NFC East: stevie johnson

Nearly a third of the league inquired about receiver DeSean Jackson, but not all the teams are known. Two of those teams reportedly have fallen out of the race for Jackson -- and both have coaches who previously worked with him (Andy Reid in Kansas City and Marty Mornhinweg with the New York Jets). The assumption is that this sends up red flags about Jackson; that’s not necessarily the case.

And it’s hard to get a good feel on who is really interested. Oakland and Washington definitely are, though to what extent remains to be seen. Jackson arrives in Washington Monday and will visit Tuesday. Thus far, it’s his only reported visit.

San Francisco’s name came up when Jackson was on the trade block and the 49ers had expressed interest in free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate, among others, before he signed with Detroit. So it would make sense that they’d at least inquire about Jackson. Tampa Bay has said they'd take a look, though it was a rather tepid endorsement.

Here’s a little handicap of some teams that have expressed interest or reportedly want to get in the race:

Washington Redskins
Cap space: Approximately $7 million
Why he’d consider: It’s a premier market in a premier conference. Oh, and they get to play the Eagles twice a year. The Redskins would have a lot of speed offensively with Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed and would be a major threat down the field. Add to it an athletic quarterback who can extend plays and the off-schedule explosions would increase. Robert Griffin III’s deep-ball ability will be important -- and his ability to extend plays. Jackson’s agent, Joel Segal, has definitely taken quarterback play into consideration in the past with his receivers. If Jackson is forced to take a one-year, prove-it deal, this especially would be a factor.
Why he wouldn’t: Because other teams can offer more. Washington can’t compete if Jackson’s strong desire is to return to the West Coast and play for the team he grew up rooting for (Oakland). If they want a more proven coach, San Francisco and Tampa Bay have to be a consideration (if the Bucs are strongly interested, which is debatable). And if San Francisco truly is interested, then the 49ers clearly would offer him a better chance for team success. The Redskins still have other needs to address so they can only spend so much, and it's hard to gauge how aggressive they'll be. But the fact that they have the first visit says something.

Buffalo Bills
Cap space: Approximately $13 million
Why he’d consider: They have more cap room than most teams, so they could offer the sort of contract that could get it done now -- if they wanted to go that high. They need what Jackson provides (though many teams do).
Why he wouldn’t: The Bills aren’t a marquee team and their quarterback situation is questionable. EJ Manuel started 10 games as a rookie and showed flashes, but remains unproven. That has to be a strong consideration. None of their receivers had more than 597 yards last season, so how secure could you be? They have a good young talent in Robert Woods, a solid receiver in Stevie Johnson (nagging injuries, however) and a fast young guy in Marquise Goodwin. But that’s not exactly a Hall of Fame trio. The draft has to be an attractive option, so that could limit what the Bills would be willing to offer.

Oakland Raiders
Cap space: Approximately $15 million
Why he’d consider: Because the Raiders were his favorite team growing up and he played college ball at nearby Cal. Jackson is a West Coast kid, and if his desire to return there is strong, then it will be hard to top. The Raiders need help at receiver so Jackson would fill a big hole. Also, the Raiders have more money than the other teams reportedly interested thus far.
Why he wouldn’t: The Raiders have a wait-and-see approach going on and, while they’d like him, they won’t overspend. So if another team is more aggressive, then Jackson could end up elsewhere. Also, other than going back to California, the Raiders aren’t exactly an attractive franchise. Their coach, Dennis Allen, will enter the season on the hot seat and their quarterback, Matt Schaub, is not known for throwing deep all that often. At this point, it’s uncertain if he remains a quality starting quarterback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cap space: Approximately $12 million
Why he’d consider: They have a potentially strong structure with new coach Lovie Smith. He’s a proven coach in the first year of his regime so he’ll be around several years at least. The Bucs have another explosive receiver to pair with Jackson in Vincent Jackson. Both are dangerous down the field. Oh, yeah, and they have the cap room to absorb a bigger contract.
Why he wouldn’t: Smith’s history suggests building around the run game and the defense. Also, they have a journeyman starting quarterback in Josh McCown and a second-year guy in Mike Glennon, whom the new coach did not draft (and replaced right away). So there are questions at this spot. Their interest is said to be lukewarm, so it’s hard to imagine them overspending for Jackson.

