NFC East: Stewart Bradley

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Call Andy Reid impatient if you want, but like most NFL coaches, the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach is no great fan of the walk-through practices that have taken the place of what used to be the second of his two training camp practices per day.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireHead coach Andy Reid enters the season with a roster full of Pro Bowlers and high expectations.
"It's like being stopped at a red light with a bunch of cars in front of you," Reid told me after Friday's walk-through. "You want to just hurry up and get where you're going, but there's nothing you can do about it."

The Eagles, you see, have big plans. Reid is in his 13th season as their coach, and although the first 12 have been mostly excellent, each has ended without a Super Bowl ring. The team's urge to change that this season is obvious and inescapable. It's on the ever-shifting roster, which added five Pro Bowlers during a wild first week of free agency that made the Eagles the talk of the league. It's in the eyes of quarterback Michael Vick, who knows last season proved he was good enough to deliver and therefore ratcheted up the pressure to do just that. It's all over the high-energy practices that have featured fights and trash-talking worthy of a Week 16 division matchup. The Eagles know what's at stake and what they must do, and they're eager to get to it.

"This town wants a Super Bowl," linebacker Jamar Chaney told me, referring of course to Philadelphia, not Bethlehem. "The Phillies win. The Flyers win. They want the Eagles to do the same thing. And not just win, like, have a good season. They want you to win a Super Bowl."

The players and coaches hear the fans and would like them to know they feel the same way. Juan Castillo, who's in his first season as defensive coordinator after 13 as the team's offensive line coach, has a cut just above his nose from where he actually head-butted linebacker Keenan Clayton while yelling at Clayton to make a point during practice last week. Yeah, Clayton was still wearing his helmet. Yeah, Castillo wants this pretty badly.

"Coach Reid has been to the playoffs nine out of 12 years," Castillo said. "That's tradition, but it's not good enough. Before we finish here, we want to win the Super Bowl. Because we don't want to be sitting around when we get older, watching ESPN and having them talk about how we were so close and we never got it done."

So yeah. If it's not too much trouble, the Eagles would like to get this thing going as soon as possible.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeNnamdi Asomugha
Howard Smith/US PresswireThe addition of Nnamdi Asomugha, 24, gives the Eagles three starting-caliber cornerbacks.
1. Can you have too many cornerbacks? When the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha the day after acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and they already had Asante Samuel, the first question everybody asked was whether they'd keep all three excellent cornerbacks. The answer, to this point, seems to be yes. Rodgers-Cromartie has made it clear he doesn't mind sitting behind either of the other two, and Asomugha has made it clear that he's happy to play slot corner when all three are on the field if the other two would prefer to play outside. So although there was some early talk about possibly dealing Samuel (and that remains a possibility if somebody blows them away with a great offer), the odds favor the Eagles' keeping all three and just making triple-sure that all the receivers they play against are covered.

2. Will Vick have his receivers? As exciting as things have been during the early practices, you can't escape that Vick is throwing to second-string and third-string receivers. Sure, Jason Avant has looked like a star. But he's supposed to be the No. 3 wideout behind DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson just showed up Monday after missing the first week-plus in a contract dispute. Maclin has been in camp for a week but has yet to practice as he continues to recover from an illness that neither he nor the team will discuss. If the team can't get Jackson happy and Maclin healthy soon, their top two receivers run the risk of starting the season behind or maybe not on the roster. No matter how many new defensive players they've signed, that would be impossible to overcome.

3. Who are the linebackers? The Eagles have beefed up on the defensive line and in the secondary. They've even added a couple of starters on the offensive line and Pro Bowl backups at quarterback and running back. But they did nothing at linebacker except allow Stewart Bradley to leave via free agency. That means rookie Casey Matthews, the team's fourth-round pick in April's draft, is currently the starting middle linebacker with Chaney and Moise Fokou on the outside. The coaches have been saying very nice things about Matthews, but no pre-draft projection I know of had him as a 2011 starter -- especially on a team that expects to win the Super Bowl. Don't be surprised if the Eagles bring in a veteran to add a little depth and/or experience at the position. Matthews could start Week 1, but it's hard to imagine that the Eagles don't have a backup plan.

