Eli ManningAP Photo/Julio CortezEli Manning threw for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2015.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With the New York Giants set to begin training camp practices Friday, they still haven't extended quarterback Eli Manning's contract beyond the 2015 season. But as has been the case for months, nobody seems overly stressed out about it.

"I think we'll get it done at some point in time," Giants owner John Mara said Thursday. "We're just going through the usual things that you go through. The agent asks for the moon, we make a reasonable offer, at some point he'll come to his senses and we'll have an agreement. There's nothing unusual about any of this."

Manning, 34, had one of his best statistical seasons in 2014, posting a career-high in completion percentage and the second-highest single-season yardage and touchdown totals of his career. Entering the second year with Ben McAdoo as his offensive coordinator, Manning and the Giants expect a high-level performance. The team wouldn't mind getting the deal done now and clearing it off of next spring's to-do list, but it's not essential. If need be, they could use the franchise player designation on Manning next spring and keep him off the market.

"I think, ideally, we would like to have that done, but if not, I don't think it's going to affect our relationship with him or the fact that we will eventually get it done," Mara said. "We'd like to have it done before the season is over, but if it doesn't happen, then I'm still confident."

Manning is scheduled to earn $17.5 million this year and count $19.75 million against the salary cap.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz took another significant step Thursday in his recovery from last year's serious knee injury. Cruz passed the annual pre-camp conditioning test with the rest of his Giants teammates, which means he'll be able to work with the team when training camp practices begin Friday.

"I'm sure we'll have to limit him and build him up, but he will be out there," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

Cruz came to camp Thursday sporting a red Michael Jordan No. 45 Chicago Bulls jersey, which he said was no coincidence. Jordan wore that jersey when he returned to the NBA after his two-year baseball hiatus and famously scored 55 points against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden in his second game back. Cruz joked that the jersey called out to him from his closet Thursday morning, as he embarked upon the latest step in his own return to competitive action.

Victor CruzWilliam Perlman/USA TODAY SportsVictor Cruz estimated himself as "93 percent" healthy on Thursday.

"Felt like it was a little symbolism for today," Cruz said. "When Jordan came back wearing the four-five, he wasn't playing with people."

Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in a Week 6 game in Philadelphia last year and missed the remainder of the season after having it surgically repaired. He has said his goal is to return in time for the Giants' Sept. 13 opener in Dallas, and Thursday he estimated himself as "93 percent" healthy. He said working out in pads in training camp practice would require "a different type of endurance" than his rehab has required so far.

"So I've still got to develop that and take it one day at a time," Cruz said.

Also passing the conditioning test was fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who missed all of minicamp and a portion of organized team activities in June with a hamstring injury. Coughlin said the team would monitor Beckham's practice reps as well, but he's also expected to take part in at least some drills when practices begin Friday. Beckham missed all but the first day of training camp last year and the first four games of his rookie season with an injury to his other hamstring, but he recovered to catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in the final 12 games of the year.

OXNARD, Calif. – A year ago, Tony Romo’s biggest worry as the Dallas Cowboys entered training camp was how his surgically-repaired back would hold up to the grind of so many practices.

This year his biggest worry is an aggravating sty below his left eye.

“When I had back surgery, it sucks,” Romo said after Thursday’s morning walkthrough. “You go through surgery and deal with it and then you man up and go out and get better. It’s all you do. It’s the same thing now. I get to string together far more days of consistency now than I did when I was coming back from it.”

That’s not to say Romo isn’t worried about his back. He continues to do daily exercises to strengthen his core and back. He will spend time in an ice tub after practices as well.

AP Photo/Gus RuelasTony Romo says he plans to practice more this summer than last year, when he was returning after back surgery.

Last year, Romo didn’t practice for more than two straight days in camp as he worked back from surgery. He called last year’s plan more “trial and error,” but he has a stronger base at the start of this year’s camp.

Romo said there could days when he works two days and rests or works three straight days. The Cowboys and Romo could coordinate his off days with the scheduled off days throughout the summer.

“In general, you want to always be feeling good,” Romo said. “You don’t need to push it to a point that sometimes can take you to where you need multiple days [of rest]. It’s smart to be smart about it. I’ve been that way. At the same time, some strength in my base to be able to handle and withstand multiple days. I think we’ll practice more this year than we did last year.”

Romo isn’t worried about taking hits, although he is considered untouchable by the defense in drills. He missed one game last year after suffering two transverse process fractures unrelated to the discectomy he had in December 2013.

