NFL Nation: Eric Winston

CINCINNATI -- As had been expected, the Cincinnati Bengals will be without their starting "Sam" linebacker Monday night when they host the Denver Broncos.

Emmanuel Lamur was one of seven inactives for the Bengals after appearing on the injury report all this week with a hamstring issue that cropped up late in last week's game at Cleveland. He practiced in a limited capacity Saturday, and had been expected to test out the injury before the game.

Lamur
Lamur
He didn't come out onto the field within the four-hour pregame window that injured Bengals typically give their tweaked injuries a go. Coach Marvin Lewis was optimistic over the weekend that having the extra day to prepare for Monday's game might be just enough for the hamstring to get healthy. Apparently it wasn't.

Officially, Lamur will be replaced by rookie Marquis Flowers at "Sam" linebacker. In his pass-coverage responsibilities, though, Lamur will be replaced by safety Taylor Mays, who spent the week in linebackers' meetings. Mays played that spot parts of last season before he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 8. He was playing in place of Lamur, who missed all season with a hurt shoulder.

In addition to Lamur's absence Monday, the Bengals also will miss defensive tackle Devon Still. It's the second game he has been declared inactive, and the third contest he has missed this season. The third-year player wasn't on the 53-man roster for the season opener.

With Still inactive, the Bengals kept active two promising young backup defensive ends to help bolster the team's pass-rushing depth. Margus Hunt and Will Clarke presumably will play at points in the game. The rookie Clarke has seen his playing time increase in recent weeks, getting a season-high 19 snaps in last week's game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His playing time spike correlated with Hunt being injured the last four games.

The Bengals also will give starts to veteran Eric Winston at right offensive tackle, and Jeremy Hill at running back. This will be the second straight week that Hill will be the starter with a healthy Giovani Bernard. Hill's only other starts this season came when Bernard was injured.

Here is the full list of inactives for both teams:

Bengals inactives
QB AJ McCarron
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
LB Emmanuel Lamur
OT Tanner Hawkinson
DT Devon Still
WR James Wright
WR Greg Little

Broncos inactives
CB Tony Carter
OT Paul Cornick
RB Ronnie Hillman
TE Dominique Jones
LB Brandon Marshall
OT Michael Schofield
DE Quanterus Smith

W2W4: Broncos vs. Bengals

December, 22, 2014
12/22/14
3:30
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A few storylines to watch Monday night when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium:

Ayodele
Knighton
Line anchors: Keep your eyes trained on the Bengals' offensive line. Not only will the unit have a massive challenge to contend with in the running game -- both literally and figuratively -- in the form of Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, but it will have a pair of tough-to-block edge rushers in the passing game, too. An athletic 330 pounds, Knighton is adept at plugging holes on interior rushing plays. The presence of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller on the outside doesn't make it easy for rushers to cut back outside if the inside run is a no-go. Ware and Miller also are among the game's most effective rushers in passing situations. If the Bengals have any hope at moving the football Monday, it will be to play physically with Knighton in the run, and to provide solid pockets when quarterback Andy Dalton is passing. One way the Bengals are doing that on the right side of their line, in particular, is by anchoring the unit with veteran Eric Winston. Expect him to get his first Bengals start there, lining up opposite Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Red zone a factor: Cincinnati's defense will try hard to keep the Broncos out of the red zone, but recent trends show that might not be a bad thing if it happens. According to ESPN Stats & Information, after leading the league in red-zone completion percentage, touchdown passes and total QBR through his first 11 games, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning ranks outside the top 20 in each category over the past three weeks. The absence of tight end Julius Thomas for two of those three contests correlated with the declining production inside the 20. Although Thomas returned last week, he wasn't that effective on his hurt ankle. He is considered healthier this week, which means you should look for him to play a bigger role in the red zone Monday for the Broncos. He entered the week leading the league in red-zone touchdown catches with nine.

Green
Toss it to Green: As much as we have hammered home all week the importance of the Bengals running the football in this game, you simply can't ignore the fact that this is a team with A.J. Green on its roster. Cincinnati has to be smart with the way it runs the ball, but it also has to be savvy about the way it utilizes Green, the Pro Bowl wide out who went on a four-game tear in November and early December, catching 33 passes for 529 yards and three touchdown. He was at his best in that stretch in the deep passing game. Of his 33 catches, 12 came on throws that traveled 10 yards or more in the air. All three of his touchdowns came on such throws, including an 81-yard reception against Pittsburgh. What helped him get open downfield for those catches? The running game. Specifically, the play-action pass that resulted from it. With linebackers and safeties flowing up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Green has been single-covered by the end of recent games. Be on the lookout for similar opportunities Monday if Cincinnati's running game gets going early.

Broncos vs. Bengals preview

December, 19, 2014
12/19/14
8:00
AM ET
video
When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati TV: ESPN

Peyton Manning is good. Under the lights, the Cincinnati Bengals are not.

But if the Bengals have plans of joining the Denver Broncos as a playoff-bound team, they will have to overcome the future Hall of Fame quarterback and put to rest their atrocious recent prime-time showing.

Since 2011, the year Andy Dalton became its starting quarterback, Cincinnati is 2-9 in nationally televised playoff games and night games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to preview this week's "Monday Night Football" game:

Harvey: Manning is 8-0 against the Bengals, including a 3-0 mark against them in December. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions against them in December. For the Bengals to have any hope of stopping him, what are two things their defense must do?

