    Murray had his best season in 2013, but he missed two games and has yet to play a full season. But his advisors have to see how the market is going for running backs. There wasn’t a running back taken in the first round last year. The top running back chosen in 2012, Trent Richardson (No. 3 overall), was traded to the Indianapolis Colts last season.

    Murray will make $1.406 million in 2014 as part of his rookie deal.

    The Cowboys could lock him in for another three seasons at a good number and still have plenty in reserve for Smith and Bryant.

    Parsing personnel: When to cut loose

    February, 24, 2014
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    INDIANAPOLIS -- As a businessman, Jerry Jones has been known to make difficult decisions, cutting his losses before they became too great.

    As owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jones is viewed as too sentimental to make the difficult decisions because he is too close to the players.

    But in recent years he has made decisions right on time, like cutting Terrell Owens, either of the Roy Williamses, Marion Barber or Andre Gurode even if the cap situation might not have been the best or the replacement player an improvement.

    “It gets pretty subjective and, yes, you can make for our team this year a bad mistake, saying, ‘You know, it’s a lot of money,’” Jones said. “Can you make a mistake the other way as well?”

    He did not answer the question, but left unsaid is that any decision can be the wrong one.

    SportsNation

    Who's been the Cowboys' best first-round draft pick in recent years?

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    Discuss (Total votes: 12,195)

    And that brings us to DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys have yet to talk with Ware’s agents about how to deal with the seven-time Pro Bowler’s $16 million salary-cap figure.

    “We have been counting on DeMarcus Ware to be the best player we got on defense,” Jones said. “It is tough for him to practice. He hasn't been able to practice. It's not that he doesn't want to practice. It's just that he hasn't been able to practice. DeMarcus is paid like the best player on defense. You got to look at a lot of things here. As we evaluate either or, it's a question of, if not DeMarcus, then who?”

    Jones acknowledges the Cowboys have a decision to make, but one has yet to be made. He also gave a nod to Ware the person and player.

    “No one, no one has been a better and is a better Dallas Cowboy than DeMarcus Ware,” Jones said. “He has been exemplary in every way.

    “But the facts are in football, when you start not being able to practice and you start not being able to really get your reps, then you can be DeMarcus Ware, who is a Hall of Famer, and get compromised by not being able to do fundamental things to get ready. So I look at that. Those are things you have to look at.”

    But then Jones also does not fathom a defense without Ware. In a down year Ware had six sacks in 13 games. The Cowboys gave Anthony Spencer the franchise tag twice, handing him nearly $20 million, and he had one season in which he had more than six sacks.

    “What are we going to think when we line up against Green Bay?” Jones said. “How are we going to feel there?”
    IRVING, Texas -- Is it too soon or too late to remind Dallas Cowboys fans that Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was drafted 13 spots before the Seattle Seahawks chose Kam Chancellor in the fifth round of the 2010 draft?

    Or is too soon or too late remind them that Josh Thomas was picked 11 spots before the Seahawks took Richard Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft?

    Today, Chancellor and Sherman are celebrating a Super Bowl victory. Thomas at least made it to the playoffs with the Carolina Panthers as a reserve. Owusu-Ansah was on the Detroit Lions' practice squad last year. Maybe we can ask new Cowboys playcaller (and former Lions offensive coordinator) Scott Linehan how Owusu-Ansah looked.

    When a team wins a Super Bowl, we all look for the differences as to why Team X played in the Super Bowl and Team Y didn’t, and we say, "Copy those guys. That’s the way to get it done."

    It doesn't work that way. Well, it shouldn't work that way. A team has to have its own philosophy and make it work. Stick with it and hope it pays off. That’s what Jason Garrett has referred to as building a program. It’s maddening to hear, especially after three 8-8 seasons, but there is truth in what Garrett is saying.

    The biggest difference between the Seahawks and Cowboys is the draft. Well, that and the Seattle defense. But for this post we’ll stick with the draft.

