NFC East: roby ryan

NFC East free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Dallas Cowboys

Key additions: CB Brandon Carr, S Brodney Pool, QB Kyle Orton, FB Lawrence Vickers, LB Dan Connor, G Nate Livings, G Mackenzy Bernadeau

Key losses: WR Laurent Robinson, TE Martellus Bennett, FB Tony Fiammetta, CB Terence Newman, G Kyle Kosier (cut)

"You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're all right": Rather than go big for the biggest names out there, the Cowboys took a more directed, focused approach to free agency this year. They did spend a lot to bring in Carr, but they had a glaring need at cornerback and they believed Carr was the best one on the market. The two guards were specifically targeted by Cowboys' scouts and new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and Connor was brought in to address a need at inside linebacker while 2011 draft pick Bruce Carter continues to develop.

The only loss that they didn't upgrade is that of Robinson, who signed with the Jaguars after coming out of nowhere to catch 11 touchdown passes from Tony Romo in 2011. The Cowboys will hope that one of the young receivers on their roster fills that No. 3 wide receiver role, or that they can catch lightning in a bottle again this year as they did with Robinson last year. They could miss Kosier's leadership on the offensive line, but he was getting old and injured and they needed to keep getting younger on the line.

What's next: While they'll keep an eye out for a bargain-bin receiver to replace Robinson, and they could try and find another tight end to replace Bennett, the Cowboys' main focus the rest of this offseason is likely to be on defense. They could add to the safety or cornerback mix in the draft or with another free agent. They'll keep looking to upgrade the pass rush, either with another outside linebacker or a defensive lineman. Those are the likely areas in which the Cowboys will focus their efforts in the draft.

Otherwise, it's going to be about sorting things out, especially on the offensive line. They need to find a pair of starting guards from a group that includes the two newcomers and the two youngsters -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- they drafted last year. Training camp should help sort out what needs to be sorted out on the offensive side of the ball. The draft will be for adding more pieces to Rob Ryan's defense.

New York Giants

Key additions: TE Martellus Bennett

Key losses: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, CB Aaron Ross, T Kareem McKenzie

"Reason to believe": The Giants don't like to make big free-agent splashes, and since they're up against the salary cap they also have little choice. But their second Super Bowl title in five years should help ease any concerns fans might have about if they're doing enough in the offseason. The Giants' way is to establish fair prices for the positions they need to fill and to be patient until they find players willing to play for their number. They'd have loved to have Jacobs or Manningham or Ross back, but not for the kind of money those guys found in free agency. They'd love to have linebacker Jonathan Goff and defensive end Dave Tollefson back, but if they get big-money deals elsewhere, the Giants will let them go too.

They targeted Bennett right away and signed him on the second day of free agency, since they saw in him a young talent at a position where they lost two players to major knee injuries in the Super Bowl. And they re-signed cornerback Terrell Thomas and punter Steve Weatherford, two of their offseason priorities. But since then, the Giants have been quiet, content that they have a good, deep, championship roster and willing to let the market come to them.

What's next: The areas of concern, if there are any for the Giants, are linebacker and offensive line. And if Goff comes back, they like what they have at linebacker with the incumbents and last year's rookies. With McKenzie leaving, they could move David Diehl from left tackle to right tackle, but they'll still need to add depth at tackle as they look to the future on the offensive line.

There remains the chance that the Giants could trade defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who was disgruntled about his contract this time last year and now only has one year to go. If they did that, they could move Mathias Kiwanuka from linebacker back to his old pass-rushing spot on the line. But the Giants would have to be really blown away by an offer to move Umenyiora, who has relaxed a great deal about his contract situation and said he'd like to stay.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key additions: LB DeMeco Ryans (trade), G Mike Gibson

Key losses: DE Juqua Parker, WR Steve Smith, QB Vince Young

"We take care of our own": The Eagles' focus so far this offseason has been internal. They extended the contracts of right tackle Todd Herremans and defensive end Trent Cole, signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson to a long-term deal and re-signed free-agent guard Evan Mathis. The Eagles believe last year's team was a good roster that underachieved, and they basically are taking a mulligan and hoping it works this time.

The one exception is a big one -- the trade that brought them Ryans from Houston in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. The Eagles were pitifully weak at linebacker last year, and that weakness hurt their otherwise successful implementation of the "Wide 9" defensive line formation. They could get to the passer with their front four, but teams were able to attack the middle of their defense at will. The addition of Ryans, a veteran middle linebacker who was a productive tackler and beloved leader with the Texans, should help solve a lot of those problems.