Legwold: As an opposing defensive coach told me this season, "I don't know why anybody needs to list the stats for him; let's just assume they're good against everybody and go from there." Manning has won at least eight games against 10 different teams in his career. And defensively, the formula is not complicated, yet difficult to do. Defenses who succeed against him generally create some kind of consistent pressure in the middle of the field -- they win the A gaps -- keeping him from setting his feet, and they don't give him room to climb the pocket to step into his throws. Those defenses also limit the Broncos' ability to use their variety of crossing routes. They play physically against the Broncos' receivers and limit yards after the catch because they tackle well. Not rocket science, but difficult to do because the Broncos are creative in play design. Manning delivers the ball quickly and consistently makes defenses pay for sending extra rushers (game video shows Manning had five completions this past weekend against the Chargers' blitz for 111 yards and a touchdown). So, a defense has to get all of that done largely by rushing four players, and it can't miss assignments behind that rush.

Defending a rookie in his first NFL start is one thing, and the Bengals did well in a 30-0 win against the Cleveland Browns with Johnny Manziel behind center last week, but how do you expect them to defend Manning?

Harvey: You just summed it up perfectly, Leggy. I'll add this. A defense can best stop Manning by sending a standard four-man rush and hope and pray the coverage downfield holds up. Last week, in fact, this was exactly what allowed the Bengals to bully Manziel. Only twice did they send blitzes on the mobile young quarterback. The rest of the time, they did exactly what you prescribed: They attacked the A gaps with great interior pressure from the line and forced Manziel to roll to his right. Obviously, Manning isn't rolling anywhere, but the Bengals have to hope Geno Atkins is up to pushing back the line the way he has finally started doing in recent weeks. With the Bengals also expected to use a lot of nickel defense to counter the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end looks, don't be surprised if defensive end Wallace Gilberry goes inside to give some extra athleticism to the interior rush.

Jeff, it seems like over the past seven weeks, running back C.J. Anderson has exploded onto the scene for Denver. First, why did it take so long to get him involved in the run game, and second, what did Buffalo do so well to hold him in check two weeks ago?

Legwold: During the Broncos' offseason work, especially in minicamp, there was some thought around the team that Anderson's spot was pretty tenuous and that he might not make the roster because he had tried to bulk up a bit and looked sluggish. Anderson showed up to training camp leaner and looked far better, but Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman had already pushed their way in front of him. Anderson had routinely flashed in practice and in his limited game work, at least enough to stay in the mix, and when injuries forced the Broncos to hand him the ball, he showed patience and vision as a runner -- perhaps more than they thought he had -- and he almost always made the first defender miss or powered through the attempted tackle. If you're looking for a play that got everybody's attention, it was his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Oakland when he made a one-handed grab on a screen pass -- a play Manning said he thought was "going to be a 1- or 2-yard loss" -- and five different Raiders had a chance to bring Anderson down and did not. In terms of Buffalo's plan, it was a sound group that was assignment-disciplined and tackled well; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has faced Manning plenty over the years because of Schwartz's time with the Titans. The Bills came into the game against the Broncos leading the league in sacks, and they didn't sack Manning in the game. Anderson did pound the ball into the end zone three times, but his 2.8 yards per carry were the lowest since he became starter.

The Bengals are one of six teams averaging more than 30 rushing attempts per game this season; the Broncos are No. 2 in run defense. Do you think the Bengals will still try to pound away some to limit the Broncos' possessions, or because they believe they will be able to make some running room?

Harvey: One of the Bengals' most recent additions is NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, an offensive tackle who, before coming to Cincinnati three weeks ago, spent six seasons with the Texans and one with the Chiefs. He had an up-close look at Manning twice a season during the Texans' AFC South games when the quarterback still played for the Colts, and saw him twice in Kansas City in 2012. This week, Winston said those teams' mindset against Manning always involved running. So yes, I believe the run should, and will, be the Bengals' approach. Besides, Jeremy Hill has been running well in the past six weeks, topping 140 yards three times in that span. His hard running and guard Kevin Zeitler's constant pulling made for a nightmare day for Cleveland's defense. Also, I noticed that of the four times this season when teams have run 25 or more times against Denver, they beat the Broncos three times. To me, Cincinnati's best hope of winning is to run well, run often, get a late lead, and play keep-away from Manning.

Jeff, I'm sure the Broncos' many pass-rushers will be hounding Dalton all night, but why has Denver's front seven been so good against the run?

Legwold: Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is -- even nationally, perhaps -- an undervalued player when it comes to what he means to the Broncos' run defense. He's disruptive, ties up blockers and doesn't get turned in the hole. He stays square and takes away run lanes. The Broncos also have plenty of team speed across the front and pursue the ball well. Even their pass-rushers, like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, are disciplined in their run fits. Ware especially has shown himself to be reliable in how he sets the edge, and as a result, offenses haven't been able to run the ball to the inside shoulders of Ware and Miller because they play with some vision as they move up the field. That wasn't always the case earlier in Miller's career, when offenses would catch him at times being a little too aggressive as he tried to get upfield. The Broncos have tackled well for the most part, too. They have helped themselves with good work on first down, as well. Offenses are routinely facing second-and-8 or third-and-7, and that takes those offenses out of any rhythm to run. For example, the Chargers ran the ball 10 times on first down last Sunday. Only one of the runs went for more than five yards -- an 11-yard run by Branden Oliver early in the fourth quarter -- and six went for three or fewer yards.

