NFL Nation: 2012 NFL Owners Meetings

Have the Raiders fallen behind?

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
12:00
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Reggie McKenzie, Dennis AllenAP Photo/Paul SakumaOakland's salary-cap woes have Reggie McKenzie, left, and Dennis Allen in a tough spot.

The Oakland Raiders are one of the most intriguing franchises in the NFL these days. How will the post-Al Davis Raiders evolve?

After Al Davis' death in October, the much-less-involved Mark Davis turned his father’s beloved franchise over to Reggie McKenzie, a respected personnel man from Green Bay, who is embarking on his first journey as a general manager. McKenzie has entrusted former Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who at 39 is the youngest coach in the league, to be the next coach of a team that finished 8-8 last season and barely out of the playoffs.

The first focus for McKenzie has been clearing the Raiders’ roster of bloated contracts given to players as the Raiders desperately, and unsuccessfully, chased championships in Davis’ final years.

It has been a necessary exercise as Oakland begins the process of getting out of salary-cap jail. But Oakland has lost more talent than it has brought in the past month.

The question begs to be asked: Has Oakland fallen behind the rest of the AFC West for the 2012 season? It depends on whom you ask, of course. Asked this week if his team will be stronger or weaker in 2012, McKenzie, without explanation, said this: “Honestly, I envision it being stronger.”

However, many folks around the league wonder how.

“I think they have fallen behind,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “They are in a tough salary-cap position and they are paying for it now. I just don’t see the improvement.”

Added Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “I do think they have slipped.” Williamson, in an Insider piece, gave the Raiders one of the worst free-agent grades in the AFC.

It’s difficult to look at the list of players Oakland has added and lost and not come to the same conclusion. Even given the need for salary-cap repair, a loss of talent mustn’t be brushed aside.

Some of the key players who were either cut or departed Oakland as free agents: linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, running back Michael Bush, quarterback Jason Campbell, cornerback Stanford Routt, tight end Kevin Boss, defensive tackle John Henderson, running back Rock Cartwright, receiver Chaz Schilens, defensive end Trevor Scott and cornerback Chris Johnson.

The projected starters who have been brought in: guard Mike Brisiel and cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.

“You look who has come and who has gone, and it’s scary,” Horton said. “I like Mike Brisiel. He will help. But the two cornerbacks are just guys. They are not starters for a good team. The defense needs improvement and I don’t see it. All I see is the loss of talent. Where is the coverage coming from? Where is the pass-rush coming from?”

In addition to not having much cap room, the Raiders have a small draft class. They have five picks and their first pick is No. 95, at the end of the third round. McKenzie has said the Raiders need a starting outside linebacker. He might not know who that player is for some time.

Compounding the concern in Oakland is the fact that the rest of the AFC West has been aggressive this offseason.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesDarren McFadden is an elite running back when healthy -- but the Raiders are an injury or two away, at many positions, from serious trouble.
Denver added the big prize of the NFL offseason --quarterback Peyton Manning. Kansas City added several players, including Routt and Boss after they were jettisoned in Oakland. The Chargers lost star receiver Vincent Jackson and key backup running back Mike Tolbert, but added several pieces and have been lauded by scouts around the league for using their resources properly and adding to their overall talent level. Speaking this week solely about his own team, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said he felt the need to improve his roster because of the improvement around him in the division.

Meanwhile, McKenzie and Allen are seemingly beginning their tenure in Oakland by taking a step back. Asked about the loss of talent while at the NFL owners meetings this week, Allen took a realistic approach.

“You know what, we knew what the situation was when we were going into it,” Allen said. “We knew it was going to be a tough situation. I think Reggie’s done a great job of managing everything as we’ve gone through this. You go through it every year. Every year, you have good players that you lose. And you’ve got to find a way to regroup and replace those guys and that’s what we’re trying to get done.”

The problem is that Oakland has more holes than it did at the end of last season. In the past couple of seasons, the Raiders were intriguing because they were both young and didn’t have many glaring needs. All they needed was their young talent to continue to improve. Now, though, Oakland has holes at tight end and at linebacker and depth issues at all layers of the defense, running back, the offensive line and at quarterback.