D-LINING THEM UP

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
Howard Smith/US PresswireNew defensive line coach Jim Washburn, left, brings an attacking style that end Trent Cole, right, is excited about.
For all the talk about the rotation at cornerback, the Eagles have put together remarkable depth on the defensive line as well. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn has been using Trent Cole and Juqua Parker as his starting defensive ends in early practices, with newcomers Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove at the defensive tackle spots. But one would have to think that Antonio Dixon, who has been missing practice with a knee injury, would start in Hargrove's place if healthy, which means Hargrove would join newly signed defensive end Jason Babin on the second-team defensive line. Add in Trevor Laws, Darryl Tapp and, if healthy, Mike Patterson, and Washburn has plenty of options on a line that will have a different mission this year than it has in recent seasons. "We used to do a lot of reading, and now we're attacking, getting after the ball a lot," Cole told me. "Go to the ball every time, get the quarterback every time. I think they took a lot of the thinking out of it. Just go play ball."

O-LINING THEM UP

The offensive line also has a new coach in Howard Mudd, and he has changed the way they play line on that side of the ball, too. "It's a whole new thought of blocking your man," guard Todd Herremans told me. "Instead of meeting him at a spot, you're going to get to them before they get to that spot. It's more of an aggressive approach." Herremans said he's working on changing his ways, and left tackle Jason Peters and center Jamaal Jackson must as well. Rookie right guard Danny Watkins and right tackle Ryan Harris are new, and rookie Jason Kelce could wrest the starting center spot from Jackson. So there's a lot going on with the offensive line, and it bears watching, because keeping Vick healthy is probably the key to the entire Eagles season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Assuming Nate Allen's knee is healthy, he'll start at one safety spot, but it'll be interesting to see how the other one shakes out. It looks as though the Eagles would like to give rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett a chance to start, but it's tough to evaluate Jarrett during practices that don't allow hard hitting, because that's his thing. Also in the mix are Kurt Coleman, Marlin Jackson and newly signed veteran Jarrad Page.
  • As many weapons as the Eagles already have on offense, and as good as Brent Celek is, it'd be easy to overlook the signing of tight end Donald Lee. But when I was there, they were lining Lee up one-on-one with defensive ends like Babin and having him block them without help. He did a pretty good job, and if you're wondering how he might be deployed, that could be your answer.
  • Vince Young looks very much like a quarterback with a lot to learn about his new team's offense. So much so, in fact, that you wonder whether Young or Mike Kafka would be the starter if Vick were to suffer an injury early in the season.
  • Fourth-round draft pick Alex Henery has a great big leg. But after all the work they did in free agency and everything that's riding on this season, it does seem a little odd for the Eagles to potentially leave the outcome of a big game in the hands (or on the foot) of a rookie place-kicker.
  • Chaney played middle linebacker last season when Bradley was hurt. And when you ask which he'd prefer, he answers that he'd rather be back there than outside. But the Eagles think that his speed is his greatest asset and that having him on the strong side makes the best use of that. He could be the middle linebacker of the future or a fall-back option if Matthews can't handle it. But right now they appear to prefer him on the outside.
The mystery of what the Eagles' defense will look like in 2011 with former offensive line coach Juan Castillo as its new coordinator is beginning to unravel. Castillo spoke to reporters at Lehigh on Friday after the Eagles' first practice and talked linebackers, among other things.

Rookie Casey Matthews was the starting middle linebacker for the Eagles' first training-camp practice, with Jamar Chaney playing on the strong side. And it seems as if the strong side is where Castillo wants Chaney to stay. From the Philadelphia Daily News' Eagles blog:
But the way Castillo envisions the Eagles' D, the strongside 'backer is going to need to be a very physical presence, which Chaney is.

"We're going to attack and get up the field," Castillo said.

The team has reportedly decided not to bring back oft-injured middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who is said to be talking to the Cardinals. But instead of handing that job off to Chaney, who manned the middle in Bradley's absence last season, the Eagles are going to keep Chaney on the outside and ... do something else in the middle. Castillo talked up Matthews, and hey, you never know. But no draft analysis I saw ever had Matthews projected as a 2011 starter. So if we read between the lines here, it looks as though the Eagles will pursue a free-agent middle linebacker to start in between Chaney and, I guess, Moise Fokou.

Options? Well, the top middle linebacker on the market is Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch, but Reuben Frank's got a source telling him the Eagles have no interest in Tulloch and not much in Nick Barnett, who was just cut by the Packers. Other highly regarded names on the market include Barrett Ruud, Kirk Morrison, Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper. Fair number of options for the Eagles to consider, but for now it appears, from reading the tea leaves, they'll be looking for someone for the middle.

