NFC East: Roy Williams

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

May, 31, 2014
5/31/14
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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 -- Two veteran wide receivers went off the market Monday when Nate Burleson and Jason Avant signed with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

Both were linked to the Dallas Cowboys by the media (hello, that's me), but sources indicated the Cowboys had some interest in Burleson, who played for their new passing game coordinator, Scott Linehan, with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys just were not willing to pull the trigger on a deal now, continuing their patient approach in free agency.

Could it mean the Cowboys are as content at wide receiver as owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said?

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams, a 2013 pick, started as the No. 3 receiver and also showed he could handle the No. 2 role. Is Dallas hoping for a repeat in the 2014 draft?
With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys are set at the top two spots. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would settle in as the No. 3 receiver, splitting the job depending on role. Harris has more big-play ability. Beasley is better in the quick-game routes.

I've long said the Cowboys do not need a true No. 3 receiver over the years because they have tight end Jason Witten, and the running backs have always figured prominently in the passing game.

The best performance by a No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys in the past five years has been Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. But mostly the Cowboys need their third receiver to catch anywhere from 30 to 40 passes a season. Kevin Ogletree did that in 2012 with 32. Technically Roy Williams might not have been the No. 3 receiver in 2010, but he caught 37 passes. In 2009, Patrick Crayton caught 37 passes for 622 yards and 5 touchdowns.

So you’re looking for a No. 3 receiver to catch two or three passes a game when you look at the options available in how the Cowboys have constructed their offense.

But what if Bryant or Williams gets hurt? And there will be injuries. Can Harris be a No. 2 receiver and excel outside? Maybe for a few games. Beasley is just a slot receiver because of his size. That is why I thought Avant or Burleson would have been good fits. Other options remain, such as Earl Bennett and even Miles Austin, but that would be a long shot.

However, if the Cowboys were not willing to make a play for a free agent Monday, they're not going to get into the market Tuesday.

Last week, I wondered whether Gavin Escobar could be an option as the third receiver. The Cowboys like his athleticism and saw in glimpses his ability to make plays. His touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale was an eye-opener. With the way the tight ends are used these days, Escobar has more receiver skills to him than tight end skills. He needs to get bigger and stronger to be an on-the-line tight end, but that part of his game will never be his strength. His strength will be working the seams and his ability to go get the ball.

But here is a thought: This is considered one of the deeper drafts in memory for wide receivers. Could the Cowboys be looking for their No. 3 receiver, who could be the No. 2 receiver, in the early to middle rounds of the draft?

Williams, a third-rounder last year, caught 44 passes for 736 yards and 5 touchdowns and showed he could handle the No. 2 role when Austin missed games with a hamstring injury. Williams' development played a part in the release of Austin.

If a Mike Evans fell, or if a Marqise Lee is there in the first round, could they be targets? It sure seems as if the draft is the Cowboys' preferred method to find their No. 3 receiver.

Dez Bryant praises Jon Kitna

December, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- In Dez Bryant's rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys he received snaps with the second-team offense because he was behind Miles Austin and Roy Williams in the depth chart.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant and Jon Kitna
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDez Bryant is grateful to Jon Kitna for showing him the ropes early in his career.
The second-team quarterback was Jon Kitna.

Bryant praised Kitna for helping develp him during that 2010 season. In 12 games, Bryant finished with 45 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned two punts for scores.

"Man, just keep in a person's ear, I know for me individually, I'm excited," Bryant said of Kitna, who re-joined the Cowboys on Wednesday. "Kit is a big reason why my career started the way that it did and I can't thank him enough. Just to see him here, I feel good."

Kitna become an on-the-field mentor to Bryant, helping him master the offense and understand how defenses play different coverages.

"It's nice for him," Kitna said when told about Bryant's comments. "Chad Johnson was very similar to that. ... You come in with a certain perception of what you think the league is going to be like and you figure out it's going to take more work than you probably thought it was going to, and then the light goes on and you feel like you can be special player in this league. I'm excited for him and what it means for his career and for his future after football."

This isn't the first time a wide receiver has heaped praise on Kitna. Williams talked about the close relationship he forged with Kitna when the two played for the Detroit Lions and continued when they became Cowboys.'

Coach Jason Garrett is big on having the right type of player in his locker room. Garrett looks for leaders who show it on and off the field. In Kitna's case, the quarterback demonstrated it with Bryant away from the field.

"I'm going to be always be thankful and always appreciate that from him," Bryant said. "I can't thank him enough. I give a lot of credit and success go to Kit. My career started because of Kit. He always talked to me every day. I will never forget. He always stayed in my ear. He always stayed on me. He always told me I had the potential to be something."

