NFL Nation TV gets scandalous?

March, 31, 2015
Mar 31
8:00
AM ET

Join us today at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) for NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast 50 as we catch you up on the latest in free agency and offseason storylines, including the San Francisco 49ers cutting Jonathan Martin and bringing in a bevy of veterans for visits and the Atlanta Falcons getting fined $350,000 and losing a draft pick for piping in noise to the Georgia Dome during games.

Host Paul Gutierrez (49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the expanded show.

Jeremy Fowler (Cleveland Browns reporter) will give us the latest on Browns general manager Ray Farmer’s four-game suspension and what it means for the franchise, as well as provide an update on Johnny Manziel's rehab stint.

Paul Kuharsky (Tennessee Titans reporter) will update us on the Titans’ thoughts on what to with the No. 2 overall draft pick, and if quarterback Marcus Mariota might be their No. 1 target now.

Meanwhile, Harvey and Wells will chime in with a co-Main Event to discuss lame duck coaches, from Marvin Lewis to Chuck Pagano.

The other co-Main Event features Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) and Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) as they discuss the latest hissing match and tampering charges flying from the East Coast.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Nine for No. 9: Amari Cooper

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30
12:00
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The New York Giants hold the No. 9 pick in this year's draft. Each day from March 28 through April 5 (that's nine days -- we did the math for you), we will take a quick look at one prospect who might be available and a fit for the Giants at that spot. Today we look at the player I get asked about the most.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Chances he's there at No. 9: Fair. If Oakland doesn't take him at No. 4, it's not hard to see him falling to No. 9.

Why he'd be a good pick for the Giants: Weapons, man. The Giants believe they got the best wide receiver in last year's draft in Odell Beckham Jr., and landing the best one in this year's draft would theoretically set them up with a couple of high-end passing-game targets for a decade or more. Beckham, Cooper, Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz, Larry Donnell, Shane Vereen ... Eli Manning's biggest problem would be figuring out whose turn it is to make the huge play, amirite?

Why he wouldn't: Well, because they just took Beckham last year and they have a lot of money sunk into Cruz, and committing too many high-end resources to the same position is a recipe for roster imbalance and continued losing. They don't need to spend a top-12 pick on wide receiver two years in a row, and the fact is they need short-term and long-term help at too many other positions to be thinking that way.

Nine for No. 9: Landon Collins

March, 29, 2015
Mar 29
12:00
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The New York Giants hold the No. 9 pick in this year's draft. Each day from March 28 through April 5 (that's nine days -- we did the math for you), we will take a quick look at one prospect who might be available and a fit for the Giants at that spot. Today we take a look at a player who plays a position of significant need.

Landon Collins, S, Alabama

Chances he's there at No. 9: Almost certain.

Why he'd be a good pick for the Giants: The only two safeties currently on their roster are their two most recent fifth-round draft picks -- Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor. And Taylor's recovering from surgery. This is a position at which they need help right now and Collins is the player in this draft who can provide it. He can play in coverage or in the box, and he's played at the highest level of college competition. Has a good understanding of the game and is seen as a strong leader.

Why he wouldn't: Most current projections have Collins going much lower than this, which may make him a "reach" at No. 9. The Giants have many more needs than just this one, and stretching to take a safety this high when they might be able to get a higher-ceiling guy at a position like defensive end might be a mistake.

Nine for No. 9: Randy Gregory

March, 28, 2015
Mar 28
12:00
PM ET

The New York Giants hold the No. 9 pick in this year's draft. Each day from March 28 through April 5 (that's nine days -- we did the math for you), we will take a quick look at one prospect who might be available and a fit for the Giants at that spot. We start today with a player who's been in the news.

Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska

Chances he's there at No. 9: Not great, but his admission that he tested positive for marijuana at the combine could slide him down the board just enough for a smart team to pounce.

Why he'd be a good pick for the Giants: He's a quick, long, explosive pass-rusher -- the kind of guy who could make an impact in a situational role as a rookie even if he needs more NFL seasoning. He's also shown an ability to play the run. And the positive weed test isn't going to scare off the Giants unless they dig up something in his background that indicates a larger problem. The Giants don't know what they have yet in Damontre Moore, and there is that old saying about never having too many pass-rushers.

Why he wouldn't: He's a bit lean for a 4-3 defensive end (though that can be corrected) and may be a better fit as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4. He's also had some durability concerns in college.

