NFC East: Steve Smith

Steve Smith spent the early part of what many thought might be his last day as a member of the Carolina Panthers having fun in a Twitter exchange with Brian Blackmore, a fan who made up a "Save Steve Smith" T-shirt.



Blackmore, 31, then shared that he once was released from his job, adding, "I'm pulling for you."

Responded Smith: "I love the shirt but it just made me laugh and smile. Everything that is going on I'm just humbled by the support."

Maybe the T-shirt worked.

At least for the first day of the NFL's new year, Smith is safe.

That doesn't mean the Panthers won't release him on Wednesday or the next day or the next. They've almost backed themselves into a corner since it was reported on Monday they were trying to trade their all-time leading receiver.

And maybe they still are. Since Smith is under contract, the Panthers didn't have to release him at 4 p.m. ET as most teams looking to dump a player did. They can talk trade for another couple of months in hopes of convincing a team to take on Smith's $7 million cap figure.

It's doubtful that will happen. Teams aren't likely to gamble that kind of money on a soon-to-be 35-year old, even one that has been as productive as Smith.

And it's not like this isn't the first time the Panthers have shopped Smith only to keep him. It happened a few years ago when Smith was disgruntled with the direction the team was headed.

To cut Smith without compensation makes little sense financially because the Panthers would have to pay him $3 million of the $7 million he is scheduled to count against the salary cap this season.

That's $3 million to play for somebody else.

It's also risky to cut Smith without assurance you're going to sign a proven veteran such as Sidney Rice or Hakeem Nicks to team with up-and-comers and a draft pick. Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon, Carolina's next three wide receivers from 2013, are now on the open market as free agents.

Of those, Ginn is the one Carolina would like to keep because he can return kicks.

Otherwise, the cupboard is bare.

It's also risky to keep Smith now that he knows the team was willing to move on without him. He's a proud and passionate player who surely will take this to heart.

I still think general manager Dave Gettleman ultimately will release Smith despite the support of Blackmore and a recent Charlotte Observer poll in which 84 percent of those that responded said the Panthers should keep him.

So now we play the waiting game.

For those following the Panthers in free agency, Tuesday was a lot like the recent Super Bowl between New England and Seattle. There was a lot of buildup and drama, but in the end not much to get excited about.

The biggest news of the day was offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner and Jeff Byers made official they are joining left tackle Jordan Gross in retirement. Hangartner has been saying this for months, so it really wasn't a surprise.

The second biggest news was special teamer Jordan Senn is headed to Chicago.

See what I mean.

Re-signing free safety Mike Mitchell remains one of Carolina's priorities, although with strong interest from Philadelphia and Washington the price may go beyond what Gettleman wants to pay with only $7 million in cap space.

After that the Panthers will scour the market for bargains at cornerback and offensive tackle. They let starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn test the market, but even he can't be ruled out returning.

Munnerlyn tested the market a year ago and came back to Carolina for a one-year deal.

Gettleman's strategy is to let the feeding frenzy that occurs at the opening of free agency settle down and then find the diamonds in the rough.

He'll also have to deal with Smith at some point.

But at least for a day, Smith is safe.
New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster's chances of playing Sunday didn't look good when he showed up on Friday's injury report as doubtful with a hip injury. On Saturday, the Giants made it official, downgrading Wesbster to "Out" for Sunday's game against the Panthers and announcing that he would not make the trip to Carolina.

In Webster's absence, the Giants are likely to lean on backup cornerback Aaron Ross, who didn't get a single defensive snap in Week 2 against the Broncos. They could also use Terrell Thomas to help on the outside, but Thomas has performed well so far as the nickel corner and their preference likely is to leave him there as much as possible.

Carolina's top receiving weapons include wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen. Prince Amukamara, the lone healthy starter at cornerback, is likely to see a lot of time one-on-one with Smith.

The only other Giants not making the trip are offensive tackle David Diehl (thumb) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot), both of whom were ruled out Friday.

