NFL Nation: Laurent Robinson

Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it, we discuss:
If you want to see Part 1 of the mailbag, click here. And this will be our last Twitter mailbag for a few weeks thanks to some vacation.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: Since Romo is such a golf guy, let's use a golf analogy: he's on the back nine. I don't know how anybody could think otherwise. He is 34. He is coming off two back surgeries. He is in his eighth year as a full-time starter. Just because he is on the back nine doesn't mean he can't play at a high level. I know the odds are stacked and thirty-something quarterbacks haven't won a lot of Super Bowls here lately, but I'd take my chances he's on Holes 12 and 13, if you will. He still has football in him, provided he can stay upright. I do think Romo is smart enough to adapt his game as he gets older. If you allow me to carry on with other sports analogies, here's another one: fastball pitchers can develop into multipitch guys over the years. Romo has done a lot on his own with some improvisation and ability to buy time. I don't think you'll see him run around as much as he did when he was younger. I think you'll see him pick and choose his spots. I believe he did some of that last year, which is one of the reasons his sack total was so high. He was willing to take the sack -- not necessarily the big hit mind you -- and move on to the next play rather than take a risk of a hit or a poor throw. @toddarcher: Conventional wisdom says DeMarco Murray because when he gets 20 carries in a game, the Cowboys win. I hate that stat. If it really means what it says it means, then Murray should get the ball on the first 20 plays of every game. We all know it doesn't work that way. But I'm also of the opinion that the running back position has been devalued. I think the Cowboys could get by without Murray. Would they be as good? No, but they would not be lost. To me, if they lost Jason Witten, then they would be in trouble. Witten has been a mainstay. He does everything. The passing game has missed receivers over the years, but Romo has been able to throw for more than 300 yards in game whether he has Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson or Dwayne Harris playing big roles. Without Witten, I don't know that that would continue. And in the running game, Witten can set the edge. He's not a blow-them-up blocker, but he can displace defensive ends and linebackers to allow backs to pick holes. On defense, I really didn't have a candidate, but if I did, I'd probably go with Barry Church. I don't know what they would do at safety without him. The defense would take a different look, for sure. @toddarcher: If you're talking left defensive end, then sure. If you're looking for a pure right defensive end, then no. But he has position flexibility. He can move inside if necessary as well. The left side has to be a stronger player at the point of attack. He is that type of guy and he has some good pass rush to him, but not to the point where you can say he would be a DeMarcus Ware type. He can be a Greg Ellis type. If he does not play well, then the Cowboys' defensive line will struggle. They need him to have a good year. I think the expectations have been raised on the kid from comments by guys like Jason Hatcher and Tony Romo. People need to remember he didn't have a sack in 2012 and he missed last year. There will be some growing pains, but the potential is definitely there. @toddarcher: He has done a better job. He appears to be playing more confident. Now, does that mean he is a shutdown corner worth the No. 6 pick in the draft? I don't want to go that far from watching football in helmets and jerseys in the spring, but it sure beats the alternative. He is as healthy as he has been, which plays a part into the confidence. He's not thinking about injuries out there. His comments at the end of the minicamp were encouraging. He was going to take a few days off here and there between now and training camp but he planned on staying on the grind. That's good news. He knows how important this year is to him. The Cowboys need him as much as anybody else on defense to be successful. As I said, I like what I've seen but I still think Orlando Scandrick will be the starter Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. To win that job from Scandrick he will have to knock out the champ, if you know what I mean. @toddarcher: Yes, there is. If you want to take a look at the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, look at Article 4, Section 9. It's about forfeiture. If I had to bet when Kyle Orton shows up at training camp it would be either July 27 or July 28. Once he misses six practices, the Cowboys can come after the prorated amount of signing bonus in 2014. So in addition to the fines he induced in the offseason -- $69,455 for missing the minicamp, $10,930 for missing the physical -- and the $75,000 de-escalator in his contract for missing too many workouts, Orton would be fined $30,000 for missing camp. So let's say he misses a week, costing him $150,000. You're looking at about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators, which brings his base salary to just under $3 million. I think for 17 regular-season weeks and a month of preseason, Orton would be OK to make that kind of money and then walk away from the game. It will be interesting to see how this goes when the Cowboys get to camp. They have remained patient, to say the least, while Orton has been silent. 
Will McClayAP Photo/James D SmithAssistant director of player personnel Will McClay, 47, will be an asset to the Cowboys in May's draft.
IRVING, Texas -- There is a Herm Edwards story that keeps coming back to Will McClay, especially now.