“What if this team gets hurt a lot?” Horton asked. “There is no depth in this team.”

Still, not all is lost in Oakland. Running back Darren McFadden is an elite runner when healthy, the defensive line is an upper-echelon unit, the interior offensive line is strong, the special teams are top-notch, the receiver crew is potentially dynamic and the team believes quarterback Carson Palmer will benefit from a full offseason in the program.

The Raiders are hopeful that their talent can withstand this necessary offseason of cap repair. In a couple of years, if McKenzie continues to be financially prudent, the Raiders should be out of cap jail.

“This team wasn’t far away when I got here,” Allen said at the owners meetings. “We’re excited about trying to build on that and develop this team into a playoff-caliber team. Obviously, we took a couple hits because of the cap situation, but we’re looking forward to trying to develop the team, and the players.”

The only question: Has the rest of the AFC West left the Raiders behind in the immediate future?
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Philadelphia Eagles GM Howie Roseman, in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, made it sound like the team could trade cornerback Asante Samuel if it wanted to. The Eagles are deep at cornerback with Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and there did seem to be some overcrowding issues last year.

But Eagles coach Andy Reid, when asked about the same issue Wednesday, was a little more non-committal.

[+] EnlargeAsante Samuel
AP Photo/Mel EvansSince the Eagles are deep at cornerback, they could decide to deal Asante Samuel.
"Asante is obviously on the team," Reid said. "We'll see how things go with the three of them. I said last year and I'll say it again: It's a pretty good situation to have, if you can sit there and say you have those three corners. Asante and Nnamdi are a little bit older, but both of them can still play at a high level. So we'll see how things work out. That's the best I can tell you."

Like a lot of things about last year's Eagles defense, the deployment of those three cornerbacks often seemed confused. Rodgers-Cromartie was asked to play inside in the nickel position, which was not something he'd done in the past. And it's fair to assume they'd be better off with two of the aforementioned three on the outside and Joselio Hanson in the nickel spot. But Reid isn't going to come out and admit he needs to trade a guy because it would help him construct his lineup better. That's not the kind of thing that helps your leverage in trade talks with other teams. So publicly, he insists all was and will be hunky dory.

"As [Rodgers-Cromartie] settled into the nickel position and he learned it, he understood the leverage, and that was really the primary thing that was the problem," Reid said. "Just learning the leverage along with the coverages and indicators of splits with the inside receivers and the kind of routes that came off. He went through and he learned all of that. And we keep all of that kind of in-house with our players, any talk we have with them."

So we'll see. If I were a betting man, I'd be broke, but if I were a betting man I'd bet the Eagles find a taker for Samuel before the draft and that Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie are the 2012 starters with Hanson, who has more experience in the nickel spot, playing there. They have four weeks to figure it all out.
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.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Everybody keeps asking about London Fletcher -- specifically why the Washington Redskins have not yet re-signed the 37-year-old free-agent linebacker who's the heart and soul of their defense. So of course, we asked Redskins coach Mike Shanahan about it this morning.

Fletcher
"All I can say is what I've said from Day 1, that London Fletcher is a priority and we want him back on the football team," Shanahan said. "I can't get into detail. All I can say is that we want him and there are conversations ongoing between agents, and that's part of the process, and we'll let that take its course. But I'm hoping he's part of our organization, and I expect him to be."

This certainly qualifies as the most optimistic thing we've been able to report on Fletcher's possible return to the Redskins since free agency began. And given the slow linebacker market and the lack of information indicating interest in Fletcher from any other teams, it seems likely that he'll eventually return to Washington.

It's possible that the salary-cap penalties imposed against the Redskins as a result of their 2010 contract restructures is part of what's holding up a deal. The Redskins lost $18 million against the cap this year and didn't find that out until the day before free agency started, so it's easy to imagine that their plans have been affected. But I don't think the Redskins have a Plan B if they don't bring Fletcher back, and after talking to Shanahan it does not sound as though they believe they'll need one.

