IRVING, Texas -- For the first time since 2012, Tony Romo's offseason does not revolve around rehab from back surgery.
In 2013, Romo had a cyst removed from his back that kept him out of the offseason program, organized team activities and minicamp. In 2014, Romo recovered from surgery for a herniated disc that kept him out of the 2013 regular-season finale and did not take a snap until training camp began.
“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”
Romo has been among a large group of players that started working out at Valley Ranch two weeks ago before the formal offseason program starts on April 20. He is still wearing a splint on a finger on his left hand due to torn tendons suffered in the playoffs.
While maintaining strength in his back and core will always be a part of Romo’s routine for the rest of his career, he can focus on other areas of his body.
“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”
The veteran wide receiver will return to the NFC East after a year with the Cleveland Browns. Austin signed a one-year contract with the Eagles on Tuesday.
It isn’t clear how Austin will fit into coach Chip Kelly’s offense. Riley Cooper started all 16 games last season, but Kelly could welcome an upgrade at that spot. Jeremy Maclin is gone, which opens up another spot. Jordan Matthews, who played in the slot as a rookie, could remain there or move outside.
"My role is to go in and prepare as hard as I can and see where that takes me," Austin said in a conference call with reporters.
Austin said he is comfortable both outside and in the slot, so he could play any of the three wide receiver positions. In his eight years with the Cowboys, Austin ranked eighth all-time in franchise history with 4,481 receiving yards. He went to two Pro Bowls during his career in Dallas.
Austin, 30, said Philadelphia was a good fit for him, football-wise as well as geographically.
"It just seemed like it was the right thing to do," Austin said. "The team’s already great, obviously, without me. I just figured it was something I wanted to be a part of and join in and go in, full swing, and be a part of it. I grew up in Jersey, so that was part of the decision process."
Injuries have plagued Austin during his career. He said he felt he developed a better stretching routine to cut down on the soft-tissue injuries, especially to his hamstrings. But then, late in the 2014 season, Austin fell hard on his side and lacerated a kidney. That cost him four games.
"Obviously, there’s nothing I can do about a kidney," Austin said. "I don’t even know how you can lacerate a kidney without stabbing yourself. I felt as good as I felt last year, physically, with my legs and everything else. I’m just going to continue that, learn some stuff here and go on from there."
Austin said the "opportunity to win" was his primary reason for signing with the Eagles. It didn’t hurt that his friend, running back DeMarco Murray, signed with the Eagles this month.
"Obviously, me and DeMarco are really close," Austin said. "So I was in communication with him as a friend when he was figuring out what he was doing in his process of being a free agent. Me and him, we were talking back and forth when he signed up with Philly. He was telling me how he experienced coming in and speaking with the coaches. It kind of reaffirmed all the positive thoughts I already had."
Based on everything Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has said and done, however, it is not as straightforward as the math makes it look. The Eagles have three starting inside linebackers for two spots. But three is not a crowd as far as Kelly is concerned.
"You have no idea," Kelly said last week. "I don't know what's going to happen four weeks from now, five weeks from now, four months from now. They all may be hurt and maybe Brad Jones and [Emmanuel] Acho [are playing]."
Last season, Kendricks missed four games with a calf injury. Ryans missed the final eight games after rupturing his Achilles tendon. The Eagles were forced to start Casey Matthews 11 times at inside linebacker. They didn't make an effort to keep Matthews, who left for the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent.
"So it was really getting depth at our inside linebackers," Kelly said. "Getting more players. It was something that we were really striving to get accomplished in the offseason."
The Eagles signed Jones, who was released by the Green Bay Packers, before trading LeSean McCoy for Alonso. Along with Ryans and Kendricks, the Eagles have Acho and Najee Goode among their inside linebackers.
As Kelly has said about other positions, including running back, his policy is to add as many good football players as possible.
Does that mean Kendricks is a lock to be on the Eagles' roster? No. That's where we run into another common theme stated by Kelly this offseason.
"As I said the other day, everybody on our roster is available if someone wants to call," Kelly said. "If the scenario comes up and someone says I want to give you two first-round picks for somebody, then yeah, we would listen. We traded LeSean [McCoy] and that was a very difficult decision to do. We felt at the end of the day, we're going to listen to every offer that we have. You'd be crazy to say, 'No, this isn't going to happen' or 'This isn't going to happen.' Because you have no idea what you're going to get offered."