Cowboys unlikely to make trade deal

October, 25, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday but Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones acknowledged the team is not likely to strike a deal.

The Cowboys have limited salary-cap room to absorb money even for the final eight games of the season and will be in a difficult situation in 2014.

“It would have to really just fit right to sacrifice our cap some because it will be an issue for us next year and we certainly manage our salary cap hand in hand with ‘13, ‘14 and ‘15 all side by side,” Jones said. “We see how it affects each year.”

The last in-season trade the Cowboys made came in 2008 when they picked up wide receiver Roy Williams from the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys gave up 2009 first-, third- and sixth-round picks for Williams and a seventh-round pick. They signed him to a $45 million contract extension that guaranteed him $20 million.

Williams caught 19 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown in 10 games that season. The Cowboys released him after the 2010 season.

“I think people are getting more and more skilled at that in terms of how they look at it and know that if you trade for a guy he’s got to fit,” Jones said. “He’s got to fit under the cap. He’s got to fit under improving your team and I think teams are understanding that and that’s why you’re probably seeing more trades but it’s certainly not as easy as it would be if you didn’t have a salary cap. But I don’t think we’re ever going to have to worry about that again. As far as I’m concerned it looks like we’re going to have a salary cap for a long time.”

The Cowboys will continue to look at free agents for help, especially on the defensive line, and mentioned the team has several workouts scheduled for Monday.

“We’re just taking a look at guys,” Jones said. “Rod (Marinelli) is doing a heck of a job. I admire our young guys that are in there playing hard. To some degree, it’s a good situation. The guys know it’s week to week and they’ve got to play hard and give it their best and play the right style of defense. You’ve got to admire what that group is getting accomplished. But we certainly would look at any type of situation there if the right deal was there, but we also can’t, for a quick fix, do something that would hurt long term.”
IRVING, Texas -- We'll start this week's Five Wonders with an anti-wonder: I don't wonder if we will see a game as entertaining as the Dallas Cowboys' 51-48 shootout loss the Denver Broncos on Sunday. I know we won't.

Right?

Anyway, on to the Wonders:

1. I wonder if Jerry Jones wonders about the defensive switch he initiated in the offseason when Rob Ryan and the 3-4 scheme were fired for Monte Kiffin and the 4-3 scheme. Of course, he doesn't because that would mean Jones would have to realize the personnel he has put together on defense is flawed. The Cowboys can pay $50 million to a cornerback (Brandon Carr), trade up to the sixth pick for one (Morris Claiborne), pay top dollar for a defensive end (DeMarcus Ware) and extend their middle linebacker (Sean Lee) and not get the results. This isn't to blame those guys for the defensive woes, but the holes on the defense are obvious and were obvious before Anthony Spencer, Tyrone Crawford and Jay Ratliff were hurt. Games are won and lost up front and the Cowboys were content to go into the season with Crawford as the top backup defensive end, despite his inexperience, and Ratliff as the vaunted three-technique, even though there was real evidence he was a declining player. George Selvie and Nick Hayden are good role players as a fifth or sixth or seventh defensive linemen, not starters. Every defensive lineman is now “playing up” a level, so to speak, and the lack of pressure is killing the defense. Jones needed more foresight not because of injury, per se, but recent history and demonstrated ability.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Roy Williams
AP Photo/AJ MastThe Cowboys may be hesitant to make a trade after the failed move to acquire Roy Williams.
2. The trade deadline is Oct. 29 and it seems like we are seeing more deals than there have been in the past. So I wonder if the Cowboys will get into any serious trade talks to help the defense. The last big-time trade they pulled off in such a way was the Roy Williams' deal in 2008 and that backfired in a major way. I don't wonder if the Cowboys would be gun shy about doing another deal, but do they have the pieces in place to make a deal? They are tight on cap room, but they can move some money around to come up with enough room for the final eight games of the season. A player-for-player deal would be hard just because they don't have something a lot of teams would want. (For those wondering about Miles Austin, stop.) The Cowboys need to find pass-rush help. Do they look at teams struggling, like a Tampa Bay, which could be looking to dump players and move on? The NFC East is there to be taken. It doesn't much matter. The Cowboys can hang with the good teams, which they showed Sunday, but they need a difference-making piece to help Ware and Jason Hatcher.

3. I wonder if the Cowboys continue to attack offensively the way they did against the Broncos. If they don't, then I'll wonder why they didn't. Tony Romo was brilliant, according to many people after the game even with the turnover. The Cowboys attacked with their passing game. Romo trusted the pass protection. The receivers were able to get down the field. They went to an empty look plenty of times and flourished. With the defense struggling the way it has, the Cowboys need to go after other teams the way Peyton Manning goes after defenses. They can't play passively and hope the defense holds the opponent to 20 points. They need to go for the throat with Dez Bryant, Austin, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray, Gavin Escobar, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. Spread the field and go and live with the consequences. If you're going to go down, go down swinging.

