PHILADELPHIA – There is competition for jobs at every football training camp. It is what coaches work hard to foster and it is what gets the best out of many players.
The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles training camp is no exception. There are several open competitions for starting positions this year: at cornerback, at safety, at inside linebacker, at guard, at wide receiver. But thanks to Chip Kelly’s declaration of one competition last month, all of those other battles became mere subplots.
When Kelly said that Mark Sanchez will compete with Sam Bradford for the starting quarterback spot, that became the focus for the Eagles’ entire summer. To take it a step further, Kelly said that it was imperative that the best players start. That will make it tough to award Bradford the starting job if Sanchez is visibly better during training camp and the preseason.
On paper, it should be a pretty close competition. Sanchez was the fifth pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Bradford was the No. 1 pick a year later. Sanchez started as a rookie and took the New York Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Bradford started as a rookie and was named AP offensive rookie of the year.
Injuries, of course, became the dominant theme in Bradford’s career with St. Louis. He missed six games with a high ankle sprain in 2011. In 2013, Bradford tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. He returned last summer, only to tear the ligament in his left knee a second time. He missed a total of 23 games over the past two seasons.
While Bradford was rehabbing his knee in 2014, Sanchez was returning from a 2013 season missed because of shoulder surgery. He entered the season as the backup to Nick Foles, but moved into the starting lineup after Foles broke his collarbone in the eighth game of the season.
Sanchez started the last eight games. The Eagles went 4-4 in those games, including a three-game December losing streak that knocked them out of the playoff race. Sanchez did good things – setting a franchise record with a career-best completion percentage of 64.1 percent – and some not-so-good things. He threw 11 interceptions, including at least one in seven of the nine games in which he played.
The turnovers seemed to limit Sanchez’s prospects with the Eagles after the season ended. But Kelly signed him to a new contract, while at the same time trading for Bradford. In explaining the trade, Kelly said he believed Bradford was a good enough quarterback to help take the Eagles from being a good team to being a great team.
But Bradford’s deliberately slow comeback from his knee injury forced Kelly to use Sanchez as the primary quarterback during all of the offseason workouts. And Sanchez looked very good. His arm is stronger with another year of recovery from his shoulder injury. His knowledge of the offense is better after the experience he got last season. Sanchez said he welcomes the competition and believes he can win it.
Can he? You would think the odds are pretty long. Bradford is in the final year of his original NFL contract and will make $12.95 million this season. That is not only starter’s money. It is coming in the only year Kelly has to see what Bradford can do in his offense before deciding whether Bradford is the Eagles’ quarterback going forward.
So Kelly has a need to see Bradford play. He also has made it clear that the best players will start. If Bradford plays better than Sanchez this summer, then Kelly has no problem. If Sanchez has the better summer, things get very interesting for the Eagles.
Today’s question: The Redskins have had a solid offseason, nothing flashy, but they drafted a lineman fifth overall and focused on beefing up the defensive front seven by signing Stephen Paea and Terrance Knighton and corner Chris Culliver and finding two new starting safeties. Have they done enough to make up ground in the division?
Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys: You started the question with “nothing flashy,” and that seems so un-Washington in free agency. They made solid moves, but I would contend they might have overpaid for Culliver. In the past, the Redskins have loaded up their money for name players and have received little to no payoff. There wasn’t a coordinator more in Tony Romo’s head than Jim Haslett. He had Romo guessing a lot and the Cowboys had difficult times coming up with answers for the Redskins’ pressure. The Redskins will continue to be a 3-4 team, but I’m not sure it will be as varied as what Haslett brought. That should help the Cowboys. I like what the Redskins did defensively, but I’d still take the Cowboys' offense in the matchup.
