NFC East: tanard jackson

Some Washington Redskins news and notes for Friday morning:

Briles on RG III: Baylor coach Art Briles watched his former quarterback, Robert Griffin III, work out earlier this week. He saw a guy he used to see with regularity. "I think it's as fresh and uplifting as I've seen him in a long time quite honestly," Briles said on the SiriusXM Blitz Wednesday via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. "The thing about ACLs: I've always thought they take a complete year to get over. And I think he rushed himself a little bit, just because that's the way Robert is. He's always going to be determined to do more than is humanly possible."

Briles' prediction? "So I think this year, I do think we'll see a very healthy RG III. I think we're gonna see a guy that's happy playing the game, that has a fire and attitude that you need to have a chance to be successful, because that's who he is."

Revisiting Week 1 2013: Steinberg also wrote about former Redskin Chris Cooley saying that Griffin should not have started the 2013 opener. It wasn't because of Griffin's health, but rather his readiness. Griffin was cleared by doctors and was ready physically. But it's clear in hindsight he was not prepared to play in an NFL game. Mike Shanahan did a bad job of managing Griffin, from not pulling him in the Seattle game despite his gut feeling to do so and to being afraid of how his moves were perceived by the young quarterback. If you have a conviction on something, do it. Instead, Shanahan did not and instead we got the mess of last December.

More on Jackson: ESPN980's Chris Russell exchanged texts with safety Tanard Jackson, who told him his fourth suspension was not like the others, that it had nothing to do with marijuana. It's hard to buy any story from a guy in his position, regardless if you want to or not. Maybe it's true; maybe it's not. Bottom line: Whatever Jackson thinks, the NFL's ruling is the one that matters. They ruled he tested positive for violating the NFL's substance of abuse policy. It's over.

Power rankings: The Redskins ended the 2013 season ranked No. 31 in ESPN's power rankings. The rankings suggest they'll be better over the next three years -- but not by a whole lot. The panel of experts ranked Washington No. 24 Insider for what it could do over the next three years. That's a dropoff from last season and it stems from a fall at quarterback and coaching. They dropped 12 spots at quarterback and 19 at coaching from this time last year. The knock on Griffin traces back to his knee injury and a subpar season. And going from Mike Shanahan to first-time head coach Jay Gruden caused a tumble (of course, had Shanahan returned after such a bad season they might have fallen far regardless). It's not as if Gruden's hire was considered a great one at the time, so until he proves himself there will be split opinions on him. They also were knocked for the front office. The Redskins need Griffin to rebound and they'll climb in the rankings, but they also have to do a much better job building the defense. If Griffin plays well, the offense is in excellent shape. But the defense needs more help and will need several new parts after this season.

Tanard Jackson's demons take hold

July, 9, 2014
The sad part of the tale for Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson is that he got another chance. And another one. And another one.

And now he deserves no more, after news Wednesday that the NFL has suspended Jackson again for violating the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. It's sad because he keeps doing this to himself. It's sad because whatever he's doing with his personal life now has such a hold on him that he's tossed away a precious career, one that could have set himself and his family up for life.

Now, it's no longer about football for him -- and, in truth, it hasn't been for a while. Rather, it's about beating a far tougher opponent than what he faced on the field, one that could destroy him. Yes, Jackson has made bad choices. Yes, he put himself on this path. But do you really think this is the path he wants? Being suspended four times by the NFL, causing anguish for his family and personal embarrassment? Taking drugs puts your life on a slippery slope; you can choose to do them for a while and then, after a while, they choose for you.

My colleague Mike Jones pointed this out on Twitter earlier Wednesday, but it's true: When asked in May about changes he had made to his lifestyle, Jackson really didn't have a lot to say. It would have been easy to say he stopped going to certain areas, or that he'd been in rehab, or he stopped hanging around certain people. He did talk about having to change his lifestyle. The problem is, issues with drugs become a shadow, something that's impossible to outrun without a lot of work or help.

When he returned, the Redskins were not expecting a lot from him unlike when they signed him in 2012 and anticipated him being a starter. They were left with an ineffective Madieu Williams when Jackson was suspended that August.

Now they have Ryan Clark, who was firmly ahead of Jackson on the depth chart. He's reliable, available and a leader. The only way Jackson would have bumped him from the lineup is if Clark's play had slipped. Or if Jackson had somehow regained some past glory.

I also thought it was a little odd that Jackson was not in great shape when he returned. I would have thought he'd have been working hard to get ready and take this last chance seriously. It wasn't as if he was grossly out of shape, but he admitted that staying in shape wasn't at the top of his priority list. No, it most certainly shouldn't have been. But it should have been part of an overall package of turning his life around.

Again, it's a shame. Jackson did this to himself, and he knows it. He didn't let fans down, he let himself down. And, yes, while I know some do not have any sympathy for him, he still warrants it. You know him as a player; he's more than that. His career is over. But his fight continues.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

June, 28, 2014
The second round of mail focused on Alfred Morris' role, Jay Gruden's AFL days, Tanard Jackson's future and more. Enjoy.

