NFL Nation: Patrick Crayton

IRVING, Texas -- In many ways a successful draft is measured by how well a team does in the later rounds.

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe put together a story about teams that draft well and poorly with an interesting graphic.

The Dallas Cowboys are one of six teams not to have a current starter they selected in Rounds 5-7, according to the chart, which means Volin did not count Orlando Scandrick (fifth round, 2008) as a starter even though he started most of the 2013 season. If Morris Claiborne performed up to capabilities and was not hurt, he would have been the starter. If you count Scandrick, then the Cowboys would be one of 12 teams to have one starter from Rounds 5-7.

The other five without a starter were the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.

Since 2010, the Cowboys have had 12 picks in Rounds 5-7 and only Dwayne Harris, James Hanna, Joseph Randle and DeVonte Holloman remain.

Hitting on late-round picks is guesswork in a lot of ways. In 2004, the Cowboys hit on three seventh-rounders in Nate Jones, Patrick Crayton and Jacques Reeves. They all had productive NFL careers and earned second contracts.

That’s the goal: find players who can fill roles. The Cowboys kept Crayton for a second contract, but Jones and Reeves left after their rookie deals expired.

Teams build their depth through late-round picks and the Cowboys have not hit enough in the late rounds to fortify their depth. The Seattle Seahawks had an NFL-best five starters from Rounds 5-7 in 2013. The Philadelphia Eagles were next with four.

Also in Volin’s chart is a look at undrafted starters. The Cowboys had a league-high five in 2013 with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Barry Church, Ronald Leary and Jeff Heath. The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins had four apiece to tie for second.

For years the Cowboys have excelled in finding undrafted free agents. In the last three years they have landed Dan Bailey, Phillip Tanner, Chris Jones, Ben Bass, Cole Beasley, Leary, Heath and Cam Lawrence.

They make up for the misses in Rounds 5-7 with hits in undrafted free agency. With three compensatory picks in the seventh round this year, the Cowboys will have the chance to draft what would have been their priority undrafted free agents.

They only hope they’re not just making up for misses in Rounds 5-7.
IRVING, Texas -- Two veteran wide receivers went off the market Monday when Nate Burleson and Jason Avant signed with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

Both were linked to the Dallas Cowboys by the media (hello, that's me), but sources indicated the Cowboys had some interest in Burleson, who played for their new passing game coordinator, Scott Linehan, with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys just were not willing to pull the trigger on a deal now, continuing their patient approach in free agency.

Could it mean the Cowboys are as content at wide receiver as owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said?

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams, a 2013 pick, started as the No. 3 receiver and also showed he could handle the No. 2 role. Is Dallas hoping for a repeat in the 2014 draft?
With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys are set at the top two spots. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would settle in as the No. 3 receiver, splitting the job depending on role. Harris has more big-play ability. Beasley is better in the quick-game routes.

I've long said the Cowboys do not need a true No. 3 receiver over the years because they have tight end Jason Witten, and the running backs have always figured prominently in the passing game.

The best performance by a No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys in the past five years has been Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. But mostly the Cowboys need their third receiver to catch anywhere from 30 to 40 passes a season. Kevin Ogletree did that in 2012 with 32. Technically Roy Williams might not have been the No. 3 receiver in 2010, but he caught 37 passes. In 2009, Patrick Crayton caught 37 passes for 622 yards and 5 touchdowns.

So you’re looking for a No. 3 receiver to catch two or three passes a game when you look at the options available in how the Cowboys have constructed their offense.

But what if Bryant or Williams gets hurt? And there will be injuries. Can Harris be a No. 2 receiver and excel outside? Maybe for a few games. Beasley is just a slot receiver because of his size. That is why I thought Avant or Burleson would have been good fits. Other options remain, such as Earl Bennett and even Miles Austin, but that would be a long shot.

However, if the Cowboys were not willing to make a play for a free agent Monday, they're not going to get into the market Tuesday.