Dan Graziano, New York Giants: Four of the Giants’ 13 wins over the past two seasons have been against Washington. So from my standpoint, they have by far the furthest to go. I’m in the group that thinks they should have taken Leonard Williams at No. 5 instead of Brandon Scherff, but there’s no doubt they needed to get bigger and meaner on both lines, and they have. I don’t know that I can say they’ve done enough to catch up with Dallas and Philly from an on-paper, quality-of-the-roster standpoint. Remember, when they won it in 2012, the rest of the division was down and they only went 10-6. Dallas is much stronger now, and while I like Washington’s offseason, it’s hard for me to believe they’ve made up eight games on the Cowboys. The Eagles’ reliance on injury-prone players brings some significant bust potential, and the Giants have some as well because of their holes on defense. So if things go well in Washington and poorly in New York and Philly, maybe they can get up to second or third?
Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Eagles: They do seem to have a sound plan. Right now, it seems to me that the division is very much in flux. The Eagles, of course, had a personality transplant during this crazy offseason. They will either be significantly better, significantly worse or just look different while again going 10-6. The Giants’ offense seems to be very dangerous. The Cowboys figure to be the best team in the division going into the season. Washington isn’t that far removed from 2012, when it won the division and Robert Griffin III appeared to be the best young player in the league. The offseason moves seem solid. Are they enough to get that team back to where it was three years ago? Hard to say, but it certainly can’t be ruled out.
IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys continue to await the results of Greg Hardy's appeal of a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, they now know they will be without another defensive starter for the first four games of the season.
The NFL announced linebacker Rolando McClain's suspension for violating the substance abuse policy Thursday, meaning the Cowboys would be without their best pass-rusher (Hardy) and their best linebacker in 2014 (McClain) against the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
Given how tight the playoff races can be, having those two miss at least four conference games -- and two division games -- could play a pivotal part in the Cowboys’ postseason chances.
While Harold Henderson continues to wait to make an announcement a month after Hardy’s appeal, the Cowboys knew McClain was one failed test -- or failure to show for a test -- away from being suspended four games when they signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason.
He was already going to forfeit roughly $176,000 in salary for the four-game fine for violating the substance abuse policy before the suspension, but now it will cost him another $375,000 in 46-man game-day roster bonuses. The suspension also cuts into his ability to earn up to $1 million in incentives. The best he would be able to do now is an extra $250,000 if he plays in 65 percent of the snaps.
McClain played 62 percent of the snaps in 12 games last season.
While McClain’s return to the field last year can be termed a success -- the coaches credited him with 108 tackles, one sack, nine tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, two interceptions, five pass deflections and one forced fumble -- off the field has been a different story.
He did not practice much last summer because of various injuries that cropped up after a year of inactivity. When he did practice, he seemed disinterested at times, but his production on the field mattered more.
This offseason he remained in Alabama to rehab after undergoing right knee surgery. He showed up for the mandatory minicamp, but missing the offseason program cost him a $250,000 workout bonus.
With him now missing a quarter of the season, the Cowboys have to ask themselves if he is worth the trouble. Last year, the answer was yes, especially after losing Sean Lee for the season to a knee injury. This year could be a different story.
The Cowboys gave him a $500,000 signing bonus, which would count against the salary cap if they cut him, but no other money was guaranteed.
The Cowboys signed veteran Jasper Brinkley before they re-upped McClain. Brinkley can play on run downs. They also have Anthony Hitchens to play middle linebacker with their desire to keep Sean Lee on the weak side.
The Cowboys don’t have to make any move right now regarding McClain. They can simply wait.
Talent often trumps all in the NFL, but only when that talent is on the field to play games.
With the contract the Cowboys gave McClain, they did not put much bank in him, and now they can’t bank on him.
At some point the bad has to outweigh the good.
Today’s question: By trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, did the Philadelphia Eagles close the gap at quarterback with the other teams in the division? Does Bradford seem like a bigger threat than Foles? --Phil Sheridan
Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys: I don’t believe the Eagles have closed the gap at quarterback in the division by bringing in Bradford. It’s based on his history. He’s been hurt too much. Is he skilled? Absolutely. But he hasn’t played at a high level. His best year in St. Louis did not match what Foles did in Philadelphia in 2013. Now did Bradford have the best talent around him with the Rams? Probably not. He’ll have DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles in his backfield, which is a plus, but he will need to have some receivers come through for him. Chip Kelly’s system can make it easy on quarterbacks, so that should help Bradford, but to me the move from Foles to Bradford is mostly a wash. Can I reserve the right to change my mind as we see him play?