“What you find is it’s mostly about the torque consistently you’re putting on your back would be for me more of a hurdle necessarily than hits,” Romo said. “Obviously if you take the wrong kind of hit, like Washington last year, that’s going to hurt. But over time I found that I have to manage just the constant torque you put in your back through repetition. So you just have to manage that. If you do that, then I’m able to handle hits better, I’m able to move better, I’m able to fire when you decide to move and run more explosively. I think all that goes hand in hand.”

PHILADELPHIA – Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has declared an open competition at quarterback, which conjures images of Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford going head to head for the starting job.

But Kelly’s reasoning means more than that.

“If Sam goes out [in the preseason] and throws 14 interceptions and Mark throws 14 touchdowns, I can’t sit there and tell our team that Sam’s going to start and Mark’s not going to start,” Kelly said.

What if Bradford’s knee keeps him from practicing at times, Sanchez throws 14 interceptions and Tim Tebow throws 14 touchdowns? Based on Kelly’s logic, Tebow would have to be the starter.

In reality, it seems more reasonable that Bradford and Sanchez are competing for the No. 1 spot while Tebow and Matt Barkley are competing to be the No. 3 quarterback. A great preseason by Tebow or Barkley could change that, but that’s the way it looks right now.

Tim TebowMitchell Leff/Getty ImagesHow far up the depth chart could Tim Tebow climb with the Eagles? According to a teammate, he'll make the team and be a contributor.

One Eagle had a different view. Outside linebacker Brandon Graham appeared on Detroit radio station WGPR (107.5 FM). Graham, a Detroit native, said he believes Tebow will play “a lot.”

“Tim Tebow is going to shock a lot of people, because he is going to make the team,” Graham told host Lauren Beasley. “And I think he will play a lot.”

Now it could be that Graham was simply going by speculation that was fairly common when the Eagles signed Tebow. With the NFL considering changes to the point-after touchdown rules (it adopted a rule that would give teams a choice between a 32-yard PAT or going for two from the 2-yard line), the thought was that Kelly saw Tebow as a possible two-point specialist.

That would mean having Tebow active on game days, which is not typical for third-team quarterbacks. Still, Kelly could be willing to try it.

Or it could be that Graham simply based his comment on what he saw of Tebow during OTAs. If Graham thought Tebow appeared capable of making an impact in certain packages and formations, then Tebow certainly would be a candidate to make the team.

Would that be a “shock?” A little bit. Tebow has been out of the NFL for two seasons after failing to make the Patriots two summers ago. Last year, he was a college football analyst for ESPN.

But Tebow has continued to work out and spent time with throwing-mechanics coach Tom House. He had some less impressive days during OTAs, but that’s typical for quarterbacks getting their first work in Kelly’s offense.

Kelly has seemed less than confident in Barkley, a fourth-round pick in 2013 who has been the No. 3 quarterback for two seasons. Last year, when the season finale against the New York Giants had no playoff implications, Kelly could have let Barkley play. He started Sanchez instead.

So it wouldn’t be shocking if Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft choice, beat out Barkley for a roster spot. It would be more interesting than shocking if Kelly devised some plays to take advantage of Tebow’s ability to run the ball.

OXNARD, Calif. -- The first walkthrough of Dallas Cowboys’ training camp wasn’t so much about the players on the field as it was the players off it.

The returns of Sean Lee, Morris Claiborne and Doug Free were overshadowed by the absences of Rolando McClain, Darren McFadden and some others.

McClain and McFadden were placed on the physically unable to perform list as they work back from injuries. McClain is continuing to rehab from offseason knee surgery, while McFadden tweaked his hamstring in workouts last week.

Darren McFaddenBrandon Wade/APDarren McFadden, who has played just one full season in his career, was placed on the physically unable to perform list.

McClain’s move was expected because he was not with the team most of the offseason as he chose to rehab in Alabama. McFadden’s was a little surprising and he missed time in the spring with a hamstring strain.

Given McFadden’s injury history -- he has played one full season in his career -- even a minor tweak has to be looked at with some concern. Coach Jason Garrett said the club expects McFadden to practice within the next week.

“I think you always want to be deliberate in how you handle these things with guys,” Garrett said. “The last thing you want to do with a hamstring or an injury like that is to rush a guy back early on in training camp and then he misses a lot of time. So we don’t think this is serious. Just want to take it day by day.

