Names of teams getting some private time with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota have begun to trickle out, via NFL Network's Albert Breer and others.

The Bucs, Redskins and Jets reportedly are on the board with a Mariota one-on-one, with Tennessee already having worked out Mariota after his pro day. If you're counting at home, those teams comprise four of the top six picks. The Chargers also are reportedly involved.

The Browns' predicament -- two first-round picks and the ritualistic quarterback concerns -- will fuel interest in how much digging is necessary on the player considered by most analysts as the draft's second-best quarterback.

But here are a few reasons why the Browns might not need or get a visit with Mariota.

  • Mariota's relationship with QBs coach Kevin O'Connell: O'Connell privately tutored Mariota before and even after taking the Browns job. He orchestrated Mariota's pro day throwing sequence. He knows Mariota better than most. The Browns can lean on that insight, cutting out the proverbial middle man on get-to-know-you sessions.
  • Can't invite every quarterback to Berea: Teams only get 30 in-house visits for interviews/physicals. With hundreds of intriguing prospects, including several quarterbacks outside the first-round projections, the Browns must be judicious with those visits. Plus, if they have good intel on Mariota already, they can save the reservations for other prospects.
  • Mariota’s selective process: With this high profile a prospect, Mariota will meet with teams he either wants to be drafted by or feels holds a good chance in drafting him. It’s not a speed-dating round. There’s strategy involved. Maybe Mariota’s camp feels Cleveland is out of range.The key question is simple: Do the Browns love Mariota? If they like him, no need to schedule a visit. You can consider him if he starts to fall past the Jets at No. 6. If you love him? Glean as much as you can.

Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs told he has a Monday visit scheduled with the San Francisco 49ers.

Briggs just completed his 12th and final season with the Chicago Bears. The Elk Grove, California, native grew up 1 hours from Candlestick Park and was a 49ers fan.

The 49ers are in desperate need of help at linebacker following the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland. The team only has three experienced inside linebackers on the roster.

Briggs, who turns 35 in November, said he strongly believes he can "still perform at an elite level" as he looks to continue his career. He played in just eight games last season before being placed on injured reserve with a groin injury.

According to statistics compiled by the Bears, Briggs surpassed 100 tackles in a season eight different times. In his career, he also has 16 interceptions, 15 sacks and five defensive touchdowns. Briggs is one of four linebackers in franchise history to be selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls, joining Hall of Fame members Dick Butkus, Bill George and Mike Singletary.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke confirmed the team’s interest in Briggs when he spoke at the NFL owners meetings.

Briggs has drawn interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys as well.

Tom Brady opens it up with dive

March, 28, 2015
Mar 28

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks like he's having an enjoyable offseason.

In a post on his personal Facebook page Saturday morning, Brady showed video of himself taking a big jump into the water during a recent trip to Costa Rica. He added the following comment: "Never doing that again! #AirBrady

The jump is estimated at about 40 feet.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jeff Ireland knows a good fit when he sees one. So when the New Orleans Saints’ former player personnel director, Ryan Pace, was hired away as the Chicago Bears general manager, Ireland sent a text message to Saints GM Mickey Loomis:

“Hey, keep me in mind.”

[+] EnlargeJeff Ireland
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesJeff Ireland said he's visiting about three schools per week as the Saints prepare for the NFL draft.

That led to informal interviews with Loomis and Saints coach Sean Payton to “see if we were on the same page.” And it ultimately led to Ireland becoming the Saints’ assistant GM, heading up the team’s college scouting department.

“It was a great conversation [with Loomis], had the same conversation with Sean,” said Ireland, the former Miami Dolphins general manager, who said he considered Loomis a friend and “mentor” from getting to know him over the years as a young personnel guy moving up the ranks.

Ireland also knew Payton well from their days working together with the Dallas Cowboys under Bill Parcells.