Few players take as much heat for their prime-time and/or postseason performance as Dalton. Is there significantly more pressure on him in this one given it is the "Monday Night Football" regular-season finale and the Bengals need the win to keep the inside track for a shot at the division title?

Harvey: It's more of the latter, Jeff. The pressure will be raised on Dalton this week because the Bengals simply have to get it done. Though there is an outside shot they will sneak into the playoffs as an AFC wild card if they lose the next two games, they would do themselves so many favors if they won at least one. The finale at Pittsburgh next week won't be a cakewalk, either. The heat Dalton has taken is real and deserved. It seems like he's mostly great at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. But turn on the lights and he's not. From a personal standpoint, Dalton wants to make up for his last nationally televised outing. The Bengals lost to Cleveland 24-3 in a Thursday night game last month in which Dalton registered a 2.0 passer rating.

CINCINNATI -- It would be unwise for the Cincinnati Bengals to out-think themselves this week and give up on the run.

It must be said that there is no reason to believe they will do such a thing Monday night when they host the Denver Broncos on ESPN, but you never can be so sure.

If coaches ever do entertain the thought this week of going away from what worked so well in Cincinnati's 30-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, here's some sage advice.

Don't.

This is coming from the Bengals themselves, who believe the best way to keep winning challenging games this month is by keeping the ball on the ground.

"We've been a team that, honestly, the running game has put us in the situation we've been in this year, and we need to continue to believe in it and let it be a part of who we are," veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said.

There's evidence of the run game's success as well.

"As we've grown throughout the year, the running game has continued to evolve," Whitworth said. "We are getting better and better at it and more efficient at it."

Indeed, they are. The link above shows just how much more efficient the Bengals have been since Week 9, when rookie Jeremy Hill first earned starting duties at running back when Giovani Bernard missed three straight games because of injuries. Even in the recent weeks, when Bernard has been healthy, the Bengals have continued to feed the ball to Hill. This past Sunday, receiving his first start with Bernard also in the rotation, Hill gained 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in the Bengals' victory over the Browns.

It was the third time in six games he had gained more than 140 yards.

As the Bengals welcome the league's No. 2 rushing defense to Paul Brown Stadium on Monday, another veteran offensive tackle, Eric Winston thinks the rushing emphasis ought to carry over into this week.

"More so than anything, it has to be a mindset. It has to be a thought and the way you carry yourself," Winston said. "Knowing what we did Sunday has to be who we are and not just a week-to-week thing. It has to be the badge you wear every week. That's when we're at our best. Even when I wasn't here, you noticed that this offense is at its best when it's running the ball effectively.

Hill
"If that's who we're going to be, then that's who we need to be every week."

Part of the reason teams don't fare well on the ground against the Broncos is because Denver often is so far ahead that opposing offenses reject the run to pass their way back into games.

After three quarters, the Broncos' points margin is plus-117, third-highest in the league behind the Packers and Patriots. It's no surprise they are among the four teams that have allowed the fewest fourth-quarter rushes this season, averaging less than 5.4.

Overall, Denver has allowed 21 carries per game. The Bengals are averaging 30.4. In the Broncos' three losses, each opposing team rushed more than 25 times.

If the Bengals can run the ball early and get a lead, or at least keep it tight by halftime, they had better stay on the ground.
CLEVELAND -- It appears Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham's injured toe responded poorly to a series of tests he put it through hours before Sunday's game with the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Gresham was declared inactive, along with six other Bengals.

The fifth-year player was on the field about two and a half hours prior to the start of the game running routes and trying to cut while catching passes from backup quarterback AJ McCarron. He didn't look comfortable, particularly when trying to catch. As he would plant to go up for catches, he awkwardly reached for the balls. He had a couple of one-handed grabs that likely would have been much easier two-handed snags if he were healthier.

Gresham, whose rookie contract expires in the offseason, will miss a game for the first time this season. His departure also puts the Bengals in a bit of a bind, considering tight ends Tyler Eifert and Alex Smith are still on injured reserve. Smith is on season-ending IR, and Eifert was placed on IR in Week 2 with a designation to return after dislocating his right elbow in the season opener. He was eligible to play five weeks ago, but he has not yet returned to practice.

Without Eifert, Gresham or Smith, the Bengals will turn to third-string backup Kevin Brock, who will be starting for just the second time this season.

Expect the Bengals to also go heavy on their offensive line with a series of unbalanced sets. Reserve offensive tackles Eric Winston and Marshall Newhouse likely will come off the bench as extra blockers to line up next to recently named starting right tackle Clint Boling. Previously the Bengals' starting left guard, Boling moved to right tackle two weeks ago as the Bengals attempted to replace Andre Smith. The starting right tackle was placed on season-ending IR after tearing his triceps the week before.

Along with Gresham, veteran cornerback Terence Newman also was declared inactive Sunday. The 36-year-old has an ankle injury that limited him in practices throughout the week. He'll be replaced by Adam Jones, another veteran who was in and out of practice this week with a chest issue. For those reasons, don't be surprised to see third-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick and rookie Darqueze Dennard get extended playing time as reserves.