    Since 2010, the Seahawks picked 12 players from the third round and later -- or who were undrafted -- who have crucial roles in the team's success. The Cowboys have DeMarco Murray, a third-rounder in 2011, and three undrafted free agents. I could have counted Dwayne Harris, but the Cowboys actually cut him and needed him to pass through waivers before putting him on the practice squad in 2011.

    If the Cowboys had not traded Sean Lissemore before the 2013 season, I would have counted their seventh-round pick in 2010 on the list.

    As for undrafted picks, I’ll go with Barry Church (2010), Dan Bailey (2011) and Ronald Leary (undrafted, 2012). I wasn’t ready to say that Kyle Wilber (fourth round, 2012) and/or James Hanna (sixth round, 2012) are crucial to the Cowboys’ success.

    In order to win a draft, teams have to be successful in the middle rounds. The Cowboys have not been successful in the middle rounds in years. As a result, they lack depth. When they lose starters, they have to scour the street for help. When the Seahawks lose a player, they plug in a mid- to late-round pick as if nothing ever happened.

    If we want to eliminate the third round, which is where Seattle drafted quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012, the Cowboys have to go back to the 2008 draft to find a real hit for the Cowboys in Rounds 4-7: cornerback Orlando Scandrick (fifth). Doug Free (2007) turned into a good fourth-round pick only after the Cowboys were forced to play him in 2009. The golden year was 2005 when the Cowboys got Marion Barber (fourth), Chris Canty (fourth) and Jeremiah Ratliff (seventh) in what was then the second day of the draft.

    The Seahawks can point to guys like Sherman, Chancellor, Walter Thurmond (fourth, 2011), Byron Maxwell (sixth, 2011), Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (seventh, 2011), K.J. Wright (fourth, 2011), Robert Turbin (fourth, 2012), J.R. Sweezy (seventh, 2012), Doug Baldwin (undrafted, 2011) and Jermaine Kearse (undrafted, 2012).

    They aren’t merely contributors. They are difference-makers.

    If the Cowboys want to alter their "secret sauce" recipe, they can look at the Seahawks' cookbook.

    Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

    December, 22, 2013
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    LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-23 victory over the Washington Redskins:

    What it means for the Cowboys: They’re alive. For the third straight year, the Cowboys will play a Week 17 game for the right to win the NFC East and make the playoffs. Somehow.

    Trailing 23-14, the Cowboys rallied on Tony Romo's 10-yard touchdown throw to DeMarco Murray on a fourth-and-goal play with 1:08 to go. The defense was able to come up with a stop, and now the Cowboys welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to AT&T Stadium next week to try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Cowboys are 5-0 in the NFC East for the first time since 1998 and snapped a two-game losing streak.

    It was not pretty, but it will do. It also continued to show the team’s ability to bounce back from tough losses. The Cowboys did it earlier in the season against the Redskins after their 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos, and they did it after their 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions when they beat the Minnesota Vikings.

    Stock watch: Terrance Williams, rising. On the winning drive, Williams caught two passes for 66 yards, including a 51-yarder that set up Murray’s touchdown catch. Williams finished the day with four catches for 84 yards, which is his second-most in a game this season.

    Murray hits mark: It should have happened last week against the Green Bay Packers, but DeMarco Murray went over 1,000 yards on the season with a 43-yard run in the second quarter.

    Murray finished with 96 yards on 22 carries and enters the final game of the season with 1,073 yards, which is even more impressive considering he missed two games earlier in the season with a knee injury. He is the first Cowboys running back with 1,000 yards in a season since Julius Jones had 1,084 in 2006. Murray also had his ninth rushing touchdown of the season when he bulled his way in from the 3 on the Cowboys’ first drive. It’s the most rushing touchdowns by a Dallas back since Marion Barber had 10 in 2007.

    Oh, by the way, he scored the winning touchdown.