Dan Graziano, New York Giants: I was never a Foles guy to begin with, and I think a large part of his 2013 success was Kelly’s system (and his own ability to make smart, quick decisions in it, for which he deserves credit). Bradford, to me, has more physical quarterback gifts than Foles does, and should play even better than Foles did for Kelly if he can stay healthy and on the field. Those are huge “ifs” though for Bradford, who’s played only seven games since 2012 and for a variety of reasons, including his own health issues, hasn’t developed the way a former No. 1 overall pick should have developed by his sixth NFL season. I think he’s a bigger threat than Foles was, yes, because I think he has more raw ability. But we’ve thought that about Bradford for years now, and Kelly’s gamble is on his belief that he can draw that ability out of him.
John Keim, Washington Redskins: If he’s healthy, he should be a bigger threat just because he’s more athletic. If they want to keep putting stress on defenses with the threat of a quarterback run then, yes, he’s better. But it’s tough to trust a quarterback who already has torn his ACL twice. If he’s right, and paired with Kelly, then Bradford could have a good year. But one thing I wonder about with Bradford is the ability to throw downfield: He’s completed just 32.8 percent of his throws on passes that travel at least 20 yards in the air (Foles is at 34.9 percent). I know the Eagles don’t just throw it long, but that number has always bugged me.
PHILADELPHIA -- Coach Chip Kelly can't catch a break. After months of reacting to comments by former Philadelphia Eagles players LeSean McCoy, Cary Williams and Evan Mathis, Kelly now gets to watch a BET reality show starring DeSean Jackson.
In the first episode, Jackson was shown discussing his March 2014 release by the Eagles.
"When I was released by the Eagles," Jackson said, "I feel they tried to paint a picture that definitely wasn't true. It was a slap in the face, coming off one of my best seasons in the NFL."
At the time of Jackson's release, a story on NJ.com said the Eagles were concerned with his possible ties to gang members in his native Los Angeles. The report was based on anonymous sources, and it is not clear whether anyone associated with the Eagles was involved in the story.
On the show, Jackson indicates he believes the Eagles were involved.
"The Eagles tried to blow me up," Jackson said. "That's cold how they did it. That's why I think they fired me. Have I went to jail? I ain't done none of that."
Later Jackson describes himself as an "Eagles killer."
"I'm called a Cowboy killer," Jackson said. "They call me the Cowboy killer. I'm a Giants killer, I'm a Cowboys killer, now I'm an Eagles killer, too."
That claim is a bit easier to check out, and it's hard to argue with Jackson there. He has had some of his biggest games against NFC opponents. In his second game with the Eagles in 2008, Jackson caught six passes against the Cowboys for 110 yards.
In 2009, Jackson had an unforgettable game against the Giants at the Meadowlands. He caught six passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He also returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown. The next year, Jackson returned a punt 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the play dubbed the "Miracle at the New Meadowlands."
A week before that game, Jackson caught four passes for 210 yards against the Cowboys.
So his reputation was well-known within the NFC East. After being released by the Eagles, Jackson signed with Washington. In two games against the Eagles, Jackson caught nine passes for 243 yards and a touchdown. Washington won the second game, knocking the Eagles out of playoff contention.
That likely hurt Kelly more than anything Jackson said on his TV show.
The Eagles, coming off an NFC East title with Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy in their backfield, were ranked No. 7 in the NFL at this time last year. The rankings are based on how each team is set up for the next season. Teams are ranked based on five categories: coaching, front office, quarterback, draft acumen and the rest of their current roster.
This year, with Kelly taking over control of the front office, the Eagles dropped down to the middle of the pack. They are No. 15 overall, well behind rival Dallas in the NFC East (at No. 6). The Eagles are ahead of NFC East opponents New York (at No. 20) and Washington (No. 27).
