NFC East: Sidney Rice

Age: 43

Position: Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator

[+] EnlargeDarrell Bevell
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDarrell Bevell has been an assistant in smaller markets during his entire NFL coaching career.
Recent background: Bevell has served as the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons. His offense ranked 23rd in points per game in 2011 (28th in yards). But in the past two years they’re ninth and eighth, respectively, in points per game (and 17th both years in total yards).

Past stops: Bevell started his NFL coaching career as a Green Bay offensive assistant in 2000. Three years later he became their quarterbacks coach and three years after that Bevell was named Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. Quarterback Brett Favre posted a career-best 107.2 passer rating under Bevell in 2009, when the offense finished No. 2 in points per game (In his five years with Minnesota, they were 26th, 15th, 12th, second and 29th in points per game). Bevell was not retained when interim coach Leslie Frazier became the head coach for the 2011 season. He started four seasons at quarterback for the University of Wisconsin.

What I’ve heard about him: Seattle coach Pete Carroll expects Bevell to be a head coach in 2014. While the Seahawks’ offense has been inconsistent, what’s impressed many is that they’ve still been productive despite playing most of the season minus receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin and half the season without tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini. Bevell is considered matter-of-fact and not flashy, but open and honest. One ex-NFL general manager said he likes Bevell and thinks he’s a good coach, but said his personality is not that of a head coach.

Potential fit: Bevell has done excellent work in Seattle. They’re still playing with a young quarterback who was a third-round pick and they haven’t played much with their true starting lineup. Yes, Russell Wilson would have gone in the (late) first round had he been a couple inches taller. Still, he’s a young quarterback and Bevell and the Seahawks have done a good job winning with him (yes, with a great defense). It was Bevell who wanted Wilson to start right away over Matt Flynn, so he has some conviction and doesn’t appear afraid to make what was considered a gutsy move after they traded for Flynn. It's not like every team was raving about Wilson before the draft, either. I like that Bevell is younger. But I’d very much worry about his low-key personality in this organization. That’s not the sort owner Dan Snyder wants or needs; I think it would make it harder for Bevell to thrive in Washington. Also, several coaches from the past have talked about working in a big market; Bevell has been in Green Bay, Minnesota and Seattle. I'd worry about him being overwhelmed by the demands of the job in Washington, from maneuvering inside the organization -- knowing how to handle the owner is only part of it -- to dealing with outside pressures.

Suggested reading: A little bit on his offensive philosophy. Really, the first graph is the one that’s applicable. … A little bit more on his philosophy regarding audibles, from his Minnesota days. … A year ago, Bevell said, “We’re a running team.”… Too much verbiage? ... Vikings' loss was Seahawks' gain. ... An interesting look on his time in Minnesota.

On Miles Austin's value

May, 30, 2013
I get a lot of questions about Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin. It seems every time a receiver of any note is potentially available, fans want to know whether the Cowboys will or should sign him to replace Austin. I usually respond with a question, specifically, "What does everybody dislike so much about Miles Austin?"

Todd Archer feels the same way, and has this piece on to remind everyone of how valuable Austin still is to the Cowboys' offense, even with the emergence of Dez Bryant as a star and the drafting of Terrance Williams in the third round in April:
Dig deeper into what Austin did last year when he caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns.

He outperformed the leading wide receivers on 16 other teams in catches, yards or touchdowns, including pass-catchers in Arizona (Larry Fitzgerald), Baltimore (Anquan Boldin), Seattle (Sidney Rice), Washington (Josh Morgan) and Pittsburgh (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown). Aside from Arizona, there is not a poor quarterback throwing to anyone in that bunch.

In a division with Bryant, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, Austin had the fourth-most catches and touchdowns and was third in yards. And he put up those numbers on an offense that had Jason Witten set an NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end (110) and Bryant explode for 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The knocks on Austin seem to be that he's always got some kind of nagging injury that either keeps him from playing or limits his production, and that he hasn't lived up to his brilliant 2009 numbers. Valid points both, but sometimes I think we have to step back and think about what our expectations for these guys really are and what they should be. Austin remains one of the Cowboys' starting wide receivers. Even if Williams comes quickly, the best arrangement for the Dallas offense when it goes to three wide receivers will be Bryant and deep-threat Williams on the outside with the versatile Austin moving inside to play the slot. Austin can play anywhere, and produces better than your average No. 2 wide receiver. I think it's probably a good idea for fans to remember he is still a very valuable guy, and stop rushing to get rid of him.

Redskins-Seahawks matchups to watch

January, 6, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Good morning. Lovely weekend here in our nation's capital. There's a great deal of excitement about the Washington Redskins' first home playoff game since 1999. The Redskins will take on the Seattle Seahawks at 4:30 p.m. ET at FedEx Field. Here are a few matchup-related notes I have left over from the time I spent with the Redskins earlier in the week:

[+] EnlargePierre Garcon
AP Photo/Mark DuncanPierre Garcon and the Redskins receivers will be challenged by a big, physical Seahawks secondary.
1. Redskins WRs versus Seahawks DBs: The Redskins' wide receivers are big and physical and love to block, but Seattle's secondary has unusual size. Of the six defensive backs 6-foot-3 or taller who started at least 10 games in the NFL this season, three -- Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor -- play for the Seahawks. I heard lots of talk this week in Ashburn about how physical those defensive backs are. "They try to beat you up all the way down the field," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said.