4. I'm not a big fan of projecting numbers out, but sometimes it's fun. I wonder if people realize just how well Romo has played through the first five games. He has 1,523 yards and is completing 72 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. He took his average per attempt from 6.7 yards to 8.1 yards with his 506-yard outing against Denver. But let's forecast Romo's current stats over 16 games: he would throw for 42 touchdowns and six interceptions with 4,874 yards. It's not Manning numbers, but they would be sublime.

5. The first four Wonders were major deals, so we'll go a little under the radar for the fifth Wonder. I wonder why Danny McCray is not a gunner on the punt team. McCray has been the Cowboys' best special teamer since he showed up in 2010. He entered this season with 65 special teams stops in three season and had three entering Sunday's game. He was a dynamic gunner even for a guy without great speed. He was able to power his way through the press coverage at the line and force the returners into a decision. On the Cowboys' only punt Sunday, gunner B.W. Webb was pushed out of bounds and was hardly in the play on Trindon Holliday's return. It has not killed the Cowboys yet, but why not put players in the best position to succeed?
Very interesting look from our man Andrew Brandt at the pitfalls of serving as an NFL team's chief personnel guy while also filling another role. Andrew's two examples come from our division: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who also serves as the team's general manager, and Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, who doesn't have the title of "general manager" but does have final say on all personnel decisions. Andrew argues that the GM position requires different traits than does the role of owner or head coach, and that Jones and Reid are struggling to play on both sides of the fence.

Of Jones, Andrew writes:
The same qualities that make Jones a formidable presence as an owner -- his bravado, charisma and emotional as well as financial investment -- are detrimental to his position of general manager. That role calls for a quiet, detached and surgical construction (and perhaps deconstruction) of a team's roster.

Jones delights in big transactions both in business and football, but in football that can sometimes be more risky than savvy. He has twice mortgaged future drafts to acquire veteran wide receivers, a low-value position. He traded two first-round draft choices in 2001 for Joey Galloway, and a first-, third- and sixth-round selection in 2009 for Roy Williams.

Which is fair, because Jones certainly did those things. But it also relies on what I believe is an outdated perception of a Jerry Jones who has in fact been acting far less impulsively on personnel matters over the past couple of years and has ceded much of the day-to-day control to son Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett.

Of Reid, Andrew writes that a coaching style that relies on strong personal relationships with players can be an impediment to success as a GM:
This is the major flaw of the coach/general manager model. Although Bill Belichick has been able to achieve sustained success, he has done so with cold and impersonal detachment, often not even responding to player discontent about roles or contracts, further infuriating players and agents. Reid, although a flat-liner with the media, cares deeply about his relationship with his players.

Another worthwhile point, and I think the decision to tie so much of the Eagles' fate to Michael Vick as quarterback likely stands as the most significant current example of this. In general, you can't argue with the success Reid has had over 14 years as Eagles coach. And the poor construction of the current roster doesn't seem to be the result of any inability by Reid to detach himself from personal loyalties -- it's just a matter of poor decision-making about players and schemes. But I think the Vick example does speak to what Andrew's talking about, and I wonder whether Reid, in his next stop, can expect (or will necessarily demand) the same dual role he's filled in Philadelphia for the past decade.

Breakfast links: Wild opening weekend

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
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So there you have it. The first week of NFC action is in the books, and as usual it appears we didn't know anything. I was a fifth Michael Vick interception from starting the year 0-3 on my predictions. And yet, after one week, three of the division's four teams are still undefeated, and the only one that lost is the team that won the division last year. Yeesh. I need some links.

Dallas Cowboys (1-0)

The challenge for the Cowboys after their very impressive season-opening victory Wednesday is to put that game in the past and focus on what's ahead of them. Todd Archer writes of the things Dallas must improve in the weeks ahead.

On the occasion of the retirement of wide receiver Roy Williams, Calvin Watkins writes that the move to acquire him rates as the worst trade in the history of the Cowboys. Do you agree with Watkins?

Washington Redskins (1-0)

Dave Sheinin has the recap of Robert Griffin III's incredible debut and what it means to the Redskins. I like the part where Drew Brees tells him, after he'd just beaten Brees 40-32, that he was proud of him. Simply impossible not to be impressed with what you saw from Griffin on Sunday. No matter who you were.

