NFC East: Stephon Heyer

Nearly done now with our position-by-position look at potential four-year unrestricted free agency and the NFC East. I asked yesterday if you guys wanted me to do kickers and punters, and you seemed to say yes, so those will roll out this afternoon to wrap the series. For now, though, we go with the big fellas -- the offensive tackles.

NFC East teams in need

Redskins: With 2010 first-rounder Trent Williams on the left side, they feel like they're okay there now and for the long-term. Not so much on the right side, where Jammal Brown is a free agent and Stephon Heyer not likely a sufficient replacement. A veteran who could help develop Williams and the other young players on Washington's rebuilding line might be a good move.

Cowboys: They drafted Tyron Smith with the ninth pick in April, and their hope was to play him on the right side and emerging star Doug Free on the left. But if the new rules allow free agency after four years of service, Free becomes a free agent and a top priority for Dallas to re-sign. Should he go elsewhere, the Cowboys will need a tackle, be it right or left, since they're likely to part ways with Marc Colombo.

Eagles: Jason Peters is a star on the left, but Michael Vick's "blind side" is the right side, where Winston Justice and King Dunlap remain big question marks. Having addressed the line in the draft, the Eagles could be planning to roll the dice with those guys and fill defensive needs in free agency, but it wouldn't be crazy for them to look for a tackle.

Giants: This is a well-traveled topic and a matter of opinion. Mine is that the Giants' offensive line is a ticking injury time bomb, and that David Diehl has lost a few steps. The Giants and their fans would say the injuries on the line didn't hurt them last year, and that they actually showed the depth the team has at various line positions. I still think it's worth staying ahead of the curve, and while I know the Giants have a lot of needs, I think they need to at least look and see if they can add a tackle for depth, even if it means moving Diehl inside or into a backup role.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent tackles

1. Free. Still young and still developing, but his first year as a starter on the left side was a rousing success, and the Cowboys are hoping he can last there for a while -- as long as he stays in town. It'll be interesting to see what kind of market he draws, since it was just the one year on the left and he'd surely prefer to stay on that side than go somewhere else and play on the right. He might be more valuable to the Cowboys than he would to anyone else.

2. Willie Colon. He missed the 2010 season with an injury, but his track record as a premier right tackle won't be lost on teams that need line help. His agent recently said he didn't think the Steelers were interested in retaining Colon.

3. Tyson Clabo. A perfect fit at right tackle for the Falcons, Clabo is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and could draw interest from run-heavy teams looking for someone to seal off that right side.

4. Matt Light. A great veteran who may be past his prime but likely still has something to offer on the field and in the locker room. Might have to settle for a shorter-term deal, given his age relative to the rest of this field.

5. Brown. The Redskins' best plan may be to bring back Brown, who performed better at right tackle for them as the season went along and his hip got healthier. It'll be interesting to see if he draws interest as a left tackle from teams in need of help on that side.

Predictions that mean nothing: Cowboys re-sign Free. Redskins re-sign Brown. Eagles look a little further down the list, maybe at a guy like Marshal Yanda, who can play tackle or guard and really shore up their situation on the right side. Giants do nothing.
Morning. Tuesday sure was an optimistic day on the NFL labor front. Personally, I don't think there's any chance this many details of the proposed deal would be emerging if the proposal weren't pretty close to a sure thing. So the time could be drawing near when we can start talking about free agency and the start of training camps.

Adam Schefter reported that the new deal would shift the threshold for unrestricted free agency back to four years' service time, and if that happens, every team's offseason plan would be affected. Today's breakfast links will address some of the key players on whom the NFC East teams might have to make key decisions.

Dallas Cowboys

The news alters Doug Free's situation quite a bit, and could conceivably impact the Cowboys' ability to pursue other big-money free agents depending on the amount of outside interest Free draws as an unrestricted free agent. As the Cowboys have made clear, Free is a must-sign. But Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen would become issues under those guidelines as well.

DeMarcus Ware spoke to NFL.com's Steve Wyche and had lots of good things to say about Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, the Cowboys' offseason workouts and the change the team made at head coach midway through the 2010 season: "You go from Wade Phillips, which is a guy, he's more tailored to the older guys and developing younger guys," Ware said. "Then you have a younger coach come in, which is Jason Garrett, he's more of the Bill Parcells-type guy. He likes putting the pads on. He likes doing a whole bunch of the fundamental stuff and just focusing on that, doing the right things and just little things like that." Garrett's players clearly bought in last year, and if that continues and the defense gets solidified, Ware's and others' prediction of a Cowboys rebound are totally reasonable.

New York Giants

The Giants could potentially be the hardest-hit team in the division by a rule that makes 4+ guys into UFAs. Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss, Barry Cofield, Steve Smith and Mathias Kiwanuka are among the players on the New York roster in line to make bigger money than they would have under last year's rules. Of those, Bradshaw and Kiwanuka are likely the highest-priority guys, along with Smith, though Smith's knee injury hurts his potential market value and should help the Giants keep him. Boss and Cofield are key contributors but could have to be sacrificed to the open market if Bradshaw's price goes through the roof.

Jemele Hill writes that David Tyree has the right to his surprisingly strong stance against gay marriage. (He says he'd trade his Super Bowl helmet catch and title to prevent it.) Technically, she's right, of course. But just because he has the right to spout intolerance doesn't necessarily mean he should.