The current group of inside linebackers would allow defensive coordinator Bill Davis to put different combinations on the field in different situations. Alonso is good in pass coverage, so he could pair with Kendricks in passing situations. Ryans and either Alonso or Kendricks could be on the field when the opponent seems intent on running the ball.
Meanwhile, either Alonso or Kendricks could line up at outside linebacker at times. Kendricks played outside in the Eagles' 4-3 scheme before Kelly got here and switched to a 3-4. When Rex Ryan was hired as head coach in Buffalo, there was speculation that he could move Alonso outside in his 3-4 scheme.
Versatility will give Davis more options. Meanwhile, by amassing talent, Kelly gives himself the flexibility to say "yes" if another team offers an attractive deal for a player like Kendricks.
PHILADELPHIA – In general, a lot of Philadelphia Eagles players have had positive experiences with coach Chip Kelly’s sports science program. Good nutrition and extra sleep are probably not bad ideas for anyyone. And the focus on work and recovery has many veteran players saying they feel better during the season than they ever have in the past.
But even Kelly acknowledges the limits.
“That’s part of what we try to do here,” Kelly said on March 12. “But if a guy breaks a leg, a guy breaks a leg. I don’t know if there’s anybody from a sports science standpoint who can heal a broken bone very quickly. Sometimes you have to look at the specific injuries. Instead of making a blanket statement -- `We’re not going to do this’ or `We’re not going to do that’ – the key point is to really look at the injuries and then spend some time and rely on our trainers and medical staff in terms of what they think from a recovery standpoint.”
Kelly said there was no intentional plan to acquire injured players. It was just that players with injuries tend to be available. Case in point: Sam Bradford. The St. Louis Rams probably wouldn’t have been willing to part with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft if injuries hadn’t made Bradford a risk for them.
So here’s a look at the injured players acquired by the Eagles this offseason and their status as March turns to April.
Sam Bradford: The quarterback tore his left anterior cruciate ligament, the same injury he sustained during the 2013 season, on Aug. 23, 2014. Bradford had the knee repaired by Dr. James Andrews, who suggested a slightly slower rehab process than was taken last year. Bradford has not yet been cleared for football activity. He said he expected to be ready to go by the start of training camp.
Kiko Alonso: The linebacker tore his ACL while working out in Oregon on July 1. Alonso, who previously tore his other ACL, said his rehab was progressing well. He could be on the field for organized team activities in June and is expected to be cleared in time for training camp in July.
Walter Thurmond: The cornerback signed with the New York Giants as a free agent last year after beginning his NFL career in Seattle. Thurmond tore a pectoral muscle in the second game of the season and was placed on injured reserve. Thurmond said when he signed that he will be ready to go in OTAs.
Ryan Mathews: The running back missed 12 games in 2014 because of knee and ankle injuries. Jimmy Kempski of phillyvoice.com reported that Mathews appeared on the San Diego Chargers’ injury report 46 times between 2010 and 2014. Mathews is expected to be ready for training camp.
Miles Austin: The wide receiver went on injured reserve in December after injuring a kidney during a game. Austin signed with the Cleveland Browns last year after being released by the Dallas Cowboys. While with the Cowboys, Austin missed 11 games from 2011 to 2013 due to hamstring, knee and hip injuries.
DeMarco Murray: The running back was a workhorse for the Cowboys in 2014, playing in all 18 games, including the postseason. He missed a total of 11 games over his first three NFL seasons, due to hamstring and knee injuries. Murray is healthy going into the 2015 OTAs.
The question was asked nearly every week and even the coaches appeared puzzled, searching for answers themselves. Pierre Garcon was not getting as many chances as he had the previous season, and the coaches would vow to get him more.
But it didn’t always work out. Now, in the offseason, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said they hope they can get more than 68 catches out of him next season. He also knows that other factors -- players in particular -- helped cut Garcon’s catches by 45 from the previous season.
DeSean Jackson no doubt cut into Garcon’s numbers. In 2013, the Redskins had no other starter with more than 45 receptions. They had three this season, with Jackson catching 56 and Jordan Reed grabbing 50. But Garcon is someone who can help, and though 113 catches for him is not healthy for this offense, he can do better than 68.