If there was an unsung hero in the game for the Redskins, it may have been long snapper Nick Sundberg, who broke his left arm in the second quarter and yet remained in the game and continued his long-snapping duties. With a broken arm. A. Broken. Arm. Look for the Redskins to bring in a long-snapper this week. And maybe to build, like, a small statue to Sundberg somewhere in the Ashburn complex.

Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)

The Eagles won their opener as well, but it's fair to say the vibe around that team wasn't quite as upbeat and positive as it was around the Redskins. After the Eagles escaped Cleveland with a 17-16 victory in spite of four Vick interceptions, Phil Sheridan writes that the Eagles' quarterback is looking neither new nor improved.

The Eagles' defense, however, was excellent in the opener. Drawing particular praise was the play of new middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, whose preseason performance had some Eagles fans worried but whose performance Sunday reminded us all for the 7,843rd time that you can't predict anything based on preseason games.

New York Giants (0-1)

Speaking of new linebackers in new places, Keith Rivers was a bright spot in the Giants' season-opening loss Wednesday. Kieran Darcy writes that Rivers is already proving it was a good move for the Giants to trade for him. If Rivers has to start, he can start. If he has to fill a utility linebacker role, it appears he can do that. Great depth move and more for the Giants.

Paul Schwartz believes that rookie Jayron Hosley may be the cure for what ails the Giants in the secondary. At this point, there seems to be little reason not to offer Hosley more responsibility and see what he can do with it.
Morning! I trust everyone had a good weekend. We are back for another June week on the NFC East blog, and this time we don't have minicamps to provide us with our material. I'm open to suggestions. I don't know. Maybe some extra links.

New York Giants

Tom Coughlin is savoring every moment in the wake of his second Super Bowl title, and he spoke with our Ashley Fox late last week about what his life has been like since winning it. Sounds like the same old Coughlin, keeping things simple and focused even as he allows himself to enjoy life at the pinnacle of his chosen profession. One of his sayings is something about how, if you work as hard as you have to work in the NFL, you owe it to yourself to have fun with the fun times.

Art Stapleton wrote a nice Father's Day feature on Terrell Thomas and the way he says his 2-year-old daughter helped him get through last year's ACL injury.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jack McCaffery writes that the Eagles' enthusiasm during minicamp stands as a reason to be encouraged about their coming season. I can kind of see the point. Rather than be down and mopey and backbiting about last year's flop, they're fired up to get back at it. It's the way you'd want them to be, I imagine.

I've never read an Andy Reid feature that gets as personally in-depth as does this one by Jeff McLane, who traveled back home with the Eagles coach and got some insight into his upbringing.

Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III's assignment during the time between minicamp and training camp is a very simple one, according to Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan: Keep throwing.

Oh, and I know you guys have all been wondering when former Redskins running back John Riggins' new hunting show was going to start. Here's your answer. Yes, really. What? I didn't give you enough Redskins stuff last week?

Dallas Cowboys

Calvin offers five things to like and five things to worry about as the Cowboys head for summer vacation. Everything on the first list is offense (yeah, even Jason Garrett, who's still more offense than defense), and the first three on the second list are defense. This breaks down pretty simply for the Cowboys this year, doesn't it?

And, no, this isn't a 2012 Cowboys story, but it's an interesting look at the NFL's hard-hits controversy from an interesting angle -- the idea that fundamental tackling has declined. And it posits former Cowboys safety Roy Williams as one of the early culprits.
I have been writing for some time that there's no need to panic about the Dallas Cowboys' No. 3 wide receiver position just because Laurent Robinson caught 11 touchdowns last year and signed with Jacksonville. But ever since the first night of the draft, I have detected a burgeoning opinion among Cowboys fans that I am a moron who has no idea what he's talking about. You guys are subtle about it, but I can detect these things, in large part because I have not (to answer to several of your very polite mailbag questions) had a lobotomy.

So if you won’t take my word for it, I present the word of Mr. Todd Archer, the esteemed Cowboys writer for ESPNDallas.com, who made the case in a detailed piece Wednesday morning that the Cowboys can replace Robinson without having to find a guy to replace Robinson:
The No. 3 wide receiver on the Cowboys is really Tony Romo's fifth option offensively behind Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and either DeMarco Murray or Felix Jones.

The Cowboys did not dial up a ton of plays specifically for Robinson last year.

His biggest plays came when coverage filtered to the other wideouts or to Witten (hello, 70-yard touchdown versus Philadelphia) or plays broke down. This isn't meant as a knock on Robinson, because he was terrific last year. He and Romo were simpatico when plays went haywire, and that takes skill, not time.

Just ask Roy Williams that.

The Cowboys don't need to replace Robinson's numbers with one guy.