The story is from more than 10 years ago, when Edwards was coach of the New York Jets. As a boy, Edwards' father made him sweep the back patio of their house. When Edwards was done, his father went out back, saw the pile his son made and immediately went to the corners. They were untouched.

The message that stuck with McClay when he first heard the story was simple: Details matter.

In his current job as the Dallas Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, McClay is sweeping the corners.

In this case, sweeping the corners is looking anywhere and everywhere for a player to help the Cowboys in next month's draft. This is McClay's first as the Cowboys' highest-ranked personnel chief not named Jones.

"He's there night and day," said McClay's former Arena Football League assistant and confidante Terry Gray. "He's got a relentless passion to provide Mr. [Jerry] Jones and Stephen [Jones] the very best product available within the means and the parameters of what he's able to work with. He's nonstop. Nonstop. He doesn't sleep a whole lot."

There will be time to sleep after the draft. Maybe McClay, 47, can sneak in a little bit in June after the minicamp ends but before training camp in Oxnard, Calif., begins in late July.

For now, sleep can wait. McClay, whom the Cowboys declined to make available for this story, is in charge of putting the Cowboys' draft room together. It is a painstaking process that takes months to go through but picks up its pace in the final few weeks before the Cowboys pick No. 16 overall in the first round on May 8.

This week, nearly 30 players from across the country will visit Valley Ranch, wrapping up on Wednesday. On Thursday, the club will host its Dallas Day workouts for the local draft prospects. When it is all over, McClay and the scouting department will be back in the office grinding away, sweeping the corners.

McClay's rise to this current position has taken him through the Arena Football League as a player and coach, the defunct XFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was the assistant director of pro scouting. He joined the Cowboys organization in 2002 as defensive coordinator of the AFL's Dallas Desperados and became the head coach in 2004. He also served as a pro scout for the Cowboys, and in 2012 he was named the director of football research. Last spring he was promoted to his current title.

"Everything equates in looking at talent," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us. I commend him on the job he did finding guys like [George] Selvie and [Nick] Hayden, people like that. People that everybody had a shot at, but he brought them in."

Over the past few years, the Cowboys have found several prizes in street free agency in Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Eric Frampton, Ernie Sims and Selvie, who had seven sacks last season. The Cowboys dressed 20 different defensive linemen in 2013.

McClay spent most of the season sweeping the corners for defensive linemen. And he was doing it long before he ever heard Edwards' tale. He did it at Houston Marian Christian, playing wide receiver as a freshman and quarterback as a senior to win Class 3A state titles in the Texas Christian Interscholastic League in 1981 and ‘84.

His high school coach, Mike Treybig, remembers walking into his office only to see McClay feeding the 16-millimeter film into the projector.


He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us.

" -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones on assistant director of player personnel William McClay
"William liked watching tape," Treybig said. "I would imagine he would've loved it if we let him call his own plays. I know there were times we allowed him to do that. He was definitely a student of the game. We didn't have to worry about a lot of stuff when it came to William. We knew he did his homework and would take care of things to give us the best chance to win on that Friday."

McClay could have gone to Nebraska, but he chose Rice instead to stay close to home and played defensive back. He was recruited there by Mike Nolan, the current defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Tyrone Willingham, the former head coach at Notre Dame and Stanford, was the receivers coach at the time.

He remembers questions from McClay about what receivers looked for, searching for ways to get better as a defender even if the wins did not come as much as the Owls would have liked. Willingham and McClay remain close to this day.

"I'm personally excited for the individual, but I'm more excited for the organization because they did not let talent, for one reason or another, slip through the cracks," Willingham said. "That, to me, is so important because when you have talent you want to let it rise to the top to better everyone else in the organization."

Clint Dolezel played two years at East Texas State, throwing for 3,152 yards and 22 touchdown passes. McClay was defensive coordinator with a hand in personnel for the Milwaukee Mustangs in 1995 when Dolezel was recommended and eventually signed.

By the time Dolezel retired in 2008 with the Desperados with McClay as his head coach, he threw for 44,563 yards and 931 touchdowns.

"So many scouts get caught up in the fact, ‘Well, we want him because he went to this big school,'" said Dolezel, now the head coach of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul. "And a lot of times they're right, but those are the no-brainers that no one is pointing a finger at if he doesn't pan out. Hey, he had the pedigree because he went to Texas or Oklahoma or Florida State or Alabama. The good ones find the ones at East Texas State and schools like that."