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's good to be the Super Bowl champion. You show up at the NFL owners meetings and the first thing everybody says to you, everywhere you go around every nook and cranny of the stately Breakers hotel, is "Congratulations." New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin wore a permanent smile all week at these meetings. And as he met the media during the NFC coaches' breakfast Wednesday morning, there was nothing that was going to knock that smile off his face.

"When you ask me about what it's like to win in New York, it's not like anything you ever experienced in your life," Coughlin said after running through some memories of the Giants' victory parade. "It's the stuff of legends. It's a magnificent experience."

Coughlin's second Super Bowl title in five years has ensured his legacy. He and the team are at work on a long-term contract extension that both sides say they believe will be done soon, and while he's not going to be immune from criticism in New York over the coming years if the Giants struggle, in the big picture he has attained a measure of long-range invincibility. History will record him as a two-time Super Bowl-winning New York coach, and will likely laugh at all the times he was supposedly on the verge of being fired.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliTom Coughlin has been sporting a Super Bowl-winning grin for several months now.
"It's worth it. Well worth it," Coughlin said of the tough parts of coaching in the New York market. "I'll take the lumps to get what's at the end of the rainbow. Anytime."

Of course, Coughlin's a practical dude, and he knows the matter at hand is the plan for traversing the next rainbow as successfully as the Giants did the last one. He spoke about the team getting right back to work on grading and evaluating players the day after the parade, and he spoke of the ways in which he plans to use the Giants' 2011 experience in getting the team prepared for 2012.

"I think you start out by bridging, which I've always done, and the bridge is going to be the intangibles that took place to get us to where we were -- the team concept and the unselfishness that was captured on the part of our players," Coughlin said. "Just win the game. Don't worry about any of the other things. Play as hard as you can and win the game, and the rest will take care of itself. That was truly the attitude that we had -- serving each other, respecting each other, loving each other. So I'll bridge that for sure, and then where I go, I don't necessarily have the plan for that yet."

The key, of course, is to move across that bridge in the right direction. Too much looking back is detrimental. The bridging, and the use of last year's success as a coaching tool, must lead into 2012 success, or it's not a useful tool. But Coughlin's done this before. The Giants went 12-4 in 2008, the last year they were defending champs, and he's got some experience with building on success.

"We're going to go as hard as we can go, looking ahead, and utilize everything that we can from the past experience as it applies," Coughlin said. "But what you did yesterday does not necessarily allow you to do the same thing tomorrow."
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After surgery to repair a broken foot last summer, Detroit Lions nose tackle Nick Fairley couldn't run. He was told to stay off his feet if he watched practice. So with nothing better to do, he hit the weight room with a vengeance.

Over the next two months or so, according to Lions coach Jim Schwartz, Fairley packed an additional 18 pounds of weight on this frame. Speaking Wednesday at the NFC coaches breakfast, Schwartz said it was muscle, not the result of inactivity, and used it as an illustration of the kind of drive outside observers might not have seen in him last season.

"It's very difficult to gain a high ratio of muscle," Schwartz said. "And he did it."

We've spent plenty of time discussing the Lions' successful effort to keep their core together this offseason. But I would imagine they're no less excited about the prospects of a full and healthy season from Fairley, their first-round draft pick last year. Fairley pushed himself through 10 regular-season games after his foot healed, but provided only glimpses of what the Lions hope they'll get regularly in 2012.

A perfect example: Fairley started the Lions' Week 13 game against the New Orleans Saints. In 17 plays, he had four tackles, including two for a loss, and one sack against the Saints' pair of All-Pro guards, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. But soreness in the foot forced him to the sideline thereafter.

"I think that was probably our best glimpse of him," Schwartz said. "But he did something just about every day in practice that makes you turn your head and say, 'Holy Mackeral.' There's a big difference between being healed from the standpoint that he wasn't going to go out and break his foot again and re-injure, and being completely healed. …

"There's going to be some residuals from that. The good news is in my experience in players that have had those in the past, you get through a season and then it's behind you."
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said there was still no date set for the arbitration hearing on the salary-cap penalties against the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. Goodell did take a couple of questions on the matter at his news conference wrapping up the owners meetings here Wednesday morning, but he didn't shine too much light on the reasons the Redskins were penalized $36 million against the cap and the Cowboys $10 million against the cap over the next two years.

