Archive for February, 2011

Interesting free agent options for Eagles


In player contracts, a common item included are roster bonuses that are due annually around this time of year. To avoid paying these bonuses to players who are no longer productive, teams will cut players that they believe they can move on without. These are not regular unrestricted free agents because their contracts have been terminated earlier than expected, although there is really no difference between them and UFAs. Some of these players include Clinton Portis and Jeremy Shockey, and many should be of interest to the Eagles. Keep in mind that you will never find an all-star type of player out of this bunch, but overpaid veterans can come in and really help teams if they find the right role.

Nick Kaczur, OL, Patriots (31): Kaczur would have been slated to start in 2011 had the Patriots let Logan Mankins go. However, Mankins was franchised and Kaczur became a backup paid like a starter. He could be a solid addition who could start for the Eagles at right guard and provide depth at either tackle spot. Solid contributors on the offensive line are always welcome, especially when they are affordable.

Tommie Harris, DT, Bears (27): Tommie Harris was a budding star a few years ago, but has had two straight disappointing seasons and was benched towards the end of 2010. He certainly fits the new “attack mode” style the Eagles want their defensive linemen to adopt and Jim Washburn could turn him back into a star. At the very least, he’s a solid rotational player who has a very similar skill set to Brodrick Bunkley.

A.J. Hawk, OLB, Packers (27): A.J. Hawk is my favorite player on this list. He’s still young, he was a very high draft pick in 2006, and was released because he’s not nearly as good in the 3-4 as he is in a 4-3. Hawk could be a very good player in the Eagles’ scheme, but certainly was not worth his monster eight figure salary as a 3-4 inside linebacker. He’s a tackling machine that would be excellent next to Stewart Bradley and Jamar Chaney.

As a side note, a handful of players announced today that they would not be retained by their teams, and another handful look like they could very well be on their way out according to reports. Many would be of interest to the Eagles, including Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, and Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh.

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2011 NFL Mock Draft 6.0 (picks 17-32)


17. New England Patriots: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

The Patriots need better players up front in their 3-4 defense to play next to Vince Wilfork. J.J. Watt is the type of player that I can see Bill Belichick developing into a star by allowing him to play to his strengths.

18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Jordan, DE, California

There has been a buzz that San Diego is looking to move up in the draft to secure a top 5 technique. That’s not necessary here as Cameron Jordan falls to them. He is a talented player who has extensive experience playing in a 3-4.

19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA

I’ve been mocking offensive linemen to the Giants recently, but if Akeem Ayers is still on the board here, he’s probably the pick. The Giants have decent linebackers, but no true difference makers. Ayers could change that.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Tampa Bay desperately needs to upgrade their pass rush, and 20th overall is a perfect spot for one in this draft. Somebody will fall to them, but the only question is who that player will be. It could be Ryan Kerrigan or Aldon Smith, but I have Adrian Clayborn here because of a slightly underwhelming senior season.

21. Kansas City Chiefs: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

Scott Pioli takes defensive linemen when he needs them. He took Tyson Jackson third overall two seasons ago, and now needs a nose tackle. Phil Taylor is the best one out there and should be the pick.

22. Indianapolis Colts: Tyron Smith, OT, USC

Amazingly, Tyron Smith is still on the board as Dallas, Minnesota, San Diego, and New York all passed on offensive tackles. Expect the Colts to happily snatch him up if he is still on the board by some miracle come draft day.

23. Philadelphia Eagles: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

The Eagles love taking linemen early in the draft, and with a gaping hole on the right side of their offensive line, Andy Reid won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Anthony Castonzo, a towering player who can start at right tackle immediately.

24. New Orleans Saints: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois

Right now, it’s looking as though the 20-25 overall range is a pretty good place to draft because so many good players are falling. The Saints would love to welcome Corey Liuget to the gold and black as they need an upgrade next to Sedrick Ellis.

25. Seattle Seahawks: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida

The Seahawks haven’t been relevant since their offensive line was dominant. Pete Carroll seems to recognize that as he drafted Russell Okung last year, and he should give serious consideration to Mike Pouncey should he still be on the board this late. Seattle would love the top guard in 2011 to pair with the top tackle of 2010.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Every time Ozzie Newsome mails in a pick, he makes you scratch your head wondering why that player was still on the board. Gabe Carimi is the best player available and could be inserted into the starting line-up assuming Jared Gaither skips town. Carimi would be playing across from Michael Oher, who slid into the 20s in the 2009 draft.

27. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Houston, DE, Georgia

The Falcons need a pass rusher to complement, and eventually replace, John Abraham. Justin Houston is an explosive local product who was heavier than expected at the combine, which means he will be considered more as a 4-3 player than a 3-4 guy.

28. New England Patriots: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland

Bill Belichick loves high character guys who can stretch the field. Check. Check.

29. New York Jets: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

The Jets took care of David Harris. Next in line is Santonio Holmes. Then Braylon Edwards. It appears as though gang green won’t have enough green to go around for Antonio Cromartie. Rex Ryan will fall in love with Brandon Harris and the swagger he brings to the table.

30. Chicago Bears: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Tim Jennings isn’t terrible, but he was picked on an awful lot by Aaron Rodgers and is best suited as a nickel guy. The Bears could stand to add another cover man to team with Charles Tillman to further solidify their defense.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

The Steelers have a messy situation at offensive tackle on their hands with all their players being either too old, too injury-prone, or free agents. Derek Sherrod isn’t a great player, but can hold up in pass protection.

32. Green Bay Packers: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple

Cullen Jenkins is as good as gone, and Green Bay will be in the market for another starting caliber defensive lineman. Muhammad Wilkerson definitely looks the part of a great 5 technique and has a lot of potential for a small school prospect.

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2011 NFL Mock Draft 6.0 (Picks 1-16)


A ton of new changes in this mock draft, including six new picks in the top seven.

1. Carolina Panthers: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

I had Fairley going here, but Bowers doesn’t have the character red flags that are so important to Jerry Richardson and defensive end Charles Johnson did not receive the franchise tag although he’s expected to be retained. Also, the last time Carolina picked in the top 5, they took Julius Peppers, another freakishly athletic local pass rusher.

2. Denver Broncos: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

This pick could go in any number of directions as Denver will be looking for help anywhere they can get it defensively. Nick Fairley would team with Justin Banaan and Elvis Dumervil to create a pretty solid defensive line. Robert Quinn could be the selection as well if he lights up the combine.

3. Buffalo Bills: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina

I’m not ready to hop on the Cam Newton train yet. He simply has too many holes in his game and the Bills simply have too many holes in their defense. A premier pass rusher to team with Kyle Williams and Paul Posluszny will go a long way for the Bills.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

Blaine Gabbert is an option if the Bengals decide to trade Carson Palmer, but I have a feeling that Mike Brown will do everything in his power to satisfy his quarterback. That means getting rid of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and adding another top young receiver. Green is definitely worth the fourth overall pick as well.

5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB, Texas AM

I doubt the Cardinals will draft Blaine Gabbert here because they already have so many promising young guys on their team. They really need to replace the difference makers they lost defensively in Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle, so look for the dynamic Von Miller to be the pick here.

6. Cleveland Browns: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

Cleveland really needs some impact defensive linemen for their switch to a 4-3 scheme, and Marcell Dareus would be a phenomenal 3-technique to play next to Ahtyba Rubin.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

San Francisco’s corners are old, overpaid, and average. They need to find some long-term answers this offseason. If Patrick Peterson falls to them at seven, you can pretty much mail the pick in.

8. Tennessee Titans: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

The Titans aren’t going anywhere unless they find a quarterback, and I still believe that Gabbert will make it past Arizona, San Francisco, and Cincinnati.

9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Last time the Cowboys picked in the top ten, they took a big 12 corner in Terence Newman, and that occurrence is likely to repeat itself this year as Amukamara will fill a big need either at cornerback or free safety.

10. Washington Redskins: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri

The Redskins will miss out on Blaine Gabbert, so they will look to add another defensive player here. One area where they really need better production is at rush linebacker, and Aldon Smith’s potential is very intriguing to scouts. Don’t be surprised if he is taken earlier than expected.

11. Houston Texans: Jimmy Smith, CB, Nebraska

The Texans seem satisfied with their defensive line, so this pick will either be an edge rusher or cornerback, probably the latter. Jimmy Smith is rising up draft boards and probably will not make it past Detroit at 13.

12. Minnesota Vikings: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

Newton seems to rise higher and higher up people’s mock drafts for no apparent reason. If he gets past Buffalo, he should fall to Minnesota, who just loves those mobile quarterbacks.