Here's the complete list of inactives for both teams Sunday:

Bengals inactives
QB AJ McCarron
WR Dane Sanzenbacher
CB Terence Newman
OT Tanner Hawkinson
TE Jermaine Gresham
WR James Wright
DE Margus Hunt

Browns inactives
DB K'Waun Williams
DB Tashaun Gipson
RB Glenn Winston
DB Robert Nelson
LB Karlos Dansby
OL Vinston Painter
TE Gary Barnidge

Bengals shake up offensive line

December, 7, 2014
12/07/14
12:05
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals continue navigating life without starting right tackle Andre Smith, they shook up their offensive line ahead of Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, giving a starting guard his first career start at Smith's old spot.

One week after keeping just two true offensive tackles on their active game-day roster, the Bengals kept three true tackles this week, while also deciding to move left guard Clint Boling to right tackle. He'll be starting in place of Marshall Newhouse, the backup who had played parts of the last two games at right tackle in place of Smith, who was lost for the season two weeks ago with a triceps tear.

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, Boling played parts of two drives at right tackle. Until its finish, the first of the two drives was one of the Bengals' better series of the game. They moved the ball efficiently for 58 yards to the Bucs' 20 before quarterback Andy Dalton threw an interception while targeting A.J. Green in the end zone. That drive also included three straight misdirection type plays that included a direct-snap run by a receiver, a sweep screen to another and a reverse.

Boling's move also comes after the Bengals signed veteran tackle and NFL Players Association president Eric Winston earlier in the week. He hasn't played since training camp when he was with the Seahawks. Winston likely wasn't considered to start at the position because he hasn't yet had time to fully learn the Bengals' offense, although he and coaches contend he's made rapid progress since signing Tuesday.

With Boling switching to the right edge, Mike Pollak is slated to come off the bench to play left guard.

In addition to those changes, the Bengals also declared another tackle, Tanner Hawkinson, inactive. It's the fourth straight game he's been inactive. A pair of receivers also aren't playing in Dane Sanzenbacher and James Wright. The latter suffered a knee injury at Tampa Bay and didn't practice all week. Wright arguably just had his best game, too. He caught three passes for 59 yards against Tampa Bay. Each of them resulted in third-down conversions.

Here are the full lists of inactives for both teams:

Bengals inactives
WR Dane Sanzenbacher
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
LB Vontaze Burfict
LB Chris Carter
OT Tanner Hawkinson
WR James Wright
DE Margus Hunt

Steelers inactives
RB Dri Archer
LB James Harrison
OT Marcus Gilbert
WR Justin Brown
CB B.W. Webb
DE Clifton Geathers
QB Landry Jones
When the calendar hits June 1, it usually means the Baltimore Ravens are preparing to making one additional move.

This is a significant date because any free-agent signing past it doesn't count against a team's compensatory picks. The Ravens love their extra picks, and they're officially in line for three in the 2015 draft after losing four unrestricted free agents and signing one.

Baltimore has had some moderate success with its June signings. The Ravens landed inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who became one of their best defensive players last season, on June 5 of last year. They signed guard Bobbie Williams, who started six games during their Super Bowl season, in 2012, and added kicker Shayne Graham in 2010.

Will this June trend continue for the Ravens?

"We’re aware of the guys that are still out there, free agents that would be more favorable to sign after June 1 and all that," coach John Harbaugh said. "We’re going to be watching the waiver wire real close. We’re going to try and get better. We had a conversation, Ozzie [Newsome] and I, and I like to think on principle that we really believe this: We want to build as strong of a 53-man roster as we possibly can, and as we do that, try to get stronger every chance we can get. We’ll be looking.”

The two biggest positions of need for the Ravens are offensive tackle and cornerback.

There has been a lot of speculation about the Ravens signing offensive tackle Eric Winston. It makes sense because Winston played six seasons under Gary Kubiak, who is now the Ravens' offensive coordinator, and fits in the zone-blocking scheme. But, based on what the Ravens are saying, the team wants to see what Rick Wagner can do at right tackle before adding a veteran like Winston. There is also no guarantee that Winston, at the age of 30, is that much of an upgrade over what the Ravens already have.

The same argument could be made at cornerback, where the Ravens have two unproven defenders (Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson) battling for the No. 3 spot. The Ravens didn't sign or draft a cornerback after losing Corey Graham in free agency.

"Ozzie knows he has two great, young guys that are coming up," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "You’ve got Asa Jackson who can play the nickel and outside, but mostly better inside. And Chykie Brown has been playing good. He’s had his chance to get out on the field, but now he gets thrown in, and it’s his. He’s going to get to show you all what he’s capable of."
The top cornerbacks available are: Terrell Thomas, Drayton Florence, Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson. Thomas is 29 and has dealt with multiple knee surgeries while with the New York Giants. Samuel, 33, was relegated to being a backup at the end of last season for the Atlanta Falcons, and Robinson, 32, lost his nickelback job to a rookie last season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The best of this group seems to be Florence, a journeyman 33-year-old defender who started five games last season for the Carolina Panthers.

Considering these options, the Ravens may wait to add a veteran cornerback at the end of the preseason, when the final major cutdown is made and a more viable defender hits the market. With only four corners with NFL experience, the Ravens will have to either sign a veteran corner or keep an undrafted rookie.
Eric WinstonAP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerEric Winston becomes the president of the NFL Players Association during labor peace, but with plenty to resolve.