“Both sides were comfortable. … And it’s great to be part of this organization,” said Ireland, who met with the local New Orleans media for the first time since his January hire during LSU’s pro timing day on Friday.

Ireland said it’s been a “rat race,” joining the Saints this late into the scouting process. He’s been visiting about three schools per week while also getting to know the Saints’ scouts and coaches and helping to put their draft board together.

But he said it’s been a great experience after he spent last season out of football for the first time in nearly two decades.

“I was watching a lot of football, but it’s different when you’re watching football on the couch versus watching football in the meeting room and writing reports,” Ireland said. “When you’re out of football and you love football, you grow to appreciate the game more. I missed it so much. I missed the relationships that you have.

“It’s good to be back in the mix.”

Among other topics Ireland discussed:

  • Ireland said he “didn’t start the conversation” about trading for former Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, whom Ireland had signed to a five-year, $35 million contract two years ago. But he said he was certainly part of the conversation, since he had intimate knowledge of Ellerbe. "He's a productive football player. He's a great person. He’s a good leader. He's athletic,” Ireland said. “I only got the one year with him. He's transitioning defenses. We've got to get him healthy [after he missed 15 games last year with a hip injury]. And if he gets back to full health, he's going to be a productive football player for this franchise."
  • Ireland joked that it was a “prerequisite” for him taking the job that the Saints load up with nine draft picks, including two first-rounders. But on a serious note, he said that opens up a world of possibilities. “It gives you a lot of flexibility. You can do pretty much anything you want to in the early rounds of the draft. You can slide back, you can move up, you can use a combination of picks to do anything you want. Again, that's going to be up to Mickey and Sean. I'm gonna be part of the process. My job is to put the board together and make sure we've got players in the right positions, and let them make the decisions based on what they need."
  • Ireland said “you don’t want to make a habit of trading young players away.” But he said of the bold moves the Saints made this offseason, including trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills: “In this particular instance, those were some things that Mickey and Sean wanted to do, and we were all for it as an organization. And we’re looking forward to [having so many draft picks now], because we’ve got some holes to fill.”

What's your plan for the PAT?

March, 28, 2015
Mar 28

One message to come out of the NFL owners meetings this week in Phoenix is a likely change in extra points for the 2015 season.

"Anytime a play is 99.3 percent successful, you need to look at what's going on with that," Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said at the meetings. "Everybody wants to better the game and we'll see what happens."

Nothing has happened yet, but some type of change in the PAT could be announced in May.

So here's your Sound-off Saturday question. What would you like to see the NFL do on extra points:

A) Move it back to the 15-yard line, which would make the PAT a 32- or 33-yard kick.

B) Move the snap to the 1-yard line to encourage teams to try to go for 2.

C) Eliminate the kick completely and only have a 2-point play option.

D) Don't change a thing.

E) An option you propose.

Place your votes over the weekend and I'll post the results Monday. You also can vote on my Twitter page at @TerryBlountESPN.

The New York Jets' brass, headed by general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles, will be in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday for a private workout with quarterback Marcus Mariota -- another important step in the pre-draft evaluation process.

Maccagnan attended Mariota's pro day earlier this month, but this time the Jets will have one-on-one time with the Heisman Trophy winner. It'll be the standard routine. There will be a workout on the field, along with a classroom session. Mariota will be tested by the coaches on specific plays he received ahead of time. The idea is to gauge his football acumen.

Mariota is regarded as the No. 2 quarterback prospect behind Florida State's Jameis Winston. The quarterback-needy Jets could take Mariota with the No. 6 overall choice, but he might not last that long. He could be picked anywhere from second to fifth, possibly by a team trading up.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jalen Collins was shocked to learn at the NFL scouting combine that he had a fractured right foot.

For his sake, thankfully the combine medical staff still allowed Collins to participate, and he delivered one of the most impressive performances of any cornerback at the event despite the injury.