This is a fine summary of the way the Cowboys were thinking about their No. 3 wideout situation last summer, after they cut Williams and before they found Robinson on the free-agent scrap heap. And it is because of the way things worked out last year that the Cowboys remain convinced they can approach the situation the same way this year. Had Robinson not come along and did what he did in 2011, the Cowboys' offense would have found a way to replicate his production. His most significant contribution, as Todd points out, was his stint as a reliable fill-in during the times Austin had to miss due to hamstring injuries. If they can keep Austin's hamstrings healthier this year, then they won't have a need for someone to do what Robinson did last year. And if they can't, they feel decent enough about their ability to fill in, even if they need more than one player to do it this time.
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
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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.

Camp Confidential: Dallas Cowboys

August, 21, 2011
8/21/11
11:40
AM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' coaches don't just announce drills during training camp practices, hollering out "9-on-7s!" as the horn blows and players shift from one field to the other. They're calling out situations. Two minutes to go, one timeout left, second-and-6 on your own 35. The players either huddle or hustle between plays, depending on what the called-out situation calls for. While these are drills only, they're intended to simulate game conditions as closely as they possibly can.

"Will we ever be able to completely recreate a game situation? No," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "But we're going to try our best in practice, and I think all these situational periods had been really good for us. Not only have we created initial situations, but stuff comes up that isn't scripted, and I think our team has handled those well also."

What strikes you when you spend a few days in Cowboys camp is how normal things seem, how businesslike. Sure, they were in San Antonio for a while and now are splitting practice time between the steamy outdoor fields at Valley Ranch and the air-conditioned luxury of Cowboys Stadium. But it's nothing like last year, when they spent August bouncing between those places as well as Canton and California, brimming with the highest possible expectations, proclaiming with confidence the goal of being the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

A 6-10 record and a new coach can humble you, for sure, after a summer like that, and there's no doubt these Cowboys are humbled by the way things went in 2010. But if the end result is the atmosphere Garrett has created in his first training camp as head coach, there are worse things.

"We certainly want an atmosphere where guys like to coach and play football, but we absolutely want to be organized and prepared," Garrett said after Friday morning's workout at the stadium. "We want it to be businesslike when we're out there doing our work, out there on the field and also in the meeting rooms. We want to create a nice, professional atmosphere where we feel like we can function the best."

Garrett exudes both confidence and competence. He has waited his whole life for this chance, but he doesn't seem over-eager or phony about the way he's putting his long-held ideas about how to be a head coach into practice. He is smart, knowledgeable and self-assured, and it's emanating throughout the building. Around a team that often, throughout its history, has been known for something of a circus atmosphere, the mentality this August is straight lunch pail.

"Everybody here knows, whatever we get, we're going to have to work for it," right guard Kyle Kosier said. "Whether it's your spot on the roster or in the starting lineup or a Week 1 win or a playoff spot, it's about putting in this time right here and working. And that's all that's on anybody's mind right now."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRob Ryan will be expected to improve a defense that was one of the worst in the league last season.
1. Can the defense learn Rob Ryan's scheme in time? The Cowboys brought in Ryan to be their new defensive coordinator. And while they signed free-agent safety Abram Elam and free-agent defensive end Kenyon Coleman -- both played under Ryan in Cleveland the past two seasons -- the group they're bringing back on defense is otherwise the same as the one that allowed the second-most points in the league last season. Ryan is charged with fixing that, but of course the lockout denied him the opportunity to use spring minicamps and organized team activities as part of his installation process. The defense is trying to cram a whole offseason's worth of learning into one month, and there's a lot to learn. Ryan's defense is based on multiple and ever-changing looks, and a complexity designed to make things as confusing as possible for opposing offenses. But Garrett said he has faith in the quality of his defensive personnel and the ability of his flamboyant new coordinator to teach.

"It's difficult. There are a lot of looks," Garrett admitted. "But the other part to that, too, is that I think he grew up in a very fundamentally sound system in the NFL -- linebacker coach for New England for four years during their Super Bowl era in the early 2000s. So he has a very good feel for base defensive football, and then he has an ability to evolve in different situations and make it more difficult for opposing offenses. So we feel excited about that, and we're excited to see our players play within this system."

2. Can they put together an offensive line? There are some new and inexperienced pieces here. Rookie Tyron Smith, the ninth overall pick in this past draft, will start at right tackle. Every day Smith gets an extra tutoring session with offensive line coach Hudson Houck and a series of rotating instructors that has included Kosier, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, left tackle Doug Free and others. Smith is ultra-talented but needs work on his footwork and learning the schemes. And as with the players learning the new defense, he has to cram. The Cowboys moved Kosier from left guard to right so he could work more closely with the rookie, but now they need a left guard. And while that still has a good chance to be Montrae Holland or Phil Costa, later-round rookies David Arkin and Bill Nagy have been getting first-team reps lately and one of them could end up starting Week 1.