This week's New York Giants Twitter mailbag gets moved up to Friday because its author is on vacation and this is the kind of assignment he can do ahead of time. (Little trade secret for you there.) Don't worry -- the Giants blog will still update every day, as if by magic. And we have folks on hand to handle the news if any breaks. I just won't be around to respond to y'all in real time on Twitter. You can still use the #nygmail tag for your questions, which I will then see when I get back, as I saw these this week.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I'm glad this came up, because we wrote the other day about the Giants possibly converting a corner such as Bennett Jackson or Chykie Brown to help fill their void at safety. But it's a mistake to assume a guy can make such a transition just because others have in the past. The high-profile conversion success stories include Hall of Fame-caliber guys like Ronnie Lott and Charles Woodson. The Patriots' Devin McCourty is a current example of a player who has made a successful transition from corner to safety. It's generally done as a means of extending the player's career -- i.e., a move to help a veteran corner stay in the league after his speed diminishes or to give a young player an option after he and/or his team conclude that he doesn't have the kind of speed necessary to cover fleet wideouts.

But it's not as simple as, "Go play safety, it's easier." There are things about it that are much harder. A safety may be asked to cover a tight end, or to come down in the box to help in run support more frequently than a cornerback is asked. To that end, the position requires more physicality. A free safety playing "center field" is going to have to react in coverage differently than a cornerback assigned to a specific receiver or a specific zone, and must read the field more completely in the same period of time. Safeties are the players delivering the calls to the back end of the defense, so a safety may have to know everyone else's assignment in addition to his own -- have a deeper or more complete understanding of the game, possibly, than a corner who receives his assignment and goes with it.

So I would say a great deal of learning goes into such a transition, in addition to the physical requirement. And while it may be possible that the Giants have a corner or two on their roster who could convert to safety and help solve their current problems, I think it's a mistake to assume that a player can do such a thing just because his team needs him to. Jackson may be more than willing to try it, but that doesn't mean he's going to be able to pull it off.

@DanGrazianoESPN: More than possible. I'd say it's almost a guarantee. The Giants have picked a running back in each of the past four drafts and in seven of their last 10. Of the seven, three were picked in the fourth round (Brandon Jacobs 2005, Andre Brown 2009, Andre Williams 2014), three were picked in the seventh round (Ahmad Bradshaw 2007, Da'Rel Scott 2011, Michael Cox 2013) and, of course, David Wilson was their first-round pick in 2012. Due to the risk, volatility and short shelf life inherent in the position, the Giants believe in depth at running back. And with eight total draft picks, including two in the seventh round, it would be very surprising to see them go all the way through the draft without selecting one.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Because of the way your question is phrased, the answer is no. The Giants may decide that taking a wide receiver that early this year makes sense. And they may even be right (though I don't think so, and I'll address that in a second). But if the reason they decide to do that is because Victor Cruz may not be ready to return from his knee injury by Week 1, then they're making a poor decision. If they have a long-range concern about Cruz, that's a slightly different story. But if it's about filling in for a week or two while he completes his recovery, then that's a bad reason on which to base your first-round or second-round draft pick.

I personally think they'd be foolish to spend either of their top 40 picks in this year's draft on a wide receiver because I think they're already heavily committed at that position in terms of high-end resources and they need to commit more of those elsewhere on the roster. By "high-end resources," I mean early-round draft picks and free-agent dollars. Odell Beckham Jr. was a first-round pick last year, Rueben Randle a second-round pick in 2012 and Cruz is making $8.6 million per year on five-year contract extension that runs through 2018. You may or may not like the composition of the Giants' wide receiver corps, but you cannot deny that they have spent big on it. And if you keep devoting your major resources to the same position every year, you run the risk of major roster imbalance, which the Giants already have.

I keep getting asked things like, "If Amari Cooper is the best player available at No. 9, the Giants have to take him, right?" And again, the answer is no, because "best player available" is a GM-speak myth. Every team aligns its draft board before the draft and ranks players according to a number of factors. When putting together that board, every single team -- the Giants included -- takes need into account. And I'm not talking about short-term need (though that's in there too) as much as big-picture need -- where on the roster the major resources need to be dedicated. If the Giants are drafting smart (and there's a ton of evidence over the past seven years that they don't always do that), then they're giving extra weight on their board to players that play positions they haven't prioritized enough for the long term. Offensive line (which they only recently started prioritizing in the draft). The pass rush. Safety. Defensive tackle. They have some good players at most of those positions, but they lack depth at all of them. They don't lack depth at wide receiver, because they've spent a lot of high-end resources on it. It's time for some other position to get that attention for a change.

PHOENIX -- When J.T. Thomas racked up 12 tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the Jaguars' Week 13 victory over the New York Giants, he likely didn't realize the extent to which he was trying out.