Philadelphia Eagles

Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley is probably the most significant Eagles name that would be affected by the four-year UFA threshold. My guess is, if Bradley's price were to spike, the Eagles would move on with other free-agent plans and just keep Jamar Chaney at middle linebacker. But I wonder if Bradley, who's had injury problems, will generate much open-market interest on a market this crowded.

He's about to be an Eagles rookie, but Jaiquawn Jarrett is still a New York City kid at heart, and he showed support for the community from which he came.

Washington Redskins

Have to think inside linebacker Rocky McIntosh and right tackle Stephon Heyer are the two most significant Redskins in the UFA zone, but the potential move of Lorenzo Alexander to the inside to make room for first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan could help the team's leverage if McIntosh wants more than they want to pay him. And whether Heyer comes back or not, the Redskins will still need to find a starting right tackle. Jamaal Brown is a six-year guy who was going to be a UFA no matter what.

Because of the Redskins' ties to the state of Maryland (not to mention those of the Baltimore Ravens), the state is saying it could lose more than $40 million in tax revenue during an NFL lockout. This was a key part of the NFLPA's argument against the lockout in court -- the idea that people far beyond the playing field would be affected. Fortunately, it now seems as if there's little about which to worry.

Happy to talk more free agency as the day unfolds. Let me know what you think.
Tyron Smith and Danny WatkinsIcon SMIThe Cowboys (with Tyron Smith) and the Eagles (with Danny Watkins) used the draft to address a need along the offensive line.
Our readers like to call this division "The Beast," but I'm not so sure. I mean, I get it -- it rhymes with "East," and it reflects the kind of toughness and meanness that fans like to attribute to their favorite teams. And not long ago, it fit nicely. The NFC East was the NFL's toughest division. Sent three teams to the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. Took out the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. Very Beast-like stuff, no question.

But things change quickly in the NFL, and 2010 wasn't this division's most Beastly year. For the first time in six seasons, the NFC East last year came up with just one playoff team. The division had as many 10-loss teams as 10-win teams, and the only playoff game it has won in the past two seasons was Dallas' January 2010 intradivision victory over Philadelphia.

A fluke? Sure, it's possible. Most people expect the Cowboys to bounce back in 2011 (assuming there is a 2011). And John Clayton pointed out last week that a slate of 2011 games against NFC West opponents could help inflate NFC East teams' records the way that delicious bit of scheduling helped out NFC South teams in 2010. But if the teams in this division want to make sure this little downturn is nothing more than a blip on history's radar, they would all do well to take a look at their offensive lines.

All four teams in the NFC East had offensive line issues last year. The Giants couldn't keep theirs healthy. The Cowboys couldn't seal off the right side. The Eagles couldn't keep Michael Vick's uniform clean. The Redskins were rebuilding. Although most, if not all, of those issues are resolvable, the teams need to work to make sure they're resolved. If there's one area whose erosion can really affect the toughness, meanness and other Beast-like qualities of a team or group of teams, it's the offensive line.

To their credit, the Cowboys and Eagles at least seem to understand they need to do something. Dallas took USC tackle Tyron Smith in the first round in April and spent three of their eight total draft picks on offensive linemen -- snagging guard David Arkin in the fourth round and guard/center Bill Nagy in the seventh. Smith is the only one of the three expected to start in 2011, as he's slated to be the right tackle, but depth on the O-line is never a negative.

Philadelphia needed a right guard so badly that it drafted 26-year-old former hockey player and firefighter Danny Watkins in the first round. He'll surely start at right guard, and Philadelphia picked up two more interior offensive linemen later in the draft. The Eagles still need to figure out what's going on there on the right side with Winston Justice and King Dunlap, and that tackle spot might potentially be something they address in free agency. With a left-handed quarterback, right tackle is to the Eagles what left tackle is to most other teams -- the protector of the "blind side."

Washington used only one pick this year on an offensive lineman, and it was a seventh-rounder. But the Redskins spent the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft on left tackle Trent Williams, who looks as if he'll be a star at that spot, and they're piecing things together across the middle. They will need to address right tackle if they lose both Jammal Brown and Stephon Heyer in free agency, but the Redskins are in rebuilding mode. At least they have the franchise left tackle in place.

The Giants ... sigh. The Giants could have used offensive line help in the draft. But these are stubborn people who don't believe in drafting for need. They used their first-rounder on a cornerback, even though they already had plenty of those. The "value" of Prince Amukamara that late in the round was too much for the Giants to pass up, so they didn't end up taking a lineman until the fourth round, and they didn't bother taking another one after that. Now, if healthy, the Giants' offensive line is the best one in the division. But the five projected starters have an average age of 31.6. Shaun O'Hara missed 10 games and David Diehl missed four last year as the fates practically screamed at the Giants about the value of depth on the O-line. Injury and age on the line didn't sink the Giants' season per se, but they reared their heads and offered a warning. So far the Giants have yet to show they heard it.

