Todd Herremans tough to replace

February, 26, 2015
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PHILADELPHIA -- Three of the Philadelphia Eagles' starting offensive linemen were selected for the Pro Bowl this year. Todd Herremans was not one of them.

In his 10 seasons with the Eagles, Herremans never went to a Pro Bowl. That doesn't seem right, now that the Eagles have decided to part ways with their former fourth-round pick.

But maybe it is fitting. Herremans was never a guy who got a lot of public acclaim. He was just good at his job.

[+] EnlargeTodd Herremans
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Eagles must now replace the productivity and leadership of veteran offensive lineman Todd Herremans, who was released on Thursday.
When Herremans tore his left biceps during the Eagles' game in Arizona in October, he stayed in. The team had a chance to drive down and score the go-ahead touchdown, and Herremans didn't want that opportunity to be lost. He played with one arm, and the Eagles did score that touchdown. Their defense gave up a score that cost them the game, but there wasn't much Herremans could do about that.

The next week, at Houston, Herremans played with a brace on his left arm. It didn't help that much, merely kept his elbow from disclocating due to the torn muscle. But center Jason Kelce was returning to the lineup after surgery to repair a sports hernia. Left guard Evan Mathis was still out with a sprained knee.

So Herremans played. He sprained his ankle during the game and had to leave. He could play with one arm, but one arm and one leg? That was too much to overcome. After that, Herremans decided to have surgery to repair the biceps. He went on injured reserve and missed the rest of the season.

That half in Houston turned out to be Herremans' farewell appearance as an Eagle. He was released Thursday as the Eagles' offseason plan began to take shape. Herremans and veteran tight end James Casey were both released this week.

The Eagles could look to replace Herremans with one of the players already on their roster. Allen Barbre, who went on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain in September, can play guard. The Eagles have been developing Matt Tobin, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Tobin started two games in place of Herremans, but was also dealing with an ankle injury.

Andrew Gardner started the last five games of the season at right guard. He'll get a chance to compete for the job.

But coach Chip Kelly may want to add another potential guard in free agency or the draft. Some very good guards are expected to hit the free-agent market -- Denver's Orlando Franklin, San Francisco's Mike Iupati, Cincinnati's Clint Boling among them -- but the Eagles already have big money tied up in the other four offensive line spots.

That would make the draft a more likely avenue for finding a potential starting guard. Oregon's Jake Fisher can play guard or tackle, which would make him a valuable addition on the second day of the draft. South Carolina's A.J. Cann, Florida's Tre Jackson and Duke's Laken Tomlinson are also highly rated guards.

Somebody will line up in Herremans' right guard spot. It won't be so easy to take his place in the locker room.

Redskins draft prospects: Randy Gregory

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
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Taking a weekly look at various players who could tempt the Washington Redskins with the fifth overall pick in the draft, watching at least three or four of their games. As the draft gets closer, I’ll post these reports more frequently and take a look at other rounds as well.

Player: Randy Gregory

Position: Defensive end/outside linebacker

School: Nebraska

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 240 pounds

Projected round: First round, top 10.

What I liked: His athleticism. It’s why he has a chance to develop into an excellent NFL rusher. Gregory has an explosive first step, especially when rushing to the inside, and he couples it with a good swim move. He was adept at forcing tackles to set wide, only to cut back inside. Saw him get a sack when he jumped over a cut-block attempt by the back. Saw him drive potential first-round pick Ereck Flowers (Miami) back to apply pressure. His two sacks that game did not occur against Flowers; he did take advantage of Flowers’ slow hands in the run game. It was a good game for Gregory. He was doubled quite a bit in most games I saw. Did a pretty good job in open space, tackling receivers (showed it on one screen pass; kept his balance and composure and made a nice tackle). Showed he could rush standing up or with his hand on the ground – from both sides, too. When he got a good jump off the ball, or at least was on time, he would be a step ahead of his linemates. Saw him block a field goal with an inside rush.

What I didn’t like: His play against the run – at all. Gregory would not always get driven off the ball, but he would be controlled and turned to a side. In too many games, he got a late jump off the ball and that allowed the linemen to get his hands into him sooner and, therefore, control him. Gregory goes off player movement; on one snap I froze the frame and the ball is almost in the hands of the quarterback, who was in shotgun, before Gregory takes a step. He needs to add lower-body strength and learn to disengage blockers quicker. Saw him drop into coverage once in five games. But that can be taught. Occasionally he would get upright looking for the ball, losing his base and being driven. I would like to have seen him win more around the edge against good tackles. I didn’t see him beat many left tackles to the outside, though he did have some strong rushes vs. Flowers. Wisconsin’s tackles, especially right tackle Rob Havenstein with his long arms, maneuvered him in the run game.

