NFC East: Peyton Manning

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning didn't get to watch his older brother set the NFL's all-time record for touchdown passes Sunday night. Manning and the New York Giants were on a flight back home from Dallas when Peyton Manning whizzed past Brett Favre and into first place all time with 510 touchdown throws. But Eli knew what was going on and was excited to see the highlights when he landed.

"You never play for individual awards and records, but the touchdown record is pretty special," Eli Manning said Monday. "And I think it has a chance to stick around for a long time."

Eli said he sent Peyton a text, but as of 3:30 pm ET on Monday he still hadn't had a chance to speak to him. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are preparing for a quick-turnaround Thursday night game this week, and so the schedule is a bit off.

"I just sent him a text message, told him congratulations and that I'm proud of him," Eli said. "Obviously, I know he was proud to get the win with it."
IRVING, Texas -- When it comes to ranking quarterbacks, the debates can be endless and sometimes pointless, but Mike Sando took the question to people inside the NFL with his latest ESPN Insider piece. Insider

Romo
It might surprise some of you that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo finished tied for eighth in the tier-rankings of 26 general managers, former GMs, pro personnel people, coordinators, head coaches, position coaches and an executive.

Four players tied for the top spot in Sando’s rankings, using a 1 for the best at the position and a 5 for the worst. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees shared the top spot. Andrew Luck was fifth.

Romo checked in after Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger and tied with Russell Wilson and Eli Manning in the second tier.

Here’s what Sando wrote and the insiders had to say about Romo:
T-8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (2.23 average rating)

A few evaluators questioned whether Romo had the mind-set to play at the highest level consistently. It's a familiar refrain in league circles, a feeling that Romo is an undisciplined QB playing for an undisciplined organization with a poorly constructed roster.

"People want to knock him," one GM responded, "but the guy has talent and is one of the top 10 starters in the league."

Romo is 34 years old and coming off back surgery, but he still could be in line for a "monster" season, one evaluator said. "But I absolutely believe they will not win big with him. As soon as he decides it's a clutch moment, his brain goes elsewhere. He loses focus and tries to create something."




What’s funny is that the GM and evaluator have the same thoughts of those who love Romo or loathe Romo who are not on the inside. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports went so far as to call Romo “underrated” in his yearly rankings, which drew the ire of some.

The “clutch” talk has been a big thing around Romo since the bobbled snap in 2006 against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. That talk is always followed up with Romo having the best fourth-quarter passer rating in NFL history (102.4) and his 20 come-from-behind wins.

Those numbers aren’t hollow, although with one playoff win to his credit that’s what his detractors will say.

That’s why this debate is a good one. Both sides can declare victory with their points. If Romo were to ever win a Super Bowl -- or perhaps just get to one -- then the perception would change entirely.
The Philadelphia Eagles need a backup quarterback. Mark Sanchez needs a new place to restart his career.

With ESPN Insider Chris Mortenson reporting Sanchez is expected to sign with the Eagles, it brings together two sides filling a major need.

Sanchez
Nick Foles is without question the Eagles' starter. He threw 27 touchdown passes and had just two interceptions while compiling an 8-2 record in 2013. But with Michael Vick off to the New York Jets and Matt Barkley an unknown, coach Chip Kelly is dipping into the Pac-12 quarterbacks again.

Kelly was Oregon's offensive coordinator when Sanchez played at Southern Cal.

We will now get to see if he can revitalize Sanchez.

Things started so well for Sanchez with the Jets. He helped New York and Rex Ryan to two straight AFC Championship Games, losing to Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, but he never made the next step in his career.

His best statistical year came in 2011, when he threw for 3,474 yards with 26 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, but the Jets lost their final three games and that was the end of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Tony Sparano did not help Sanchez in 2012. A shoulder injury kept Sanchez out last year.

Provided the shoulder checks out, Sanchez will become the backup to Foles.

Kelly's first order of business is lifting Sanchez's accuracy. He is a 55.1 percent passer for his career. The best he has had in his career is 56.7 percent. In today's NFL with the rules the way they are, quarterbacks must complete about 65 percent to be effective.

With the Eagles, Sanchez would have better tools around him, especially on the offensive line. He could have DeSean Jackson at wide receiver, at least for a minute. He would have Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper to go with Brent Celek and Zach Ertz at tight end. And of course he would have LeSean McCoy.

He would also have Kelly, who has won with different kinds of quarterbacks along his stops at New Hampshire, Oregon and last year with the Eagles.

