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NFC East Off-Season Analysis: Redskins

It’s really too bad the Redskins got to watch Jevon Kearse play twice last year. Without that firsthand account of his ineffectiveness, you’d think the Redskins would have been knocking down walls to sign the aging “star” to a ridiculous multi-year deal. He’s really their kind of free agent: old and not so good.Redskins Logo

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. In fact, the Redskins somehow avoided signing an overpriced, over-aged free agent altogether this year. Don’t worry, there’s still time. But if I were a fan in DC, I’d feel cautiously optimistic that I had gotten away with something.

Key Losses

Brandon Lloyd

What it means:
It means the Redskins finally realized what the rest of the league did two years ago: Lloyd is a bum. A locker room disturbing bum at that.

Mark Brunell

What it means:
No reason to keep the old timer on the roster anymore with Jason Campbell and Todd Collins firmly entrenched at their spots. Better to use that #3 QB spot on a young guy.

Key Additions

The Redskins really made some interesting moves in the draft. No, not trading away their first round pick. That is pretty much standard for the Skins. What I’m talking about is how they used their three second round picks.

First came Devin Thomas –the tall possession receiver from Michigan State. Later in the round they selected Malcolm Kelly — the tall possession receiver from Oklahoma. Sandwiched between those two picks was Fred Davis, the tight end from USC.Antoine Randle El

Those picks were curious because the Redskins, obviously, already have talent at all of those positions, which are now pretty dang crowded. Kelly and Thomas will be competing with Antoine Randle El to determine who is the #2, #3, and #4 behind Santana Moss.

Fred Davis is added to a roster that already includes the talented (and crazy) Chris Cooley. If Davis is going to get a lot of playing time, it will need to be in two tight end sets.

Other Moves

The Skins re-signed two quiet but valuable members of the squad — Jason Fabini and Rock Cartwright.

Conclusion

Jim ZornIt’s hard to know what will become of the Redskins this year. They really needed to add a playmaker or two on defense and certainly have not done that. The one position that was screaming for attention – defensive end – only got some in the form of seventh round pick Rob Jackson, who will be a long shot to make the team.

On the positive side, the Redskins could certainly have a bevy of weapons on offense. The tall bodies of Kelly and Thomas should compliment the speed and quickness of Moss and Randle El nicely.

First year coach Jim Zorn is an offense-oriented guy, and he won’t suffer from a lack of options. Will yet another new playbook stunt Campbell’s growth though? Will there be anything resembling a competent defense? This year will be very interesting in DC.

NFC East Off-Season Analysis: Giants

Over the last couple of years the Giants seem to have utilized a pretty peculiar draft strategy. First, they identify a position of immediate need. Next, they take the best player available at that position.

If that kind of simplistic logic completely bewilders you, I understand. It just means you are an Eagles fan, and you’ve spent the last four or five years tying your brain in knots attempting to legitimize each puzzling Eagles’ draft decision (hey, many of them have worked out, but that doesn’t mean they made a whole lot of sense to us at the time).

Interestingly, this simple Giants’ strategy has paid off so far. Aaron Ross, drafted in 2007 after a season where the Giants cornerbacks were routinely roasted, was a key piece of the Giants’ late-season and playoff run.

This year, it was the loss of Gibril Wilson to the Raiders that prompted to drafting of Kenny Phillips. Obviously its too early to know whether that move will pay off, but the Giants’ straightforward draft approach has certainly won them some good will from the fan base.

But the offseason wasn’t completely rosy in New York (I’ll ignore that big parade they had).

Key Losses

Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor

What it means:
Mitchell was a solid though unspectacular performer for the Giants. He was an asset defending the run, but perhaps a bit of a liability against the pass. But most importantly, he was a reliable player for a Giants’ team that desperately needed that at linebacker. Mitchell hasn’t missed a game due to injury in four years.

Kawika Mitchell
Off to Buffalo

Keep in mind the 2006 Giants were pulling guys off the street to play linebacker. Mitchell was exactly what they needed, and he did all they could ask.

Reggie Torbor was mostly a backup for New York, but one who played quite a bit. He really finished last season strong as well — with 10 tackles and a sack against the Pats in week 17.

The Giants decision to let these two guys go means they have confidence in two young players: Mathius Kiwanuka and Gerris Wilkinson. Combined, these two have started 11 NFL games — so this is no small gamble.

Kiwanuka is the clear starter at SAM, but Wilkinson will have a bit of a battle for the starting job at WILL:

“He’s going to have to beat out other players at that position,” Reese said of Wilkinson, “but he’s definitely going to get his shot to be a starter.”