In his interview with the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin had McClay research a particular free-agent cornerback the team was high on and wanted to sign. McClay watched the tape and concluded that the player would not be worth the money or fit in the system. Coughlin briefly objected, but McClay held firm. He got the job, and the Jaguars did not sign the player.

"There is not a magic formula," Gray said. "It's just good, old-fashioned bust-your-ass hard work and lots and lots of tape. Lots of calls. Lots of research. Just looking at thousands of players until you find one you think fits for you. He's just got a very unique way knowing a football player when he sees one. That's commonly described by a lot of people, but he just knows it at a different level. It's more than just everybody saying, ‘He can't play.' It's Will finding guys that can play that no one considered.

"Will McClay is a machine. He's a film-watching, evaluating, researching machine. He just never stops and he will never stop."

There always will be corners to sweep.

Last week, when starting San Diego receiver Danario Alexander was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee, both general manager Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy said the Chargers had enough depth at the position not to worry about finding a veteran receiver.

They have to re-evaluate that plan even after it appears the team dodged a huge problem. Initially, the Chargers thought the team’s other starting receiver, Malcom Floyd, suffered a torn ACL on Monday. However, the team says initial results showed he has a knee strain. Floyd will be further examined.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that Floyd will send the MRI results to other specialists, including Dr. James Andrews, to confirm the initial diagnosis of a strained knee. Even if the initial diagnosis is accurate, it is expected that Floyd will not return until the regular-season opener and possibly not until Week 2.

This scare should be a lesson to the Chargers’ brass. They must go find a veteran.

Going into training camp, the Chargers’ receiving crew was considered fairly deep. But the potential problem was nearly every player in the group had big injury histories, including Alexander and Floyd. The other four receivers in the rotation, Vincent Brown (who missed all of last season with an ankle injury), rookie Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem have all been considered fragile in the past.

Thus with these issues already popping, San Diego needs to go find some insurance.

One of the reasons the Chargers didn’t sign a receiver when Alexander was hurt was the team wasn’t thrilled with the available class of veterans. Now, with the need growing, the Chargers may not have the luxury of being choosy. Two veterans initially come to mind -- Brandon Lloyd and Laurent Robinson. Lloyd played for McCoy in Denver and Robinson was in the Chargers’ camp two years ago and has worked with quarterback Philip Rivers.

Neither one of these players would come in as top-of-the-rotation players, but they would add depth to a position that is becoming increasingly vulnerable in San Diego.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Michael Crabtree caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns with the San Francisco 49ers last season. Before that, his three-year career totals lined up with those for a player the 49ers signed amid injury concerns Friday.

Austin Collie, who missed the 2012 season following knee surgery and has a history of concussions, joins the roster along with Lavelle Hawkins. Those two prevailed over a third receiver, Laurent Robinson, during a tryout at team headquarters, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.

The chart at right shows 2009-2011 totals for Crabtree and Collie. Collie played a supporting role in the Indianapolis Colts' pass-oriented offense featuring Peyton Manning behind center during the first two seasons of that three-year window. He had 54 receptions for 514 yards and one touchdown in 2010, when Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins were the Colts' quarterbacks.

Collie had suffered four concussions since 2010 when he suffered a torn patella tendon during the 2011 season.

The 49ers have sought receiver depth after losing Crabtree to a torn Achilles' tendon. Their need at the position has grown critical during camp with five other receivers either limited or unavailable, including veteran Mario Manningham and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins.

Collie also tried out with the 49ers in June.
PHILADELPHIA -- The talk on the radio this morning was of Terrell Owens, which is downright preposterous and actually makes you wonder if there's any real hope for sports discourse. More realistic free-agent options (i.e., guys who have played at least one game in the league in the past three seasons) include Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson and Austin Collie. But as the Philadelphia Eagles confront 2013 life without receiver Jeremy Maclin, who tore his right ACL in practice Saturday, it doesn't sound as though you should expect them to make any moves like that.

"We have a lot of faith in our skill position group as a whole. That's kind of how we look at it," Eagles GM Howie Roseman said before Sunday's practice. "We're not only looking at the wide receiver group. We look at the running backs. We look at the tight ends. Those are the guys that we have high hopes and expectations for."

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDon't expect the Eagles to rush out and sign a free agent to replace injured receiver Jeremy Maclin.
This is obviously the kind of thing a GM says after a major injury like this one, and obviously it's possible it's not true and that Lloyd and Collie will be in for workouts by the end of the day. But I think Roseman's answer here speaks to the big-picture look the Eagles are taking of their roster and of Chip Kelly's first season as their coach. The idea of replacing Maclin by adjusting the responsibilities of the remaining personnel, regardless of position, is much more in line with what Kelly seems to be about than rushing out to find an established replacement would be.