The success of the teams in the NFC East -- this year and in the years to come -- will depend largely on the ways in which the four teams address the issues bubbling up across their offensive lines. I believe the division could have three playoff-caliber teams in 2011. The Redskins are doing some nice things but still have a long way to go and, currently, no quarterback to take them there. The other three teams have skill-position talent spilling out of their ears, but holes along the line can keep even the most skilled players from making the highlight-reel plays for which they're paid. Offensive line play was one reason the NFC East looked a little meeker than usual in 2010. It may be the key to "The Beast" regaining its teeth.
Before we get to the division, a quick word on these "secret" talks between the NFL and the NFLPA this week. I covered the labor situation extensively at my last job, and I consider this a major development. The people to whom I've spoken with who are connected with this say they believe it's the most serious both sides have been about doing a deal in the more than two years since the owners decided to opt out of the last CBA.

Will it work? Does this mean training camps and the season will start on time? Lots of work to be done yet before we know. But the key thing to understand is that the motivation finally appears to be there on the part of both sides to get one done. The players never viewed their "litigation strategy" as a real solution, only as a defense against the owners' "lockout strategy." They have said all along they were waiting for the owners to get serious about something other than a lockout. If that's the case -- if the owners have decided that the potential for lost revenue if training camp dates and/or preseason games begin to get canceled here in the next few weeks -- then it's the kind of thing that could mean real progress.

Even in spite of their recent success in the 8th Circuit Court, the owners fear what solution the courts might impose on this. And in part because of their recent loss in the 8th Circuit, the players' leverage isn't what it was six weeks ago. They may finally be at a point where each side is willing to give a little. But the key in getting there was that the owners had to be willing to talk about something other than a lockout. The fact that these meetings this week took place without anybody knowing about them ahead of time makes me think they're finally at that point. I'm hopeful for the first time in more than two years that they might actually play all 16 games this year.

Regardless, however, come the links:

Dallas Cowboys

A new defensive coordinator, a lockout and a second-round tender that may or may not be honored depending on the structure of the next labor deal have combined to leave Cowboys DE Stephen Bowen in a very uncomfortable position. He'd like to be back.

Nick Eatman would like fans to hold off on the "good riddance" stuff when Marion Barber gets cut and remember the great things he did for the franchise over the disappointments of the past couple of years. Nick, you're too sensible, man.

New York Giants

The Giants worked out for the second day in a row, honoring the labor talks with their own continued media silence. Shaun O'Hara said they'd talk to reporters Friday, which is nice of them but still weird. They planning some big huge announcement? They know something we don't? Labor deal settled by then? New date for the Rapture? What?

Some stats our research department came up with a couple of days ago show how much the Giants suffered when they lost Plaxico Burress. Particularly striking is the 6-1 record against the Eagles while he was on the team and the 0-5 record against the Eagles without him. I'm not sure these numbers necessarily suggest that the Giants need the guy, since he's much older now and the continued development of Hakeem Nicks answers a lot of these issues, but some of the numbers are eye-popping.

Philadelphia Eagles

We mentioned Andy Reid's non-comments about Plaxico on Wednesday, but far more telling are the comments here from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who openly compared the decision on whether to pursue Burress to the team's 2009 signing of Michael Vick. While Eagles coaches and execs worked on building a school playground, Lurie said a lot would go into deciding whether to bring in Burress. "Any player, if there's issues off the field, we have to ascertain ... are they going to represent the Eagles and the community that we serve?" Lurie said to Philly.com. "Are they going to be part of events like this? Michael has shown this. If a player is not willing to be part of the culture we have, then I don't think it's a good fit."

Jonathan Tamari checked in on Nate Allen as he recovers from his knee injury and looks ahead hopefully to 2011.

Washington Redskins

Stephon Heyer, like Bowen in the earlier Cowboys item, would like to know what's going on with his situation. And the Redskins surely would like to know what they're doing at right tackle.

Some speculation has surfaced in Chicago that the Bears could take a run at free-agent receiver Santana Moss. I think we've all kind of been assuming he'd go back with the Redskins, but this is a reminder that that's no sure thing. Losing Moss would leave Washington in some fairly dire straits at WR, no offense to Anthony Armstrong and the gang.

Stay cool out there today, people.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 10, 2010
12/10/10
4:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
AP Photo/Bill NicholsJason Witten had 10 catches for a season-high 99 yards against New Orleans in Week 12.
The Philadelphia Eagles' defense will have to slow down Jason Witten. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna loves throwing the ball to Witten. Over the past three games, Witten has been targeted 20 times and has 19 catches. He's always been a matchup problem for the Eagles, and there's no way that middle linebacker Stewart Bradley can cover him one-on-one in the middle of the field. Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has immense respect for Witten, so he'll probably use safeties Nate Allen and Quintin Mikell against him at times.

The New York Giants need to continue their emphasis on starting fast. In last week's win over the Washington Redskins, the Giants scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has placed more emphasis on scoring quickly, and it's paid off in recent games. With David Diehl likely returning to the lineup at left tackle, look for the Giants to run right at Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Brandon Jacobs raced for 39 yards on a carry to the left side on the first possession against the Redskins. I think the Giants will try the same thing against the Vikings. If they can score quickly, it will take one of the loudest crowds in the league out of the game.