Last week, I wondered whether Gavin Escobar could be an option as the third receiver. The Cowboys like his athleticism and saw in glimpses his ability to make plays. His touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale was an eye-opener. With the way the tight ends are used these days, Escobar has more receiver skills to him than tight end skills. He needs to get bigger and stronger to be an on-the-line tight end, but that part of his game will never be his strength. His strength will be working the seams and his ability to go get the ball.

But here is a thought: This is considered one of the deeper drafts in memory for wide receivers. Could the Cowboys be looking for their No. 3 receiver, who could be the No. 2 receiver, in the early to middle rounds of the draft?

Williams, a third-rounder last year, caught 44 passes for 736 yards and 5 touchdowns and showed he could handle the No. 2 role when Austin missed games with a hamstring injury. Williams' development played a part in the release of Austin.

If a Mike Evans fell, or if a Marqise Lee is there in the first round, could they be targets? It sure seems as if the draft is the Cowboys' preferred method to find their No. 3 receiver.

Ware: Giants always have something to say

November, 21, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul started off the week by saying his team is getting ready to “put it on,” the Dallas Cowboys.

Ware
Ware
On Wednesday, several Giants talked about the do-or-die nature of Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium for their chances. Pierre-Paul said, “it’s like a Super Bowl.” Safety Antrel Rolle said this game “is going to determine the outcome of the season.”

Safety Will Hill said the defense will get physical with Dez Bryant because the Cowboys receiver “doesn’t like to be touched, like most receivers in this league. But really him. He doesn’t like to be touched.”

The noise from New York always seems loud when they play against the Cowboys.

“You know they have something to say every time we play them,” DeMarcus Ware said. “They try to put the gas on the fire every time. It’s an NFC East game, that’s what we do.”

The Cowboys mostly do not return fire, especially since Patrick Crayton departed. It’s part of Jason Garrett’s message to the team. He does not want bulletin-board material. He wants the focus to be on the preparation.

But that should not belie the sense of urgency the Cowboys feel going into this game. In a way this is every bit a must-win game for the Cowboys.

“I don’t know there’s a correlation between what you say during the week and you’re intensity during the game,” Garrett said. “We’re getting ourselves ready to play this game. They’re a good football team. We have a great respect for their players, their coaches, their organization, and we’re going to prepare our best this week to play our best on Sunday.”
The New Orleans Saints still are looking for depth at wide receiver after losing Joe Morgan to a season-ending injury.

The team reportedly has signed veteran Patrick Crayton. That comes a week after the team signed another veteran, Steve Breaston. Rookie Kenny Stills and second-year pro Nick Toon also are in the mix for the backup jobs behind Marques Colston and Lance Moore.

Crayton, 34, hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2011 season. But he has some history with coach Sean Payton, who was an assistant in Dallas for the first two seasons of Crayton’s career.
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.

First-quarter notes

November, 10, 2011
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SAN DIEGO — Notes from early in the second quarter, where the Raiders lead 7-3:

First-year Oakland coach Hue Jackson has earned a reputation as being one of the trickiest coaches in the NFL in the first half of the season. Among the tricks he pulled out was a fake punt in which Shane Lechler hit tight end Kevin Boss for a touchdown Oct. 16 against Cleveland.

Thursday, on fourth-and-1 from inside Chargers territory, Lechler – the Raiders’ emergency quarterback — tried to hit Jacoby Ford, but the pass fell incomplete. San Diego’s Quentin Jammer was all over Ford, but officials ruled that there was no pass interference because there cannot be pass interference on the widest receiver on punt formations.

Oakland running Michael Bush – starting his second consecutive game for the injured Darren McFadden – had a strong first quarter. He had 78 yards on 13 carries as Oakland handled the Chargers’ defense pretty easily.

The Chargers’ red-zone issues bit them again on their first drive. They scooted inside the Raiders’ 20-yard line before making some mistakes and settling for a short Nick Novak field goal.

The Raiders need to shore up their punt defense. Sunday, Denver’s Eddie Royal returned one back for a touchdown. In the first quarter, San Diego rookie Marcus Gilchrist took a lateral from Patrick Crayton and went 40 yards into Oakland territory.