3. Who is the No. 3 wide receiver? One of the first things the Cowboys did when the lockout ended and free agency began was cut receiver Roy Williams to help create cap room. That also created a vacancy at the No. 3 wide receiver spot behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Kevin Ogletree appears first in line to grab the opportunity, though Raymond Radway and Dwayne Harris have shown flashes. Some have suggested the Cowboys need to go out and get a veteran to fill the spot, but with tight end Jason Witten a near-lock for 90-plus catches, running backs Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray potential factors in the passing game and depth at both of those positions, the Cowboys feel as though the No. 3 wide receiver might be the No. 5 target for Tony Romo for most of the season.

THE BUTLER CAN DO IT

Third-year linebacker Victor Butler has been an eye-opener in camp, and some have suggested he might be a threat to Anthony Spencer's starting spot on the side opposite Ware. More likely, he's a guy to add to the pass-rush mix and give them depth and the ability to vary those looks even more. If anything, the camp Butler is having could serve to motivate Spencer to return to his 2009 form after a disappointing 2010.

"You can never have too many pass-rushers on one team," Ware said. "When the Giants won against the Patriots, they had several really great pass-rushers. Pressure is what gets things going. So to be able to develop another third-down guy will really help us out a lot."

TURNING UP A CORNER

[+] EnlargeOrlando Scandrick
John Albright/Icon SMIOrlando Scandrick has been a surprise in training camp and could provide much-needed depth in the Cowboys' secondary.
The Cowboys did not sign free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, though they tried, and they'll go with Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman as starting cornerbacks again. The problem is, injuries have kept both Jenkins and Newman sidelined so far in camp, and Newman is out until at least the regular-season opener. This is a spot where the Cowboys struggled mightily in 2010, and they're not going to have their defense the way they want it until they get Jenkins and Newman back on the field. The one positive to come out of this is that backup corner Orlando Scandrick has looked very good in a starter's role so far in camp, so maybe they have some quality depth there that they didn't know they had.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Cowboys might have more at defensive end than we thought immediately post-free agency. Coleman looks as if he's poised to steal Igor Olshansky's starting spot from him, and Jason Hatcher has looked rejuvenated and been an asset in the pass rush. Letting Stephen Bowen go to the Redskins felt like a loss at first, but re-signing Marcus Spears and Hatcher and bringing in Coleman might have made them deeper than they'd have been if they'd stayed pat.
  • The kicking competition looks miserable, with neither David Buehler nor Dan Bailey having seized the opportunity and Kai Forbath unable to get on the field because of injury. Don't rule out the possibility that the kicker the Cowboys go with this season isn't on the roster yet.
  • Jones and Romo aren't new or exciting names around here, but they look as good as anyone in camp on offense. When I watched them practice against the Chargers on Thursday, the Cowboys were using Jones around end a lot, and he looks like he has great burst. The offensive linemen I spoke with all hope he gets a chance at full-time carries, because they believe he and Bryant can be "spark plug" guys.
  • Elam was a critical signing, as he'll be responsible for the secondary calls and has been vitally important in helping the holdover players understand the language Ryan is speaking. I'm interested to see if the secondary looks more organized Sunday night having had an additional week-plus practicing with Elam.
  • The Cowboys are serious about Nagy, who was a seventh-round pick after not playing much in his senior season at Wisconsin. He was seriously hurt in a moped accident as a junior and then was passed on the depth chart by a few other guys, so much of the action he got as a senior was actually at tight end. But the Cowboys love his athleticism and maturity. They could start him at guard early in the season, and there are some who think he could eventually start at center for them down the road.
When I encountered new Chicago Bears receiver Roy Williams after practice Sunday night, he was calm. His voice projected at normal volumes. He wasn't trying to make anyone laugh or find his way into the headlines or otherwise be the life of the party.

It's too easy and would be cliché to suggest Williams was humbled by three unproductive seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. But I do think he fully understands how fortunate he is to have landed with the Bears, a team that doesn't need him to be the star of its offense but which offers a scheme that coaxed his best two seasons in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNew Bears receiver Roy Williams had his two most productive NFL seasons under Mike Martz while they were in Detroit.
"This is the best scheme in the country for me," Williams said. "It's the best scheme, hands down."

In two seasons under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, when both were with the Detroit Lions, Williams caught 146 passes for 2,148 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the other six seasons of his career, Williams has totaled 210 receptions for 3,060 yards and 30 scores.