Overall, the Eagles were ranked behind seven NFC teams: Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas, Minnesota, Carolina, Arizona and Detroit. Four of those teams beat the Eagles in 2014, while the Eagles defeated two of them.
The panel downgraded the Eagles' roster -- especially at quarterback -- after Kelly's busy offseason. The Eagles' overall roster was ranked fifth in 2014. It dropped to 14th this season. The shift from Foles to Sam Bradford dropped the Eagles from No. 12 to No. 22 in quarterback ranking. At this point last year, Foles was coming off his Pro Bowl 2014 season. Bradford, of course, is coming off a second season ended by a torn ACL.
Clearly, if Bradford is healthy and can perform at a high level, that would bring the Eagles way up in the panel's rankings -- as well as in the NFC standings.
The offseason grade turned out to be much better than their outlook for the next three years. That's the opinion of ESPN's panel of experts when it comes to the Washington Redskins.
In May, a panel of ESPN experts gave the Redskins an A-minus for their offseason (the same grade I gave them last week). But the latest project for the Insiders page shows just how far the Redskins have to go in the minds of some: They ranked 27th when it comes to what shape they're in for the next three years. It takes into account the roster, coaching, quarterback, front office and the draft. The Redskins had a total score of 59.3, which was down from 69.4 a year ago.
The roster was down (to 60, from 70) and perhaps that can be explained by reality. Last season, there was still a belief the Redskins merely needed to change coaches because they had the talent. Wrong. But the roster has been upgraded this season. Also, the Redskins received a mark of 66 for their draft outlook a year ago compared to 64.3 this year. Not sure why it would go down; this class, I believe, is better and was selected by someone with a proven track record in Scot McCloughan.
Overall, the Redskins dropped three spots in large part, my colleague Mike Sando wrote, "because there is much less optimism for Robert Griffin III and the quarterback situation."
McCloughan's arrival meant the Redskins jumped from 27 to 14 in front office rankings and their drafting went from 31st to 23rd. Two low spots: coaching (27) and roster (26). The latter was impacted, John Clayton said, by the Griffin trade as well as the $36 million cap penalty. I'm not big on excuses, but those are definite factors.
For the crowd that loves to (foolishly) toss around the word "Haters" to describe any article that doesn't glorify their team, here's what the experts said in an Insider's post about their offseason in May. Their grade was the same one I gave them, an A-minus. And both of these Insider projects mirror my general sentiment that I wrote about Monday: Good offseason; lots of work needed to be done -- and still remains.
But so much rides on Griffin's development -- even if the roster around him has improved (in my eyes at least; how much so? Stay tuned).
Anyway, here's what ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said in the article about the situation: "RG III's inability to stay on the field has severely hampered his development as a passer. And while I love just about everything this team has done from a player acquisition standpoint since McCloughan took over, exercising Griffin's fifth-year option for 2016 at $16.15 million is a huge risk, given his injury history. I'd be worried every time Griffin broke the pocket and ran with the football. This season will go a long way toward determining whether Griffin has a long-term future in Washington."
Riddick is right on all counts. That said, if Griffin plays well, then the risk goes away -- they clearly would want to keep him. If he doesn't, then he could be replaced long before the season ends, which would minimize the risk.
One thing the Redskins tried to do this offseason is rebuild the rest of the roster so they're far less reliant on the quarterback position than they have been the past three seasons. But even in 2012, they caused turnovers and limited them offensively, which helped tremendously.
It's not surprising where the Redskins rank. The memory of the past two seasons are not erased by one good offseason. The key, now, is where they rank in 2016.
Walter Thurmond III was not with the New York Giants for very long. The former Seahawks defensive back signed as a free agent last spring, played two games for the team before suffering a season-ending injury, then signed with the Eagles this spring. But he was around long enough to form an opinion, and when asked as part of an interview with Bleacher Report to compare Seattle coach Pete Carroll, Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Eagles coach Chip Kelly, this is, in part, what he had to say about Coughlin:
"Coach Coughlin is the same type of person, but we battled through injuries last season. Yes, he's a little old-school, but he's starting to come around to the times. He doesn't believe in the sport-science aspect like Coach Carroll or Coach Kelly and the newfound technology for the players. His style takes a hit, because he doesn't believe in this aspect. He believes in winning, but he doesn't believe in the modern medicine to progress the players to that next level."