It's time for Mike Shanahan to bust out the running game. The Redskins should have tailback Ryan Torain in the starting lineup against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Torain had back-to-back 100-yard rushing days earlier in the season, but we haven't seen him since Week 8 because of lingering hamstring issues. The Bucs are 26th in the league against the run, allowing 128.5 yards per game on the ground. If Trent Williams can come back strong at left tackle, I think Torain will have some success on that side. Stephon Heyer was overwhelmed at left tackle last week, which pretty much fouled up everything. Williams hasn't been great in his rookie season, but he's about the best the Skins have to offer at this point.

The Cowboys will try to follow the Chicago Bears' game plan against Michael Vick: The Cowboys may blitz a little more than the Bears did against Vick two weeks ago, but they'll rely heavily on their defensive front. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh told me Wednesday that the secondary has watched all of the double moves DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin like to use. Sensabaugh said the key will be not taking his eyes off the receiver too soon. If you look up to get your bearings, one of the Eagles receivers will race past you for a touchdown. The Cowboys will probably play their safeties deeper than usual, and they'll try to frustrate Jackson by not allowing him to have anything downfield. The Cowboys did a great job against Jackson last season. One matchup to keep an eye on will be Jason Avant versus Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick. If Scandrick is unable to play because of a concussion, look for rookie Bryan McCann to line up across from Avant, one of the most underrated receivers in the league. He and the Giants' Steve Smith do a superb job on third downs.

Will the New York Giants face Brett Favre or Tarvaris Jackson? The Giants spent most of the week preparing for Favre, but they'll be ready to adjust if the famous streak ends. I think the Vikings are actually more dangerous with Jackson right now. He moves around the pocket much better than Favre and he's a threat to take off when everybody is covered. Much like they did in the second half against Vick, the Giants need to knock down Jackson. With Favre, I think the key will be to make sure you catch those interceptions. He's going to make some mistakes, and right now this Giants defense is doing a good job of capitalizing. If Devin Thomas can mix in another partially blocked punt, the Giants will be in business.

Redskins are banged up today

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
7:13
PM ET
The list of players who didn't practice fully Wednesday for the Washington Redskins is a little longer than usual. Here's the breakdown:

Right tackle Jammal Brown (hip), cornerback DeAngelo Hall (back), right tackle Stephon Heyer (ankle), safety LaRon Landry (Achilles), Donovan McNabb (hamstring), safety Kareem Moore (knee), linebacker Brian Orakpo (ankle), fullback Mike Sellers (foot) and running back Chad Simpson (hamstring).

Coach Mike Shanahan told reporters it would be a couple of weeks before running back Clinton Portis is able to return to practice from a groin injury. Ryan Torain has obviously done a nice job as the feature back and it's hard to imagine Shanahan replacing him in the starting lineup. Portis has said he'll accept whatever role he's asked to play, and I believe him.

Portis was playing well before he suffered the injury, but not at the level of what Torain's doing right now. We'll keep you updated on all the Skins injuries. I'd keep a close on Brown's hip injury. Shanahan admitted this week that it's been bothering the former Saints star.

With the other injuries, I think the Skins are simply being cautious. This is no time to be resting key players when you have a chance to improve to 5-3 heading into the bye.

On the radar: Skins' O-line

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

In some precincts, the Redskins' stunning trade for Donovan McNabb automatically put them in the playoffs. My colleague John Clayton has said he sees the Cowboys and Redskins as the teams to beat in the rugged NFC East. But for some reason, I haven't been converted to the Skins-in-the-playoffs theory, and I'll tell you why.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireWashington's Trent Williams has to work on his blocking, one of the many issues on the Redskins' O-line.
I don't trust that offensive line one bit.

It's nothing personal. Watching Mike Williams return to football after eating himself out of the league has been heartening. And 32-year-old Casey Rabach does a decent job at center. But in the end, I don't think McNabb can hold up behind this offensive line as currently constructed. It's not like Mike Shanahan can take a beast like Williams and turn him into a cut blocker who opens up lanes for Clinton Portis. And Portis was a much younger man when he was darting through cutback lanes with the Broncos last decade.

The other Williams on the line, Trent, has the tools to be a special player. But he still has to learn the nuances of the NFL game while trying to block DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck and Trent Cole. As Bill Parcells liked to say, "this will not go smoothly." It's almost like everyone forgot about the beatings that Jason Campbell took on a weekly basis.

This isn't the McNabb who used to race around and extend plays by 10 seconds or so against the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football." He can slide around the pocket, but it's not like he speeds away from defenders on a regular basis. I'll point to his last two games against Dallas as Exhibits A and B. With center Jamaal Jackson out, the Eagles had to slide players around in the middle. The results against the Cowboys were disastrous.

For now, the Redskins have Artis Hicks lining up as the starting right tackle. To me, that means that Shanahan and his son, Kyle, aren't sold on Stephon Heyer. Most of us expected him to hold down that position. And the Mike Williams vs. Chad Rinehart battle at right guard isn't riveting stuff. Neither player would start for the three other teams in the division.

I certainly agree with the pundits who say the Redskins are better off with McNabb. He'll make Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly better receivers. And the combination of Fred Davis and Chris Cooley should be the best tandem in the Beast. But I don't like the thought of putting aging running backs behind a suspect offensive line.

At this point, the Redskins have the worst offensive line in the division and I don't see the Shanahan boys' zone-blocking scheme changing that right away. Could I be wrong about this?