Giants injury report: Webster doubtful

September, 20, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster missed a second straight day of practice with a hip injury and is officially listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Panthers in Carolina. It's unclear how the injury occurred, since Webster practiced Wednesday with no apparent problems.

Webster
"Evidently he has an issue with his hip flexor, in that area somewhere," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Friday's practice. "He couldn't practice yesterday and he couldn't go today."

Coughlin indicated that Aaron Ross, who didn't take a single defensive snap in Sunday's loss to the Broncos, would be the first one up to take Webster's spot if Webster can't play. But the Giants might have to adjust their coverage plan to put their healthy starter, Prince Amukamara, against top Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith for the whole game. Terrell Thomas has been the slot cornerback in the first two games, but he and Coughlin declined to say whether that would continue in this one.

Both secondaries will be banged up in this one. The Panthers lost one of their starting safeties, Charles Godfrey, for the season with an Achilles injury last week, and they list the other starting safety, Quintin Mikell, as out for this game with ankle injury.

Other Giants injury and practice notes:

Thomas has held up well through two games as he completes his recovery from a third reconstructive ACL surgery on his knee. He is good friends with Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who also has had three knee reconstructions. The two text regularly and have supported each other through their recoveries. Thomas said he and Davis are the only two NFL players who have made it back from three ACL surgeries, and that he's looking forward to seeing his friend and being on the same field with him Sunday.

Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks missed practice, but the team said it was an excused absence for personal reasons and that Nicks is healthy and will play Sunday.

Tackle David Diehl (thumb) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) are listed as out. Guard Brandon Mosley (back) and quarterback Ryan Nassib (ankle) were listed as limited practice participants and are probable.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 1

September, 9, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A examination of four hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 12-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

[+] EnlargeStar Lotulelei
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonRookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei had a strong first game.
As advertised: The defensive front seven might be better than advertised. It held running back Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards on 17 carries and the ground game to 70 yards. Rookie tackle Star Lotulelei showed star potential with four tackles and good inside pressure. The secondary remains a question as advertised. Cornerback Josh Thomas lost containment on consecutive deep passes, the second resulting in a game-winning 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Russell Wilson completed a gaudy 75 percent of his passes for 320 yards -- his first 300-yard passing game -- for a rating of 115.7. Holding the Seahawks to 12 points was solid overall, but not enough to overcome a worse-than-advertised offense.

Deep trouble? Quarterback Cam Newton attempted only four passes beyond 10 yards, the second-lowest total of his career. He finished with a career-low 125 yards passing. Perhaps the play calling was conservative going against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Newton said the offense pretty much stuck to its game plan, but if this is the game plan of new offensive coordinator Mike Shula all season, the Panthers might be in deep trouble. They might be anyway with Steve Smith and the untouchables (only one player touched a pass outside of Smith) at wide receiver. Brandon LaFell, who was supposed to emerge as the second receiver, didn't catch a pass. He was targeted only once, and there was a hold on that play. Newton said Shula "did an unbelievable job calling plays," and the Panthers took what was given to them. He also said, "we have to be more aggressive and take the bull by its horns and go." The good news is they won't face many defenses as tough as Seattle's.

Close not good enough: There's no such thing as a moral victory because you played arguably the best team in the NFC to within five points. Not when your record was 1-7 in games decided by seven or fewer points a season ago and when your head coach is 2-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Losing close games breeds more close losses. If this trend isn't reversed, it leads to a coaching search.

Missed opportunities and silly mistakes: Marginal teams can't afford to miss opportunities or make silly mistakes. The Panthers, a marginal team, had both contribute to the loss. The most-glaring missed opportunity was DeAngelo Williams' fumble at the Seattle 8-yard line with the Panthers trailing 12-7 in the fourth quarter.