For the second consecutive game, the Chargers are getting booed in their own stadium. There is a solid number of Oakland fans here, although not nearly the amount of Green Bay fans who attended Sunday’s game.

Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Boss played early in the game after barely seeing the field against Denver. Jackson simply said the two were not a big part of that particular game plan.

Packers' Peprah and Williams house it

November, 6, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- Form held here in the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Green Bay Packers, who entered this game against the San Diego Chargers one off the NFL high with 13 interceptions, have already returned two for touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers. They were the 12th and 13th interceptions of the season for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

Safety Charlie Peprah had the first, a 40-yard return in which he broke four tackles along the way, at least by my count. The second was a bit smoother: Cornerback Tramon Williams anticipated a Rivers pass to receiver Patrick Crayton and took it back 43 yards untouched for the touchdown.

It's 21-7 here as the second quarter begins. The Packers have given up 107 passing yards, but their interceptions have more than compensated. The Packers offense has had only one possession. It ended with Aaron Rodgers' 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley.

Slop isn't hurting Chargers yet

September, 25, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers have continued to play sloppy on offense.

But, it has yet to hurt them Sunday against Kansas City. The Chargers lead the Chiefs, 7-0, midway through the second quarter.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers (who committed three of San Diego’s four turnovers last week) has been intercepted and has fumbled. The Chargers recovered the fumble. San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton also fumbled, but he recovered it.

In fairness to Rivers, the Chiefs probably should have been called for pass interference on the ball that was intercepted. Kansas City safety Kendrick Lewis returned it deep into San Diego territory. But the Chiefs’ Ryan Succop missed a 38-yard field goal attempt to nullify the big defensive play.

So far, Kansas City has been turnover free. It committed a whopping nine turnovers in the first two games.

UPDATE: Rivers was just intercepted by Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers on a bomb attempt near the end zone. He returned it 41 yards to the Chargers’ 43. Rivers has never thrown three interceptions in one game.

Pregame notes from San Diego

September, 11, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers third-year linebacker Larry English is inactive. He was not on the injury report all week, so at this point, it has to be assumed it is a coach’s decision. He was the No. 16 overall pick in 2009.

San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton (ankle) is inactive.

Rookie San Diego receiver Vincent Brown is out with a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back/returner Jordan Todman is inactive.

Veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs is inactive. He is learning the Chargers’ 3-4 system after signing last week. It may take a few weeks before he is ready to play.

Camp Confidential: Chargers

August, 10, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- If anything beneficial came out of the San Diego Chargers’ early-season stumbles in 2010, it was that the team that always seemed to be living dangerously had finally learned its lesson.

Starting slow can catch up to a team. In the three previous seasons under coach Norv Turner, the Chargers overcame slow starts with torrid finishes that resulted in AFC West championships. It didn’t happen last year. San Diego couldn’t overcome an early 2-5 hole and finished 9-7, allowing the upstart Kansas City Chiefs to steal the division title.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelThe Chargers stumbled out of the gate last year to a 2-7 record, thanks partially to a rash of turnovers.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said earlier in this abbreviated training camp that the Chargers must learn from last year’s disappointment and find a way to finally start fast.

Turner is all for starting fast, and he said one emphasis during camp is working to fix what has made the Chargers vulnerable in recent seasons. San Diego's offense has often been sloppy early on, committing too many turnovers. Last season, the Chargers committed 18 turnovers in their first seven games.

“We’ve played good football, but the turnovers hurt us,” Turner said. “When we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d win. That’s what we’re working on. I think the key is not talking about the slow starts, but working on the reason why we started slow.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Getting special teams up to speed. The 2010 Chargers will be remembered for assembling perhaps the worst special-teams unit of all time. San Diego had the No. 1-ranked offense and No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL last year, yet it didn’t make the playoffs because of special teams, which cost the Chargers in every imaginable way. The Chargers have put a major emphasis on the unit during camp. Special-teams practice segments are long and spirited. New special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia is well-respected and determined to get his players on track.

