NFC East: Courtney Upshaw

Maclin, Jackson will start for Eagles

September, 16, 2012
PHILADELPHIA -- Good morning and hello from the press box at Lincoln Financial Field. They have just announced the inactive players for today's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens, and neither of Philadelphia's starting wide receivers is on the list. That means that DeSean Jackson, who missed practice time last week with a hamstring injury, and Jeremy Maclin, who injured his hip in last week's game and missed practice time as well, will start the game as they said they would Friday.

Good news for the Eagles, of course, who need all the help they can get against a tough Baltimore defense, and quarterback Michael Vick, who's looking to get his season on track after throwing four interceptions in last week's victory in Cleveland.

Among the Eagles' inactives is backup running back Dion Lewis, who also missed last week's game due to injury. That means Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are the backup running backs for LeSean McCoy. The Eagles ran 56 pass plays and 30 run plays in last week's games, and while they're not likely to get 86 offensive snaps in this game, if they're looking for better balance they're going to have to find plays for at least one of the backup running backs.

Tackle Demetress Bell, inactive for last week's game, is active for this week's game, though King Dunlap remains the starter at left tackle.

For the Ravens, starting strongside linebacker Paul Kruger is inactive due to a back injury. That's a tough blow to that aforementioned Ravens defense, and it could offer the Eagles more of a look at Baltimore rookie Courtney Upshaw.

I'll be here all day with updates on this game while also keeping an eye on the other three games in the division today. The full list of inactives for Eagles-Ravens:

Calvin Watkins of, a closet baseball fan who covers the Dallas Cowboys, was looking over his 2012 Cowboys' schedule the other day. Calvin was probably planning travel, and deciding which restaurants to patronize in the various road cities to which the Cowboys will be traveling, but while he was doing this he had an idea to list five opposing players who stand out as potential problems for the Cowboys in 2012. These are individual players Calvin thinks will cause matchup problems for the Cowboys, mind you, not necessarily games he's predicting them to lose.

Anyway, the guys over at are real good about plugging my stuff, so in the spirit of symbiosis, I like to give you a look at theirs when it seems appropriate. And on a slow, rainy offseason day such as this, it did. Calvin's list includes Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, Baltimore rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw and two players from the NFC East -- Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Here's Calvin's take on Davis:
The Redskins tight end had seven catches in two games against the Cowboys last season. He's a threat to the linebackers and safeties who might cover him. Does Brodney Pool cover Davis? Gerald Sensabaugh? Anthony Spencer? Davis is athletic enough to provide matchup problems and with Robert Griffin III moving around the pocket, Davis becomes a target to find on the run.

And here's his take on Pierre-Paul:
The New York Giants defensive end is the new Cowboys killer. In two games last year, Pierre-Paul had 13 tackles, three sacks and a blocked field goal. The Cowboys couldn't contain this man. Last year, Doug Free had trouble with Pierre-Paul. Now, Tyron Smith gets his turn at one of the better young defensive players in the game.

I think Smith is fantastic, will have no trouble transitioning to left tackle and can be one of the best in the league at the position in short order. But I agree with the sentiment that Pierre-Paul seems like the kind of player who raises his game when the lights are brightest, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him terrorize the Cowboys again this year, even if they are better at left tackle. His talent is such that he always finds himself in the middle of the big play, and he's the kind of player around whom the Cowboys and the rest of the division are going to have to game-plan for years to come.

And yeah, on Davis -- his size and athleticism at the tight end position are an under-discussed advantage for Griffin in his rookie season. Davis was the Redskins' best receiving threat in 2011, and it's no slight against the upgrades they've made at wide receiver to predict that he could be again in 2012. People may have forgotten about Davis after his four-game drug suspension at the end of last season. But assuming he can stay clean, there's little reason to think he won't be a difficult force with which to contend for opposing defenses.

NEW YORK -- Man, did the New York Giants have some options with the final pick in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night. Wide receivers, offensive linemen and pass rushers still abound. They very well could have traded back into the early part of the second round, picked up an extra pick and still taken someone very useful, such as wide receiver Stephen Hill or tackle Cordy Glenn or even a pass rusher like Courtney Upshaw.

But the Giants, before they went on their magical run and won the Super Bowl, were the No. 32 ranked rush offense in the NFL in 2011. And that 32nd-ranked rush offense lost to free agency a back -- Brandon Jacobs -- who accounted for about 40 percent of their carries. So, while the Giants aren't a draft-for-need kind of team, it makes a lot of sense that they decided to take a running back.