The Cowboys also placed Keith Rivers on the reserve/retired list. Garrett spoke with Rivers, who was entering his seventh season, on Tuesday before the team flew to California

“It was surprising,” Garrett said. “Keith was a guy we played against through the years. He was a first-round pick of Cincinnati and had part of his career there. He played for the Giants, he played with Buffalo. He is someone who came to us in the spring and made amazing strides in the course of our offseason program. I think he was learning the way he do things, the way we want to play defense. He went from one of the guys who you use an example of what not to do, to one of the guys who you use in front of the team as an example of what to do and how we want to play. So it was surprising from that standpoint.

“But we had a really good conversation, honest, up front, emotional at times for him, but he just felt for him right now the passion that he needs to play at this level was not there. He made that decision and we wished him well.”

The Cowboys are in the process of looking for linebacker depth with Rivers retired, McClain on the PUP list and rookie Mark Nzeocha on the non-football injury list as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last year at Wyoming.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin is not a patient person by nature. The New York Giants' coach knows this about himself and comes by it honestly. It is to his credit that he has succeeded in a profession rife with inherent challenges to patience.

The Jason Pierre-Paul situation, which Coughlin described using the word "fiasco" in a recent Sports Illustrated interview, is the latest significant challenge to the patience of Coughlin and the Giants' organization. They are frustrated that they haven't been able to see Pierre-Paul or communicate with him as much as they'd like since he lost his right index finger in a July 4 fireworks accident. They would rather Pierre-Paul be with them in training camp, which starts Thursday, than rehabbing on his own at home in Florida. They want to know when they can expect to see him, and they're frustrated that there's no current answer to that question.

But they're out of luck. The Giants have no choice but to be patient with Pierre-Paul and operate on his timetable. Pierre-Paul made a dumb mistake, sure, but the result was a significant personal trauma, and those require time for recovery. Physically, emotionally and mentally, Pierre-Paul needs time before he can think about football again, and the Giants have no choice but to swallow hard and give him that time.

Could they rescind that $14.813 million franchise tender before he signs it? Sure they could. They could wash their hands of Pierre-Paul and move on without him. But what would that solve? At this point, the expectation on both sides is that Pierre-Paul will be able to play again, and very likely early in the 2015 season. If the Giants withdraw the tender, he becomes an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team. That's what he wanted in the first place, back in January. The Giants franchised him because they didn't want him to sign elsewhere. And given their remaining options at defensive end, that hasn't changed. Pierre-Paul with nine fingers is still their best defensive player, whenever he shows up. There's no player of consequence they could sign with the cap savings they'd get. So dumping him now wouldn't fix anything. They're already without him indefinitely, but at least the way things currently stand, they can hope to get significantly better on defense with the addition of an impact pass-rusher at some point this summer or fall. Letting Pierre-Paul leave would remove that hope.

As for trying to convince him to come to camp, good luck. Pierre-Paul's relationship with the Giants isn't a great one right now. He has made it clear on more than one occasion that he doesn't believe he received enough appreciation for rushing back from back surgery and playing hurt through the 2013 season. He obviously didn't like being franchised and believed he was worth a long-term commitment. He knows he messed up on July 4, and he'll own that, but before that ever happened, he wasn't in a good place about the Giants and their feelings for him. It's no surprise he turned away team trainer Ronnie Barnes when Barnes showed up to see him in the hospital. The stunned reaction of Coughlin and John Mara to that decision only shows the disconnect between the team's point of view and Pierre-Paul's.

The way Pierre-Paul sees this, it's all business. The Giants made a business decision to franchise him, so he's making business decisions about how to handle his current situation. If he shows up and signs the tender, they can put him on the non-football injury list and opt not to pay him for games missed. So until they promise him (in writing!) that they won't do that, he's got no reason to show up and give them any control over his recovery timetable.

There's a conversation to be had between player and team about that kind of agreement, but the time for that conversation is not now. Pierre-Paul is still only three weeks removed from the surgeries that amputated his finger and fixed his broken thumb. He has a way to go before he can talk football, or money. At this point, the Giants' only option is to wait and be patient, whether they like it or not.

OXNARD, Calif. -- Maybe Jerry Jones is a superstitious sort.

Last year, the Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager avoided using the words Super and Bowl when talking about his team. For an owner who sees nothing but the best possible outcome even in the worst possible times, that was an accomplishment.

The Cowboys went 12-4 in 2014 and won the NFC East. They won a playoff game and possibly could have won at least two if Dez Bryant's catch was not overturned in the fourth quarter of their divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers.

As the Cowboys begin their training camp practices today, Jones was once again refused to use "Super" and "Bowl" together.