There's always that slight chance.

McNabb talks transition

June, 4, 2010
6/04/10
4:00
PM ET
Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb (still looks like a misprint) joined ESPN 980 in D.C. to talk about how the transition's going. McNabb basically said he was trying to "erase" the past 11 seasons in Philly and focus on his future with the Redskins. Thanks to sportsradiointerviews.com for pointing me to this interview.

McNabb
McNabb was asked to compare Mike Shanahan's offense to the one he ran in Philadelphia and I thought he gave a pretty interesting answer:
"The difference is it is really not the West Coast offense," told the Sport Fix show. "Every coach has their own form of the West Coast offense. There are some things that are different verbiage-wise. Here in this offense you are pretty much telling the receivers what route they are running. Also the protection of the line is different. So offensively for a quarterback, there is big change. When you have been a part of an offense for 11 years and now try to absorb a newer offense and concepts and what the mindset of these coaches have, it is tough. It is tough, but I have just been trying to put in that extra time, communicating with these coaches and just make sure when once we hit training camp, I have a better grasp and a better feel of what we like to do here."

I honestly believe the whole blocking scheme angle is really an underrated topic. McNabb spent so much time with offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan over the years that he knew exactly where they would be on each play. He'll now have to adjust to a rookie playing at left tackle and either Stephon Heyer or Artis Hicks playing on the right side. And keep in mind that those players are also trying to learn Shanahan's scheme.

That's why I'm a bit reluctant to simply hand the Redskins six or seven extra wins this season based on McNabb's arrival. You guys have the same concerns or do you think I'm overreacting?

Washington Redskins' weakness: O-line

May, 20, 2010
5/20/10
11:30
AM ET
NFC East Weaknesses: Cowboys (5/17) | Giants (5/18) | Eagles (5/19) | Redskins (5/20)

Many seem to think that Washington, a 4-12 team in 2009 that failed to win a game in the NFC East, is vastly improved and no longer is overwhelmed with weak spots on its roster. I tend to disagree. They still look like the NFC East’s bottom feeders to me.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireThe Redskins used the No. 4 overall pick on Trent Williams, but the offensive tackle doesn't have much experience on the left side.
I am not fond of the Redskins’ wide receivers, but do recognize that there is upside with younger wideouts such as Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. Depth here is a worry as there isn’t anyone resembling a No. 1 receiver in the group.

The situation at running back is worse. Mike Shanahan has a great reputation of getting excellent production from ordinary running backs in his scheme, but I contend that Clinton Portis, Willie Parker and Larry Johnson are all over the hill and used up.

While these two positions are problematic, they might be even more glaring if the line is not vastly improved. Once again, I have my doubts. Using the fourth pick in the draft on a very talented left tackle, Trent Williams from Oklahoma, certainly made a lot of sense. But the rookie is far from a sure thing and, despite his immense talents, doesn’t have a lot of college experience on the left side. And there is no getting around that he is a rookie. This is just a hunch, but I am betting that DeMarcus Ware, Trent Cole and the Giants’ slew of defensive ends are not losing sleep knowing that they have to face Williams twice during the 2010 season.

Last year, the Redskins' pass blocking was poor while the run blocking was atrocious. At left guard and center respectively, it looks pretty certain that Derrick Dockery and Casey Rabach will return as starters. Dockery is a good pass-blocker and the left side of the line certainly does have potential, but Dockery needs work in the running game. Plus, he isn’t exactly the small, quick lineman that we have become so accustomed to seeing in Shanahan’s scheme. Rabach is about as ordinary as they come at the pivot, but isn’t a young player, so a decline might be imminent.

At the two spots on the right side, there will be competition for the starting roles and a combination of Stephon Heyer, Mike Williams, Artis Hicks and Chad Rinehart will get the nod. Heyer was among the worst starting offensive linemen in the league last season. Williams isn’t much better and doesn’t move well enough to recover in protection. Rinehart remains somewhat of an unknown and might be primed to come into his own, but banking on that doesn’t seem prudent considering what he has shown to this point. Hicks is versatile and was a solid signing considering the situation up front for Washington, but he has proved to be more of an ideal sixth lineman as opposed to starting material.

By the way, Donovan McNabb isn’t the most durable quarterback around and as noted above, there are some serious pass-rushers in the NFC East. If the Redskins don't get the line tightened up, McNabb could be in for a long season.

Handicapping the Beast -- in April

April, 8, 2010
4/08/10
3:11
PM ET

US PresswireWill Tony Romo, Kevin Kolb or Eli Manning be leading the NFC East's top team in 2010? Matt Mosley takes an early look.
One of the most important things to do when overreacting to a blockbuster trade within a division is to suggest one of the teams will leapfrog pretty much everyone in the league. And although I'm wired to have knee-jerk reactions in most phases of life, I've so far resisted the urge to elevate the Redskins to playoff contender status. Do they have a much better chance? Absolutely.