San Francisco 49ers
Cap space: Approximately $4 million
Why he’d consider: It’s the best team, it’s near where he played college ball and it puts him back on the West Coast. They need a receiver who can stretch the field to pair with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Jackson would provide that and then some. They also have a big-armed quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who can let Jackson run under the ball and remind everyone of his explosiveness. Unlike Washington, the 49ers also have a defense that plays at a championship level, so if Jackson wants to produce and win, this could be the stop.
Why he wouldn’t: The 49ers were reportedly interested in pursuing a trade, according to Pro Football Talk. But their cap number isn’t high and they already have talent at receiver. They could opt for the draft, which is deep at this position and has a few players with Jackson-like qualities (though no one can match his acceleration on deep balls). Hard to know what the reported friction with the 49ers between general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh means for the future of either person and, subsequently, a guy like Jackson.

Observation deck: Redskins-Bills

August, 9, 2012
Well, if you tuned in to the Washington Redskins' preseason opener because you wanted to get excited about Robert Griffin III, congratulations. You had a fun night. Playing the first three offensive series of the Redskins' 7-6 exhibition victory over the Buffalo Bills, Griffin looked poised, sharp and confident running the Redskins' offense. They didn't try anything too new or exciting, which was no surprise given how important it is for them to protect him and the fact that three of their starting offensive linemen were hurt and missed the game. But Griffin's throws were on target, his decision-making was smooth and nothing about the stage or the moment seemed to overwhelm him.

"It felt extremely good," Griffin said in an in-game interview with the Redskins' radio network. "Coach did a good job calling plays, got me in rhythm and helped get the offense in rhythm on that third drive."

That drive featured three big throws to new Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon, including the screen pass that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown. He said in that same radio interview that he was hoping to keep the ball and try to run it in, but that he spotted a linebacker coming up to the line and remembered that the most important thing for him to do in this game was play safe.

The young man is going to be fun, and while it's important not to make conclusions or predictions based on preseason performance, Redskins fans who were looking forward to seeing their guy in game action certainly enjoyed watching him Thursday night.

Here's some other stuff I noticed in the Redskins' preseason opener:

1. Trent Williams made the most impressive play of the game. The Redskins' mercurial left tackle got downfield quickly and blocked two defenders at once on the Garcon touchdown catch. Williams is fast, athletic and as talented as any left tackle in the league, and the sense in Redskins camp is that he's more focused and motivated than he's been in his first two seasons. He looked tremendous on that play and is capable of dominating at the point of attack and at the second level. Williams injured his foot on the extra point, but Mike Shanahan said after the game that X-rays were negative. It would be bad for Washington if Williams were seriously injured. He is by far the best thing the Redskins' offensive line has going for it.

2. Garcon is a very big receiver who plays big. He went over the middle to catch the ball, didn't shy away from contact and looked more than willing to use his frame to help him add yards after the catch. I believe he will be Griffin's go-to receiver and, assuming health all the way around, is almost a sure thing to lead the team in catches this year.

3. Evan Royster can't afford to fumble. I think Royster had moved ahead of Roy Helu in the race to be the starting running back in Tim Hightower's absence. But he couldn't hold on to the ball as Griffin handed it to him, and that's the kind of thing the Redskins can't and won't abide. I still don't see what all the fuss is about with Helu, who's fine in space but doesn't break tackles. But whatever separation there may be between the two in the coaches' eyes will be easily negated if Royster can't hold on to the ball.

4. Ryan Kerrigan is a very good player. We know he can get after the passer, but in this game I thought he showed improvements in pass coverage and other key areas. He stayed home and batted down a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass at one point, and he was his usual disruptive self when he did get into the backfield.

5. The Redskins' coverages are a team effort. There are major questions at cornerback and safety, and they showed up, especially when Buffalo's Stevie Johnson was in the game. But you can see that the Redskins believe it's important their cornerbacks not be isolated. They're always getting help from a linebacker underneath or a safety over the top. Washington's hope is to make up for the lack of quality in the secondary with quantity and teamwork.

6. They have lots of defensive line depth. The performances of guys like Jarvis Jenkins, Chris Baker and Chris Neild -- especially at the goal line -- showed why the Redskins consider the defensive line a strength of their team. They should be stout against the run and able to create pressure with their defensive front, which also should take some pressure off the secondary.

It wasn't all roses. Niles Paul dropped a couple of passes. Rex Grossman looked shaky as the backup quarterback. And I don't think I even saw Santana Moss once. But all in all, lots of positives from the Redskins' first preseason game. And for a team looking to improve and feel good about itself, that can matter.

The Laurent Robinson situation

February, 23, 2012
Dallas Cowboys fans, by and large, seem to want their team to re-sign wide receiver Laurent Robinson. He played very well for the team during Miles Austin's injury absences and even after Austin was back. Tony Romo threw 11 of his 31 touchdown passes to Robinson. Only two wide receivers (and one tight end) in the entire league caught more touchdowns. He says he wants to come back. The team says it wants to have him back. It all makes sense, in the abstract.