"When we met with Chip originally, he's much more personnel-driven than even I thought just from observing him at Oregon," Roseman said. "So it's going to be based on the guys who are producing at a high level. If that's the tight end position, they'll get more reps. If it's the receiver position, if it's the running back group ... I think that's yet to be determined since we're so early in camp."

We've been talking about this since before the Eagles hired Kelly. The best coaches are the ones who accurately assess their personnel and its capabilities, and design their schemes around those. It's not as though Kelly had some ironclad plan to run a certain specific offense and needs a piece to play the Maclin part in it. Losing Maclin makes the wide receiver group worse, unquestionably, but the depth the Eagles have at tight end (Brent Celek, James Casey, Zach Ertz) and running back (LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Felix Jones, Chris Polk) offers Kelly options in the likely event that Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Riley Cooper aren't enough to replace Maclin's production. Kelly could be sitting in a film room two weeks from now deciding that the backs look so good that the September plan will be to throw it to them as much as possible.

I wrote Saturday that the Eagles won't be able to effectively replace Maclin, and I stand by it. But they're still going to have to play the games and do what they can to score as many points as possible. It appears as though their plan for handling this situation is the same one they've had all along -- to evaluate what they actually do have and be creative with it. Kelly surely isn't scared of that. On the contrary, it appears to be something he relishes.
Fans of teams who’ve signed big free agents in the first day of the new league year are largely overjoyed at the news.

Laurent Robinson is just a year removed from his big day and offers a cautionary tale.

Let’s remember it’s completely possible that today’s big signing is, in just one year, a salary-cap burden who not only solves no problems, but creates some.

The Jaguars cut Robinson, avoiding a $2 million bonus that was about to come due.

That’s new general manager David Caldwell cleaning up more of the mess left behind by his predecessor, Gene Smith. Smith gave Robinson, coming off his one big season, a five-year, $32.5 million contract that guaranteed him $14 million

(It’s a good time to revisit this piece by Bill Barnwell of Grantland, who crushingly picked apart Smith’s failures, including that Robinson contract.)

Even if Robinson didn’t suffer four concussions and play in only seven games, it was a contract that was way too big.

Now, Robinson is a free agent again. The Jaguars said at the combine he’d been medically cleared. Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union says Robinson passed a physical. But Mark Long of the Associated Press reports Robinson “disagrees with [the] team's assessment that he's healthy, says he felt lightheaded during workout yesterday.”

Today, as we recall Robinson’s failed year with the Jaguars, we should remember how quickly the excitement of a big signing can dissipate.

As for the Jaguars, they are now really two receivers deep with Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. I thought they should have tendered Jordan Shipley but they didn't like him enough to do so.
My plan for the Jacksonville Jaguars as we approach the start of the 2013 NFL calendar year:

Finances: The Jaguars have about $24 million in salary-cap room, so they don’t have a huge issue. But they are carrying several contracts that are too hefty. Laurent Robinson is overpaid, but a year into his deal they are unlikely to bail. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and guard Uche Nwaneri are too costly, both due base salaries of more than $4 million this season. Linebacker Paul Posluszny ($6.5 million base), Dawan Landry ($5.4 million) and cornerback Aaron Ross ($3.75 million) are also costly. I’d make no money moves until my coaches have time with the team on the field for a thorough assessment and see some of the alternatives brought in.

Continuity: Re-sign outside linebacker Daryl Smith. He’s been a very solid player for the franchise, and because he was hurt for 14 games last year, his price is going to be discounted. Re-sign cornerback Derek Cox, ideally to an incentive-laden deal tied to his availability. Hope he’ll give you a chance to match if someone else gives him a better offer. He’s a great player but it’s hard to invest in a guy who misses so much time.

Turnover: Allow the rest of the free-agent class to hit the market and wish it well. If a player like defensive tackle Terrance Knighton or fullback Greg Jones doesn’t find what he wants out there and remains available later, consider an offer down the road.

