NFL Nation: Ken Hamlin

IRVING, Texas -- It's a week before the Dallas Cowboys arrive in Oxnard, California, for training camp and we already know just how big of a year it is for Bruce Carter.

It's been written and talked about countless times in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Bruce Carter
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesCowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2011, is set to become a free agent after this season.
Carter is entering the final year of his rookie contract, set to become a free agent after the season. At one point he was viewed as a core player, vital to the future growth of the Cowboys' defense. After a frustrating 2013 season, he is not viewed that way anymore.

But it doesn't mean he can't be viewed that way again.

In 2011, Anthony Spencer was in a contract year and tied his career high with six sacks. He also had 31 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. His overall game made him a valuable player in the Cowboys' 3-4.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the 2012 season.

In another contract year, Spencer had his best season, putting up a career-high 11 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl bid.

The Cowboys put the franchise tag on him again for 2013, guaranteeing him nearly $20 million over the two seasons in which he was tagged.

Last season, he played in only one game because of a knee injury that required microfracture surgery and might keep him out of the beginning of this season. Once again he is in a contract year, having signed a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.5 million.

Jason Hatcher was in a contract year last year and responded with his best season. He had 11 sacks -- after putting up just 16 in his previous seven -- and was named to the Pro Bowl. His age -- he turned 32 on Sunday -- kept the Cowboys from making a play at re-signing him, but the Washington Redskins signed him to a four-year, $27.5 million deal as a free agent.

Way back in 2007, Ken Hamlin joined the Cowboys on a one-year deal. He put up a career-high five picks and was named to the Pro Bowl. Prior to the 2008 season, he signed a six-year, $39 million deal with the Cowboys that included $15 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2009 season.

Some contract years have not been as productive. Cornerback Mike Jenkins saw the Cowboys add Brandon Carr in free agency with a $50 million deal and draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. Jenkins was coming off shoulder surgery, did his rehab elsewhere and started only two of 13 games in 2012. He signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Gerald Sensabaugh played on three straight one-year deals with the Cowboys from 2009-11 before cashing in at the end of the 2011 season with a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2012 season.

Which brings us back to Carter, the club's second-round pick in 2011.

"That's certainly a cliché thing in all of sports, that people talk about, 'He's in a contract year and he's going to take a different approach than he had up till this point,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know if I buy that with guys that I have been around. I think Bruce Carter wants to be a really good football player. I think that's independent of anything that is going on in the business side. I think getting comfortable in this scheme for the second year -- I think Sean Lee's absence will help him. It will force him to step up a little bit more. It will force Justin Durant to step up a little bit more. Sometimes you can have a player as strong as Sean Lee is -- such a great leader like Sean is -- sometimes you defer to that guy. I think it's really important for those guys to understand he's not here right now. They have to step up. They've done a better job of that throughout the OTAs and minicamp."

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said Carter has "ramped up," the meetings with the position coach in the offseason.

"I think he's taking steps in the right direction," Eberflus said. "And he's putting the work in. He's meeting with me as much as he can. Studying the tape, giving him clear and concise goals daily for practice and he's doing a good job of attaining those goals each and every day so when he does that he takes steps in the right direction to improve his fundamentals and his game."

Rex Ryan masterful in molding Jets roster

January, 20, 2011
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Baltimore Ravens thought they could pull a fast one for a Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens needed to add a safety and signed free-agent Ken Hamlin. To make room, they cut veteran defensive lineman Trevor Pryce with the intention of bringing him back after the game.

Rex Ryan and Santonio Holmes
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesOne of coach Rex Ryan's best moves was getting receiver Santonio Holmes for a fifth-round pick last offseason.
They didn't expect Rex Ryan would swoop in.

Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, immediately identified Pryce as a player who could help the New York Jets and signed him within a day.

"He knows exactly what he wants," Pryce said Wednesday at his locker stall in the Jets' facility.

"He has in his mind what a football team's supposed to be and what kinds of parts and pieces you need for a football team and the personalities and what a guy can do."

Snagging Pryce was the kind of sudden move that illustrates Ryan's analytical conviction and the Jets' willingness to pull the trigger on a deal that can improve their roster.

Since Rex Ryan has taken over as Jets head coach, they have undergone substantial roster turnover and reached the AFC Championship Game both years. They will play the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field for a ticket to the Super Bowl.

When the Jets lost to the Colts in AFC title game last year, it was a great sign for a team on the make. One would expect a reluctance to tinker with a good thing.

But by June, Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum had turned over 25 percent of their roster. Only eight teams, most of them rebuilding organizations, had gotten rid of more players.

"If I thought there was any flaw about somebody else, maybe from a character standpoint as far as what kind of leader they were as a teammate and all that type of stuff, we just moved on," Ryan said. "Not saying they can't play in the NFL; they just couldn't play for us.