The Eagles are not the ground-and-pound of the Jets in Sanchez's first two years, but Kelly will run the ball to control the game and his quarterback.

Sanchez would be going to a perfect spot without the pressure to be the Sanch-ise. All he would need to be is a backup, not a savior.
The Denver Broncos have won the offseason title and free agency is not even four days old.

John Elway signed safety T.J. Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal that guarantees him $14 million. He stole cornerback Aqib Talib away from the New England Patriots with a six-year, $57 million deal that guarantees him $26 million. Then he thanked the Dallas Cowboys for their cap woes and unwillingness to pay DeMarcus Ware and signed Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed.

Ware will make $250,000 more with the Broncos this year than he would have with the Cowboys.

Add those three to an offense that will still put up points even if Eric Decker leaves and Denver should be viewed as the favorites in the AFC.

In fact, they might look like a "Dream …" Sorry. Got something stuck in my throat. "A Dream …" Man, there it goes again.

One more time: A dream team.

Could the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles serve as a reminder that a "dream team" doesn’t mean a Super Bowl team?

To refresh: The Eagles loaded up with Jason Babin (five years, $28 million), Cullen Jenkins (five years, $25 million) and Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, $60 million). They traded Kevin Kolb and got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return. They added serviceable pieces in Ronnie Brown and Evan Mathis turned out to be a steal.

Then they signed Vince Young, who came up with the dream-team tag.

And Philadelphia finished 8-8.

The Broncos have Peyton Manning, so it’s hard to see an 8-8 season. But what happens if Manning gets hurt?
In general, I'm not a fan of throwing big money at the top-line, most established free agents out there. Unless you're looking at franchise quarterbacks, NFL careers are too short and players' primes are too fleeting. If you're spending big bucks on a guy who's already done a lot, odds are you'll end up paying for some bad years -- or trying to find a way out of a bad contract.

So in general, I like what the New York Giants did Tuesday on the first day of free agency. I think they still have a lot to do, but the guys they did sign fit a desirable profile when I look at what free agency is at its best. They were looking for players who are somewhat established in the league but still have upside and lots to prove. And I think they may have found it with these three interesting signings:

Guard Geoff Schwartz. A former 16-game starter who's played guard and tackle in the league and only this past year fully recovered from a 2011 hip injury. He was one of the top interior linemen in the league over the second half of 2013 for Kansas City, turns 28 in July and feels like a player on the upswing, the way Evan Mathis was when the Eagles signed him under the radar in 2011. He also has some experience playing tackle, so they could potentially use him there if they decide to rearrange anything with Justin Pugh or Will Beatty.

Running back Rashad Jennings. Hasn't had much opportunity to start in the NFL, but as a result he also has a bit more tread on his tires than your typical 29-year-old running back. The Giants have some underlying numbers to indicate Jennings is capable of big things if given more carries than he's been given at this point in his career. If they choose to rely on him as a starter, he could explode. If David Wilson is viable and they use Jennings as a complementary back, they could find him useful for a long time to come. Another guy who may be ready to take off.

Linebacker O'Brien Schofield. This one's kind of a wild card. Schofield hasn't done much as an outside linebacker in the NFL so far, but he was a pass-rusher in college at Wisconsin and finished second (to Ryan Kerrigan) in the Big Ten in sacks in 2009. So you look at the two-year, $8 million deal and wonder what this guy has done to earn it. But (a) let's see what the contract numbers really look like once we have details and (b) the Giants appear to be trying to pay guys for what they think they will do for them, rather than for what they've done for their former teams. So if they look at Schofield as a player who can contribute to the pass rush, and they plan to use him that way, the money starts to make more sense.

Some other notes:

The Giants also have brought back four of their own free agents -- running back Peyton Hillis, safety Stevie Brown, kicker Josh Brown and cornerback Trumaine McBride. All depth moves, though McBride and/or Brown could end up starting if other things don't work out.

Linebacker Jon Beason remains someone the Giants hope to re-sign, but because he's acting as his own agent, he wasn't allowed to have any contact with teams until 4 p.m. Tuesday (as opposed to noon Saturday, when agents were allowed to talk to teams but players weren't). So Beason is only 17 hours into his market, and he's wise to find out what that market is before just accepting what the Giants have to offer.

Two of the Giants' own free agents left -- defensive tackle Linval Joseph to the Vikings and safety Ryan Mundy to the Bears. As I wrote Tuesday night, I think they'll miss Joseph. At 25, I think he fits the profile of the kind of free agent you look to sign, rather than the kind you let walk out the door. But the Giants didn't feel like spending $6 million a year on a defensive tackle, so Joseph is gone.

With DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers getting cut Tuesday, the market for veteran pass-rushers is suddenly flooded with huge names. That would seem to mean Justin Tuck isn't likely to strike gold elsewhere. There was industry sentiment that Tuck won't find enough on the market to convince him to leave the Giants, and that he'd re-sign and try to play out his whole career with the same team. However, Adam Schefter reported late Tuesday that Tuck had a visit scheduled with the Raiders today, and no one has more to spend right now than the Raiders. They're also hosting pass-rusher LaMarr Woodley, but there's nothing to stop them from signing both Woodley and Tuck if they choose. So stay tuned on that.

I still think they need to add a center, and I don't think bringing back Kevin Boothe is the answer. They need to think about long-term solutions on the offensive line, and if Boothe and Chris Snee are two of their starters next year, I don't see how they're doing that. None of the free-agent centers signed Tuesday, though Evan Dietrich-Smith is visiting Tampa Bay today, so he could be off the market soon.

NFL Network reported that cornerback Tracy Porter was in for a visit Tuesday night. Ran back an Eli Manning interception for a touchdown for the Raiders in Week 10 last year. Along with his game-sealing interception touchdown in Super Bowl XLIV, that made him the first player to return both an Eli Manning interception and a Peyton Manning interception for a touchdown. Porter doesn't turn 28 until August and fits that same model of guys who have done something but may be on the cusp of more. He doesn't strike me as the answer if what they wanted was a top corner to pair with Prince Amukamara, but maybe they really see McBride as the outside starter again. I think they should be thinking bigger.

Other needs still to be addressed include wide receiver, tight end, middle linebacker (could be Beason), defensive line (Tuck or his replacement and a low-priced free-agent defensive tackle) and kick returner (could be Jacoby Jones, who's in for a visit Wednesday). The Giants entered the offseason in need of a full-on roster rebuild, and they've only been at it one day. Expect them to continue to be busy.

Former GM not high on RG III

February, 11, 2014
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Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo echoed what others have said about Robert Griffin III this past season: he wasn’t good enough and he needs to make changes to his game.

Griffin
Which is why Angelo gave him a low grade and placed him 21st among NFL quarterbacks. Angelo also rated him as a 6.9 on his nine-point scale.

For Angelo (writing on the scouting website Sidelineview.com), falling between a 6.5-6.9 means a quarterback “has strong traits, but hasn’t done it. Lack of experience, injuries, missing intangible may be the reason for his erratic play. Still a work in progress. He can move up or down.”

That about sums up Griffin after his second NFL season. Here’s what Angelo wrote on Griffin:
“Talented, but yet to define himself as an NFL quarterback. He won’t have a successful career by working outside the pocket. No one at his position did or will. Too many games and too many hits keep QB’s from having a career based on their feet, rather than their pocket accuracy.”


Right below Griffin: St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, a former top pick in the NFL draft (and a guy former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan loved). New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was only rated a 7.0; Dallas' Tony Romo (7.9) and Philadelphia's Nick Foles (8.0) were the tops in the NFC East.

Cousins
Angelo was not high on backup Kirk Cousins, giving him a 5.4 grade. On Angelo’s scale, that means a quarterback is a “band-aid, can get you through a game. Not a starter. He lacks the arm strength or needed accuracy. May also be missing something intangible, i.e. toughness, instincts etc. Cannot win with him, regardless of supporting cast or coaching.”

And here’s what he wrote about Cousins:
“Smart, hard working and well liked and respected. Lacks the arm talent to start and become a guy you can win with.”


Safe to say if Angelo were still employed in the NFL, he would not be among the teams willing to give up a high draft pick for Cousins.

Angelo listed seven quarterbacks as elite this past season (in order): Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Here’s the rest of the article.
IRVING, Texas -- In this copycat league that is the NFL, all of a sudden everybody needs tall and long conerbacks like Seattle’s Richard Sherman. One problem, there aren’t that many of those kinds of guys around.

Plus from a Dallas Cowboys’ perspective, they have already allocated their cornerback resources in Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. So scratch that possible remodel.

Where the Cowboys can attempt to emulate the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks is with their defensive line.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithFor years, Dallas has relied on DeMarcus Ware to provide a pass rush. Adding depth to the defensive line could be a priority this offseason.
The Seahawks do what Rod Marinelli wants to do with the Cowboys. He just did not have enough quality players, rolling through 20 defensive linemen in 2013 because of injuries and poor play.