Additions: I’d shop more aggressively than I expect the Jaguars will based on how they’ve spoken about free agency, but I will try to stick to their parameters here. Seattle defensive tackle Alan Branch was a key piece of the defense Gus Bradley ran for the Seahawks, and new coaches typically like bringing in a guy or two who know how they will operate. I want to make at least one statement signing that addresses a big area of concern. If Sebastian Vollmer’s back checks out, he’d be my guy. He’s a top right tackle who’s been part of a successful franchise in New England. From there, I’d pursue a few more affordable types: one of two cornerbacks, Greg Toler from Arizona or Bradley Fletcher of St. Louis and a defensive end who’s still young and has some versatility, St. Louis’ William Hayes.

Draft: The No. 2 spot is a toughie, because clear choices at the top of this draft have not emerged. There is defensive line talent, however, and the pass rush is a longstanding issue the new regime is inheriting. That first pick needs to be able to rush the passer or be a long-term fixture on the offensive line. Needs are so wide ranging, there are few spots the Jaguars need to avoid. Although I'm not happy with the quarterback situation, I would not feel I had to have one unless I felt I saw a real value in the second or third round.
INDIANAPOLIS -- New Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has repeatedly spoken well of the roster he inherited, despite the fact it collectively managed a 2-14 record in 2012.

But the man who hired him, Shad Khan, has spoken of expectations or a view of the team that were delusional under the previous regime.

As Caldwell spoke at the NFL scouting combine today, I was curious if he could square that seeming contradiction for me.

He did.

“I think the delusional part came with the amount of money that they spent in free agency last year and thinking they were one or two pieces away,” Caldwell said. “And then to come right back and manage only a 2-14 season.

“So for us, there is a good core of players here that we feel good about. We have our work cut out for us and we’re going to have a very young team coming into this season, it’s going to be built through the draft and through college free agents.”

That spending Caldwell referred to was headlined by receiver Laurent Robinson, whose $6.3 million cap figure this year is the fourth-highest on the team, and also included a deal that has ineffective cornerback Aaron Ross scheduled to count $4.083 million.

Cap room is not an issue, so money’s not going to dictate any cuts.

“There are no changes coming that will be financial,” Caldwell said. “The changes that will be coming will be based on performance.”

Robinson signed a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $13.8 million guaranteed. It was a monster contract for a guy who played for three teams in his first five years and only had one big season.

Then he got sidetracked by multiple concussions, playing in only seven games and catching just 24 passes. An NFL Network report on Feb. 1 said Robinson was still dealing with lingering effects of the hits to the head.

Apparently he's made great progress.

“My understanding is he’s been cleared to participate, so he’s full-go right now,” Caldwell said. “It’s something we’re going to monitor very closely with all of our players.”

For a team in need at a lot of spots, if Robinson is healthy the Jaguars might actually be pretty good at receiver with Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, who both emerged late last season, and Robinson.

“That’s a good trio of receivers right there, and they all bring a unique skill set for us which will make it difficult for defenses,” Caldwell said.

Eight in the Box: Biggest cap casualty

February, 22, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, a new NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: Who will be each team’s biggest salary-cap casualty this offseason?

Houston Texans: The one team in the division that could need some cap relief is the Texans, who currently have $5.768 million in space. But if they re-sign safety Glover Quin, outside linebacker Connor Barwin and fullback James Casey as they’d like to, that space will disappear quickly and they’ll need to find an avenue to gain room. I understand that the general public undervalues a lot of what Kevin Walter does. But a $4.5 million cap number and a scheduled base salary of $3.5 million is simply too much for what he does. A dynamic receiver is still on the Texans' list of needs, which seems to make Walter expendable.

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts don’t need to cut anyone. General manager Ryan Grigson has $43.427 million in cap room. So don’t expect anyone to be released. (Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney was not a cap casualty -- he was a pending free agent who was informed he wouldn’t be offered a new deal.) But are there players who are scheduled to make too much? Sure. Center Samson Satele is due $2.7 million in base salary, and his play in his first year as the team’s center wasn’t $2.22 million better than A.Q. Shipley's in 2012. I doubt it will be in 2013. Parting ways with Satele would save only $1.734 million.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars are in solid cap shape -- they have $23.807 million in space. But they have plenty of players with big deals that the old regime gave them. New general manager Dave Caldwell may be unwilling to pay out some of those contracts. Receiver Laurent Robinson is still dealing with concussion-related issues and although he’s due $2.6 million in base salary, he has the club’s fourth-highest cap number in 2013 at $6.3 million. Cutting him, though, would actually cost the team $100,000 more against the cap in 2013 than keeping him, because his remaining prorated bonus would result in an accelerated $6.4 million hit.