Those other players are really Danny Clark, a veteran insurance signing by the Giants this off-season. Clark isn’t really well suited to the WILL spot, having spent most of his time on the strong-side, so Wilkinson would really have to screw this up to not be a starter in Week One.

Gibril Wilson

What It Means: The young safety was a coveted free agent, eventually signing with the Raiders for a contract worth $39 million ($16 mil guaranteed). The Giants opted not to try to retain him at that price tag, and quickly brought in a veteran safety to help out — Sammy Knight. Knight will be 33 this year and is nearing retirement. Presumably, he’ll spend this season teaching the finer points of the position to the young Kenny Phillips, whom the Giants drafted with their first pick last month.

Phillips may or may not win the starting job in camp. If he does, the Giants will have an extremely young starting defense (Ross, Phillips, Tuck, Umenyora, Wilkinson, Kiwanuka).

Key Additions

I’ve already covered Phillips and Danny Clark. The Giants also signed David Carr, who’s bad luck might be enough to kill their entire season. At least that’s what I’ll hope for.

The Giants also drafted Terrell Thomas, an interesting cornerback prospect out of USC. He will likely be spending some time on special teams this year, but once the old fogies in the Giants secondary are finally gone the team will have the young Thomas, Ross, and Webster as the presumed nickel package.

Other Transactions

The Giants got part-time running back Derrick Ward to agree to stay with the team. He, Brandon Jacobs, and Ahmad Bradshaw proved to be a lethal combination at in the backfield for the Giants. It was important for the team to try and keep Ward because Jacobs has a tendency to get injured and Bradshaw may not be an every down back.

The team also signed Rich Suebert an extension. Their offensive line was a real strength last season, and keeping them together was a big priority.

Conclusion

The Giants roster certainly doesn’t look any better on paper than it did last year. But it is younger, and that should have some payoff in years to come. This team did win the Super Bowl thanks in large part to the play of their young guys (Tuck, Ross, Webster, Manning) — so they have every reason to be confident they are making the right moves.

Personally, I think they may be going to far. Kiwanuka is coming off an injury and Wilkinson isn’t proven at all. Young players tend to make big mistakes, so look for the Giants to have some early season trouble. If they can survive those, this team may again be a player at year’s end.

NFC East: Giants Front Office Making Moves

Derrick WardAnother day without anything particular of note happening in Birdsland, so let’s make sure we keep up with or northern rivals.  Jerry Reese’ off-season plans are beginning to play out.  Mike Garafalo is reporting that the Giants have informed another young starting safety that he should test the free agent market.  Last year it was Gibril Wilson (who signed that ridiculous contract with the Raiders), this year it is James Butler.  With Butler almost certainly gone, the Giants look to be starting Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson at the safety spots next year.

It looks like the Giants will also be losing Derrick Ward.  Ward rushed for over 5 yards a carry last year and 1000 yards total, but the Giants have not contacted him at all about an offer to stay with the team.  He will test free agency, where he may get a starting job somewhere else.  Whether it makes sense to keep Ward, with Jacobs and Bradshaw now under contract, is an open question.  Methinks that as long as the offensive line stays healthy (2 years straight without an injury) that team will run the ball successfully with any competent running back.

Finally, the Giants placed a 2nd round tender on RFA cornerback Kevin Dockery.  They will pay Dockery only 1.45 million this year, unless another team makes him a larger offer the Giants do not match.  If the Giants’ choose not to match it, they will be owed a 2nd round pick from Dockery’s new team (not happening).  Dockery played nickel corner for the Giants last season.

My Memorial Day

Tonight I’m in Montreal. Tomorrow I’m playing in a charity golf tournament (through work) on Celine Dion’s private course (Le Mirage in Terrabone). Dinner tomorrow is by her personal chefs.

Tomorrow night, the famed St. Catherine district. The next morning, another golf tournament.

So yes, I’m enjoying my long weekend.

Wednesday, more NFC East off-season talk.

Today…

Got a couple of things on the dock today.

1.  Bought Mario Kart Wii yesterday, and spent a good portion of last night playing both with Mrs. Sportsdork and online.  It was a lot of fun, and I’ll have a few thoughts.

2.  The start of my NFC East off-season analysis.  These things are going to be sort of lengthy, so if you’re willing to read, caffeine might be necessary.