    Defense comes up with stops: The offense did the defense no favors by starting out the second half with turnovers on consecutive possessions that led to Washington touchdowns and a 20-14 lead.

    The Cowboys were able to overcome a bad penalty by J.J. Wilcox on a third-down play to hold Washington to a field goal, then came up with the only punt of the second half when Orlando Scandrick broke up a Kirk Cousins pass to Pierre Garcon. They also flustered Cousins into poor throws on the final drive.

    What’s next: The Cowboys close the regular season at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles. The Cowboys beat Philadelphia 17-3 on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field with what was their best defensive effort of the season. They kept LeSean McCoy in check (55 yards), limited Nick Foles to 80 yards passing before knocking him out of the game and intercepted Matt Barkley three times in the fourth quarter.
    IRVING, Texas -- When Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray hurt his knee against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 13 and missed the next two games, reaching 1,000 yards on the season seemed like an afterthought.

    When he had just four catches for 31 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in his return, reaching 1,000 yards seemed as far away as the moon.

    Murray
    Yet with three games to go, Murray is 157 yards away from 1,000. He needs to average roughly 53 yards per game to become the first Cowboys running back to hit four digits since Julius Jones had 1,084 yards in 2006.

    “I don’t know where the yards are,” said Murray, who has 843 yards on 160 carries. “I’m not worried about it. I’m worried about victories.”

    If Murray reaches 1,000 yards, he would do it in 14 games, which is more old-school when Tony Dorsett was putting up 1,000 yards in the mid-to-late 1970s.

    “You always like to have a back run for 1,000 yards but at the same time if you’re winning it doesn’t matter if it’s 1,000 yards or 500 yards,” right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau said. “As an offensive line, you like to be those guys who make holes for the running backs so they can achieve the goal and not give up sacks, being good and firm in protection.”

    In his past four games Murray has rushed for 384 yards, which is ninth-best in the league during that time span. He also has seven rushing touchdowns, the most by a Cowboys runner in a season since Marion Barber had seven in 2009.

    The Cowboys have found some consistency in the running game.

    “I mean just look at the past couple of games, I think we’ve run it well,” Murray said. “The offensive line has done a great job for our team. The tight end is doing a great job. The receivers are doing a great job. We’re just taking it one game at a time, try to help the running game out as much as I can.”
    There is no way to know, as we sit here in July 2012, whether Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is going to be the next Emmitt Smith or the next Julius Jones or where he will eventually fall on the vast spectrum in between. As Calvin Watkins writes for ESPNDallas.com, what we do know is that the Cowboys seem to trust Murray as their workhorse back in a way that they haven't trusted many lately:
    [+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Cowboys are counting on DeMarco Murray to be a workhorse this season.
    Jason Garrett doesn't mind running the ball, as long as the offensive line and fullbacks make the necessary holes to get it going.

    The numbers indicate that Garrett trusts Murray.

    He had five games with 20 or more carries, the most for any running back since Garrett became offensive coordinator in 2007. Murray also became the first back under Garrett to have four consecutive games with 20 or more carries.

    Felix Jones, Murray's backup, has had just two games with 20 or more carries since he was drafted in 2008.

    Marion Barber, a former starter, had four 20-carry games in 2008, but he reached that mark just once more before being released.

    When I watch Murray run, I see a guy who looks like a workhorse back -- who enjoys contact, runs hard and isn't afraid of the workload. A guy like that might not be able to hold up, long term, in today's NFL, but the Cowboys see in Murray a back who can be their starter in the short term, in a way that fewer and fewer teams are using starting running backs.

    This is not a time-share situation in Dallas. If Murray is recovered from his ankle injury and fully healthy, he is going to get the carries, and Jones is going to be the backup, as he was last season before Murray got hurt. How long that can last is anyone's guess, but at least for right now, Murray is the back in whom the Cowboys have put their trust.
    For the record, your reaction to the "More or Less" post, both on Twitter and in the comments section (which I've been trying to stay out of, because some people think its purpose is to bait me into a fight), is one of the main reasons I consider it foolish to do predictions in June. And kind of at all, actually. Yes, Giants fans. I'm looking right at you.