The Giants selected Virginia Tech's David Wilson to be Jacobs' replacement, but don't expect a running back like Jacobs. Wilson is a little guy -- about 5-foot-9, 206 pounds -- whose scouting report says he has outstanding top-end speed but still needs to work on his inside running and his initial burst. He's every-down capable, having racked up 334 touches last year with the Hokies, and that matters, since Ahmad Bradshaw always seems to be battling those foot injuries. And he's an outstanding athlete who qualified for the NCAA championships in the triple jump in 2010.

My guess is that the Giants were looking at Boise State running back Doug Martin, and the Buccaneers traded up into the back end of the first round and took Martin one pick before the Giants' turn. But it's entirely possible, knowing the Giants, that Wilson was the guy on whom they had their eye all along. The Giants like to bring guys into their system and develop them under their coaching staff and among their veteran players. So if Martin isn't an impact guy right away in 2012 -- if he's merely in the mix of Bradshaw backups with guys like Da'Rel Scott and D.J. Ware -- that doesn't mean he doesn't have big-time potential down the road.

Ultimately, this is more of a "need" pick than the Giants tend to make in the draft, but if they thought someone like Hill or Glenn or Upshaw or Stanford tight end Coby Fleener was well ahead of Wilson in terms of value, I'm sure they would have taken him. The Giants clearly think highly of Wilson.
I have been swamped today with the ESPN blogger mock draft, but since we've been talking about Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer a lot lately, it's worth a blog post noting that he's signed his franchise tender and therefore agreed to play for $8.8 million in 2012 absent the long-term deal he continues to hope the Cowboys give him.

This is not a surprise, and I believe it would be a surprise if the Cowboys did extend Spencer at this time. My belief is that they want to see him play this year and see whether he shows the improvement they're seeking in the pass rush before committing to him long-term.

To answer one question I've received a few times since this news broke, however: No, I don't think this changes the Cowboys' plans for the first round of the draft. I think they're going to go with the best defensive player available at that No. 14 spot, and that's what I think they should do. Someone asked me on Twitter if the Spencer news makes it more likely that the Cowboys would take a pass-rusher, such as Courtney Upshaw, with that pick. If anything, I'd say it makes it less likely, since the only way it looked as though they were going to do that was if they planned to rescind Spencer's franchise tender and cut him. That option is off the table now, and it looks as though (barring some surprise trade), Spencer is on the team in 2012 in his outside linebacker spot opposite DeMarcus Ware.
You know, when you submit mailbag questions, you're supposed to give your name, location and e-mail address. Just sayin.

Orangeskins from oompa loompa land saw Adam Schefter's report late Friday that running back Tim Hightower was visiting the Patriots and asks whether the Washington Redskins have given up on trying to re-sign him.

Dan Graziano: No, they have not. The Redskins still like Hightower an awful lot, and if he's fully recovered from his ACL tear they would love to have him back as their starting running back in 2012. Yes, ahead of youngsters Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Mike Shanahan loves Hightower, whom he views as an every-down runner, a good receiving back and a help in pass protection as well. He's not sold on either of last year's rookies as the total package yet, and so the Redskins' ideal plans for 2012 include a healthy Hightower at the front of their running back corps. Now, the question is how much they want to offer him before they're sure he's healthy again, and if he's getting interest from other teams, his price could stray beyond what they're willing to risk. Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai were also reportedly in New England for visits this week, so it remains to be seen what the chances are of Hightower signing there. If he does, the Redskins will look for a veteran back or two to add to the Helu/Royster mix.

Joseph Kony from Antarctica asks whether I share his belief that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's production will drop now that his big brother is back in the league this year. Joseph believes that "without the pressure of having to compete with his brother, Eli was able to have his best statistical year and win the SB... again."

DG: I think that's a reach, Joseph. Eli Manning's career arc is one of steady improvement year over year, with the one exception being the interception total from 2010. He's an excellent player in his own right, obviously mentally tough enough that no one should still be questioning the way in which he handles the fact that his big brother operates in the same profession. I would have thought the second Super Bowl ring would have eliminated questions about Eli and Peyton's shadow. But your question reinforces my sad theory that people are always going to believe what they want to believe, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Robert Shipman of Mobile, Ala., a Crimson Tide fan, likes the idea of safety Mark Barron going to the Dallas Cowboys with the No. 14 pick but wonders if the Cowboys might consider outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw instead as a pass-rushing complement to DeMarcus Ware.

DG: From everything I've been told about Dallas' mindset, they have evaluated Upshaw and Melvin Ingram and the other pass-rushers at the top of the draft and decided that they're all pretty much similar players to Anthony Spencer. And since they have Spencer on the franchise tag already, they believe the best way to maximize the value of that pick is to look at other positions. If they drafted Upshaw, it would be because they'd decided to rescind the franchise player designation and let Spencer leave as a free agent, and that doesn't seem a likely course of action. I think if both players were there at 14, they'd take Barron. The question at this point seems to be whether Barron will last that long.