"I'm going to keep avoiding it this year," Jones said. "I think that we certainly have reason to be optimistic because of frankly, we can look at the way our team evolved last year. We can look at some of the circumstances that individually, with players as well as with the team, as well as parts within the team. If we can see how that worked last year and gave us some success, it's not hard to project and say, 'Boy, if we could do that last year, maybe we can get some more of that this year and have that kind of success.'

"That's not hard to do because the guys who are tasting it experienced it last year. Those players are in camp. We're not having to sit here and talk to guys about how it was in 1990 or in 2002."

Of course that goes against what Jason Garrett has attempted to preach to his players this offseason, that what happened in 2014 will have no bearing on what happens in 2015. While Garrett might prefer his players to live in a cocoon and avoid outside expectations, Jones does not.

Sean LeeAP Photo/LM OteroHaving Sean Lee back in the fold allows the Cowboys to build on their 2014 confidence even more.

By all accounts the Cowboys had a productive offseason even with losing DeMarco Murray in free agency. They added Greg Hardy and saw his suspension get reduced from 10 games to four with the possibility of being further reduced if he chooses to take the NFL to court and wins. They added three first-round talents in Byron Jones, Randy Gregory and La'el Collins in the draft process.

They were able to keep Bryant with a five-year, $70 million deal. They will welcome back linebacker Sean Lee to their defense after he missed last season with a knee injury.

"I'm particularly, though, impressed this year with the combination of new faces. What a guy like Hardy has been able to contribute out here, a guy like Gregory, players like that that are frankly in a way fresh to what we're trying to do here on top of the fact that you've got the normal freshness that goes with people that are just now joining the team," Jerry Jones said. "I see more freshness, more bright-eyed, rookie attitude in the makeup of this team, for whatever the reason, than I did five years ago. It just seems like there is a 'Send me in coach. Where do I go? I'm going to go through there one way or the other. Just tell me how to go.' I'm not going to call it naive. It’s just an attitude of, 'Let's just get out here. Let’s go to work. Good things can happen to us.'

"I think that has everything to do with our leadership, with our head coach. I think it has to do with leadership from some of our veterans. We're fortunate to have [Tony] Romo and [Jason] Witten and players like that that have been through this thing. And I think it was really special to have several of these first-, second-, third-year guys that had good years last year that are going to be able to draw on that."

Jones might not say "Super" and "Bowl," but there is no doubt he feels optimistic about what the Cowboys can do in 2015. He might have felt the same in other years, but last year's success gives him more hope, even if Garrett wants everybody to forget what happened in 2014.

videoRICHMOND, Va. -- The Washington Redskins crossed certain players off their list during the draft, worried about off-the-field issues that could impact their play -- or availability. The team doesn't appear to have the same concerns about Junior Galette after his high-profile release from New Orleans last week.

The Redskins will bring Galette to camp Thursday for a physical -- he tore a pectoral muscle this offseason. There's no doubt Galette possesses the sort of talent that Washington and many other teams desire. He recorded 22 sacks over the past two years, earning a $41 million extension from New Orleans.

The Redskins have been seeking to improve their pass rush, and there's little doubt that Galette would help them do that. They have two unproven pass-rushers on the right side in second-year Trent Murphy and rookie Preston Smith. They view the latter as the guy who will eventually start, barring another addition to the spot. Murphy is seen more as a backup. And even after drafting Smith in the second round, the Redskins still wanted to add a pass-rusher.

But general manager Scot McCloughan has been reluctant to sign or draft players who have a checkered past. It's why the team wasn't going to select pass-rusher Randy Gregory this past spring. However, it's clear the Redskins, like most teams, make exceptions to that way of thinking -- and McCloughan has said in the past he would do so if the right leadership group is in place. If they sign Galette, it would be clear that McCloughan and the Redskins believe they have that group in charge now (that was not the case last season).

The Redskins like the leadership of players such as safety Dashon Goldson, and they hope or believe they have a group of strong veteran leaders. Also, cornerback DeAngelo Hall shares the same agent as Galette and has never been afraid to give his opinion of players to the front office. Galette is from Haiti, as is Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon, though one source said they don't have much of a relationship, if any (they used to share the same agent). One huge knock on Galette this past season, according to numerous reports, was his performance as a captain. He clearly wouldn't be in that role in Washington, nor should he be.

Galette ran into problems last season, which my ESPN colleague in New Orleans, Mike Triplett, wrote about last week. Here are some highlights: "[Sean] Payton and players talked at length last year about how the team's maturity and professionalism needed to improve. Galette was never singled out publicly for being at the center of that issue, but some in the organization were privately critical of Galette's attitude. And he drew the ire of Payton and current and former teammates last season after he derisively insisted that the Saints' current defensive players were better than the veterans from their Super Bowl team."