Tennessee Titans: GM Ruston Webster said at the combine Thursday that Tennessee won’t be cutting anyone as the new league year starts, but that once the team adds upgrades in free agency and in the draft, such moves may occur. Webster and coach Mike Munchak are talking about the need to rebuild the interior offensive line. So the top candidates to be cut down the road have to be guard Steve Hutchinson (due a $4.75 million base, he would cost $3 million in dead money cap hit) and guard/center Eugene Amano (due a $3.935 million base, but they’d save only about $1 million by cutting him).

Look back: Assistants to watch

February, 12, 2013
Continuing a periodic look back at stuff we wrote before the 2012 season to see how on target we were and how things panned out.

In July, we looked at an assistant to watch on each of our four teams.

Here’s what we said then and what we think now.

Houston Texans

Then: “While [Gary] Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will be heavily involved in the offense, a new [quarterback] coach [Karl Dorrell] is certain to have a bearing on [Matt] Schaub’s performance. And Schaub’s performance may be as important of a story as there is in the AFC South this season.”

Now: I don’t think Dorrell did a bad job, but he certainly didn’t help stop a late-season slide for Schaub, who finally got into some big games and didn’t perform particularly well in them. All three coaches didn’t do well enough to get Schaub to play up to the moment.

Indianapolis Colts

Then: “Can [offensive line coach Harold] Goodwin help the new group jell and have it provide quality protection for Andrew Luck and some push for a group of unproven running backs?”

Now: The line was not good, but Goodwin did not have a lot to work with. Given the patchwork nature of the group and some injuries that forced lineup shifts, I’d say Goodwin did good work. Bruce Arians certainly thought so, as he took him to Arizona to be his offensive coordinator. Goodwin’s been replaced by Joe Gilbert, who served as Goodwin’s assistant last year.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Then: “[Receivers coach Jerry] Sullivan and those receivers are all reliant on improvement from quarterback Blaine Gabbert. But they are all reasons the team expects that improvement, too.”

Now: Laurent Robinson did little before he was sidetracked by concussions and Justin Blackmon took a long time to get going. But ultimately Sullivan, a good get by Mike Mularkey as he put together his staff, did good work with Blackmon and Cecil Shorts and he was held over by new coach Gus Bradley.

Tennessee Titans

Then: “An improved pass rush is a must if the Titans' defense is going to improve. [Pass rush coach Keith] Millard will be right in the middle of what happens, or what doesn’t, in that department.”

Now: The Titans jumped from 28 sacks in 2011 to 39 in 2012 with non-defensive linemen contributing 13.5. Young linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown certainly got better as rushers later in the year, a good sign regarding Millard’s influence.

Did teams get their money's worth?

February, 5, 2013
Did they get their money’s worth?

It’s a great question now that the NFL season is completely over. Which teams in the league did the best job getting the most value out of their dollars spent?

While the salary cap isn’t nearly as constrictive as it once was, it still serves the purpose of leveling the playing field. The teams that fare the best will typically be the most prudent with the cap, right? Rather than pay a guy at his peak value -- like the previous Jaguars regime did with free-agent receiver Laurent Robinson last year, one could argue -- a team will ideally secure him long-term as cheaply as possible before he approaches his ceiling.

The Guardian recently produced this fantastic graphic that shows us how a team’s cap expenditures for the just completed season were divided up.

To the right is a chart of the AFC South, with ranks in offense and defense based on yardage side-by-side with ranks in those categories based on the percentage of their cap dollars spent.

What leaps out?

Well, the Colts had the league’s 10th most productive offense despite spending the least money in the league on offensive players. Pretty good.

The Titans and Jaguars hit that in reverse. While they spent an awful lot on offense, they ranked very poorly in it.

And it can be argued that that difference does a lot to explain the difference in the Colts 11-5 playoff season and the 6-10 and 2-14 seasons of the Titans and Jaguars, respectively.

We shouldn’t connect the dots without allowing for circumstances.

The Jaguars took a huge hit to their plan for their offense when Robinson missed most of the season because of concussion issues. Would they have gotten closer to their $4.7 million worth out of him based on what we saw when he did play? It seems unlikely. But it would be a lot fairer to call him a poor investment if he’d played in more than seven games.

The Titans lose center Eugene Amano to an arm injury during training camp. Earlier in his contract it became clear to many of us that he was overpaid. But whether he would have played anything like a $5.25 million lineman or not in 2012 isn’t a factor in here. The team took that cap hit for him despite the fact he didn’t play a snap for it.

This is a remarkable graphic to fiddle around with. I suspect we’ll revisit it.