"I wanted guys that are great teammates, that care about each other, that are committed to winning and committing to building each other up. And that's what we have. We have a whole team of those right now."

Only 23 players on the Jets' active roster were here when Ryan arrived in 2009.

The Jets intrepidly have pulled several high-profile moves to accumulate players they want. They traded up to draft quarterback Mark Sanchez in 2009 and acquired receiver Braylon Edwards a few games into the season.

Over the past offseason, they made highly favorable trades for receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie. They signed castoff veterans such as running back LaDainian Tomlinson, outside linebacker Jason Taylor and safety Brodney Pool.

"We don't make moves just to stay the same or make moves just to be selling newspapers or something," Ryan said. "The moves that we made went to better our football team.

"Our only purpose of making the moves we made in the offseason was to better our chances of winning a Super Bowl, and I think now you see some of those moves really paying off for us."

Pryce explained Ryan has an affinity for "people that have beat up on him. If you've beaten him before, he wants you. If you can't beat them, put them on your team."

Holmes certainly falls in that category. The Jets got him from the Steelers for a measly fifth-round pick.

"I just wanted him," Ryan said. "I never cared about the compensation. Let Tannenbaum figure that out. I just knew that anybody that beat me that bad, that I'd just as soon have him on our team. Three games in a row when I was in Baltimore, he beat us."

Holmes came cheaply because he'd gotten into trouble so frequently and the Steelers, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger making ghastly headlines at the time, were tired of dealing with character issues. The NFL was on the verge of suspending Holmes the first four games of the season for substance abuse.

Holmes has been an asset for the Jets. He had 52 receptions for 746 yards and six touchdowns and has been on his best behavior.

A reporter asked Pryce why the Jets have been able to make the Holmes acquisition work so well when the Steelers felt compelled to give up on the former Super Bowl MVP.

"We all have issues," Pryce said. "If you figure that we all have issues, then his issues are just another issue. If all of us are covered in mud, he doesn't stick out."

Ryan's ability to quickly and astutely recognize a commodity and then integrate him into the locker room is masterful and a critical reason the Jets have gotten within one step of the Super Bowl two years in a row.

Pryce predicted Ryan won't be satisfied with success when it comes to assembling his roster for 2011 either.

"There's probably 12 or 15 guys you know he'd love to have around the league," Pryce said. "When they get released, which they will, they'll all be here one way or another."
Braylon EdwardsWilliam Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireThe Colts gave up big plays, including this Braylon Edwards catch to set up the winning field goal.
INDIANAPOLIS -- They trudged to the helmet painted on the turf at midfield, offering congratulations to the team that ended their season.

In time, the Colts might come to consider this pre-Super Bowl playoff exit the least painful and most dismissible of the seven they’ve endured during a nine-year run of postseason qualification. On Saturday night, of course, they were too close to it to think or speak that way.

They saw a blown opportunity in their 17-16 loss to the New York Jets in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

So they’ll carry regret into the offseason, regret not so much about losing to the Jets, but losing to the Jets like that.

By blowing three leads.

The Colts were up 7-0, 10-7 and 16-14.

By watching the Jets convert five of seven third downs in the second half while they failed to convert two third-and-longs in the fourth quarter that left them settling for field goals.

The first, a third-and-7, produced only a 1-yard run by Dominic Rhodes against a heavy defensive-back set.

“They had seven DBs, they had 34, [cornerback Marquice] Cole at defensive end, it was 100 percent pass coverage,” Peyton Manning said. “That’s a lot of DBs. We just thought they’re not going to think we’re going to run it. We’ve got to be able to pick those up.”

The second, a third-and-6, was a Manning sprint out to the right and a throw to Blair White that looked to be a bit short on the right side. White couldn’t corral it as he went to the ground.

By allowing New York to keep the ball with a running-into-the-punter penalty, which resulted in two timeouts burned ahead of schedule and 34 fewer seconds on the clock when the Colts got the ball back.

Taj Smith was flagged despite trying to hold up Jets punter Steve Weatherford once he’d made contact.

“He did a good acting job and I should have played it more conservative, it just was a bad play on my part,” Smith said. “… They just said play it more smart and keep my head up.”

By allowing a 47-yard kickoff return with 53 seconds remaining that positioned the Jets for a quick drive and a field goal as time expired.

[+] EnlargeColts quarterback Peyton Manning
AP Photo/AJ MastThe loss to the Jets was the seventh time in Peyton Manning's 11 trips to the playoffs that the Colts failed to advance beyond their first game.
“It goes from putting a lot of pressure on the offense to putting a lot of pressure on the defense with that field position change,” Manning said.

The Colts aren’t used to watching that unfold with their offense on the sideline. They’re used to Manning and the offense making the other team’s offense squirm on the sideline, enduring a sense of helplessness.