And one more nugget from Triplett: "Galette's passion and exuberance for playing the game is hard to criticize -- it was downright inspiring at times. And he had developed into one of the game’s top pass rushers with 22 sacks over the past two seasons, using a relentless motor and an unconventional mix of moves that drove offensive tackles nuts at the line of scrimmage. But Galette couldn't shake the maturity and character issues that got him kicked out of Temple in college."

But Galette won the Saints' media good-guy award two years ago -- and he didn't seem to be disliked by his teammates last year.

His activities outside the locker room, however, could be more troubling for Washington: Galette was arrested in January for allegedly injuring a woman as she left his house. Those charges were later dismissed. Then a video that was shot in 2013 and surfaced last month showed a man involved in a fight on the beach with multiple people. The man is seen hitting a woman with a belt (the woman was among the group fighting him). The man resembles Galette, but his attorney says it was not him; the NFL is still looking into the matter.

Galette is considered a passionate player, which is something the Redskins -- and most teams -- could use. That passion could have been at the center of his release, causing him to say or do things the Saints did not like. Galette or his girlfriend took to Twitter after his release and unloaded on the Saints.

From a football perspective, there's little doubt Galette would help. (Triplett offered a good analysis of his game earlier this month.) But looking at the full picture, he'd represent a gamble. The Saints decided it was one they could no longer take -- and accepted a $17 million cap hit as a result. That alone is a damning statement. If the Redskins sign him to a one-year deal, some think he'd be on his best behavior because he might be either humbled or desperate to prove everyone wrong and restore his reputation. That's what the Redskins would have to hope for. What they don't need is the guy the Saints discarded.

If that’s the guy who comes here, the Redskins would be adding problems they just don’t need.

PHILADELPHIA – NFL teams are reporting to training camp this week. The Eagles, who hit the field at the NovaCare Complex on Sunday (Aug. 2) are one of the last teams to start camp.

When they do, there will be a quarterback competition as well as a slew of new defensive players to watch come together. This week, as we count down to the start of camp, we’ll take a look at some of the less obvious issues that will be addressed this summer. Today: the state of the linebackers.

A year ago, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin were set to start at outside linebacker for the Eagles, and first-round pick Marcus Smith was expected to take his time easing into the rotation. Brandon Graham, meanwhile, figured to lose playing time as Smith’s increased.

Marcus SmithAP Photo/Michael PerezIt's a big camp for linebacker Marcus Smith, who must prove he has a long-term with the Eagles.

On the inside, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks were the starters. Guys such as Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho and Najee Goode figured to contribute on special teams while backing up the starters.

It was, in short, a relatively clear picture. This summer, with training camp about to open, that picture is a lot harder to see.

Cole is gone, a victim of turning 32 and counting nearly $8.5 million against the Eagles’ salary cap. Graham signed a new contract and is in line to replace Cole at outside linebacker.

Meanwhile, the Eagles added inside linebacker Kiko Alonso in the LeSean McCoy trade. Alonso, 24, is expected to start. So are Ryans and Kendricks. Simple math tells you there are three players and only two starting positions. Something has to give and no one had indicated yet exactly what that something is.

Simply put, the Eagles have too much depth at inside linebacker and not enough at outside linebacker.

Ryans seems like the obvious odd man out on the inside. He missed the second half of the 2014 season with a torn Achilles tendon, his second such tear in four years. Ryans turned 31 on Tuesday. That makes him six years older than Alonso and Kendricks, who will both be 25 by the end of September.

But there’s one small hitch in the plan to start Kendricks and Alonso: Chip Kelly really likes Ryans, as both a player and as a leader. During the offseason, after trading for Alonso, Kelly reworked Ryans’ contract, adding another year to it. Ryans is now signed through 2016 and remains very much in the picture as a starter.

There are ways for defensive coordinator Bill Davis to get Alonso, Kendricks and Ryans on the field at the same time. Indeed, that strategy would minimize the issue of lack of depth at outside linebacker. Kendricks and Alonso are both able to line up outside and blitz the quarterback or cover a tight end or running back.

Can Smith do those things effectively? The answer to that question will determine whether he plays more in 2015 or whether he is simply a bust. Kelly’s gaining of power over personnel decisions could be bad news for players drafted earlier. Kelly didn’t select them so he is not likely to carry them for the sake of appearance. He has been very matter-of-fact about Smith’s inability to crack the rotation at linebacker. Smith just wasn’t as good as Graham or Matthews.