"The question was, 'Did any teams gain a competitive advantage?'" Goodell said. "And that was the focus that we and the NFLPA had in reaching our agreement -- making sure that no team had a long-term competitive advantage."

The NFL's management council, which imposed the penalties, determined that the Redskins and Cowboys did work to gain a competitive advantage in future seasons by the way they structured contracts during the uncapped 2010 season. As Goodell points out, the penalties were agreed to by the players' union, though as we first reported on March 12, the union only agreed to them after the league threatened to reduce this year's salary cap.

As for the issue of how a team could be penalized for the way it spent its money during an uncapped year, Goodell said: "I think the rules were articulated. I'd have to go back and look at it again, but the rules were quite clear -- the rules that were followed and the rules that weren't."

It's hard to understand what Goodell could "go back and look at," since I think we've all been under the impression that these rules were not spelled out in any document. Giants owner John Mara, the chair of the management council, said Sunday that the rules intended to govern spending and contract structures in the uncapped year "came up several times in our meetings." There's nothing so far that's indicated the Redskins and Cowboys were in violation of any written rule.

Regardless, the owners did vote Tuesday to ratify the management council's decision. The vote passed 29-2-1, according to Goodell, with the Cowboys and Redskins obviously voting no and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers abstaining. Goodell said it was not necessary to have a full-membership vote to ratify a management council decision, but that it was not unprecedented. It was likely done as a show of support for the punishments in advance of the arbitration hearing.

On the road

March, 28, 2012
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The NFL owners meetings are over, but the saga of the New Orleans Saints is not.

We still don’t know if coach Sean Payton will appeal his suspension, which is scheduled to start next week. We still don’t know who the Saints will put in Payton’s place if the suspension takes hold and we probably won’t know until next week at the earliest if the NFL will be disciplining players who were involved in the bounty program.

The owners and coaches seem to have cleared out of here. I’m going to get on the road and head back toward NFC South Blog headquarters. Keep an eye on the headlines section of our main NFL page for any news developments. If anything major happens, I’ll pull over and weigh in.

And, of course, I’ll be watching out for any signs of Payton or Bill Parcells as I make my way out of South Florida.

Vikings: A new defensive gut

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- If the nose tackle and middle linebacker represent the gut of a defense, then it's safe to say the Minnesota Vikings have signed themselves up for plastic surgery this season.

(Too much? I liked it. Come on. Lighten up.)

The takeaway from my time with Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on Wednesday morning was that he will have a new starting nose tackle in 2012 and is close to deciding on his next middle linebacker. Fifth-year player Letroy Guion will replace the released Remi Ayodele at nose tackle, while Frazier indicated that Jasper Brinkley is his top choice to start at middle linebacker.

Both players are longtime backups and draft choices of newly promoted general manager Rick Spielman, and their anticipated ascension is a reasonable illustration of how Spielman hopes to run the franchise.

Guion was a fifth-round pick in 2008 and has started three games over four seasons since then. His newly-prominent role became clear when the Vikings signed him to a three-year contract earlier this month that will pay him $2.5 million. Ayodele was subsequently released.

"We want him to be the starting nose tackle," Frazier said.

Brinkley, meanwhile, was a fifth-round pick a year after the Vikings selected Guion. He was the backup to starter E.J. Henderson in 2009 and 2010, starting six games after Henderson's broken leg in 2009, but missed all of 2011 because of a hip injury.

"We believe he is healthy now," Frazier said. "And he has started for us when E.J. was injured in the past. We think he is capable of doing it. We just haven't had him do it for 16 weeks. But we think he's about ready to take that role. We'll determine that in the weeks and months to come."