What's next: There remains a strong chance the Eagles will trade cornerback Asante Samuel before or during the draft. They can afford to do so because they'd still be left with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as starting cornerbacks and the underrated Joselio Hanson at nickel corner. Other than that, the Eagles figure to be fairly quiet the rest of the way.

They're most likely to use their first-round pick on a defensive player, though Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who'd be a great addition, now looks likely to be gone by the time they pick at No. 15. So they could pick up another veteran linebacker and use the draft to add to their defensive line rotation. It's also likely they add a veteran safety and a veteran running back to back up LeSean McCoy, who's next in line for a new contract.

Washington Redskins

Key additions: WR Pierre Garcon, WR Josh Morgan, CB Cedric Griffin, S Brandon Meriweather

Key losses: S O.J. Atogwe (cut), S LaRon Landry, WR Donte' Stallworth

"When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band": The Redskins' biggest move of the offseason was the draft-picks trade they made with the Rams, sending three first-round picks and a second-round pick to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. That pick ensures that Washington, which has been looking for a franchise quarterback for a couple of decades, will be in position to take one of the two quarterbacks in this year's draft that projects as a franchise guy. They're most likely getting Baylor's Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner who's got Redskins fans in a tizzy already.

The Redskins' first big moves when free agency opened were aimed at building a new offense for their rookie quarterback to run. Garcon and Morgan are, the Redskins believe, receivers with big-play talent who will fit well into the offense they like to run. The other two big additions -- Griffin and Meriwether -- were brought in to beef up the secondary, which lost its two starting safeties. It's possible Griffin could play safety, though he played cornerback in Minnesota.

What's next: The Redskins continue to try to re-sign veteran linebacker London Fletcher, and they're confident they can do that. They also want to bring back running back Tim Hightower, assuming he's recovered from his ACL injury, and they're in talks with him about doing just that. If they fail in either or both of those efforts, they'll need backup plans, as they'll lack depth at running back and inside linebacker.

Washington still could stand to add to its secondary and find help for the offensive line. Right tackle Jammal Brown has injury problems, and the team is looking for a better option. Demetrius Bell remains on the market and is a player Washington likes for that right tackle spot.

Breakfast links: Orton, Jacobs and more

November, 24, 2011
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. This morning's links will be lighter than usual, since we'll all be eating plenty later on. Meantime, know how thankful I am for my wonderful job and for the time I get to spend here online mixing it up with all of you each day. I hope you all enjoy a wonderful holiday with friends and family.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys were one of three teams to put in a claim on quarterback Kyle Orton, which seemed to confuse some people who hadn't read Todd Archer's item in Wednesday morning's links saying they should. Two reasons: First, it seems clear that backup quarterback Jon Kitna has a somewhat serious injury, meaning the Cowboys don't have the reliable veteran backup they like to have behind Tony Romo. And second, they knew the Bears were going to claim him, and the Cowboys could be competing with the Bears for a playoff spot. Doesn't matter. The Chiefs claimed him, too, and they had higher waiver priority than either Dallas or Chicago.

Rob Ryan says the Cowboys' defensive problems are all in the red zone.

New York Giants

I have written many times, here and elsewhere, that I dispute and fail to understand the reasons why fans boo their own favorite team for poor performance. Brandon Jacobs seems to agree with me, which makes me ... well, I don't know how it makes me feel. But the premise that fans would pay all of that money for tickets and parking and then boo a team or a player for not playing well still baffles me. I'd boo if I felt the player or team wasn't putting forth a full effort or really trying their best to win. But I don't think that's the case with Jacobs. In particular, I don't think you can get on a running back for failing to find holes that don't exist. The running game problems for the Giants are all offensive line-related, and there's nothing Jacobs can do about them. However, I was discussing this on Twitter on Wednesday with a follower of mine named Albert Guendi (@albertguendi), and he said the main thing that bothers Giants fans about Jacobs is the number of times over the past few years he has said or done something to indicate a lack of enthusiasm for playing football in general and for the Giants in particular. And so I can kind of understand that Jacobs has eroded his benefit of the doubt with fans. Still don't get why you'd sit there and not want to build up your favorite team or player rather than rip on them for losing. But I can get why Jacobs might not longer be a player about whom Giants fans feel much affection.

And no news to this point on Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Boley, what with the Giants' practice schedule pushed back due to the fact that they're not playing until Monday night.

Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick has been able to throw the ball a little bit this week, according to Andy Reid, though it remains to be seen whether he'll play Sunday. He didn't practice Wednesday, and if he doesn't practice before the weekend I'd personally bet on a second consecutive start for Vince Young. Either way, they're getting a soft Patriots pass defense Sunday and should be able to take advantage, as long as the receivers are healthy. Problem is, they're not. DeSean Jackson missed practice with a foot injury and Jeremy Maclin has shoulder and hamstring problems. The Eagles literally can't afford to lose another game, and so they're going to have to hope they can out-physical opponents up front on the lines the way they did Sunday night against the Giants.