13. Detroit Lions: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

Nate Solder looked great at the combine and I’m sure somebody will be willing to spend a premium pick on him. Detroit could be that team because they desperately need to upgrade their pass protectors.

14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

Last year, Josh McDaniels took a big, physical receiver in the first round to help along a top young quarterback. It won’t be hard to persuade the Ram front office that Julio Jones is the way to go here.

15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

I expect Miami to address the running back position in free agency by bringing in either Pierre Thomas or DeAngelo Williams, but I don’t like to make assumptions in mock drafts. Ingram is very talented and fills a big need.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

Jacksonville is never afraid to go after defensive linemen on draft day if the need for one is there. They certainly need some difference makers off the edge heading into 2011, and Kerrigan seems like a perfect fit in north Florida.

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Offensive tackles looking great at combine


Yesterday, the offensive linemen and tight ends weighed in at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Almost nobody hurt their draft stock while several other players looked very, very impressive. Here are some of the many players that improved their stock before even taking part in any of the drills.

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: Castonzo weighed in at 311 pounds, which is a big improvement over the 295 he was playing at last season. He’s one of the four tackles who will almost surely be taken in the first round.

Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State: Hudson has long been regarded as one of the more dominant offensive linemen in college football. However, he played at only around 280 pounds for most of his career. He needed to add more weight to prove that he could be effective at the next level, which he did. Hudson measured in at 6’2″, 299 pounds and is a second or third round pick.

Ben Ijalana, OT, Villanova: Ijalana was a dominant left tackle against lesser competition, but was projected to have to move inside to guard. However, at 6’4″ with extremely long arms, he is capable of playing either tackle or guard. He’s definitely a second round selection.

Tyron Smith, OT, USC: One of the biggest questions with Tyron Smith was his size. This wasn’t a big deal to me because he was a very effective run blocker even at 285 pounds. However, he weighed in at 307, and could be taken in the top 15 picks now.

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: Nate Solder continues to fill out his 6’8″ frame and weighed in at 319 pounds yesterday. Teams see him continuing his development and he has potential to easily add another 15-20 pounds.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame: Rudolph has drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski as he measured in at just over 6’6″ and weighed 259 pounds. He’s a big, athletic tight end who can be a very good in-line blocker.

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Position pictures before the combine


The combine begins tomorrow and runs through next Tuesday. As you all know, it is a place where players show teams how big, fast, and strong they really are. As a result, players see their stocks rise and drop at a sometimes alarming rate. So, here are my top 5 prospects at each position, and keep an eye on how they do. A few will undoubtedly disappoint while a few will solidify their status as early round picks, first round picks, or top ten selections.

Quarterback

  1. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (late 1st round): A huge arm and prototypical size, Mallett consistently got the job done in the toughest conference in college. He has work ethic and maturity concerns to answer though.
  2. Cam Newton, Auburn (2nd round): Newton has elite physical tools, but he plays in a fluke offense and has a ton of adjusting to do once he gets to the pros. I’m not sold on him at all, regardless of what he does this week.
  3. Jake Locker, Washington (2nd round): Sometimes, Locker looks phenomenal, but his brilliant moments are too few and far between. He has to significantly improve his accuracy to develop into a starter, but the potential is there.
  4. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (3rd round): I have no idea what people see in Gabbert, but he plays in a fluke offense and has no poise in the pocket whatsoever. His deep accuracy is also pretty shaky and he will be over-drafted.
  5. Andy Dalton, TCU (3rd round): Dalton doesn’t have the potential of the guys before him with just average size and arm strength, but he understands the game and looks like everything you want in a quality, steady backup.

Running back

  1. Mark Ingram, Alabama (mid 1st round): Ingram won’t wow you with either power or elusiveness, but he is a complete player who has an ideal blend of everything you want in a feature back.
  2. Mikel Leshoure, Illinois (2nd round): Leshoure is a big, physical back who will be productive in the NFL. He’s got a bit of Jonathan Stewart in him.
  3. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (2nd round): Williams was plagued by injuries last season, but he is a very elusive back with good speed that could be a starter pretty early in his NFL career.
  4. Delone Carter, Syracuse (3rd round): Carter is not the biggest guy in the world, but he has a very low center of gravity and is extremely powerful. He is a complete back and is a poor man’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
  5. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (3rd round): Despite an extensive injury history, Murray was one of the best backs in Oklahoma history who is a dynamic receiver out of the backfield. He’s not a starter though.