Zach Iseminger of Southland, Texas recalls that last year, the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time gave responsibility for calling the offensive line protections at the line of scrimmage to quarterback Michael Vick. "Obviously there were other factors like a new O Line coach and a new blocking scheme and two rookies starting on the line, but just curious if a full off season with OTAs will help this year."

DG: It certainly could. I remember writing about this change last year at the Eagles' opener in St. Louis. Howard Mudd likes giving the quarterback the ability to call changes in protection based on what he sees at the line, and that game was the first time Vick had that responsibility. The pass protection did improve as the year went along, as everybody on the line got used to each other and to Mudd. It's still tough to block for Vick, who likes to try to keep plays alive as long as any quarterback in the league does. And the loss of left tackle Jason Peters is going to have a negative effect. But to answer your basic question, yes. As I tell my kids, the best way to get better at anything is to practice, and more practice identifying defensive schemes and calling those protections at the line can only help Vick.

Keep the questions coming, folks. Next Saturday, we'll be writing about the fourth through seventh rounds of the draft instead, but maybe we'll do this on Sunday.
The draft used to be the part of the offseason that confused me. Not why it happened, but the extent to which the hype exceeded the quality and the value of the thing itself. And while that may still be the case with the draft, it is no longer the most confusingly overhyped part of the offseason. The schedule release is, and it's happening tonight at 7 p.m. ET. We have a three-hour TV special on it, so whatever team you root for, you can be sure its schedule will get its full share of the attention.

Never mind that we've all known for more than three months which teams every other team will be playing in 2012. Tonight we get to find out the dates of these games. In my experience, and to my everlasting confusion, fans get excited about this. Hence, three-hour special. Plus plenty of coverage here on the blog. But that's not for 11 hours. By then you may well have forgotten about all of the knowledge and nutrition you derived from your daily links. But I know that, without them, you'd never have made it that far.

Dallas Cowboys

So, Anthony Spencer's skipping the the start of the conditioning part of the voluntary offseason program, which is fine because it's voluntary. We're not about ripping guys for skipping voluntary workouts on this blog. Other people can do that if they want. Here, words have meaning. But Spencer's also making it clear he wants a long-term deal, which is ... well, it's unlikely. And if the Cowboys use the No. 14 pick in the draft (which is nine days from now) on someone like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, then Spencer's short-term and long-term role on the team could be affected in a negative way. Something to think about, as Upshaw says how excited he'd be to play at Cowboys Stadium in Rob Ryan's defense.

Nick Eatman has a list of the five guys he thinks the Cowboys could take with that No. 14 pick. Upshaw isn't among them (though he does get an honorable mention), and Nick's still putting David DeCastro on the list. I guess it's possible they could take a guard in the first round. I just thought we'd reached the point where we all agreed it wouldn't make sense.

New York Giants

So after they traded for linebacker Keith Rivers, the Giants re-worked his contract so he's only due $1.25 million this year instead of the original $2.16 million. For their next trick, the Giants will pull a rabbit out of their hat. I hope it's the one that's been digging up my lawn.

Eli Manning says he's "a little nervous" about hosting "Saturday Night Live" on May 5. Yeah, this is the third thing I've written in two days about Manning and "SNL." No one who's excited about schedule release day has a right to criticize me about what I find interesting. (Funny thing is, there's no way I'm staying up to watch "SNL" on May 5 or any other night. I used to watch it, sure, but that was before I had kids who didn't understand how important it is to sleep in on Sunday mornings.)

Philadelphia Eagles

Jeff McLane lists some of the teams that could be interested in trading for Asante Samuel, and he says he thinks a third-round or fourth-round pick would be fair value for the star cornerback, who says he wants to stay. Jeff also raises the possibility of a training camp holdout for running back LeSean McCoy, who wants a new deal but is working out this week with his teammates anyway. My guess is that these two things go together. If the Eagles trade Samuel and wipe out a $10.5 million 2012 cap hit, maybe McCoy is more likely to get his new deal. But that's just me guessing, which is usually not a great way to go.

Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney went to a hockey game and apparently loved it. Someone told me it's hockey playoff season. I told them I already knew that because I'd been spending time in the comments section under my blog posts and noticing that people were talking about hockey in there. They were like, "That's good, you need to build some nap time into your day."

Washington Redskins

Tracee Hamilton writes about the way in which the re-signing of London Fletcher has contributed to the burgeoning good feelings around the Redskins this offseason. "Burgeoning" is your word of the day. You can feel free to look it up and use it, if you like, in your hockey smack-talk. I'll have to take your word that you tried.