“It’s just bad execution on our part,” left tackle Charlie Johnson said. “It’s bad because … I want to be careful here. You have to give them credit. They played a great game, but at the same time I feel like the better team didn’t win.”

It was the seventh exit in the Colts’ first game of the playoffs in Manning’s 11 trips to the postseason, the sort of context the Colts absolutely hate to have pointed out to them.

“We’ve been to the playoffs nine consecutive years. I don’t think this team has to explain itself to anybody as far as what we are doing in the playoffs,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “A team’s pinnacle is to get to the playoffs and we’ve done that consistently.”

Said Johnson: “I think it’s bogus. I think there are some teams in the league that would love to have the success we’ve had, regardless of going to Super Bowls or not -- winning so many games over the years, winning 12 or more games however many years in a row, going to the playoffs nine straight years. There are a ton of teams that would take that and be happy with it.”

This exit will ultimately deserve a less harsh review than some others because of how deep the injury-riddled Colts had to dig along the way. They ended the game with Ken Hamlin at free safety. He signed Dec. 22 and was, at the very best, their fifth option at the position this season.

Coming into the game the question for Rex Ryan was, if his team couldn’t get past the Colts now, when might it ever?

Before Manning left the interview podium for the last time in what may be quite a long time, he offered a glimpse into how the 2010 Colts were looking at a potential playoff run, at how things might have been different this time.

“It would have been fun to have kind of gotten on a little run here, there would have been a different feeling,” Manning said. “I thought we would have been the underdog in every game. I thought we were the underdog tonight. We would have been the underdog going to Pittsburgh. That’s certainly a different feeling.

“Usually in the playoffs we’re always kind of usually the favorite to win, expected to win. This would have been a fun little run. This has been a fun little run, these last few weeks, we felt like they’ve all been playoff games. This was the best team we’ve played in some time. We certainly had a chance and just came up short.”

Rare err: Tom Brady INTs a limited edition

December, 30, 2010
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Tom Brady and Brodney PoolJim Rogash/Getty ImagesTom Brady, left, has gone a remarkable 319 attempts without an interception this season.
Mere mention of the stat elicits astonished replies. Professional athletes and coaches -- grown men who have seen a few things in their day -- stammer in awe.

"That's ... That's ... That's ... That's something else," Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found the number "mind-boggling," and he owns a Harvard economics degree.

"It's ... I mean," Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said before a contemplative pause to gather his thoughts. "It blows my mind a little bit, to be honest with you."

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has thrown four interceptions this year. He hasn't misfired once since Oct. 17, a record span of 319 attempts and counting.

Brady has been the ultimate mistake minimalist. With one game left in a phenomenal season, he could finish with the lowest interception percentage of any quarterback to start more than 10 games.

"Even the best quarterbacks have something they give away," New York Jets safety Brodney Pool said. "He really doesn't. It's hard for opposing DBs to get a clue. He's very smart. He knows where to go with the ball and knows the weaknesses of the coverages.

"You can try to hold a coverage, but even if you trick him one time he'll come back the next time and you won't know what hit you."

Brady has a 0.84 interception percentage. The NFL record of 0.41 was set by former Brady backup Damon Huard with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. Huard threw one interception, but that was with 10 starts and only 244 attempts.

Carr
Carr
Pool
Pool
Brady's interceptions have been limited to two games. If the Dolphins don't pick him off Sunday in Gillette Stadium, then Brady will join Steve DeBerg as the only quarterbacks not to be intercepted in 14 starts. DeBerg also threw four interceptions in 1990, but Brady already has 32 more attempts than DeBerg had that year.

Pool and Carr comprise half the membership of the exclusive "I Intercepted Brady In 2010 Club." Also in are Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie and former Ravens safety Ken Hamlin, now of the Indianapolis Colts.

Hamlin
Hamlin
Cromartie
Cromartie
Neither Pool nor Carr keeps the footballs from his big plays. In retrospect, Pool says he regrets not hanging onto his Brady ball.

"You know what?" Pool admitted. "I thought about that after the game: 'Man, that was Tom Brady. That's pretty special.' I should've kept it."

That baby was a limited edition.

"I don't keep any balls," Carr said. "A ball is a ball to me. It probably would end up lost in my house, laying around somewhere."

That's right. Carr's chances of losing that ball -- even with nobody trying to steal it -- probably would be higher than Brady's.

"Sport Science" examined the likelihood of a quarterback not throwing an interception in 319 straight attempts.

Since Brady's last interception, quarterbacks around the league have thrown 296 of them, 2.9 percent of all attempts. Based on those averages, the chances of dodging an interception on 319 straight throws would be 0.00837 percent -- or one in 11,947.