The former LSU cornerback, whom some draft analysts project as a first-round pick, recently underwent surgery to repair an incomplete Jones fracture in his foot. It prevented him from participating in LSU’s pro day on Friday, but should only sideline him for about three more weeks.

[+] EnlargeJalen Collins
David J. PhillipJalen Collins didn't let a broken foot prevent him from impressing at the NFL scouting combine.

“When I first found out, I was kind of disappointed because I didn’t think I was going to be able to work out at the combine,” Collins said. “When my name wasn’t on the list of people that had to sit out, I was excited to hear that.

“Just after the combine workouts I just went into it [thinking] this is something that I have to get done -- a little speed bump, but it shouldn’t be too hard to come back from.”

The foot surgery is about the only disappointing aspect of the three months since Collins declared for the draft. He started seven games last season as a junior and just 10 in his entire college career, but Collins’ combination of ideal size (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) and raw tools helped him vault up the list of prospects at his position.

Not bad for a guy who was advised to stay in college when he submitted his name to the NFL underclassman advisory board to be evaluated as a possible draft entrant. Undaunted, Collins had faith in his own abilities. Those abilities have him sitting 24th on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board and ranking as Kiper’s No. 3 cornerback.

“I was honestly just hoping for the best,” Collins said of his decision to enter the draft. “Everybody wants to be in the first round, obviously, but coming in, I really didn’t have any prior expectations. I was just going to do what I could do and hope for the best.”

Following his combine performance, where he ran a 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash and finished among the top cornerbacks in several other drills while performing well during positional exercises, Collins has reason for optimism.

Collins said he already has interviews lined up with nine or 10 NFL clubs, starting with the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars next week. Once his foot heals, he will surely have several more individual workouts with interested suitors ahead of the April 30 draft.

“It really has [been a whirlwind],” Collins said. “Leading up to the combine and just kind of working out, not really having any idea what would happen, just, ‘I’m going to work hard, do what I can.’ And then after the combine, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ ”

While Collins was unable to participate on Friday, 22 former LSU players were able to compete in front of approximately 100 scouts and coaches representing every NFL club.

Offensive tackle La'el Collins -- another possible first-round pick -- was among them, although he stood on the numbers he posted at the combine and participated only in positional drills alongside former teammates Elliott Porter, Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander, whose 4.55 time in the 40 was among the fastest for linebackers at the combine, participated only in the shuttle run and positional drills. Defensive end Danielle Hunter did all of the events and drills on Friday except the 40 -- he ran the fastest time of any defensive lineman at the combine at 4.57 -- and the bench press after completing 25 reps at the combine.

“I felt great [at the combine],” said Hunter, who injured himself at the combine while running his second 40. “I had a little hamstring injury and I didn’t want to do all the drills, so I just waited until pro day to do most of the drills.”

But Hunter was pleased with his showing on Friday, when he posted the best numbers out of all of the day’s participants in the 20-yard shuttle run (4.31 seconds), three-cone drill (6.95 seconds), broad jump (10 feet, 10.5 inches) and vertical jump (36.5 inches). ESPN Scouts Inc.’s No. 77 overall prospect and Kiper’s No. 9 defensive end, Hunter participated in positional drills at both end and linebacker.

“I got the times I needed,” Hunter said. “I showed what I can show in my drills. My hips, they could be a little better.”

The aforementioned foursome -- Jalen Collins, La'el Collins, Alexander and Hunter -- has already solidified positions as LSU’s top draft prospects, but several other Tigers needed strong performances on Friday in order to help themselves.

Two such players were running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. Magee did not run the 40 at the combine after injuring his hamstring at a postseason all-star game, and Hilliard probably wished he hadn’t run in Indianapolis after posting a 4.83. He fared much better on Friday, posting a 4.6, while Magee ran a 4.56.

“I heard a couple different things. I heard 4.6 and I heard 4.5, but I’m glad with either one,” Hilliard said. “I just wanted to improve here from the combine and that’s what I came out here and did.”