Last year was not ideal with three quarterbacks starting at least three games.
"I think we can get his numbers back up a little bit," Gruden said. "We missed him. With three quarterbacks playing, there was never any ideal situation, and that hurt all the receivers. Moving forward we get some stability at the quarterback position, you’ll see all the numbers go up for all the receivers hopefully. A lot of people would rather just hand it off, but I think, we need to spread it out and be diverse in what we do and get these guys these touches. These guys work extremely hard. For us not to give them opportunities to make plays down the field is silly."
They can figure out ways to get Garcon the ball to help the offense, especially on third downs. That is where his biggest drop in production occurred.
Last season, he was targeted just 15 times and caught five passes on third down. That’s the same number as in 2012 when he played in only nine games and was not healthy for most of them. In 2014, he was targeted 51 times on third down and caught 32, with 24 resulting in a first down.
The issue didn’t just stem from having more third-and-10-plus situations (only two more in 2014 than in '13). Rather, it was how he was used. In 2013, he caught 22 of 30 passes thrown his way on third-and-7 or less and converted 14 into first downs. Last season, he was thrown to only nine times in such situations with four catches and one first down. The Redskins often used Reed, throwing short to him and hoping he could run for a first down. It rarely worked.
Reed received more chances on third down -- as a good pass-catching tight end, that’s no surprise. But it was the air distance that was telling: In 2013, the average yards traveled on third-down throws to him was 7.59 yards. Consequently, of his 14 third-down receptions, 13 resulted in first downs. But, last season, the average air distance was 2.85 yards and he converted just eight of 18 grabs into first downs. Though Reed runs well, Garcon is better after the catch at making defenders miss on short throws -- it’s why he does well on screens. If I want a player to gain a couple yards after the catch, I’ll take my chances with Garcon.
In situations where it was third-and-seven or less, Garcon has averaged 4.74 yards after the catch and 1.32 yards after contact in his Redskins career. Reed, meanwhile, is at 3.74 and 0.89, respectively.
Andre Roberts also had more opportunities than Garcon on third downs. But he at least turned 15 of his 17 receptions into first downs (he was targeted 32 times). And 14 of those first downs occurred on third downs needing seven yards or less.
Ideally, Garcon will be in the 70-80 catch range. If the Redskins are successful this season, it will be their run game that powers them. They are not a team that should drop back more than 30 times a game. However, they do have two good starting receivers and a third who is capable of 40 receptions, plus Reed who deserves his share of targets, too.
The passing game isn’t about just adding to Garcon’s numbers. But he is someone who can help. Even in the screen game, his numbers went from 15 targets behind the line of scrimmage in 2013 to seven a year ago. In ’13, he averaged 10.14 yards after the catch on such plays (but it dropped to 5.83 last season). The Redskins know they need to get him the ball a little more -- just like they know Jackson could and should get more catches, too. It's all about winning and making plays. Garcon helped them do both a couple years ago. He can do it again this season.
The assumption was they had to do something at right guard. Instead, the Redskins, thus far, have done nothing. They like Chris Chester and they drafted Spencer Long a year ago. That doesn’t mean they won’t address this position next month in the draft, but it does mean they did not enter the offseason with an urgent need.
“Right now I see them both on our roster and I see two good right guards, I really do,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I feel good about that spot.”
The Redskins have thus far not done anything with Chester’s contract, so he’ll count $4.8 million against the salary cap. They would save $4 million if they release him with a post-June 1 designation. But they could only do so if they know they had someone better; they clearly have not felt they have that player. It’s hard to say Long is that guy based on his rookie season in which he had some miscues during the preseason and still was making mistakes in practice throughout the season.
It’s part of the learning process, but if the coaches see one guy perfect on his assignments during practice and another who isn’t, you’re not going to start the latter player. What would help them is Long being able to contend for a starting job this summer.
“We expect Spencer to have an excellent offseason, come in in better shape,” Gruden said. “When you go from your rookie year to your second year, that’s usually the biggest jump you have to make as a player. It probably goes the same with head coaching, too. It’s a big jump. You get your feet wet, you understand what’s asked of you, how important it is to be a pro, what type of preparation. All the things that go into being a professional you learn as a rookie and then in the second year you feel more comfortable.”