    Anyway, on to the links. It's so hot, I feel like a used insole.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Tim MacMahon says the fact the Cowboys haven't caved in to Mike Jenkins' demands shows that they've progressed as an organization. He cites the case of Marion Barber, who had the same agent as Jenkins, as a past example of such "caving," and believes Cowboys fans should consider it a good sign that they're holding their hard line with Jenkins.

    More than 90 percent of respondents to ESPNDallas.com's poll say they would not trade Dez Bryant for Percy Harvin, who has demanded a trade from the Vikings but almost certainly won't get one. I mean, I get that it's June, but how is this even a question? Has Harvin shown any more than Bryant has so far? I like Harvin a lot, but I don't get what's wrong with Bryant that anybody would even make this a debate. He's had two years in the league. I think he'll turn out just fine.

    New York Giants

    Ohm's spotlight series takes a look at the issue of replacing defensive end Dave Tollefson, which doesn't sound like a huge problem but could be if injuries require a reserve defensive end to play as much as they required Tollefson to play in 2011. It sounds as though they'd prefer to leave Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker as much as possible and have someone like Justin Trattou or converted linebacker Adrian Tracy claim that spot. But it's good to know they have Kiwanuka as a pass-rush option if they need to call on him.

    Remember the kid who sent Brandon Jacobs $3.36 from his piggy bank in an effort to get him to re-sign with the Giants? Well, Jacobs took the kid and his brother out for a fun day at one of those bouncy-castle joints while he was in New Jersey this week. Not bad, Brandon. Not bad.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Sheil talks about how he thinks O.J. Atogwe fits with the Eagles. He speculates that Atogwe will in fact be given a chance to win a starting spot, and sure, I imagine he will, in the sense that everyone who goes to camp is. I just don't see Atogwe holding up as a starter, and I think the best way for him to help the Eagles is in a reserve role where he sees the field in certain strategic situations, not on every play.

    DeSean Jackson is excited about his new contract and has said so on Twitter, but doing so has possibly brought him some trouble. Apparently, a jeweler who claims Jackson still owes him money would like the Eagles' star wideout to use a portion of his new contract to settle the debt.

    Washington Redskins

    Clinton Portis gave a very entertaining Washington radio interview in which he talked politics, retirement and said Redskins fans should give Dan Snyder a break. I guess you have to wonder, if the Redskins get stuck and need a veteran back in training camp due to injuries, if Portis could get another call. I'd have to think it's an incredibly long shot, but there's a fair bit of relationship there.

    The Redskins have announced their training camp schedule, which begins July 26 and includes 13 practices that are open to the public. Just remember, it's still in Ashburn this year. The plan to move to Richmond would take effect next year. So, don't go to Richmond. And don't sell your hair to a wig shop. Especially over June NFL predictions.
    When things are slow, I can count on Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com to help fill the void. So I wasn't surprised to find his piece this morning on Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins. Todd believes Jenkins is doing himself a disservice by working out on his own this offseason instead of joining in the Cowboys' voluntary offseason workout program:
    Is Jenkins, who was the Cowboys' best cornerback last season -- and that is not meant as faint praise -- upset that he does not have a new contract? Is he upset the team signed Brandon Carr to a $50 million deal and Orlando Scandrick to a $27 million deal before he could cash in? Is he upset the Cowboys traded up to get Morris Claiborne in the first round in the draft?

    Maybe it's yes to all three, but staying home is not the right answer.
    Todd goes on to cite the past cases of Ken Hamlin and Marion Barber as examples of players who made similar decisions that didn't work out too well. But I think the more central and present point here is that the Cowboys are investing a lot of their 2012 hope in this offseason conditioning program they've had strength coach Mike Woicik install. We've heard several Cowboys players rave about it already, and the team believes that if it had been in place last year they could have avoided some of their more serious injury problems. Miles Austin's hamstrings, for example.