"We just have to keep their hands off of us and make sure we're allowed to run our routes," Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. "Just have to get into their shoulder pads and block them like you would anybody else. They can try to jam us; that's part of the game. We have to be physical. We've shown a lot of physicality this year."

One thing to look for is tighter splits, with the wide receivers playing closer to the line and further from the sideline than normal. Washington showed this in last season's game against Seattle (with less physical wideouts), and there are a couple of potential benefits. It allows the receivers more space in which to operate -- forcing the defensive back to guess which direction they're going as opposed to when they're wide and the sideline limits their range. And it might give a safety at least some hesitation, wondering if the play is a run or a pass and whether those receivers are in tight to run-block. If the Seahawks hesitate in coverage, Robert Griffin III has shown he has the ability to make them pay with his downfield accuracy.

2. Redskins' interior offensive line versus Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane: Watch Mebane's ability to generate pressure up the middle, especially to the "play side," where the run play appears as though it will go. The Redskins' best way of countering the speed of the Seattle defense is likely with cutback runs by Alfred Morris (as well as play-action passing, but that goes without saying). If Mebane can penetrate and get to Morris before he cuts back, the Redskins could find their run game limited and their play-action game negatively affected as a result.

The left guard situation is particularly worrisome for Washington. Either starter Kory Lichtensteiger is going to be playing hurt or backup Josh LeRibeus will be starting in his place. If LeRibeus plays, the Redskins must worry about the timing of the blocks on the cutbacks. Washington started the same five offensive linemen in 15 of its 16 regular-season games, and the ability of that line to work together with comfort and familiarity had a lot to do with the success of the Redskins' top-ranked run game. If LeRibeus isn't in sync with the guys who have been there all season, that could create problems.

3. Redskins DBs versus Seahawks WRs: Seattle doesn't have a top-flight, game-breaking wide receiver, though Sidney Rice and Golden Tate have been more than serviceable for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Last week against the Cowboys, Washington used an unusual number of "zero" blitzes that left cornerbacks on wide receivers one-on-one. The ability of DeAngelo Hall to handle Dez Bryant in solo man coverage was one of the more surprising aspects of that game, and Redskins coaches say they spent the week challenging Hall to step up his game because of how hot Bryant was. Will Hall be able to muster that same kind of intensity to play Rice or Tate? Will the return of Cedric Griffin from his drug suspension change the Redskins' coverages and reduce the need for Hall to play man all game? Wilson runs around outside the pocket like Ben Roethlisberger, keeping plays alive for a long time with his legs. The coverage by the Redskins' secondary needs not only to be tight but also persistent. The cornerbacks have to stay with the receivers longer than they're used to due to Wilson's ability to extend plays. This is a new challenge for a defense that has been able to overcome a lot of issues in recent weeks.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Redskins

December, 30, 2012
Five things to know about next Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Washington Redskins playoff game at FedEx Field:

1. Tough to contain. This playoff game features two of the NFL's three sensational rookie quarterbacks in Washington's Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Redskins fans who haven't seen Wilson should know that he is just getting started when he is flushed out of the pocket. Wilson was 8-for-9 for 173 yards on throws outside the pocket in Sunday’s victory over the St. Louis Rams, according to ESPN Stats & information. For the season, Wilson led the NFL with 57 completions when throwing from outside the pocket, and his five touchdown passes from outside the pocket ranked second in the league.

2. Good memory. The Redskins did not play the Seahawks this season, but they beat them 23-17 in Seattle in Week 12 of 2011. That was a somewhat shocking game in which the Redskins trailed 17-7 with 10 minutes to go but managed to score 16 unanswered points with Rex Grossman at quarterback and Roy Helu rushing for 108 yards on 23 carries in the game against what was then one of the toughest run defenses in the league. Different personnel, to be sure, in key spots, but the Redskins who played in that game might be able to draw some confidence from the memory of beating the Seahawks in Seattle not that long ago.

3. Stingy Seahawks. Seattle allowed just 245 points this season, an average of 15.3 points per game and the lowest total in the NFL. They have not allowed more than 17 points in a game since Week 12, and they only allowed more than 20 once in the second half of the regular season.

4. Home cooking. One of the perks of being a division champion is getting a first-round home game, and that’s especially helpful when the opponent is the Seahawks. Seattle is 8-0 at home this year and wins by an average score of 30-12 in home games. The Seahawks are just 3-5 on the road. They did win their last two road games -- 23-17 in overtime at Chicago in Week 13 and 50-17 at Buffalo in Week 15. But road losses in places like Arizona, Miami, St. Louis and Detroit bolster the case that it’s much better to get the Seahawks in your own place than it is to try and beat them in their rowdy, raucous home stadium.