The Redskins drafted Long in the third round, despite most projections having him go lower and despite him missing most of his senior year with a knee injury. As a rookie, Long ended up playing only 16 snaps from scrimmage all year. General manager Scot McCloughan said last week that he loved the line depth in this year's draft class so the Redskins could select someone who challenges at this position. But unless it's a high pick it's hard to rely on them being a starter. For the Redskins, this is about building for the future, not just this season.
As for Long, during the season the coaches said Long had to adjust to playing differently on the move. Though he pulled quite often at Nebraska, he had to learn to play in the Redskins’ outside zone. But he said that was not a big adjustment. His size (6-foot-5, 311 pounds) also works OK with the direction the Redskins want to go up front with a more physical line.
“Obviously you want to play as much as you can,” Long said. “But I’ll do what this team asks me to do. If that’s playing a backup role, so be it. I’m trying to get to that starting spot but who isn’t? As far as this year, I learned a lot and grew a lot as a rookie. I’ve got a better feel for it.”
PHILADELPHIA -- While most of the focus was naturally on what Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie had to say about his shuffling of the organizational chart last week, Lurie also revealed something more fundamental about his team's flaws.
In a word: quarterbacks. While Lurie lets his hired hands make the decisions in free agency and the draft, he also keeps close tabs on what's happening at the NovaCare Complex, and why. Especially why. So when Lurie made it clear the Eagles were lacking in the quarterback department, you could be sure that was something he'd picked up from conversations with coach Chip Kelly and new personnel man Ed Marynowitz.
"It's not easy to trade the young quarterback that you're developing, who had a terrific year the year before and got hurt this year," Lurie said last week. "But you've got to go on your evaluations. There was an opportunity to do an upside gamble with an outstanding young quarterback who you hope can become healthier throughout his career. It is so hard to get a franchise quarterback, as you know. It sets the ceiling on what you have as a team, and do you want to take upside gambles or not? You've got to make that decision."
If there is one franchise Lurie has paid close attention to over the years, it is the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick has emerged as perhaps the best head coach in the NFL -- maybe ever -- largely because a sixth-round draft choice from 2000 blossomed into the league's best quarterback. With Tom Brady as the one on-field constant, Belichick's Patriots have won four Super Bowls, played in two others and won 10 games or more in 13 out of 14 seasons.
The Eagles played in five NFC title games in eight years from 2001 through 2008. They had Donovan McNabb at quarterback for that run. Since 2008, the Eagles have not won a single playoff game. They have had Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Foles and Mark Sanchez at quarterback over those fruitless seasons.
"Our whole way of looking at it is not be satisfied with just 10-6, 10-6," Lurie said. "It's to try and go for it. You've got to take risks to do that. It's worth it to take the risk. We've won so many division championships and playoff games, it's just not worth it not to take the risk.
"The biggest issue in the NFL, as we all know, is can you get a franchise quarterback? OK, well, if Sam were healthy and followed that rookie of the year and a consensus No. 1 pick, there's no chance to trade for him. So you've got to take your risks when you can and they may not work. And it may work."
The question is whether the Eagles would have had a better chance at obtaining that elite quarterback by acquiring Bradford or by making a deal that allowed them to draft Oregon's Marcus Mariota. Kelly has said he doesn't believe in mortgaging a team's future by sacrificing draft choices for a single player.
Lurie clarified that sentiment.
"It's great to mortgage the future for Peyton Manning," Lurie said. "It's not very good to mortgage it for Ryan Leaf. It's great to mortgage it for Donovan McNabb, but not for Tim Couch or Cade McNown. Again, it comes back to people. It's not a system. If the Redskins had traded for Andrew [Luck instead of Robert Griffin III], we'd all be saying what a great trade."
- Well, no kidding. Any team picking in the top five should host any player projected to go in that range. It’s called due diligence. Even if you don’t think you’ll draft the player, it’s wise to meet with them. That way, you can add more information to your book on him in case he’s a free agent in a few years and you have interest. Good teams have lots of information on every player. Teams are allowed to have 30 players in for visits. Clearly they won’t be drafting all of them.