Seattle’s defensive line accounted for 33.5 sacks from eight players. The Cowboys defensive line had 28 sacks from six players.

Michael Bennett led the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks. Fellow free-agent pickup, Cliff Avril, was second with eight. Clinton McDonald had 5.5, and Chris Clemons had 4.5

Jason Hatcher led the Cowboys with 11, followed by George Selvie with seven and DeMarcus Ware with six. Kyle Wilber had two sacks from his defensive end spot before he was switched to outside linebacker later in the season. Everette Brown and and Jarius Wynn each had one sack.

The Cowboys want to rotate defensive linemen as much as possible to keep them fresh. That is a great approach when you have players worthy of being in the rotation. In the Super Bowl win against the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks had four linemen take at least 41 of 69 snaps, led by Bennett, who played 47. In the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, they had four linemen take at least 31 of 55 snaps. In the divisional-round win against the New Orleans Saints, they had five linemen take at least 43 snaps.

That rotation kept opposing quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees under pressure. The pressure could come from the inside or the outside. And it would come with mostly just four rushers, which allowed that back seven to be even more aggressive.

For far too long the Cowboys’ pass rush has been Ware and nobody else. This past season it was Hatcher, and sometimes Selvie and Ware. The Cowboys hope Tyrone Crawford can develop after missing last season with an Achilles injury, but the defensive line needs a ton of help.

For the Cowboys to make a jump in the defensive rankings -- forget being a top-five or 10 unit -- they need a better pass rush. For a better pass rush, they need better players. To get better players in free agency they need to hope the defensive line market is as slow as it was in 2013 when Bennett received a one-year, $5 million deal, and Avril received two years and $15 million from the Seahawks. That could allow Dallas to either keep Hatcher (unlikely), or get lucky with some other prove-it type deals. The easier way to get better players is the draft, but will the right players be available at the right time?

If the Cowboys get a better pass rush, their secondary will look a lot better.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Russell Wilson went to last season's Super Bowl to do research. So confident was the Seattle Seahawks' rookie quarterback in his and his team's ability to reach the NFL's championship game -- and reach it soon -- that he wanted to know everything he could about what it felt like to be there.

"I wanted to get a sense of how it was going to be," Wilson recalled Sunday night. "I wanted to know how the pregame was going to go, halftime, all of it, the whole experience, so I could be as prepared as possible."

This is why what happened Sunday night, with Wilson and the Seahawks trouncing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-8 in one of the most one-sided Super Bowls, is so scary. Wilson doesn't just ponder his future, he works to grab as much control of it as he possibly can. At 25 years old, he is already a Super Bowl champion quarterback. And while nothing for him or anyone is guaranteed, the possibilities for Wilson at this moment in time are dizzying.

He has the keys to the hottest car in the league and seems uniquely equipped to drive it. The Seahawks are the second-youngest team in the NFL and the second youngest ever to compete in a Super Bowl. The only younger roster in Super Bowl history was the 1971 Miami Dolphins, who lost Super Bowl VI to the Dallas Cowboys and then went undefeated the following season. These Seahawks have already done that group one better, and they did it with the defense leading the way. As Wilson improves with the wealth of young talent around him, only better things await.

"He just wants to be great so much," Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin said. "I haven't seen anybody prepare like him."

Here's what's special about Wilson's opportunity. He is set up, yes, with a dominant defense, power running game and a player -- Harvin -- that Wilson didn't even get to use this season waiting to do big things with him in 2014 and beyond. Having lasted until the third round of the 2013 draft, Wilson carries a mere $817,302 salary-cap hit for 2014, obviously less than he's worth. For now, he allows Seattle to continue to put great pieces around him. When you're still a couple of years from having to really pay your franchise quarterback, you can trade a first-round pick for Harvin. Your GM's offseason priority list becomes a lot more fun.

"Obviously, we feel like we have a really strong foundation," Seattle GM John Schneider said. "Every team's looking for a great pass rush, a great quarterback and a strong runner like Marshawn [Lynch]."

The Seahawks have all of that, and, unlike a lot of Super Bowl champions, it appears they will get to keep all of it for a while and build on it. As they do, they take great comfort in the knowledge that their 25-year-old quarterback won't let them get complacent.