Receiver Quantavius Leslie posted the fastest 40 time of the day (4.45), while Porter completed the most bench press reps (34). For a full list of results, see the pro day page on LSU’s official athletics site here.


BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's La'el Collins, who was a second-team All-American as a senior in 2014, said all the talk of him being moved to right tackle or guard in the NFL is just that for now -- "talk."

"Every team, every scout, every coach, offensive line coach from teams that have worked me out has said "definitely" I'm a left tackle," said the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder, a likely first-round draft pick who boosted his stock even further by flashing his athleticism at last month's scouting combine.

But Collins insisted Friday that he wouldn't have any problem moving inside if that's what his next employer prefers. And he only views it as positive that teams and draft analysts see that kind of versatility in him.

[+] EnlargeLa'El Collins
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesLSU All-American offensive lineman La'el Collins insists he won't have a problem moving inside if that's what his next employer prefers.

"I believe in my abilities. And I think the fact that I'm even in the conversation to be able to play guard or tackle at the next level is huge, that's value," Collins said after performing position drills in front of a packed house of NFL scouts at LSU's pro timing day (he elected to skip all of the other drills and let his combine performance speak for itself). "Being able to play both positions is something I love to carry on my shoulders. I feel like I can fit in anywhere, plug in anywhere."

Collins virtually echoed the same words that another former LSU left tackle said about him earlier in the day -- Cincinnati Bengals veteran Andrew Whitworth, who was on hand at the Tigers' indoor practice facility.

Whitworth is an ideal model and mentor for Collins since he also played guard early in his nine-year NFL career before becoming a Pro Bowl left tackle in 2012 and a second-team All-Pro in 2014.

"It's one of those things that sometimes people can get nit-picky about, but at the end of the day, he can be an excellent guard or he can be a great tackle," Whitworth said. "It depends on the system, and it depends on the atmosphere he's put in. Honestly, to me, it's more of a compliment, because that means they think you're tough and strong and physical, and that you can also play on the edge.

"If they can already consider you at two positions, that means they have a high opinion of you."

Collins' ultimate landing spot will depend on each team's specific needs. If he moves just one hour down the road to New Orleans, for example, he'll likely play guard for the Saints -- not only because they need one to eventually replace six-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans, but because they've been ahead of the recent NFL curve when it comes to valuing the position.

Evans and Carl Nicks were both first-team All-Pro guards during the Saints' Super Bowl prime, because quarterback Drew Brees loves to climb up in the pocket.

Lately, more and more guards have gone higher in the draft league-wide -- including the Dallas Cowboys' Zack Martin, who was moved from tackle to guard after being drafted 16th overall last year and wound up being a first-team All Pro.

The year before that, guards Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper were top-10 draft picks for the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals, respectively. The year before that, the Pittsburgh Steelers' David DeCastro and Bengals' Kevin Zeitler both went in the 20s.

Another top prospect this year, Iowa's Brandon Scherff, could also be switched from left tackle to guard in the NFL.

I spoke to a few personnel folks Friday at LSU who agreed the guard position has become increasingly valued.

"If they're good players, why not [draft them high]," said new Saints assistant general manager and former Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland. "If they're gonna help you win, and they're gonna be productive and consistent and they're good character people and dependable, that's important."

"I don't think it is [a stigma to be moved to guard] anymore," Whitworth said. "I think now you see a lot of the really top-end guards that are getting paid the same as tackles, or at least close. So I think that position's changing."

Collins was set to meet with the Saints after Friday's workouts, since they had almost their entire contingent of coaches and front office personnel on hand. He said he has about 15 other visits set up, though he declined to name the teams.

Though Collins was glad he generated positive buzz with his combine performance (his 40-yard dash time of 5.12 seconds ranked sixth among offensive linemen), he said it was hard to sit and watch for most of Friday's activities.

"It kinda sucks, especially for a guy like me," Collins said. "I'm a very big competitor. It got me very anxious."