“It is a major point of emphasis in this camp,” Turner said.

2. Get Ryan Mathews ready. This is a big camp for Mathews, the running back who was the No. 12 overall pick in 2010. He alarmed the team when he failed a conditioning test at the start of training camp. Teammates reportedly were surprised Mathews failed the test, and he admitted he should have worked out his legs more during the lockout. That is the last thing a team wants to hear from its rich 24-year-old tailback of the future. He is currently dealing with a minor leg injury that is expected to keep him out of the preseason opener against Seattle. Mathews had durability issues last year, although he flashed at times, and he must show during camp that he is ready to be a lead back and can stay healthy.

“Ryan has to get some carries,” Turner said. “We need to get him some work.”

Turner expects Mathews to continue to work in tandem with powerful veteran Mike Tolbert, who looks as fearsome as always. Tolbert is an underrated weapon. Look for him to see more action in all phases of the run game as Mathews tries to develop.

[+] Enlarge Bob Sanders
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireVeteran safety Bob Sanders has struggled to stay healthy the past few seasons, but has looked good in camp.
3. The veteran safeties. Oft-injured Bob Sanders looks good. It may be too much to ask for the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year to return to his peak form, considering he has played in nine games over the past three years, but Sanders looks primed to bounce back. He and fellow safety Eric Weddle, who last month signed a $40 million deal to stay in San Diego, seem to have a strong on-field connection. They should be fun to watch and should benefit from playing with each other.

“Bob has been amazing,” Weddle reports. “There’s no rust there.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The Chargers have their starting receivers together. That wasn’t expected.

The Chargers wanted to bring back No. 2 wideout Malcom Floyd, but they thought they would be outbid for Floyd's services. The market didn't develop as expected, though, so Floyd took a two-year deal that could be worth as much as $7 million to stay in San Diego.

That means the Chargers have No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson (who held out for much of last season, and was given the franchise tag this year) and Floyd in the fold. Last year, because of a rash of injuries at the position, Rivers was throwing to street free agents at the end of the season. Having Jackson and Floyd at his disposal will be a treat for Rivers, who threw for 4,710 yards last season.

Add veteran Patrick Crayton and third-round possession receiver Vincent Brown, and the Chargers’ receiving corps is stronger than it was expected to be.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

The Chargers couldn’t come to a contract agreement with inside linebacker Kevin Burnett. He was a priority for the team, but Burnett ended up being the one who got away from the Chargers, who otherwise enjoyed a strong free-agent period.

In the end, Burnett wanted more than San Diego was willing to offer, and he ended up signing with Miami.

Burnett had a good season for the Chargers in 2010, with 95 tackles and six sacks, and San Diego wanted him back as part of its 3-4 defense. Now a young player probably will be inserted opposite free-agent signee Takeo Spikes on the inside. Right now, 2010 draft pick Donald Butler (who missed all of his rookie year with an injury) is getting those repetitions with the first team. Second-round pick Jonas Mouton will have a chance to impress in the preseason too, and the Chargers could look for a veteran if the youngsters show they are not ready.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky -- who replaced Ron Rivera, now the head coach in Carolina -- lets his presence be known. He is a high-energy coach who is not afraid to bark instructions constantly. No need to worry about the San Diego defense falling flat after being ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year.
  • Spikes has looked good. He is 34, but he played for Manusky in San Francisco last year and has Manusky's trust. Spikes has never played for a winner and seems energized by being part of this roster.
  • Rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien has looked good in camp. The Wisconsin product is a smart player who may be a nice developmental prospect.
  • The Chargers are not overly concerned about the foot injury hampering star tight end Antonio Gates, who started camp on the physically unable to perform list because of the plantar fascia injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely. The team will be cautious, and Gates is expected to be ready for the season.
  • Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green continue to vie for the right guard spot. Vasquez had been the starter, but Green proved to be a worthy injury replacement for Vasquez and now is hoping for more playing time.
  • Sixth-round pick Jordan Todman is running the ball well. He could make a contribution as a rookie replacement for the departed Darren Sproles.
  • Cornerback Antoine Cason is going to take over punt returns now that Sproles is gone.
  • Defensive tackle Antonio Garay doesn’t look like a one-year wonder. He is having a strong camp after a huge season in 2010.
  • The Chargers have loved what they've seen from rookie cornerback Marcus Gilchrist so far. He may have a chance to contribute.
  • Last year, Chargers camp was dampened by the holdouts of Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill. This year, there is contract harmony after several players received new deals. It wouldn't surprise me to see Tolbert, Cason and center Nick Hardwick also get new deals in the next year.