Cullen Jenkins seems to feel bad about the hit that gave Giants running back D.J. Ware a concussion. Says he's "not a mean person."

Washington Redskins

Running back Evan Royster says it was rough, waiting around all year on the practice squad for his shot at actual carries in an actual NFL game. But he's on the active roster now, and if you don't think he's going to get a shot to carry the ball, you haven't paid much attention to the way Mike Shanahan has been using his running backs this year or, really, ever. He obviously doesn't think Ryan Torain can handle every-down duties. He obviously doesn't think Roy Helu is or should be anything more than a change-of-pace guy just yet. So I'll bet you see Royster get a real and serious look at some point -- whether it's this week or sometime in the final five.

Remember Jarvis Jenkins, the Redskins' rookie offensive lineman who was one of the surprise stars of training camp and blew out his knee in preseason? Nathan Fenno checks in on him.
I hate to say this without throwing a pinch of salt over my shoulder, but things seem to be settling down a bit on the free-agent front. The Giants got Ahmad Bradshaw locked up, which was the big move in the division Monday, but there isn't nearly as much chaos swirling around as there was a week ago this time. The Cowboys still need their two safeties, and each NFC East team has some more tinkering it could do, but sanity is beginning to set in as teams get into their training-camp rhythms. The one thing that's been consistent through it all, of course, is the links.

Dallas Cowboys

Little bit of mild trash-talking between Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and new Eagles defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, who replied on Twitter. It's not Osi versus Shady, but it'll do. Nice of Ryan to remind everyone that the rest of the division hasn't handed the title to the Eagles based on what happened last week. I mean, of course they haven't, but if you're a fan of one of the other teams you have to enjoy that someone's saying it.

Blogging the Boys takes a point of view that differs from almost everything I've been hearing from Cowboys fans -- that this team may not have needed to have a very active offseason in order to improve over last year. It's about the coaching, they say, and they make a decent point. Still need those two safeties, but it's a little bit refreshing to hear from someone who's not in outright panic over the lack of moves in Dallas.

New York Giants

Ralph Vacchiano has identified five teams -- Rams, Seahawks, Broncos, Chargers and Ravens -- interested in Osi Umenyiora now that the Giants have given him permission to seek a trade. But as Ralph points out, that hardly means they'll actually trade for him. The Giants want a first-round draft pick if they deal him, and remember -- the issue with Osi is his contract. Who's going to give up a first-round pick and pay him what he wants to be paid? He's good, but you'd better be getting Reggie White for a price like that.

Incidentally (and yeah, I know, two Osi links, sorry), I'm not sure whoever said Umenyiora was a "bad guy" or "not a team player" as he claims in his email rant about his situation. He's right about the system being unfair, and everyone knows it. All I've heard said (and what I've written) is that there's nothing he can do to correct his situation other than make himself a pain. And I have to believe even he'd acknowledge at this point that that's exactly the strategy he's enacting. No?

Philadelphia Eagles

Paul Domowitch offers a long look at rookie Casey Matthews and his worthiness as a starting middle linebacker for the Eagles this year. Stranger things have happened, I'm sure, but I can't say with any confidence that I believe the Eagles are sticking with what they have at that position. Everybody keeps asking about Lofa Tatupu, and he'd be a fit here.

This Jonathan Tamari notebook includes an item on Nate Allen's health and one on how Howard Mudd is trying to sort things out on the right side of the Eagles' offensive line -- another position where it's conceivable they might yet add someone. First-round pick Danny Watkins signing Monday night obviously helps, as he's slated to be the right guard.

Washington Redskins

Jason Reid writes on London Fletcher, one of the Redskins' rocks in a time of great and rapid roster turnover. Jason calls Fletcher's signing the best of the Dan Snyder era. Being around the Redskins, it doesn't take long to realize they have strong leaders, and Fletcher is the name everybody mentions first.

Rich Campbell looks at the offensive line and wonders if the continuity of personnel there will help its chances of improvement in 2011. This is one of those nowhere-to-go-but-up deals, and I think there's merit to the idea that the zone-blocking scheme takes a while to get comfortable with and that those who were around last year should perform better in it this year.

Anyway, I'm headed back over there to see the Skins again today. We'll do our chat at noon, as we always do on Tuesday, but if I'm a little late, please assume it's because I'm doing interviews whose aim is to help me learn more so I can be as informed as possible when you start asking me questions on Twitter later tonight.