For that reason, the Bears wasted no time inserting Williams into their first-team offense during training camp drills this week. The move displaced their top-yardage man from last season, Johnny Knox, and in the end it demonstrated how much the Bears valued a different-sized body among their receivers.

"I know Jay [Cutler] was begging for a big guy," Williams said. "I know I fit the mold of a big guy. I'm not a Brandon Marshall, who is nine-feet tall. But I'm a big guy who can go across the middle, make the catch and try to keep the chains moving."

Williams' classic 6-foot-3 frame suggests his performance should transcend scheme, but it obviously hasn't during his eight-year career. Why did Williams perform so well for Martz in Detroit? Part of it, to be sure, was Martz's pass-happy play-calling at the time. Someone had to get the yards. But I also think that despite his frame, Williams' athleticism and footwork get him to the precise point Martz demands of his receivers in a way normally reserved for much smaller men.

Williams referred to the Bears' receiving group as "The Smurfs" because Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester are all under six-feet tall. But normally, receivers built closer to the ground are quicker in and out of their cuts than longer, loping wideouts.

For whatever reason, Williams had no problem executing in Martz's scheme with the Lions. During the Bears practices I watched this week, his long arms and reach were an important contrast to those of his teammates. Cutler now has his go-up-and-get-it receiver.

Knox, on the other hand, was particularly upset about the quick demotion. But with all due respect, it wouldn't make sense to have three receivers of the same size on the field when there is a viable alternative, and it was unlikely that Cutler favorite Earl Bennett was going to get pushed down the depth chart.

"[Knox] is upset," Williams said. "Everybody is a competitor in this league. You have to be a competitor, but at the same time you have to know what's going on. I would be upset if a guy just came in and got in front of me. That's the nature of this business. There is nothing wrong with what he did. Nothing wrong with what he did. He had an exceptional season last year. If anything is to happen to me, or I go down, he's a great guy to come back in."

In truth, I would consider 2011 an enormous success for Williams if he finishes with the same kind of production -- 51 receptions for 960 yards and five touchdowns -- that Knox did last season. Williams boasts two years of experience in this system, and his arrival will give Knox an opportunity to be a package-focused playmaker as opposed to one expected to make tough catches on third-and-6.

Which brings us to the larger question: Can Williams be trusted with a starting role? I can tell you this much: He couldn't have landed in a better spot to answer that question.

"I know how this thing works," he said. "I know how it works."
So today is the day NFL free agents can actually sign contracts with teams. Yeah, that's right. All that noise and insanity of the past three days? Just the preliminary work. The agreeing to terms. The laying of the foundations for deals not yet consummated. Today is when it gets really nuts. Hope you didn't wear yourself out already. I haven't. See? Here are links:

Dallas Cowboys

Free-agent safety Danieal Manning reportedly got a four-year, $20 million deal with $9 million in guarantees from the Houston Texans. But Dan, that's the Texans, not the Cowboys, so why should we care? Well, I'll tell you why, italics. Because the safety market is going nuts, and the Cowboys still need to sign two of them. Quintin Mikell got $27 million for four ($14 million guaranteed) from St. Louis and Eric Weddle got $40 million for five ($19 million guaranteed) from San Diego. Manning's price is closer to that of the safeties the Cowboys are likely to get (Abe Elam, Brodney Pool, Roman Harper, Gerald Sensabaugh) than are either of those two deals, but it's still likely more than they hoped to spend (twice, remember, since they need two guys). And they may be priced out of guys like Michael Huff. Blogging the Boys offers a detailed breakdown of the safety market.

Lots of people have asked where Roy Williams would end up after the Cowboys cut him. Looks like he'll be a Chicago Bear. I'm interested to see if Dallas replaces him with someone from the outside, but I think their No. 3 receiver comes from their roster at this point.

New York Giants

Giants players are scheduled to report today for the start of training camp, which this year will be in East Rutherford, N.J., and all eyes are on disgruntled defensive end Osi Umenyiora. There's a pretty big leap from grousing about your contract to calling your GM a liar in a sworn affidavit, but it's a leap Umenyiora took this offseason, and it remains to be seen whether he'll hold out of camp until he gets what he wants (a trade or a new deal) or if he comes to camp and talks to Jerry Reese "man to man," as team owner John Mara has said he expects him to do. There's a report out of Baltimore that says the Ravens have some interest in Umenyiora if the Giants decide they don't want him anymore.

We might get some Plaxico Burress news today, too, though Mara said Thursday there's work yet to be done there. Remember, Burress is meeting with the Steelers tonight as well as the Giants, and could simply be using New York's surprising interest in him as leverage to sign with a team whose coach he doesn't hate.

Philadelphia Eagles

Albert Breer reports that Vince Young will sign his one-year contract to be the Eagles' backup quarterback today. If you guys were reading yesterday, you know how I feel about this. If not ... here you go.