Why they could use him: Starting to sound like a broken record, but because I’ve focused on edge rushers early on for this series, it’s become repetitive. The Redskins might lose Brian Orakpo to free agency and they lack depth at outside linebacker and do not have many legitimate pass-rushers. They wanted to improve it last offseason and that desire should not have changed.

How he fits: Gregory would provide the Redskins more athleticism and speed on the edge. He would add explosiveness that they now lack on the outside. But he would not be a full-time player because of his need to add weight and strength and would likely be used as a pass-rusher. That’s fine, considering how often they’ll likely be in nickel. He would provide some versatility. Gregory would have to add 10 to 15 pounds to become an effective full-time outside linebacker.

Previous draft prospects
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IRVING, Texas -- Now that U.S. District Court Judge David Doty has cleared the way for Adrian Peterson to possibly be reinstated to the NFL, the future of the Minnesota Vikings running back should start to come into focus.

The Dallas Cowboys have been viewed as a natural landing spot for Peterson, a Palestine, Texas, native, but several obstacles are in the way: age and price.

Though there is no doubt Peterson is one of the best -- if not the best -- runner in the NFL, the possibility of any team making a trade with Minnesota is difficult. From a financial standpoint, it would work for the Vikings to either cut or trade Peterson, but if a team deals for the running back it has to be able to assume a $12.75 million base salary in 2015.

Given that the Cowboys are ready to assume a $13 million price tag on Dez Bryant with the franchise tag, the Cowboys would have to make several moves that free up salary-cap room that will impact their decisions in the future.

If the Vikings release Peterson, who has said last week he is "still uneasy" about returning to the team in 2015 because of how the team dealt with his legal situation, then the Cowboys -- or any team -- could structure a contract in a way that would make it possible for the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player to return to his home state.

But he won’t be coming for free, and the Cowboys have expressed a desire to be more financially sound than they have in the past.

The Cowboys have repeatedly stated their desire to build through the draft. Though the possible addition of Peterson would make an already strong offense even stronger, it would likely hurt the Cowboys' ability to improve the defense because of the draft pick or picks it would take for any team to acquire Peterson.

Even the possibility of Peterson joining the Cowboys, however, could affect the team’s discussions with DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL with 1,845 yards rushing. Coach Jason Garrett has made clear his desire to retain Murray, as has Jerry Jones.

With his first and likely last chance to cash in after playing out his rookie contract, Murray is the best runner available currently. If Peterson becomes available, then Murray would be viewed differently, and teams that had been prepared to make strong pitches for him might turn their attention to Peterson instead.
My first reaction: not enough. It was just Peter King’s mock draft for Sports Illustrated, and mocks are just speculation and a fun guessing game, but he had Philadelphia trading up to land the No. 5 pick in the draft from the Washington Redskins.

He had the Redskins receiving the Eagles' first pick (20th overall) and a second-rounder, plus a 2016 first- and fourth-rounder. To move back 15 spots? I would want another pick this year. The other problem is that it’s reasonable to expect the Eagles to again be good. Therefore, Washington would end up with another lower first-round pick.

It’s not a bad offer, mind you -- and one former general manager I spoke to said he would take the trade. It is in line with other deals.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIf Marcus Mariota is still available when Washington is on the clock with the No. 5 pick, the Redskins could be in position to make a blockbuster trade.
But is it enough when you consider the player the Eagles would be drafting, quarterback Marcus Mariota, might end up beating you for years? If you are going to help a rival, you might as well extract more. If I’m the Redskins and I like Mariota, I would struggle with the idea of helping out a division rival.

What the Redskins really would need is another team that is interested in Mariota. Perhaps if St. Louis, at No. 10, unloads Sam Bradford it could enter the picture. Another thought: If the Eagles would be that hungry for Mariota, would they risk him falling to No. 5 before making a move?

Again, it’s just a mock. But we will hear about potential trades as the draft draws closer, and it got me to thinking: What did teams give up in other blockbuster deals?

Here are a few:

2012

Washington receives: The No. 2 pick
St. Louis receives: The No. 6 pick, a second-round pick and two future first-rounders
Note: It was quite a haul for the Rams and a big risk for Washington, which drafted quarterback Robert Griffin III. After one year it looked like a smart move. After three? The jury is out.

2011

Atlanta receives: The No. 5 pick
Cleveland receives: The No. 27 pick plus the Falcons' second- and fourth-round picks that year and a first- and fourth-rounder in 2012
Note: This one is comparable to King’s mock, though Atlanta gave up five picks compared to the four his mock thought the Redskins would get from the Eagles. But that also reflects moving up seven more spots. Atlanta drafted receiver Julio Jones. For the Browns it represented a chance to get more players. But -- and this is the warning for any Redskins move -- that’s only good if you draft well.