So, a couple of things on this, if I might...
Giants injuries are definitely a Major Thing. According to Football Outsiders, the Giants have led the league by a significant margin in a category they call "adjusted games lost" over the past two seasons. In 2013-14 combined, the Giants' adjusted games lost total was 278.4. The second-highest total in the league over that time is the San Diego Chargers' 210.1. The league average the past two years is 141.9. The Eagles' total of 80.8 is the lowest in the league over that stretch, which comprises Kelly's first two years in the NFL.
Go back a little bit further into FO's databases, and you find that the Giants ranked 25th in adjusted games lost in 2012, 26th in 2011, 22nd in 2010 and 19th in 2009. So while the past two years have reached ridiculous levels, it's not as though this is an entirely new problem for them.
Thurmond's comments could lead one to point fingers in familiar directions. Coughlin is the oldest head coach in the NFL at 68. Ronnie Barnes has been the team's head trainer since 1980. Giants strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri has had his job since 2004 and has been Coughlin's strength and conditioning coach for a total of 20 years, including one at Boston College and eight with the Jacksonville Jaguars. There is circumstantial evidence on which to base a theory that the Giants might be old-school sticks-in-the-mud who are slow to adapt some of the modern concepts for which Kelly has received so much attention in Philadelphia and at the University of Oregon before that.
But just because you've been around for a while doesn't mean you're not open to new ideas (heck, Carroll is the second-oldest head coach in the league, right?), and the Giants chafe at the notion that they have their heads in the sand with regard to modern medicine.
"You would have to ask Walter what he is referring to specifically when it comes to comparing and contrasting," Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon said in an e-mail Tuesday morning. "But the fact is, over the past 2-3 years, we have adopted and implemented a few programs: the GPS system we employ to monitor workload, diet in terms of offerings and preparation in the dining hall, and sleep studies. Those are a few of the things we have done as we continue to evolve."
But even if we accept the idea that the Giants are up on the latest advances and working to apply them, being around the Giants makes it easy to understand why someone like Thurmond might say what he said. In Philadelphia, it's clear that Kelly is leading the charge on sports medicine and its NFL application. With the Giants, old-school Coughlin might embrace the advances behind the scenes, but outwardly he rolls his eyes and throws his arms up in the air when discussing things like "recovery stretches" that shorten his training camp practices. That doesn't mean he's opposed to the idea of applying modern medicine in an effort o fight off injuries; it's just his act, and the way he communicates his personal feelings about modern training techniques certainly could lead a player to conclude that they're not as important to him as they clearly are to Kelly.
So I don't think Thurmond was trying to paint Coughlin as some sort of out-of-touch fogey. But I do think the recent injury statistics, combined with the longevity of the people in key positions overseeing the Giants' medical program and the organization's well-publicized loyalty to its own established ways of doing business in other areas, naturally lead to questions about whether those things are connected. Those questions must continue to be asked. It's entirely possible that the Giants as an organization have been slower to adopt and apply modern medical practices than some other teams have and that it's cost them in the standings. It's just not fair to jump to the conclusion that it's because the head coach is a 68-year-old grump who misses training camp two-a-days.
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast 61 as we check in on the contract status of several franchise quarterbacks.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by three other NFL Nation reporters in the 60-minute show.
Colts signal-caller Andrew Luck might have something to say about that going forward, though, and Wells will fill us in on the latest from Luck’s camp.
And Eric Williams (San Diego Chargers reporter) will update us on Philip Rivers' feelings after being linked to trade talks during the draft, and if he’d take his bolo tie up Interstate 5 to Los Angeles, should the Chargers relocate.