Philip Rivers unplugged

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
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SAN DIEGO -- I had a chance to catch up with San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers on Tuesday and we discussed several topics.

Rivers
Rivers
Here is a sampling:

Rivers is excited about the prospect of playing with starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates. Last year, the three played to together for a total of one quarter of a game. Jackson held out much of the season and Gates and Floyd were hurt late in the season. In 2009, those three players combined for 192 catches for 3,100 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns catches.

That is a lot of missed opportunities for Rivers. However, he still passed for a career-high 4,710 passing yards in 2010.

Rivers said he is thrilled to have his top receivers back, but the good part about last season was that several other players showed they can contribute to the offense, including receiver Patrick Crayton and tight end Randy McMichael.

Add veteran free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson and rookie receiver Vincent Brown, and Rivers likes what he sees.

“We have a lot of weapons,” Rivers said. “I have so many different guys who I can I can count on. It’s really going to be exciting.”

Meanwhile, Rivers complimented second-year running back Ryan Mathews for his development in camp. Mathews has been maligned for not showing up to camp in prime shape and he has continued to deal with nagging injuries. He will likely not play Thursday against Seattle as a precaution because of a minor leg injury.

However, Rivers said Mathews is making strides in all aspects of the game, including pass protection. Rivers said he believes Mathews will only improve as he takes more repetitions.

Rivers admits it didn’t break his heart to see star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha leave Oakland and the AFC West to sign with Philadelphia. However, Rivers said he is impressed by Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, who will likely replace Asomugha.

“Nnamdi is great, but Routt and Johnson can cover,” Rivers said. “Oakland had us covered as well as anyone in (Oakland’s 28-13 win at San Diego in December) … Those guys can play.”

Rivers has been impressed by rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien. Rivers said he knew the first day he saw Tolzien that Tolzien is more than camp fodder.

“He’s a pro,” Rivers said. “You can tell the kid can handle himself.”

If the Wisconsin product has a good preseason perhaps San Diego will add him on the active roster behind Rivers and Billy Volek.

Have the Cowboys soured on Dez Bryant?

January, 18, 2011
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Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Patrick Crayton was never shy about speaking his mind. And last week, the Chargers receiver popped on "The Ben & Skin Show" on to 103.3 ESPN Radio to talk about a variety of topics, including the work of rookie Dez Bryant.

Bryant
Bryant
"They let him get away with a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff," Crayton said of Bryant. "Hopefully whoever they bring in as receivers coach, and they say [Jason] Garrett is a disciplinarian, won't let him get away with so much stuff. He'll get locked down and hopefully be the next Michael Irvin."

Crayton's not a fan of Garrett's, as you might have gathered from that little jab. But it's interesting what he said about Bryant, who was reportedly late to several meetings during the season and didn't exactly commit the playbook to memory. Former Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus, who now works for 103.3, recently wondered aloud (on the air) whether Dallas might listen to trade offers for Bryant. ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins posed that question to someone in the Cowboys' front office.

"I would think about it," said the source.

I think Bryant has way too much upside for the Cowboys to think about trading him, but it's interesting that someone at Valley Ranch is at least open to the possibility. Even if a team offered a top-15 draft pick for Bryant, are we convinced the Cowboys would turn two first-round picks into gold?