Doctors have cleared Brinkley for all football activities, and if there was any hesitation in Frazier's response, it should be attributed to the universal NFL caveat at this time of year. The Vikings have 10 draft picks, including seven of the top 138, and a starting-caliber middle linebacker could be a target.

Absent that event, however, the chances seem high that Brinkley will team with Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway to form the Vikings' 2012 trio of linebackers. During that 2009 stretch, Brinkley proved to be a physical run-stopper who is most likely not going to be on the field in nickel situations.

Again, everything could change after the draft. But regardless of the ingredients, it seems likely the Vikings will have a new defensive gut in 2012.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Don't you just hate it when football coaches start talking in ultra-technical football jargon and expect us all to understand it as though we're in the meeting rooms with them every day? Like Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid this morning at the NFL owners meetings, explaining what went wrong on defense with his team last year.

"I goofed on that one," Reid said.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
AP Photo/Derek GeeIn evaluating the Eagles' 2011 season, coach Andy Reid admits that his team's defensive strategy could probably have used better execution.
This is a new one on me, this "goofed." I'm not sure I've studied enough football to truly understand the complexities of this analysis. Let's back it all the way out and examine the full quote from which this one was plucked.

"The plan I had, I didn't execute it very well, right?" Reid said. "I goofed on that one. I expected the young guys on defense to get where they were getting towards the end of the season sooner, particularly the guys in the middle of the defense -- the linebackers and safeties."

So "goofed," then, appears to have something to do with a plan gone awry. The Eagles loaded up last year at cornerback and on the defensive line, brought in a new defensive line coach, converted their offensive line coach to defensive coordinator and believed their strengths -- on defense and on offense -- would overcome their deficiencies. Instead, the defensive deficiencies were a big part of what did the Eagles in during a 1-4 start from which they were unable to recover. Their "Wide 9" defensive front was very good at getting to the quarterback, but when teams attacked the middle of their defense with the run or were able to give their quarterbacks enough time to throw, those teams found major weaknesses at the linebacker and safety spots that were charged with protecting the middle part of the field.

"I expected the offense to carry it through, and that part didn't take place," Reid said. "But yeah, your linebackers -- the more gaps you open up, the more physical they have to be."

The Eagles patched the linebacker corps together with unprepared late-round rookies like Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle and second-year man Jamar Chaney, and it showed. Reid said the group demonstrated improvement and played well late in the year, when the Eagles won their final four games. But the weakness was still glaring enough that the team decided it needed to make a trade for veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans last week, and it's possible they could still look to add at that position this offseason.

Listening to Reid talk Wednesday morning, the thing that seemed to bother him the most about the 2011 season was the high number of turnovers his offense committed. The 25 interceptions the Eagles threw in 2011 led the league, and when you add in their 13 fumbles, it brings their total number of 2011 giveaways to 38, which was second-highest in the league behind Tampa Bay. So no matter what happens on defense, the Eagles will need to make far fewer "goofs" on offense next year in order to get where they need to go.

But with an entire season under the belts of last year's new players and coaches, the addition of Ryans and a full offseason with which to prepare, the Eagles will enter 2012 with high hope that the "goofs" of 2011 are a thing of the past. Reid answered in the affirmative when asked if he believed he had a Super Bowl contender.

"That's what makes it exciting," Reid said. "We have a good group coming back. Every year is different, I understand that. But we've got to take that momentum that we finished with and build on it an continue to get better."
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell just wrapped up the owners meetings with a media session that included a few questions on the New Orleans Saints and their punishments for running a bounty program.

There were no new developments, but Goodell touched on several aspects of the situation. Although he has announced suspensions for coach Sean Payton (one year) and general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games), Goodell said he doesn’t have an issue with the fact they appear to be the ones deciding who will fill in for Payton as coach.

“No, again, ultimately the owner is the one who is going to have to make the final decision,’’ Goodell said. “They’re suspended of operations during that period of time, but they’re going to have to make decisions on how the Saints are going to be operated either as a group or however Tom Benson wants to do that.’’