Four years ago, this would be a different conversation.

It would be about millionaires versus billionaires, about how one document will shape the course of professional football for the next decade and how Eric Winston would be the face of the future of the sport.

Fortunately for Winston, the former Arizona Cardinals right tackle who was recently elected president of the NFL Players Association, he doesn't have to worry about that. He doesn't have to worry about his constituents being locked out by the owners or sitting down at the negotiating table to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement. His two-year tenure begins amid labor peace, allowing Winston to spend most his time this offseason on specific issues that face the players and the game.

Timing is everything.

"Yes and no," Winston said. "I think in those negotiations, that's where you're going to accomplish a lot. I think that's where you're getting, whether it's benefits, whether it's salary, whether it's health and safety, all those are up for grabs at that point.

"With a lot of that stuff being settled I can focus in on some topics, and focus on and find out what's hurting our players today and what are the few things we can do right now that can improve the lives of all of our players. I think that's kind of my mission, so to speak."

Winston's mission, to serve as the collective voice of the players, came about with a simple question, he said: "Would you be interested in running?"

He was at the biannual NFLPA meetings when the question was posed. If he was nominated, Winston said, he'd run. It didn't take long for someone at the meetings to follow protocol. A speech later and Winston was the new face -- clean-shaven after a season of growing out a hockey playoff-like beard -- of the players' association.

"It happened fast, that's for sure," Winston said. "I'm happy it happened. I'm eager to try to make a difference."

[+] EnlargeEric Winston
Michael Starghill, Jr. for ESPNEric Winston wants to "find out what's hurting our players today and what are the few things we can do right now that can improve the lives of all of our players. I think that's kind of my mission."
Whether he knows it or not, Winston has already made a difference. And it's built an air of confidence from his side of the table and the other.

Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander knew Winston but never spent much time around the hulking right tackle. After spending last season with him, Alexander, who has been an NFLPA player rep and was voted onto the current association's executive committee, believes the NFLPA has the right leader.

"He has great leadership qualities and I think a great grasp on the vision he has for the PA," Alexander said. "I think all those things really help him as far as moving forward and strengthening our union as a whole and the perception, I guess, internally and externally from the players."

The perception of Winston was built two years ago, when he was protecting Matt Cassel's strong side for the Kansas City Chiefs. Winston showed everyone -- thanks to countless replays -- that he's more than a big, burly blocker. After Cassel was knocked out of a game against Baltimore and booed by Chiefs fans, Winston verbalized his frustration with the fans and his disdain for their gesture. As Winston's voice rose, his passion for the sport filled the locker room.

Troy Vincent, recently appointed NFL executive vice president for football operations, is also a former NFLPA president. He thinks Winston's passion is only part of the reason he will succeed.

"That says a lot about who an individual is," Vincent said. "I think he's going to be a great leader.

"I know what it takes to be elected. That's not a given and I think he's going to be a fine leader. He's very thoughtful. I think Eric is also very reasonable. I think at that position it has to be balanced to get things done, where you're not always going to agree on everything but you've got to find a common ground that works for everybody and I think, with his experience, I think with his values, I think he's going to be a very good leader for the union."

Assuming the presidency at a time of labor peace gives Winston the opportunity to focus on the players. Winston can lean on the experience of eight NFL seasons of serving as part of three different organizations and apply it to make the difference he's seeking.

The question Winston has to answer first: Where to start?

His overarching goal is to improve the day-to-day lives of the nearly 2,000 players in the NFL, but to do that, Winston understands he has nearly 2,000 different sets of issues to tackle. Each player has his own concerns about the direction of the league and his own career, but Winston has narrowed his first set of priorities to three areas: health and safety, financial literacy and working conditions.

When it comes to health and safety, Winston, who's second among active tackles in consecutive games played and started, thinks looking toward the future can help players now. Continuing to invest in technology and research is a priority, Winston said, because it'll help the league and its players learn more about the health and safety issues that they face on a daily basis, namely head injuries.

[+] EnlargeEric Winston
AP Photo/Greg TrottEric Winston has played eight NFL seasons with three different organizations.
"Doing that now is going to help the guys when they become former players and I think it's going to help the research side of it and it's going to help our former players now that have been suffering," Winston said.

Having watched thousands of players come and go during his career, Winston is also placing an emphasis on teaching players -- young and old -- the importance of taking care of their finances.

"Guys need to understand how to budget, guys need to understand what it means to have a mortgage, what it means to pay something like that, what does the typical cost of living [look like]?" Winston said. "It sounds clichéd but those checks are going to run out at some point. They're not always going to be there and what is really enough, so to speak, to retire on? And, in a way, [I want to] get that word ‘retire' out of the lexicon. You play 10 years and you're 32. There's other things you could do, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't have a nest egg, you shouldn't have something you can fall back on if you can't play that long."

Winston also wants to address workplace conditions, especially when it comes to the locker rooms.

A year ago at this time, Tampa Bay's locker room hadn't been infected by the MRSA outbreak, which occurred in October, nor had the situation in Miami involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin been exposed. Both will help shape the way Winston approaches changes in the locker rooms, albeit in extremely different ways.

"Working conditions are something that's going to be coming up, and we have to do something," Winston said. "I think there needs to be some standardization throughout the NFL and of course, you never know what's going to happen around the corner."