But in the spirit of wild, reactionary behavior, let's now handicap the most compelling division in football heading into this month's draft. I have analyzed all the free-agency moves and have looked at several of Mike Sando's NFL databases in my attempt to determine the early bird power rankings in the Beast. Now, here are the fruits of my labor:

My NFC East post-Easter, pre-draft power rankings:

1. Dallas Cowboys: The releases of left tackle Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, which may have been predicted in this space, caused shockwaves in the division -- until the move was trumped by Sunday evening's events. It's rare to see a legitimate Super Bowl contender release a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle and a veteran starter at safety. Jerry Jones looked me in the eye recently (for an awkwardly long time) and insisted that Doug Free was capable of starting at left tackle in this league. I took this to mean that Jones would release Adams, but it happened sooner than most of us thought.

I don't think Friday's moves did serious damage to the Cowboys' hopes of winning another division title, but it puts enormous pressure on Free and whomever replaces Hamlin at safety. Right now, the candidates are Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and a player to be drafted later. The Cowboys are still the most stable team in the division heading into the draft, but I'm a bit concerned wide receiver Miles Austin has chosen to work out in Los Angeles rather than Valley Ranch. Hey, I realize the recent trip to Hugh Hefner's mansion had to be an eye-opening experience, but Austin should come on home at some point.

This may be a ploy to get Jones' attention since Austin's a restricted free agent set to make roughly $3.6 million while fellow starter Roy Williams will collect somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million this season. And honestly, Austin and his agent, David Dunn, who showed nice separation skills from reporters at the recent owners meetings, have a pretty good point. But ultimately, I don't think staying away from Tony Romo and his other teammates will improve Austin's standing.

With that said, the NFC East title still goes through Dallas. Just ask Keith Brooking if you don't believe me.

Cowboys win prediction in April: 12

2. New York Giants: Our old friends from the New Jersey swamps have managed to fly under the radar this offseason -- other than that coin flip. General manager Jerry Reese has told me on three separate occasions this offseason the play at safety last season was unacceptable -- and I'm sure Giants fans would agree with that assessment. He's responded by signing former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle to an enormous contract and then bringing in journeyman Deon Grant, who's a definite upgrade over C.C. Brown.

With Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Michael Johnson and Grant, the Giants have some much-needed depth at the position. But don't be shocked to see them draft another safety in two weeks. It's hard to say how much of the Giants' failures on defense had to do with all the injuries and how much of it hinged on poor play. I'd lean toward the former, but Tom Coughlin and Reese aren't going to sit around and find out. They need to replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. And you can't simply hope that Jonathan Goff or Gerris Wilkinson will get the job done. If the Giants land Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 15, they'll have an immediate starter and one of the most intelligent players in this draft.

It's just hard for me to imagine the Giants going through another awful stretch, as they did last season. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is poised to become an electric player and Steve Smith proved that he can be a front-line receiver. Mix in Mario Manningham and Ramses Barden and you have the makings of an elite receiving corps. Right now, you'd have to say the Eagles and Giants are neck in neck at that position.

I also think the arrival of fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will solve some issues. He'll be more aggressive with the pass rush and he'll attempt to use Osi Umenyiora's unease to his advantage. I also think you'll see a much healthier Justin Tuck. He was limited for most of last season after being tripped by Flozell Adams in the Week 2 game at Cowboys Stadium. I think Tuck's poised to have a huge bounce-back season. That's a big reason why the Giants will return to the playoffs.

Giants win prediction in April: 10

3. Philadelphia Eagles: First of all, I think Kevin Kolb is going to win a lot of games with the Eagles. But there will be bumps along the way. No one really knows how he'll look as the full-time starter, but he's shown signs he can get the job done. I think he'll immediately be a more accurate passer than McNabb, but I also know that opposing defensive coordinators will go to great lengths to confuse him in coverage.

Kolb will reach out to fellow Texan Drew Brees this offseason for advice on dealing with all the adversity he's sure to face. I think that's an excellent move. The Eagles will surround Kolb with some potent weapons at receiver and tight end. But what Andy Reid truly needs to do is commit to the running game. That will help an inexperienced quarterback more than anything. Will Reid do that? I have my doubts.

The Eagles need to add more depth in the secondary during the draft. You can't depend on Marlin Jackson, owner of two surgically repaired knees, to be the answer. I think the Eagles have to draft a safety and a cornerback in the early rounds. Of course, that No. 37 pick should really help. If someone like South Florida safety Nate Allen begins to slip a little bit, the Eagles should be ready to take him. I think defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be much more comfortable in his second season. But with the Redskins becoming more of a force and the Giants likely bouncing back, finding 10 wins will be tough. Kolb will one day lead this team on a deep playoff run. But that won't happen in 2010.

Eagles win prediction in April: 9

4. Washington Redskins: No, it didn't slip my mind that Washington landed an elite-level quarterback. But count me among the skeptics who think playing behind an offensive line that could feature Mike Williams and Stephon Heyer isn't a recipe for a huge turnaround. When the Dolphins had a remarkable turnaround two seasons ago, they benefited from the rest of the division wilting down the stretch. I don't think the Redskins can count on any help from their division rivals this season.

McNabb will make the Redskins better, but he'll need to make them at least six wins better to have a shot at the playoffs. He's still an excellent quarterback and leader, but I don't see him making a six-win difference. Brett Favre inherited a 10-win team and the best running back in the game last season. McNabb inherits a four-win team and a collection of fading stars at running back.