The silly mistakes? Backup defensive end Frank Alexander was disqualified for swinging at an offensive lineman after coach Ron Rivera warned his players the Seahawks get "chipper," his word for doing things to get you out of your game. Thomas had a punt go off his leg after Ted Ginn Jr. had called for a fair catch, which resulted in a turnover. Armond Smith was penalized twice -- yes twice -- for illegally going out of bounds and returning to the field on punt coverage. It all adds up to a loss if you're a marginal team.
New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was on the radio with "Mike & Mike" this morning, talking about everything from the NBA Finals to who was his favorite receiver when he was growing up. (Carolina's Steve Smith) You can catch the audio here . Mike & Mike are having "Twitter week," which means Nicks took some questions from fans on Twitter. One asked him about his future with the team, which is at issue since he's entering the final year of his contract and the team is also trying to sign fellow start wide receiver Victor Cruz long term. Nicks basically didn't answer:
"My main focus is just getting into this season right now and being healthy and contributing to the team the best way possible. I love the Giants organization, and I'm very happy to be a Giant."

Which is what guys say. The fact is, Nicks' future with the Giants is a matter of a contract negotiation between him and the team, and there's nothing he can say on the radio that's going to help resolve the situation in his favor. If he stays healthy and has the kind of year he and the Giants know he can have, Nicks will be an in-demand free agent next year, and the Giants likely would be highly motivated to sign him before he hits the market. If he struggled again with injuries or was otherwise unproductive, his price would drop way down and the Giants would have an easier time keeping him if they even wanted to. Nicks' situation at this point -- with Cruz on the front burner and another salary-cap pinch awaiting the Giants in 2014 -- almost has to wait and see how the year goes.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Hey, if Tom Coughlin's going to play the part of the cranky football coach, at least he's honest about it. The New York Giants' coach said after Thursday's practice that wide receiver Hakeem Nicks hasn't been in touch about the reason he's been skipping voluntary workouts, and Coughlin made it clear that he's unhappy about it.

"Am I disappointed? No, I'm glad," Coughlin cracked when asked whether Nicks' absence was disappointing to him. "Certainly I am [disappointed]. At one point, Hakeem told me he was going to be here, and he was not here. Now, in the strictest interpretation, everyone knows it's a voluntary program."

It is that, and there's nothing in the rules that requires Nicks to tell Coughlin why he's not in attendance. Fellow star wide receiver Victor Cruz is also missing voluntary workouts, but everyone knows that's because he and the team are in a contract dispute. Nicks' absence compounds Coughlin's annoyance over not having his full team on the field for practices he considers important. My sense is that he's not annoyed at the players involved as much as he is about his own inability to compel them to be here.

"It'd be great to have all of our guys working and feeling good about the progress we're making. That's from a coach's perspective," Coughlin said. "You deal with some of this pretty much on a yearly basis, and it's a product of our system, and that's the way it is. I can complain all I want, but nevertheless it is our system."

The Giants' mandatory minicamp runs from June 11-13, and if Cruz and Nicks aren't in attendance for that, then this becomes a bigger deal. It's a bit funny to imagine how upset Coughlin would be with these guys in a situation that actually allowed him to be.

Anyway, I watched the practice, and the two wide receivers who stood out as fill-ins were Louis Murphy and little 5-foot-11 Brandon Collins, who got a surprising number of first-team reps (a lot in the slot) with Eli Manning throwing to him. The opportunity to catch passes from Manning, as opposed to one of the other quarterbacks on the Giants' roster, is one the younger, newer receivers have to enjoy, as it can only make them look good. It also helps that Manning is constantly chattering at his receivers, before and after every play, about things they do well and things they can do better. He too wishes Nicks and Cruz were here, but they're not, so he's turning his energy and attention to the guys who actually are.

"Every day, I treat it like a game, and I'm just trying to make our offense better," Manning said. "Trying to get everybody out there who's here working hard, get them where they're doing things correctly and making plays for us."