Wide receivers

  1. Julio Jones, Alabama (top 5): Jones has the size, speed, and production that screams pro bowls in the NFL. He has improved in the dropped balls and route running categories as well.
  2. A.J. Green, Georgia (top 5): Green is one of those guys who always seems to make plays. With his height and speed, he will continue to be an absolute nightmare for defensive coordinators in the NFL.
  3. Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh (mid/late 1st round): Baldwin isn’t a polished route runner, but he has incredible height and leaping ability that can make him just about impossible to cover down the field at times.
  4. Torrey Smith, Maryland (2nd round): An explosive player who has an unbelievable off-the-field story, Smith will be a big weapon for the team that drafts him, although he isn’t a go-to-guy.
  5. Leonard Hankerson, Miami (2nd/3rd round): Hankerson has good size and hands, but he doesn’t do anything that blows me out of the water. I’m very curious to see what he runs at the combine.

Tight ends

  1. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame (2nd round): Rudolph is the only tight end I see in this draft class who is a sure-fire starter. He has good size and can be a match-up nightmare with his height and receiving ability.
  2. Luke Stocker, Tennessee (3rd round): Stocker lacks speed, but otherwise is a very complete player who reminds me a bit of fellow Tennessee product Jason Witten and current Eagle Brent Celek (but not there yet).
  3. D.J. Williams, Arkansas (mid rounder): Williams is severely undersized, but he is extremely tough to cover one-on-one. If the team that drafts him can carve a niche for him in the offense, he will be very effective.
  4. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (mid rounder): Kendricks is yet another undersized Wisconsin tight end who can catch the ball very well. He reminds me a lot of Travis Beckum (Giants’ H-Back).
  5. Robert Housler, Florida Atlantic (mid/late rounder): I haven’t actually seen Housler play, but he has decent size and is apparently a fluid athlete who is a good receiver.

Offensive tackle

  1. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin (mid 1st round): Carimi has great size, comes from a great program, and is a very complete player. He can play left tackle in the NFL, but might be better on the right side.
  2. Tyron Smith, USC (mid 1st round): Smith has elite athleticism and is extremely powerful for his size, but needs to add more bulk and has no left tackle experience. He has unlimited potential though.
  3. James Carpenter, Alabama (2nd round): Carpenter is severely underrated. He can pass protect a lot better than people give him credit for, and can play either tackle or guard at the next level.
  4. Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (2nd round): Castonzo has room for improvement in his pass blocking and strength departments, but he has very good athleticism and is a pretty solid player overall.
  5. Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State (2nd round): Sherrod is not all that strong, but is a pretty good pass blocker who can start at either tackle spot down the road. Reminds me a bit of Seattle’s Sean Locklear.

Centers and Guards

  1. Mike Pouncey, Florida (mid/late 1st round): Pouncey has elite mobility skills and can play any of the three spots inside. He’s not as physically dominant as his brother, but should be a fine player at the next level.
  2. Orlando Franklin, Miami (1st/2nd round): Franklin has everything you want in a guard. He is strong but athletic, and plays with a nasty demeanor. He will be a very, very good value pick in round three.
  3. Ben Ijalana, Villanova (2nd round): Ijalana was absolutely dominant at left tackle for the Villanova Wildcats in 2010. He may be too short to play tackle in the NFL but will thrive at guard.
  4. Marcus Cannon, TCU (2nd/3rd round): I believe Cannon can play tackle at the next level, but he makes my top 5 list at guard because of his incredible size and run blocking abilities.
  5. Rodney Hudson, Florida State (2nd/3rd round): Hudson is undersized, but plays with very good leverage and is athletic. He is widely regarded as one of the top linemen in college football.

Edge Rushers (3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE)

  1. Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson (top 10): Bowers is a monster physically, but still is only scratching the surface of his potential. If he can be more consistent, he will be a premier pass rusher in the NFL.
  2. Von Miller, Texas A&M (top 10): Miller is undersized and will likely be a 3-4 edge rusher, but he has unbelievable speed and instincts, making him an ultimate defender in the box who can get after the passer, make plays in coverage, and track down plays from behind.
  3. Robert Quinn, North Carolina (top 10): Quinn is the most fluid pure pass rusher out of the big three (Bowers, Miller, Quinn), but needs to develop more effective counter-moves to be dominant in the NFL, which he can be.
  4. Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (mid 1st round): Kerrigan possesses an incredible first step and is the most polished pass rusher in the draft along with Von Miller. He is also a master at forcing fumbles.
  5. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin (mid 1st round): Watt is regarded by some as a 3-4 end, but he is a 4-3 end because he thrives when he’s allowed to get to the passer. He is an absolute monster who affects the game in more ways than any other defender in this draft.