- The Redskins have said they would consider drafting Mariota at No. 5 – both coach Jay Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan said so at the owners meetings. Listen, if it’s a ruse, then you have to keep it going. And if it’s legitimate interest, then you have to do your homework. Considering the team still has concerns/doubts/whatever about Robert Griffin III, it’s not hard to imagine the interest is real. For what it's worth, Scott Frost is Oregon's offensive coordinator; Redskins coach Jay Gruden was an offensive assistant in Tampa Bay when Frost played there in 2003. And Mariota worked with Gruden's brother Jon earlier this month for his series on ESPN. Good insight is available -- yes, the word is Jon Gruden likes him, but he clearly loves quarterbacks and once was a big fan of Kirk Cousins, too (might still be, I don't know). My own guess is that Mariota will be gone by the time Washington selects. If he’s that good, then someone will trade up to No. 2 to get him – or the quarterback-starved Tennessee Titans will take him. There was a lot of love for Mariota at the owners meetings, but we've entered the poker-playing stage of the draft, so who knows what teams really think.
- I have not yet studied Mariota (on the docket for this week), but I have seen him play and I do wonder how he’ll translate to the NFL. Half his highlights involve him running and there aren’t many games where you can get a great feel for how well he’d do in the NFL. Scouts and evaluators I’ve talked to do like him (several have said he’s better than Griffin, but if both were coming out now, the latter, in my mind, would have to go ahead of Mariota). But I don’t know that they love him. That spread system has not been conducive to grooming NFL quarterbacks, but like Griffin, Mariota has talent that should translate and give him a chance to succeed. At that point it’s about more factors than the system you played in college: smarts, leadership qualities, coaching, decisiveness, durability, etc.
They need to see a quarterback with two back surgeries, who missed a game last season with two transverse process fractures and who had rib cartilage damage, and start wondering about Romo's successor.
"We do have to look to the future relative to quarterback," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "It's starting a time frame where a guy could come in and be a good backup. Look at how Romo evolved into the guy he is today. He did a little time with the clip board."
Of course, the same thoughts were espoused in 2014 and 2013 and probably 2012. And the Cowboys didn't draft a quarterback. Bryce Petty's name has been bandied about, and he is expected to visit Valley Ranch. The Cowboys have other private workouts with quarterbacks coming up, too.
Maybe this is the year they actually take a quarterback in the draft.
But the likelihood of the Cowboys finding Romo's heir in the middle to late rounds is slim. Extremely slim. The odds-aren't-worth-it-slim. There are two starting quarterbacks currently in the NFL who were picked after the third round. Romo is one and he wasn't drafted. Tom Brady is the other and he went in the sixth round.
There are third-round starters, such as Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and, potentially, Ryan Mallett. If Mallett doesn't win the starting job with the Houston Texans, then Brian Hoyer would be the third starter after the third round -- he went undrafted. Josh McCown, who is likely to be the Cleveland Browns starter, has bounced around, but he was a third-round pick.
The Cowboys have selected three quarterbacks since Troy Aikman: Billy Musgrave, Quincy Carter and Stephen McGee. They traded for Drew Henson in 2004 and that didn't work out.
This isn't to say the ghosts of Musgrave, Carter and McGee should prevent the Cowboys from taking a quarterback. But it is to say the level of expectations for taking a quarterback in the middle rounds needs to be ratcheted way down. The Cowboys hoped McGee could develop into a No. 2 quarterback and that didn't happen.
The days of developing a quarterback seem long ago. The Green Bay Packers did it with Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre. Philip Rivers sat for two years behind Drew Brees with the San Diego Chargers. Those guys were taken in 2005 and 2004.
Most teams are drafting their guys in the first and second rounds and if not playing them in Week 1 of their rookie seasons, then very soon in their rookie seasons. Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr started as rookies last season.
It sounds quaint, the notion of a quarterback holding a clip board, taking mental notes as he watches. It's just not reality.
Let's say Romo plays another three years through 2017 when he is 37. In 2018, that's when the Cowboys will really need to find his successor.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly does everything fast. His uptempo approach may work on the football field, but it remains to be seen if it is effective in other areas.
When Kelly wanted to trade LeSean McCoy, it took about 30 minutes. That information came from Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan. At the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix this week, Ryan said the Eagles called the Bills and offered them McCoy. In exchange, they asked for either linebacker Kiko Alonso or wide receiver Robert Woods, according to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.
