NFC East: Rashad Baker
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The NFL's free-agency period hasn't officially ended, but for the purposes of this column, let's pretend it has. We're still waiting for the Philadelphia Eagles and their millions in cap space to join the party -- unless you're hanging your hat on the Andrews brothers.
Anyway, we're handing out grades this afternoon based on the first two weeks of free agency in the NFC East. The Washington Redskins have spent the most money (shocker), but you can't buy this blog's love. Now brace yourself for this year's NFC East premature free-agency report card.
New York Giants: A-
The Giants have been the most efficient team in the division during free agency. General manager Jerry Reese calmed down a lot of folks about the wide receiver position by continuing to hold out hope for Plaxico Burress. If you read between the lines, it sounds like the Giants are feeling pretty good about Burress' chances of avoiding jail time -- and I don't think an NFL suspension will be more than four games.
With that in mind, Reese set out to address some key areas in the Giants' defense. Former Falcons linebacker Michael Boley will immediately become a starter, and his coverage skills will put the Giants in a much better position against running backs such as Brian Westbrook and Felix Jones. When the Eagles isolated Westbrook on Antonio Pierce during a December win, the results were devastating.
The Giants also stepped back and watched film of how the defensive line wore down in the second half of the season. Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck had an outstanding season, but he was carrying too heavy a load in December and January. By signing former Seahawks defensive tackle Rocky Bernard and former Cowboys defensive end Chris Canty, the Giants bolstered their defensive line to the point where Fred Robbins could be used as trade bait. Paying Canty $7 million a year seems like a steep price, but Coughlin -- and his buddy Bill Parcells -- are convinced that he will become a force inside. In the Cowboys' 3-4 scheme, Canty was often an afterthought as a pass-rusher. After playing against Canty for several seasons, the Giants thought his height (6 feet 7) and power would allow him to collapse the pocket.
Former Texans safety C.C. Brown (the Giants love ex-Texans) should provide depth behind Michael Johnson and Kenny Phillips. Coughlin and Reese love creating competitive situations in training camp -- and they've done that at linebacker, safety and on the defensive line. Don't you think most teams would like to have Mathias Kiwanuka coming off the bench? Same goes for Jay Alford and Robbins. Heading into the draft, the Giants are the best team on paper. Of course, some people thought the same thing about the Cowboys last season.
Washington Redskins: B
A lot of teams use free agency as a jumping-off spot for the draft. Under Dan Snyder's reign, the Redskins have used the draft as more of an offseason diversion.
First of all, let me say that Albert Haynesworth is one of the most dominant defensive tackles we've seen in years. When he was in the lineup, the Titans were an elite defense. When he was out because of injury, the defense was pedestrian.
My fear with Haynesworth is that he had the best two years of his career when the Titans (and the rest of the league) were dangling that lucrative carrot in front of him. How will Haynesworth perform with a full bank account?
|Albert Haynesworth shows why he is one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL.|
Well, we're about to find out. But honestly, signing DeAngelo Hall to a long-term contract is the bigger risk. He was a divisive force in the Falcons' locker room and he obviously didn't make it with the Raiders. He performed well on a $500,000 deal in half a season -- and the Redskins guaranteed him $22.5 million. The Redskins have been down this road before -- and it never works.
Demetric Evans was actually a decent pass-rusher, but the Redskins let him get away. You better hit on a pass-rusher with that No. 13 pick, in part, because it will be Sunday afternoon before you make another selection.
Bringing in guard Derrick Dockery is a good move, but you still have holes to fill on the line. Jon Jansen, Randy Thomas and Pete Kendall aren't going to cut it. The injuries (and age) led to last season's downfall in the second half of the season. If the Redskins don't do more to address the line, the signings of Hall and Haynesworth won't mean that much.
Dallas Cowboys: B -
No matter how you got him (and the trade was weird), Jon Kitna's a smart addition. This team was held hostage by the backup spot last season. Now, the Cowboys' playoff chances aren't shot if Tony Romo suffers another injury. And don't underestimate the chemistry that Kitna had with Roy Williams in Detroit. I heard T.J. Houshmandzadeh say recently that Kitna was a tremendous leader in the Bengals' locker room, even when he was backing up Carson Palmer. Romo needs to become a better leader, so maybe Kitna can help him out.
For the money, bringing in Igor Olshansky to replace Canty at defensive end is a solid move. Canty's the more talented player, but the Cowboys got a nice deal on Olshansky. The guaranteed portion of the salary has been reported as $6 million, but a league source has told me it's closer to $8 million.
Bringing in Keith Brooking will be an upgrade over Zach Thomas at inside linebacker. Brooking played for Phillips in this exact same inside-weakside spot in Atlanta. At age 33, he's a declining player. But there's a chance the Cowboys could get two more productive seasons out of him. Now, the Cowboys have to either find a wide receiver or an offensive lineman in the second round of the draft.
Of course, the biggest move was releasing Terrell Owens. In my mind, that's addition by subtraction in terms of the locker room. In terms of what happens on the field, you could see a drop in production early in the season. But if Jason Garrett can build this offense around the three-headed monster at running back, the Cowboys will have a shot at the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles: C-
This may seem harsh to some of you, but is there anything that excites you about what the Eagles have accomplished so far? Stacy Andrews can replace Jon Runyan at right tackle, but this still leaves a gaping hole on the left side. The Eagles could package their two first-round picks and move up to draft someone like Jason Smith of Baylor, but that's not Andy Reid's style -- at least not lately. It's more likely they trade down and acquire some additional picks.
Sean Jones is a serviceable replacement for Brian Dawkins, but the one-year deal tells you that the organization doesn't have a ton of faith in the guy. Former Raiders safety Rashad Baker is more of a special-teams guy.
But if the Eagles are biding their time to make a run at Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, all can be forgiven. They probably would have to part with one of their first-round picks and possibly a third-rounder. Does that seem like the type of thing Reid and Joe Banner would do? Right now, Donovan McNabb's scratching his head like the rest of us.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Eagles took another step toward bolstering their depth at safety by agreeing to a one-year deal with former Oakland Raider Rashad Baker. Some of you will recall that it was Baker who had the game-sealing interception in the Raiders' season-ending upset of the Bucs, which of course put the Eagles in position to claim a playoff spot.
Eagles players and management reached out to Baker via text later that evening, and on Wednesday they made him part of the organization. At 27, Baker has also spent time in the Bills, Patriots and Vikings organizations. He was an undrafted free-agent rookie out of Tennessee when he signed with Buffalo in 2004, but now he's coming home. Baker grew up in nearby Camden, N.J.
"I haven't been this close to home in about eight years, when I left to go to the University of Tennessee," Baker told Les Bowen of the Daily News. "It feels great -- playoff, championship-bound team every year. I feel great about it ... I like the versatility of the defense, and I look forward to being a part of it."
The team will now wait to see what Donovan McNabb thinks of the signing.