When it comes to approaching the locker room culture, which has come under siege since the reports of bullying in the Dolphins' organization were revealed in November, Winston believes his experience in the league is a bonus. But he's careful to warn that what happened in Miami isn't permeating through the NFL.

"I always think you're going to have something that's out of your control," Winston said. "You're always going to have a 'bad apple,' something that just happens. For whatever reason it happens and obviously it needs to be fixed.

"It's a challenge for all of us," Winston added. "We're professionals now. We got to act professionally. We can't be doing immature things."

Vincent wants to make sure he and Winston work together to "preserve our game."

"Have we forgotten the art of sportsmanship?" Vincent asked.

Vincent foresees working together to educate "all audiences" on eliminating facets of the game that either lead to injury or cast a negative light on the league, such as "harmful" plays.

Another one of Winston's priorities is curbing fines, an interesting dynamic since Vincent is the man responsible for assigning the fines. Winston would like to see fines eliminated for first-time incidental offenses. He thinks they should be levied for a second or third offense.

[+] EnlargeTroy Vincent
AP Photo/Doug Benc"When you watch him, when you look at his demeanor, you see how he answers questions, he's very thoughtful," NFL Executive Vice President for Football Operations Troy Vincent said of Eric Winston. "Frankly, I think he's going to do a phenomenal job."
"I know plenty of guys that whether you fine them $5,000 or $15,000, it's the same to him," Winston said. "They get it. I don't think we have to fine guys an extraordinary amount to get their attention.

"They understand the value of money and what it means to them. To get the fines going up at a rate, it doesn't make sense. It seems much more punitive more than sending a message."

Winston will also help usher in a new era for the NFL when it welcomes its first openly gay player; Missouri's Michael Sam is expected to be drafted in May. The league, Winston said, is more ready than it gets credit for, mainly because this generation of players -- even on the older side -- is more accepting than previous generations.

One issue Winston said the players won't accept, though, is an 18-game schedule.

"I just don't see how that would ever make sense for us," Winston said.

"I don't think there's a need for it. I don't think there's a want for it. There's not a lot of scenarios that I'd say, 18 games in that context make sense. I just don't understand why that would make sense for our players and our guys."

While it's still early, there's an outside chance Winston may not play in any of the 16 games next season. He's been a free agent since March 11. But he's not fretting. Last season, Winston didn't sign with the Cardinals until the first day of training camp.

If Winston isn't signed for the 2014 season, he'll still hold onto his role as president. He'll just have more time on his hands to advocate for the players. Vincent would know. He was the NFLPA president for a year after retiring following the 2006 season and spent it crisscrossing the country, meeting with players, listening to their issues and helping them when called upon. Winston is ready for the responsibility if his career should go that way, but he'd rather be on the field.

Winston admits he has plenty to learn. He's served on NFLPA committees and understands the politics and policies, but has never held a role comparable to this.

Even though Vincent has crossed over to the league, he still offered a piece of advice to Winston: Listen. Vincent told him he doesn't need to have every answer, but he needs to be a great listener.

The more he listens, the more Winston will learn about his constituents. And the better president he'll become.

"You got to have balance," Vincent said. "There's a reason you have to be able to make sure that you're hearing all arguments, all positions, all opinions and then be able to come back to your group and properly inform the player on what is taking place and what has happened. That itself is one of the responsibilities for that position.

"When you watch him, when you look at his demeanor, you see how he answers questions, he's very thoughtful. He's not jumping out there. Frankly, I think he's going to do a phenomenal job as a leader."
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Baltimore Ravens are still interested in tight end Owen Daniels, according to coach John Harbaugh.

Daniels
Tight end is the thinnest position on the Ravens. No tight end on the roster other than Dennis Pitta has played in a regular-season game.

Daniels, 31, would fit with the Ravens because he has familiarity with Gary Kubiak's offensive system from his days in Houston. Durability is the biggest concern. Last season, Daniels played only five games because of a fractured fibula.

"We just have to see how it plays out," Harbaugh said. "It's got to be a fit for everybody. There's a lot to it financially and other things. He's in our conversation."

Harbaugh also mentioned that the Ravens are considering re-signing Ed Dickson to fill the No. 2 tight end role.

There has been speculation that the Ravens could bring in another former Texans player. But right tackle Eric Winston is currently not on the team's radar.

"That's not to say it couldn't change, but that's not a guy we're talking to right now," Harbaugh said.

Free-agency primer: Cardinals

March, 7, 2014
3/07/14
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Karlos Dansby, RT Eric Winston, S Yeremiah Bell, K Jay Feely, LB Matt Shaughnessy

Where they stand: Arizona has talked to all of them, but it's unlikely the Cardinals re-sign any of the team's key free agents until after March 11. Dansby could be the trigger, however. If he re-signs for an affordable price or doesn't re-sign, Arizona may be able to re-sign some of their veteran free agents instead of opting for cheaper options. According to reports, Arizona has been negotiating with linebacker Shaughnessy. Bell has expressed his desire to return to Arizona mainly because of what the Cardinals' defense started last year. Winston may be the Cardinals' best option at right tackle for another season and his camp has begun talks with the Cardinals. Feely has said he talked to the Cardinals this week.