5. Win downfield. One area in which the Seahawks are not strong is at wide receiver, where they don’t have the kinds of playmakers who dominate matchups even against suspect secondaries such as Washington’s. If the Redskins were able to handle Dez Bryant on Sunday night, they should be okay against Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Seattle’s best big-play threat is running back Marshawn Lynch, but the Redskins have looked good in recent weeks against power run games.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Seahawks

November, 6, 2011
As you get ready for Sunday afternoon's home game against the Seahawks, here's one reason for Dallas Cowboys fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: The Cowboys' passing game should be back today. Seattle defends the run very well, so I wouldn't expect a huge game out of DeMarco Murray. But the Seahawks aren't strong in the secondary, and this should be the day quarterback Tony Romo once again begins to find wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant down the field. They couldn't do that on a frustrating night last Sunday in Philadelphia against the Eagles' talented cornerbacks, but they should have more chances to hit big plays in this one.

Cause for concern: Oddly the way the Cowboys should be able to beat the Seahawks is the way the Seahawks might be able to give the Cowboys trouble as well. Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has actually been a pretty good downfield passer when he's been healthy this season, and he's got a real rhythm with wide receiver Sidney Rice from their days together on the Minnesota Vikings' second-team offense. With cornerback Mike Jenkins and inside linebacker Sean Lee out with injuries, the Dallas defense could be weaker than usual at the second level and will have to limit the Seahawks' big plays in the passing game.

How you feeling? Giants-Seahawks

October, 9, 2011
As you get ready for the New York Giants' home game Sunday afternoon against the Seahawks, here's one reason for Giants fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: The Seahawks have allowed 14 sacks so far this season. Only two teams -- the Bears and the Rams -- have allowed more. This, of course, plays into the Giants' greatest defensive strength. Even if Justin Tuck isn't playing, they'll generate plenty of pass rush with Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul at the defensive end spots. The only wrinkle could be if the Giants are more focused this week on stopping the run, since that's been a weakness of theirs. But Seattle has the second-fewest rushing yards of any team in the league, so the Giants ought to be able to stick to what they do well and pressure Tarvaris Jackson into mistakes.

Cause for concern: There isn't much, as this looks like a lopsided matchup on paper, especially with the Giants at home. But if Jackson can use his above-average mobility to elude that Giants pass rush, top receiver Sidney Rice will be creating mismatches against Giants defensive backs all day. Rice has the size and speed to manhandle Corey Webster and/or Aaron Ross, and the ability to make catches even in tight coverage. The Giants will need to do as good a job limiting Rice's ability to beat them with a big play as they did against the Eagles and their great receivers two weeks ago in Philadelphia.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 7, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Al Bello/Getty ImagesEli Manning has thrown just two interceptions through four games this season.
Eli on the money: New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has played two straight games without throwing an interception. Not coincidentally, the Giants, who host Seattle on Sunday, have won both of those games. The last time Manning played three straight games without an interception was Weeks 2-5 of the 2008 season, and the Giants won all three of those games, too. (They had a bye in Week 4 that year.) In Manning's career as a starter, the Giants are 32-8 in games in which he does not throw an interception and 35-39 in games in which he throws at least one. That includes postseason play.

Eagles a fourth-quarter mess: The Philadelphia Eagles have held fourth-quarter leads in each of their past three games and lost all three, but that doesn't tell the whole story of how complete these collapses are. Philadelphia, which plays at Buffalo on Sunday, has been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter over the past three weeks. The Eagles have been outgained 335 yards to 282. They've converted 2 of 8 third downs and allowed opponents to convert 9 of 14. They've committed three turnovers and forced none. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in Philadelphia's three-game losing streak, its nine fourth-quarter possessions have finished with three turnovers, two missed field goals, two turnovers on downs, one punt and the end of the game. That, folks, is not getting it done.

If I had a nickel: Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson is fourth in the league in rushing yards. He also has the most rushing attempts in the league in situations when defenses employ at least five defensive backs. The Eagles are by far the worst defense in the league against the run when using five or more defensive backs. They allow 11.9 yards per rush when they have at least five defensive backs on the field, 3.3 yards more than the second-worst team in the league, and a first-down conversion percentage of 42.9. It's possible they might want to change at least part of what they do against the run if they don't want Jackson to shred them too badly.

Pierre-Paul's impact: Osi Umenyiora missed the first three games of the year while recovering from knee surgery, and Justin Tuck has missed two games with a neck injury. Yet the Giants' defense has still managed 12 sacks so far and ranks fifth in the league in that category. The Giants are on pace to surpass last year's team sack total of 46, and the main reason appears to be the emergence and consistency of second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team's first-round pick in the 2010 draft. If the Giants can ever get Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul on the field at the same time, they could be downright terrifying.

Seahawks' improving pass game: Seattle was last in the league in passing offense through two weeks, but things changed once receiver Sidney Rice returned from his injury in Week 3. Rice has the second-best yards-per-catch average in the league over the past two weeks at 17.1, and the Seattle passing attack has ranked 22nd (a big jump from 32nd) over the past two weeks. Seattle surely is not the most dangerous offense the Giants have faced or will face this season, but someone in the secondary is going to have to account for Rice, who has the size and speed to make big plays against anyone.