Look, if the Giants have to play without Nicks or without Cruz, they're going to struggle. If they find themselves in a situation where they had to play without either of them, they'd be toast. I fully respect Manning's ability to get the most out of whatever receivers he has. Heck, Cruz was an undrafted free agent, right? Steve Smith caught 107 passes from Manning in Cruz's slot position in 2009. But Nicks and Cruz are both proven at a high, championship level in the NFL, and guys like Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle simply aren't. The Giants need their big guys to make their passing game run. We're an awfully long way from a time at which you need to be concerned that they might not have them, but it's obviously of at least some concern right now to their coach.
Morning! I'm going to head down the road to Giants organized team activities (OTAs) today, see what's what down in East Rutherford, N.J. I'll have a full report. Or I don't know, 75 percent of a report. Anyway, some stuff. Along with some stuff on the other three NFC East teams. Starting with the ol' reliable links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Whatever Jason Peters' reason is for skipping voluntary OTA workouts, it sounds as though the team considers it a good one. I personally don't see the harm as long as Peters is healthy, which they say he is. A healthy Peters would be the least of the Eagles' problems.

Speaking of injured offensive linemen named Jason, center Jason Kelce will bear a great deal of the responsibility for making Chip Kelly's offense run in the new coach's first season in Philadelphia.

Washington Redskins

Mike Jones will have his eye on the safety competition and on defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins, among other things, as the Redskins kick off another round of OTA practices this week.

Even as the busy part of the offseason moves into the rear-view mirror, the Redskins are still going to be close up against the salary cap and will have to maneuver carefully through the rest of the offseason as a result.

Dallas Cowboys

When you're Matt Johnson, and so much is expected of you in spite of the facts that you're a fourth-round pick and you've never played an NFL game, just practicing is a victory at this point.

Morris Claiborne, however, was a high first-round pick for whom the Cowboys traded up. And he's expecting considerably more out of himself in his second NFL season than he delivered in his first.

New York Giants

Steve Smith holds the Giants' record for receptions in a season, with the 107 catches he hauled in in 2009. But the knee injury he suffered in 2010 was too much for him to come back from. And after several comeback attempts in places like Philadelphia, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, Smith announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday.

Speaking of Giants wide receivers, don't write off Louis Murphy's chances of being in the mix as one of Eli Manning's targets this season. Murphy has the kind of speed that sets him apart.
This came up in the chat Tuesday, and I figured it was worth a post in which you guys could bat it around and argue with each other: Who's got the best wide receivers in the NFC East at the moment? There is a poll over here in which you can vote on which team has the best starting duo.

SportsNation

Which NFC East team has the best starting WR duo?

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    40%
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    38%
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    13%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 15,796)

We did this a couple of years ago, I remember, and I picked the Giants' guys over the Eagles' guys and got some heat for it. I think at the time I was still projecting Steve Smith as the No. 2 in New York behind Hakeem Nicks. So while I think the past two years have supported my pick, I admit I didn't see Victor Cruz factoring into this debate to the extent that he has.

At this point, with Jackson and Maclin having failed to live up to those 2011 expectations, I think the Cowboys' tandem is the Giants' chief competition. The way Dez Bryant came on last year makes you think he might be about to live up to his incredible potential and become one of the dominant receivers in the league. This would make Miles Austin as good a No. 2 receiver as there is anywhere in the league, except in East Rutherford, where Cruz is a ridiculously productive No. 2 when Nicks is healthy.

And that's the crux of it, right? If Nicks were healthy, I'd still vote for him and Cruz over Bryant and Austin, though I say it's close and Bryant right now is the best of the four. Nicks was not healthy last season, and has not shown much of an ability to stay healthy for a full season. So you have to downgrade him a little bit, which tightens the competition. I believe he's a more complete wide receiver (again, when healthy) than Bryant is at this point in their careers, but I think Bryant's game-breaking ability and the mismatches he creates in the secondary offer him the opportunity to be the better player long-term. Whether he cashes in on that opportunity, obviously, remains to be seen.