    Now, it may be that what Jenkins ultimately wants is not something he can get. With Carr signed, Claiborne drafted No. 6 overall and Scandrick signed long-term, there doesn't seem to be much hope of Jenkins getting a long-term deal with the Cowboys. But if he plans to test the free-agent waters next year, the best way for him to succeed is to have as healthy and productive a 2012 season as possible. And if he's not going to go along with the Cowboys' program while others are, he might not end up getting the chance to play as much or be as productive as he can be.

    Jenkins showed a lot last year -- toughness while playing hurt and high-level ability when healthy. He could help someone in 2013, even if it's not the Cowboys. But I tend to agree with Todd here that the best way for him to cash in next year is to play the good soldier this year. You never know. Claiborne's a rookie and coming off wrist surgery. Jenkins might get to play a lot more -- especially early in the season -- than people are assuming he will. Best bet is to be as prepared for that chance as possible.
    PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean, the NFL's owners, coaches, GMs and almost anyone else with any connection to the league rise to begin their annual meetings at The Breakers. Most everyone checked in Sunday, and much of the lobby chatter was about the salary-cap penalties against the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. There will be more of that talk today, along with a great deal of other NFL business, and we'll keep you posted on all of it the best we can. Time to get you started, though, with some links.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he'd speak with reporters here Monday about the salary-cap penalties against his team and the Redskins. In light of what Giants owner John Mara said Sunday about the situation, I think we're all eager to hear Jerry's thoughts on this.

    I enjoyed Calvin Watkins' short appreciation of former Cowboys running back Marion Barber in the wake of Barber's retirement announcement late last week.

    New York Giants

    Mara was in a bitter mood over several things as he took questions upon his arrival at the meetings Sunday. After he got through excoriating the Cowboys and the Redskins for breaking something that doesn't appear to have been a rule, he was asked what he thought about Tim Tebow signing with the Jets. "I don't know," he said, "but the David Carr press conference is tomorrow, too." The Giants sometimes get a little too fixated on the Jets, you see.

    Giants 101 did a mock draft for the Giants and has them taking a pass-rusher, of all things, with the final pick of the first round. It's certainly not a need pick, but it wouldn't be a surprise. The Giants believe in what they believe in, and one of those things is that the draft is for building a deep roster, not for plugging short-term holes.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    The Eagles tend to come to these meetings with a purpose, and as Jeff McLane wrote Sunday, this year's may be to see what kind of deal they can get for cornerback Asante Samuel. Now, you can argue the merits of trading Samuel versus trading Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or even Nnamdi Asomugha. But for contract reasons and other reasons, it seems Samuel is the guy for whom they'd like to get something, and they should have some idea over the next couple of days what they might be able to get in return. If they can do better than a fourth-round pick, I imagine they'll jump on it.

    In the wake of last week's Los Angeles Times report about front-office infighting in Philadelphia, Phil Sheridan ponders where the fault lines might lie.

    Washington Redskins

    Len Pasquarelli says the Albert Haynesworth deal was largely to blame for the penalties incurred by the Redskins in the salary-cap mess. What I've been given to understand is that this wasn't about just one or two deals, but rather about the Redskins repeatedly restructuring many of their existing deals in such a way as to dump money into the uncapped year. It's apparently something many teams did, but that the Redskins did to an extent that the other owners found odious.

    The idea of a Redskins training facility in Washington, D.C., is a complicated one, and this here doesn't make it sound as though it's very far along or close to fruition.
    PHILADELPHIA -- The only thing missing from the final two minutes of the first half of the "Monday Night Football" matchup between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles was circus music. A first half that had featured tough defense, ugly injuries and more than a few troubling signs for the home team, degenerated into a penalty-and-fumble-fest that gave each team a free touchdown and the Bears a 17-10 halftime lead.