If Smith shows up for camp looking and playing like a prospect, there will be room for him. Graham played on 43 percent of defensive plays last season. That workload will be available, with Smith, Travis Long and Bryan Braman vying for snaps.

The mainstay is Barwin, who had a breakout season last year. Barwin’s 14 sacks were the most by an NFC player last season. A similar season is likely as Barwin gets more comfortable playing alongside defensive end Fletcher Cox and exploiting the opportunities created by Cox’s play.

OXNARD, Calif. -- Jeremy Mincey's absence from training camp wasn’t something the Dallas Cowboys wanted, but it opens up opportunities.

Mincey is seeking an enhanced deal with him being set to make $1.5 million this year. He and the Cowboys have been in discussions since February, but the sides aren’t close to an agreement. Mincey finished 11 snaps shy last season of earning an extra $500,000 in 2015. He is the 70th-highest-paid defensive end in the NFL and has statistics that measure up with more highly paid players.

Some have asked about Mincey’s leverage. It might not look like he has much, but the Cowboys currently won’t have Greg Hardy for the first four games. While they like what they saw from Randy Gregory in the offseason, rookie pass-rushers often don’t put up big numbers.

Mincey led the Cowboys with six sacks last season and has been a solid leader, moved to the captain role after Justin Durant was lost for the season.

Randy Gregory Brandon Wade/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS/Getty ImagesCowboys rookie defensive end Randy Gregory could benefit from more reps in practice with Jeremy Mincey absent from training camp.

While Mincey faces a possible fine of $30,000 a day for each day of camp he misses, other players will have a chance to make a mark in camp that they might not have had otherwise.

The plan was for Gregory to get a lot of work as a pass-rush specialist, but he will get more snaps now. He has added some bulk to his frame, but this is his first camp and he has a lot to learn. Mincey’s strength at the point of attack is something to separates him from other candidates.

Jack Crawford was on his way to playing a big role on the defense last year before suffering a season-ending thumb injury. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is a big fan of Crawford’s versatility.

Ben Gardner missed last season with a shoulder injury. He impressed the coaches with his work in the spring and is healthy. The Cowboys took him in the seventh round last year and hope he can play multiple spots along the line.

Ryan Russell was drafted in the fifth round this past May. He had some positive moments in the spring and can get off the ball, but he did not put up consistent numbers at Purdue. By moving up a peg when practices start, Russell will have a chance to impress the coaches on the practice field, which could lead to more action in the preseason games.

Ryan Kerrigan had a career-high 13.5 sacks in 2014. On Wednesday, the Redskins rewarded him with a contract extension.Rob Carr/Getty ImagesRyan Kerrigan should be a popular pick-up after recording four sacks against the Jaguars last week.

RICHMOND, Va. -- It wasn’t a tough decision, but one thing new general manager Scot McCloughan harped on this offseason was taking care of your own.

And the Washington Redskins just did that with Ryan Kerrigan. He signed a five-year deal earlier Wednesday, making him a wealthy man and the Redskins a happy team. The reality is that he wasn’t going to go anywhere else.

Two years ago the Redskins debated on how much they should give Brian Orakpo -- and whether they should even use the franchise tag on him. This offseason, while they tried to re-sign Orakpo, they wouldn't match Tennessee's offer of approximately $8 million per year. Orakpo was a good player in Washington and though he pressured the passer, he didn’t make the game-changing plays. That’s why there really couldn’t be much of a debate with Kerrigan. From the time he arrived in Washington, he’s made big play after big play. In fact, he’s second in the NFL since 2011 with 15 forced fumbles.

More importantly, he continues to improve each year and, in all my talks with him, has never viewed himself as a finished product. Over his first few seasons, Kerrigan would talk about how he was working on his pass rushes, trying to take a better path to the quarterback with less rounding. Finally, this past season, it clicked.

After not making the Pro Bowl, Kerrigan blamed himself in part by pointing to some games where he felt he had been too quiet. The point: He’s always looking to improve and knows there are ways to do so, subtle as they sometimes might be.

That was evident as a rookie, too, when coaches predicted he’d soon be the equal of Orakpo.

Kerrigan also hasn’t missed a game in the NFL, though he has played through some injuries. He also had arthroscopic knee surgery this offseason, but said recently he felt good.

It was an easy call keeping him around. Is the contract too expensive ($57.5 million, with $24.28 million guaranteed)? He’s now the third highest-paid linebacker in terms of average per year. But contracts are all about timing.

