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Enemy intel: Cowboys' Jones ignores players' baggage

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Enemy intel: Cowboys' Jones ignores players' baggage

A look around what's going on around the NFC East.

With DE’s DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and LB Rolando McClain all suspended for the start of the season, Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated thinks that the Cowboys’ defensive MVP might be coordinator Rod Marinelli.
But not to be overlooked in that division-winning effort—and it wasn’t by those paying attention—was the work Marinelli’s defensive unit put in. Without any obvious stars, Dallas’s defense finished in the top half of the league in points allowed, holding every single opponent under 30 points and half of their foes to 20 or less. It was some of Marinelli’s finest work.

He made lemons out of lemonade last season, too, giving the Cowboys a chance to win most weeks despite the utter calamity that occurred when Romo was sidelined.

If the ‘16 season is to be a bounceback year for the ’Boys, Marinelli will have to pull a rabbit from his hat again. On Thursday, the NFL announced that starting linebacker Rolando McClain would have to sit out the first 10 games of the season for another violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. He will join previously punished edge defenders Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence (four games each) on the sideline. Those are three significant losses for a team already shy on proven depth in the front seven.
Tandler: Marinelli did get the most out of the Cowboys defense the last couple of years. But production is more about Larry and Joes than X's and O's. I'm not so sure the Dallas defense will survive without the three suspended players.

Longtime Dallas writer Rick Gosselin takes Jerry Jones to task for relying on the likes of Lawrence, McClain, and Gregory—all of whom has major red flags when the Cowboys acquired them—to get the job done.
The Cowboys employ scouts.

Maybe they should start hiring porters. In addition to paying scouts to find the players, the Cowboys need porters to carry all their baggage into that sparkling new practice facility in Frisco.

That's been one of the shortcomings of Jerry Jones in his capacity as general manager and personnel guru of the Cowboys. He's always been a sucker for a bargain. His personnel decisions are based exclusively on on-the-field ability rather than any potential off-the-field headaches. If you have talent, Jones will ignore your baggage.

. . .

The most important part of ability is availability. At some point, a franchise must realize that these players are chances that aren't worth taking.

Now the Cowboys are in a bind. Defense was a problem on this team a year ago. The Cowboys ranked last in takeaways with an NFL-record-tying low of 11 and 25th in sacks on the way to a 4-12 collapse.
Tandler: Don't ever fire yourself, Jerry. It's just too much fun.

Eagles GM Howie Roseman said recently that the team has made its biggest mistakes by giving big money to free agents that weren’t their own. I guess they couldn’t figure this out by looking at their own 2011 “dream team” experience or by looking at the history of their division rivals just down I-95.
“When you look at it, some of the mistakes we’ve made have been going out and spending a lot of money,” Roseman said. “A lot of those mistakes were on guys that aren’t our own. They were guys that we’ve brought from another organization, and we thought we knew.”

The failed contracts that were extended to DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell instantly come to mind when considering recent free agent activity. Rather than continue to go down the same path, the Eagles have focused on keeping a core group of players in the fold and complementing them with additional players.

“We went and looked at our plan for our roster over the next couple of years and said we will never let Fletcher Cox leave the building,” Roseman said. “We will never let Lane [Johnson] leave the building, we will never let Zach [Ertz]…if we do it now, we do it a little early and maybe save on those guys and add to the team, keep as many guys around as possible. We have this core, and we can build off of that.”
Tandler: I like the moves the Eagles made in locking up Cox, Johnson, Ertz, and a few others. I'm still dubious about their quarterback situation and if Carson Wentz isn't very good they will have issues winning consistently. But locking up their own is almost always the right move and none of the contracts seemed to be out of line.

When the Ravens released offensive tackle Eugene Monroe many figured it was just a matter of time before he signed with the Giants, who have been rebuilding their line over the past few years. But Monroe is still a free agent and here’s why:
The Giants still have interest in former Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe after an offseason where they tried to find a potential replacement for right tackle Marshall Newhouse, but came up empty. The problem is similar to what they ran into with Russell Okung, Donald Penn and even current Jet Ryan Clady.

Monroe would prefer to play left tackle. The Giants aren't willing to offer that position. They're strongly intent on keeping last year's first-round pick Ereck Flowers on the left side. The question now is whether Monroe can get an offer elsewhere to play somewhere on the left side. If so, he's not a Giants option.

Monroe's currently assessing his options, while the Giants wait on a decision. They're not about to break the bank for a 29-year-old tackle who has struggled with injuries in recent years.
Tandler: I'm not sure if Monroe is going to be able to find a left tackle job that he'll be able to walk in to in July; most teams make a top priority of filling those job. His options are to wait and see if a left tackle gets injured in training camp or accept a right tackle job with a team like the Giants.

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Need to Know: Redskins pre-camp 53-man roster projection, offense

Need to Know: Redskins pre-camp 53-man roster projection, offense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 24, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 204 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 48 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 17
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 26
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

Redskins roster projection—offense

The Redskins strap it up and start the battle for roster spots in earnest in just three days. Some are locks, others are hoping to hang on. Here is my prediction of the roster will shake out along with players who are on the bubble. The offense is up today, the defense tomorrow.

Players I have making the roster who are new to the organization in 2017 are in italics. Rookies are also underlined.

Quarterback (3)

Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backups: Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld

Cousins and the team didn’t agree on the contract but that changes nothing for 2017. The elimination of two-a-day practices makes a fourth “camp arm” QB unnecessary so these three will handle all the snaps from now until when the season ends.   

Running backs (3)

Starter: Rob Kelley
Backups: Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson

Bubble: Mack Brown, Keith Marshall

Kelley skipped the drive-through window meals during the offseason, switching to a healthier diet to get himself in better shape. He will need to be strong to hold off Perine, who will make a push for playing time. Brown could be on or off depending on numbers elsewhere on the roster. If Marshall can stay healthy, he could force his way into the picture but the health is a big “if”.

Wide receivers (6)

Starters: Josh Doctson, Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder (slot)
Backups: Maurice Harris, Ryan Grant, Robert Davis

Bubble: Brian Quick

I’m not sure if Grant, who caught nine passes while playing in all 16 games last year, should be a lock but it appears that he is. Davis is a projection; he has a lot to learn but if he is showing significant progress he could push out the veteran Quick, who was not impressive during the offseason practices.    

Tight ends (4)

Starter: Jordan Reed
Backups: Vernon Davis, Niles Paul, Jeremy Sprinkle

Bubble: Derek Carrier

Paul and Sprinkle could be considered on the bubble as well. The normal allowance is for three tight ends on the 53-man roster. Reed and Davis are locks, they need Paul for special teams, and Sprinkle is slated to be the blocking tight end. But Sprinkle needs to add a lot of polish to his game and Paul has the injury bug to fight. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Offensive line (9)

Starters (left to right): Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Spencer Long, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses
Backups: Ty Nsekhe, Arie Kouandjio, Vinston Painter, Chase Roullier

Bubble: John Kling

The starters are locked in unless Kouandjio can come up with a huge camp and push Lauvao out of the starting job. Roullier could be the backup center but if he’s not ready the Redskins could look for a veteran off the waiver wire for that spot.

Offensive breakdown: 25 players, four rookies, a total of five new to the Redskins.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

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