NFC East: How was your day?

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
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It's clear by now that this first week or so of post-lockout NFL business is going to be as insane as Eagles fans likely remember Crazy Eddie's prices were. A quick review shows that I did 13 NFC East blog posts and a live chat in a 12-hour stretch Tuesday, and things are just getting revved up. So, because we're doing quick-hit analysis move-by-move and some things are obviously going to slip through the cracks, I'm going to try and do a daily Day-in-Review post that tries to assess what kind of day each team in the division had. I was originally planning to do one per team, but for now we'll try this. Going to try, I said. If it doesn't work... hey, I tried.

So, how was your day...

Dallas Cowboys?

"Efficient." Dallas needed to make some cuts to work on getting under the salary cap, and they trimmed Marion Barber, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams and Kris Brown from their roster. Marc Colombo's status remained up in the air at day's end, and the next order of business was likely the restructuring of some veteran contracts (Romo, Austin, etc.) to keep freeing up room for outside free-agent pursuits. Reports surfaced that they reached out to Abe Elam to talk about one of their openings at safety, and they are talking with guard Kyle Kosier, who along with Doug Free is an important re-sign for them. Knocking $16.6 million off their 2011 payroll represents a good first day for a team that needs to rebuild its defense within the next week.

New York Giants?

"Confusing." When the Giants decided not to make offensive line a priority in the draft, many people assumed it was because they felt they had enough depth at the position. But Tuesday brought news that veterans Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Shawn Andrews would be cut. Adam Schefter reported that Kevin Boothe would return on a two-year deal, but even if Will Beatty is ready to be the starting left tackle, the Giants will need reinforcements. They also needed to get under the cap, but such a drastic purge at one position suggests a recalibration of free-agent priorities for a team that has work to do to bring back several of its own free agents. Adam also reports that the Giants have been speaking with Plaxico Burress about a reunion, which is confusing in light of what Burress had to say about Tom Coughlin after his release from prison last month. Giants fans tend to trust their team's front office, but if there's a sound plan here, it has yet to reveal itself. The Giants did make a feel-good move in the morning, signing undrafted rookie and cancer survivor Mark Herzlich, who could be part of the solution at linebacker if he can return to the form that made him one of the best defensive players in college football in 2008. Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com reported on Twitter that potential linebacker target Paul Posluszny would sign with the Jaguars, but I still expect the Giants to find another linebacker in free agency. Herzlich has big upside but is no sure thing.

Philadelphia Eagles?

"Unsatisfying." We woke with the idea that the long-expected Kevin Kolb trade could happen as soon as the clock struck 10 am. It did not happen, and in fact the market for Kolb took a hit with the news that the Broncos were trying to trade Kyle Orton (thereby providing the Cardinals with another option) and that the Seahawks were going to sign Tarvaris Jackson (depriving the Eagles of the most viable other trade partner with which they could leverage Arizona). Kolb to Arizona still seems the most likely outcome here, but the longer it goes without the Eagles getting what they need to get in return, the more likely it is that he ends up staying in Philadelphia. Michael Vick hinted that DeSean Jackson could hold out of training camp due to dissatisfaction with his contract situation, which portends trouble on that front. The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that the Eagles were planning to let go of all of their own free agents, including linebacker Stewart Bradley and backup running back Jerome Harrison -- news that led some (including me) to speculate that they were clearing the financial decks for a big signing such as Nnamdi Asomugha. One of those free agents, safety Quintin Mikell, agreed to a deal with the Rams, according to a report by Schefter. And the team announced the signing of undrafted running back Noel Devine of West Virginia, who could perhaps compete with Dion Lewis for that backup running back spot. Fair amount of business conducted, but none of the big moves we've been expecting from the Eagles ... yet.

Washington Redskins

"Encouraging." There were reports of discussions of a trade of Donovan McNabb to Minnesota, which was a mild surprise. If they can get anything -- even a fifth-round pick -- for McNabb, they'll have to call that a win. Schefter reported that Santana Moss had agreed to return on a three-year, $15 million deal, which is a move each side wanted to make sure happened and will help the Redskins' inexperienced quarterback and receivers. I don't think that move takes them out of the running for Santonio Holmes, but The Star-Ledger reported that the Jets are moving to re-sign Holmes, as was expected. So he remains a long shot, and potential offensive line target Marshal Yanda re-upped with the Ravens, taking him out of Washington's plans. But the re-signing of Moss and the serious McNabb talks have to count as a good first day for a team with a lot to do.