Asked what he hoped to show NFL teams, Collins said, "Just be consistent and show them my game's nowhere near where I'm gonna be. There's so much more room for me to grow, show 'em that I'm coachable. You bring me in, you can coach me and train me the way you want me to be. And I'll go out there and be successful and do everything you need me to."

Stay tuned for more coverage out of LSU's pro day from ESPN SEC reporter David Ching.

When the Texans released Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins posted a fantastic photo of the two of them on Instagram that perfectly represented their relationship. Hopkins spent his first two NFL seasons learning from Johnson.

A photo posted by @deandrehopkins on

That tutelage really showed last season when Hopkins caught 76 passes for 1,210 yards, his first 1,000-yard season. Among players drafted in the past two seasons, Hopkins' production was better than everyone except the Giants' Odell Beckham.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Hopkins' development comes into focus more this offseason as he's now the focal point of the Texans' receiving corps.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The first NFL game Jarrett Boykin attended was the Carolina Panthers’ home opener against Jacksonville during their 2003 Super Bowl run. He grew up a fan of wide receiver Steve Smith, Carolina’s all-time leading receiver.

 Now Boykin hopes to make a name for himself with the Panthers.

Carolina signed the former Green Bay Packers wide receiver on Friday to a one-year deal.

A former star at Charlotte’s Butler High School, Boykin hopes to resurrect an NFL career that took a down turn after he suffered a groin injury last season.

He also is expected to contribute to special teams, having played all four special team groups for the Packers last season.

“Try to seize the moment,’’ Boykin said after signing.

Boykin was in position to seize the moment at Green Bay. After catching 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, he entered last season as the No. 3 receiver. Then came the injury.

When Boykin was ready to return, he’d lost the No. 3 job to Davante Adams. When the Packers didn’t tender him an offer as a restricted free agent, he began job hunting.

When the Panthers showed interest, Boykin decided to return home to start over.

“They definitely said there will be opportunities,’’ Boykin said.

There are opportunities. Outside of Kelvin Benjamin, last year’s first-round draft pick, there isn’t an elite No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery are the front-runners for the second and third spots, but neither are good enough to be considered a lock.

Boykin describes himself as a physical receiver, one that sets up defensive backs with his body. He prides himself on making the tough catch as his childhood hero Smith did.

“He was a small, scrappy guy, and he brought a lot of heart to the field,’’ Boykin said of Smith. “Being young, that’s the type of player you want to be.’’

Now Boykin has a chance to be that kind of player for his hometown team.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers added more depth at wide receiver on Friday, signing Jarrett Boykin to a one-year deal.

Boykin, who attended Butler High School in Charlotte, visited the Panthers a few weeks ago. He became a free agent after spending the past three seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

Boykin lost his spot as the third receiver at Green Bay this past season, catching only three passes for 23 yards. In 2013, he had 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns.

Boykin is not known for his speed, but the former Virginia Tech standout has good size at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds.

He originally signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. After only a few days on the roster, he was cut and picked up by Green Bay.

He likely will compete as the third or fourth receiver with Carolina behind Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery.

The signing of Boykin came hours after it was announced that free agent cornerback Alan Ball had signed with the Chicago Bears. Ball visited with the Panthers last Friday and, according to multiple sources, had agreed in principle to terms.

CINCINNATI -- While many outside of Paul Brown Stadium spent the early days of the offseason lamenting Andy Dalton's inconsistencies and placing the Cincinnati Bengals' struggles primarily at his feet, his coach, Marvin Lewis, looked elsewhere to identify issues.

[+] EnlargeLewis
AP Photo/Michael ConroyMarvin Lewis and the Bengals have taken steps this offseason to shore up their defense.

To him, Dalton actually played fairly well in Cincinnati's 26-10 wild-card round loss at Indianapolis. Lewis' biggest beef in the defeat rested with his defense, a unit whose once-intimidating, bullish nature seemed absent that afternoon.