Goodell also said he was aware of the fact the suspensions (as well as a $500,000 fine and the loss of second-round draft picks this year and next) have made him hugely unpopular with New Orleans fans.

“Listen, I understand the frustration of the Saints fans and I have great respect for them,’’ Goodell said. “We’ll be there with our Super Bowl at the conclusion of this coming season. I worked very closely as we were getting the Saints re-established after the Super Bowl, so I saw firsthand the Saints’ passion and their fans’ passion. And I think I clearly understand that frustration. But everyone has to understand there are 32 teams and everybody is going to have to operate by the rules. If we don’t do that, the integrity of the game and what fans love about the game will be impacted negatively and that’s my responsibility.’’

The one thing that still hasn’t been addressed is possible discipline for players who were involved in the bounty system. The NFL has said 22 to 27 players were involved over a three-year period. Goodell said he still isn’t ready to make any announcements on possible suspensions or fines for players.

“We certainly are going to proceed as quickly as possible,’’ Goodell said. “I’ve mentioned to you that I’ve spoken to several dozen players. We have additional people we need to speak to. The most important issue is I need to speak to the NFLPA, which I expect to do before the end of the week. I hope that they will be in a position at that point in time that I can consider.’’

Goodell also was asked if the penalties for players might be as severe as they were for Payton or Loomis. He didn’t give a definitive answer.

“I hold coaches and executives to a higher standard,’’ Goodell said. “That’s an important element of what the NFL is all about. It is clear from the information though that players enthusiastically embraced this and pushed this and that’s troubling to me. We’ll have to look into who was involved, how much they were involved, what influence they had and I’ll do my best to make a judgment on how that should be handled from a discipline standpoint. As far as going forward, we’ve made it clear and this is what I’d like to hear from the NFLPA and this is my exact question is “How do we eliminate this from the game?’’ And we do need the players’ cooperation to eliminate it from the game. They’re a big part of this and if they feel this is important to the game, we need to find solutions for them.’’
So, it appears that Colt McCoy was actually the Browns' third choice to be their starting quarterback this season.

The Browns asked the St. Louis Rams about trading for quarterback Sam Bradford before turning their attention to Robert Griffin III, sources told ESPN 850 AM in Cleveland. The Rams turned down the Browns, according to the report.

Bradford
Bradford
McCoy
McCoy
Rams coach Jeff Fisher confirmed teams called about Bradford, but he wouldn't specify the teams. “I prefer not to get into specifics about the conversations. I can say there were teams that inquired,” Fisher said at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday.

The Browns' interest dates back to 2010, when team president Mike Holmgren attempted to trade up to the top spot to draft Bradford. The connection to Bradford is even strong now with head coach Pat Shurmur, who was Bradford's offensive coordinator in 2010.

This report comes a day after the Browns said they were "moving forward" with McCoy as their quarterback. Browns officials continue to say they believe in McCoy, but their actions indicate he is the starter by default.

The Browns were reportedly interested in Bradford before getting turned down. They wanted to move up in the draft to take RG3 before the Rams foiled Cleveland again, trading the second overall pick to the Redskins.

In a strange twist, the Rams could be the ones calling the Browns on draft day. Their expected target is wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who should be available when the Browns are on the clock with the No. 4 pick.

"I don't know if we'd consider going that high," Fisher said. "Those conversations aren't going to take place until draft day because your guy's got to be there. It'll be interesting to see what kind of compensation they want. We're very happy with the compensation we've got right now over the next couple of years."

Fisher also sidestepped Holmgren's account that the Browns were blocked from moving up in the draft because of a close relationship between the Rams and Redskins.

"I didn't pay much attention to his comments," Fisher said. "They were very fruitful discussions. They are a potential trade partner with us."

Giants will miss Brandon Jacobs

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Man, the San Francisco 49ers must have really been impressed with the New York Giants team that beat them in the rain in the NFC Championship Game back in January.

According to ESPNNewYork.com, former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs has agreed to a contract with the 49ers. He's the second Giants free agent to sign with San Francisco, joining wide receiver Mario Manningham.