Math is one thing. Where a fellow quarterback such as Fitzpatrick or an opposing coach like Sparano has comprehension problems is when they consider how Brady has skirted all those happenstances that cause interceptions.

A tip, a bobble, a defender hitting the quarterback's arm as he throws, a receiver falling down, a badly gripped football in the snow, a wind gust altering trajectory just enough ...

Brady's season is even more incredible when considering the Patriots receivers are second only to the Detroit Lions in drops this year. ESPN Stats & Information has charted 36 drops for the Patriots and a league-worst 11 for Wes Welker.

"A tipped ball has haunted us three or four times this season in different ways, whether it's just fluttering up in the air or lands on the ground," Sparano said. "To think that not one of those -- not one of those things -- is happening in 300-plus attempts is pretty impressive."

Most of the four interceptions Brady did throw weren't his fault. Three of them were deep balls. Two were long passes to Randy Moss, who's no longer on the team. Moss twice tipped the ball into the air before Pool swooped in and made a tippy-toe grab at the sideline. The play originally was ruled incomplete and overturned on video review.

Hamlin fielded Brady's last interception, a Hail Mary skyball that sailed 48 yards through the air and into the end zone on the last play before overtime against the Ravens.

Since that play, Brady has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,536 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Carr stressed that interception-avoidance isn't about luck with Brady. He's a great quarterback within a proficient offensive structure. The Patriots often have a lead and rarely play from more than one score behind, erasing the need for Brady to force throws late in games.

"It's more quarterback than system," Carr said. "If you put any other quarterback in that system, he's not going to have that streak. You put Brady in any system and he's going to be successful."

Joe Montana threw at least seven interceptions each season he made 10 starts. Dan Marino never threw fewer than nine interceptions in any season he started at least 10 games.

John Elway had double-digit interceptions every year he played. Brett Favre threw a career-low seven interceptions once as a starter, but never fewer than 13 interceptions any other season.

Peyton Manning has a pair of four-interception games this year. Drew Brees has one also.

A search of Pro-Football-Reference.com turns up seven Hall of Fame quarterbacks with at least seven "quadriception" games on their ledgers since 1960. George Blanda had 18, Joe Namath 15 and Terry Bradshaw 12.

Brady owns five four-interception games.

Yet he's one game away from closing out a four-interception season.

Criminy, the Patriots' defense has returned that many interceptions for touchdowns this year.

"He doesn't stare down receivers like some quarterbacks do," Carr said. "He looks off receivers when he does throw the ball down the field. When the receiver's not there, he's going to throw the ball away. When it's time to take a sack, he's going to take a sack.

"He has confidence that 'Hey, if the throw's there I'm going to make it. If it's not, we're going to live to play another series, and we'll score then.' He takes what the defense gives him."

Brady hasn't thrown any interceptions on passes that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air, ESPN Stats & Information notes. And before you dismiss that zero as unimpressive because those are higher-percentage throws, keep in mind Drew Brees has thrown 12 interceptions in this range. Eli Manning has thrown 13.

Brady has 358 passing attempts of 10 yards or shorter. Every quarterback with at least 115 attempts in this category has been intercepted.

Carr noted Brady didn't make a mistake on his interception, a deep pass over the middle to Welker. Carr said the Ravens tricked Brady by doing something unexpected.

But when asked to recount the play, Carr showed deference to Brady's and the Patriots' shrewdness. The Ravens might meet the Patriots again in the playoffs.

"I'm always thinking ahead," Carr said with a chuckle. "I know how smart Brady and them are. They'll read the article. Somebody in the organization will go back and watch the film and get a little bead on that. They're always looking for that advantage."

Dolphins at Ravens inactives

November, 7, 2010
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BALTIMORE -- Inactives for Sunday's game between the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium:

Miami Dolphins
Baltimore Ravens

Rex Ryan reunites with Trevor Pryce

September, 30, 2010
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Rex Ryan reportedly has snatched up another of his former Baltimore Ravens stars.

ESPN's Adam Schefter, citing an unnamed league source, reports the New York Jets on Thursday agreed to contract terms with four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce. The Ravens terminated Pryce's contract so they could add safety Ken Hamlin to the roster.

Pryce, 35, has faded, but he has a reputation for being a strong leader, something that couldn't hurt in the Jets locker room. He ranks third among active players with 90 sacks and had a team high 6.5 last year. But he didn't start for the Ravens this season and has one tackle.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday they intended to re-sign Pryce, a move that would allow them to save money on a reduced contract.

"You've got roster issues that you deal with," Harbaugh said. "It's not something we wanted to do. Trevor is a big part of what we're doing here, and we anticipate getting him back. It's just what we had to do for now."

Pryce took a $2.5 million pay cut during the offseason to remain with the Ravens. He was replaced in the starting lineup last year by Dwan Edwards, now with the Buffalo Bills.