"Frankly," Lewis said at this week's owners meetings in Arizona, responding to a question about his 0-6 playoff record with the Bengals, "we haven't won a playoff game because we didn't play well enough on defense."

He didn't need to elaborate much beyond that.

It's because of the recent playoff woes that Lewis and others in positions of power around the franchise decided to focus more this offseason on building up the defense. Their emphasis on having a physical and intimidating unit again have been made clear through the moves the Bengals have made through free agency.

Of the 12 players the Bengals have either signed, re-signed or tendered this month, eight play defense. That's notable considering nine of the Bengals originally scheduled to hit free agency this year were offensive players.

Lewis cited the last two playoff games in particular -- contests in which Dalton averaged 235 yards passing and had a touchdown pass and two interceptions -- as reasons he views his defense in desperate need of a makeover. Lewis isn't absolving Dalton of any fault in the defeats. He just wants his defense to be held more accountable.

After all, during the wild-card round loss to San Diego following the 2013 season, Cincinnati held a three-point lead at halftime before allowing the Chargers to sprint by in the second half. True, problematic tweaks to the offensive game plan affected how well the Bengals moved the ball in the second half (and how they failed to score), but the defense still gave up 13 points and 196 yards in the final two quarters. The 196 yards were 61.6 percent of the yards the Chargers collected in the game.

In January, the Bengals trailed the Colts by a field goal at halftime before giving up another 13 unanswered second-half points. Sacked only once, Andrew Luck completed 31 passes for 376 yards. He was barely pressured.

Former Bengals running back Daniel Herron also emerged as one of Luck's weapons in that game. Cincinnati had trouble slowing him both as a runner and receiver. Of the Colts' 482 total yards, Herron had 141. As a unit, Indianapolis' running backs gained 114 yards and averaged 4.6.

It wasn't only in the playoffs when the Bengals had problems rushing quarterbacks and stopping the run. During the regular season, they had just 20 sacks, one of the worst single-season totals in franchise history. They also allowed eight teams to gain 100 or more yards against them on the ground.

This offseason's moves were the products of that.

Michael Johnson was signed to aid the pass rush. Pat Sims was brought back to boost the run defense. A.J. Hawk was snatched from free agency to give presence defending both from the second level. Taylor Mays and Terence Newman weren't re-signed, as the Bengals start trying to get some of their younger defensive backs more playing time.

Some of these moves also indicate how the Bengals want to recapture the physical spirit that had once been their defensive calling card. They've long believed that style of play wins the AFC North. Hawk and Sims are among the additions known to play with an edge.

"It's a physical division," Sims said Friday. "You can't come any other way."

PHILADELPHIA -- Sam Bradford tore his anterior cruciate ligament while running out of bounds. He was fending off a tackler, but it appeared his knee buckled on its own. That was the first time.

A year later, during a preseason game, Bradford tried to step away from a defender in the pocket. He went down in a heap. Bradford tore the ACL in the same knee.

For Chip Kelly’s grand remodeling of the Philadelphia Eagles to work, Bradford has to be able to play all or most of the team’s games in 2015. He has had bad luck in each of the past two years, but it is hard not to conclude that a player is injury-prone after a couple of episodes like that.

Kelly has said a few times that many elite quarterbacks have missed whole seasons. He specifically mentions Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees in those examples. The truth is, however, that elite quarterbacks have a tendency to be on the field for nearly every game. It is part of what makes them elite -- their ability to avoid big hits and their teammates’ ability to block for them.

Manning missed the entire 2011 season to have surgery on his neck. The Indianapolis Colts went 2-14 that season, getting into position to draft Andrew Luck first overall in 2012.

But before 2011, Manning played every single game of his career. Beginning in 1999, he started 16 games every year through 2010. He did not miss any of the 19 playoff games the Colts were in. Since missing the 2011 season, Manning has played 53 consecutive games for the Denver Broncos, including playoffs.