How was my day, you ask? Busy, but lots of fun. Looking forward to another busy/fun one tomorrow. Love that we have actual news to write about, at long last. And I hope you enjoyed your day here on the NFC East blog. Talk to you again in the morning.
So this is kind of unexpected. Jonathan Tamari reports that the Eagles are planning to let all of their unsigned free agents leave town, "including starters such as Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell and Sav Rocca and backup running back Jerome Harrison."

Obviously, the first reaction to news such as this is that the Eagles are clearing room for a big signing such as cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. And that may very well be the case. Someone will pay Asomugha's price, the Eagles need a cornerback and he likes the East Coast. The move makes a ton of sense, no matter how many people tell me they'd rather have a worse player, such as Ike Taylor or Johnathan Joseph.

Obviously, this also raises questions, though. Such as...

1. Who will play linebacker? If Bradley goes, they can play Jamar Chaney in the middle, as they did last year when Bradley was hurt, and start Moise Fokou and Keenan Clayton at the outside spots. Or they could sign a linebacker, middle or otherwise, from the large pool of available free-agents. Or they could get one in exchange for Kevin Kolb. Options are there, though I'm a little surprised that they're letting Bradley walk. They do like his talent, but they must be sick of the injuries.

2. Who will back up LeSean McCoy? Well, there will be veterans available for that spot. Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, maybe even old friend Brian Westbrook, in addition to many others, are out there. Harrison is very good, though, and a better viable starter should something happen to McCoy than any of those others guys are at this point in their careers. The Eagles will be in the running back market.

3. Who punts? I don't buy that they drafted Alex Henery to punt. I think he's David Akers' replacement at kicker and they'll find a punter. Punters kind of come and go, right?

4. Are they really going that young at safety? Yeah, the Mikell move isn't unexpected, but it does leave them with Nate Allen and rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett as the most likely starting safeties. Kurt Coleman and Marlin Jackson may yet be heard from on that front, but Mikell is a leader who will be missed.

The Eagles said they'd be busy, and it looks as if they'll be in a position to fulfill that promise.

NFC East free-agency breakdown

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

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

Dallas Cowboys

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

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

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

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

New York Giants

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

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

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

Washington Redskins

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

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

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

Top five free agents: WR Moss, OT Jammal Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, LB Rocky McIntosh, QB Rex Grossman

Eagles back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Eagles held a series of player-organized workouts throughout the summer, but quarterback Michael Vick was only there for a couple of days' worth, opting most of the time to work out on his own. They have a new defensive coordinator in Juan Castillo (who was their offensive line coach) and a new defensive line coach in Jim Washburn, so there are likely to be new aspects of the defense they'll have to learn quickly once the coaches can get their hands on them.

Biggest challenge: Constructing that defense. The Eagles need a new cornerback to play alongside Asante Samuel, and they'll probably aim high and try to get Nnamdi Asomugha. It appears as though they're ready to let Quintin Mikell walk, since they appear to think rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett is ready to start right away opposite Nate Allen. But they could add a veteran there to work with the young guys or in case Allen's not fully healthy. They also need to figure out the linebacker situation around potential free agent Stewart Bradley. And Washburn will lobby to add a pass-rushing end and maybe another piece or two along the line. Before the Eagles can set about installing anything new on defense, they'll need to know who the players are who'll be responsible for putting the plans into action.

Vick's backup: The Eagles' first order of post-lockout business is expected to be the trade of backup quarterback Kevin Kolb. Assuming they can get the return for Kolb that most people seem to believe they can (a first-rounder plus, or maybe an established cornerback or linebacker), they'll ship him out of town to Arizona or Seattle or whichever team comes with the best offer. But after that, they'll need to find a veteran quarterback to sit behind Vick and step in if and when the starter gets hurt. Vick has never played a full 16-game season, and his style lends itself to potential injury. And while they like Mike Kafka long-term, he's probably not as ready as Kolb would be to step in and win a game if Vick can't go. Look for the Eagles to explore several possibilities for this role, including the Titans' Vince Young, who might be a perfect fit.