John Keim: Well, he's better than BenJarvus Green-Ellis so I would expect Alfred Morris to get a lot more carries. Plus I'm not sold that the Redskins have their Giovani Bernard type to take away that many carries from Morris. Roy Helu will get some and perhaps Lache Seastrunk, especially in the spread. But I would expect Morris to still be a factor. But how much of one? Honestly don't know yet. I know the Redskins will keep the same run game, but I also know Jay Gruden's reputation is that he likes to throw the ball (it was also Kyle Shanahan's, too, until he landed Morris and Robert Griffin III). Morris "only" had 276 carries last season compared to 335 as a rookie (losing so often last year didn't help). I could see his totals being closer to last year than his rookie year, just because of the added weapons in the pass game. Green-Ellis, by the way, carried 278 times two years ago but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Morris averaged 4.6 yards last year and 4.8 as a rookie. Big difference.

Keim: If I had to guess right now I'd say yes, but there's so much more that needs to be seen -- and not just with Jackson. There's no way to fully know where his game is at based off the spring. Heck, he admitted he wasn't able to stay in the best shape during his suspension because he also had to work. Understandable. But now you have someone who needs to get back into NFL shape and then prove he can still play after missing two years. Maybe he'll get there; too early to know. Then it also depends on how others are doing as well. Has Bacarri Rambo improved at all? How does Akeem Davis look? Davis could sneak his way onto the roster. Jackson was a talented player once upon a time. He just needs to prove he still is one this summer. If so, he'll be fine.

Keim: Not a whole lot. Maybe others do, especially if they're trying to paint a certain picture, but I don't. Then again, had he been a losing coach there ... Steve Spurrier had a winning pedigree in college, as did many others who tried to make that leap. It does help that Gruden has been in charge, but it's such a different game and level. I'm sure certain aspects translate, but I'm not about to go overboard with that experience. What helps is that he's been immersed in the pro culture since he was a kid because of his father and brother. What also helps is that he's been exposed to good coaches throughout his career, from Howard Schnellenberger to his brother Jon to Marvin Lewis.

Keim: I really like what they've done on special teams this offseason and it's sort of gotten lost at times with all the other storylines. But they bolstered the unit by adding linebackers who can help here -- not just the veterans in Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward, but also drafting Trent Murphy. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland will help, too. The Redskins kept too many players last year who were low on their position totem pole, yet provided poor help on special teams. Those days must be over if they want to build anything right. Not sure yet about the kicker Zach Hocker and if he's an improvement. Still concerned about punter. As for the secondary, they improved the leadership by adding Ryan Clark and they need David Amerson to play well. The biggest way they can help this group is by applying more pressure with their front seven. If that happens, then the secondary will benefit.

Keim: Easier to just link to the story I wrote on that earlier this week. It's how the starting lineup looks entering training camp. The only position I can see changing is right guard. Otherwise, things are pretty well set.

Keim: Well, the one thing I liked that Gruden did with Dalton is played to his strength as a passer, which is why he incorporated Giovani Bernard into the game plan. Dalton was not a strong-armed passer so he gave him a good option underneath. Obviously Griffin has a stronger arm so he can do different things. But the point is that it seems like he'll focus more on what his quarterbacks can do and then build his offense. At least I think that's the case. Until we see him with a different quarterback we really won't know how much he'll adapt. Gruden also had a strong relationship with Dalton, which if he builds the same with Griffin will help. But one knock against him in Cincinnati is that perhaps he got too close. So it's the opposite of what happened in Washington. 

They wanted more versatility, giving them the ability to fool the quarterback or at least make him wonder. And that would give the rush an extra second, they hope, to make a difference.

"As you know, great quarterbacks," Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last week, "if you're vanilla, they will kill you. So we have to be exotic a little bit here and there. But also sound in what we do."

[+] EnlargeWashington's Brian Orakpo
AP Photo/Michael PerezCan Brian Orakpo & Co. give coordinator Jim Haslett a bevy of options to work with in the coming season?
The latter part has been an issue for a while. The ability to be exotic will help coordinator Jim Haslett, but it won't cure all. Still, is the Redskins' defense more versatile?

Let's take a look:

The Redskins do have some versatility up front. Chris Baker can line up at either end or nose tackle and can play in the nickel. Barry Cofield plays nose, but can rush in nickel. Jason Hatcher can play end and serve as a legitimate interior rusher.

Stephen Bowen's effectiveness as a rusher decreased the past two years and he's now coming off an injury. So it's tough to include him with the others for now. Jarvis Jenkins can play either end, but has yet to prove he's a quality pass-rusher.

Still, they do have more versatility along the front with an improved Baker and the addition of Hatcher. Is it enough?

They also have it at outside linebacker where they now have three players who can line up in a variety of ways to rush the passer with Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and now Trent Murphy. All three are fine rushing with their hand down or standing up; from both sides or even through the middle. Now, whether Murphy will be effective in doing so, it's impossible to say without having seen him in a game. But, in theory, it provides options for Haslett and the ability to use different looks and a better variety of blitzes.