Today’s question: Do other teams still fear the New York Giants' pass rush? And will the return of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo make a difference in the way the Giants’ defense is viewed?
Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys’ commitment to their offensive line in part stems from how the Giants handled the Cowboys in key games in previous years. But Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck aren’t walking through that door. Jason Pierre-Paul remains dangerous and has given Tyron Smith some problems, but, to me, what made the Giants’ pass rush so effective was the quality of depth. They could bring guy after guy to get to the quarterback. They haven’t been able to replace those aforementioned players through the draft or free agency to maintain the consistency of pass rush. As for Spagnuolo’s return, I think it’s more about the “Jimmies and the Joes” than “the X's and O's,” for any coach. If he can coax more out of the players the Giants have, then I do think his familiarity with the Cowboys will help more than against the other teams in the division because the Cowboys are essentially running the same offense they did in his first run with the Giants.
Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Eagles: It’s hard to say the Eagles “fear” the Giants’ pass rush. They certainly respect it, but the days when Umenyiora could blow by Winston Justice for 27 sacks in a game ended when Andy Reid left. The Eagles gave up just one sack in their 27-0 shutout win over the Giants last October. The Giants got to Mark Sanchez four times in the season finale, but generally speaking, I think the Eagles’ offensive line considers itself competitive with most defensive fronts these days, including New York’s. As for Spagnuolo, his return certainly could change the equation. The Eagles went 1-3 against the Giants during Spagnuolo’s previous stint as defensive coordinator. That was Reid and Donovan McNabb, not Chip Kelly and Sam Bradford. But still, the history is the history. Kelly will have to get to work coming up with a read on Spagnuolo’s approach and finding some ways to attack it. That chess match should be fun to watch.
John Keim, Washington Redskins: I can’t imagine Spagnuolo will change the way the Giants' defense is viewed. I remember talking to people about him earlier this offseason and they were well aware of the talent he had the first time around -- and what he hasn’t done since leaving the Giants. As for the pass rush, the Giants sacked Robert Griffin III seven times in their last meeting so ... I know left tackle Trent Williams greatly respects Pierre-Paul. Improving pass protection has been an offseason focal point for the Redskins, with the drafting of tackle Brandon Scherff and the release of right guard Chris Chester. The Giants hurt Washington inside (as did others). So, feared? I don’t know. But the Redskins, after giving up 58 sacks last season (they pinned about half on quarterback indecision), should have a healthy fear of any rush.
But those beliefs have to be taken with several grains of salt.
First, coach Chip Kelly has a history of making his rookies earn their way up the depth chart. So while some coaches would have placed second-round draft choice Eric Rowe in the starting lineup right away, Kelly doesn't often choose to do things that way. So it may well be that Rowe will have the starting job when the season begins and Carroll is merely a place-holder.
Second, while it may be true Carroll has had a great offseason, he didn't have all that terrific a regular season. That should count for something. The Eagles had one of the worst defenses in the NFL against the pass in 2013, so there was an opportunity for Carroll to win a starting job in last year's training camp. He couldn't beat out Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher, so was shifted to an improvised role as a linebacker in the team's dime defensive package.
Bottom line: If Carroll wasn't able to crack the lineup during the 2014 season, it's fair to wonder how he represents an upgrade for the 2015 season.
So, allowing for the possibility that Carroll really has made substantial progress during this offseason, there will be a competition between him and Rowe for this job. A few other players -- nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin and rookies JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans -- will also be in the mix.
But the likely scenario is this: Carroll will be the starting cornerback opposite Byron Maxwell when the preseason games begin. By the third game, the coaches will decide to give Rowe a chance to start. That would mean a pretty good test against the Green Bay Packers' offense.
If Rowe isn't ready to start by the season opener in Atlanta, Carroll would likely continue to line up as the starter. One thing is clear about Kelly. He doesn't have a lot of patience. He isn't going to let his team suffer just to give a rookie cornerback playing time. And his position with his quarterbacks won't change here. The best player will play.