2009

The New York Jets receive: The No. 5 pick
Cleveland receives: The 17th pick plus a second-round choice and three players
Note: Once again it’s a comparable situation to King’s mock. In essence the Jets traded midlevel talent to the Browns -- defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and quarterback Brett Ratliff. Coleman was a journeyman end who had started the previous two seasons in New York, Elam was a part-time starter with the Jets, and Ratliff was a backup. They would be the equivalent of middle- to lower-round picks; none of them lasted more than two years in Cleveland.

2008

Jacksonville receives: The No. 8 pick
Baltimore receives: The No. 26 pick plus two picks in the third round and one in the fourth
Note: It seems like the Ravens could have done a little better to move back 18 spots. Regardless, the Jaguars selected defensive end Derrick Harvey. They could have done better too; he played only three seasons with them.

2004

The New York Giants receive: Quarterback Eli Manning, selected first overall
San Diego receives: Quarterback Philip Rivers, selected fourth overall, plus a third-rounder and a first- and fifth-round choice in 2005
Note: That’s a good haul for the Chargers, but to land the top quarterback in the draft requires more ammunition.

2003

New Orleans receives: The No. 6 pick and a second-round choice
Arizona receives: The 17th and 18th picks in the first round, plus a second-round selection
Note: The Saints selected defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, who lasted three seasons with New Orleans.

The Jets receive: The No. 4 choice
Chicago receives: The 13th and 22nd overall picks, plus a fourth-rounder
Note: Keep this in mind in case Cleveland wants to trade with Washington at No. 5; the Browns own the 12th and 19th selections in the first round. In 2003, the Jets selected defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson.

1999

New Orleans receives: The No. 5 pick
Washington receives: The No. 12 pick, plus choices in rounds 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 and a first- and third-round pick in 2000
Note: A steal. The Saints were desperate for running back Ricky Williams. Owner Dan Snyder rewarded general manager Charley Casserly by firing him before training camp and installing Vinny Cerrato.

Washington receives: The No. 7 pick
Chicago receives: The No. 12 pick plus choices in rounds 3, 4 and 5 and a third-rounder in 2000
Note: The Redskins parlayed their Saints haul into cornerback Champ Bailey with the seventh pick.

1992

Washington receives: The No. 4 pick and a third-rounder
Cincinnati receives: The Nos. 6 and 28 picks in the first round and a third-rounder
Note: Desmond Howard.
IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Dallas columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor came out fairly strong in saying the Dallas Cowboys need to stop lowballing wide receiver Dez Bryant in contract talks.

Taylor wrote: "Jerry isn't offering Bryant a lucrative long-term deal for one reason: He doesn't have to do it."

Dez Bryant
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhIf the Cowboys use the franchise tag on Dez Bryant each of the next two seasons, he'd be guaranteed about $28.6 million.
There is probably a lot of truth to that. In the past Jones has been criticized for overpaying players when he did not have to do it.

Taylor offered up what he thinks Bryant should get and what has happened with the negotiations between the Cowboys and Bryant:
Market value in the world of elite receivers is a five- or six-year deal that averages about $14 million and guarantees Bryant $35 million to $40 million.

Don't believe any poppycock about the Cowboys being close to a deal with Bryant during the season before he changed agents, because that's organizational propaganda at its best.

The Cowboys never offered him any deal with more than $30 million in guaranteed money, which means Bryant was never interested in that deal. The Cowboys offered him a deal with about $20 million in guaranteed money.

How insulting.

Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine the Cowboys thought they were close to a deal with Bryant. Perhaps one person’s definition of “close” and another person’s definition are different, but it's likely why Bryant switched agents last fall.

The Cowboys have not had any detailed talks with Bryant’s new agents, Kim Miale of Roc Nation and CAA’s Tom Condon. They didn’t talk at the combine either. Everything is pointing toward the franchise tag at this point.

But if I have to contest one thing from Taylor's column it is the amount of guaranteed money the Cowboys are willing to commit.

Since the talk of using the franchise tag on Bryant has been around since last summer when a long-term deal did not get done, the fact that the team only would be willing to guarantee “about $20 million,” doesn’t make much sense to me.

The franchise tag figures to come in at close to $13 million for receivers in 2015. For the sake of math, let’s use that figure. That $13 million would be fully guaranteed once Bryant signs the tender. The Cowboys can also use the tag in 2016, which would be an increase of 120 percent, which means they would be willing to guarantee Bryant another $15.6 million.

At the very least Bryant is looking at $28.6 million in guaranteed money over the next two years based off the franchise tag.

Just logically it would follow that Bryant would not accept a deal that did not include at least that much guaranteed. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has the most guaranteed money among receivers at $48.7 million. Before his recent deal, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was second at $27 million along with Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace.

From there it goes to Vincent Jackson ($26 million), Andre Johnson ($20.5 million) and Dwayne Bowe ($20 million).

So based off the franchise tag over the next two years, Bryant’s guarantee would already be second-most to Johnson.

