Friday, June 14, 2013
Eight in the Box: Biggest questions
By Dan Graziano
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The major question facing each team in the NFC East as summer break looms:
Dallas Cowboys: Did the offensive line improve enough?
I don't think it's overstating the case to say that the Cowboys' season rests on the answer to this question. They added skill-position pieces to an already impressive collection of those on the offensive side of the ball. They're revamping the defense around a 4-3 front that should make stars of players like Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee. They've altered the way in which they'll plan their offense during the week and call the plays on Sunday. But we have seen, multiple times in recent years, the extent to which poor offensive line play can sabotage a Cowboys season. So the questions are whether first-round pick Travis Frederick can step right in as an upgrade at center, whether Ronald Leary can seize one of the starting guard spots (or one of the incumbents can improve enough to hold him off) and whether Doug Free can play at something near his 2010 level at right tackle. If the answers to these questions are positive, the Cowboys are capable of big things.
New York Giants: Will Victor Cruz come to camp?
I actually think the Giants have a ton of questions on defense, but they'll be into the regular season before they can get any answers on those. Of more immediate concern is the contract status of Cruz, who sat out the offseason program in hopes of a long-term contract. ESPN's Josina Anderson reports that Cruz will sign his $2.879 million restricted free-agent tender today, three days before the Giants had the right to drop it down to $630,000. But that doesn't mean he won't hold out of camp if he doesn't get the long-term deal he wants before then. The Giants could fine him for skipping camp (up to $30,000 per day), but that's a lot less than he'd have risked by leaving the tender unsigned until Monday, and history tells us that fine money ultimately gets made up when the final deal is done. The Giants can talk up second-year wideout Rueben Randle all they want, but Cruz has been a vital part of the offense the past two years, and if he holds out for any of training camp, they will have a serious concern.
Philadelphia Eagles: Who's the quarterback?
Michael Vick has spent the offseason splitting first-team reps with Nick Foles while rookie Matt Barkley works hard to catch up and Dennis Dixon looms as a backup who can't fully be ruled out. Vick said last week he'd like a decision by training camp, but first-year coach Chip Kelly has no interest in providing one on that timetable. Kelly knows he doesn't have any great options here, and he wants to evaluate the candidates in a training-camp setting and in preseason games before picking a starter. Vick is the leading candidate based both on experience and talent, but questions remain as to whether a 33-year-old leopard can change his spots and learn to get rid of the ball quickly instead of always trying to keep plays alive and do something spectacular.
Washington Redskins: When will Robert Griffin III be ready?
The Redskins' megastar quarterback is encouraged by his recovery from the reconstructive knee surgery he had Jan. 9, and he has said he hopes to be ready for the start of training camp. Initially, doctors gave the Redskins a recovery time frame of seven to nine months on Griffin. Aug. 9 would be the seven-month mark, and training camp will already have been underway for several weeks. Since there would seem to be wisdom in the idea of taking it slowly, it's tough to imagine the Redskins green-lighting Griffin for the start of camp. Setbacks remain possible (even likely, given the extent of the surgery), and the high end of that initial timetable lands in October. So at this point, the Redskins still don't know when they'll have Griffin back on the field at full strength, and their plan for the time being is to roll with Kirk Cousins as the starter. By the time they get back from this break, the picture may look a bit clearer.