But as Todd Archer points out, due to the rules and conditions under which Robinson was signed last year, the Cowboys can't re-sign him before the new league year and full-on free agency open March 13. They can talk contract parameters with his agent, but Todd also wisely points out that they probably don't want to give the agent a figure he can go out and shop:
"The conversation with him goes more like, 'What are you thinking and then we'll think about it,'" executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

So, theoretically, if there's a team out there that loves Robinson and thinks he fits its system and wants to throw a bunch of money at him on March 13, the Cowboys are probably going to lose him. While neither Austin nor Dez Bryant is extremely costly, the Cowboys have a lot of needs that are more pressing than No. 3 wide receiver. If Robinson is going to get good No. 2 wide receiver money from some other team, my guess is the Cowboys will let him go.

What will help them keep him is the potentially flooded wide receiver free-agent market. The odds are that Robinson isn't going to be able to cash in his breakout season to the same extent he might have if he weren't competing for teams' affections with the likes of Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson, Robert Meachem, Reggie Wayne, Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker.

It's possible the Cowboys and Robinson get something reasonable worked out and he returns as a very good No. 3 wide receiver. But if his price starts to go up much beyond that range, don't be surprised if they let him walk and just try and find next year's Robinson the same way they found last year's.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Everyone knows the Washington Redskins need a quarterback. Head coach Mike Shanahan might not want to come out and say he needs to fix quarterback this offseason, since he doesn't want to insult the players he currently has at the position. But in a wide-ranging interview in his office Friday, he did acknowledge that it would be good to have a "franchise" guy.

"Everybody wants a franchise quarterback," Shanahan said. "Every team you talk to, if you don't have a franchise quarterback, everybody's looking for a franchise quarterback. I understand. If you're in this business long enough, you understand that everybody wants a Peyton Manning, a Drew Brees, a Tom Brady, and rightfully so. If they're out there, you try and get one. And if they're not, you go with what you have and try and get it done."

I pointed out to Shanahan that part of the problem is that there aren't 32 guys in the world who fit that description. He smiled.

"Not everybody understands that," he said.

I left Shanahan's office with the definite impression that the Redskins would look at every conceivable available option at quarterback this offseason -- drafting one, trading up to get an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III if they need to, or even looking at the possibility of bringing in Manning if the Colts let him go as expected and he can prove he's healthy. Shanahan didn't really discuss any of those specific names, and I didn't expect him to, but every time I raised a specific possibility, he made it clear they'll look at all options.

As for other needs, let's go to your questions.

Jason from Washington, D.C. checked into the mailbag last week and wanted me to ask Shanahan what was "the most glaring positional need" for the Redskins to address in the draft or free agency.

Mike Shanahan: "We've got to get a wide receiver that's a playmaker. You've got to have a No. 1, no question about it. We've got [Santana] Moss, and [Jabar] Gaffney, who's going to be right at 1,000 yards. But you're still looking for a guy that can go the distance and make plays, running on a short shallow cross and go the distance. Everybody's looking for that."

Later in the interview, the topic of rookie wide receiver Leonard Hankerson came up. Hankerson missed the final seven weeks of the season with a hip injury, but Shanahan's eyes got big when he talked about him.

MS: "I think he's got a chance to be the guy. Health is what we don't know. He's got the hip. But we're hoping he's going to be that guy. You can see in practice where he's a natural. Big. The thing that separates guys at No. 1 is when they can beat bump coverage and they don't have to slow down to beat it. They're able to keep their speed and be able to get by somebody. He's got that."

Of course, if the Redskins are looking for a No. 1 receiver for next year, it's unlikely they'll be willing to take a chance that Hankerson could come that quickly. There are some potential free-agent options in guys like Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Vincent Jackson. And if the Redskisn decide to take a receiver instead of a quarterback in the first round, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is the top option.

Bill from Maryland submitted a question asking what Shanahan's plans are for free agency, and he responded that they'd be similar to what they were last year, when they targeted a couple of specific guys with specific characteristics -- Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Josh Wilson -- at some need positions.

MS: "We'll try and do the same thing this year -- take a look at a couple of upgrades on defense, a couple of upgrades on offense. Guys that have proven themselves, who aren't too old, that we think are still hungry in that 26-, 27-, 28-year-old range. That's what we'd like to target in free agency if we can get those guys, and then try to target everything else in the draft."

So there you go. That's your fun homework assignment for this week. Go look at the lists of prospective free agents and find guys in that 26-28-year-old range who play positions like safety and offensive line and wide receiver and see if you can figure out who they might be targeting. I will of course do what I can to find out more, but it sounds like we can start piecing some possibilities together no?

Lots more to come all this week from my Shanahan interview, including more of your questions.