*Honorable mention: Jabaal Sheard (Pittsburgh), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), and Aldon Smith (Missouri) also deserve first round grades, but didn’t quite make the cut at the top five players at their position.

Interior Defensive Linemen (4-3 DT, 3-4 DE, 3-4 NT)

  1. Nick Fairley, Auburn (top 5): Fairley is dominant against both the pass and the run and plays with a mean streak. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the draft regardless of position.
  2. Marcell Dareus, Alabama (top 10): Dareus can play in any scheme and is a very complete player. He is not as unblockable as Fairley, but is still a future cornerstone of somebody’s defensive line.
  3. Corey Liuget, Illinois (mid 1st round): Liuget is very stout against the run and can push the pocket on passing downs. He will be a very solid pro, but probably not dominant.
  4. Cameron Jordan, California (mid 1st round): Jordan is a 3-4 end who can provide a very consistent pass rush but will also hold up well against the run.
  5. Drake Nevis, LSU (1st/2nd round): Nevis is purely a 4-3 tackle, but he is a phenomenal penetrator who can disrupt plays in the backfield just about as well as anybody in this draft class.

Linebackers (excluding 3-4 OLB)

  1. Akeem Ayers, UCLA (mid 1st round): Ayers is not an unbelievable player, but his versatility will help him a lot in the NFL. He can play pretty much anywhere in any scheme and can do anything a team could possibly ask of him and do at least an adequate job.
  2. Greg Jones, Michigan State (2nd round): Scouts are souring on Jones, but he’s a tackling machine who is tough and durable. He is good against both the run and the pass and he could certainly use a good combine.
  3. Kelvin Sheppard, LSU (2nd round): Sheppard is a versatile linebacker who is very big and physical. He is a great blitzer and shows decent range and good instincts.
  4. Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina (2nd/3rd round): Sturdivant is a sideline-to-sideline player who can blitz and is a reliable tackler. He should be a starter as a 3-4 inside linebacker.
  5. Colin McCarthy, Miami (3rd round): McCarthy is a very tough player who is best suited in a 4-3 scheme. He’s a good run stopper and is a solid two-down MIKE or SAM linebacker.

Cornerbacks

  1. Patrick Peterson, LSU (top 5): Peterson has a freakish size-speed combination but is also a very good technician. I see him as a solid starter who will also be a dynamic return man.
  2. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (mid 1st round): Amukamara is extremely instinctive and I love how physical he is. However, it really bothers me that Justin Blackmon owned him in a 2010 game.
  3. Aaron Williams, Texas (1st/2nd round): Williams is not an elite player now, but he has the height, speed, and athleticism to be a much better pro than college player. He’s similar to Devin McCourty.
  4. Ras-I Dowling, Virginia (1st/2nd round): Dowling will make for a dominant zone corner because his only weakness is his long speed. If he runs under a 4.45, I wouldn’t hesitate to take him in the first round. He reminds me a lot of Malcom Jenkins, who had to switch to free safety with New Orleans, but is thriving in that role.
  5. Johnny Patrick, Louisville (2nd round): Patrick is fast, physical, and confident. He has some character concerns and isn’t a shutdown player, but he could start as a rookie. Don’t overlook him.

Safety

  1. Rahim Moore, UCLA (1st/2nd round): Moore is a great ball-hawk who will thrive in a zone scheme. He’s not very physical, but is a sure tackler nonetheless.
  2. Quinton Carter, Oklahoma (2nd round): Carter is a huge hitter at safety who is a leader. He has good size and is adequate in coverage. He should be a good starter who reminds me of T.J. Ward, who made a huge impact for Cleveland as a rookie last year.
  3. Ahmad Black, Florida (3rd round): Black is very undersized, but has elite instincts and creates turnovers as well as anybody in this draft class. I have a feeling he will defy the odds at the next level.
  4. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (mid rounder): McDaniel is an intimidating hitter who can hold his own in coverage. However, he has character concerns and may be too big of a liability in coverage in the NFL.
  5. Erig Hagg, Nebraska (mid rounder): Hagg is a solid but unspectacular player who should be a great special teams contributor at the next level. He could develop into a starter, but I wouldn’t draft him as one.