Key players without contracts for 2011: K David Akers, LB Stewart Bradley, G Nick Cole, RB Jerome Harrison, CB Ellis Hobbs, LB Akeem Jordan, S Quintin Mikell, P Sav Rocca, LB Ernie Sims

Breakfast links: Gearing up

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
8:00
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Aaaand, we're back.

By the midday, the NFL's new labor deal should be approved and we'll have a schedule of events for what should turn out to be a wild week. There are reports very early Monday morning that suggest free agency could open as early as Tuesday, and that training camps that had been scheduled to begin Wednesday or Thursday would do just that.

Amid the chaos, you will be looking for order. Stability. Something on which you can count. Something like ... the NFC East blog's breakfast links.

Dallas Cowboys

Anybody see this deal where Rex Ryan wrote in his book that Jason Garrett provided motivation for a speech he made before a big Ravens-Cowboys game in 2008? Anybody else think it has any chance to matter at all when the teams play each other in September? Anybody else excited that we're going to be talking about meatier stuff real, real soon? Yeah. Thought so.

The Cowboys are apparently still hoping to open training camp Thursday in San Antonio. Yeah, as in three-days-from-now Thursday. Assuming that players' vote goes through today, a lot of people are going to be making a lot of short-notice travel plans.

New York Giants

I found it interesting that the extremely plugged-in Mike Garafolo puts Ahmad Bradshaw's chances of returning to the Giants at "50-50" in his free-agent look-ahead piece. Mike likes the Giants' chances of keeping Steve Smith, Kevin Boss and Mathias Kiwanuka, but he's skeptical on Bradshaw due to his "lower-leg issues, fumbling problems, ever-present character concerns, a deep class of free-agent running backs and Bradshaw’s hinting he'd love to play for the Dolphins." I mean, I guess when you put it that way ... Yeesh. Pretty long list of stuff, right there. Mike speculates that Dolphins free-agent running back Ronnie Brown could be a target to replace Bradshaw if he leaves.

Bob Glauber spoke with John Mara, who said that Osi Umenyiora and Jerry Reese need to sit down "man to man" when this mess is all over and work out their issues. Lots of people keep asking what'll happen with the Umenyiora situation. If I had to bet, I'd say the Giants call his bluff, dare him to hold out and/or make their lives difficult in the final year of his deal. With the depth they have at defensive end, I think it's a chance worth taking. Worst case, they end up having to decide whether to pay him as a top free agent after he has a big year.

Philadelphia Eagles

Still can't quite get to closure on this Brett Favre thing, which is par for the course with all things Favre. Jeff McLane thinks it's a long shot, but the report has plenty of overtones that suggest the Eagles are interested in pursuing it. Of course, whether Favre has interest remains a topic of nothing more than pure speculation. You can also read here about the odd incidence of Michael Vick tweeting Sunday that he'd love to play with Favre and then that tweet being deleted.

One free agent who does have interest in the Eagles is Stewart Bradley, whose agent told Tim McManus he'd like to re-sign in Philadelphia. It'll be interesting to see what the injuries of the past two seasons have done to the market value of Bradley, whom the Eagles would like to bring back but probably not on a contract that requires them to assume too much risk.

Washington Redskins

Gary Myers sets up a bidding war between the Redskins and the Jets for free-agent receiver Santonio Holmes. He thinks Holmes will go to the highest bidder, and if that's the case it gives Washington more than a fair shot. But while I can see Holmes being a free agent who's not necessarily chasing Super Bowl dreams (he's already won one), there is the quarterback situation to consider. Holmes likes Mark Sanchez and did very well playing with him last year. Does he want to jump to John Beck's offense? And how much money will it to take to convince him to do so? The Redskins have a lot of holes. Overpaying for a stud receiver when your quarterback situation is a huge question mark might not be the best plan of action.

Acme Packing Company takes a look at potential destinations for Packers free-agent defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, with the Redskins at the top of the list. I think he's a more realistic target than Holmes, but I also think Jenkins is going to be a very intensely pursued individual, given his pass-rushing skills and his ability to play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. He's about to add a lot of zeroes to his annual salary to go with the Super Bowl ring he just won.

And with that, I'm going to go enjoy one final quiet morning before all you-know-what breaks loose.

In the latest edition of the NFC East video mailbag, Dan takes a question about whether the Eagles plan to bring back or cut ties with Stewart Bradley in the wake of two injury-plagued seasons.