The Redskins have some other key players who are free agents after the season -- left tackle Trent Williams and running back Alfred Morris. The Redskins seem intent on developing their own and then keeping them (the first part has been the more difficult one). Kerrigan checked off all the boxes: Good player, hard worker, popular in the community (the other two are as well).

But what the Redskins need from him is to continue being the same guy. Make plays, be a leader (something he said this spring he wants to become) and be a positive face of the franchise. It's worked thus far.

Trent WilliamsAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyTrent Williams, entering his sixth season, has often played hurt and is in a contract year in 2015.

Some things to watch for during camp:

  • The Redskins’ offense. Last summer, it was clear that the Redskins wanted to have Robert Griffin III work mostly from the pocket. Not that he never escaped or improvised, but Jay Gruden seemed determined to develop him in this area. It didn’t work and they knew early in the season, before his injury, that they’d have to tweak their plan. How will things look this summer? And how will Griffin respond? There might be subtle tweaks that aren’t immediately evident. Also, a second year in the offense surely can help.
  • Inside linebacker. Will Compton looked like an intriguing undrafted free agent two years ago. Entering last season, he had developed enough that the coaches felt he could “start right now,” as one said in camp. My sense is that the new staff likes Compton as well. So it will be interesting to see what happens this summer and if he could somehow wrestle the starting job away from Perry Riley. The play inside has been too inconsistent for a few years, which is not all on Riley, but he does not have a stronghold on the job.
  • Left tackle Trent Williams’ health. It’s a big year for him (contract) so he needs to be absolutely right when it comes to health. Williams obviously is a good player, but to get the sort of contract he’ll want, I’d want to be sure of his durability moving forward (not talking freak injuries, but making sure nagging ones don’t become an issue). He’s only missed one game the past three years and he’s been willing to play hurt. It’s admirable, but it takes a toll. Williams just turned 27, so he’s early into his prime years.
  • Receiver Ryan Grant. I know they really like him so I’ll be curious to see how he looks after one year in the system. Also, he’s had a year to work out in the NFL, so how will the added strength help? And will he do enough to surpass anyone?
  • Running back Matt Jones’ pass protection. I think his hands will be fine and I like his footwork in the open field, especially for a bigger runner. He will try to run over guys, but it looks like he has the ability to fool them as well. But how he handles protection will be key.
  • Corner DeAngelo Hall’s health. If he’s right, he certainly expects to start. But he also has to show that he’s not only healthy, but hasn’t lost anything. Along with this, I’ll monitor Bashaud Breeland’s ability to cover full time in the slot. One aspect that helps: He tackles well. When you play inside, there are different responsibilities including more work vs. the run.
  • Safeties. It’s not just the competition between Jeron Johnson and Duke Ihenacho, it’s also about Dashon Goldson’s impact, good or bad. It’ll be interesting, too, seeing who wins the backup jobs.
  • The right side of the offensive line. Both Spencer Long (guard) and Brandon Scherff (tackle) have potential and could form a terrific tandem for the next 5-10 years. Even if they are successful, it will take time to get there – how quickly will it happen? It’s asking a lot for both to be ready to play at a certain level by the season opener.
  • The interior pass rush. It's not just Stephen Paea, rather it's the combination of Paea and Jason Hatcher and Ricky Jean Francois. The Redskins have more depth here but I'm curious to see how effective they can be and, in some cases, still are. Hatcher was not bad last season, but he did not give them what they needed either (aside from flashes). Should be worth watching the one-on-one pass-rush drills (they usually are, but even more so this summer).
  • Linebacker Preston Smith. Curious to see his hands in camp, especially during one-on-one pass-rush drills. They’re a strength of his game and it’s why he rushed well from the inside.

OXNARD, Calif. -- When the Dallas Cowboys' American Airlines' charter flight touched down around 4 p.m. PT Tuesday, it officially marked the beginning of football season.

Yes, the Cowboys went through an offseason program complete with organized team activities and a minicamp but those are a precursor to what will happen in Oxnard, California, for the next five weeks. After a few days to get the bodies up and running, the Cowboys will be in full pads through the end of August.

"The offseason went by fast," right guard Zack Martin said, standing on the tarmac at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station. "We got a lot of good work done but actually to get on the plane and getting here really brings out the reality that the season is coming and it's time to go to work."

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports"You have to start at ground zero," Jason Garrett said. "You have to put your socks back on again and go to work."