But what that group offers is not just the ability to move around, but to provide different looks for a tackle (or even a guard). After blocking Orakpo much of the game, a left tackle might not be prepared for, say, Murphy's spin move. They can throw a curve at a player just by sending someone different at the right time. At least that's what the Redskins hope. Everything always sounds good at this time of the year.

I'm not sold yet that Brandon Jenkins is at this point; need to see more proof of his versatility. Rob Jackson can help, but he's not as versatile as the others.

They do have some versatility at corner with a couple players having the ability to line up at safety. Both DeAngelo Hall and E.J. Biggers have done so in the past, though there's a difference between lining up there and being effective in this role. Neither is really a great option back there to defend the run, but in providing a different look in coverage? Sure. It's also about being able to play different coverages and they'll have to prove they can; too many teams picked them apart last season and it wasn't just because of the rush.

Also, one reason they wanted to draft corner David Amerson was his ability to perhaps do the same thing. He did not do this as a rookie. He has the skills to be more versatile, but I'd worry about the eye discipline among other things needed to handle this role. But it's a next logical step for him. Rookie Bashaud Breeland could develop here, but he needs to learn corner first -- and how to play it without being too grabby.

However, they don't have the versatility at safety. They lack a starting player who can cover man to man (we have no idea yet what Tanard Jackson still has left, let alone if he'll even start or can handle such a role). Brandon Meriweather did enable them to sometimes run different coverages because he had the speed others did not to get to vacated areas -- like when they want to blitz a corner from the outside, not just the slot. But he's far removed from his Pro Bowl days, so mistakes are made and tackles are missed.

Ryan Clark's strength was always in being in the right place at the right time, dissuading the quarterback from challenging his area. He's lasted this long because he's smart. If he does that again, the Redskins would be happy. But occasionally covering man-to-man? That's different. And if the Redskins want to grow the defense the next step is finding someone who can. The more versatile the secondary is, the more you can throw off a quarterback with various looks.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Football wasn’t the priority the past two years. Surviving was. So Redskins safety Tanard Jackson worked in a warehouse, trying to support his family. He worked on keeping himself clean, knowing football would never return if that part didn’t happen.

“Anything that was done football related was an afterthought,” Jackson said. “I’ve got kids. I have a family to provide for. Staying in shape wasn’t a big No. 1 on my priority list at that time.”

It is now. Once more, it’s all about survival, this time in the NFL. That means Jackson not only has to prove he can stay clean – he’s already been suspended three times by the NFL – but that he can still play after missing the past two seasons. He had been suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Jackson worked with the No. 3 defense during the OTA session Thursday as coaches slowly work him back in.

“He doesn’t look like he’s been away for two years,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s mentally into it, physically he’s in good shape, a lot better shape than we were thinking he would be. People make mistakes. He had an unfortunate incident or two – we’re going to give him a shot – and this is probably his last go-round. Hopefully he’ll learn from his mistakes off the field and perform at a high level like we know he’s capable of.”

Jackson will show in August whether or not he can still play. For now, he’s grateful to have returned.

“It was long,” Jackson said. “Long. It was long especially being from this area and being around family and seeing the guys on TV and playing. It was a long wait. I put myself in that position. Obviously I had to do what I could to get back and now that I’m back, I’m blessed to have this opportunity.”

He wasn’t sure if it would happen.

“Those negative thoughts creep into your mind when you’ve been out of football for that long,” Jackson said. “It’s not my first time. But with the support from family and support from the NFL saying there was a chance … that gave me hope.”

But it was difficult for him. Jackson was just entering the prime of his career and was in line to start for Washington – his hometown team -- in 2012.

“It was a humbling experience,” Jackson said. “It was something I did and something I had to face the consequences for. I like to put it behind me. … It wasn’t hard to grasp that I put myself in this position and I need to work and if wanted it back it was going to take some work.”

And it’ll take some work to make sure there isn’t another issue. Jackson must undergo multiple drug tests each month.

“A lifestyle change is necessary anytime you’re in a position like that,” Jackson said.
The Redskins knew Tanard Jackson would be reinstated soon. What they don’t know is how much help he can provide. For the time being, he’s considered a bonus. If he works out, that’s great. If not, they won’t be harmed.

As long as the Redskins continue to take that approach, they can’t be let down -- as they were two years ago. But it also should not, and will not, alter their plans on draft day. One team source said there's nothing they will or won't do based on Jackson.

While I’ve heard they view Jackson as likely being more productive than a rookie would be, it’s tough to really know that considering how little he has played lately. He has missed two straight seasons and has played in only 10 games since 2010.

So if a safety they like a lot somehow falls to them at No. 34, then the Redskins would and should draft him. Of course, that assumes they like that safety over a handful of other spots they'd like to address. It would be a serious mistake -- and a big leap of faith -- to pass on someone just because Jackson has been reinstated. The previous time they counted on him, it left them with Madieu Williams as the starting free safety.

At least now they have Ryan Clark ahead of him. But they still need more at this position, especially if the young safeties don’t develop.