The Jets will play the Bills on Sunday afternoon in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Ravens happy to take NFC West castoffs

September, 6, 2010
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An imaginary (but possible) scene from a Baltimore Ravens practice:
Quarterback Marc Bulger drops back to pass. Defensive end Cory Redding applies pressure. Bulger rolls to his left, sets his feet and pump-fakes to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, luring safety Ken Hamlin away from receiver Anquan Boldin. Bulger looks back to his right and throws across the field for Boldin, only to have Josh Wilson intercept the pass.

The Baltimore Ravens' one-year deal with recently released Seattle Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh makes it all possible. The Ravens already signed or acquired NFC West castoffs Bulger (St. Louis Rams), Redding (Seahawks), Hamlin (once a second-round choice in Seattle), Boldin (Arizona Cardinals) and Wilson (Seahawks).

Houshmandzadeh is getting $885,000 from the Ravens. He'll get another $6.15 million from the Seahawks as part of the $7 million they guaranteed to him.

Baltimore has strong enough leadership, particularly on defense, to absorb such a varied mix of personalities. It's too bad the Ravens don't play any NFC West teams this season.

Ken Hamlin happy to join Ravens

June, 17, 2010
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ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Thursday that free-agent safety Ken Hamlin agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens.

[+] EnlargeKen Hamlin
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesFormer Dallas safety Ken Hamlin signed a one-year contract with Baltimore.
Hamlin later confirmed the move and checked in with ESPN.com's AFC North blog to share his thoughts on joining the Ravens.

Ken, you had interest from several teams. How important was it to go to a situation where you feel you can compete for a championship?

Ken Hamlin: It was definitely important. The idea is to build for a championship. I think this team has done a great job of being in the running to be one of those teams competing for a championship for years. The additions that they made this offseason shows they want to go an extra step further. I think that's important for them, and it was important for me to be a part of this team.

For those in Baltimore who haven't seen you play, what does Ken Hamlin bring to the Ravens?

Hamlin: I definitely know the game. I'm a leader in my own respect. I don't just lead by talking; I try to lead by example. I'm going to go out there and play hard on every snap.

What are your thoughts on playing next to safety Ed Reed?

Hamlin: Well, Ed is definitely at the top of his game. He really is the signature of what an [ideal] safety is like right now -- making big plays and turning over big plays into points. Being able to play with him on the same team and learning the things he does and how he makes those plays is huge.

Any hard feelings being released by the Dallas Cowboys?

Hamlin: It's no hard feelings. I enjoyed the time that I was there. I definitely had fun. I enjoyed the fans, I enjoyed the team, and I enjoyed my teammates. That's one thing in this business: You can't really get too comfortable because it's always business decisions being made out there. You can't lose respect for the team or the players from that, because I loved being there.

The Big Question: Boys in safety squeeze?

May, 4, 2010
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» NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Have the Cowboys created a problem for themselves by trying to be thrifty?

[+] EnlargeAlan Ball
Jimn Luzzi/Getty ImagesAlan Ball is projected to start at safety in place of the recently released Ken Hamlin.
After the way starting safety Ken Hamlin performed in 2009, I don't think a lot of Cowboys fans were broken up about his release. But some of those fans are about to get a reality check when the inexperienced Alan Ball and his projected backup Michael Hamlin take the field in 2010.

Ken (no relation to Michael) wasn't living up to the lucrative contract that he earned after a Pro Bowl season in 2007. He took poor angles and he wasn't a sure tackler. Ball, who converted from cornerback, filled in nicely in '09 but no one knows if he's ready to start for a full season. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has hinted the team might sign a free-agent safety, but the pickings are pretty slim at this point. Saints Pro Bowler Darren Sharper was on the open market for a long time, and now we know why.

The Cowboys should know more than anyone that rolling the dice at safety isn't a good approach. When Darren Woodson was injured before the '04 season, the Cowboys were held hostage by that position. Over the years, they've tried everyone from Keith Davis to Pat Watkins, but things didn't settle down until Ken Hamlin showed up in '07.

Gerald Sensabaugh had a nice season for the Cowboys in '09, but they need another player who's strong in coverage and can call out adjustments. Sensabaugh's at his best when he can simply focus on playing. If the Cowboys are leaning on Ball to get them in the right coverages, there could be some issues. I think he's a talented player, but he's someone better suited for a backup role.

Everyone keeps talking about left tackle, but I think Cowboys fans should be more concerned about safety.

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
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» NFC Approach: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Dallas Cowboys

Now that Jerry Jones has released left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin, there's more of a sense of urgency at those spots in the draft. The Cowboys will replace Adams with Doug Free, but they could still take an offensive tackle or guard at No. 27 overall. Safety Nate Allen and cornerback Devin McCourty are two players the Cowboys really like late in the first round.