"He refuses to fail. He refuses to let himself fail. And he's going to refuse to let anyone else around him allow that to happen," Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "So he's always going to be grabbing guys and making them watch a little more film, make them work a little bit more on this play or that play. A lot of the things that you would say about Peyton Manning, he has a lot of those qualities."

Ah, yes, Manning: the established superstar vanquished by Wilson's Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. This game had a chance to be Manning's coronation -- a victory that could have erased so many of the things his critics hold against him and anointed him the undisputed best of all time. That must wait now, and, at 37, Manning has to know he's running out of chances. Wilson inhabits the other end of the spectrum and can legitimately dream about winning countless more.

"We've already said it," Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "We're going to win this one, and then what's next is we're going to win it again."

Seattle has a team-wide swagger befitting its youth, but Wilson has a leader's mien, and a leader's responsibility to be more circumspect.

"The goal was to win the first one," Wilson said. "We've got a great group of guys, and I believe we can do it again, but it's not easy. So you can think about the future and how many great players we have and one of the youngest teams in the league, but we just wanted to win this one. To think about the future, that wouldn't be us."

I thank Wilson for his permission, and here goes: There's no one in the NFL you'd rather be right now than Russell Wilson. He knows for a fact he can win the Super Bowl and has a team around him that's deep and solid enough to be a clear-cut Super Bowl favorite going into 2014. But what should frighten the rest of the teams in the NFL is Wilson knows the breadth of his opportunity and feels a responsibility to work hard enough to cash it in. Sunday was the night of Wilson's life so far, but there's ample reason to believe there are more nights like this to come.

Eagles should be in win-now mode

January, 31, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- It is a word the Eagles hated using for years and it's a word that doesn't really apply to the franchise now, just one year into Chip Kelly's tenure.

Rebuilding.

In evaluating the decline of the team in Andy Reid's final years, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman have said the big mistake was thinking the team was always one move away from a championship. In trying to make that one decisive win-now move, the Eagles instead made mistakes that weakened their infrastructure.

[+] EnlargeHowie Roseman
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsGM Howie Roseman has said the Eagles will avoid lavish free-agent deals.
But it would also be a mistake to go too far the other way. The Eagles are not a rebuilding team right now. They were 10-6 and are defending NFC East champions. They have an offensive team with key skill players in the prime of their careers: LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. The offensive line, which is vital to the team's success, has three starters over the age of 30.

The goal should be simple: Keep adding talent around those core players until the Eagles are at the elite level of the teams that will play in the Super Bowl Sunday. That means using every tool available, including spending money on free agents when it is warranted.

The Denver Broncos weren't exactly thinking about a five-year plan when they signed Peyton Manning two years ago. The Seattle Seahawks splurged on a quarterback in free agency that same offseason. They signed Green Bay's Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract.

Manning had one of the great seasons ever and will start for the Broncos Sunday. Flynn is back in Green Bay as a backup. Russell Wilson became Seattle's starter and quickly emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.

If the Broncos had ruled out high-priced, quick-fix free agents, the Patriots would be in the Super Bowl. If the Seahawks had avoided drafting a quarterback that high after signing Flynn, San Francisco or New Orleans would be preparing for Tom Brady.

This isn't to say the Eagles should go crazy and throw big money at every flavor-of-the-month free agent on the market. But they also shouldn't rule out the occasional bold move. Yes, they were burned by Nnamdi Asomugha a few years back, but Reid's era of success was made possible partly by acquisitions like Hugh Douglas (in a trade, with a new contract included), Jon Runyan and, well, let's just admit it, Terrell Owens.

Roseman has said repeatedly that the Eagles will avoid huge free-agent deals. That would seem to rule out difference-making players like Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and safeties Jairus Byrd of Buffalo and T.J. Ward of Cleveland.

And that's fine, provided the Eagles are able to obtain high-quality players in other ways. Seattle got 16-1/2 sacks in the 2013 season from free-agent pickups Cliff Avril (two years, $13 million) and Michael Bennett (one year, $5 million). Smart shopping is the key, whatever the price tag.

The key point is that the Eagles didn't make a mistake by signing marquee free agents. They made mistakes in player evaluation in both free agency and the draft. You don't stop drafting because you selected Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett, so you shouldn't rule out free agency because you signed Asomugha and Vince Young.

The Eagles made huge strides in one year because Kelly made excellent use of the considerable offensive talent he inherited, and because his overall approach in all phases reinvigorated a stale franchise. To make those next steps toward a championship-caliber team will require better players in a few key spots.