The Redskins are here too, of course, though I struggle to tell you for certain which of their wideouts is the No. 2 behind Pierre Garcon. In the poll, I went with Josh Morgan, though it could have been Leonard Hankerson or even Santana Moss, who's more of a slot receiver. I think the questions about No. 2, and the questions about the health of Garcon's foot, push them to fourth in this debate, even behind the Eagles' guys. But obviously, based on last season, you'd take Garcon over Jackson or Maclin.

So fire away. Duke it out. Have at it. These tend to be fun.
Good morning and welcome to April. This means that we can now say "this month's NFL draft" instead of "next month's NFL draft." In the midst of the NFL offseason, we take any progress we can get. And we'll always take some links.

Dallas Cowboys

In the wake of the week-ending news of Tony Romo's contract extension, Brandon George asks whether the Cowboys are gambling their money on a quarterback who has peaked. Personally, I think Romo's 2013 performance was that of a quarterback squarely in his very productive prime. The issue with Romo going forward will be performance in those playoff games (and playoff-like games) that have been his bugaboo.

The Romo contract extension cleared about $5 million in fresh salary-cap room for the Cowboys. If they go out on the market to spend it, will they target a veteran running back? They definitely need to add depth at the position, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to prioritize durability (to the extent that they can), considering the issue with starter DeMarco Murray is his difficulty staying healthy enough to play.

New York Giants

Gary Myers thinks Victor Cruz needs to heed the lesson of Steve Smith and take the money the Giants are already offering him. Certainly, this point of view would seem to encapsulate the team's hope and, likely, its side of the negotiations. Cruz is asking to be paid as a No. 1 wide receiver based on numbers the past two years that say he is one. The Giants want to make him the league's highest-paid slot receiver, since they don't think they can use him regularly on the outside. And round and round it goes.

For some reason, the Giants are taking a look at former West Virginia quarterback Pat White. Ohm seems to think it's an effort to see if it makes sense to incorporate some read-option into the offense, since that's all the rage these days. I'd be surprised, given Tom Coughlin's comments about the read-option at the owners' meetings in Phoenix and the senselessness of having someone besides Eli Manning take snaps as long as he's healthy.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles signed a gigantic wide receiver named Ifeanyi Momah to a three-year contract. This is a guy who looked pretty good playing for Boston College in September of 2011 but hasn't played since. So it's a flyer on a guy who's 6-foot-7 and once showed promise. Remember, big people can beat up little people.

Jeff McLane is skeptical about the idea that the Eagles will pick West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the No. 4 pick in this month's(!) draft. I think this is the first time we've mentioned two West Virginia quarterbacks in the breakfast links. I also share Jeff's skepticism. I think Chip Kelly is expecting to try and find his franchise quarterback next year.

Washington Redskins

Mike Jones has some names, in case you've been looking for names of defensive backs who might be available and of interest once the Redskins start drafting in the second round later this month(!). The consensus is that this is a deep draft for defensive backs, which is fortunate for the Redskins, because that's what they need.

Robert Griffin III had a chance to chat with President Obama last week at a sporting event to which I have personally not been paying any attention whatsoever. The leader of the free world spoke with the Redskins' quarterback about protecting himself. Wonder if it sounded different than it did when Mike Shanahan said it to reporters in Phoenix. Guessing so.
PHOENIX -- The NFL announced the ever-popular compensatory draft picks Monday, awarding extra picks to 16 teams whose net losses in free agency last year were deemed by the league's formula to have outpaced their net gains. The Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants each added a seventh-round pick. The Eagles' extra pick will be the 239th of the draft. The Giants' will be the 253rd.

Neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the Washington Redskins, who were both very active in free agency last year, received any compensatory picks.

The formula for determining these picks is not strictly a 1-for-1 equation. For instance, the Giants got a pick even though the number of compensatory free agents they lost (Mario Manningham, Aaron Ross and Dave Tollefson) was equal to the number they signed (Martellus Bennett, Sean Locklear and Shaun Rogers). The reason is that, according to the formula, what the Giants lost in free agency was more than what they gained. The formula, the league's official release says, is "based on salary, playing time and postseason honors."