Jackson was just starting to play really well, albeit in preseason, when the NFL suspended him in 2012. But he was active and all over the field and definitely looked like a player who would help. I remember talking to him about how well he was doing and how he was starting to look like his old self -- pre-shoulder injury, pre-suspensions. But he also was more subdued than I would have expected for a guy rounding into form. A couple of days later I learned why: I had spoken to him before he had been suspended (something that had been in the works for a while).

The Redskins have been able to plan for a little while for Jackson’s reinstatement -- it was not a secret that this was a possibility -- but there are still so many unanswered questions.

What sort of shape is he in? CSN Washington’s Rob Carlin spoke with Jackson about this in the fall. Still, it’s hard on anyone to be away this long and still be in the sort of shape necessary to play in the NFL. How much of the defense has he retained? This isn’t a huge deal because he’ll have plenty of time to learn. The Redskins have added to their defense since Jackson was suspended, but again, there’s plenty of time. It helps that he'll have the same defensive bosses: Jim Haslett and Raheem Morris, the latter of whom also coached Jackson in Tampa Bay.

Can he stay clean this time? Of all these questions, this is the only one Jackson should truly be worried about, given his history.

And one more: Can he still play? Another question that can’t be answered anytime soon. It’s not just about the seasons missed, it’s about the training, being around the game, sitting in meetings and working out in the offseason. Jackson turns 29 in July, so he’s still in his prime, albeit late. But this is a lot to overcome.

The Redskins aren’t expecting much from Jackson. That’s the best approach to take. Anything they get would then be a bonus.

Redskins wake-up call

August, 22, 2013
As the Redskins wrap up practice in a short week, here's what I'll be monitoring:

1. Jim Haslett’s day to talk. Two topics I’m sure that will come up: the pass rush and the secondary. The pass rush has been terrific in the first two preseason games and there’s a lot that the Redskins haven’t shown. It’s coming from all over. Ryan Kerrigan and Barry Cofield made the most noise the other night, but Stephen Bowen is doing his job as well. As for the secondary, Bacarri Rambo’s open-field tackling will be an issue. Yes, he can improve but he has to do so in a hurry. The good news for Rambo is that his coverage has been sound, as it was throughout training camp. But how much are the coaches concerned with Rambo’s tackling at this stage? You’d like to see Rambo win the job by his performance rather than by default. Perhaps suspended safety Tanard Jackson’s name will come up after CSNWashington’s Rob Carlin caught up with him Wednesday. Jackson told Carlin that when Haslett said in the spring that he would welcome back the safety with open arms it “gave me a more positive outlook on wanting to get back and working towards that.” I’m not convinced he would return if reinstated on Aug. 31.

2. Kyle Shanahan’s day to talk. Have a hunch that the quarterbacks will be a primary topic, starting, of course, with Robert Griffin III. We received a decent update Wednesday from Mike Shanahan and Griffin, but Kyle Shanahan is often good at filling in the gaps and expanding on what his father said. For which we say: thank you! He provides a lot of insight at times, making it better for all of us. Other topics? Perhaps the rookie running backs, both of whom finally played.

3. This is also our last chance to talk to Mike Shanahan before Saturday’s preseason game versus Buffalo. So we’ll get a better feel as to who might not play against the Bills. Will strong safety Brandon Meriweather finally play? Donte' Stallworth? The former needs to show he’s healthy enough to start; the latter needs to show he deserves a roster spot. There aren’t too many topics to discuss with Shanahan today, after delving more into the Griffin Plan on Wednesday.
Hey, it's Tuesday! That means a chat, though no Power Rankings this week. Gonna have to wait a few more months for more of those. But we'll keep it worth your while, I promise. What do you say we start with some links?

New York Giants

Aaron Curry was the No. 4 pick in the entire NFL draft just four years ago, but he couldn't make it work with Seattle or Oakland and is now looking for work. The Giants are looking for linebackers. They will take a look at Curry, Ralph Vacchiano reports.

It's fascinating to me to talk to people around the league and learn about the different ways different teams evaluate quarterbacks. The Giants took Ryan Nassib in the fourth round of this year's draft not because he's some awesome physical specimen with a huge arm but because they like what he showed in college as a leader. This is remarkable because, in the Giants' ideal situation, Eli Manning remains healthy and productive for several more years and Nassib never has to lead them out of a huddle before a meaningful play. But teams view quarterbacks as commodities, and Nassib has what the Giants think are the makings of a good one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles guard Evan Mathis recently had a minor ankle surgery that will keep him out of action through the OTAs and minicamps. Mathis and the Eagles believe he'll be fine in time for training camp.

This likely means more practice reps this summer for disappointing former first-round pick Danny Watkins, who would take Mathis' first-team reps at left guard with Todd Herremans likely moving from right tackle to right guard to make room for first-round pick Lane Johnson. More reps are a good thing for Watkins, since the Eagles will need depth and would like to be able to count on him more than he's allowed them to so far.