The debate is how close Bryant gets to Johnson in the guaranteed money. Does he want just a little more? Will he take a little less? How high are the Cowboys willing to go?

All great questions that cannot be answered at this time.

But if there was a holdup in the discussions during the season, that was likely it.
PHILADELPHIA – Unless the NFL suddenly decides to hold its 2015 draft next Tuesday (which is pretty unlikely), we’re going to have to live through a couple more months of speculation about Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota.

That is discouraging, but let’s look at the first major mock drafts (that is, mock drafts by relatively heavy hitters in the business, not your cousin Chuck) that project trades to reunite Oregon compadres Kelly and Mariota.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Images/Ross D. FranklinWhat kind of a trade would it take to reunite these two?
Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com was first. Earlier this week, Kirwan posted a mock draft that has the Eagles trading for the Oakland Raiders’ No. 4 pick. In Kirwan’s projection, the Eagles send the 20th pick in this draft, their first-round pick in 2016 and running back LeSean McCoy to the Raiders for the fourth pick this year.

Kirwan has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going No. 1 overall to Tampa Bay. Tennessee, which is at No. 2 and could draft a quarterback, then takes USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Jacksonville, which has Blake Bortles at quarterback, selects Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory at No. 3. That makes a deal for the fourth pick good enough to bring Mariota to Philadelphia.

On Wednesday, Peter King of MMQB.si.com posted his first mock draft. King went only as far as the 15th pick in the first round, but that was far enough to project an Eagles trade with Washington. Considering the history – the trade of Donovan McNabb to Washington in 2010, plus the swap of Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Snead in 1964 – there’s a certain elegance in having those two franchises make a quarterback-centered trade.

In King’s mock, Winston goes first overall to Tampa Bay. He has Tennessee taking Dante Fowler, an outside linebacker from Florida. Jacksonville then takes Williams, the defensive tackle from USC. Oakland, in need of weapons around quarterback Derek Carr, selects West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White.

That brings up Washington’s spot. King’s deal: The Eagles send their first- and second-round picks this year, plus their first- and fourth-round picks in 2016, to Washington for the No. 5 pick. They select Mariota.

Now it must be made clear that neither Kirwan nor King presents his idea as a deal being discussed by the teams. They are simply taking the assumption that Kelly would like to coach Mariota again and figuring out ways to make that possible.

Do the deals make sense? Sort of. The inclusion of McCoy is interesting but hard to figure. The trend has been toward devaluing running backs in the draft. McCoy will be 27 in July and has carried the ball almost 1,500 times (plus 300 receptions) for almost 7,000 yards in his six seasons. He is still a very good player, but a drop-off in the near future seems inevitable.

McCoy plus two first-round picks seems a little light to move all the way from 20 to 4. Maybe if the Eagles added a pick, that deal would be more likely. On the other hand, the exact terms of the deal aren’t really the main point. Kirwan is mainly suggesting that the Raiders would be a possible trading partner for the Eagles.

Same with King. His proposed deal seems more practical. Washington would be dropping from No. 5 to No. 20. In exchange, they get another first-round pick, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. That’s four players for one.

Considering Washington has a new general manager, Scot McCloughan, and is just a few years removed from the asset-depleting deal to get Robert Griffin III, such a trade might be appealing. On the other hand, getting back less than the bounty paid to move up from No. 6 to No. 2 might be a problem. Washington gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick in that 2012 deal.

The only certainty is that there will be plenty more speculation between now and the draft. Might as well enjoy it.
IRVING, Texas -- Twenty-six years ago today, Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys and fired Tom Landry.

Among Jones’ biggest regrets is how poorly he handled the dismissal of the iconic coach. Last year Jones said he should have taken former owner Bum Bright up on his offer to fire Landry, who was coming off three straight losing seasons.

Ever since that day Jones has been searching for his Landry.

While no coach will last 29 years in one spot again, like Landry did, Jason Garrett has the chance to become Landry-like for Jones.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys awarded coach Jason Garrett with a five-year extension worth $30 million in January.
When the Cowboys announced Garrett’s five-year extension worth $30 million last month, Jones said he naively believed Jimmy Johnson would have a 10-year contract, like Landry, and everything would work out because that’s how it happened with Landry.

Clearly that didn’t happen and Johnson left after five seasons. Since Johnson, Jones has had Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Garrett as head coach.

Switzer and Parcells lasted four full seasons. Phillips was fired midway through his fourth season. Campo lasted three straight 5-11 seasons. Gailey lasted two seasons but made the playoffs both times.

Garrett is starting his fifth full season as the Cowboys’ head coach. He was the interim coach for eight games in 2010 after Phillips’ firing.

He has posted a 41-31 record as coach, finally breaking that 8-8 hurdle in 2014 with a 12-4 record and an NFC East title.

Speaking from the NFL scouting combine last week, Jones was not asked a question about Garrett until the 75th minute of a 90-minute session.