NFC East free-agency breakdown

July, 25, 2011
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC East team:

Dallas Cowboys

1. Re-sign left tackle Doug Free. He is coming off his first season as starting left tackle, but Free handled the move well and is viewed as the starting left tackle of the Cowboys' future. More importantly, with rookie Tyron Smith slated to start at right tackle and probably not yet ready to play on the left side, Free is the Cowboys' left tackle of the present. If he were to go elsewhere, the Cowboys would be scrambling to find a tackle, and it could mess with all of the other plans they need to make and execute before training camp begins. Expect Free to draw lots of interest, and his price tag to be higher than the Cowboys probably were hoping.

2. Fill holes in the secondary. The plan seems to be to move Alan Ball back to cornerback, so while you'll hear the Cowboys connected to free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, they're more likely to focus on bringing in a safety or two. There's a chance they re-sign their own guy, Gerald Sensabaugh, and then go get a free agent such as Eric Weddle, Michael Huff or Quintin Mikell. But if Sensabaugh were to leave, Dallas would be in the difficult position of having to sign two safeties.

3. Find defensive ends. With Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher set to be free agents, the Cowboys need a couple of starters at defensive end, too. They could bring both guys back, but it's not as if the defensive line was a position of strength for Dallas in 2010, so they'll probably at least look elsewhere. The Packers' Cullen Jenkins would be a nice fit, though there will be competition for him from within the division, as you'll see below in the Redskins' section.

Top five free agents: OT Free, G Kyle Kosier, DE Bowen, DE Hatcher, S Sensabaugh

New York Giants

1. Figure out which of their own guys to keep. With Ahmad Bradshaw, Barry Cofield, Mathias Kiwanuka, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss all set to potentially go free, the Giants have to prioritize and figure out which guys they're keeping. The top priority is probably going to be Bradshaw, an emerging star at running back, and it appears they'll let Cofield walk while trying to bring back Boss. They think the injury situations with Kiwanuka and Smith will help keep those guys' prices reasonable. But before the Giants hit the market, they'll need to get their own free-agent house in order.

2. Get at least one linebacker. The Giants have ignored this position over the past couple of years, and they seem to believe Jonathan Goff can handle the middle linebacker spot. They'd probably be better off moving him back outside and exploring the middle linebacker market, which includes Stephen Tulloch, Barrett Ruud and Paul Posluszny. But if they're set on keeping Goff in the middle, perhaps someone such as Manny Lawson or Nick Barnett could be a fit. It's one thing not to prioritize a position, but it's another to ignore it completely, and the Giants have been doing that with linebacker, to their detriment.

3. Some offensive line insurance. There were lots of injuries along the line in New York last season, and although it didn't kill them, it was a potential sign of things to come. The Giants hope Will Beatty will soon be ready to take over at left tackle for a declining David Diehl, but they must watch out for the health of Shaun O'Hara at center. And if they have to cut Shawn Andrews to sign some other guys, they'll need to replace him with a tackle who can provide depth.

Top five free agents: RB Bradshaw, DE/LB Kiwanuka, TE Boss, DT Cofield, WR Smith

Philadelphia Eagles

1. Settle the Kevin Kolb situation. If they can get the great deal for him that most believe they can (i.e., a first-round pick plus), the Eagles will deal Kolb and look for a reliable backup quarterback who can play if and when Michael Vick gets hurt. If they can't get good value for Kolb, they'll probably keep him to serve as said reliable backup. A trade is most likely, but whatever happens, the Eagles will probably settle this soon after the league year begins.

2. Sign a cornerback. The starting spot opposite Asante Samuel is open, and no one on the current roster appears able to fill it. That's why you've heard, and will continue to hear, the Eagles connected with Asomugha. Philadelphia must rank among his most likely destinations at this point. If they don't get him, they'll look down the list at guys such as Johnathan Joseph, Ike Taylor and Antonio Cromartie. And there's a chance they could get a cornerback for Kolb. But they'll get one somewhere.

3. Re-sign Stewart Bradley. Sure, they could let Bradley go and play Jamar Chaney at middle linebacker. Chaney looked, at least, capable in that spot last season and may be the Eagles' future at the position. But if Bradley leaves, the Eagles' problems will be about more than just the alignment of the linebackers. They'll actually be short on bodies and will need to play the free-agent field to find a replacement. Bradley's had injury problems, but when healthy, he's the Eagles' best linebacker and could be a key cog in whatever new defensive alignment Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn are cooking up.

Top five free agents: LB Bradley, S Mikell, G Nick Cole, RB Jerome Harrison, CB Ellis Hobbs

Washington Redskins

1. Fill out the defensive line. Whether they add a free-agent nose tackle such as Aubrayo Franklin or look at defensive end options like Jenkins, the Redskins must figure who their starting defensive linemen are. They like their linebacking corps, and although they also need a cornerback, they love their safeties with Oshiomogho Atogwe in the fold next to LaRon Landry. But their good, young outside linebackers will need big, space-eating ends in front of them to open up lanes to the passer. And they'll also need to get some sort of pass rush from the line, whether it's from the nose or the ends.

2. Re-sign Santana Moss. The Redskins are making noise about pursuing a big-time wideout such as Santonio Holmes or Sidney Rice. But the reality is that it's going to be tough to convince receivers to sign in Washington while they're not viewed as a contender and the quarterback situation remains so cloudy. Moss likes it in Washington. The Redskins like him. And he's a nice guy to have around to help out young receivers Anthony Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson -- not to mention inexperienced quarterback John Beck.