The Eagles got the extra pick because they lost Juqua Parker and Steve Smith and signed Demetress Bell. It's safe to assume they wish Bell had performed well enough to prevent them from getting an extra seventh-round pick this year.
The surprising free-agent news of the day is that former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has left to join the Denver Broncos on a two-year, $12 million contract. This is AFC news, of course, but there is one specific way I think it touches on the NFC East, and that's the extent to which it pertains to the New York Giants' current situation with restricted free-agent wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Cruz
Welker's deal is not going to help Cruz get what he wants from the Giants. Sure, you can argue that Cruz is five and a half years younger than Welker and insist that they're not comparable cases. And that might end up mattering when it comes to the length of the deal. But in terms of money, I don't see how Cruz has a case to make more money than Welker, who's the preeminent slot receiver of his generation and someone on whom Cruz has said he models his game. Cruz is much younger, but Welker is much more accomplished, and I think those two arguments kind of cancel each other out.

What the sides are left with, then, is a Welker contract that sets the market for slot receivers. And that hits at the source of the current conflict between Cruz and the Giants. Cruz wants to be paid on production -- as a No. 1 wide receiver who's led the team in catches each of the past two seasons and ranked among the league leaders in receptions and receiving yards during that time. The Giants, who tried to use Cruz outside more last year but ended up moving him back inside in favor of rookie Rueben Randle later in the season, seem to view him as a slot receiver, and to be of the opinion that quarterback Eli Manning can help make a slot receiver a star. (Steve Smith's 107-catch 2009 season in the same role works as evidence in their favor.) So the sides have not been able to reach a deal. And if the Giants insist on painting Cruz as a slot receiver in negotiations, Welker is the comparison to which they will justifiably cling. It's not a helpful one to Cruz's case. If their current offer to Cruz is for more than $6 million per season, they can ask him, "Why should you make more than Welker?" if it's less, they can ask him, "Why should you make as much as Welker?"

Cruz and the Giants have been trying for months to get a long-term contract extension worked out. The Giants would like to have it done so they can move ahead with other plans, including a new deal that will need to be done by this time next year for Hakeem Nicks (whom they do consider a true No. 1 wideout). Cruz would like to have it done because he wants to cash in on two straight excellent years and also stay in New York, where he and Manning have had so much success together.

But it is not done. And while the Giants have tendered Cruz at a first-round level and are unlikely to lose him in free agency, there remains clear frustration from both sides. Giants coach Tom Coughlin and owner John Mara have both voiced frustration within the past couple of weeks over the refusal of Cruz to accept what they feel is a generous offer. Cruz has changed agents, which of course indicates dissatisfaction with the way negotiations were going.

The Welker news will force both sides in this dispute to re-evaluate the landscape. And when they do, whether this is fair or not, I think the Giants will be happier with the extent to which it's helped their case.
Hakeem NicksJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCan the New York Giants keep both receivers, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, on the team in 2013?
Eli Manning knows he has it pretty good. The New York Giants quarterback won his second Super Bowl title (and MVP award) last year with the help of two star wide receivers who bring none of the diva element often associated with star wide receivers. Manning is aware of this, and said last year in training camp that he considers himself "very fortunate" that Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are as humble and hardworking as they are talented. Undoubtedly, Nicks' health issues were a significant reason for the drop-off in the Giants' passing game in 2012. The Giants are at their best when Nicks and Cruz are both on the field and at full strength. And when the Giants are at their best, they win the Super Bowl.

But trouble looms for this arrangement. Nothing is forever in the NFL's salary-cap era, and the Giants may end up having to decide which of their star wide receivers they keep long-term and which gets sent on his way. Cruz is a restricted free agent this year. Nicks' contract has one year left on it. It's time for the Giants to figure out whether they can legitimately keep both, and if they can't, which one is more important to them.

On Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Giants are more focused right now on signing Nicks to a long-term deal than Cruz. This was something of a surprise, since we've been hearing about the Cruz negotiations for months now, and he's the one whose deal is actually up. My first thought was that a story like that could give the Giants ammunition in their negotiations with Cruz, possibly persuading the player to move closer to the team's number out of concern that they'll turn elsewhere. But even if you look only at the face value of the story, it's really not a crazy idea for the Giants to pick Nicks over Cruz.

Yes, Cruz is the one with the flashier numbers over the past couple of years. No one is arguing his accomplishments. He has 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns -- numbers that rank among the very best in the NFL for wide receivers. Over the same time period, Nicks has 129 catches for 1,884 yards and 10 touchdowns and has missed four games due to injury. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Give Cruz what he wants and tell the banged-up Nicks he has to take less until he proves he can stay healthy.

But I'm not so sure the Giants think the same way, and honestly I'm not so sure they should. Owner Jerry Reese loves to cite numbers and tell you they can be replaced, and I'm sure that it has come up in negotiations with Cruz's agent that Steve Smith caught 107 passes for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009 in the same slot receiver role Cruz plays now, with the same quarterback throwing to him.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Cruz isn't better than Smith. I'm saying that, in the Giants' minds, it may make sense to think that, if Cruz left, Manning could make a star out of whoever they got to replace him. When the Giants tried to play Cruz on the outside more in 2012, it didn't work out too well. When opposing defenses started getting physical with Cruz in midseason, his productivity dipped. He worked to overcome it, but by late in the season the Giants were clearly trying to keep Cruz in the slot as much as possible, to the point where they were using unready rookie Rueben Randle on the outside in some formations. It's entirely possible the Giants could reach the conclusion that the undrafted Cruz, while a tremendous NFL success story, is at his best a great slot receiver and not worthy of No. 1-receiver money.

Nicks, on the other hand, is a first-round draft pick who fits the No. 1-receiver profile perfectly. He's big and physical. He has great hands. He's a technician and a film-room junkie who can master any route. He can outjump and outfight defenders for the ball, over the middle or downfield. He spots the ball in traffic before anyone else does. He has those famously massive hands. It's entirely possible the Giants look at Nicks and see the potential for so much more than Cruz can bring in terms of production in the role of the traditional No. 1 wideout. He's shown it. The only drawback with Nicks is that he hasn't shown an ability to stay healthy. This matters, and should factor into the decision, but the Giants could reasonably decide to bet on his vast potential and the chance that he doesn't remain injury-prone for the rest of his career.

There are other factors at work, of course, and the biggest is money. The Giants might be able to get Nicks right now for less than what No. 1 receivers get on the open market because he's not a free agent and he's coming off an injury season. They have the ability, per the rules, to dawdle with Cruz, since they can tender him as a restricted free agent and put off the long-term decision until next year. In their ideal world, they keep both at their price. But don't be surprised if the price they've picked for Cruz is a lot cheaper than the one to which they're willing to go for Nicks. After the way those two played this year, that might not make the most sense to you as a fan. But it's not crazy to think it makes sense to the Giants.
Thoughtful piece here from Paul Schwartz, with the help of former New York Giants tackle Luke Petitgout, on the Giants' preference for parting ways with players before those players lose their effectiveness. At the end of the week in which the Giants cut two-time Super Bowl-winning running back Ahmad Bradshaw, as well as linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackle Chris Canty, Petitgout remembers his own experience and sees it reflected in what's going on now:
“The Giants are a family,’’ Petitgout said. “It’s something tough to accept, like when a girlfriend dumps you. They know when your time is up. Some guys may buck the trend and have a good couple years after that but if you’ve been there a long time, they know your medical history, they know your aches and pains, they usually make the right decision. I basically had a time bomb in my back and when I went to Tampa it went off. The Giants knew what they were doing.’’
[+] EnlargeAhmad Bradshaw
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants parted ways this week with Ahmad Bradshaw, who was their leading rusher the past three seasons.
It cannot have been easy for GM Jerry Reese to say goodbye to Bradshaw, who played through significant pain to help deliver the team's Super Bowl title last year. But between Bradshaw's salary and the chronic foot injuries that kept him from practicing during the week or playing at full strength on Sundays, the Giants believed it was the right thing to do. It's not the first time they've cut a player while he was still an effective producer for them, and if Bradshaw's best days are behind him, it won't be the first time the Giants cut a still-productive player just in time:
Reese is rarely wrong. As a former scout, his eye for talent isn’t confined to youngsters. Steve Smith and Kevin Boss haven’t done a thing and haven’t stayed healthy. He traded away Jeremy Shockey. He did not re-sign Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward or Amani Toomer. He cut Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie. He didn’t think Antonio Pierce's neck was sound enough to continue playing. He passed on bringing back Plaxico Burress. In the same purge that caught Petitgout, Reese also jettisoned Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington. Did any of these players prove Reese wrong?

