NFC East: Matt Kalil

The Twitter mailbag has had a couple of weeks off, first due to vacation and then due last week to the fact of Hall of Fame and awards announcements. But it is back, and as ever I thank you for your submissions. Remember, you can always tweet a question for the Twitter mailbag just by using the hashtag #nfceastmail at any time during the week. I round them up on Fridays and post them and their answers on Saturdays. Like this.

@billycuth: Do you see the Eagles staying at 4 or trading down?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Anything's possible, but if I'm the Philadelphia Eagles, the only way I'm trading out of the No. 4 overall draft pick is if I decide I need to move up a spot or two to get the quarterback of my dreams. And since that guy doesn't appear to be in this draft, I stay put at No. 4. That No. 4 pick is a pretty good pick. A partial list of players who were picked fourth overall since the turn of the century includes Matt Kalil, A.J. Green, Trent Williams, Darren McFadden, Philip Rivers and Justin Smith. You can get a really good, franchise-altering player at No. 4, and that's what I think the Eagles should do. Whether it's a defensive lineman like Star Lotulelei, an offensive lineman like Luke Joeckel or even a quarterback like Geno Smith, I think the Eagles are in a spot to draft someone who will be a significant building block for their future.

@1calledsteve: what are the odds with the new cap space, the gmen will sign phillips, cruz and nicks?

@ESPN_NFCEast: The New York Giants' cuts this week of veterans Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty and Michael Boley were designed to create salary-cap relief, and you are correct that they're thinking about free-agent safety Kenny Phillips and star wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, all of whom need new deals. Add to that offensive linemen Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe, who are free-agent eligible, and the Giants have a great deal of work to do just to keep the guys they want to keep. I think Phillips is 50-50. His injuries this past year could end up making him easier for the Giants to keep, as he could have a harder time getting the kind of deal he'd like to get on the open market, and could return to New York for something like the Giants' price. But he is a great player, and if someone out there is willing to look beyond the 2012 injuries, the Giants could get outbid. There's no rush yet on Nicks or Cruz, as Nicks has a year left on his deal and Cruz can be tendered as a restricted free agent, but the Giants would love to get those contracts done sooner rather than later if they can, to avoid ugliness. My guess is they get deals done with both receivers this offseason, but I can't handicap their chances of keeping Phillips at this point.

@MD_In_MD: could D. Hall really play safety? He would be responsible for a lot of open field plays which he doesn't excel at

@ESPN_NFCEast: This is an idea we've kicked around some in recent weeks -- the idea of the Washington Redskins moving DeAngelo Hall from cornerback to free safety and pursuing cornerback options on the offseason market instead of safety options. I do not know if it's something the Redskins would consider. I do not know if it's something to which Hall would agree. Whether they move him to safety or keep him at corner, the Redskins are likely going to ask Hall of take a pay cut, and I don't know if he's going to be okay with that, either. But in theory, I like the idea, and it's because I think Hall still does retain his open-field playmaking ability. I think it's in tight coverage where he struggles at times (although not in Week 17 against Dez Bryant, I'll grant you). If the Redskins' coaches can sell Hall on the idea of playing free safety, I believe they'd have an energized player who would operate at a high level and embrace the new challenge and the freedoms it offers in the Redskins' system. But that's an "if" at this point.

@A_Martinez4: what do you feel the biggest need for #dallas is? O line or d line? Or another position?

@ESPN_NFCEast: I think the Dallas Cowboys' needs on the offensive line are more significant than their needs on the defensive line. I think they need a center, at least one guard and a right tackle. Now, by necessity, some of those answers might have to come from within the current roster. But if I were the Cowboys, I'd make upgrading at least one of those spots my top priority in free agency or the draft. The problem, however, is this switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment under new coordinator Monte Kiffin. If salary-cap problems keep them from bringing back Anthony Spencer, their need on the defensive line becomes more significant, and they might have to alter their priorities. A classic pass-rushing defensive end might then become their first-round draft target. And if that's the case, then they'd better have found a top guard or tackle in free agency, or else the offense will face many of the same problems it faced last season. It's a complicated offseason ahead for the Cowboys, who don't have easy answers everywhere.
The Philadelphia Eagles announced Friday that star left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his right Achilles tendon while training earlier this week and will have surgery Monday to repair it. This is a crushing blow for an Eagles team that believed its offensive line would be a strength in 2012. The Eagles didn't reveal a timetable for recovery, but it's safe to assume that Peters will miss most and possibly all of the 2012 season.

Peters is one of the best tackles in the NFL and will be nearly impossible to replace. But replace him they must. The Eagles re-signed free-agent King Dunlap to a one-year contract Friday, which will help because he's their best backup tackle. But Dunlap doesn't project as a 16-game starter for a team with championship dreams, so Philadelphia have to look at other options.

The Eagles have two second-round picks in addition to the 15th overall pick in next month's draft, so it's possible they could package some picks and move up in the draft to get someone like Iowa's Riley Reiff. The Minnesota Vikings have indicated a desire to trade out of the No. 3 spot in the draft, so if the Eagles wanted to really get crazy, they could trade all the way up there and pick USC's Matt Kalil.

But those are big deals and tough to pull off, and the Eagles' efforts to make such a move likely would be hampered by the fact that everyone now knows they need a tackle. So they're more likely to look at other options. The best remaining tackle on the free-agent market is Demetrius Bell, who's had offers from teams to play right tackle but may have been holding out for a left tackle job (or at least left-tackle money). The Eagles have the cap room to sign someone like Bell, and if Peters were to come back during the season or next year they'd have impressive depth at tackle.