3. Resolve the Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth situations. They don't want either player on the team anymore, but the question is how to get rid of them. They might be able to dump McNabb for a late-round draft pick, but if they can't, they'll probably just cut him and let him find his next job on his own. Haynesworth has trade value in a league where many 4-3 teams are looking for interior defensive line help. Don't expect the Redskins to cut Haynesworth, because they don't want to do him any favors and they don't want him free to sign with former Tennessee D-line coach Washburn in Philadelphia. If they can't get value for him, don't be surprised if Haynesworth remains on the team all season and has a hard time getting into games.

Top five free agents: WR Moss, OT Jammal Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, LB Rocky McIntosh, QB Rex Grossman
Our position-by-position look at potential four-year unrestricted free agency and its impact on the NFC East teams rolls along this afternoon with a look at the wide receivers. Outside of Washington, this isn't a position of great need in the division, but we'll throw the Giants and Eagles in for the sake of keeping it interesting and for the very specific reasons outlined in their blurbs.

NFC East teams in need

Redskins: This is a big-time need position for Washington, and what the Redskins do in free agency could be a very interesting signal about their long-term plans. The thought is that they'll just re-sign Santana Moss and let Anthony Armstrong, Leonard Hankerson and the young guys develop. And it could be difficult to lure a big free-agent wideout when they don't know who their quarterback is going to be. But if they pass up the chance to fill a need this serious, it could be the best indication yet that they plan to make their big play for their franchise quarterback in next year's draft and want to conserve the resources they'll need to (a) draft him, (b) pay him and (c) put the pieces around him once they know who he is.

Giants: Steve Smith's knee injury hurt his chances of getting the great big deal he wanted, and as a result it might help keep him in New York. The Giants want him back, since he fits his role so perfectly and therefore allows Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham to thrive in theirs. Should Smith leave, the Giants would be in the market for receiver help, though it's doubtful they'd have very much in the budget with which to pursue the top available guys.

Eagles: The Eagles don't "need" a receiver. They're in here because they've been linked to Plaxico Burress, whose size and physicality would enable him to fill a very specific role for them if that's what he wants to do. Malcom Floyd, who's on this list, is also the kind of big, physical guy who could be that red zone presence for the Eagles. But he's liable to command a bigger deal than is Burress, and the Eagles have other needs on which to spend money.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent wide receivers:

1. Santonio Holmes. Given all of the supposed baggage, the early season suspension and the issues he was supposed to have after the trade, Holmes had an incredible year for the Jets, who have said they intend to keep him. Of course, if they do keep him, that could mean teammate Braylon Edwards is on the market.

2. Sidney Rice. The big question with Rice is about his hip, which cost him almost all of the 2010 season. He was a revelation in 2009, teaming with Brett Favre to get the Vikings within an interception or two of the Super Bowl. If he's healthy, he could be a tremendous asset to whomever the Redskins have at quarterback -- this year and beyond.

3. Edwards. Not the same kind of player Holmes is, but not a bad consolation prize either. The knock on him has always been dropped balls, but he showed improvement in that critical area in 2010.

4. Floyd. Assuming the Chargers don't finally trade Vincent Jackson, they're probably going to let the 6-foot-5 Floyd hit the market. He'll be appealing to teams looking for that big, strong red zone target. He just hasn't shown the ability to produce over the long haul the way some of the guys ahead of him on this list have.

5. Smith. His big year was 2009, and had he been an unrestricted free agent then, he'd likely have cashed in big-time on his 100-catch season. But the knee injury that knocked him out in 2010 is likely to hurt his value, and if he can't prove to teams he's 100 percent healthy, he's going to have to wait for that big payday.

Predictions that mean nothing: The Redskins bring back Moss and decide to sit out the bigger-name market while they see what they have in Armstrong et al. The Eagles make a play for Burress, but another team offers more money and a bigger job and he goes to a situation that's less ideal for him. The Eagles then sit out the receiver market as well. Giants sign Smith, though not before Lance Moore's name is thrown around a lot as a potential fallback option.
See, how it works is, you e-mail the questions, I sort through them, delete all the profane and insulting ones and answer the ones I think are the most interesting. A democracy? No. Just a lil' ol' weekend mailbag.

tmcsfinest from Toronto thrilled us all Friday morning with a stirring tale of his efforts to post a question on the mailbag. His problem apparently was that his question was too long, so he posted it instead as a comment on a post about the Giants hiring Larry Izzo. Fortunately for him, I read almost all of the comments -- even the ones that have nothing to do with the post under which they sit. Unfortunately for him, he was right about his question being too long, so I can't copy/paste the whole thing here. Basically, he asks if I think it'd be smart for the Redskins to add to their wide receiving corps via trade or free agency, because what they have there isn't great and there are some interesting options on the market.