If Byrd, Orakpo or some other elite player can further that process, the Eagles shouldn't hesitate to go after him. There is no rebuilding, only building, and that process should be constant. The well-run organizations of the last decade understand that. The Eagles should know -- a few missteps aside, they're one of them.

RG III's jersey sales took a hit

January, 31, 2014
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Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III's popularity took a definite hit this past season -- but he remains a popular player. Griffin, despite a subpar season and some critical stories, ranked fourth on NFL Players Inc.’s Top 25 player sales list.

Griffin
Of course, that represents a fall after what his jersey did during his rookie season when it set records for sales at NFLShop.com since the league started tracking such matters in 2006 -- and there was no doubt about his popularity then. Last year, ESPN reported that sales of Redskins merchandise increased 250 percent on fanatics.com, owed largely to Griffin's presence.

But, according to NFLShop.com, Griffin ranked fifth in jersey sales from April 1 to Sept. 30 this past year. But he dropped out of the top 10 when their next rankings came out earlier this month (though he's fifth on their website for most-searched jersey). The numbers mirror his struggles on the playing field this past season.

And for those keeping score on how he compares to Andrew Luck, the player selected above him, the Colts quarterback ranks 10th on the NFLPI list, though I'm sure he's eased his, uh, pain by dwelling more on consecutive playoff appearances and not jersey sales. But Griffin does trail other young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Regardless, here's the list of the top 25 jersey retail sales from September to November 2013 that was released Thursday:

1. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
2. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
3. Peyton Manning, Broncos
4. Robert Griffin III, Redskins
5. Tom Brady, Patriots
6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
7. J.J. Watt, Texans
8. Drew Brees, Saints
9. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
10. Andrew Luck, Colts
11. Richard Sherman, Seahawks
12. Clay Matthews, Packers
13. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
14. Wes Welker, Broncos
15. Victor Cruz, Giants
16. Eli Manning, Giants
17. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
18. Calvin Johnson, Lions
19. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
20. Jason Witten, Cowboys
21. Troy Polamalu, Steelers
22. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
23. Patrick Willis, 49ers
24. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
25. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

NFLN survey/Super Bowl QB: Giants

January, 29, 2014
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We surveyed 10 players from each NFL team, on condition of anonymity, and asked them a variety of questions. We're rolling out the results of the survey piece-by-piece, and today we present the results from this question:

Two-minute warning and the Super Bowl is on the line. Whom do you want at quarterback?

The winner was the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, with 128 of a possible 320 votes, or a whopping 40 percent. No huge surprise, since Brady has won the Super Bowl three times. The Broncos' Peyton Manning, who's trying for his second Super Bowl title Sunday, was second with 86 votes. Super Bowl champions Aaron Rodgers (32), Drew Brees (21) and Ben Roethlisberger (20) followed, and then came two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning of the New York Giants with nine votes.

I actually have a cute story about this. So far in these posts, I have resisted writing anything about what any of the Giants players I surveyed said or how they voted, since this was supposed to be confidential and revealing any details like that would threaten at least part of the confidentiality. But in this case, I asked the people involved if it would be okay for me to write this, and they said yes, so here goes.

One of the rules for this question (and all of the others) is that you aren't supposed to vote for someone from your own team. But a couple of Giants voted for Eli Manning. And when I brought up the rule in an effort to get them to change it, they refused. One of them said to me, "Come on. I understand the rule, but my teammate has actually done this exact thing twice. How many other quarterbacks in the league can say that?"

And he was right. So we let them keep their answers. Pretty tough to argue.
NEW YORK -- Michael Strahan retired after helping the New York Giants win the Super Bowl six years ago, going out a champion even though he says he was still capable of playing. Though some have imagined a similar ending for quarterback Peyton Manning should he lead the Denver Broncos to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII this Sunday, Strahan doesn't foresee it.

Strahan
Strahan
"He shouldn't. Have you seen the way he's playing?" Strahan said Tuesday. "I think we all would feel cheated if, win or lose, Peyton decided to stop playing, because we'd be saying, 'Think what we all missed.'"

Strahan said he takes pride in his belief that he was productive and excellent right up until the end of his career.

"No one looked at the end of my career and said, 'He should give money back. He's not earning it anymore,'" said Strahan, who is a finalist in Saturday's Pro Football Hall of Fame election. "When your heart's not in it, that's when you have to go. My heart quit before my body did. That's why I decided it was time. If [Manning's] heart is still in it, then I'm sure he'll keep playing."