And if I'm reading this correctly, Phil Sheridan believes the Eagles should pay DeSean Jackson more than the Jets just paid Santonio Holmes. I respectfully disagree, and I think Phil does raise in here some of the issues that are keeping the Eagles from jumping into a long-term deal with Jackson at this particular point in franchise history. Not saying they won't eventually pay him, and I'm certainly not saying he's not underpaid for 2011 (because he clearly is). But this isn't an open-and-shut case, and for that reason it could linger.

Washington Redskins

A refreshingly honest assessment from new Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen, who admits that his decision to leave Dallas and sign in Washington was, pretty much, about the money.

Jason Reid says the trade of Albert Haynesworth to the Patriots was Mike Shanahan's finest hour so far as the Redskins' coach. I mean, I know Jason wanted Big Al out, but ... sheesh. If he's right in his assessment, it's a good thing for Shanahan he has four more years on his contract to come up with a better "finest moment."

Been banging it around on Twitter the past couple of days instead of in the comments, in case you guys have been wondering. The posts are coming fast and furious, but I haven't forgotten you. Hope you're enjoying it and keeping up. Plenty more to come, I am certain of it. These four teams can make some news.
Tuesday was a crazy day and Wednesday should be, too. Gonna be like this for a while, I believe. Fun ride with many twists and turns still ahead. Plenty more today, no doubt including another couple of hits on "First Take" to talk free agency league-wide. But there's always time for the links.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer thinks the cuts the Cowboys made Tuesday show that Jason Garrett has more power in the organization and more pull with owner Jerry Jones than his predecessor, Wade Phillips, ever had. The Roy Williams cut, in particular, was an admit-you-were-wrong-and-move-on decision -- the kind you don't often expect from someone of Jones' wealth and ego. I can only assume that, if Garrett is really calling the shots here to some extent, that's a good thing for Dallas.

No hard feelings, by the way, from Williams, who learned Tuesday he'd be cut and then told Clarence Hill "I would have done the same thing." Roy didn't play well in Dallas, but he sure earned a reputation for carrying himself with class.

New York Giants

Mike Garafolo spoke to Plaxico Burress, who is going to meet face to face with Giants officials today as they work on a possible reunion. Burress is understandably interested (as I'm sure we all are) to see what his meeting will be like with Tom Coughlin, about whom Burress made very critical comments upon his release from prison last month. I imagine that's a conversation that has to happen before any deal gets done. I also imagine this all means the Giants are very worried about Steve Smith's knee.

Mark Herzlich's father apparently grew up a Giants fan in Connecticut. So he's psyched. As is his son, who as we have discussed could be a real low-risk, high-reward signing for the G-men.

Philadelphia Eagles

A report out of Phoenix late Tuesday night said the Eagles were asking the Cardinals for a first-round draft pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in exchange for Kevin Kolb, and that the Cards were offering Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-rounder. Can't hurt to ask, I guess. Personally, I might take the second-rounder and Rodgers-Cromartie if I were the Eagles. But I am not the Eagles, and I have said all along here that it doesn't make sense for the Eagles to deal Kolb unless somebody's compensating him as though he were a starting quarterback. If the Eagles hold firm and the Cardinals balk, you'll see Kolb in Philly, backing up Michael Vick. But I'd still bet something gets done here that makes both sides happy.

Quintin Mikell's contract with the Rams is for four years and $27 million, of which $14 million is guaranteed. Lots of people have been wondering why the Eagles would let Mikell go, and that's your reason. No way they were going that long, or that much money, to keep Mikell when they have Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett to develop at the safety position. Would it have been nice for Mikell to hang around and help with that development? Sure. But not at a price like that.

Washington Redskins

John Clayton reported early this morning that the Redskins and the Vikings had a tentative deal to send Donovan McNabb to Minnesota as long as McNabb was willing to re-work his contract and take less money to play for the Vikings in 2011. I'm still not sure why McNabb would do that unless he's sure he can't go somewhere else and be guaranteed more playing time, or unless he's worried he'll get cut and lose all of the money. But I guess the latter is a reasonable fear, so we'll see. Fox Sports reported late Tuesday that the deal would be for a 2012 sixth-round pick and maybe a 2013 sixth-rounder, depending on McNabb's 2011 performance. If the Redskins can get anything for McNabb, who I thought they'd have to release, they'll count themselves fortunate.

The Redskins cut punter Josh Bidwell on Tuesday. Mike Jones reports that they have interest in former Bears punter Brad Maynard.

OK, back to it. Anybody who thinks they know what the NFC East landscape will look like 24 hours from now is out of their minds.

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