Of course, the main reason for all those good feelings is the impending (presumed) arrival of Robert Griffin III, likely to be taken by the Redskins with the No. 2 pick in the draft nine days from now. Rich Campbell writes about how Griffin revived a football program at Baylor and wonders whether he'll be able to do the same in Washington, D.C.
It's Saturday, which makes it the day I have to take my kids to swim lessons, which makes it the day I understand why some people drink alcoholic beverages before noon.

It also makes it mailbag day.

Andrew from New York, N.Y., admits he's a Philadelphia Eagles fan and therefore likely biased, but he says this to me: "I simply don't understand how you can report what Redskins sources say as the final word on McNabb's work ethic."

Dan Graziano: I didn't, Andrew. I presented and acknowledged both sides. Which Donovan McNabb pointedly did not, even leaving himself and his own win-loss record off his list of failed post-Elway Mike Shanahan quarterbacks. I would welcome a chance to discuss it with McNabb, and I let the producers of First Take know this, but they were not interested in having me on.

Dale from Novato, Calif., asks whether, if the Dallas Cowboys drafted a first-round cornerback, that would mean they're planning to part ways with Mike Jenkins after this season.

DG: Dale, I don't think it would automatically mean that, but as you point out, Jenkins does come with some injury questions. They love the way he played last year when healthy, but he wasn't healthy nearly enough. So if they were to draft a cornerback in the first round this year, they'd obviously be sending a message to Jenkins as well as covering themselves in case he can't get through the year healthy and they decide the best thing is to move on to other options. Better to address this now by thinking ahead then wait until next year when they have a clear problem/need at the position. And in this day and age, there's really no such thing as too many defensive backs.

Chris from Charleston, S.C., tells me that the reason Victor Cruz crushed Brian Orakpo in the Madden 13 cover vote was that Washington Redskins fans were voting against Orakpo because of the "Madden Curse." Chris is of the belief that I've not heard of this "Curse."

DG: Chris, I have heard of the Madden Curse, and of the idea that fans are voting against, rather than for, their favorite players in an effort to avoid having them land on the cover and end up "cursed." I just think it's foolish, and didn't see the need to acknowledge it in my post on the subject. We've reached an odd place in sports-fan history if this is really something about which people feel that strongly.

Tony G from Hamilton, Ontario, wants to know why the Arizona Cardinals are drafting ahead of the Dallas Cowboys when they had identical records and the Cardinals won the head-to-head matchup.

DG: Tony G, head-to-head result is not the tiebreaker for determining draft position. They use relative strength of schedule, and Arizona's was weaker, so their 8-8 record is deemed, for purposes of the draft, to be worse than Dallas' 8-8 record.

Ian from ODU wants to know if I think the Eagles would take Courtney Upshaw, the Alabama LB/DE, with their first-round pick (No. 15 overall) in next month's draft.

DG: Ian, my sense is that Upshaw will be gone by then, making this a moot issue. But if he is there, I'm still not 100 percent sure they take him. Upshaw is being looked at as a pass-rusher, and unless they were going to use him at defensive end in their 4-3 (where they're pretty well stacked with Trent Cole and Jason Babin), he might not be a fit for them. He's probably better suited to a 3-4 team as an outside linebacker who can get after the quarterback. The linebackers in Philadelphia's system aren't responsible for the pass rush.

Paul from Indiana Harbour Beach, Fla., likes Stanford tight end Coby Fleener for the New York Giants when they pick at No. 32 in the first round.

DG: Could definitely happen, Paul, and I agree with you that someone of Fleener's talents could make magic with Eli Manning. But since they've already signed Martellus Bennett and they surely expect Jake Ballard, Travis Beckum or both back at the end of this season if not before, I'm not certain they're looking at tight end as a long-term need position. The Giants will take the best available player still on their board at that spot, and if it's Fleener, I don't think they'd hesitate to do it. But I wouldn't be surprised if the highest player on their board at that point plays offensive tackle or defensive line. They really need a tackle, and they really love to draft defensive linemen.

Ahsen from MD wants to know why the Redskins didn't receive any compensatory draft picks for losing Carlos Rogers in free agency last year.

DG: Ahsen, you only get compensatory picks if your total net loss in free agency is deemed to have exceeded your net gain. So while the Redskins lost Rogers and others last year in free agency, the players they signed -- Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, Josh Wilson, etc -- were deemed by the NFL's formula to have been worth more than the total value of the free agents they lost. Hence, no compensatory picks.

Teon Wilson from Richmond, Va., wants to know if it's realistic for the Cowboys to trade for Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel.

DG: A couple of people I spoke with in Palm Beach this week told me they wouldn't be surprised to see the Eagles trade Samuel within the division. Nevertheless, I would. I don't think their need to trade him is so pressing that they'd send him someplace where he'd play against them twice a year. He's still pretty good. My guess is the price for Dallas would be higher than it would be for, say, an AFC team.