The last time the Cowboys were in pads, they suffered a stinging defeat to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Dez Bryant non-catch has remained a headline seven months after the fact and the disappointment of the outcome remains fresh.

"Actually because I relived it so much, it doesn't feel that long ago," defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. "But you know, it was, and now it's time to get back to work."

If skepticism surrounded the Cowboys last year, fresh off three 8-8 seasons with Jason Garrett in the final year of his deal and Tony Romo uncertain coming off back surgery, then optimism surrounds them now.

"I've got an attitude coming into this camp," defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. "We've got to get better. Do what we did last year better. Run to the ball, be the defense we want to be, be the team we want to be. I'm not just going to speak for the defense. Be the team we want to be that we've spoken about and coach Garrett speaks about every day."

Since getting together in April for the beginning of the offseason program, Garrett has stressed last year's success means nothing for 2015. He reiterated the point countless times to his players and mentioned it again Tuesday.

"You have to start at ground zero," Garrett said. "You have to put your socks back on again and go to work. I think our team understands that. You're not really building on anything. You're not really following up on anything. You've got to get back to work and establish the identity of this football team. We have to define ourselves by what we do and that's what we're focused on right now."

Focuses elsewhere regarding the Cowboys might be on Super Bowl 50 or maybe even the Sept. 13 season opener against the New York Giants. Garrett wants his team's focus on Wednesday and nothing more.

"To be honest, yeah, last year I do feel we exceeded expectations," Crawford said. "I hope we do the same this year, even though I know people have higher expectations than last year. I still hope we exceed the expectations. That's what we aim for in ourselves, to do the best that we can and hopefully the best is good enough."

PHILADELPHIA -- It sure looks like Roger Goodell gave the Philadelphia Eagles a one-game disadvantage in the 2015 NFC East race.

The NFL commissioner upheld Tom Brady's four-game suspension on Tuesday. That means the New England quarterback will miss the first four games of the season, including the Patriots' Oct. 11 game in Dallas. That comes a week after New England's bye, but chances are, the Cowboys will be prohibitive favorites at home against Jimmy Garoppolo or Matt Flynn.

Brady will return for the following week's game against Indianapolis. He will be eligible to play in games against Washington and the New York Giants. On Dec. 6, when the Patriots host the Eagles, Brady will be behind center.

That means Brady will miss only one game against an NFC East opponent -- Dallas. He will play against the other three NFC East teams. Considering the division hasn't been won by more than a two-game margin since 2008, that is a significant advantage for the Cowboys.

That advantage could evaporate if Brady and the NFL Players Association contest his suspension in federal court. If that happens, Brady would likely be allowed to play while the legal system does its business. In that case, Brady may play out the 2015 season and face a possible suspension later.

OXNARD, Calif. -- Unless Tom Brady takes the NFL to court and is successful in appealing his four-game suspension, the Dallas Cowboys won't see the New England Patriots quarterback when the teams meet Oct. 11 at AT&T Stadium.

From a football perspective, that is absolutely good news for the Cowboys. They would much rather see Jimmy Garoppolo, provided he holds onto the job in camp, than Brady, the future Hall of Famer.

Dallas' Tony RomoAP Photo/LM OteroCowboys QB Tony Romo could see a new face at opposing quarterback when Dallas hosts New England on Oct. 11.

From a fan of the game perspective, it's bad news. This is likely Brady's one and only appearance at AT&T Stadium. With the scheduling the way it is, New England won't be back in Arlington until 2023. Brady might be a marvel but he won't be playing football at 46 years old.

It is special to see future Hall of Famers play in person, especially at a venue like AT&T Stadium, but the chances of seeing Brady are slim. It was special to see Peyton Manning play in Arlington two years ago with the Denver Broncos in one of the most memorable games of the 2013 season, a 51-48 Denver win.

Most fans won't look at Brady's suspension that way. They'll just see the benefit of playing the defending Super Bowl champion without their starting quarterback, which is perfectly understandable.

Just because Brady won't be at the game, doesn't mean there won't be a lot of storylines. CBS will still get the ratings. The Cowboys and Patriots are two of the most popular teams with outgoing owners in Robert Kraft and Jery Jones.

But the most intrigue will remain at the quarterback position. Garoppolo is an Eastern Illinois product, like Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. That's quite a feat for a small school.

The Cowboys could also be welcoming defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain back to the field after they each serve their four-game suspensions.

Like Brady, Hardy could take the NFL to court to seek further reduction of his suspension but a decision has not been made. Hardy saw his 10-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy reduced to four games by an arbitrator.