"Thomas played very well against us," Giants coach Tom Coughlin recalled Wednesday. "And a lot of times, quite frankly, there's no better information as you get looking into free agency than people who've done well against you."

The Giants use a lot of advanced stats and rely heavily on their scouts when deciding which players to pursue in free agency, but they also do this thing Coughlin's talking about, where they kind of over-inflate a player's performance in a game against them when making their evaluation. Running back Rashad Jennings, who had 107 yards from scrimmage in a 2013 game against the Giants and signed a four-year contract with them last offseason, is a recent example.

So Thomas got a three-year, $10 million contract from the Giants on the first day of free agency this year, and Coughlin foresees a big role for him in the defense -- possibly as the starting weakside linebacker.

"We think Thomas could be a Will 'backer," Coughlin said. "[Fellow free-agent signee Jonathan] Casillas is basically the same kind of guy. Both are outstanding special-teamers. They'll make contributions in both ways. They'll both get plenty of opportunities. I just say that there's more information about Thomas in normal down-and-distance situations than Casillas."

Thomas played all three linebacker spots in Jacksonville and, as Coughlin intimated, has more experience on defense than Casillas has. So if you want to call him the favorite to start on the weak side, I'm not going to stop you. The Giants hope their linebacker lineup features a healthy Jon Beason in the middle with Thomas or Casillas on the weak side and some combination of Devon Kennard and Jameel McClain on the strong side. If Beason's healthy, McClain likely becomes a Swiss-army-knife backup at all three spots. If Beason once again struggles to see the field, either McClain or Kennard would play in the middle.

But assuming they can do what they want with Kennard, Coughlin also has some ideas about how new defensive coordinator can use him.

"A lot," Coughlin said. "If Jon comes back and Jon's healthy and Jon can play, then you've got Kennard maybe in a stronger position, rushing the passer more, the whole deal that way, and that's going to make you better."

Kennard had 4.5 sacks in the Giants' final five games and is hoping to build on a strong rookie season. Coughlin was asked if they might even be able to spot him in at defensive end if need be.

"You can. You can," Coughlin said. "That depends on who the other defensive ends are."

And that's a different blog post for a different time.

PHOENIX -- It began innocuously enough, with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin answering a question about Odell Beckham Jr. by saying his team had done a study on the behavior of "Millennials" in an effort to better understand and communicate with their young players. Coughlin said one of the things they learned was about the ability of people in that generation to multi-task and divide their attention between multiple devices and activities.

Then the 68-year-old Coughlin began telling a story about his own experiences with modern technology, in particular the GPS guidance offered by the Siri feature on his iPhone. I'll just let it roll from here:

"Two weeks ago I'm trying to get to my grandson's roller hockey game. So [Giants VP of player evaluation] Marc Ross had showed me how to talk to this phone. I don't trust the lady in GPS. I don't trust her, because they don't send you the right way. I hit the button and I say, 'Park Ridge, N.J.' And she comes back on, she's giving me directions. So now I figure out where I am. I hit the thing and I say 'Thank you very much, I know exactly where I am now.' And she comes back and says, 'You don't have to thank me.' I swear to god that's what she said. And then I couldn't get her to shut up. Every turn, 'Take a right here.' I know where I am. I know where I am. I'm a block away from my house and she's telling me where to go. I said 'I know where I'm going.'"

Ah, those disembodied whippersnappers. Just can't get em to shut up.

Anyway, cute story and all, but I don't know how much I buy it. I mean, Coughlin is the oldest head coach in the league, but this is still a man who coaches an NFL team. He designs game plans, runs meetings, organizes weeks' and months' worth of schedules for players and coaches and staff. He's as meticulous and detail-oriented as anyone I've ever met. I'm inclined to believe he can work his iPhone, and that he's well past the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer phase of marveling at every little bit of modern technology. Fun to play up the old-guy Coughlin angle, but my guess is he's laughing at the rest of us laughing at him.

PHOENIX -- At this point in the offseason, the New York Giants have nothing but question marks at the safety position. All three players who started games for them at safety in 2014 became free agents. One of those three, Antrel Rolle, has signed with the Chicago Bears. The Giants have not re-signed Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps or any other safety on the market, and at this point the only safeties on their roster are their two most recent fifth-round draft picks -- Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor.

"That's an issue, no doubt," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday. "We do have one more access to bringing in personnel, obviously, the draft. And we have a couple of guys in the program including Berhe, who we really liked as a rookie and a special-teamer. We have injured players coming back that can help. But there's concern, no doubt."