Woods, a 6-foot-1, 201-pound former second-round pick, caught 105 passes for 1,286 yards and eight touchdown in his first two NFL seasons.
The Bills were willing to part with Alonso, and the deal was done. The whole process took about a half-hour, according to Ryan.
But here’s the thing: Could the Eagles have done better if they’d taken their time? It’s efficient to trade the franchise’s all-time leading rusher in 30 minutes, but is it smart?
On Wednesday, Kelly talked about some of the trades that have had huge impacts on franchises’ fortunes. He cited the trade of Herschel Walker that kick-started the Dallas Cowboys’ 1990s dynasty, as well as the 1999 trade in which the New Orleans Saints gave up their entire draft to get Ricky Williams.
The Walker trade was made during the 1989 season. The Vikings received Walker and four picks in the 1990 and 1991 drafts. The Cowboys received five players and a bumper crop of eight draft picks.
But that trade took a lot longer than 30 minutes to negotiate. The Cowboys talked to several teams, including the New York Giants. They got a substantial offer from the Cleveland Browns before the Vikings made their history-changing offer.
In 1988, his last full season with the Cowboys, Walker was 26 years old. He carried the ball 361 times for 1,514 yards.
In 2014, McCoy was 26 years old. He carried the ball 312 times for 1,319 yards. McCoy had led the NFL in rushing in 2013. He was the same age as Walker when he was traded and had accomplished more.
That doesn’t mean the Eagles could have gotten what the Cowboys did for Walker. It is likely that no one will ever make such a lopsided trade again. But there is a large gap between getting five players and eight draft picks for a star running back and getting one linebacker for a star running back. Perhaps the Eagles could have closed that gap by spending more than 30 minutes on the process of trading McCoy.
Or maybe not. In 1989, running backs were valued quite a bit more than they are today. Just two years ago, the Cleveland Browns traded running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a first-round draft pick. That trade was widely considered lopsided in favor of the Browns.
Maybe Alonso was as much as Kelly could have gotten for McCoy. It’s just hard to know when the trade was carried out so quickly.
PHOENIX -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden recognizes it’s not just about Robert Griffin III. Everyone on their roster must improve. Every other quarterback must take steps in a positive direction. When a franchise wins a combined seven games in two years and when your rookie year as coach results in four wins, it’s not about one player.
However, that one player is the one who can help elevate them to a much better spot. Hence the heavy focus on Griffin. It’s about Gruden learning more about Griffin; it’s about Griffin doing more of what Gruden wants. It didn’t help that Griffin missed six games because of a dislocated ankle last season. Nor did it help that it was his first season in Gruden’s system. Conversely, he could help himself with better play. It’s a merry-go-round of issues that has continued to plague the franchise. It’s never one issue; it’s always a lot.
But developing a fourth-year quarterback would go a long way towards returning to success.
“Robert has a good understanding of our system and what we want and I think I have a good understanding of what he is as a quarterback,” Gruden said. “He’s a quarterback still in the developmental stages. I have a good understanding of what he needs and he has a good understanding of what we’re looking for, and hopefully, moving forward, he’ll be a more confident and decisive quarterback, and I’ll have a better understanding of what he’s comfortable with and give him opportunities to succeed.”
“I don’t know how much of his confidence has wavered up and down,” Gruden said of Griffin. “You’ll have to ask him. But I think Robert has always been a very confident guy, a very confident quarterback, and I don’t think he’s ever lacked in that department. But if he has wavered a little bit because of the last couple years, then it’s good for him to come into this year, knowing that he’s the starter and that the guys are behind him, and the coaches and we’ll see what he can do. He’ll have every opportunity to succeed.”
Hiring Matt Cavanaugh to serve as quarterbacks coach can only help. Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay handled that job last year, but eventually found it taxing. Cavanaugh will focus harder on the details for all three quarterbacks. For a quarterback still adjusting to passing more from the pocket, that can only help Griffin.
“Sometimes as a coordinator, you have to really work on the big picture,” Gruden said. “You have to read defenses, you have to audible here, you’ve got to do this, this and this. Well what about my footwork? And that’s where Matt comes in and can really hone in on the finer details of the position. You know, your hands, how you’re going to stand in the shotgun, six-inch step. There are so many details that a quarterback has to understand that are vital to the success of the play.”