Regardless of what they do, the Eagles will be hurt by this. Peters was one of the few reliable players they had in 2011, and because he's so good and so athletic in a division that features so many great edge pass-rushers, his was a spot that inspired supreme confidence -- not just a lack of concern. The Eagles had planned to return their entire 2011 offensive line intact, and now the other four members of it will have to get used to a new left tackle, and whoever the new left tackle is will have to get used to them and to Howard Mudd's unique blocking schemes. Won't be easy, but it now becomes one of the major offseason issues facing the Eagles.
Gotta love it when the head coach breaks news in his combine news conference. Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters on hand in Indianapolis today that the team plans to move Doug Free from left tackle back to right tackle and move Tyron Smith from right tackle to left tackle. This move has been expected, given the brilliant way Smith played as a rookie in 2011 and the fact that Free struggled in his second season on the left side. But Garrett is confirming it, per our man on the scene, Todd Archer:
"The starting point for us next year is Tyron will start at left tackle and Doug will start at right tackle," Garrett said. "The versatility that Tyron had coming out is something we were really attracted to. He was a right tackle in college, as you know, but we felt like he had the physical traits to play left tackle. Same with Doug Free. We felt he could play either side."

When the Cowboys drafted Smith last year, they weren't sure whether they were going to lose Free to free agency, and one of the reasons they liked Smith was that they believed he had the ability to play left tackle if they needed one. Once they signed Free, they decided to leave him where he'd played well in 2010 and break in Smith at the position he'd played in college.

But Smith was the Cowboys' best offensive lineman in 2011, and Free struggled, so the Cowboys have decided to use their best tackle on Tony Romo's blindside, which makes sense. A couple of questions linger, though:

1. Where's Kyle Kosier going? He played left guard next to Free during Free's big year in 2010, then moved over to right guard to play next to Smith and help break in the rookie. Was Free's drop-off in play due in any part to Kosier moving to the other side? Will Kosier move back to the left to play next to Smith and help continue his development, or will he stay on the right to help Free? Kosier's a key figure on the Dallas offensive line, as a player and as a leader, and his status is worth monitoring in light of this move.

2. Is Free a good player who had a down year in 2011, or an average player who had a great year in 2010? The sense I get from talking to people around the league is that it's the former -- that Free still shows the skills to be a top-level tackle but just didn't get the job done this past year. The Cowboys expect him to bounce back, and perhaps a move back to the right side will allow him to do that without undue pressure.

3. Will Smith need time to adjust? He didn't play left tackle in college, and there are differences to which he'll have to become accustomed. Smith is thought of as a great enough athlete to make the adjustment. He may well have been the left tackle at USC had he not been on the same team as Matt Kalil. My guess is he won't skip a beat, and that the Cowboys will benefit from this move. Their bigger line problems are at guard and center.

Mock draft: Kiper on the NFC East

February, 15, 2012
By now, all of you draft-crazy maniacs must know that Mel Kiper Jr. has released his second mock draft. It's Insider Insider (and no, we're not just doing Insider stuff today — it's a coincidence, and for goodness' sake, it's a mock draft!), but I asked Mel and he said it'd be OK if I told you guys who he has the four NFC East teams taking. Just this once.

6. Washington Redskins: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Mel believes the Redskins could move out of this slot***, in particular if they make a play to move up and take quarterback Robert Griffin III. But Mel's mocks don't deal in potential trades, and he believes Claiborne represents the best value for Washington at No. 6, even given the team's obvious needs on offense. Mel says Claiborne "is actually a better pure cover corner than Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 overall pick from last year." No question, that would help.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama. Yes, a big percentage of this year's first round will be players who played in the BCS National Championship Game. Mel thinks Dallas' biggest need is defensive back, and he thinks the safety Barron represents better value at 14 than the next-best cornerback he has still available (Barron's teammate, Dre Kirkpatrick). As ever, the caveat is what happens in free agency. If they get a bunch of defensive backs in free agency, I believe they'll be looking for a pass rusher here. The next pass rusher off Mel's board is Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, whom he has going to Tennessee at No. 20.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT Mississippi State. Mel has Luke Kuechly gone already, and while linebacker is the Eagles' greater need, he doesn't see value for them at that position in this spot. I kind of agree, though if they don't get a linebacker here I think they need to make sure and get one in Round 2 or 3. Cox would help shore up the middle of Jim Washburn's defensive line rotation.

32. New York Giants: Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson. The champs lost two tight ends in the Super Bowl, and if Allen's still on the board at 32, he makes as much sense as anyone. If not, my guess is they pick an offensive lineman here.

***NOTE: This isn't, per se, an NFC East point, but it does affect the Redskins, at least tangentially. Mel has the Rams taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the No. 2 pick, and it made me think about the Rams' leverage in these negotiations with the teams that will want the pick to ensure they get Griffin. Even if, say, the Redskins become the only team willing to trade for the pick, the Rams still have plenty of leverage. Someone like Blackmon or USC tackle Matt Kalil would fill a major need for them, and if no team wants to give them the multiple-first-round-picks package they'll surely be seeking in exchange, they can very easily stay right where they are and get a potentially great player who can help them for years to come. It's not as though the Rams need to be out of No. 2. They'll only do it if they get blown away. Worth keeping in mind.