Taylor played only on special teams as a rookie in 2013 and then missed the entire 2014 season due to a foot injury that required surgery, so they don't know what they have in him. Berhe played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie in 2014 but got a couple of late looks as a free safety.

"I think he can come down in the box, too," Coughlin said of Berhe. "His special-teams play would lead you to believe that. We threw him into a lot of responsibility on special teams and I thought he handled it well. So he's adaptable, he's smart, he's anxious and he's eager for the opportunity, for sure."

It remains possible that the Giants could re-sign Brown and/or Demps, but to this point there has been little movement on those fronts as both players are still hunting for better offers. Coughlin also raised the possibility of converting one of the Giants' cornerbacks to safety. Candidates for that would include Chykie Brown and 2014 sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson, who also is recovering from injury.

The top safety in the draft is Alabama's Landon Collins, though most projections seem to consider him a reach at No. 9 overall, which is the Giants' pick in the first round.

PHOENIX -- New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is making positive strides in his recovery from a torn patellar tendon, coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday. But Coughlin is reluctant to predict a timetable for Cruz's return to the field.

During the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings here, Coughlin said the team was hoping to have Cruz back in time for training camp, but that even if they did that wouldn't necessarily mean a full return to action.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in the team's Week 6 loss in Philadelphia, had surgery a couple of days later and missed the rest of the 2014 season. Coughlin said Cruz has begun running and that he saw him working out with trainers in the field house in East Rutherford, New Jersey, recently. But he indicated that Cruz's recovery could stretch into the season and compared it to the delayed start Odell Beckham Jr. got last year off of his training camp hamstring pull.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

Giants taking long view with Eli Manning

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
10:00
AM ET

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ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano says the team's decision-makers want Eli Manning to spend the rest of his career as a Giant -- they just don't feel it's to their advantage to extend his contract at this point in time.

2015 draft picks: New York Giants

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24
8:10
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The New York Giants have eight selections in the 2015 NFL draft, which will be held April 30 to May 2 in Chicago. (They picked up an extra seventh-rounder from Denver in the Brandon McManus trade last August.) Here's a breakdown of the Giants' selections:

First round: 9th overall selection

Second round: 40th overall selection

Third round: 74th overall selection

Fourth round: 108th overall selection

Fifth round: 144th overall selection

Sixth round: 186th overall selection

Seventh round: 226th overall selection

Seventh round: 245th overall selection

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(For all Inside Slant posts, follow this link.)

PHOENIX -- NFL head coaches meet with the lead referee a few hours before kickoff of every game. In his first season with the Houston Texans, Bill O'Brien brought a special assistant to each meeting. Jim Bernhardt's title is director of football research, but one of his key responsibilities, O'Brien recounted Tuesday, is knowing the monstrous NFL rule book.

"He'll advise me on things that are challengeable," O'Brien said. "He's got a rule book right next to him [in the press box during games]. I don't know if he ever uses it, but he has it there for a crutch. That's what I did. I hired somebody to help with that. He's involved in a lot of things, from situations to clock management and things like that. But one of the parts of his job is the rule book."

The NFL rule book may be the most complex set of rules in American sports. The 97-page document is full of exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions, vexing fans who want simply to understand what they see on the field. If it makes you feel any better, here's a dirty little secret: Not even the coaches know all of the rules. On Tuesday, in the relaxed environment of the NFL owners meetings, a few of them admitted it.

[+] EnlargeJohn Harbaugh, Bill Vinovich
AP Photo/Steven SenneJohn Harbaugh said he took an unsportsmanlike penalty in order to get officials' "attention so they would understand what was going on." The Ravens' coach objected to a Pats subbing pattern designed to keep his team off balance.

More importantly, the half-dozen I queried supported a long-term effort to streamline and simplify the rule book -- a project headed by NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent.

"I'm all for making the rule book more coach-friendly and more user friendly," O'Brien said. "... I don't even know the challenge rules. I mean, I should. I kind of know them, but the referees will come over. They do a great job. They won't [let you make a mistake]. They're good about that, and they'll come over and say, you can challenge this, you can't challenge that. But I just think that we're all in the business of trying to get it right. If we can just get to a system where we're all on the same page with that goal, I think that will help our league and it will help the officials.

"I think the officials in this league do a really good job," he added. "I really enjoy working with the officials. But I don't know how they do it. My wife is a lawyer, and I can remember her studying for the bar, and I would equate [learning NFL rules] to studying for the bar."

The nature of football makes some complexity unavoidable, according to Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. When I mentioned Vincent's project, Tomlin smiled and said: "Good luck with that."