One look at this defense shows you how the Cowboys haven't exactly owned the first round of the draft. Cornerback Mike Jenkins is coming off an awful season, defensive end Marcus Spears is probably headed out the door via free agency and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer disappeared in 2010. On the other side of the ball, Felix Jones has not emerged as one of the top backs from his first-round class.

We've always known Bryant was a top-10 talent who slid in the draft because of character concerns, so let's not act like it's a huge surprise that he's not the first guy to arrive at every meeting. Garrett sent wide receivers coach Ray Sherman packing, in part, because he gained a reputation for coddling some of his more outspoken players. Now that Garrett's in charge, it's incumbent on him to make sure that Bryant continues to mature as a player and person.

It's not like this offense has enough firepower to consider trading a playmaker of Bryant's caliber.

San Diego's inactives for 49ers game

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
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In addition to tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Malcom Floyd, here are San Diego’s other inactive players for Thursday night’s game against San Francisco: Larry English, Patrick Crayton, Darrell Stuckey, Tyrone Carter, Louis Vasquez and Travis Johnson. English has a foot injury.

The biggest hits are the loss of Gates and Floyd, even though both have long been dealing with injuries. This is Gates’ fourth missed game in the past six games with a nagging foot injury. Randy McMichael will start for the Chargers.

The Rivers-Gates combination has resulted in 10 touchdowns and a passer rating of 143.1 this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Rivers has completed 77 percent of his passes to tight ends this season and he is averaging 11.5 yards per attempt.

Meanwhile, San Diego made some roster moves near the bottom of the roster that could affect the special teams unit, which has settled down and has played well in recent weeks.
Want another reason why the rest of the AFC West should worry about the San Diego Chargers, who have won three straight games and appear to be embarking on another late-season playoff run?

[+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
AP Photo/Denis PoroyVincent Jackson's return this Sunday is great news for San Diego's depleted wide receiver corp.
The return of Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson. As expected, the Chargers officially activated Jackson to the roster Tuesday as the Chargers prepare for a pivotal game at Indianapolis on Sunday night. He has been on the roster-exemption list for the past three games after ending his holdout.

There has been speculation that San Diego would be reluctant to play Jackson because of hard feelings over his holdout and the fact that he will likely walk as a free agent after the season. Also, there has been speculation that Jackson may not be motivated to play at a high level because of his own hard feelings.

My expectations? San Diego, which has been depleted by injuries, will use Jackson often and he will be a professional and play with his usual strong work ethic. The word is Jackson has looked very good in recent practices. Tuesday, San Diego coach Norv Turner told reporters he expects Jackson to be a solid contributor.

Jackson’s pending return was not lost on his teammates Monday night after San Diego evened its record at 5-5 with a 35-14 win over Denver.

“We get Vincent back this week,” safety Eric Weddle said without prompting. “That’s only going to make us better.”

There’s no reason to think Jackson won’t start right away. His replacement as the No. 1 receiver, Malcom Floyd, aggravated a hamstring injury Monday night and could miss more time. No. 2 receiver Legedu Naanee still is being hampered by a hamstring injury that kept him out of several games and No. 4 receiver Patrick Crayton, who has been starting in Naanee’s place, has a wrist injury that could cost him a significant amount of time. Buster Davis, the team’s No. 3 receiver, was put on the injured reserve last month.

Tight end Antonio Gates has missed two games with a foot injury and there’s no guarantee he will return against the Colts, although the team is hopeful. The team is also hopeful rookie tailback Ryan Mathews will return from an ankle injury at Indianapolis, although expect backup Mike Tolbert to play significantly. He had 11 rushing yards against Denver.

The Chargers have survived the onslaught of injuries because of the special play of quarterback Philip Rivers. He has to be thrilled about the notion of getting Jackson back. Rivers and Jackson have been one of the NFL’s best long-play combinations. Rivers’ stance during Jackson’s holdout was always this: “I wish Vincent was here. We’d be a better team with him.” Now, the surging Chargers will get Rivers’ wish.

To make room for Jackson, San Diego cut kicker Kris Brown. He was on the roster while Nate Kaeding was dealing with a groin injury.

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