Pretty amazing list. Combine this idea with what we wrote about here Thursday -- the Giants' organizational belief in developing young players in their system so they're ready to take over when it's time for the veterans to go -- and it's easy to see that Reese has a definite plan and is sticking to it. Will it work? No way to know. If the Giants are in something of a rebuild mode, they're going to need many of their young players to be as good as the team thought they'd be when it drafted them. And not even Reese, with all of his track record, can predict how players are going to play. The point is, even as things change with the Giants and people come and go, it's still easy to see the consistency with which they operate, and it has served them well.

How you feeling? Redskins-Panthers

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
10:15
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As the Washington Redskins prepare to host the Carolina Panthers in a 1 p.m. ET game at FedEx Field, here's one reason for Redskins fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: Carolina has lost five games in a row and has been inconsistent on offense as well as defense. The Redskins should be able to get their run game back on track after last week's loss to the Steelers broke a streak of 13 straight games with at least 100 yards rushing. And Carolina's offense (averaging just 18.3 points per game) is not going to put as much pressure on the Redskins' banged-up defense as have many of the teams they've faced in recent weeks. The Redskins don't get blown out often, either, and if this is a close game it will favor them. The Panthers are a league-worst 1-10 since the start of the 2011 season in games decided by seven points or less.

Cause for concern: I guess you could go with the law-of-averages idea that Cam Newton, Steve Smith and the Panthers offense are going to get it going one of these weeks. And I guess if you look at it from Carolina's perspective, a game against the league's 29th-ranked defense in a building that doesn't, statistically, offer much of a home-field advantage is a good opportunity to do just that. Newton remains a threat with his arm and his legs, and there's a feeling around the league that he and his team are bound to play better over the season's second half. If this is the week things do start to click for this team, Washington could have a tougher time than the on-paper scouting reports might make it appear.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Panthers

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
10:55
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As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to play the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. ET (noon CT) today in Charlotte, here's one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: If there's a team against which the Cowboys can hope to continue the success they had running the ball last week in Baltimore, it may be a Panthers team that ranks 23rd in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (127.4) and yards per attempt (4.4). Even with starting running back DeMarco Murray out, the Cowboys' beleaguered offensive line looked tough and physical in Baltimore and was able to open holes for backups Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner. I'd look for more of the same as Dallas tries to maintain balance on offense.

Cause for concern: The Cowboys' defense, so strong in the first three weeks of the season, has struggled in its past two games, especially in the secondary. If Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne aren't locking down wide receivers in one-on-one matchups, the rest of the Cowboys' defense doesn't work the way it's supposed to work. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is a difficult matchup due to his size and his rushing ability, and the Cowboys want to keep Newton contained in the pocket and force him to make quick decisions while they work to win matchups in the secondary against Steve Smith and the rest of the Carolina receivers. But we still don't know if linebacker Anthony Spencer will play, and if he doesn't the Cowboys will have to devote extra attention to the Carolina run game, which means Carr and Claiborne will have to play much better than they played last week.

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