NFC East salary cap talk

July, 20, 2011
7/20/11
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John Clayton's latest column is on potential salary-cap casualties -- guys who could be cut by teams that need to get under the new salary-cap number, which looks as if it will be $120 million. It also comes with a list of all NFL teams and where they are relative to that $120 million figure. Here's the breakdown on the four teams that matter to us:
Keep in mind that it looks as if each team will get a $3 million "exception" that will help them exceed the cap for one specific player if they feel they need to, and that teams are probably going to be required to spend at least 94 percent of the cap figure on player salaries.

As for the players on John's list, several are of potential interest to NFC East teams. To wit:

Reggie Bush: As John says, he'd likely prefer to test free agency than to restructure his deal. He's been connected to the Eagles, which is a dizzying possibility considering how numerous and electric the Eagles' current offensive options already are. Personally, I think a guy like Willis McGahee, who's further down on John's list, would make more sense as LeSean McCoy's backup if Jerome Harrison leaves. McCoy and Bush strike me as similar kinds of players.

Nick Barnett: The Packers will try to trade him, but if they're unsuccessful they'll likely cut him and set him free. There's been a rumbling or two about potential Giants interest, and they do need to beef up at linebacker. The Eagles will be looking for linebackers, too, if they don't re-sign Stewart Bradley.

Vince Young: Still think he makes a lot of sense as Michael Vick's backup in Philly if the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb.

Albert Haynesworth: Not much left to say here. I'll be surprised if he's cut and allowed to pick his next team. The Redskins are under the cap as it is.

Antwan Odom: Lots of thought that the Eagles are looking for a pass-rushing defensive end. Remember the first half of the 2009 season, when Odom was leading the league in sacks? Big health risk with the possibility of a big reward.

Shawn Andrews: Giants brought him in for offensive line depth, which they still kind of need. But the $7.333 million they could save by cutting him is likely to be more useful than Andrews himself.

Eagles' new defensive look?

July, 11, 2011
7/11/11
12:26
PM ET
Damien from Philadelphia took the time to write into the mailbag and point me to Bleeding Green Nation's recent analysis of potential changes to the way the Eagles run their defense. I read it. I enjoyed it. And so I share it here with you.

BGN's premise is that, based on some offseason quotes from new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and the connection that Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz recently pointed out between Castillo and the University of Iowa, the Eagles are likely to move away from the late Jim Johnson's zone blitz scheme and implement a Cover 2 defense, a Tampa 2 defense or some hybrid of the two.

A couple of the more interesting specifics from BGN's very thorough breakdown:

[+] EnlargeOakland's Nnamdi Asomugha
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIRENnamdi Asomugha is widely considered the top potential free-agent corner.
- They don't think Nnamdi Asomugha would be the best cornerback fit in this type of defense, since he's at his best in man-to-man coverage and has struggled when asked to cover a zone, as cornerbacks must in a Cover 2 or Tampa 2. Given the likely cost of each player, BGN ranks Johnathan Joseph of the Bengals ahead of Asomugha on the cornerback wish list. You guys know how I feel about this. I think Asomugha is the far better player. I think, if free agency had happened when it usually happens and the Eagles had signed him on the first day, people would still be crowing about what an incredible move it was. The lockout has given everybody more time than usual to overthink and worry. I'm sure Asomugha could handle zone responsibilities in a Cover 2 defense, and his press ability at the line of scrimmage is not to be overlooked, either.

- They like Albert Haynesworth for the defensive line, and they should. I believe he'd thrive in Philadelphia, back in the 4-3 and back with former Titans line coach Jim Washburn. But I don't think Eagles fans are being realistic about this. Mike Shanahan will not trade him to Philadelphia. I'd bet good money against it, and I don't even bet. He doesn't want to give Haynesworth the satisfaction, and he doesn't want to have to play against a hyper-motivated Haynesworth twice a year. Stop hoping for Haynesworth, Philly. He ain't coming.

- The linebackers become very interesting in this scheme. If the analysis is correct, it would seem that re-signing Stewart Bradley would be a priority, since there are concerns about Jamar Chaney's pass coverage abilities at the middle linebacker spot. But if they're forced to go with Chaney, his speed would certainly be an asset in deepening that middle zone that stands as the difference between the Cover 2 and Tampa 2. They'd just have to be sure he can cover a post route and that they have safeties with enough lateral range to get to the sidelines. If Jaiquawn Jarrett were to come quickly enough, this could work. But they don't know yet what they're going to get from Jarrett, so they may have to hunt for a safety and/or a middle linebacker if Bradley bolts. Regardless, everybody seems to like Manny Lawson for that weakside linebacker spot.