What to expect: Don't expect Dansby to re-sign before free agency begins. If it hasn't happened yet, it probably won't until he tests the market to see what his worth is. Then the Cardinals could come into play again. Winston could be whom Arizona needs to anchor the line for another year. He, along with the rest of the offensive line, matured together and were protecting quarterback Carson Palmer better in the second half of the season than the first, momentum that can only continue to grow. Bell isn't likely to return because his size and speed make him a liability against bigger, faster receivers and tight ends. Even though he was in Bruce Arians' dog house at the end of the season, Feely can return because of the limited number of good kickers available. Shaughnessy is also likely to re-sign because of his value at a low cost.
A week from now, the NFL universe will be in an (un)organized chaos when free agency begins at 2 p.m. MT. The Cardinals have their sights set on a few needs, namely offensive tackle, tight end and safety.

ESPN Stats & Info put together a list of the best available free agents. Three Cardinals made the list -- linebacker Karlos Dansby, right tackle Eric Winston and safety Yeremiah Bell.

Here they are for the positions Arizona is targeting in free agency:

Defensive tackle

Hatcher
Hatcher
Jason Hatcher

B.J. Raji

Randy Starks

Kevin Williams

Paul Soliai

Henry Melton

Defensive end

Jared Allen

Lamarr Houston

Michael Johnson

Justin Tuck

Michael Bennett

Cornerback

Verner
Alterraun Verner

Aqib Talib

Charles Tillman

Captain Munnerlyn

Vontae Davis

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Linebacker

Shaun Phillips

Jon Beason

Daryl Smith

Brandon Spikes

Karlos Dansby

Bell
Safety

Jairus Byrd

T.J. Ward

James Ihedigbo

Yeremiah Bell

Ryan Clark

Donte Whitner

Tight end

Scott Chandler

Brandon Pettigrew

Brandon Myers

Garrett Graham

Jermichael Finley

Winston
Offensive line

T – Branden Albert

T – Eric Winston

T – Eugene Monroe

T – Michael Oher

C – Ryan Wendell

C – Jonathan Goodwin

G – Zane Beadles

G – Richie Incognito

G – Charlie Johnson

Ranking the Cardinals' free agents

February, 5, 2014
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the ink on Larry Fitzgerald's restructured contracted barely dry, it's time to look at what Arizona may do with the extra cap room the Pro Bowl receiver provided them. Arizona has 15 free agents left to sign after securing punter Dave Zastudil last month, but they won't bring them all back.

I ranked all 15 from highest priority to lowest and told you why:
  1. Karlos Dansby -- He's coming off a career season and was a main cog in a defense that kept getting better. Arizona would take a step back without him.
  2. Matt Shaughnessy -- He filled in better than expected at outside linebacker after injuries decimated the unit, and his length and power coupled with his speed make him a threat from the outside in Todd Bowles' defense.
  3. Andre Roberts -- The Cardinals need a speed receiver to take the top off defenses, but then again, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had Roberts last year and barely used him.
  4. Antoine Cason -- He proved himself as a tough corner and nickel back after Tyrann Mathieu went down late last season. That could be valuable tape come time to prove his worth to the powers that be.
  5. Eric Winston -- As the season went on, Winston got better, allowing just one sack in the final nine games, according to Pro Football Focus. While left tackle is more important for the Cards, Winston could be the right fit to return at right tackle.
  6. Rashard Mendenhall -- Bringing back Mendenhall isn't a huge priority because it's likely that Andre Ellington takes over the every-down role, but Mendenhall can return in his previous role and continue to mentor Ellington.
  7. Frostee Rucker -- Rucker was the perfect kind of backup for the Cardinals' vaunted defensive line, and at the right price, he could be continue in that role and be a good mentor as the defense continues to grow.
  8. Jay Feely -- Feely was consistent last season, even clutch at times, but a few late season misses left his future with the team in question.
  9. Yeremiah Bell -- Bell provides veteran leadership in a very young secondary but at 35, he's slowing down.
  10. Javier Arenas -- Arenas saw the field most on special teams as a kick returner but was only able to return 23 kicks this year and often frustrated Arians with his decision making. He's a defensive back, too but hasn't impressed in either role.
  11. Jim Dray -- A starter in 2013 Dray was a run blocker but never blossomed into an offense weapon. The Cardinals could find another option who's a combination of both.
  12. Bryan McCann -- McCann filled a much needed role as a gunner across from Justin Bethel when Teddy Williams went down. McCann's role next year will depend on if Williams is brought back.
  13. Mike Gibson -- Gibson was a steady backup on the offensive line and a special teams player in all 16 games, but his return in 2014 will depend on if his $715,000 is worth it for a backup.
  14. Kory Sperry -- Active for just eight of 16 games, Sperry saw most of his playing time on special teams.
  15. Jeff King -- Injured all of last season, King's role was filled by Jake Ballard, a restricted free agent this year.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Cardinals

January, 15, 2014
1/15/14
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There’s something to be said for the Arizona Cardinals drafting a kid whose nickname is Ironman.

In his first mock draft, Insider Mel Kiper Jr. has the Cardinals selecting Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin, who set a school record with 52 straight starts in four years for the Fighting Irish. He’s 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, and while some draftniks believe he isn’t tall enough to play left tackle, his strength and athleticism may combat his size.