Nick from Rutgers wants to know why the Giants aren't at the top of the Breakfast Links posts anymore.

DG: We went back to alphabetical order once the new league year started. New year, standings reset. But I liked doing the links in standings order, and plan to do so again beginning in Week 2 of the 2012 season.

And to answer some questions that came in numerous times from numerous sources:
  • I don't know when the arbitrator will decide about the Redskins/Cowboys cap penalties.
  • No, I am not crazy.
  • Sorry, but unless you're a Redskins fan, I simply do not know which player your team will pick in the first round of the draft.

Enjoy your weekend.
Todd McShay's got a new mock draft up. It actually went up yesterday, but I was busy filling up the blog with live stuff from the owners meetings. So today, exactly four weeks from the draft, I present to you Todd's latest two-round mock draft Insider. It's Insider, but you know I like to take care of you guys.

Washington Redskins

Round One, pick 2: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Round Two: No pick

Not too much to pick apart here. The only way the first part of this changes is if the Colts take Griffin at No. 1, in which case the Redskins will take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. And the only way the second part changes is if they trade up into the second round to grab a guy they like there. The Redskins traded their second-round pick to the Rams as part of the trade for the No. 2 overall pick.

Dallas Cowboys

Round One, pick 14: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

Round Two, pick 45: Amini Silatolu, G, Midwestern State

Interesting first-round choice, especially with Mark Barron and Courtney Upshaw on the board. I'm thinking the Cowboys want a pass-rusher here, and that Upshaw would be hard to pass up. But as Todd points, out, Cox can help the pass rush from the inside, and would allow the Cowboys to run more four-man fronts or move Jay Ratliff outside sometimes. A guard in the second round? I guess maybe, but they did draft two guards last year and sign two earlier this month.

Philadelphia Eagles

Round One, pick 15: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

Round Two, pick 46: Devon Still, DT, Penn State

Round Two, pick 51: Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma

I was surprised to see Todd give the Eagles a safety here. They have picked safeties early in several recent drafts and likely want to keep giving Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett opportunities. I've been thinking they add a veteran safety in free agency, but if they don't, Barron looks like a good value pick at 15. As for the second-round selections, both would add depth at positions where the Eagles need it. I wonder, as many are wondering these days, if the Eagles might use one of their second-round picks on a quarterback to start grooming Michael Vick's eventual successor.

New York Giants

Round 1, pick 32: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska

Round 2, pick 63: Mitchell Schwartz, T, California

If the Giants came out of the first two rounds with a linebacker and a tackle, I'd have to think they'd be thrilled. And if David is still there at 32, he's the kind of value pick the Giants wouldn't be able to pass up.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Last year, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett attended one pre-draft pro day -- the one at USC -- and the Cowboys ended up drafting USC tackle Tyron Smith in the first round. Well, we do love clues, and so enjoy this one: Garrett is going to one pre-draft pro day this year, and it's Alabama's on Thursday. Per Calvin Watkins:
"As of now, it’s the only one of scheduled to go to," Garrett said. "Alabama had a pro day earlier in the month and a number of their players were not able to work out cause of injury. We felt it was worthwhile. Logistically it made sense. I am here. I'm going back to Texas. We are going to fly right over Tuscaloosa. It made sense for me to stop there and go to this workout tomorrow. So that is one of the reasons. We have had reps from the Cowboys at a lot of different pro days."
Side note: Maybe I'm punchy at the end of a couple of long days, but "We are going to fly right over Tuscaloosa" really made me laugh. Is he going to parachute out of the plane?

Anyway, there are three draft-eligible members of Alabama's national championship defense who could make good sense for the Cowboys at No. 14 in the first round. They are linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. All of them could be there for the Cowboys to choose from when their turn comes around. Upshaw would help the pass rush, Barron and Kirkpatrick the secondary, and the Cowboys need help and depth in both of those areas.

So, while Garrett's attendance in Tuscaloosa on Thursday doesn't guarantee that the Cowboys take a Crimson Tide defensive player in the first round, it could be offering us some indication of the direction in which they're leaning.

We've got new mock drafts

March, 7, 2012
Sure, the attention of the NFL world is on Indianapolis today. But I'm a heck of a lot closer to Radio City Music Hall, and I'm thinking about the draft. That may be because Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have unveiled their latest mock drafts today. They're Insider, but I'm allowed to tell you who they have for your favorite teams as long as I whisper and you promise not to tell anyone else. We do these rundowns in draft order.