For Griffin, he’ll make another trip soon to see quarterbacks guru Terry Shea and also get together with teammates for a workout. He can watch film on his own, but is not allowed to talk football with his coaches.
Gruden said one area he wants Griffin -- and the other two quarterbacks -- to improve in is becoming more decisive. It was a big knock last season. They’d also like to see him stay healthy.
“It’s just a matter of maintaining that health and keeping him upright in the pocket,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to do a good job of protecting him, obviously, and I’ve got to a good job of calling plays that are conducive to getting the ball out of his hands, and he’s got to do a good job of protecting himself. It’s a touchy subject.”
PHOENIX – The Philadelphia Eagles have some holes in their lineup after coach Chip Kelly’s offseason overhaul. It turns out they may have some players who can fill those holes, as well.
“I’m really excited about Allen,” Kelly said Wednesday. “We’ve been high on Allen for a long time. Was playing really well and then hurt his ankle in the first game. He came in the year before and did an unbelievable job when [Jason Peters] was out against Green Bay in a real tough matchup against a real good team in Green Bay and really did well for himself. Versatile player. Feel very confident in Allen Barbre.”
Barbre started at right tackle in place of suspended starter Lane Johnson throughout training camp. In the season opener, Barbre went down with a high ankle sprain. He ended up on injured reserve.
So Barbre could be Herremans’ replacement. If Evan Mathis returns at left guard, as Kelly seemed to expect, that leaves the Eagles with Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner as backups at the guard positions.
“We’ll take a look at that,” Kelly said. “That’s what this process is all about, the offseason, you get a chance to see guys on the field. What is Earl [Wolff] like in Year 3? There’s guys on our team right now that can certainly play that role but it depends where they are when you get a chance to see them through OTAs, through minicamp, through preseason camp.”
Wolff has had season-ending knee injuries the last two years. He had surgery, including a version of microfracture surgery, on his knee last year.
A healthy Wolff would give the Eagles at least some experience at the safety position. Jaylen Watkins, who played some cornerback as a rookie, and Ed Reynolds were drafted last year. Chris Prosinski and Jerome Couplin were added to the team during the 2014 season. All four could compete with Wolff for the starting job.
“Yeah, Jaylen’s got versatility,” Kelly said. “How it will all play itself out, we’ve got a ton of time, and we’ve got a ton of reps between now and when we’ve got to make a decision on who’s going to end up opposite Malcolm. Jaylen’s another guy who will have an opportunity at the safety spot.”
PHOENIX -- It began innocuously enough, with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin answering a question about Odell Beckham Jr. by saying his team had done a study on the behavior of "Millennials" in an effort to better understand and communicate with their young players. Coughlin said one of the things they learned was about the ability of people in that generation to multi-task and divide their attention between multiple devices and activities.
Then the 68-year-old Coughlin began telling a story about his own experiences with modern technology, in particular the GPS guidance offered by the Siri feature on his iPhone. I'll just let it roll from here:
"Two weeks ago I'm trying to get to my grandson's roller hockey game. So [Giants VP of player evaluation] Marc Ross had showed me how to talk to this phone. I don't trust the lady in GPS. I don't trust her, because they don't send you the right way. I hit the button and I say, 'Park Ridge, N.J.' And she comes back on, she's giving me directions. So now I figure out where I am. I hit the thing and I say 'Thank you very much, I know exactly where I am now.' And she comes back and says, 'You don't have to thank me.' I swear to god that's what she said. And then I couldn't get her to shut up. Every turn, 'Take a right here.' I know where I am. I know where I am. I'm a block away from my house and she's telling me where to go. I said 'I know where I'm going.'"
Ah, those disembodied whippersnappers. Just can't get em to shut up.
Anyway, cute story and all, but I don't know how much I buy it. I mean, Coughlin is the oldest head coach in the league, but this is still a man who coaches an NFL team. He designs game plans, runs meetings, organizes weeks' and months' worth of schedules for players and coaches and staff. He's as meticulous and detail-oriented as anyone I've ever met. I'm inclined to believe he can work his iPhone, and that he's well past the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer phase of marveling at every little bit of modern technology. Fun to play up the old-guy Coughlin angle, but my guess is he's laughing at the rest of us laughing at him.
PHOENIX -- Chip Kelly's hyperactive March makes more sense when you look at it as a product of lessons learned during his first two years in the NFL.