Look, you guys wanted to talk real football, so here it is. Sure, it's speculation, and we don't know for sure what kind of scheme Castillo is going to run until training camp starts and we can see it and talk to these guys about it. But if you're an Eagles fan, this is fun stuff to imagine and put together in your head.

Thanks, Damien. Excellent use of the mailbag.
Trolling a lockout-infected Internet for ... well, any content at all, really, I came across this Tim McManus rundown of the Eagles' linebacker situation. I think the Eagles are going to be big free-agency players on the defensive side of the ball, but a lot of the speculation so far has focused on the secondary (they need a cornerback, will likely pursue Nnamdi Asomugha and may have to replace safety Quintin Mikell if he leaves) and the defensive line (where new line coach Jim Washburn will be asking for new toys, including maybe a pass-rushing end to play on the side opposite Trent Cole).

But as Tim points out, the linebackers' roles in the new defensive scheme are likely to change. With the plan apparently to "let the front four loose," the linebackers will have more responsibilities. That may mean -- especially if Stewart Bradley leaves -- that the Eagles will need to find a veteran who's comfortable handling more responsibilities than the young guys they have at the position might be.

For me, a big key to this whole Eagles linebacker situation is Jamar Chaney. If Bradley departs via free agency, Chaney likely takes over the middle linebacker spot. He played that spot well last year and showed signs that he might be able to handle it long term. And he's got the speed to cover a great deal of the field. If Bradley comes back, Chaney's an obvious fit at one of the other two spots. But the Eagles' decision on how badly they need a free-agent veteran who can handle the extra responsibility brought on by the fact that the line is apparently going to be invading backfields on every play could come down to how much of the new scheme Chaney grasps -- and how quickly he grasps it.

Tim throws Stephen Tulloch, Paul Posluszny, Barrett Ruud and Keith Bulluck out there as potential free-agent names. I might add Manny Lawson to the list, and there will be other options if the Eagles decide they need to hit the market. My guess is that they're planning to spend big at corner and maybe on the line, so they might be in the market for a lower-tier veteran who can help the young guys along with the new scheme. Maybe a guy like Bulluck, who might wear down as the season goes along, makes sense, thinking one or more of the younger guys might be an option in the second half.

Anyway, it's an issue. The Eagles will be putting together a new-looking defense once the lockout ends, and linebacker is just one of the positions they have to assess before they figure out how to fix it all.

The latest NFC East video mailbag addresses the Eagles' linebacker situation. Is Stewart Bradley's free agency situation the key?
One more for the week in our continuing series of position-by-position looks at the proposed four-year unrestricted free agency and its potential impact on the NFC East. We turn our attention now to the inside linebacker position, where the Cowboys seem set, but the division's other three teams all could be looking for help depending on other developments.

NFC East teams in need

Giants: They've overlooked the linebacker spot in general for the past couple of years, and as a result there are a few ways they could go. They could stick with Jonathan Goff in the middle and beef up on the outside, or they could sign a good middle linebacker and move Goff outside, where he'd probably be an upgrade over Clint Sintim. There are a lot of potential middle linebacker targets for the Giants, if this is the time they finally decide to get serious about it.

Redskins: Washington could be fine even with Rocky McIntosh leaving, because there's a chance Lorenzo Alexander has to move inside anyway to make room for top draft pick Ryan Kerrigan. But after they address needs on the defensive line, there's a chance they could look to add depth here.

Eagles: Hard to imagine this is a major priority for them, since even if Stewart Bradley leaves they can probably just leave Jamar Chaney in the middle. But if Bradley leaves and they decide Chaney's better on the outside, there will be some interesting options for them on the middle linebacker market.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent inside linebackers

1. Stephen Tulloch. Likely out in Tennessee because they fear he'll cost too much to keep, the 26-year-old Tulloch is the cream of this particular crop. He's a bit small, but he has great range and has shown the ability to handle the middle linebacker's responsibilities for the Titans. Lots of people expect former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, now the Lions' head coach, to be Tulloch's most aggressive pursuer as he continues to build a monster defense in Detroit.

2. Barrett Ruud. The question is how much responsibility he bore for the Buccaneers' miserable run defense in 2010. It's possible he was dragged down by those around him and he'll rebound with a big 2011. But his chances at a big free-agent deal certainly took a hit with his step-back 2010 campaign.