But Kelly traded up in the second round to get Rowe because he believes the Utah product will become the best player for the Eagles' starting cornerback job. So it's likely Rowe will wind up moving ahead of Carroll as soon as he's ready.
Today's question: The Dallas Cowboys already had the best offensive line in the NFC East and have added La'el Collins, who would have been a first-round pick. How do the front sevens of the rest of the division match up with the Cowboys' line?
Dan Graziano, New York Giants: I'm sorry, but I think this division is about offense right now. The NFC East scored more points than any other division last season by quite a bit. In 2014, NFC East teams combined to score 1,622 points. The No. 2 division in that category was the AFC North, well behind at 1,509 points. The NFC East also allowed 1,590 points in 2014, which was more than any division but the NFC South, where every team finished under .500 and the four combined to allow 1,625 points. No one in the NFC East has an especially scary front seven, and no one's front seven should feel good about its chances against the Cowboys' offensive line. It is a dominant unit playing in a division in which no team finished in the top 18 in the league in defense last season. It should continue to dominate.
Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are pretty happy with their front seven and added linebacker Kiko Alonso to the mix (while subtracting Trent Cole). In their two games against the Cowboys last season, the competition up front went a long way toward telling the tale. The Eagles' front seven was very good in Dallas on Thanksgiving, and the Eagles won 33-10.
In the rematch in Philadelphia, the Cowboys were able to protect Tony Romo well enough for him to throw three touchdown passes to Dez Bryant. An improved secondary would have had something to say about that, of course, but the Cowboys' line did a better job of giving Romo time and space to work.
Collins looks like a worthy addition, but it would be hard to improve that line all that much. It's not like Collins is going to line up at tight end or as a fullback and give the Cowboys six dominant blockers.
John Keim, Washington Redskins: I like what the Redskins have done with their front seven, so they're better equipped. Washington had solid success versus Dallas up front in its first meeting last season, partly because of stunts and blitzes. The Redskins are quicker up front now with Stephen Paea and a healthy Jason Hatcher -- and a switch to a one-gap base 3-4 front. I'm curious to see how Terrance Knighton fares against himself, as he is listed at 330 pounds but is about 50 pounds heavier. The Redskins have more depth up front.
PHILADELPHIA -- For two seasons, coach Chip Kelly made relatively minor changes to the Philadelphia Eagles' roster he inherited from Andy Reid. Kelly focused on getting the most out of the players he had while getting a feel for the NFL game.
That all ended after the 2014 season. Given full control of personnel decisions, Kelly slashed and burned the Eagles' roster. When he was done, it appeared the 2015 Eagles will have 10 new starters -- five on offense, five on defense.
But how many of those new starters are better than the players they will be replacing? Going purely on on-field performance, without taking the salary cap into account (a luxury Kelly didn't have), here's a player-by-player comparison. We start today with the offense and will cover the defense Sunday:
DeMarco Murray in place of LeSean McCoy at running back: Kelly signed the NFL's leading rusher from 2014 to replace the NFL's leading rusher from 2013. Clearly, McCoy's performance was affected by the play of his offensive line over the past two years. But then, so was Murray's. Murray will cost less and he has a more direct running style, which Kelly prefers. But McCoy was the Eagles' all-time leading rusher. Verdict: Even.
Sam Bradford in place of Nick Foles at quarterback: Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft and spent five seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Injuries ruined two of those seasons. In his five years, Bradford never played quarterback as well as Foles did for the Eagles in 2013. But then, Foles wasn't able to play nearly that well in 2014. Verdict: It's close, but Bradford has more upside than Foles.
Nelson Agholor in place of Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver: Kelly tried to re-sign Maclin, so he wanted the former first-round pick back after his career-best 2014 season. Agholor, this year's first-round pick, has a chance to be a very similar player. In time, he could prove to be better. Based on experience, the nod would have to go toward Maclin this season. Verdict: Maclin.
Allen Barbre in place of Evan Mathis at left guard: The coaching staff believes Barbre is ready to be a starter. That's fine, but Mathis was one of the two or three best guards in the NFL. It's understandable if Kelly decided that Mathis' dissatisfaction with his contract made him expendable. But it didn't make him less of a player. Verdict: Mathis was better.