    Things seemed to be turning the Eagles' way in those final two minutes when Bears running back Matt Forte fumbled on third down and Eagles linebacker Brian Rolle ran the ball back 22 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 10-10. And in spite of consecutive offside penalties that gave the Bears a first down without any time running off the clock, the Eagles managed to force a punt with a little more than a minute left. But DeSean Jackson fumbled the punt, giving the Bears the ball in the red zone. And after the Eagles appeared to force a three-and-out and a field-goal attempt, Jason Babin was flagged for roughing the passer, and the Bears converted their fresh chance with a Marion Barber touchdown.

    It was a poor ending for the Eagles to a topsy-turvy half that began with some discouraging reminders of things that went wrong during their four-game losing streak. The Bears' opening drive, on which Forte alone gained 52 of the 79 yards, recalled a couple of early-season games in which the Eagles' run defense looked soft and vulnerable. And once the Eagles had the ball, quarterback Michael Vick looked shaky in his decision-making, throwing one bad interception and nearly throwing another as he seemed to be trying to force the ball into tight spots. Eight days after looking smooth, efficient and responsible in a dominating victory over the Cowboys, the Eagles' offense had a hard time getting anything going against a fired-up and rested Bears front line.

    But with Bears defensive lineman Julius Peppers off the field for a few plays, Vick was able to move the Eagles down the field and into field goal range just before the two-minute warning. Alex Henery barely made the 47-yard field goal.

    After that first drive, the Eagles do seem to have shored some things up on their run defense and have managed to keep Forte more or less bottled up. The question is whether they can start playing smarter football and get back the momentum. Starting safety Nate Allen is out of the game with a concussion, forcing rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett into a larger role in the secondary, and the Bears should be able to take some shots downfield as a result. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looks excited to have receiver Earl Bennett back from injury, and is looking his way a lot on third down.

    The Eagles also lost cornerback Asante Samuel for a time with ... oh, man, it hurts just to type this ... a "groin laceration." But Samuel returned to the game in the first half's final minutes and seems to have recovered. The Eagles' biggest issue Monday nigh is, once again, their own silly mistakes. We'll see if they can cut those down in the second half.
    You guys send in questions. Some are very good. Some are just rants directed at me for reasons I can't understand. Got one this week that just said, "Your a moron," which I thought was really funny. But like I said, a lot of the questions are good, and as such I like to take a little time and try and answer them. Thus is born the weekend mailbag.

    Mike in Washington, D.C. wants to know where the Cowboys stand with linebacker Keith Brooking, given their obvious willingness this offseason to cut ties with veteran players who cost a lot of money and aren't what they used to be.

    Dan Graziano: After Saturday's cuts, the Cowboys are left with only three active inside linebackers -- Brooking, Bradie James and Sean Lee. So a big part of the reason Brooking is still around is clearly because they don't feel they've replaced him yet, the way they did Andre Gurode or Leonard Davis or Marion Barber or I guess Roy Williams with younger guys. Even if Lee is ready to replace Brooking as a starter, they'd still need Brooking on the team as a backup at that position with Bruce Carter still injured. I wouldn't feel super-comfortable right now if I were Brooking, given the current climate, but for now he does not appear to be one of the veterans for which they feel they have an adequate replacement.


    Bill in Gainesville, Fla., tells me I am wrong to think that John Beck is still the favorite to be the Redskins' starting quarterback. Bill thinks that the reason Rex Grossman rested Thursday and Beck played in the final preseason game is because the decision has already been made to go with Grossman, who he says is "more of a pure passer and has a better arm."

    DG: Well, we'll see soon enough, won't we? But I don't think Grossman resting and Beck playing Thursday had anything to do with it. Remember, Grossman played and Beck didn't play in the Redskins' first preseason game because Beck had a groin injury, so they could have just been evening out the playing time. As I've said all along, they know what they have in Grossman and believe Beck offers more upside. They wanted to use the preseason to see if Beck could handle the pressure of the opportunity. What they decide about the way he did that will factor into the decision more than anything, and I believe Beck probably showed enough. But like I said, we'll know by this time next week.