Tomlin added: "I think we all search for clarity and simplicity, but I don't know that that describes our game in today's time, particularly with the inclusion of some of the technological advances that have become very much part of our game. I think what we're looking for is clarity and as much as we can find that, I think that's what we aspire to. I don't know that that ends up with simplicity, and that's just the reality of it."

Tomlin said he started studying the rule book in 2001, his first year as an NFL assistant coach.

"It's been a 15-, 16-year journey for me to gain a real understanding," he said. "I'm not going to pretend that I know every crevice of the rule book. We were talking in the coaches' meeting here the other day, and the reality is that we continually have discussions during the course of games about the specifics of the rules. It's difficult to have a detailed understanding of it at all times."

Indeed, O'Brien and Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak all joined Tomlin in saying they routinely ask officials for rule clarifications during games. Occasionally, of course, even the referee must hustle to keep up.

"The officials have the tough job," Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They're asked to do more and more every single year with the nuance. That's why anything we can do to keep it simpler for them, make it easier for them to identify formations and things like that, so they can do their job effectively and carry out their responsibilities, would be helpful. I know the officials want that. We should never be trying to make their job tougher."

Harbaugh's team fell victim to an unusual implementation of rules in the AFC divisional playoffs; the New England Patriots had an eligible player report as ineligible to confuse the Ravens' coverage assignments. Referee Bill Vinovich handled the twist the best he could, as we discussed at the time, but ultimately Harbaugh took a penalty to stop the game and draw Vinovich to the sideline for further discussion.

The Patriots' Bill Belichick isn't the only coach to dip into the nuances of the rule book for a potential competitive advantage. In 2008, then-Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt called for a "fair catch kick" in a game against the New York Giants.

Stay with me for a moment: If a team executes a fair catch, Rule 11, Section 4, Article 3 provides the option to attempt a free kick immediately afterward. The arrangement of players looks roughly like a kickoff with the exception of the holder. Because the defense is not on the line of scrimmage, the place-kicker presumably can line up a lower and longer kick.

Neil Rackers' 68-yard attempt was short, but there was no harm done as the half expired.

"When you're around it a long time, you understand some of the rules," said Whisenhunt, now the Tennessee Titans' coach. "There is always going to be something that comes up. Like the free kick. There's a lot of people that don't understand what a free kick is. It's a very seldom-used rule. We used it once in Arizona when I was there. Things like that are going to come up. You learn as you're in it, I guess."

Based on what Vincent has said, reorganizing NFL rules is a multiyear project. But when successful coaches acknowledge their own limited grasp of them, well, it seems pretty important. Kubiak has been an NFL player or coach for 32 years. His response to Vincent's idea? "I think it's a great idea."

Our latest calculations here at ESPN show the New York Giants with $9,296,988 in salary cap space for 2015. That gives them more than enough room to sign their draft picks (they'll likely need between $3.5 million and $4 million to do that) and still add a free-agent safety and offensive lineman if they find ones they like.

More than that, though, it gives the Giants leverage in their potential long-term contract negotiations with key players Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara, each of whom is only signed through 2015.

The Giants have reached this point in the offseason with plenty of cap space in spite of having two players -- Manning and Pierre-Paul -- whose cap hits project in the top 20 league-wide. Manning's $19.75 million cap hit would be the sixth-highest in the league at this point, while Pierre-Paul's $14.813 million number would rank No. 20. Amukamara's one-year salary of $6.898 million equates to his cap hit.

The Giants could lower any of those numbers by extending those players' contracts beyond 2015, but to this point they've found no reason to do so. They franchised Pierre-Paul because they wanted to see one more year of health and consistent production before committing to him long term. They consider Amukamara's salary more than reasonable for a starting cornerback and want to see him healthy as well before making the long-term commitment. And as we discussed Sunday night here, they don't feel the need to do Manning's extension at this point unless they trip over a sudden and unexpected need for more cap room or unless he comes to them willing to discuss a deal closer to their preferred price than his.

And that's the key here. Because there's no one left on the market worthy of a major cap space commitment, the Giants have no pressing need to do these deals at the high-end prices the players would command and can wait to see how they perform in 2015 before making their long-term decisions about them. Should one or more of them come to the Giants with a reduced demand, the Giants surely would engage in dialogue and possibly get a deal done. But because they have more than enough cap room with which to operate the rest of their offseason, the Giants have some degree of leverage in their ongoing discussions with these players.

 

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ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano discusses New York Giants owner John Mara's comments about when the NFL might expand the playoffs.

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