Manning said as much Sunday when asked whether he was considering that this could be his final game, but he has also said his final decision rests on the results of a postseason physical that includes an examination of his surgically repaired neck. Regardless, you can put Strahan in the camp that doesn't think Manning needs to win Sunday to cement his place in NFL history.

"When it's all over, I think we need to realize we may be looking at the greatest ever to play the game," Strahan said. "Maybe he doesn't have the rings that [Joe] Montana has, or my man [Terry] Bradshaw, or even [Tom] Brady. But I think everything else he's done is pretty remarkable."

History provides hope for Redskins

January, 28, 2014
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The Redskins will have a tough time recovering from a 3-13 season, especially with a first-year head coach in Jay Gruden. But it’s one that a number of other teams have done, including five teams since the 2006 season.

Here are the other teams that have recovered from a three-win season or worse to make the playoffs the following season, according to Elias Sports Bureau:
  • 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs): Andy Reid took over a team that had six players who made the Pro Bowl for the previous season, which ended with a 2-14 record. They also added quarterback Alex Smith, who made the Pro Bowl along with nine other players. An excellent defensive line and strong running game led by Jamaal Charles made a difference as both the offense and defense finished in the top six in points per game.
  • 2012 Minnesota Vikings (10-6, lost in the wild-card round): Running back Adrian Peterson had an historic season, rushing for 2,075 yards to lead the turnaround. The big jump occurred defensively where the Vikings went from 31st in points allowed to 14th. Nine of their 13 losses in 2011 were by seven points or less. By comparison, the Redskins had seven such games.
  • 2012 Indianapolis Colts (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): Like the Chiefs, the Colts had a first-year coach in Chuck Pagano. They also had a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, who threw 23 touchdown passes to 18 interceptions. They did not go crazy in free agency despite a 2-14 finish the previous season and, in fact, lost receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins. They even lost Pagano for 12 games while undergoing cancer treatment, yet went 9-3 in that span. The offense jumped in points per game from 28th a year earlier to 18th while the defense went from 28th to 21st.
  • 2008 Miami Dolphins (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): After a 1-15 season, the Dolphins hired Bill Parcells as team president and later Tony Sparano as head coach. They did not make a major splash in free agency, with their big signings being guard Justin Smiley and defensive end Randy Starks. However, after the Jets released Chad Pennington that August, the Dolphins pounced. And steady quarterback play made a big difference as Pennington threw 19 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. That certainly topped the efforts of the 2007 group of Trent Green (five starts), Cleo Lemon (seven starts) and John Beck (four starts). The defense made a huge jump, going from 30th in points allowed to ninth.
  • 2006 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in conference championship): Hurricane Katrina disrupted the 2005 season under then-coach Jim Haslett, leading to a 3-13 record. But the Saints made two fantastic moves in the offseason: Hiring head coach Sean Payton and signing quarterback Drew Brees. They also drafted well, with running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, tackle Jahri Evans and receiver Marques Colston among the additions.
  • 2000 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in divisional playoff round): Haslett took over for Mike Ditka and found instant success, earning coach of the year honors. They had a terrific pass rush with La’Roi Glover (17 sacks), Joe Johnson (12) and rookie Darren Howard (11) as the defense went from 28th in points allowed to 10th. They did not have great quarterback play, but Jeff Blake was good enough as he threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 11 starts. Receiver Joe Horn stood out with 94 receptions for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns.
  • 1999 Indianapolis Colts (13-3, lost in divisional round): They had finished 3-13 for two consecutive seasons before this stunning turnaround under second-year head coach Jim Mora, who had previously won 93 games in 11 seasons with New Orleans. Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw the same number of touchdown passes (26) that he did as a rookie but 13 fewer interceptions (15).
  • 1987 Indianapolis Colts (9-6, lost in the divisional round): They had won a combined 12 games in the previous three seasons, including only three in 1986. But in the strike-shortened season, the Colts’ defense ended up first in points per game. The Colts acquired running back Eric Dickerson during the season; he rushed for 1,011 yards in nine games.
  • 1982 New England Patriots (5-4, lost in the first round): Another strike-shortened season helped the Patriots recover from a 2-14 season (that was preceded by a 10-6 one). They did not receive great quarterback play, though Steve Grogan was steady in his six starts. The defense ranked seventh in points per game.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- As brothers who are NFL quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning compare notes. With older brother Peyton and the Denver Broncos in New Jersey this week to play the Super Bowl in the New York Giants' home stadium, little brother Eli has said he's trying to offer as much local-knowledge help as possible. But when the topic turns to how to beat the Seattle Seahawks, Peyton joked Sunday, Eli's not going to be much use to him.