Wrap-up: Colts 27, Jaguars 10

November, 9, 2012
Thoughts following the Colts' 27-10 victory over the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday night:

What it means: The Colts are 6-3. If the Texans lose at Chicago on Sunday, Indianapolis would be just one game out of first place in the AFC South, though Houston would have the better division and conference records for potential tiebreakers. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are 1-8 and haven’t won since Sept. 23.

What I liked, Colts: They got another excellent game from Andrew Luck, who showed a national TV audience the poise, command, pocket presence, ability to handle pressure, arm and running ability Colts fans have been seeing all season. He ran for two more touchdowns and now has five rushing TDs on the year, a franchise record for a quarterback. The backup cornerbacks held up well, with Darius Butler pulling in a pick-six from Blaine Gabbert and another interception of a Chad Henne throw after it was tipped multiple times at the line. He also recovered a fumble. Interim coach Bruce Arians gave the team off until Monday but told players they'd have to play a lot better to win their next game, at New England.

What I didn’t like, Jaguars: I’m not one to point to officiating as an excuse very often and I don’t think the Jaguars were going to win on this night. But nothing went the Jaguars' way in the first half. Laurent Robinson lost a fumble right as he went down, according to the judgment of a challenge, a call I agreed with but that could have gone the other way. Worse, Luck’s second rushing touchdown appeared to come with him bobbling the ball and not getting to the goal line. In another bad break, the Jaguars were going to go for a fourth-and-4 from Colts 17 until Gabbert was called for a false start. But it looked a lot more like offsides by the Colts.

Margins: It was the Colts’ first win this season by a margin bigger than 6 points. It was the Jaguars’ fifth home loss of the season, all by at least 17 points. They've been outscored 153-44 in Jacksonville.

Super-costly: Terrance Knighton was judged properly to have roughed Luck, a gigantic penalty that undid an Aaron Ross interception. Instead of the Jaguars getting the ball, they adding yardage to an Indy touchdown drive. And Robinson lost a fumble trying to gain extra yards, the result of a strip by Moise Fokou, which Butler recovered.

Emotion: Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey threw his call sheet (and his headset went with it) in disgust over the debated Luck TD sneak. A scoring play, it was automatically reviewed but he hadn’t gotten an indication it stood up to replay -- which maybe it should not have. It’s as hot as I’ve seen him as Jaguars coach.

Injury concern: Gabbert left the game after re-injuring his left, non-throwing shoulder. Henne finished up.

What’s next: The Colts are at New England on Nov. 18, a Sunday-afternoon game. The Jaguars are at Houston earlier that afternoon.

Wrap-up: Lions 31, Jaguars 14

November, 4, 2012
Thoughts on the Jaguars’ 31-14 loss to the Lions at EverBank Field:

What it means: The Jaguars fell to 1-7 halfway through their season with anemic offensive effort that allowed the Lions to run out to a 24-0 lead and never fear a negative result. The question now is the Jaguars will be able to help complicate things for four teams they play in the second half who look to be on their way to the playoffs.

What I didn’t like: The Lions controlled the clock for 35:30 thanks to a giant rushing day with 34 carries for 142 yards, a 4.4-yard average and four touchdowns, three from Mikel Leshoure. Meanwhile, the Jaguars managed only 20 carries for 64 yards and a 3-2-yard average. In the second quarter, Detroit ran 30 plays, got 14 first downs and scored 21 points.

What I also didn’t like: Jacksonville added two prominent receivers in the offseason to address the deficiencies of its passing offense. Veteran Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon combined to average 6.6 yards on 11 catches in this game with a long play of 12 yards. This team is desperate for big chunks, and it isn’t getting them. In all, the Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert got 8.1 yards per completion, while Detroit got 13.0, 18.4 from its star receiver, Calvin Johnson.

Way too late: The Jaguars didn’t score until the fourth quarter. Before finding touchdowns on their final two possessions, Jacksonville’s drives ended like this: punt, punt, punt, punt, end of the half, interception, interception. The offense hadn’t gotten closer to the goal line than Detroit’s 26 until scoring TDs the final two times it got the ball.

Fizzled: A healthier and deeper defensive line had shown signs of life in recent weeks. But the pass pressure against Matthew Stafford was insufficient, with one sack from George Selvie and just two more hits.

What’s next: The Jaguars host Thursday night football in a rematch against the only team they’ve beaten this season, the Indianapolis Colts.
The Jaguars have plenty of cap room and don’t need to save money.