I know some Giants fans had been harboring hope that Jacobs might not get a good enough offer elsewhere and might eventually return to the Giants, but that always seemed unlikely, and now it appears that those hopes have been dashed.

Jacobs was a two-time Super Bowl winner in New York and will always be remembered fondly by the Giants and their fans. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was talking just this morning about how difficult it is to lose players with whom you've won championships

"It's very difficult. It's not easy. The guys who have been with you the longest, that's a natural feeling," Coughlin said. "But the great thing about the experiences I've had, for example, with Brandon, Brandon makes it easier on you. There is some sentiment involved in it, but we don't say good bye. We just say, 'Next time.'"

The Giants will struggle to replace Jacobs. Sure, he'd slowed down a bit in recent years and hadn't been as much a part of the offense. But he still brings something that few if any other running backs in the league bring, in terms of the speed and athleticism he has at his remarkable size. They will need some capable veteran to team with Ahmad Bradshaw and his perpetually banged-up foot, and they've already been at work on finding one.

"It's kind of like the questions that have been asked about what it's like right after being world champions," Coughlin said. "We go to the parade, we come back from the parade, and the next day we're grading players, we're ranking players. The business just goes on. Enjoy it while you can, because you've got the next hurdle, and in order to get back on schedule, you've got to deal with these kinds of things."

Video: NFL owners adopt changes

March, 28, 2012
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John Clayton on the NFL rules changes voted on by the owners.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is aware that his team didn't sign the biggest-name, highest-pedigreed offensive linemen available on this year's free-agent market. That wasn't the goal.

"None of these guys were brought in and told, 'You are the anointed starter,'" Garrett said Wednesday morning at the NFL owners meetings. "They're here to create competition on our team, and we feel like they're the right kinds of guys, individually as people but also with their talent. They can come in and compete for those spots and make us a better football team."

The newcomers are guards. The Cowboys like both of their starting tackles, though they are switching their roles, with Tyron Smith slated to move to left tackle and Doug Free back to right tackle in 2012. But where they really struggled last year was on the interior of the line. So they signed Mackenzy Bernadeau from Carolina and Nate Livings from Cincinnati, and they're throwing them into the mix with the two guards -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- they drafted last year along with centers Phil Costa and Kevin Kowalski, and they're going to see what happens.

On Bernadeau, Garrett had this to say:
"He's a guy that we liked coming out. He's a young guy from a small school who we feel has the physical traits to be a really good player in this league. He has not been a consistent starter for [Carolina]. He has been a starter, but he's had some injuries and some different things that he's dealt with. We're just excited about the kind of kid he is and the upside that he has. So we feel like putting him into the mix will help our team."

And on Livings, this:
"Nate had been a started the last couple of years in Cincinnati. He's a big guy. He played at LSU. And he's one of those guys who was a college free agent and who had to really earn his way in the NFL. When we put the tape on, we just liked how he played. And we feel like, if you bring a guy like that in as well, he can get infused into our roster and hopefully create some competition up there."

Neither of the new guys is looked at as a potential solution at center, so that position is likely to come down to Costa and Kowalski and possibly Nagy if they don't add anyone else. But Garrett's point is that the Cowboys have enough bodies at those interior positions that it's fair to expect a strong offensive line to emerge. The players are young enough that, assuming they do find the right five-man mix, the line can grow together over the coming season and seasons and become a strength of the team. There are no guarantees, of course, but that's the hope and the plan, and the Cowboy have hand-picked some guys they believe can help produce those kinds of results.

Garrett also echoed the sentiment that owner Jerry Jones articulated the day before in a session with Dallas-area reporters here -- namely, that the work they've done on the offensive line through last year's draft and this year's free agency makes it more likely that they'd take a defensive player in next month's first round than an offensive lineman such as Stanford guard David DeCastro.

"We'd have to take into consideration that we've done pretty well in free agency relative to our offensive line," Garrett said. "We'd have to take that into consideration if we had the alternative of taking defense. So you're not off-base if you ask whether it's likely that we would take a defensive player."

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