“What’s to ask?” Jones laughed.

Last year there was plenty to ask. The three straight 8-8 finishes were an indictment on the Cowboys' personnel but also on Garrett. His team missed out on the playoffs with three straight Week 17 losses from 2011-13. Garrett’s job security was raised to Jones at just about every offseason event he attended.

Jones maintained belief in Garrett and consistently said Garrett had a long-term future with the Cowboys even if few believed Jones’ words because his actions -- or lack thereof on a contract -- said otherwise.

But in 2014 Garrett flourished. Freed from overseeing every detail of the offense with the hiring of Scott Linehan, a trusted confidante, Garrett was able to be a walkaround head coach.

“My biggest responsibility here was to assess that for the future and quantify it for the future,” Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine. “This was not a reward. You can say the contract is a reward. You wouldn't have gotten it if you had not done good. For me, this was an assessment of this guy can coach. This guy has soaked it up.”

Jones paid for Garrett to learn on the job, so to speak. The payoff for Jones’ patience came in 2014. For Garrett, the chance to step away from the offense worked out well.

“I think when you’re a head coach and you’re calling the defensive signals or you’re calling the plays on offense, you still want to be the head coach of the whole football team,” Garrett said. “I made a concerted effort when I became the head coach, when I was calling plays, to do that. I tried to sit in meetings on the defensive side, be with the special-teams group. But there’s a logistical aspect to it too. When you’re the offensive coordinator and playcaller, you have to prepare for that. I just think as much as anything else, once we got Scott Linehan in here to handle that role, I could really, truly spend my time equally between and among those three different units.

“I think that’s an important thing. It’s not only the time during the week. It’s time during the game. It’s the emotions, addressing the different weaknesses that you might have on the football team, try to shore those up. I just think it allowed me to do that better.”

It’s what Jones hoped would happen in 2013 when he forced Bill Callahan to be the playcaller, but that did not work out well because Callahan was not as familiar with the Cowboys' passing game. Linehan’s background with Garrett, having worked together with the Miami Dolphins, and their similar offensive systems made Garrett more comfortable.

Now Garrett spends more time with the defense, trying to learn more about the whys and hows of Rod Marinelli’s scheme. He does the same thing with special teams.

“He is not the same guy he was when he joined us as offensive coordinator and certainly not the same guy he was when he was playing quarterback for the Cowboys,” Jones said. “This guy has evolved. He has shown abilities to operate with duress. He has shown ability to be reasonable when needed, unreasonable when needed. He will confront any areas that need to be confronted. Will he do it with skill? Yes. Does he set it up so when he needs correct he can? Has he built a proper deal to correct staff or players? Is he good with communicating any need he has with the league, with the organization, all of those things? I gave him $6 million a year for five years.”
The Washington Redskins could trade down in the first round of the draft and still walk away with a quality pass-rusher -- if that’s what they want to find. Though there are excellent options at the top of the draft, there’s at least one player who should be available early in the second round who would be tempting, ESPN analyst Todd McShay said.

Virginia’s Eli Harold had a strong showing at the combine and displayed enough skills during the season that he’s an intriguing player. Again: If the Redskins want to draft a pass-rusher and if they trade out of the No. 5 pick. If they like Harold enough, they could help themselves at multiple spots with such a move. One thing the Redskins need more of: Good, young talent.

McShay liked three things in particular about Harold’s combine showing: his 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash (1.56 seconds; teams want pass-rushers with at least a 1.6 split); his broad jump (123 inches) and vertical jump (35 inches). All measure his explosiveness.

Of course, with those numbers it’s fair to ask: Why only seven sacks last season? I haven’t studied him yet, but McShay likes what Harold could become in the NFL.

“He is just a talented, raw player,” McShay said. “You can see the potential he has. He has a lot of developing still to do. But when you look at the numbers he puts up, it matches what you see [on film]. ... His initial burst, he’s with the elite, elite group.”
So our man in Atlanta, Vaughn McClure, has this today from former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Osi says he'd like to keep playing football, and with his contract up and free agency two weeks away, I guess he felt it was time to make sure everybody knew that. He is 33 years old and hasn't been a full-time player for some time, but he's always been able to rush the passer and it's not crazy to think he might be able to contribute as a pass-rusher in the right situation.

Umenyiora
Umenyiora also told Vaughn that, when it comes time for him to retire, he'd like to do so as a Giant:
"It was nearly a third of my life that I was there in New York, and I did a lot of good things there," Umenyiora said. "As a team, we won some Super Bowls. I was able to go to a couple of Pro Bowls and be like an All-Pro player over there. Unless I'm able to do that somewhere else -- which I don't know how likely that is -- then it would only make sense, whenever it is that I retire.

"I'm not going to play another 10 years. I'm not going to play another three years. Whenever it is that I retire, I think it would only make sense for me to do that as a Giant."