I know McNabb took a jab at the Eagles when he said the Redskins will run the ball, but it's not like a young Brian Westbrook's walking through that door. Mike Shanahan won Super Bowls with a young Terrell Davis. He then put up huge numbers with backs such as Mike Anderson, who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2000. But most of the running backs who put up big numbers for Shanahan were young and hungry. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are just holding on to their careers for another two or three seasons. McNabb needs to win nine games (or go to the Pro Bowl) in order for the Eagles to receive a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. I don't see it happening at this point. This team will be much improved, but it''ll need more than that in the rugged NFC East.

Redskins win prediction in April: 8

Editor's note: Mosley reserves the right to completely change his mind following the draft.

Skins interested in Flozell Adams

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
3:30
PM ET
As if the NFC East landscape hasn't changed enough, Redskins general manager Bruce Allen told Sirius on Monday that he's made contact with former Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams' agent, Jordan Woy.

"We have had a conversation with his agent," said Allen.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a follow-up question to press Allen on his interest level. Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com called Woy to see what was going on with Adams. Woy said it was "too early to tell" where his client would land. But you'd think there would be a decent market for a Pro Bowl left tackle who could probably start for another two seasons.

If the Redskins signed Adams, they might not feel the pressure to take Oklahoma State's Russell Okung at No. 4 overall. And they'd also have another player on the roster who'd be dying to prove that his former team made a big mistake. Donovan McNabb should be in Allen's office right now campaigning for Adams.

He knows what it's like to play behind veteran offensive tackles. Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan kept him on his feet for a lot of years in Philly. As it stands now, McNabb could end up operating behind a rookie left tackle and Stephon Heyer on the right side. And who's going to play right guard? Mike Williams?

Right now, the offensive line is the only reason I'm not ready to call the Skins a playoff contender. But signing Adams might make me rethink that position. Let's ponder that thought in the "comments" section.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:49
AM ET
Dallas Cowboys

Potential unrestricted free agents: G Montrae Holland

Potential restricted free agents: NT Junior Siavii, WR Miles Austin, DE Stephen Bowen, CB Cletis Gordon, DE Jason Hatcher, WR Sam Hurd, T Pat McQuistan, C Duke Preston, G Cory Procter, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears, S Pat Watkins, K Shaun Suisham.

What to expect: Anything is possible with Jerry Jones in charge, and the Cowboys could make a big splash after an underwhelming offseason a year ago. But in terms of team needs and what is required to take the next step, Dallas really doesn’t need much. A big-time impact safety makes some sense and could make a very good defense great, but that might be a project for the draft in a trade-up scenario for someone like Earl Thomas. But Darren Sharper might pique their interest. They also need to get younger along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, but that seems like a draft-day project, too. Maybe Jones gets real aggressive in the wide receiver market, as Roy Williams certainly is not living up to his billing, but the Cowboys are still rather stacked with pass-catchers. All in all, this is a team that is sitting pretty and doesn’t have a prominent unrestricted free agent who is poised to leave.

New York Giants

Potential unrestricted free agents: QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, P Jeff Feagles, DT Fred Robbins

Potential restricted free agents: WR Domenik Hixon, TE Darcy Johnson, DE Dave Tollefson, G Kevin Boothe, S C.C. Brown, DT Barry Cofield, CB Kevin Dockery, WR Derek Hagan, WR Sinorice Moss, T Guy Whimper, LB Gerris Wilkinson.

What to expect: Big things could be in the works here, as there are already rumors swirling that New York could be a prime suitor for linebacker Karlos Dansby. An impact linebacker is certainly near the top of their wish list and Dansby fits the bill. Plus, he is extremely versatile. Getting faster on defense is a huge priority with new coordinator Perry Fewell stressing the ability to cover a lot of ground. However, Dansby isn’t really the thumper they need in the middle and is more of an outside linebacker for this system, although he would be great on passing downs. This is a group of decision-makers who might be starting to feel some heat, so do not rule out a big move or two.

Philadelphia Eagles

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Jason Babin, S Sean Jones, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Tracy White

Potential restricted free agents: LB Akeem Jordan, P Saverio Rocca, WR Jason Avant, C Nick Cole, LB Omar Gaither, LB Chris Gocong, CB Ellis Hobbs, G Max Jean-Gilles, TE Alex Smith, FB Leonard Weaver.

What to expect: There are questions on the offensive line, but overall, the Eagles are in a prime situation to improve their defense, particularly up front and at safety. Remember, they have quarterbacks to dangle as trade bait and really do not have any unrestricted guys that they need to bring back. This is a possible landing spot for Julius Peppers and he would be terrific on the opposite side of Trent Cole, who is among the most underrated players in the game and could blow up with someone taking pass protection attention away from his side. Count on the Eagles being aggressive in the free-agent and/or trade market. It might just be enough to get them that ever elusive Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened.

Washington Redskins

Potential unrestricted free agents: LS Ethan Albright, DE Phillip Daniels, T Levi Jones, C Casey Rabach,
P Hunter Smith, T Mike Williams, DE Renaldo Wynn, TE Todd Yoder.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Lorenzo Alexander, T Stephon Heyer, LB Chris Wilson, QB Jason Campbell, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, C Will Montgomery, CB Carlos Rogers.