Kelly tried to win as much as possible with the Philadelphia Eagles team he inherited from Andy Reid in 2013. He won 10 games and the NFC East title in his first season. He won 10 games in his second season. Meanwhile, he looked around, saw how other teams were constructed and decided he was ready to put his stamp on the Eagles.
They had about $65 million committed to offensive players in 2014. They had about $55 million committed to defensive players. According to current salary-cap figures, the team has $74 million of cap commitments on the offensive side of the ball. But the defensive players account for about $64 million.
“You can’t pay everybody,” Kelly said Wednesday during the NFL owners meetings. “Everybody has the same amount of money. You’ve got to divvy it up however you’re going to divvy it up. We were inadequate in terms of the money allocated defensively to offensively, and we’re trying to balance that out. I think it showed in our play.”
That’s why Byron Maxwell’s $63 million contract isn’t the same problem that LeSean McCoy’s $12 million cap hit was. The Eagles now have three running backs -- DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles -- taking up as much cap space as McCoy would have by himself.
That was the driving force behind the McCoy trade. As long as he was making the correction, Kelly figured he might as well acquire running backs whose style better fit his offense.
“I was very fond of LeSean McCoy,” Kelly said. “I think we all are. When you look at moving forward, that was just a really big number. They [McCoy and his agent] weren’t moving off the number so that was where the decision was made. You’re talking about the all-time leading running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. He led the league in rushing two years ago. It was a real difficult decision. But it was a decision we felt we had to make. We had too much money at the running back spot so we had to move in a different direction.”
Meanwhile, Kelly found that his specific requirements for players were not being met. There was a disconnect between the coaching and scouting staffs. That came up in his end-of-season meeting with owner Jeff Lurie. And that led to Lurie’s decision to give Kelly final say on personnel decisions. General manager Howie Roseman was out of the decision-making process.
“I didn’t go in with a plan and say we need to make all these maneuvers,” Kelly said. “I just said this is how I see my vision of how this organization should be, but it’s Mr. Lurie’s decision on what he wants to do. If he came back and said this, this and this and I just want you to just concentrate on that, then that’s what I would have done.”
Kelly also believed the Eagles needed another option at quarterback. He said the trade talks for Sam Bradford originally involved the Eagles sending draft picks to the St. Louis Rams. But the Rams decided they wanted to get a quarterback in return, and they insisted on Nick Foles.
“It went on for a couple weeks,” Kelly said. “We were trying to keep Nick if we could. It was just at the last second, they wanted players. We were trying to get it done with draft picks, but it didn’t work out that way.”
For two years, Kelly was content to do the best he could with the team he had. Starting with this offseason, he is going to see what he can do with a team built according to his own blueprint.
PHOENIX -- At this point in the offseason, the New York Giants have nothing but question marks at the safety position. All three players who started games for them at safety in 2014 became free agents. One of those three, Antrel Rolle, has signed with the Chicago Bears. The Giants have not re-signed Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps or any other safety on the market, and at this point the only safeties on their roster are their two most recent fifth-round draft picks -- Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor.
"That's an issue, no doubt," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday. "We do have one more access to bringing in personnel, obviously, the draft. And we have a couple of guys in the program including Berhe, who we really liked as a rookie and a special-teamer. We have injured players coming back that can help. But there's concern, no doubt."
Taylor played only on special teams as a rookie in 2013 and then missed the entire 2014 season due to a foot injury that required surgery, so they don't know what they have in him. Berhe played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie in 2014 but got a couple of late looks as a free safety.
"I think he can come down in the box, too," Coughlin said of Berhe. "His special-teams play would lead you to believe that. We threw him into a lot of responsibility on special teams and I thought he handled it well. So he's adaptable, he's smart, he's anxious and he's eager for the opportunity, for sure."
It remains possible that the Giants could re-sign Brown and/or Demps, but to this point there has been little movement on those fronts as both players are still hunting for better offers. Coughlin also raised the possibility of converting one of the Giants' cornerbacks to safety. Candidates for that would include Chykie Brown and 2014 sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson, who also is recovering from injury.
The top safety in the draft is Alabama's Landon Collins, though most projections seem to consider him a reach at No. 9 overall, which is the Giants' pick in the first round.