So yes, Manning did miss a year. But he has not otherwise missed a single start due to injury since 1999.

Brees signed with the New Orleans Saints after a shoulder injury required surgery. From 2006 through 2014, Brees has missed exactly one game for the Saints. He has been healthy and available for every other game.

Brady? He went down in the season opener in 2008 and missed the rest of the season. From 2001 to 2007, Brady missed only two starts for the New England Patriots. Since 2008, he has missed exactly zero starts.

Aaron Rodgers missed two games in five years before breaking his collarbone in 2013. That cost him seven games. Rodgers has not missed a start since.

Eli Manning has missed zero starts since becoming the New York Giants’ starting quarterback in 2005.

“Quarterback is the position in the National Football League, and you better have a couple of them,” Kelly said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. “In my two years here, we’ve played multiple quarterbacks in every season.”

Kelly chose the oft-injured Michael Vick as his starter in 2013. Nick Foles replaced him after Vick went down with a hamstring injury. Foles missed one game in 2013 due to a concussion. He started the first half of the 2014 season before breaking a collarbone. Mark Sanchez started the rest of the way.

Foles was injured when a play broke down. He was moving around in the pocket but was unaware of a defender who had gotten loose behind him. That was pretty much what happened when he sustained the concussion the year before. In both cases, Foles could have avoided the hits with better pocket awareness and by getting rid of the ball.

Kelly believes his sports science-based approach helps keep players healthy and on the field. But as he put it, there’s not much you can do to prevent a broken leg. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans tore his Achilles tendon during a game in Houston. He had torn the Achilles tendon in the other leg a couple of years earlier.

Bradford tore the ACL in his left knee twice in a year. That kind of bad luck will either continue or it won’t. It is clear, though, that having Bradford on the field for an extended period is the key to success for Kelly’s plan.

It's true that he’s had to use two quarterbacks in each of his two seasons in the NFL. But the teams with true franchise quarterbacks don’t rely on their backups to carry the team. Part of being a franchise quarterback is being available for 16 games a season.

IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo turns 35 on April 21. He might say he has four or five years left to play at a high level, but that's not how the Dallas Cowboys can look at it.

They need to see a quarterback with two back surgeries, who missed a game last season with two transverse process fractures and who had rib cartilage damage, and start wondering about Romo's successor.

[+] EnlargeRomo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesIs now the year the Cowboys begin to worry about drafting a QB as Tony Romo's eventual successor?

"We do have to look to the future relative to quarterback," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "It's starting a time frame where a guy could come in and be a good backup. Look at how Romo evolved into the guy he is today. He did a little time with the clip board."

Of course, the same thoughts were espoused in 2014 and 2013 and probably 2012. And the Cowboys didn't draft a quarterback. Bryce Petty's name has been bandied about, and he is expected to visit Valley Ranch. The Cowboys have other private workouts with quarterbacks coming up, too.

Maybe this is the year they actually take a quarterback in the draft.

But the likelihood of the Cowboys finding Romo's heir in the middle to late rounds is slim. Extremely slim. The odds-aren't-worth-it-slim. There are two starting quarterbacks currently in the NFL who were picked after the third round. Romo is one and he wasn't drafted. Tom Brady is the other and he went in the sixth round.

There are third-round starters, such as Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and, potentially, Ryan Mallett. If Mallett doesn't win the starting job with the Houston Texans, then Brian Hoyer would be the third starter after the third round -- he went undrafted. Josh McCown, who is likely to be the Cleveland Browns starter, has bounced around, but he was a third-round pick.

The Cowboys have selected three quarterbacks since Troy Aikman: Billy Musgrave, Quincy Carter and Stephen McGee. They traded for Drew Henson in 2004 and that didn't work out.

This isn't to say the ghosts of Musgrave, Carter and McGee should prevent the Cowboys from taking a quarterback. But it is to say the level of expectations for taking a quarterback in the middle rounds needs to be ratcheted way down. The Cowboys hoped McGee could develop into a No. 2 quarterback and that didn't happen.