Matt Tobin (or Andrew Gardner) in place of Todd Herremans at right guard: Tobin was benched after two games at right guard last season. Herremans was a solid, steady player for a long time. There's a chance Tobin or Gardner could prove to be better, but they haven't done that yet. Verdict: Herremans.
The accomplishments on Charles Mann's resume already were quite impressive. The former Washington Redskins defensive end played 12 years in the NFL, made four Pro Bowls and, while not a Hall of Famer, he had to settle for three other rings, that of a Super Bowl champion.
Apparently, it wasn’t enough for Mann, and he’s doing something Saturday for which he should be applauded: graduating from college. And it took his daughter doing the same thing five years ago to put him on this journey. Mann has been busy off the field since his playing days ended, but he clearly wanted that degree.
He told Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post that he first started taking classes during his first offseason but eventually dropped out. You should read the entire story here (I’m leaving stuff out because, well, Steinberg deserves the clicks), but here’s a little Cliffs Notes version: Mann watched his daughter, Camille, graduate from Southern California in 2010. Yada, yada, yada… Mann will graduate from Strayer University on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“As happy as I was for her that day, I was sad for me,” Mann told the Post. “I said, ‘Wow, she completed something that her dad never completed.’ And it just stuck in my craw, and I wanted to do something about it.”
Mann provides an example of what can be both wrong and right about student-athletes. He left Nevada still needing to take 24 classes to graduate. But: He did it. That it came at age 54 shows how important it still can be. Mann told Steinberg he will graduate cum laude and will give the commencement keynote address.
Another daughter, Casey, told the Post: “I’ll be right there, cheering him on. My dad never starts something and doesn’t finish it. There was no doubt he was going to finish. I didn’t know when, but I knew there was going to be a graduation for sure.”
What Mann did on the football field was impressive. He used those same traits to achieve another goal.
Today's question: The talk around the Redskins always returns to Robert Griffin III, and it’s always about his style of play and returning to his 2012 performance level. How do your teams view him? Fear him? Still think he can be a factor?
Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys: There are two sides to this answer from the Cowboys’ perspective. I think Jerry Jones still fears him a ton. Jones will never shake what Griffin did to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in 2012. That was a phenomenal performance. From a coach and player perspective, I think fear is too strong of a word. They respect him, of course. They know what he can do if healthy and confident, which are two things he hasn’t been lately. Griffin was so good so early that he will always be chasing that ghost. If Jay Gruden can get the rest of the pieces around Griffin playing better, then he will have a chance and he will give the Cowboys more things to worry about than the normal quarterback.
Dan Graziano, New York Giants: This is one of the more popular discussion topics among Giants defensive players who were here in 2012 -- what happened to that guy? They really believed he was good, that he could make all of the throws and that he should have been a threat for years to come. So I think I’d say he’s a mystery who has everyone intrigued. They know he has talent, but they’re curious to see whether his talent ever translates into consistent performance. Two of the four games the Giants have played against Washington the past two years have been Kirk Cousins starts, so it’s not as though they have a feel for Griffin and how he’s coming along. He continues to fascinate them due to what they saw three years ago, and yes, they still believe he’s a factor, but I don’t think they fear him.
Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles had better be wary of Griffin. He beat them in December to knock them out of the playoffs. Griffin didn’t have a great game that day, but he still did enough to win 27-24. Combine that with his two wins over them in 2012 and you get what should be a very healthy respect for Griffin. That said, it seems that Griffin would benefit from a coach who had as healthy a respect for the quarterback. I can’t say that I’ve gotten much of a read on Jay Gruden at this point. With Cousins at quarterback, Gruden’s team played the Eagles tight in their first meeting. The loss in December ruined the Eagles’ season. There clearly is some potential there. But if a coach is at odds with his most talented quarterback, it’s hard to win anything. If Washington can figure that out, it will continue to give the Eagles fits.