Dan Graziano: No doubt, receiver is a need the Redskins should address if they can. The issue is that some of the names you suggest (Lee Evans, Darrius Heyward-Bey) likely wouldn't be big enough upgrades over what they already have to justify parting with resources to acquire them. Free agents such as Braylon Edwards and New York Steve Smith don't fit the No. 1 wideout description. Sidney Rice is an injury question, and Vincent Jackson and Carolina's Steve Smith will be pricey. Considering that no one they bring in will have an established NFL quarterback throwing to him, I'm not sure it's wise for Washington to deal away a bunch of picks for a star or commit long-term dollars to the relative flotsam that's out there on the free agent market when they're probably gearing up to position themselves to draft their quarterback of the future next spring. Yes, they need help at receiver. But given the probable price of upgrading, I wonder if they might just be better off bringing back Santana Moss and finding out a little bit more about what Anthony Armstrong's got.

Evan O'Gibney, a Long Branch, N.J. native, checks in from Baghdad with a question about the Giants. Evan is "worried about the Giants" because "Jerry Reese is too conservative, Coughlin is starting to get surrounded by more players who weren't there when they won the big one and just see the hard-nosed coach and don't respond well. Brandon Jacobs is not worth the money he's making over the next two seasons and our O-line is all but about to start collecting social security. And I'm still not over the decision to not trade up to get Rolando McClain when ILB is by far our biggest need instead of getting ANOTHER DE. (i like JPP, but it wasnt the right move, backflips dont count in hall of fame votes)"

DG: Couldn't have said it better myself, Evan. I don't like the way the Giants have made their offseason decisions the past couple of years. I've been clear on this. And I think, if they don't address that linebacker position in free agency and add some offensive line depth, they're setting themselves up for disappointment. But as you'll see if you check back on the comments in a few hours, there are many Giants fans who think I'm all about unwarranted doom and gloom. I'll just point out, again, that you and I have played in as many playoff games as the Giants have in the past two seasons.

Bill in D.C. wonders what will become of Barry Cofield if he and the Giants part ways in free agency, and if I "think he could play the 5 technique in a 3-4? He seems to have the speed and size (6'4", 309) to do so. If so, he might make an interesting addition to the Dallas D line."

DG: Cofield has played on the inside in the 4-3 in New York, and I confess I don't know much about the technical aspects of making a position switch like that. My gut tells me it'd be easier than, say, switching to 4-3 defensive end. And given the freedoms that talented players enjoy in Rob Ryan's scheme, it's possible the five-technique in Dallas won't be a traditional five-technique position. Certainly, if you put him on the same side as DeMarcus Ware, he might not have to worry as much about rushing the passer or keeping offensive tackles off his linebacker. It's an interesting thought, but I can't offer any insight into whether it's something Cofield himself would want to do.

Andrew in Dallas wants to know, if the Eagles are going to have as much cap room as it appears they will, "why don't they re-sign some key players (like DeSean Jackson) to a contract with a lot of money this season to lower the price for later years? By front-loading the contracts, they could build in more room in later caps, in addition to locking up vital players."

DG: In theory, sure. But the Eagles are thinking about winning this year, and I imagine they'd rather dole out up-front money to players who can help with that than worry about the long-term situation with Jackson. And Jackson's situation is its own mess, as I believe he plans to hit the open market with Drew Rosenhaus at his side and see what he can get. I'm not even sure Jackson would be interested in locking up long-term at a price the Eagles would find acceptable right now. In short, I think the Eagles are focused a lot more on a 2011 Super Bowl run than they are on cap room in future years.

Keep the questions coming, folks. And if they don't fit in the mailbag, as tmcsfinest showed, you can always just throw them into some random post during the week and hope I find them. It's a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world...

Final Word: NFC East

December, 24, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16 games:

Can the Giants shake off last Sunday's devastating loss to the Eagles? Giants quarterback Eli Manning requested time alone with his teammates Monday, and coach Tom Coughlin was happy to oblige. His speech was short, but it grabbed everyone's attention. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield told me Thursday that he couldn't believe how much energy he saw in the locker room this week. The Giants have done a nice job of recognizing their obvious failure late in last Sunday's game and then moving on to Green Bay. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has tried to get his unit to come out with a sense of urgency in recent weeks, and I think you'll see that against the Packers on Sunday afternoon. New York will want to take the crowd out of the game as soon as possible.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Evan PinkusEli Manning held a players-only meeting on Monday to address the failures of Sunday's loss to Philadelphia and to get the team focused on Green Bay.
Can Eagles cornerback Dimitri Patterson bounce back from an embarrassing performance against the Giants? Patterson has played well at times this season, but the Giants' wide receivers made him look silly in the first half. The Vikings still have firepower at receiver, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Patterson gets matched up with Sidney Rice. "I'm looking forward to it," Patterson said Friday. "As far as I'm concerned, that was two quarters, three plays, however you want to look at it. I finished that game, I came back in the second half. And I will finish the rest of the season." I think Patterson will do a lot better this week because the Eagles will likely have a better pass rush against the Vikings' offensive line.

Jason Garrett needs this win to finalize his campaign to become permanent head coach. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted last week that a loss to the Washington Redskins would've given him pause about Garrett's future. But the Cowboys pulled out a 33-30 win with a late field goal, so Jones didn't have to worry about that. Dallas should dominate the Cardinals, who are playing with a rookie quarterback. If the Cardinals somehow pull off a Christmas miracle and beat the Cowboys, fans will call for Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher as the next head coach. But I'd be really surprised if the Cowboys found a way to lose this game.