"Yeah, he told me he couldn't help much with Seattle," Peyton Manning said in his news conference shortly after the Broncos arrived Sunday afternoon. "That wasn't one of the Giants' best games."

Eli Manning threw five interceptions in a 23-0 Giants loss to the Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in Week 15.

Jay Gruden wants RG III to be himself

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
8:50
AM ET
Jay Gruden tailored his offense in Cincinnati to his quarterback. He’s going to do the same in Washington. That means the Redskins’ offense will have a different look than the Bengals. It also means Robert Griffin III’s legs will continue to be a major weapon.

Gruden made it clear the day he was hired that he liked the zone read-option, so obviously he wants Griffin to use his legs. And Gruden's agent, Bob LaMonte, stressed after Gruden was hired that a big reason for his excitement was Griffin’s ability to be dynamic. That doesn’t mean just throwing the ball. So there wasn’t much doubt how Gruden would want to use Griffin. Just in case, though, he went a little further in a story for Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesRedskins fans can expect to see Robert Griffin III on the move in Jay Gruden's offense.
“I worked with Andy Dalton for three years in Cincinnati, and built a foundation of concepts and protections that I think worked well with him,” Gruden told MMQB. “With Robert, we’ll obviously use his skill set differently. When it comes to the quarterback position, my job is to make him comfortable and productive. I’m not going to try to turn RG3 into Andy Dalton or Drew Brees. He isn’t them. They’re not him. I would be foolish to try to turn RG3 into a pocket passer. It would be foolish. The way he is as a runner, we have to take advantage of that. He strikes fear into defensive coordinators when he runs outside. I’m going to let him be himself.”

Griffin needs to be himself, but at times that conflicted with what the Redskins needed. Or with what he truly wanted to be, which was a pocket passer who could extend plays. That’s what the Redskins really need, for Griffin to extend and then make big plays downfield. Like he did as a rookie against the New York Giants on fourth down. Putting fear into defensive coordinators does not mean he has to scramble and run the ball. Rather, it's that ability to extend plays that scares anyone.

Griffin does need to develop as a pocket passer, but to limit him there at this point would be wrong. He has to grow more into that role, and the Redskins would love for that to happen. They always pointed to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers as a guy whose game they would like him to emulate; he extends plays with his legs. Yes, when you do that there are more risks for hits. But when you can’t, that risk is there in the pocket. And when you’re in the red zone, the ability to extend a play is crucial. Look how many big plays were made by San Francisco and Seattle because of the quarterback's mobility.

And for Griffin to become a better pocket passer, he has work to do, developing more consistent fundamentals and progressing through reads a little faster. That's natural for a young quarterback who did not need to worry about either aspect in college. The problems weren’t all on him last year, but this is how he can help. A good offseason of work will help, as, perhaps, will greater trust in what he’s being told and by whom.

Griffin does not have to become Peyton Manning or Brees to win and be successful. Griffin won being himself as a rookie. He also was hurt twice being himself (the concussion and knee injury both occurred on scrambles). Defenses played him without as much fear this season, especially early in the year when he first returned from his knee surgery. They knew he couldn’t hurt them with his legs like he did in 2012.

Another year removed from surgery and, perhaps, without the brace, Griffin can get back to that point. But he can help himself in little ways, by keeping his eyes downfield as he runs, allowing potential big plays to develop; it’s what Seattle’s Russell Wilson has done in the playoffs. Wilson is still improving as a quarterback, and there are things he does that Griffin did this season as well -- missing open guys, throwing behind receivers on slants. It gets overshadowed because of the team Seattle built around him, allowing the Seahawks to still win. But Wilson is more focused on extending plays rather than taking off and running, and he can deliver strong passes from the pocket when necessary (as can Griffin).

I’m quite sure Gruden understands the risks of a quarterback who runs too much. Heck, in college and when he played professionally, Gruden was a quarterback who ran too much. His brother, Jon, hates the zone-read because he says it will shorten careers. It makes sense that the two have discussed this topic. So it’s safe to say Gruden wants Griffin to develop as a passer and get to a point where he doesn’t have to rely on his legs. Griffin wants that as well.

But it’s good that Gruden will focus on what Griffin does best, rather than force him into a style that doesn’t suit him. They just need to find the right balance.

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