What to expect: This is a difficult team to get a grasp on in terms of what they might do in free agency, but I think it is safe to say that ownership will not hold Mike Shanahan and company back from opening up the check book and signing (and even overpaying) players whom they desire. It would be wise for Washington to have an excellent idea of what they are going to do with the fourth overall draft pick in terms of going quarterback or offensive tackle before really devising a free-agency plan. Rebuilding the offensive line is a must and Shanahan needs lighter, quicker (and younger) linemen than are on the roster. A running back they can trust wouldn’t hurt either, although it looks as though Clinton Portis will return, which they may regret. But don’t forget, this is a team that -- unwisely in my opinion -- is switching to a 3-4 scheme, so inside linebacker help is required, as are defensive linemen who fit the new scheme. The Redskins have a long wish list, but also have the ownership to endorse big spending when free agency opens.

Thursday Beastlines

December, 31, 2009
12/31/09
11:18
AM ET
Let's take a quick look at the NFC East's biggest storylines this morning:

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Cerrato's emasculation of Zorn continues

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
8:07
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

I had to read the transcript about seven times. When Redskins executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato was asked if he presented coach Jim Zorn with a roster capable of making the playoffs, he answered, "Yes." He then repeated that answer when a reporter asked for a clarification.

That's right, folks. Cerrato signed Bills castoff Derrick Dockery to take over at left guard and then hung his hat on Pro Bowl tackle Chris Samuels somehow having an injury-free season. For depth, Cerrato signed Dockery's roommate, Mike Williams, a man who ate his way out of the league and once tipped the scales at 450 pounds -- after a crash diet. Of course, he was also counting on aging guard Randy Thomas holding up for an entire season. Seriously, how in the world could Zorn mess this thing up?

Thomas (triceps) and Samuels (neck) are now gone for the season, replaced by the immortal Will Montgomery and Stephon Heyer. Williams, who has no business in the league, has taken over at right tackle.

"Look around the league," Cerrato said. "Nobody has a Pro Bowler to back up a Pro Bowler," he said. "When you lose some quality people, there is a drop-off. I'm not making excuses. We have to do better."

No one expects Cerrato to have Pro Bowl backups, but just for grins, he should take a look at the Eagles' roster. When left guard Todd Herremans had foot surgery, Nick Cole stepped in and did a nice job. Max Jean-Gilles and Winston Justice also played relatively well after being pressed into starting roles. The Eagles have had just as many injuries as the Skins along the offensive line -- and it hasn't ruined their season.

Here's another shocker: Cerrato thinks his hand-picked playcaller/offensive consultant Sherm Lewis did a heck of a job in Monday's 27-17 loss to the Eagles.

"I thought Sherm provided a spark and I think the offense did some good things," said Cerrato. "And I think Fred [Davis] and Devin [Thomas] got a chance to do some things offensively. So I think coming and having to face the third-ranked defense that blitzes all the time, I thought he did a good job with the amount of time that he had. I thought he did an excellent job."

Wow! I need to go back and watch that game again. I didn't realize Lewis did such an "excellent" job. Can you imagine what this man will accomplish with a bye week under his belt? It's scary to think about.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 27, Redskins 17

October, 26, 2009
10/26/09
11:50
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Redskins may have changed playcallers, but the results looked pretty much the same. Washington was no match for Philadelphia in a division game that felt like it was over in the first five minutes.

The Eagles were trying to get rid of that stench they had following a shameful performance against the Raiders last Sunday, and the Redskins were the perfect opponent. The Redskins' battered defense bit hard on a fake handoff early in the game -- and that's all the room DeSean Jackson needed as he took an end around 67 yards for a touchdown.

Jackson then removed all doubt with a 57-yard touchdown catch on which he beat the Redskins' secondary on a double move. The boobirds were out early Monday, and new playcaller Sherm Lewis stuck to the same script that has earned the Redskins a 2-5 record.

Make no mistake, the Redskins are one of the worst teams in the league. But still, the Eagles did what you have to do to an inferior opponent. Newly acquired linebacker Will Witherspoon led the way early with an interception return for a touchdown and a forced fumble. Then defensive end Trent Cole took over in the second half. He had two sacks and he made left tackle Stephon Heyer look awful.

There are only three players on the Redskins' offensive line who even belong in the NFL -- and that's the hand Lewis was dealt in his first coaching gig in almost five years. By the second half, Clinton Portis was having sideline meltdowns. He launched his helmet into the bench, which may have been the Skins' most aggressive act of the evening.

Eagles coach Andy Reid spent part of the second half tinkering with his much-maligned Wildcat formation. At this point, it's hard to determine why they went to the trouble of signing Michael Vick. But on this night, the Wildcat was simply a sideshow.

The biggest scare for the Eagles came in the first quarter when Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook took a knee to the head. He remained on the ground for about five minutes, but he was able to walk to the locker room -- and later returned to the sideline. The Eagles never really accomplished much in the running game after Jackson's long run, but it's not something they needed against the Redskins.

The Eagles' defense tormented Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell throughout the game, causing four turnovers and six sacks. This sets up a huge matchup between the Eagles and Giants at Lincoln Financial Field next Sunday.

The Giants are reeling after losing consecutive games, so the Eagles could at least share the division lead with a win. This wasn't much to look at, but the Eagles will certainly take it.

SPONSORED HEADLINES