There's a belief that safeties Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin could get the job done in a pinch, but the Cowboys will focus on that position in the draft. Last year's approach involved saving money -- if you can believe that. The Cowboys' first picks were Nos. 69 and 74. The only true impact player from the '09 draft was kickoff specialist David Buehler. In this year's draft, the Cowboys need to select players who can have a more immediate impact. If an offensive tackle starts to slip in the first round, don't be surprised if the Cowboys are there to catch him.

In the past, the Cowboys have emphasized need over value out of necessity. In this year's draft, I think staying at No. 27 and going with the best value is what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish. Releasing Hamlin and Adams certainly changed the dynamic heading into the draft, but it also provided some clarity.

New York Giants

General manager Jerry Reese almost never gets caught reaching in a draft. He doesn't normally go for project players in the first three rounds, although Ramses Barden is certainly the exception. This year's approach has to be a little different, though. The Giants were exposed on defense in several areas last season.

They can't afford to simply take the "best-player-on-the-board" philosophy. The Giants need help at linebacker and defensive tackle. And another pass-rusher would be nice. I'd be very surprised if the Giants took an offensive player at No. 15 overall. If Rolando McClain out of Alabama is there, look for Reese to take him. He's exactly the type of player Reese and Coughlin love -- remarkably intelligent and a natural leader. After losing Antonio Pierce, the Giants need more players like that.

Philadelphia Eagles

With the Sheldon Brown/Chris Gocong trade, the Eagles are now thin at cornerback and linebacker. And it's not as if they had an embarrassment of riches at those positions before the trade. In the past, the Eagles have been very open to moving down in the first round. And with the depth of talent in this year's draft, that's certainly a possibility. But at No. 24, something tells me the Eagles will stay right there and draft the best cornerback or safety available. They've taken a long look at Texas' Earl Thomas, but I don't know if he'll be available at that point.

The Eagles need more firepower at linebacker, so that's also an option in the first round. They've spent the past couple of drafts bolstering their offense with speed at the skill positions. Now it's time to start retooling that defense. I'd be very surprised if the Eagles don't take a defensive player at No. 24.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan continues to meet with quarterbacks despite the blockbuster trade for Donovan McNabb. I recall McNabb not enjoying a certain draft pick in '07, so it will be interesting to see whether Shanahan addresses the quarterback position in the draft.

Of course, the draft focus now turns to left tackle. The Redskins don't have a viable candidate there unless they sign the aging Flozell Adams. And general manager Bruce Allen said on a local radio show that he's talked to Adams' agent. But I still think left tackle Russell Okung of Oklahoma State is the way to go for the Redskins at No. 4 overall. The Redskins will have to wait until Saturday to pick again unless they somehow land a second-round pick in a trade.

So in reality, the Redskins will only find one immediate starter in this draft. And by the way, Shanahan needs to start drafting some larger inside linebackers. As I've said many times, London Fletcher is not going to hold up in this defense for very long. Part of that is age, but most of it is size.

How did moves affect Cowboys' draft?

April, 3, 2010
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The Dallas Cowboys could have waited until after the draft to release left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin, but they decided to go ahead and pull the trigger. Obviously, the moves suggest safety and offensive tackle will be even bigger needs on the first couple days of the draft.

The Cowboys have a replacement for Adams in Doug Free, but it's not a sure thing Alan Ball or Michael Hamlin can become starters. The Cowboys brought in safeties Nate Allen, Morgan Burnett and Chad Jones for visits Friday.

Of that group, I think South Florida's Allen is the most likely to be chosen at No. 27 by the Cowboys. And as I've suggested several times, Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty is also a player they really like. Some mock drafters have the Cowboys selecting left tackle Anthony Davis at No. 27, but I don't see that one at all.

We'll keep you posted. Go Butler!

Dallas Cowboys release Adams, Hamlin

April, 2, 2010
4/02/10
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So much for the quiet Dallas Cowboys offseason. On Friday morning, the Cowboys released starting left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin.

The timing of the release is quite surprising when you consider the Cowboys were not up against some type of deadline. Adams was due a $2.5 million roster bonus in June, but the Cowboys could have waited to see what happened in April's draft.

Hamlin needed to be gone at some point, but it certainly leaves at hole at the position. The move signals that the Cowboys want to give some young players an opportunity.

Unless something crazy happens in the draft, Doug Free is now the starting left tackle. And Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin will compete to replace Hamlin.

There's also a chance the Cowboys could go after someone such as Nate Allen with the No. 27 pick. I had written about this potential move Thursday. But I'm surprised it happened this quickly.