Martin was the foundation of an offensive line that gave up just eight sacks, tied for second most in the country, playing against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Stanford. His durability is intriguing for the Cardinals, especially since the offensive line has been hit with injuries during the past two seasons. The Cardinals need someone quick enough to redirect the likes of St. Louis' Robert Quinn or San Francisco's Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, or Seattle's Cliff Avril or Chris Clemons, just to name a few.

The Cardinals allowed 41 sacks last season, which ranks among the middle of the league pack.

Martin opted to return for his redshirt senior season and proved to NFL scouts that he got better with age. But his success in the NFL will depend on how well he can handle outside rushers at his height, when Arizona now employs a left tackle (Bradley Sowell) who’s 6-7, 315 and a right tackle (Eric Winston) who’s 6-7, 302.

If those three inches can come with fewer sacks, count coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim in.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The two most important pieces on Arizona’s offensive line have only heard about how loud CenturyLink Field in Seattle can get.

Winston
Sowell
Neither right tackle Eric Winston nor left tackle Bradley Sowell have ever played in the loudest stadium in the NFL. That may present a problem at some point Sunday, when the Cardinals are fighting to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Arizona will go with a silent count in Seattle, like it does for every road game. That part doesn’t concern Winston, an eight-year veteran. It’s getting the plays from quarterback Carson Palmer to the huddle and then changing the blocking scheme at the line of scrimmage that has Winston worried.

“What slows you down is, all of a sudden, backers shifting around and moving, that changes calls and all of a sudden we’re trying to make calls, [and it’s like] ‘What did you say?’” said Winston, who also hasn’t played at Soldier Field in Chicago and Ford Field in Detroit. “Everybody has calls to make. That’s what can get confusing with the crowd noise in a way, for me at least. The silent count doesn’t slow you down.”

Arizona has prepared all week with sound piped into practice, including Friday in the bubble. The Cardinals need to do everything they can to make the noise a non-factor, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.

Easier said than done. Seattle’s noise isn’t just a myth that has made its away from locker room to locker room, the lore growing in stature each time a player retells his story about playing in vaunted CenturyLink Field.

The noise is real.

Against New Orleans on Dec. 2, the crowd noise inside CenturyLink Field reached 137.6 decibels, which set a new Guinness World Record. According to The Associated Press, a jet engine at 100 feet is 140 decibels.

“Everybody told me it’s really loud,” Sowell said. “But silent count is silent count regardless of how loud it is, we do a lot of silent count on the road. So, it’ll be the same thing this week and hopefully we’ll adjust to it.

“It’s really challenging to make it to where it’s an even jump off the ball. Sometimes if you’re a little late and they get a good jump, it could be tough.”

Sowell said he’ll be keeping one eye on the ball and another on his lineman. It’s basically the only thing he can do to make sure he gets a good enough jump when the ball is snapped.

Arizona has 17 false start penalties – including eight by Winston and two by Sowell – and going off a silent count against the top-ranked defense in the league in the loudest stadium in the NFL doesn’t bode well for that number staying where it is.

“It’s probably toughest on the guys that have to block the D-ends,” Palmer said. “You are a guy away from the ball and you are trying to use your peripheral vision. You have two very good pass-rushers, three very good pass-rushers that they have, so you have to try to jump the count, try to stay on sides.

“There is a fine line between those two and also worry about the guy that is coming at you.”

Winston and Sowell know all about it.
TEMPE, Ariz. – When Cardinals running back Andre Ellington went down in practice on Nov. 28, quarterback Carson Palmer gave the rookie an important piece of advice.

Don’t go back in, the veteran told the newbie.

“That day, when I went down, he told me, ‘Don’t go back in at all … just kind of get your mental reps. We need you healthy,’” Ellington said. “He was the main guy to tell me not to go back in.”

If there was one person for Ellington to listen to about taking mental reps, it’s Palmer. He spent the week leading up to Sunday’s win over the Rams not throwing any balls in practice while a sore throwing elbow healed. Instead, Palmer took mental reps every day, and it worked. Palmer’s 84.38 completion percentage against St. Louis was the best for an NFC quarterback this season, the best of his career and the second best in Arizona franchise history.

The idea of taking mental reps is to let players -- usually veterans -- walk through each play in practice without adding more wear and tear to their bodies. A novel idea for the 8-5 Cardinals, who need a win on Sunday at Tennessee to stay in the NFC playoff hunt.

“You stand right behind center and you see the field and you see the coverage unfold as you would if you had the ball in your hands and you were delivering it,” Palmer said. “You try to get the mental rep as much as you can and try to match it up with what you see on film after practice when you watch it.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said the mental reps are what helped Palmer play so well against St. Louis. But it’s a skill that’s learned with age. Rookies don’t know how to take those mental reps as well as vets.

Call it a trick of the trade.

“I think if you’re a vet and you know what you’re doing, absolutely you put yourself in that situation so when you get in the game and you know what’s going on you can do it,” right tackle Eric Winston said.

While some players use mental reps to just get a day off sometimes, others take advantage of them when they’re hurt.

When wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was out with his hamstring injury, he went through mental reps in practice. They helped him visualize how the defense would play him, which he put to good use in games.

But for as much as they help, mental reps don’t replace the real thing.

“It’s not as good as actually running the rep for me but when you don’t have any other choice, mental reps are very important,” Fitzgerald said. “And as you saw last week, Carson didn’t throw a ball all week. All he did was take mental reps in the passing game and he only posted the second-highest passer rating in history. He shouldn’t take any reps this week.”

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