The days of developing a quarterback seem long ago. The Green Bay Packers did it with Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre. Philip Rivers sat for two years behind Drew Brees with the San Diego Chargers. Those guys were taken in 2005 and 2004.

Most teams are drafting their guys in the first and second rounds and if not playing them in Week 1 of their rookie seasons, then very soon in their rookie seasons. Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr started as rookies last season.

It sounds quaint, the notion of a quarterback holding a clip board, taking mental notes as he watches. It's just not reality.

Let's say Romo plays another three years through 2017 when he is 37. In 2018, that's when the Cowboys will really need to find his successor.

Former New York Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, who retired after the 2012 season, has turned down several opportunities to return to coaching. He enjoys his job as a TV and radio analyst, but there's more to it than that.

"The job I did doesn't exist today," he said in a phone interview. "What do you want me to coach, touchbacks? Not interested."

Westhoff is right. Rules changes have turned the kicking game into Special Teams Lite. By his count, there are only eight to 10 "action" plays per game, down from 18.

Specifically, the touchback rate reached an all-time high last season (50.3 percent), watering down one of the most exciting plays in the game -- the kickoff return. Westhoff built his reputation, in part, because of his uncanny success on kickoff returns. In 2012, the kickoff was moved out to the 35-yard line to reduce head injuries -- more touchbacks, fewer collisions -- although Westhoff suspects the concussion rate under the old rule wasn't as high as feared.

Now we have a new hot-button issue: What to do with the extra point?

Frankly, the PAT is a waste of time (a 99.3-percent success rate last season), so the league is exploring ways to improve what is now a non-competitive play. The competition committee expressed optimism at the league meetings earlier this week that a new PAT format will be approved by May.

You've heard the expression, "He outkicked his coverage." These days, kickers are outkicking the rules. They're too good.

"Kicking has become easier today," said Westhoff, who coached 30 years in the NFL. "The kickers are bigger, stronger and better athletes than before. We always used to picture a little soccer guy like Matt Bahr, but that's not true today. The kids are bigger and better. If you don't have a 90 percent [success] guy, you'd better have your eyes open."

Other factors have contributed, according to Westhoff: The snaps are almost always perfect. Long-snappers no longer have to worry about an opponent lining up directly over them -- another safety-related rule change. The "get-off" time on a placement has gone from 1.33 seconds to 1.23, per Westhoff's calculations, making it harder to block a kick.

Stadium configurations, too, have helped kickers. Westhoff recalled the old days at Giants Stadium, where the notorious wind was a huge factor. That's not the case at MetLife Stadium.

"Now," he said, "it's benign."

Westhoff is a traditionalist, but he believes it's "reasonable" to move PATs to the 15-yard line, which would create a 32- or 33-yard kick. That's one of the proposals on the table. Even that distance is a gimme for some kickers, as 10 teams converted 100 percent of their field goals in the 30-39 range last season.

He'd also like to see the goal posts narrowed by a yard, raising the degree of difficulty. Westhoff, who does some consulting on the side, brought that idea to the FXFL developmental league last year. The league liked it, he said, but it simply didn't have the money to change the goal posts.

Westhoff also has proposed the idea of a kicking hash for field goal attempts, creating "a slightly smaller target from slightly wider angle. That will bring kicking percentages back to where they should be and make it a little more difficult."

That, of course, would affect third-down play calling. Teams would be hesitant to run plays outside the hashmarks, knowing they'd have a tougher field goal if the ball ends up getting pushed out to the kicking hash.

Clearly, the league has a lot to consider, starting with the PAT. It's the most nondescript play in football, yet so complex. Westhoff is certain about one thing: He's not in favor of the nine-point play proposed by the Indianapolis Colts.

"That would junk up the game," he said. "It would create a carnival-type image."