Cowboys' draft could cause big changes

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
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AP Photo/Matt SlocumThe decisions Jerry Jones, seen above with coach Wade Phillips at Valley Ranch during the 2008 draft, makes in the draft later this month will say a lot about the futures of Cowboys Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin.
It's important to read between the lines when Jerry Jones is talking because what he's actually saying doesn't always make a lot of sense. A lengthy non-answer to my recent question about the futures of left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin told me everything I needed to know heading into the draft.

Jones refused to guarantee either player a roster spot in 2010, which leads me to believe he'd at least consider moving on without one or both of them. The Cowboys liked what they saw from Doug Free when he filled in for injured right tackle Marc Colombo last season. As only he can, Jones explained that Free's a little more "left tacklish than right tacklish," which is to say he has excellent feet and operates well in space.

Jones believes that Free's capable of being the full-time starter at left tackle, and he confirmed that during the recent owners meetings. But does that mean he's ready to release a perennial Pro Bowl player in Adams to launch the Free Era? It's one of the biggest decisions Jones will make this offseason, and the upcoming draft should offer us some clues on how he'll proceed.

The Cowboys need to add more quality depth to the offensive line. Offensive tackle Robert Brewster, a third-round pick in '09, is returning from a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered while lifting weights. There's a decent chance the Cowboys will draft an offensive lineman in the first or second round because this line's starting to show some age. Left guard Kyle Kosier's entering the final year of his contract and right guard Leonard Davis turns 32 in September.

If the Cowboys can create enough depth along the offensive line, they may part ways with Adams, who collects false starts and fines at an alarming rate. Jones also mentioned the fact that Davis is capable of sliding over to left tackle, although I think that's a stretch at this point in his career.

Adams, who turns 35 next month, is due a $2.5 million roster bonus in June and his base salary for 2010 is $5 million. That's why Jones has a little breathing room before he has to make a decision.

"We just have not addressed decisions of that nature," Jones said at the owners meetings. "Mulled them over, but just haven’t addressed it. Haven’t had to. It’s not been compelling. As we get closer to OTAs, as we get a read on how we do in drafting. When all of that comes to bear, then we’ll make some decisions if we’ve got to basically make room, so to speak."

I don't think that statement is good news for either Adams or Hamlin, who is scheduled to make $5.59 million in 2010. That's a huge salary for a player who's turned in back-to-back average seasons. In recent weeks, sources with the team have expressed to me their excitement over second-year safety Michael Hamlin (no relation). There's a belief that Hamlin has the instincts to turn into a playmaker at safety. That said, it would not surprise me at all if the Cowboys selected South Florida safety Nate Allen at No. 27 overall.

The Cowboys like Allen and Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty at that spot. Now if an offensive tackle such as Bruce Campbell starts to slip, which could totally happen, the Cowboys will have an interesting decision to make. I think they'd lean toward taking one of the defensive backs. And regarding all this speculation about the Cowboys moving up to take wide receiver Dez Bryant, the folks I've spoken to at Valley Ranch don't see it happening.

But pay close attention to what the Cowboys do in the first few rounds. It should be a pretty good indicator of what's going to happen with Adams and Hamlin.

"They’re on the roster and [we] have not made a decision as to them not being on the roster," said Jones. "And have not given any more consideration there at this time than you have just your overall roster. So you could get some bad information at this juncture if you said somebody said they’re not going to be with you. It’s just speculation, using the logic of what’s caused them to be at issue anyway."

So does that quote pretty much clear things up for you guys? No?

The bottom line is that Jones' refusal to give either player his endorsement is pretty revealing.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
1:00
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» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Ken Hamlin, Dallas Cowboys safety: The veteran safety reportedly (he tweeted it) spent some time at the Playboy Mansion this past weekend and didn't make it back in time for the first official day of "voluntary" workouts. The Cowboys offer make-up sessions, so this in itself isn't a big deal. But Hamlin's future is already hanging in the balance because he hasn't lived up to his lucrative contract extension.

There's a decent chance the Cowboys draft his replacement in the first round. And if you see someone such as South Florida's Nate Allen come off the board at No. 27, it might be a good sign that Hamlin's on his way out. Hamlin is known as a fierce hitter, but he continues to get victimized in coverage. With the Eagles and Giants both making moves to upgrade at safety, the Cowboys can't afford to go with status quo. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Hamlin's released this offseason. I don't think anyone wants to trade for his contract.

Update: The Cowboys cut Hamlin and offensive tackle Flozell Adams on Friday.

Rising

Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback

He's just biding his time while the Eagles try to find an exit strategy for Donovan McNabb. But with each day, fans become more and more excited about the Kolb Era. He needs to enjoy it while it lasts. Kolb's a laidback Texan off the field, but his young teammates have come to respect his presence in the huddle.

Outside of Brian Westbrook (released) and fullback Leonard Weaver, you haven't heard anyone rush to McNabb's defense. I think young players such as Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek are ready to play with Kolb. I also think Kolb has a lot more respect from scouts around the league than some folks think. Do you think the Eagles would trade Kolb if someone offered them a late first-round pick? I don't.