Washington Redskins

People ask sometimes about suspended Redskins safety Tanard Jackson and whether he might serve as the answer for the team this year at free safety. But as Mike Jones writes in his recent mailbag, the earliest the Redskins can even get a look at Jackson is Sept. 1, and that's if his indefinite drug suspension is lifted on the earliest possible date. They need to move on to other options, and Jackson is not likely to play for them.

It may have been a head-scratcher to see the Redskins draft another tight end, given what they have on the roster at that position. But from the Redskins' standpoint, especially in the third round, Jordan Reed is not just another tight end.

Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo will be playing less golf this offseason, which Calvin Watkins and I agree is bigger news than it should be to those who have operated under the unsubstantiated belief that Romo cares more about golf than football.

There was some concern that the Cowboys needed to take a defensive lineman in the recent NFL draft and didn't. But a deeper look shows that they have more defensive line depth than you might think.
Good morning and welcome to another fun and exciting offseason week here in the NFC East. We have eight days remaining until free agency and 52 until the draft, so plenty of time to talk it all over. Let's start with some links.

Washington Redskins

Mark Maske wrote last week that suspended safety Tanard Jackson technically remains under contract with the Redskins for 2013. Despite this, I would not count on Jackson playing so much as a snap for the Redskins this year. His drug suspension runs at least through Aug. 31 and is not guaranteed to end there. That's just the earliest date on which he can be reviewed for reinstatement. That means no training camp, and that the team must make a plan that doesn't involve Jackson as one of its answers at safety.

The Redskins believe the first couple of years' worth of work by Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen have put them in position to stick to their draft board this year and continue to build the team by taking the best player available.

New York Giants

Former Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins visited the Giants late last week but left without a contract. Jenkins has some other visits lined up for this week, and as you know I think he can help someone.

The Giants could find themselves in the market for a backup quarterback, as David Carr plans to test the free-agent market and see what's out there for him. Carr and the Giants have seemed to make a good match, and the only quarterback they currently have on the roster other than Eli Manning is Curtis Painter, so I wouldn't rule out a Carr return.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys saved another $350,000 against the salary cap by signing center Phil Costa to a two-year contract. I have no issue with this. Costa played well when healthy in 2012 and is a still-developing player who's shown some signs that he could be the long-term answer at center. They need to get better at guard and right tackle, and to keep Costa healthy, and this will look like a fine deal.

While the Cowboys will be in the running back market this offseason, Calvin does not think they will pursue Michael Turner, who was just released by Atlanta last week.

Philadelphia Eagles

Chip Kelly believes he can evaluate Oregon players and former Oregon players objectively, in spite of his close ties to the young men who helped him succeed as a college coach.

The Eagles aren't likely to use their franchise player designation by today's deadline, but they are watching other teams around the league as they do. And as one of the teams with the most salary cap room to spend once free agency begins next week, the Eagles are keeping a close eye on which big-name players will hit the market.
Mike Jones of the Washington Post takes a look at Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather and wonders whether the Redskins can count on him for a return to full health and productivity in 2013.

Meriweather was the team's big defensive free agent last year, but injuries cost him all but one game and he never got to show the kind of impact he could have on the defense. Mike Shanahan looked at Meriweather as a player whose physical abilities would allow him to play multiple parts in his defense, including run support and blitz packages. The question now is whether Shanahan can reasonably make the same assessment of Meriweather one injury-riddled year later:
It remains to be seen what kind of player Meriweather will be when he recovers. Will he still have the same speed and explosiveness that made him a playmaker in New England? Or, will he struggle with consistency as he did in Chicago, where he wound up benched after only four games?

Meriweather has said repeatedly that the style and philosophy of Jim Haslett’s defense more closely resembles those of the Patriots, and he doesn’t believe his Chicago struggles will repeat themselves in D.C. But a knee that is slow to heal, or one that reduces Meriweather to a lesser player, will prolong the Redskins’ long-standing issues at safety.

As Mike points out later, the Redskins are already on the hunt for a free safety to replace the disappointing Madieu Williams. Tanard Jackson's drug suspension runs at least through August, so they can't expect to have him. My guess is that they will keep Meriweather in the hopes that he makes a full recovery and can be the player they believed he would be. He's costing them about $2.9 million against the salary cap in 2013, and with their salary-cap problems having to find two safeties on the free-agent market might be too expensive. I imagine they'll find Williams' replacement on the open market and then hope Meriweather makes it back. They also could target safety with their second-round draft pick (they don't have a first-rounder), since there appears to be many good options in the draft this year.

But if I'm the Redskins, I'm looking for free safety and operating as though I have my strong safety on the team already. Not an ideal situation given the concerns Mike laid out about Meriweather, but when you're out $18 million in cap room you don't get your ideal situations. I imagine Shanahan will hope he gets Meriweather back, but if he finds someone in the late rounds who reminds him of Meriweather, don't be surprised if Shanahan takes him.