Now, that could be as simple as the Giants putting out a news release announcing Umenyiora's retirement once he decides to do it. Or it could mean Umenyiora returning to play a final season for the team. The former possibility is obviously far more likely than the latter, but with Umenyiora looking for work it's worth at least asking the question of whether the latter is possible at all.

The Giants are going to bring Jason Pierre-Paul back as one of their starting defensive ends, either on a long-term deal or as their franchise player. But on the other side, things are murkier. Mathias Kiwanuka is likely on his way out. Robert Ayers is coming off a season-ending pectoral injury. Damontre Moore is still only 22 and working on his maturity issues. Kerry Wynn, Jordan Stanton and guys like that are unproven. The Giants are almost certain to be looking for some sort of cheap help at that other defensive end spot, even if it's just another rotational player or two. Umenyiora, at this point in his career, would surely come cheap.

He'd also be reunited in New York with Steve Spagnuolo, who was defensive coordinator early in Umenyiora's Giants career and is back for a second tour of duty. That makes a Giants return even more appealing for Umenyiora, who had 13 sacks in 2007 under Spagnuolo and never had that many in a season again (averaging 7.3 per season since and topping out at 11.5 in 2012).

Can we rule this out? Of course not. They brought gimpy, broken-down Mario Manningham to camp last year and gave him a chance to win a job. If Umenyiora can't find work elsewhere, wants to play and would take a veteran minimum, non-guaranteed deal, sure, I could see the Giants bringing him to camp. Yes, he had his feuds with GM Jerry Reese, but Reese is no grudge-holder, and as the Spagnuolo hire shows, the Giants aren't afraid to reach back into their past glory years in hopes of a present-day boost.

I'd put the chances of a Giants-Umenyiora reunion somewhere under 50 percent, but I don't think they're super close to zero. Far stranger things have happened, and it may be worth a shot at the tail end of free agency to see what an old friend has left.
IRVING, Texas -- On Saturday, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said DeMarco Murray would have fewer touches in 2015 if the free-agent running back re-signs with the team.

Murray
Much of the debate about keeping Murray revolves around durability and sustaining production after a season like 2014, when he carried the ball 392 times for 1,845 yards. Asking any running back to repeat a franchise-record season is ridiculously unfair, but if the Cowboys are unable to retain Murray, they could look to replace him with two runners.

In the two playoff seasons before 2014, the Cowboys used a committee approach.

In 2007, the Cowboys had three Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis, and Marion Barber and Julius Jones combined for 368 carries, 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In 2009, the Cowboys had two Pro Bowlers on the offensive line in Davis and Gurode, and Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice combined for 394 carries, 2,026 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Even if Murray comes back and his touches are reduced, he will still be the lead back over Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams or any other back they keep (Lance Dunbar), sign or draft. But the disparity in carries from 2014 -- Murray had 392, Randle had 51 -- will not be as great.

If Murray leaves, the same would hold true with a free-agent signing (Mark Ingram?) or a draft pick (Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi) as the lead back and Randle and whoever else as the secondary ball carriers.

"I think that generally we are in two-back systems across the league if you look at the practical way it shakes out," Jerry Jones said. "Most of these teams split a running game that approaches the number of rushes we have. They split it. But there are more backs. There are more backs. That adds to what happens. That adds to the answer: how do you address your running game? OK. You don't necessarily expect to have a back carry that kind of load and still have a very successful running game."
At the present time, the only safeties under contract with the New York Giants for 2015 are Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, their 2013 and 2014 fifth-round picks. The three safeties who started games for the Giants last season -- Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps -- are all scheduled to be free agents when the new league year begins two weeks from today.

Those facts, along with the state of the safety market in the 2015 offseason, indicate to me that Taylor or Berhe -- and possibly both -- will get a shot to start at safety for the Giants this coming season.

Rolle
Start with the list of the Giants' own free-agent safeties. It's possible that any or all of them could be back, sure. But the information I'm getting on Rolle indicates a disconnect between player and team on his value -- a disconnect similar to the one the Giants had with Justin Tuck a year ago -- that could mean the end of Rolle's time in New York. That would open up one starting spot, and even if Brown and/or Demps came back, neither played at a level in 2014 that indicates he'd be impossible to beat out for a spot.

Answers aren't likely to come via the draft, either. Alabama's Landon Collins is the top safety available this year, and the consensus at the combine seemed to be that No. 9 was too early to take him. After Collins, the safety pool drops off into mid-round options who aren't likely to be any more NFL-ready in 2015 than Taylor and Berhe would be.

There are a couple of possible free-agent safety options, though the best one, Devin McCourty, isn't likely to leave New England and hit the market. So that leaves the Giants to decide how they feel about guys like Denver's Rahim Moore or Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy. It's possible they could find Rolle's replacement in free agency, but even if they did, that would still leave open one starting spot for one of the young fifth-rounders.