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
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» NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Dallas Cowboys

We've spent a lot of time talking about the needs at safety and placekicker. And as I explained Tuesday evening, owner Jerry Jones feels like the competition between Connor Hughes and David Buehler will produce a suitable placekicker. I think that's a poor plan, but Jones did not seek my counsel during our lengthy discussion. So what are the Cowboys' biggest needs that no one's talking about?

Well, let's start with outside linebacker. Wade Phillips, a champion of outside linebackers, told me that this draft is full of talent at that spot. The Cowboys need someone to emerge behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Phillips mentioned that former Texas Tech star Brandon Williams was showing signs of being up to the task before suffering an injury last preseason. Both Phillips and Ware are excited about Williams' future. The Cowboys also have second-year player Victor Butler, who had his moments in '09. But I still think the Cowboys will look for help in next month's draft. They'll probably go with an offensive lineman at No. 27 overall, but it wouldn't surprise me if that next pick was an outside linebacker.

Everyone knows that replacing Ken Hamlin at safety is also a point of emphasis with the Cowboys. That's why I think Dallas will keep a close eye on which player starts to slip in the first round. If teams get fascinated with all this left tackle depth, a couple of safeties might start to slide in the first round. But I think the Cowboys also will look to draft another cornerback. As the Eagles found out last season, you can never have enough corners. The Cowboys were pretty fortunate with injuries in '09, but they can't count on Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick to make it through the season without getting banged up. So yes, I think cornerback is certainly an under-the-radar need.

New York Giants

We all assume the Giants will take a defensive player with the No. 15 pick. And Tom Coughlin basically confirmed that during the recent owners meetings. But don't be surprised if the Giants look to take another running back this season. I don't know whether Andre Brown (Achilles' tendon) will make a full return, so it's important to keep developing young backs. Both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw were banged up in '09. The Giants need to create more depth at that position.

I also think tight end is an under-the-radar need. Kevin Boss has developed into a consistent threat, but the Giants need to identify and draft another tight end. I think Travis Beckum has some talent as he heads into his second season, but he's more of an H-back than a true tight end. Don't be surprised if the Giants go for a tight end in the third or fourth round. And keep the offensive and defensive linemen coming. General manager Jerry Reese knows that his offensive line is starting to show some age, so look for him to add depth via the draft. So far, last season's free agency moves with defensive tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard look pretty sketchy, so they'll have to address that position as well.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have some rather glaring needs at linebacker and safety. If you think Marlin Jackson's the automatic answer at free safety, you're a pretty optimistic Eagles fan. I don't trust a man who's had an ACL tear on each knee the past two seasons. So you have to take a long look at rookies such as Nate Allen and Taylor Mays and decide what you want to do at No. 24.

The Eagles also have an under-the-radar need at tight end. Brent Celek has emerged as one of the best in the league, but the Eagles could use a blocking tight end to help the running game. Mike Bell gives them more power in the backfield. Now, they have to open a hole or two in short-yardage situations. The Eagles have an excellent fullback, but let's not act like Leonard Weaver's some type of battering ram at that position.

In other news, it's time to draft some more cornerbacks. Sheldon Brown's starting to break down and Asante Samuel didn't play well down the stretch. His interception totals are nice, but the guy makes way too many mistakes. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was very frustrated with him at times. The Eagles have to create more depth at cornerback -- and the draft's a good place to start.

Washington Redskins

We know where Washington stands at quarterback and left tackle. I think Jason Campbell could do a nice job for Mike Shanahan, but so far, the coach isn't really embracing the incumbent starter. But those are the obvious needs. Honestly, there are no under-the-radar needs because the Redskins need help at pretty much every position. Maybe with the presence of Albert Haynesworth and Maake Kemoeatu, folks have been lulled into thinking the Redskins are OK at defensive tackle. But I don't think that's the case. If you can find a nose tackle early in the draft, you have to think about selecting him. Haynesworth's going to line up at defensive end the majority of the time. He wants no part of playing nose tackle, although he'll be there some of the time.

The Redskins would also be wise to look for inside linebackers for their new 3-4 scheme. If you think London Fletcher's going to succeed in a 3-4, you haven't studied the league. Little guys like Fletcher simply don't function well in this type of defense. Ask the Cowboys' former mighty mites Dat Nguyen and Dexter Coakley. It just doesn't work for 5-10 guys to be taking on 340-pound guards who are light on their feet. So yes, inside linebacker might qualify as an under-the-radar need.

The Redskins still have questions at punter and placekicker as well. They have needs all over the roster, so this could rank as the most important draft in the last 20 years. Nothing's really under-the-radar when it comes to this team's draft needs.

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