Safety: Some names for the Redskins

January, 17, 2013
Safety is a significant position of need this offseason for the Washington Redskins, who lost one projected starter (Tanard Jackson) to a drug suspension in late August and another (Brandon Meriweather) to recurring knee injuries. Assuming he comes back healthy, there's a reasonable chance the Redskins keep Meriweather as their strong safety, since Washington's coaching staff sees him as a perfect fit for that role in their defense. But assuming is bad business, so you have to believe the Redskins will look to cover themselves at that position, as well as replace Madieu Williams as the starting free safety, once free agency begins.

To that end, here's a partial list of some potential free-agent solutions, keeping in mind the Redskins currently project to be about $4 million over the salary cap because of the league-imposed penalty from last year.

Jairus Byrd. Probably a pipe dream, given (a) that Buffalo wants to keep him and can use the franchise player designation to do so and (b) what he'd cost if he hit the open market. But Byrd fits the Mike Shanahan free agency profile in terms of age (he's 26) and along with San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Atlanta's William Moore, is one of the top safeties in free agency this year if he makes it there.

Kenny Phillips. Would the Giants let him go? They have cap concerns too, and Stevie Brown (also a free agent, by the way) did pretty well as a playmaking fill-in while Phillips was injured this year. If New York made the tough decision to part with Phillips, he'd be in high demand at age 26, and the Redskins know him well. I think his skills in run support make him a better fit at the strong safety spot in the Redskins' 3-4, so he could be a potential Meriweather replacement if they let Meriweather go, but I'm sure he could play the free safety spot as well.

Louis Delmas. His 2012 injury likely increases the Lions' ability to keep him, but he fits the profile as a guy who'll turn 26 in April and has the abilities as a leader and a thumper that the Redskins need on the back end.

Ryan Mundy. He turns 28 next month, which doesn't push him out of Shanahan's age window for free-agent targets, and the system in which he's played in Pittsburgh is similar enough to what the Redskins run that he could be a good fit. Another guy who probably profiles more as a strong safety in Washington, Mundy might be a cheaper and more reliable alternative if they decide they can't count on Meriweather.

LaRon Landry. Hey, he got through the season healthy with the Jets! That was the Redskins' concern about him. The odds that he and they will both want a reunion seem pretty slim, but I guess stranger things have happened, no?

DeAngelo Hall. The Redskins have a tough decision on Hall, who was one of their starting cornerbacks this year and may need to take a pay cut to return in 2013. It may also be worth exploring the idea of moving Hall to free safety, where his inconsistencies in coverage wouldn't be as much of a liability. Is he up for such a move and the pay cut that likely comes with it? Remains to be seen. His name value could help him get a cornerback job somewhere else. But for all of his quirks, he's well-liked in the Redskins' locker room and by the coaching staff, and he knows the system. Maybe they could convince him to make the switch.

Again, a partial list there, and the Redskins are going to need help at cornerback, too, no matter what happens with Hall. That's a different post for a different time. But I hope this gives Redskins fans something on which to chew for a little while.
The Washington Redskins' pick in the first round of this year's draft would be No. 22, but they don't get to use that pick, since they traded it to the Rams last year as part of the Robert Griffin III deal. Washington's first pick, barring a trade, will be late in the second round, something like the 51st overall pick in the draft. They have an extra fifth-round pick as a result of the Albert Haynesworth trade, so they still have seven total, but they're the only team without a first-round pick.

This of course makes forecasting the Redskins' draft considerably more difficult, since there's absolutely no way to know who'll be available 51 picks into the draft or whether Washington will indeed stay in that spot. But any mock draft, especially this far out, is an exercise in guesswork anyway, so we can discuss in general what they need to do.

The Redskins' top priority with their fist couple of picks needs to be the secondary. Yes, things got patched up as they went along in 2012, but cornerback and safety are Washington's two biggest areas of need. DeAngelo Hall looks likely to be a cap casualty, which means they'll need a new starting corner. And the safety position was obviously a mess with Brandon Meriweather injured and Tanard Jackson suspended all year. Even if they count on a Meriweather return, they need more help at safety.

You want names? WalterFootball has a four-round mock that gives the Redskins Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes in the second round, Georgia safety Baccari Rambo in the third and Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson in the fourth. Obviously no way to know what happens to these players' stock over he next three months or the extent to which the Redskins address these positions in free agency in the meantime. But the idea of locking in on safeties and corners with their first couple of picks is a good one for the Redskins. You can find good defensive backs in the second and third round. You generally can't find franchise quarterbacks there. This is why they made the deal and don't have a first-rounder this year or next year. Stay tuned on what they do, if anything, about replenishing that. But in the meantime, if you're thinking Redskins' draft, think secondary.
It's the last Twitter mailbag of 2012, and I hope you're enjoying this new format as much as I am. Seems to really work a lot better. You can send questions at any time of the week just by tweeting them with the hashtag #nfceastmail. You don't even have to tweet the question to me. Just put the hashtag on, and I'll see it. For example ...

@TY_Ortega: how do you expect the #Cowboys to defend RGIII this weekend? Send pressure?