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Plan of action for free agency dictated by cap


I still believe that free agency will occur in 2011, even if it happens after the draft. Will the Eagles acquire big name players like they did in 2008 (Asante Samuel) or 2009 (Jason Peters and Michael Vick) or will they opt to be one of the quieter teams? It’s hard to claim that signing fewer marquee players helps your team, but teams like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Green Bay rarely go out and spend big money on free agents. Teams that do, such as Washington and Dallas, never seem to play up to their potential and are plagued by locker room distractions. However, I have found that little correlation exists between salary cap figures and overall team success. This can be attributed to good teams extending the players they already have to lucrative deals instead of paying more attention to free agency than the draft. Assuming a new CBA will be reached, NFL teams will once again operate under a salary cap. The cap figure will probably be in the neighborhood of $145 million. In case you are wondering about different teams’ potential cap space, I have estimated some figures for all teams, in decreasing order by approximate pay roll.

Bad shape (cap figure over $125 million): Cowboys, Jets, Colts, Packers, Steelers, Giants, Broncos

Fair shape ($110 to $125 million): Texans, Redskins, Ravens, Lions, Patriots

Good shape ($100-$110 million): Vikings, Titans, Saints, Bears, Dolphins, Falcons, Eagles, 49ers

Very good shape ($85-$100 million): Browns, Raiders, Chargers, Bills, Rams, Bengals, Chiefs

Perfect shape (under $85 million): Cardinals, Seahawks, Jaguars, Panthers, Buccaneers

As you can see, the Eagles have plenty of cap space, ranking only 19th in the league in payroll, and unlike most other teams, they have already signed their top free agent for the 2011 season when they placed the franchise tag on Michael Vick. Even better news is that the Eagles’ rivals will likely be unable to find much wiggle room if/when a new cap is instituted. The Cowboys have the highest cap figure in the league at the moment, and it will continue to climb if they want to resign Doug Free, Gerald Sensabaugh, or Kyle Kosier. Expect players like Marion Barber, Roy Williams, and Igor Olshansky to be cut. The Giants rank sixth in the league in payroll, and they will likely have to let a few of their talented free agents walk as Barry Cofield, Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith, and Mathias Kiwanuka are all in line for new deals. The Redskins have the ninth highest cap figure in the league, but assuming Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth are let go, Washington should still have room for maneuvering in free agency. They will still have to worry about retaining Jammal Brown, Carlos Rogers, Santana Moss, and Philip Buchanon. Therefore, the Eagles are in a much more favorable position than their NFC East foes from a financial standpoint. Expect them to take full advantage. Joe Banner stated that the Eagles would not be shy about spending if the right player came along this offseason. In a more subtle but intriguing comment, he added that spending would not be affected by positional balance. In other words, the Eagles would not be opposed to having two highly paid players at the same position. As of right now, the Eagles have only three highly paid players, including quarterback Michael Vick, offensive tackle Jason Peters, and cornerback Asante Samuel. Since backup quarterbacks don’t cost much, Banner must have been referring to potentially adding another top cover man or pass protector. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I can’t help but be excited about the possibilities, especially considering the quality of free agents at those two positions.

I love speculating as to who the Eagles could add in free agency. Already, they have signed SAM linebacker Rashad Jeanty formerly of Cincinnati, who will provide excellent depth and special teams play and fits what the Eagles like to do perfectly. Also, defensive end Philip Hunt is now in the mix, who has proven he can be dominant on the college and CFL level despite his size. I believe the two huge positions of need for the Eagles are right tackle and right cornerback. Winston Justice is undergoing surgery in a few days, and both he and King Dunlap are best suited as reserves at this point. At corner, I love Dimitri Patterson, Joselio Hanson, and Trevard Lindley as slot corners, but none can assume a starting role in 2011. I love all the available options at cornerback that are scheduled to be free agents, but acquiring a tackle may have to wait until draft day. Obviously, Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cover man on the market, and a tandem with him and Asante could be absolutely devastating. However, the Eagles may not be able to outbid everybody for him. I’d say that while there’s a good chance that Aso lands in Eagle green, the one team that could be a very good fit for him is Jacksonville. Antonio Cromartie and Champ Bailey would both be very solid additions and remarkable consolation prizes. They would cost less than half of what it would take to ink Asomugha, and leave room to go after a tackle such as Jammal Brown. The bottom line is that the Eagles will be free to pursue pretty much any player their hearts desire without worrying about the price tag too much. On the flip side, the Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins will be pinching every penny and spending more time cutting dead weight from their roster than evaluating players that can help the team win.