Eli Manning needs to have a big-time game in Green Bay. As I wrote in Thursday's column, Manning has struggled in December throughout much of his career (14-16). He played well against the Eagles last week, but still has a good shot at leading the league in interceptions. The good news for Giants fans is that Manning has wonderful memories of Lambeau Field. He's said that he actually enjoyed winning the '07 NFC Championship Game (played in Jan. '08) more than the Super Bowl. Those wins helped define his career, and I think he'll draw on that experience from three seasons ago in beating the Packers on Sunday.

Can Mike Shanahan get something accomplished in Jacksonville? We learned Friday that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (hamstring, groin) will miss a game for the first time in his NFL career. Orakpo will be replaced by Rob Jackson, who will make the first start of his career. And there's also a chance that Kevin Barnes and Macho Harris could be the starting safeties. Reed Doughty is out with a concussion and Kareem Moore will be a game-time decision. I don't know if the Skins have much hope of winning, but Shanahan will have a chance to evaluate some young players. And it will be interesting to see how Rex Grossman performs following his excellent second half against the Dallas Cowboys. Shanahan will make massive roster changes this offseason, but a few players could help their cause with strong performances against Jacksonville.

Big Question: McNabb ready?

June, 29, 2010
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Should we expect Donovan McNabb to hit the ground running this season?

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
AP Photo/Nick WassThe Redskins are counting on Donovan McNabb to lead them out of the NFC East cellar.
Some folks immediately gave the Washington Redskins six more wins when they traded for McNabb. That seemed a little on the optimistic side after witnessing this offensive line's performance last season. And it's not like Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas have truly arrived at wide receiver.

But there's also this little thing about McNabb having to learn Mike Shanahan's offense while blending with his new teammates. It seems like everyone automatically assumes that McNabb won't have much of a learning curve because he's been one of the league's top quarterbacks. But I think there will be some growing pains.

He could run Andy Reid's offense in his sleep, and from time to time, that's what it looked like. On the positive side, though, McNabb will operate with a true running game for the first time in years. Shanahan believes in his zone-blocking scheme and he's going to stay with it longer than most coaches.

I think that will make McNabb a more dangerous quarterback and he might not feel as much pressure to carry the offense. When he was with the Eagles, McNabb would often invite his receivers to Phoenix to work out with him. He needs to be establishing that type of rapport with his new teammates.

The Redskins appear to have a good thing at tight end with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, but they're a mixed bag at wide receiver. Even if Santana Moss can move past his association with a doctor accused of smuggling performance-enhancing drugs across the border, he's going to have to show more consistency on the field. Jason Campbell rarely had enough time in the pocket to find Moss racing downfield.

Moss has to hope that Shanahan and son can revitalize his career. He also needs to be connected at the hip with McNabb during training camp. Most players don't suddenly get the opportunity to play with an elite quarterback. But for the ones who do (ask Sidney Rice about it), it can elevate their careers.

I think McNabb makes the Redskins better, but there will be plenty of bumps along the way.

Vikings abruptly end Cowboys' season

January, 17, 2010
Marion BarberBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireMinnesota's defense limited Marion Barber and the Dallas ground game to 92 yards.
MINNEAPOLIS -- So much for that hot team theory. The Vikings may have stumbled through the month of December, but they buried the formerly red-hot Cowboys in a 34-3 win that felt like it was over by halftime.

A week after their major breakthrough against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys looked overmatched in the Metrodome. Even coach Wade Phillips, a man who can find a silver lining in the darkest of moments, wasn't able to offer a defense for the Cowboys' tepid showing in a divisional playoff game. It was the second-worst playoff loss in franchise history, surpassed only by a 38-6 loss to the Detroit Lions in 1991.

"It's like an elevator falling all the way from the top; it's tough when it's over," said a grim-faced Phillips. "I was surprised, but they have a good football team."

In the aftermath of a beatdown punctuated by Brad Childress amusing himself with an unnecessary call for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, it seems odd to say that the Cowboys were ever in the game. But Dallas actually had a shot to grab the momentum in the first quarter. As he'd done during the Cowboys' four-game winning streak, quarterback Tony Romo led the offense into Vikings territory on the first possession of the game. The Cowboys' plan all week was to treat that opening possession as if it were the most important drive in the game.

The strategy worked until Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards raced past right tackle Marc Colombo and stripped the ball from Romo. The Vikings recovered at their 35-yard line and averted an early Cowboys score. After forcing a three-and-out, the Cowboys moved to the Vikings' 30-yard line and elected to attempt a 48-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-1. Shaun Suisham, who replaced the wayward Nick Folk last month, smothered the ball wide left and it would be fair to say the Cowboys never posed another serious challenge.

[+] EnlargeRomo
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Cowboys could have limited the Metrodome crowd noise by scoring on Dallas' first possession.
"Obviously, we need to get points out of those drives," said Romo. "It's not on any one person but we all need to play better. When you go into a place like this, points matter."