6. Washington Redskins: Mel and Todd both leave open the strong possibility that the Redskins trade up, get the No. 2 overall pick from St. Louis and draft Robert Griffin III. But since that hasn't happened yet, they have to mock it as though the Redskins are still at No. 6. So Mel has them taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Todd has them taking Iowa tackle Riley Reiff. Todd's reasoning is that, if they don't get Griffin, they'll have secured a veteran quarterback in free agency and will want to protect him. Mel mentions the same possibility in his recap, but I agree with him that Claiborne would be a nice pick, especially if the Redskins have addressed offense sufficiently in free agency. What's interesting to me is that Mel has Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill going 12th and Todd has him going 8th, and if he can go that high, what's stopping him from moving all the way up to No. 6 in the next eight weeks?

14. Dallas Cowboys: Everybody agrees that the Cowboys need secondary help above all else. Mel's sticking with Alabama safety Mark Barron as the Cowboys' pick here, while Todd gives them North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. This is a personal preference deal. The Cowboys can't go wrong if they pick the best available defensive back at No. 14, even if they've already signed one or two in free agency. They have room for several. I am interested to see, however, if they go for a pass-rusher like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw if he's still available, as he is on Mel's mock but not on Todd's.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Both mocks have Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly long gone by this spot, so Mel gives the Eagles LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers and Todd gives them Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe. The reasoning is that the Eagles were soft up the middle in 2011, and they were. And if there's not a good-value linebacker available, the odds would favor Andy Reid taking a defensive lineman here. He's set at end and needs beef in the middle. Possible wild cards: If DeSean Jackson is traded, they could go wide receiver here. And it's not ridiculous to imagine them taking a quarterback if Tannehill's still on the board.

32. New York Giants: Agreement here, as Mel and Todd both give the Giants Stanford tight end Coby Fleener after also agreeing that he's become the top tight end on the board. That'd be both a need and a value pick for the Giants, who lost two tight ends to serious knee injuries in the Super Bowl. But if there's a player the Giants had ranked much higher than 32 and he's still sitting there when it's their turn to pick, bet on them taking that player, regardless of position.

NFC East weekend mailbag

February, 25, 2012
You send e-mails. I read through them, deleting the profane insults and picking out a few insightful questions to be answered here on the blog. It's a graceful, elaborate dance, and we call it the mailbag.

Gene from DC wants to know about Ryan Tannehill -- specifically, whether he's the kind of quarterback prospect who can work his way up the draft board in the coming months to the point where the Washington Redskins might take him at No. 6. Gene cites recent examples such as Christian Ponder, Tim Tebow, Josh Freeman and Joe Flacco as quarterbacks who ended up being picked much higher than it originally seemed they would.

Dan Graziano: Excellent point, Gene, and you didn't even mention Mark Sanchez, who was a late-first/early-second guy this time three years ago and ended up going No. 5. Quarterback is a vital position with a scarcity of elite talent, which is why those guys tend to get picked higher than their scouting grades indicate they should. And Tannehill is a prime candidate to be such a guy this year. If he impresses in workouts and interviews and the whole pre-draft process, I agree completely that he could be a mid-first-round pick or even a viable option for the Redskins at No. 6, even if right now it doesn't appear as though people think he should go that high. Quarterbacks go higher than they should, in general.

The Eagles Spoke to Griffin? from Middletown, PA heard the reports that the Philadelphia Eagles interviewed Robert Griffin III at the scouting combine and wants to know whether this is a case of "everyone talking to everyone" or if there's potentially something more to it.

DG: It'd be a huge surprise if the Eagles actually traded up and drafted Griffin. That said, it's not a case of "everyone talking to everyone," because teams only get a limited number of player interviews at the combine. The Eagles obviously wanted a chance to get to know Griffin and find out what he's all about. That could have been the result of pure curiosity. It could be due diligence, in case something happens and the guy drops to 15 and they want to know whether he's worth taking at that spot for the future or depth at the most important position. Griffin's an intriguing guy, and I'm sure there are a lot of teams that want a chance to meet him -- not just those who appear to be in position to draft him this year.

Anthony from Ft Worth, Texas asks how many free agents the Cowboys will sign this year and if DeMarcus Ware's sack numbers would go up if the Cowboys were to draft a pass rusher such as North Carolina's Quinton Coples.

DG: Sneaky two-part question, Anthony. The Cowboys could have around $20 million worth of cap room when it's all said and done, which should be enough for them to sign a cornerback, pass rusher (i.e., keep Anthony Spencer or replace him) and and interior offensive lineman in free agency. As for the draft -- Coples is a 4-3 lineman and likely to be gone by the time the Cowboys pick anyway. But if they do pick up an elite pass rusher (think Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram) who outperforms Spencer in terms of getting to the passer, yes, that could be beneficial to Ware as the new guy would require teams' attention more than Spencer often does. Hard to imagine how much higher Ware's sack totals could go, but your logic is sound.