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2011 NFL Mock Draft 5.0 (Picks 17-32)


17. New England Patriots: Cameron Jordan, DE, California

This is a pretty easy pick as far as value and need go. All signs are pointing towards Cameron Jordan here.

18. San Diego Chargers: Tyron Smith, OT, USC

The Chargers need to ensure that Philip Rivers stays upright, so they will be in the market for a right tackle in the draft. Tyron Smith is a local product who is extremely athletic and has tremendous upside.

19. New York Giants: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

The Giants have an aging offensive line and can’t feel too confident about their depth. Will Beatty has not proven he is the left tackle of the future, so Castonzo can step in and either be the swing tackle or play left tackle, allowing David Diehl to kick inside to guard.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

The Bucs need to seriously improve their pass rush if they want to be more than a one-and-done team in the playoffs. Adrian Clayborn presents good value at 20 and is a complete and polished player who can contribute immediately.

21. Kansas City Chiefs: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri

The Chiefs franchised Tamba Hali, but they still need an upgrade across from him. Aldon Smith is very long and athletic and can play in any scheme. He is a less polished Robert Quinn.

22. Indianapolis Colts: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

The Colts will almost certainly bring in a high-profile offensive tackle either through the draft or free agency, and one good one is left on the board. He has the length the Colts want in their tackles and is versatile.

23. Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida

The Eagles will be hoping that Gabe Carimi falls to them, but they could certainly use a versatile interior offensive lineman. Pouncey is phenomenal in space, which is great for the Eagles, who are a heavy screen team. He will play center if Jamaal Jackson cannot return from his injury at full strength or slide over to right guard if Jackson is completely healthy.

24. New Orleans Saints: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple

The Saints will probably select a front seven defender here, where Muhammad Wilkerson will get the nod. Wilkerson provides good value and will form a nice tandem with Sedrick Ellis in the heart of their defense.

25. Seattle Seahawks: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

The Seahawks have a ton of holes on their roster for a team picking 25th, but they desperately need to improve their secondary. Aaron Williams is a talented cover corner who will help fill that need.

26. Baltimore Ravens: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

Baltimore will always seem to grab a player at the bottom of round one that should have gone much earlier. This year, that player could be J.J. Watt, who is not exactly an ideal fit in any one scheme, but will find a way to make plays. He will likely be the left defensive end, but may even be able to play some outside linebacker at 292 pounds.

27. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Houston, DE, Georgia

The Falcons need to get some production out of their defensive ends not named John Abraham, who is almost 33. Justin Houston may be undersized, but he knows how to pressure the quarterback.

28. New England Patriots: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

Left tackle Matt Light is coming up on free agency, and will have to be replaced soon even if he is brought back. Derek Sherrod would play right tackle, allowing Sebastian Vollmer to man the blind side.

29. New York Jets: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

It does not appear as though Antonio Cromartie will be retained for the 2011 season, and last year’s first rounder Kyle Wilson has not impressed up to this point. Brandon Harris has the swagger Rex Ryan loves and will need to step in and play immediately.

30. Chicago Bears: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA

Cover 2 teams need really good safeties, and while Chris Harris is rock solid at one spot, the Bears could do a lot better than Danieal Manning or Major Wright at strong safety. Rahim Moore is a playmaker who would excel in a zone scheme and could be the missing piece to the Bear defense.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

Casey Hampton is almost 34, Chris Hoke is almost 35, and Brett Keisel is turning 33. The Steelers need to groom a nose tackle for the future, and Phil Taylor is the perfect player to plug into that role.

32. Green Bay Packers: Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia

Charles Woodson is entering his fourteenth NFL season and the Packer defense is just not the same unit without him. Ras-I Dowling would be an ideal replacement as he is a physical presence who will make for a great slot cornerback.

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