3 Crazy Eagles Scenarios that Might Not be That Crazy

A continued lack of hard news, combined with a total lack of interest in mock drafts (I’ve got to at least see the combine, free agency, and pro day workouts play out) has me pondering some of the wackier “what if?” notions of the Eagles future.

So in the spirit of the off-season (totally irresponsible, baseless speculation) here’s three potential moves the Eagles could make that on the surface might sound unexpected and a little goofy, but the more I thought about them the less crazy they seemed.

Kevin Kolb1.  The Eagles trade Kevin Kolb
We know Andy loved this guy even before his senior year at Houston.  We know that, despite a total lack of success in any regular season action, Reid was confident enough in him to promote him to the #2 spot on the depth chart this year over AJ.

Kolb’s rookie contract runs through 2010.  He’ll be 25 when the 2009 season starts.  He has given every indication that he’s a team player and he puts the work in.

But consider McNabb’s pending contract restructure, which now seems inevitable.  What if the Eagles give him a new 3-5 year deal that really guarantees two seasons.  Those are Kolb’s final two contract years.  And if McNabb plays well, he may very well end up finishing his career in Philly like he keeps saying he wants to.

Kolb would be 27 when he hits free agency.  He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s going to be content as a career backup.  He wants to be “the guy.”  Is this guy really going to start his career as an NFL starter in 2011 at the earliest?  I don’t see this fella being happy the next three years holding a clip board.

That being said, you still have to consider the obvious injury history of McNabb.  But still, it’s kind of funny that two years after the “Donovan is soooo mad that the Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb” stories a reversal is in the works.

If the Eagles and McNabb strike a deal, they may get a few calls on Kolb.  Will any offer have enough in it to make it worth it for the Birds to part with him?  Seems unlikely, but organizations have made dumber trades for backup QBs.

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Divisional Status Check — New York Giants

Eli Manning Wife2008 Record:  12-4
2007 Record:  10-6

The 2007 Super Bowl Champions were the consensus best team in the NFL until December.  Then a series of unfortunate events (nagging injuries, Plaxico shooting himself, Eli having to throw a football in the wind) led to an unraveling of sorts, and the G-men lost four of their last five games (two to the Birds).

Free Agents
Brandon Jacobs (UFA)
Derrick Ward (UFA)
Amani Toomer (UFA)
David Carr (UFA)
Anthony Wright (UFA)
Danny Ware (RFA)
Jon Carney (UFA)
Grey Ruegemer (UFA)
Kevin Dockery (RFA)
RW McQuarters (UFA)

Strengths
Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both ran for over 1000 yards and 5 yards per carry.  The third back, Ahmad Bradshaw, had 350 yards and he too ran at a clip well over 5 ypc.  That is absurd and truly credit is due both to the running backs and to the offensive line, which has become the best in the NFL.  All five of the starting linemen are under contract and should be playing on opening day next year.

The strength of a strong Giants’ defense is still the defensive ends.  Justin Tuck has truly been the gem of the Jerry Reese era, and his 12 sacks led the team this year.  With the return of Osi Umenyiora in 2009, the Giants will once again feature dominant pass rushers on both ends of the defensive line.

Weaknesses
For how great the Giants’ front four has been over the years, they have continued to mask a glaring weakness with the linebacker group.  The Giants finished 21st in the NFL defending the TE, and 31st defending the RB.  Antonio Pierce, a heady player who spends a lot of time in the film room (presumably eating), is as slow as any MLB in the NFL.  Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn are replacement level players, and while the Giants like what they see out of Gerris Wilkinson, he has yet to earn a full time gig.

The Giants were also quite bad with kick coverage (their kickers also share some blame), finishing 31st in the NFL.

Where They Go From Here
As discussed here, the Giants have a really interesting and challenging off-season ahead of them.  The Plaxico situation will need to be handled delicately, especially if they are entertaining the notion of bringing him back.  They need to address their weakness at linebacker, and there should be options available (like Arizona’s Karlos Dansby).

The wide receiver problem is their most pressing.  Will the Giants go into 2009 claiming Steve Smith as their #1 WR?  If that happens expect a disaster for young master Eli.  This is another position where their will be plenty of options (Housh, Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton, and perhaps the NY media obsession Anquan Boldin in trade to name a few).

The Giants will re-sign Brandon Jacobs, and their is plenty of talk of them pursuing Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth.  That would be quite an addition for this defense.

Draft Expectations:  Linebacker, secondary, wide receiver, offensive line

The Giants may be the team in the NFC East that looks most different come 2009.  They are going to be forced to address some vital positions, and the pressure is on GM Jerry Reese to come up big.