Seth from Vermont asks when was the last time the Giants used the franchise player designation and whether they have any candidates for it this year.

DG: The Giants franchised Brandon Jacobs three years ago because they felt like they were close to completing negotiations on a long-term deal with him, which they were and they did. As for this year's group, there are no obvious franchise candidates. They won't want to franchise Mario Manningham or Kareem McKenzie, because each of those guys would happily play for $9.4 million guaranteed in 2012 and that's much more than they'd want to pay them. Same with Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas, whose franchise numbers would be $10.6 million, and Jonathan Goff, who'd get $8.8 million. Even if they wanted to bring back one, two or all of those guys, they'd want to do it at much lower numbers. Somebody asked last week about punter Steve Weatherford, whose franchise number would be $2.6 million. The Giants are at work on a long-term deal with Weatherford and I guess could conceivably do what they did with Jacobs three years ago if they can't get the deal done by the end of next week.

Cowboys at the Senior Bowl

January, 25, 2012
Calvin Watkins of has been at the Senior Bowl keeping up with what the Dallas Cowboys are doing there, and he has some notes. I find it interesting that they met with Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who's old enough to be a veteran backup even if he's not "veteran" enough. Calvin doesn't think the Cowboys will draft a quarterback, and Weeden wouldn't fit the profile of a guy who'd be ready to take over for Tony Romo when Romo's done (because Weeden will turn 29 next season and would be 32 or 33 by the time Romo's ready to retire). But perhaps his maturity level relative to the rest of the quarterbacks in the draft class made him someone the Cowboys wanted to at least check out for the backup role vacated by Jon Kitna's retirement. Due diligence, as Calvin said.

Of greater interest, potentially, is the Cowboys' interest in defensive players they might draft. As we mentioned in today's Breakfast Links, they met with Alabama pass rusher Courtney Upshaw, who'd be a great pick if he were still on the board at No. 14. Calvin also mentions here that they met with troubled North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins and could take a look at Georgia's Brandon Boykin, who could help in the return game as well as the secondary.

If the Cowboys are doing "due diligence" on backup quarterbacks, I imagine they're doing much more than that in an effort to spot defensive backs of interest. They need those. A qualified veteran backup quarterback is a luxury.

Breakfast links: Oscar buzz

January, 25, 2012
Good morning to you all. It is Wednesday of the dead week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl hype. But we have much of which to talk here in the NFC East, including a postponed chat scheduled for later today and a number of other matters, including and beginning with your piping-hot links.

New York Giants

It's an interesting time in the life of Chris Mara, who wanted to be Giants GM five years ago only to lose the job to Jerry Reese. Mara now finds himself living and dying with his Super Bowl-bound football team, and Tuesday he spent the morning sweating out the Academy Award nominations until his daughter Rooney was announced as a nominee in the Best Actress category for her role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Ian O'Connor has the story.

It was odd to hear Giants special-teamers Devin Thomas and Jacquian Williams say after Sunday's game that they knew 49ers return man Kyle Williams had a concussion history and might be susceptible to big hits as a result. But the Giants said Tuesday that such things were not discussed in the meeting room and there was no intent to injure Kyle Williams or give him a concussion. The NFL also said the Giants would not face discipline for the comments, since they made no illegal hits to the head.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles GM Howie Roseman discussed a number of issues with a pair of Philadelphia reporters Tuesday at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Among those was the Eagles' decision to draft Brandon Graham over Jason Pierre-Paul in the 2010 draft. That Pierre-Paul has become a superstar for the Giants in a short period of time makes that decision look foolish, of course. But Graham has been injured and at the time Pierre-Paul was viewed as a long-term project. As we've said here many times, it's not automatic that Pierre-Paul would have come this quickly if he hadn't been in the Giants' system.

Phil Sheridan remains stuck on a number of things Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in his postseason news conference a couple of weeks back, and he wonders which Eagles team Lurie has been watching.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are poking around the Senior Bowl, like all the other teams, as they begin their draft evaluation process. One of the first players they met with this week, according to Brandon George, was Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who may be the best pass-rusher in the draft. He'd fit a need at outside linebacker, especially if the team is parting ways with Anthony Spencer.

After talking with Jerry Jones this week, Calvin Watkins is convinced the Cowboys are ready to move on from cornerback Terence Newman. Calvin offers some other thoughts on Jones' comments and the issue of how much change is needed to the Cowboys' roster.

Washington Redskins

Thom Loverro takes up the issue of why the Redskins have been so good in recent years at beating the NFC's top teams in the regular season. They beat the Packers last year and this year they beat the Giants twice.