@ESPN_NFCEast: I think the Dallas Cowboys will be careful and judicious about the extent to which they pressure Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on Sunday night in the NFC East title game, and for a couple of reasons. First, the Cowboys' top pass-rusher, DeMarcus Ware, is playing in spite of significant elbow and shoulder injuries, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has already said they'd have to pick their spots in terms of when to use him. Second, Griffin was 6-for-7 for 131 yards and two touchdowns when facing five or more pass-rushers in his Thanksgiving Day victory over the Cowboys and has the highest Total QBR in the league (97.7) in such situations this year. So I wouldn't expect much blitzing, and I think if the Cowboys learned anything from Thanksgiving it's that they have to be careful about when and where they send that pressure.

@JMurphy312: in 2 yrs fewell's defenses have finished 27 and 30 overall. Is he in jeopardy?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Perry Fewell was the New York Giants' defensive coordinator when they won the Super Bowl last year, so the question becomes, "How much rope does that buy him?" The Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin are fond of Fewell, who's regarded around the league as a good coach and has, in recent years, come up as a head-coaching candidate in a few places. But the numbers are what they are, and no, I don't think Fewell is completely safe if the Giants don't pull okf a miracle and make it into the playoffs and make another run. Coughlin changed defensive coordinators after the disappointing finish to the 2009 season, and if it's determined that Fewell's inability to adjust to what opposing offenses are doing was part of the reason the defense flopped, he could be on the hot seat. I still think they need help at linebacker, and that Kenny Phillips being hurt all year has had more of an impact than some people realize. But if you asked me which Giants coach should be the least comfortable right now, Fewell is the guy I'd name.

@kevinsubramania: Does Michael Vick stay if Chip Kelly comes to Philly as coach?

@ESPN_NFCEast: Kelly's is the name being kicked around the most as the replacement for Andy Reid as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and I expect the team to pursue him. There's a theory taking shape that Kelly might want to keep Vick, who some think is suited to run the kind of high-speed offense Kelly runs at the University of Oregon. But first of all, I think it's a mistake to assume that Kelly, who has a nimble coaching mind, would just transplant his system from college to the pros, where opposing defenses have considerably more speed than they do in the Pac-12. And more importantly, the Vick issue is a fiscal one for the Eagles. Even if Vick were to stay and compete with Nick Foles for the starting quarterback job in camp, the Eagles would want him to renegotiate a contract that would pay him a base salary of $15.5 million next season. Word is, Vick doesn't want to do that, so the Eagles are likely to cut him in early February and look at other options -- no matter who the coach is.

@rutliff381: do you see either Tanard Jackson or Brandon Meriweather playing for the Redskins next year?

@ESPN_NFCEast: I know they like Meriweather as a guy who fits what they like to do on defense. They believe they saw a flash of what he could bring in the one game he did play, and assuming he comes back healthy I'd say he's a strong candidate to return at that strong safety spot for Washington next year. They like him in run support and in blitz packages more than in coverage, but he fits a role for sure. Jackson's suspension won't be up until after training camp, at the earliest, and they're going to have to make their 2013 plans without him.

Thanks for the questions. Back next week with more. Enjoy the weekend.
The NFL announced Tuesday afternoon that Washington Redskins cornerback Cedric Griffin has been suspended for the final four games of the regular season for violating its performance-enhancing drug policy. The only way Griffin plays for the Redskins again this year is if they reach the playoffs. They currently sit at 6-6, one game behind the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East and one game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC's final wild-card spot.

However, with starting safeties Tanard Jackson (drug suspension) and Brandon Meriweather (knee injuries) out for the season, the Redskins' secondary could hardly afford another loss. Griffin has functioned mainly as the team's third cornerback this year, but he sees the field a lot because so many opposing teams use three-receiver sets, and the Redskins like using him on the outside and keeping nominal starter DeAngelo Hall on inside receivers when possible. With Griffin out, rookie Richard Crawford is likely to see more playing time along with Hall and Josh Wilson, and the Redskins' already struggling secondary is likely to suffer for it.

Washington has the second-worst pass defense in the NFL this season, allowing 299 yards per game through the air. The Redskins' improved performance on defense during their current three-game winning streak has been a testament to individual over-achievement and the excellent job defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and the coaching staff have done designing schemes and coverages and adjusting during games to compensate for generally inferior personnel. Besides the two projected starting safeties, the Redskins have been without outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker since early in the season due to injuries, and inside linebacker London Fletcher has struggled in recent weeks with an ankle injury. But the Redskins allowed just 16 points Monday night in a key divisional victory over the Giants and have been able to patch it together with what they have. Losing a key piece such as Griffin will only make the job of the coaching staff more difficult from week to week.

If you guys read me regularly, you know how I feel about drug suspensions in the NFL. I think the players generally deserve more scorn and attention than they get for these things. I imagine that Adderall, the unsubstantiated, unverifiable excuse-du-jour for every NFL player that's being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs these days, will ultimately factor into whatever story Griffin presents to the public. But whatever Griffin's story is and whatever the true story is, he's guilty of behavior that's at least irresponsible and likely illegal, and his fans and teammates have good reason to feel as though he has let them down.

Weekend mailbag: Andre or Ahmad?