But that’s the biggest benefit to their dealing receiver and return man Mike Thomas to the Detroit Lions. I confirmed a bit ago the Jaguars got a draft pick for him, though I don’t know what yet. It’s safe presuming it’s not high.

Thomas has become a non-entity for the Jags, with all of 13 catches for 80 yards this season.

I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see a resurgence for him playing with an upgrade at quarterback, and moving from Blaine Gabbert to Matthew Stafford is a nice improvement for a receiver.

The Jaguars drafted Thomas with a fourth-round pick out of Arizona in 2009, then fell in love with him and rewarded him too quickly.

Early during the 2011 season they signed him to a five-year, $19 million extension with $9 million guaranteed, including a $6 million signing bonus. The contract amounted to a bigger annual average than Jordy Nelson got from Green Bay at roughly the same time. Thomas’ production hasn’t approached Nelson’s.

The Lions aren’t absorbing a lot of the number -- as Thomas’ remaining base salaries total roughly $8.6 million for 2013-15.

The Jaguars like Cecil Shorts and have Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson and Shorts as their top three receivers going forward. Robinson was a pricey free agent addition who’s contributed nothing so far and has dealt with multiple concussions.

They recently signed veteran return specialist and receiver Morgan Spurlock and he is now working as their primary return man, though coach Mike Mularkey wasn’t happy with Spurlock’s decision-making in the loss at Green Bay.

Jacksonville hosts Detroit this weekend, so if Thomas plays he’ll be going against some familiar defenders.

Harrison Smith: The Vikings' 'Eraser'

October, 5, 2012
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There have been at least two occasions this season when I've felt compelled to pause the DVR, grab my NFC North master roster and confirm what position No. 22 plays for the Minnesota Vikings. Rest assured. Harrison Smith is in fact a safety, and he is already -- by default, if nothing else -- the best safety the Vikings have employed in years.

It's been a while since we've seen a safety make a significant game-changing play for the Vikings, and Smith has two of them in four games this season. In Week 1, he lunged to tip away a third-down pass from Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Laurent Robinson in overtime, forcing the Jaguars into a make-or-break fourth down they failed to convert. And last Sunday at Ford Field, Smith's well-timed hit on Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson broke up a certain touchdown in the end zone.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Harrison Smith
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioHarrison Smith breaks up a pass intended for Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
No penalty flags were thrown. Indeed, as Smith has demonstrated, there is nothing illegal about a safety making a play.

"He was facing one of the best passing offenses in the league on Sunday," coach Leslie Frazier said, "and to make some of the plays he made and to play with the awareness that he played with, we hadn't seen that at the safety position in awhile here. It was good to see a guy play with such poise, play with control, not panic …. It's been impressive watching some of the things he does and the way he practices, the way he prepares, he's doing a good job."

Smith has made his share of mistakes, of course, but he has also made plays that the average observer wouldn't realize he deserves credit for. According to defensive coordinator Alan Williams, Smith broke up a third-quarter deep pass to Johnson on Sunday essentially by instinct.

"That wasn't necessarily his play," Williams said. "He did a great job of coming from the backside and making a play on the football. He does that more often than not. There have been some plays where he's made up for some other people. When I was in Indianapolis, coach [Tony] Dungy would call that, so to speak, 'The Eraser.' He can erase some mistakes that maybe other people make."

Indeed, when you watch the play, you see Smith set to defend the right side of the field from the defense's perspective. Fellow safety Jamarca Sanford was lined up over the top of Johnson and two other Lions receivers on the left side. It appeared Sanford was supposed to bracket Johnson deep while cornerback Antoine Winfield had him short.

Winfield began frantically pointing toward Sanford after passing Johnson off, but Sanford got turned around and was near the sideline when Johnson cut inside on a circle post route. Quarterback Matthew Stafford rolled to that sideline and launched the ball. But as he did that, Smith drifted toward Johnson and was in position for an interception before Johnson barreled into him.

"I didn't have a lot of work on my side of the field," Smith said. "The quarterback was rolling left, so I naturally rolled that way and got depth. You never know what's going to happen with the quarterback, and the guys in this league, especially Stafford, have the arms to throw it as far as they want. Just rolled and got depth."

Smith shrugged when I asked him if he realized the context of the plays he has made this season.

"I expect to make plays like that," he said. "I think most safeties that go out there today do. Honestly, I think I should have picked that deep ball off. He did a nice job getting his hands in there, but those are plays I want to make and get better in the future."

Whoa, Eraser, don't go talking crazy there. You don't even realize what you've already erased.