Rich Campbell looks at Raheem Morris, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach who's now the Redskins' secondary coach, and the energy he brings to the job.

What to do with Anthony Spencer?

January, 19, 2012
One of the Dallas Cowboys' big-need areas as they head into their offseason is the pass rush. They have DeMarcus Ware at one outside linebacker spot, and he may be the best pass-rusher in the entire league. But on the other side is Anthony Spencer who (a) has been a bit of a disappointment in that area and (b) is a free agent.

On, Todd Archer writes that the Cowboys' decision on Spencer is a key to their offseason. He thinks the best move might be to use the franchise or transition designation on Spencer, effectively putting him on a one-year contract and making sure he has incentive to prove himself. But that's an expensive way to go, and Spencer was playing in a similar situation this year in the final year of his deal.
Spencer has had five seasons to prove he can be a worthy pass-rusher opposite DeMarcus Ware. At times he did. Too many other times, he didn't.

The free-agent market doesn't offer much hope for serious improvement, so the options appear to be sign Spencer to a long-term deal at a sensible price, put one of the tags on him or draft an outside linebacker with the No. 14 pick with Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw being everybody’s guy right now after the Tide's win against LSU.

Me, I'd go that last way. Lots of mock drafts have the Cowboys picking Stanford guard David DeCastro at No. 14, but they have young guards they like and can either continue to develop them or pick the draft's second-best or third-best guard in a later round. I think you want an impact guy if you're picking in the middle of the first round, and if I were in charge of the Cowboys' draft I'd be thinking pass-rusher. I feel like Todd does on Spencer -- that we've seen what we're going to see of him and it's time to look elsewhere.

I also think they need to address the defensive end spots and bring in guys who can help clear the way for their outside pass rush. But that's something that can be done in free agency. I'd be willing to risk letting Spencer go and taking a chance that he won't sign somewhere else to come back and terrorize me. Time for some new blood in the Cowboys' pass rush.

Mel Kiper's first mock draft is up!

January, 18, 2012
Aw, yeah, fans of teams that aren't still playing this week. Do we have some fresh meat for you. Our NFL draft expert, Mel Kiper, has posted his first mock draft of 2012, and here it is in all its glory. Looks like it's an Insider piece, so you have to pay to read the whole thing. But in the interest of keeping the blog fed, the masses happy and reasons for people to pay for Insider access obvious, I'll let you know what he's got for our four teams. The comments here are mine, not Mel's.

6. Washington Redskins: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. This came up in this morning's breakfast links, with John Keim of the Washington Examiner suggesting cornerback at a spot where most people have been hoping or assuming the Redskins would take a quarterback or wide receiver. But Mel's got Andrew Luck gone to Indy at No. 1, Robert Griffin III gone to Cleveland at No. 4 and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon gone to St. Louis at No. 2, and he doesn't forecast trades. He also doesn't have another quarterback going in the first round, so second-tier options like Ryan Tannehill could still be available there if this were to come true. I'm curious to see whether Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd could get this high, though he said this week that he's dropping out of the Senior Bowl, where Mike Shanahan and the Redskins will be one of the coaching staffs.

14. Dallas Cowboys: David DeCastro, G, Stanford. Seems high for a guard, and it would seem odd for the Cowboys to spend top-15 picks on offensive line two years in a row. But other than cornerback, interior offensive line is the Cowboys' biggest need position, and Mel has Claiborne and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick gone in the top 10. I wonder if the Cowboys would maneuver to grab a pass-rushing outside linebacker such as Alabama's Courtney Upshaw or South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, who are gone at No. 10 and 12, respectively, in Mel's mock.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College. No question linebacker is the Eagles' biggest need, but will Andy Reid really go far enough out of character to take one in the middle of the first round? Everybody loves Kuechly for his instincts and tackling, and those are two aspects of their linebacking corps the Eagles desperately need to improve. I could see, as Mel says he could also, the Eagles taking a safety here. (Mel has Alabama's Mark Barron going next, to the Jets.) And if they part ways with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles could certainly look for a wide receiver in the first round. But Kuechly seems like a big pile of exactly what Philadelphia needs.

29*. New York Giants: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State. The Giants will pick in this spot if they lose Sunday, 31st if they win Sunday and lose the Super Bowl and a very happy 32nd if they win the Super Bowl. Tackle's not a bad way to go, since they have some question marks there. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie is a free agent and Will Beatty didn't look like the answer at left tackle before eye surgery ended his season. David Diehl has played well there since, but he's 31, and it can't hurt to add young depth at a spot like this. The Giants could use help at linebacker and maybe in the secondary depending what happens with Terrell Thomas, but clearly, since they're still playing this week, their needs appear to be relatively few.