3. Paul Posluszny. The Bills will work to keep him, and there's some thought that he's better off as an inside guy in a 3-4 scheme than as the middle man in a 4-3. But we've heard the Giants connected to him a lot, so it's possible he's a name on their list of targets for their middle spot.

4. Kevin Burnett. Had a career season in San Diego, and the Chargers will try everything they can to re-sign him. It's more likely that his teammate, Stephen Cooper, will be free, and while slightly older than Burnett, Cooper could still be a helpful piece for a 3-4 team looking for help on the inside.

5. Bradley. If he still wants to play in the middle, and if he can convince teams he's fully recovered from his knee surgery, Bradley could leave Philadelphia in free agency. Will be interesting to see if the Eagles commit to keeping him in the middle and if that helps convince him to stay.

Predictions that mean nothing: Giants sign Ruud after Tulloch's price goes too high for their liking. Redskins stand pat or move further down this list (Dhani Jones?) as they focus on greater needs in the secondary and along the line. Eagles keep Bradley and play Chaney on the outside to start the season.
We continue to take a position-by-position look at potential four-year unrestricted free agency and the way it could impact the offseason plans of the teams in the NFC East. We did cornerbacks and running backs Wednesday, and today we're taking a look at outside linebackers. The division's 3-4 defenses appear set at those spots with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in Dallas and Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in Washington, so we'll focus on the 4-3 teams along the I-95 corridor. The pool has been diminished as teams have placed franchise designations on top players such as LaMarr Woodley, Chad Greenway and Kamerion Wimbley, but there are still options available for the Eagles and Giants to bolster weak spots.

NFC East teams in need

Giants: Linebacker is a muddy situation for the Giants. If they sign a middle linebacker, they could move Jonathan Goff to the outside and lessen their need there. And assuming they bring back Mathias Kiwanuka, who's been something of a Swiss army knife on the defense, they might be able to get by with Clint Sintim and Michael Boley at the starting outside linebacker spots. But neither Sintim nor Boley is a sure thing, and while the Giants have ignored this position over the past couple of years, they would do well to keep their minds open to the possibility of an upgrade.

Eagles: Either Jamar Chaney or Stewart Bradley will man the middle, with the other (assuming Bradley re-signs) taking one of the outside spots. But that doesn't mean the Eagles couldn't use more depth at this spot. They'll have a chance to get creative, perhaps signing a guy for the middle and using Chaney on the outside. But Chaney showed a lot in that middle linebacker spot last year and they'd do well to think about adding outside pieces around him.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent outside linebackers:

[+] EnlargeCarolina's James Anderson
Chuck Cook/US PresswireCarolina's James Anderson is the top free-agent target among outside linebackers.
1. James Anderson. Had a very good year on the strong side for Carolina, which isn't likely to offer him much to stay. If the Giants were to get serious about the position (and if they didn't have so many other free agency issues at other positions), Anderson would be a great fix for their strong side linebacker void. Carolina teammate Thomas Davis is another name who could attract interest, but Davis is coming off an injury and might be more affordable for the Panthers to retain.

2. Manny Lawson. The 49ers could let him walk, and Lawson is a hyper-athletic, multi-purpose linebacker who can play the run and pressure the passer. His sack numbers haven't been great, but he grades out well as a disruptive force in backfields. Could be a great answer for the Eagles on the weak side.

3. Rocky McIntosh. He didn't like or fit into the Redskins' new 3-4 scheme last year, and he's likely better off playing the pass from the weak side in a 4-3. Also would be a helpful guy in Philadelphia, and he might could be had relatively cheap.

4. Stephen Nicholas. The Falcons would like to keep him, but he might have a hard time cracking the starting lineup in Atlanta, so if there's a team out there that could park him on the strong side and use him to solidify their run defense (i.e., the Giants), he could bolt for greener pastures and/or more green.

5. Clint Session. Played only five games for the Colts last year because of injury. Session is quick and small but replaceable in Indianapolis, so he's likely to be on the market for teams looking for depth and versatility in the linebacking corps.

Predictions that mean nothing: Eagles sign McIntosh. Giants continue to overlook the position, maybe pursue a middle linebacker such as Paul Posluszny so they can move either him or Jonathan Goff to the outside, depending on how things look in training camp.
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.

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