November, 10, 2012
Before we get to this week's mailbag, I'd just like to point out that none of the many people who have written in here or Twitter complaining that Brandon Banks (punt returner), Todd Herremans (right tackle) and Josh Wilson (cornerback) made the midseason All-Division team have suggested who should have made it instead. Devin Hester doesn't play in this division, folks. Some of these choices were default ones.

Anyway, mailbag.

David from Irvine, Calif. wonders, "When are the New York Giants going to try and use Andre Brown more?" Like many Giants fans, David is of the belief that Brown appears to be the stronger, quicker and more determined runner than Ahmad Bradshaw at this point, and he'd like to see Bradshaw start ceding more carries to Brown if that is in fact the case.

Dan Graziano: David, I think there's evidence to support your case, but it's not overwhelming. Brown's yards-per-carry average this year is 4.8, Bradshaw's 4.4. Brown looked excellent in that Carolina game early in the season when Bradshaw was hurt, but at the time Carolina was stopping no one on the ground. The argument could be made to give Brown more touches because Bradshaw appears to be injured and hesitant, but the important thing to remember is that the Giants' priority when deciding on a running back isn't necessarily which one runs better. The Giants are a passing offense, with a quarterback in Eli Manning who's their clear most valuable player. Bradshaw is as good a blitz-pickup running back as there is in the NFL. Even if Brown and David Wilson are showing improvement in pass protection, neither brings what Bradshaw brings to it. And as long as Manning is their quarterback and their priority, they're going to put the group on the field they believe is best suited to protect him. Watch Bradshaw throw those crushing blocks in the backfield and you'll see why he's getting so much rope.

Mark from Milwaukee agrees with the prevailing opinion that the Philadelphia Eagles need to change head coaches and move on. His question is whether they should fire Andy Reid midseason or wait until the end of the year.

DG: Mark, there's no chance Jeffrey Lurie fires Reid while the Eagles are still mathematically alive in the playoff race. The only reason you'd do that is if you believed you could replace him with someone who could take this same group and reach the playoffs with it. There's no evidence to support that idea. Even if you believe Reid's a big part of the Eagles' problem this season, you have to admit he's far from their only problem. And even if they do get eliminated in, say, Week 13 or 14, I still think Reid's been there long enough, has earned enough respect and is beloved and respected enough by Lurie that the Eagles' owner would not do him the indignity of firing him before the end of the season. When and if the Eagles fire Reid, it's going to be a very difficult decision for an owner who has loved everything Reid has brought to the table in his 14 years. There will be discussions about whether Reid would be better off moving into a front-office position, and ways to present the decision in such a way as to preserve Reid's dignity. He's done a lot in Philadelphia, and Lurie doesn't want to get rid of him. So even if he decides he has to, I imagine it'll take a while to actually do it.

Chris in Falls Church, Va. asks about Tanard Jackson, who appeared poised to be one of the Washington Redskins' starting safeties this year until his most recent drug suspension hit right before the start of the season. Chris wants to know what the chances are that Jackson can play for the Redskins in 2013.

DG: Jackson's suspension is indefinite, but it's for at least one calendar year and not up for review until Aug. 31, 2013 at the earliest. What that means is that, even if the Redskins do want him back, they'd have to go through their entire offseason and make their plans without knowing for sure whether Jackson's case will even be heard again on the eve of the regular season, let alone be lifted. Basically, they're going to have to operate as though they aren't going to have him on the team, and if he's someone they still want when and if his suspension is lifted, they'd have to count him as a pleasant surprise addition. But the larger issues with Jackson are (a) that the team won't be able to feel it can trust him even if it does welcome him back and (b) that the young man appears to have a serious problem with drugs and needs to get his off-field life in order before he can really even think about a return to the NFL. It's a sad case, really.

Chuck from Wilmington, Del. has some Dallas Cowboys-related All-Division Team questions. Specifically, Chuck wants to know how much consideration Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are getting for the cornerback spots and whether Bruce Carter would be a candidate to claim Sean Lee's inside linebacker spot once Lee has missed enough games to lose it.

DG: I was very close to giving the second cornerback spot to Claiborne instead of Washington's Josh Wilson this week. But while Wilson has been burned on a couple of obviously noteworthy plays this year, I just feel when I watch every game that he's been more consistent with his coverage than the Dallas guys have with theirs. Carr and Claiborne have had games this year in which they were flat-out excellent, and they've have some in which they were nearly invisible. I know the Wilson pick got a lot of criticism and everyone remembers Victor Cruz running by him at the end of the Giants game. And that's the cornerback's fate, as with a baseball relief pitcher, to be remembered for the spectacular failure rather than the mundane repeated successes. Wilson's played better overall if you watch the film of every game. As for inside linebacker, yes, Carter's played great since Lee's injury (and was playing well before it). He'd be a candidate. At this point, if I took Lee off the team, it'd likely be for Washington's Perry Riley, who's having an excellent season. But Carter is not someone I'm ignoring, I promise.

Thanks for the curiosity. Catch you tomorrow from Philly.