"They’re going to get a chance to compete," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Saturday. "Cooper obviously has to stay healthy, but I think those guys are going to get a chance to compete for that position."

Taylor still has work to do to recover from the foot surgery that cost him the entire 2014 season. But he's making good progress and expects to be ready in time for camp. The Giants believe Taylor's uncommon size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) makes him a high-ceiling prospect at safety if he ever gets the chance to play it regularly. Berhe (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) doesn't have the same kind of size, but the Giants like his instincts and aggressiveness and believe he could take a leap forward this season.

In the past, the Giants have shown a willingness to commit big resources (Rolle's contract, a first-round pick) on the safety position, so it's easy to imagine them doing that again. But it's tough to believe they're going to go out and bring in two new high-end, experienced starters, which means opportunity this summer for one or both of the young guys.
Barring an epic swing and miss, the New York Jets should land a very good player with the sixth overall pick. There will be no shortage of options.

Several players improved their stock at the NFL scouting combine, which concluded Monday. A few players, previously projected to be picked in the 10-20 range, are pushing to crack the top 10. Here's our "Watch" list, possibilities for the Jets at No. 6, based on positional need and the assumption that quarterback Jameis Winston and defensive tackle Leonard Williams already will be gone:

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama -- He didn't do anything to hurt his status as the top receiver in the draft, clocking a time of 4.42 seconds in the 40. The Oakland Raiders (No. 4) are the popular landing spot for Cooper.

Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska -- He has a high ceiling as a pass-rusher, but he has to convince teams he can add bulk. His measurements -- 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. He ran the 40 in 4.64 seconds.

Shane Ray, DE, Missouri -- The SEC Defensive Player of the Year (14.5 sacks) didn't work out at the combine because of a foot injury he suffered in Missouri's bowl game. Ray will perform for scouts at his pro day, March 19. He's 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, on the smallish side for an every-down edge player in a 3-4 scheme.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon -- He didn't disappoint, running exceptionally well (4.52) and drawing high marks for his throwing performance. He also impressed teams during interviews with his football acumen. Mariota-to-the-Jets is the hot speculation. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Monday, "You better have a plan, if you're the Jets, on how you're going to develop him -- and really feel great about the fact that he's going to be able to make the transition, and what your plan is. By that, I mean he has a lot of work to do in terms of anticipating."

Kevin White, WR, West Virginia -- White made himself a lot of money, blazing the 40 in 4.35 seconds -- at 6-foot-3, no less. He probably moved into the top 10 and could be a consideration for the Jets, especially if Cooper is off the board.

Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State -- Cornerback is a huge need for the Jets, but is Waynes worth the sixth pick? He improved his stock by crushing the 40 (4.31), the fastest time among defensive backs. He has press-corner skills and experience, which makes him attractive to Todd Bowles.

Dante Fowler, OLB, Florida -- He projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He created a buzz at the combine, running 4.60 seconds at a rock-solid 6-foot-3, 261 pounds. He may have pushed his way into the top 10.

Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson -- He worked out with the defensive linemen, but he's seen as a 3-4 outside 'backer. He might have been one of the top athletes in Indianapolis, running 4.53 seconds, leaping 41 inches in the vertical jump and recording 35 reps on the bench press. Problem is, he's a tweener at 6-foot-3, 246 pounds.
PHILADELPHIA -- The sense you got from the Seattle Seahawks' public comments is that they expect to lose cornerback Byron Maxwell in free agency.

Housler
Maxwell
That could make Philadelphia a likely landing spot. That's what Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net reported from Indianapolis. Pauline reported Friday he heard the Eagles were front-runners for Maxwell, who starts opposite Richard Sherman. On Monday, Pauline wrote to reinforce his original report.

"Since my posting Friday on the belief the Philadelphia Eagles are the front-runners for Byron Maxwell, additional sources have told me they agree with the assessment and feel Maxwell ends up with the team," Pauline wrote.

Williams
Reports that Maxwell is looking for about $10 million per year should not scare the Eagles off. They should have over $20 million in salary-cap space. Right now, they have cornerback Cary Williams on the books at $6.5 million, with a cap number of $8.1 million.

The Eagles could add Maxwell at a similar salary-cap number to Williams' number. If they cut ties with Williams, which might be their plan anyway, that would almost offset Maxwell. In effect, the Eagles would be trading Williams for Maxwell as far as their salary cap goes.

Or the Eagles could simply retain Williams. He was solid for the most part last season. He would likely look better with a more stable cornerback than Bradley Fletcher on the opposite side.

Maxwell has benefited from playing opposite Sherman and alongside safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Then again, that made Maxwell more likely to be targeted by teams that were actively avoiding Sherman's side of the field. In Philadelphia, Maxwell would be the cornerback that teams would hesitate to challenge.