    Chris in Staten Island wants to know if the Giants would be smart to trade Osi Umenyiora for disgruntled Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs.

    DG: First, I'm going to say I don't think it's something that would interest the Giants. Remember, they don't want to trade Umenyiora just because he's unhappy. They believe he has more value to them as a player on the field this season than as a trade chip. They don't think his contract demand is reasonable, and at no point during the whole thing have they been inclined to solve a problem he created by simply giving him what he wants. They also value great pass-rushing defensive ends over linebackers, as the current construction of their roster indicates. I believe, given that they run a 4-3 defense, they're correct in doing this and that once Umenyiora is back healthy, he'll be of greater use to them than would a linebacker such as Briggs. I believe they're shaky at linebacker, but they kept four rookies as backups and seem determined to see what those guys have. As a result, if a starter goes down this season, they could struggle. But it's clear they don't prioritize the linebacker position, and so I don't think you'll see them make a major move to address it.


    Larry from Philly but living in N.Y. thinks Michael Vick will retain his financial motivation to keep playing well even after getting his new contract, since his bankruptcy issues drop his take-home pay to about 11 percent of his salary. Larry isn't just pulling that figure out of thin air. He read it in a story Darren Rovell did on cnbc.com.

    DG: Well, there's also Vick's endorsement money to consider, and I think the figures overall indicate that, if he were inclined to get complacent, he could financially afford to do so. But I'm not saying I expect him to do that. I see Vick as a guy who's been through a lot and understands the ways in which he needs to play and work and conduct himself in order to have success commensurate with his own expectations for himself. The question I have is whether he sees himself as a quarterback dedicated to honing his craft, or if he'll be content to lean on his tremendous athletic ability to carry him in tough spots. He's clearly established himself, in a short time in Philadelphia, as a very good player and leader. But the harder he works at improving as a quarterback, the better he and the Eagles will be in the long term. That, in my opinion, is the big question remaining with Vick -- not whether he retains sufficient financial motivation to play hard.

    Keep em coming, folks. Mailbag out.

    Observation deck: Giants-Bears

    August, 22, 2011
    8/22/11
    11:23
    PM ET
    Observations from the Giants 41-13 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football":

    We preach all the time that preseason games don't matter, but so few people really take it to heart. Fans like to hang on every play, to wonder whether or not it matters that Eli Manning doesn't look sharp, or to try and figure out whether or not Brandon Jacobs deserves more carries than Ahmad Bradshaw. But in the end, there are no accurate judgments to be made off of these games and the only thing that actually matters in any of them is that nobody gets seriously hurt.

    And that's why, regardless of the final score or the potentially very encouraging way the rest of the team played during the game itself, Monday night's victory over the Bears was a disaster for the New York Giants.

    Shortly before halftime, Giants starting cornerback Terrell Thomas collided with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and limped off the field. At halftime, Giants coach Tom Coughlin revealed to ESPN's Suzy Kolber than Thomas had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and would miss the entire season.

    [+] EnlargeNew York Giants Terrell Thomas
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas has a torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will miss the entire season.
    This is devastating news, first and foremost, for Thomas, one of the very good guys and leaders on the Giants' roster and a player who has one year left before free agency. Thoughts go out to him, and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

    But it's also awful news for the Giants, who earlier this preseason lost cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson to major injuries (and later in this game saw Brian Witherspoon carted off with a knee injury). Amukamara is out for at least a couple of months, Johnson for the year and now a team that was already struggling for depth at cornerback has lost one of its starters. They've gone from hoping Aaron Ross could be a reliable No. 3 corner and play as their extra defensive back in passing situations to hoping Ross can be a reliable starter and probably using safety Deon Grant in that role as they did last year. The Giants weren't deep to begin with, and they came out of their second preseason game with a major hole on the roster and in the starting lineup.