What Romo is saying is the Cowboys missed a huge opportunity to limit the home crowd's influence early in the game. I think the Metrodome is louder than the Superdome, a place where the Cowboys had one of their biggest wins of the season. Even the PA announcer sounded as if he was taunting the Dallas offense as the Vikings' front four took over the game.

In my talking points for Sunday's matchup, someone forgot to tell me that Edwards was one of the best pass-rushers in the league. And to think, I wasted so much time on the Williams Wall and Jared Allen, who didn't have much of an impact until Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams left the game with a right calf strain with 7:18 left in the first half. On the first two plays after Adams' departure, Allen tackled Felix Jones in the backfield and then caused a Romo fumble, which led to a Vikings field goal and a 17-3 lead. For unknown reasons, tight end Jason Witten ended up "blocking" Allen one-on-one on those two plays. I asked Adams' replacement Doug Free if he was supposed to be helping Witten against Allen, but he said he wasn't sure what happened. It seemed like a pretty good description of how most of his teammates felt following the loss.

The aforementioned Edwards had three sacks, six hurries, a forced fumble and five tackles. I didn't see a lot of No. 91 jerseys inside the Metrodome, but they'll probably be taken off the discount rack this week. Colombo has been the emotional leader of the Cowboys' offensive line since Bill Parcells salvaged his career, but he was physically whipped by the younger, faster Edwards on Sunday. Edwards finished the regular season with 8.5 sacks but he's often in the sizable shadow of Allen.

"He has played at a high level this year, just in terms of production," Childress said of Edwards. "But he showed up and he is always making plays and chasing the football. He's an extra heartbeat guy."

After the game, Childress took the opportunity to beat his chest and talk about the "nonsense" of the Cowboys being the hottest team in the playoffs. Down the road, the Cowboys will be able to look back at '09 as a successful season. They won a playoff game for the first time in 13 years and young players such as Mike Jenkins and Miles Austin have an opportunity to be stars in this league for a long time. Though he hasn't come right out and said it, owner Jerry Jones is going to bring back Wade Phillips for at least one more season. Phillips' defense was one of the best in the league over the past month and there's no need to make significant changes to the unit. I asked Phillips if he considered this a successful season.

"Well, our goal was to win it all and this isn't a success," said Phillips. "I do think we did a lot of great things and I thought winning the division was important and winning the playoff game at home was important. We need to get back to that point again next year."

The defense played well enough to give the Cowboys a chance at a comeback in the third quarter, but Brett Favre simply overwhelmed them in the first half. On his first of three touchdown passes to Sidney Rice, Favre launched a deep ball that was so precise that Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh had no clue the ball had been caught. After the game, inside linebacker Keith Brooking wasn't looking for a silver lining.

"I don't consider this season a success," he told "We took some steps in the right direction, but I wouldn't call it a successful season. You dive into the NFL season every year and then it comes to an abrupt halt like this. I'll go home tomorrow and ask my wife, 'What the hell do I do now?'"

It's a question a lot of Cowboys fans will be asking as well.

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 34, Cowboys 3

January, 17, 2010
MINNEAPOLIS -- Tony Romo had a chance in this game -- for at least one possession. Like they'd done in recent weeks, the Cowboys quickly marched down the field on their opening possession, but Romo was sacked by Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards and he fumbled the ball away. This would be a recurring theme in this game.

And once the Cowboys lost starting left tackle Flozell Adams to a right calf strain, all hope was pretty much lost. On the Cowboys' first possession without Adams, Vikings All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen raced around tight end Jason Witten and knocked the ball loose from Romo. The Vikings made it 17-3 after that play and the Cowboys didn't pose a serious challenge the rest of the game.

With better protection up front than Romo was afforded, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre threw two touchdowns in the first half. He hit Sidney Rice on a gorgeous 47-yard throw that Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh literally never saw coming. Sensabaugh actually matched Rice step for step but he never looked up to find the ball. And as Rice strided into the end zone for his first of three touchdowns, Sensabaugh looked around to see what happened.

This was supposed to be two evenly matched teams, but I thought the hotter team (the Cowboys) would prevail. But it was obvious early in the game that the Vikings' pass rush was simply too potent for the Cowboys to handle. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips will get to coach this team for at least one more season. He's certainly earned that right. But the Cowboys will have to spend the offseason figuring out why they couldn't hold up against an elite defense.

I'm sure some Cowboys fans will be upset that Brad Childress chose to run up the score late in the game. But hey, the Cowboys are the ones who helped provide the opportunity. I'm headed to the visiting locker room. I'll have a column for you guys in a couple hours. Stay tuned.

Now that's a matchup the Vikes will take

January, 17, 2010
MINNEAPOLIS -- On Brett Favre's 47-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, the Cowboys had safety Gerald Sensabaugh in one-on-one coverage. The Vikings will take that matchup all day long. And this is what the Cowboys feared the most: falling behind and allowing this crowd to take over.

On the touchdown pass, it looked like Terence Newman passed off Rice to Sensabaugh after about 20 yards. Sensabaugh actually had good coverage on Rice, but he never looked back and found the ball. Even when Rice was dancing into the end zone, Sensabaugh still looked like he was clueless.

I'll try to find out after the game if that was all Sensabaugh's fault.



Sunday, 10/26
Monday, 10/27