Seattle's salary cap will have to accommodate Sherman ($12.2 million), Thomas ($7.4 million) and Chancellor ($5.65 million) next season. Maxwell, who made just $673,000 in 2014, just turned 27. He will be looking for his first really big payday in the NFL.

That's why a player who has been in the last two Super Bowls would consider leaving his current team. Some veterans find themselves chasing a ring at the end of their careers. Maxwell has already checked that box. He has every right to look to get paid at this point.

With the Eagles, he would have a chance to do both. The Eagles have won 10 games in each of the past two seasons despite one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Creating a solid secondary would put Philadelphia right into the conversation with other contending teams.
If the Washington Redskins wanted to add more picks and still select an outside linebacker, they could do so. That is, if Marcus Mariota is still around when they select -- and if other teams want him badly enough to take a big jump.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
David J. Griffin/Icon SportswireAlabama safety Landon Collins is a possible target for the Redskins, if the team decides to trade down its first-round pick.
That's the opinion of ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who said the trade for Robert Griffin III in 2012 -- and the loss of picks the past two years -- heightens the importance of adding more selections.

The Redskins still had a combined 15 picks the past two years, just none in the first round. But they have a dearth of under-25 talent because of failed choices for several years. Of course, if Griffin were playing at a Pro Bowl level it wouldn't be a big deal. But he's not; so it is.

Of their 15 picks in the past two years, six are no longer with the team (and nine of the last 24 selections are elsewhere). That's fine if you're a contending team with depth and no room for rookies. It's not good if you're a rebuilding team with a need for young talent.

"If you can get a deal to move out, I think they'd be better served," McShay said. "There's enough depth at the outside linebacker position that you can get a really good one if you move down in the first round."

Or if they trade down they could select safety Landon Collins, who is not considered a top-10 player, and perhaps add a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the second round (possibly Virginia's Eli Harold). Or if they traded down a few spots, Clemson's Vic Beasley would be a good possibility.

The problem is trying to line up a trade partner (I wrote about that Monday morning). Three teams outside the top 10 would be possibilities: Cleveland (12, 19), Houston (16) or Philadelphia (20). And the only position they'd move up that high for is quarterback; if Mariota is gone then a trade is unlikely -- unless it's to move down a couple spots.

"There are plenty of teams that have quarterback needs behind them," McShay said. "Nothing would be shocking. I know it would be a monster move to come up 15 spots. I don't think Cleveland would be willing to [trade] but you never know.

"I'd rather move down several spots and get Beasley and then pick up two or three extra picks."

The caveat, of course, is that every team picking high needs a lot of help and, in theory, would be well-served adding more good young talent. It's not that easy, but if the right player is still around at No. 5, then the Redskins would have a chance.

Breaking down Cowboys' cap allocation

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
12:30
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- In the NFL, how teams allocate their assets can go a long way in their success.

As the Dallas Cowboys ponder their major decisions, like Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray; not quite as large decisions, like Doug Free, Jermey Parnell and Rolando McClain; and small decisions, like whether to tender their restricted free agents, asset allocation is huge.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones mentioned it Saturday during a 90-minute discussion with reporters when discussing the Murray talks.

Murray
“The only reason to have any equivocation on [re-signing Murray] is that this is pro football and we have limitations on what you can allocate to any position or allocate to your football team, which side of the ball you want to allocate your dollars on,” Jones said. “It’s pretty obviously anybody can add up we got a lot of money allocated to our offense right now. Nothing wrong with that because we can win with a lot of money allocated to our offense, but we've got to be cognizant of the fact we want to improve our defense.”

How are those assets allocated at present?

According to ESPN Stats & Information’s most recent calculations, the Cowboys have 20 players signed on offense totaling $64,803,726 in cap space. Tony Romo accounts for $27.773 million, followed by Tyron Smith at $13.039 million and Jason Witten at $8.512 million.

Ryan Williams ($705,000) and Terrance Williams ($779,968) have the highest cap figures for running backs and wide receivers.

With the Cowboys likely to tag Bryant, add another $13 million cap figure. Murray would also come in at a significant cap figure.

On defense, the Cowboys have 30 players totaling $48,381,143. Brandon Carr carries the highest cap charge at $12.717 million, but he won’t remain at that figure with the Cowboys looking for him to take a pay cut. Sean Lee has a $5.45 million cap figure. Three of the four highest cap figures are on corners, with Morris Claiborne at $5.175 million and Orlando Scandrick at $4.351 million. On the defensive line, Jeremy Mincey ($1.75 million) and Terrell McClain ($1.1 million) carry the highest cap figures.

On special teams the Cowboys have two players -- Dan Bailey and L.P. Ladouceur -- totaling $3,620,000. They signed punter Tom Hornsey to a one-year deal, but his base salary will not count against the top 51 contracts.

The Cowboys have $12.836 million with the recent void of Doug Free's contract and the declining of Henry Melton's $9 million option.

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