    So that's all that matters from this game, period. But if you want to know what else I saw that might have a chance to matter down the road if by some coincidence regular-season developments jive with preseason performance in specific areas, here you go.

    1. On the bright side, Ross looked very good. He knocked down two Jay Cutler passes intended for Roy Williams on third down early in the game. He made another play on a receiver later to prevent a touchdown (though he may have pushed off on that coverage). He made a nice tackle on Marion Barber behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter. You could do worse than Ross as a fill-in cornerback when one of your starters gets hurt, and it's encouraging that he played well. But again, the Giants were figuring on Ross as their third corner, not one of their top two.

    2. Oh, and X-rays on William Beatty's foot were negative. Which is a good thing. Beatty didn't have to take on Julius Peppers all night as we expected, since the Bears moved Peppers over to the other side to terrorize Kareem McKenzie and the Giants' overmatched tight ends. Beatty looked better overall in this game, holding his own and keeping his man off the quarterback, though he still looks a little grabby to me. You don't like to see a left tackle reaching quite as much as Beatty does to try and prevent the edge rush. He's got to do a better job of getting his whole body in front of his guy, or he's going to be a walking holding penalty.

    3. Giants' special teams looked better. Devin Thomas is really showing his speed and athleticism on kick returns. Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford both bombed huge punts all night. There was good kick coverage, including a big tackle by receiver Victor Cruz as he continues to work to try and secure a spot in the receiving corps. Jerrel Jernigan doesn't show much on punt returns, but the Giants had so many problems on special teams last year that if they can get it down to just one, Coughlin is going to be ecstatic.

    4. How did those receivers keep getting open between Corey Webster and Kenny Phillips? It happened twice in the first half, and Cutler hit it for a big gain each time. It looked as though the receiver got by Webster and Phillips didn't get over in time to help. There are three possibilities that I can see: 1. Webster let his man go by him without making sure he had the safety help; 2. Phillips was supposed to help but was slow getting over; 3. Phillips went with the tight end up the seam after the tight end got by middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, which would kind of lead back to (1.) though with some blame to be shared by Goff. Either way, I'm certain it'll be discussed in detail in meetings this week. The Giants will obviously need mistake-free play from Webster and Phillips with as vital a piece as Thomas now missing from the secondary.

    5. Victor Cruz, preseason wonder. Domenik Hixon had the big touchdown catch, but I really believe the Giants are trying to bring Hixon along slowly as he's coming back from his knee injury. And if that's the case, it opens up opportunities for guys like Cruz to get more reps at wide receiver. Cruz lined up with the starters in the team's three-receiver sets at the start of the game, and he did a lot of good, athletic, impressive things, just like he did last year in the preseason. As long as he keeps contributing on special teams, he's a good bet to make the roster. And if he does and Hixon is still being babied come the regular season, Cruz should get a serious chance to show whether or not his preseason success can carry into the regular season this time.

    6. Some notes on the sure things. Manning looked fine, though I wouldn't put him in John Beck's class as a preseason quarterback. (Easy, folks... I kid because I love...) Brandon Jacobs looked especially spry on his touchdown run. And how about Justin Tuck's downfield tackle on Matt Forte? Tuck's a beast, but I couldn't help thinking a linebacker or a safety should have made that unnecessary. Overall, the Giants' defense looked very good, especially when it came time to keep the Bears out of the end zone in goal-line situations. Mark Herzlich's interception on the fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter was the most fun of the stops.

    7. Still could use a tight end. Not that this is a Priority No. 1 at this point, but Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe have been fully underwhelming at a key position for the Giants' passing game. We saw Manning audible at the line a few times and look to check it down, but with Steve Smith in Philadelphia and Kevin Boss in Oakland, he's still looking for reliable options to serve as safety valves. There was a third-down throw on which he and Mario Manningham couldn't connect that made you think he missed Smith. But two more preseason games to go and work still to be done, as is the case with every team.

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