PHILADELPHIA -- The news about the LeSean McCoy trade was the final puzzle piece, the one that completed the picture.

The report from ESPN's Adam Schefter said that the Eagles were trading McCoy, their Pro Bowl running back, to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. It would be a blockbuster deal at any time. But on Tuesday, it was the last block on the top of the pyramid.

Earlier in the day, the Eagles announced the release of veteran cornerback Cary Williams. A few hours after that, news broke that outside linebacker Trent Cole was being released. Cole was the longest tenured player on the Eagles, as well as the franchise's No. 2 player in career sacks. Only Hall of Famer Reggie White got to more quarterbacks than Cole as an Eagle.

So what was happening? It seemed like chaos, but there is order in all the transactions, going back to the announcement on New Year's Eve that head coach Chip Kelly would have final say on all personnel decisions.

Kelly came to Philadelphia from the University of Oregon two years ago. For his first season, and most of his second, Kelly was content to coach the players he inherited. He didn't make finding his franchise quarterback a priority; he simply went ahead with Michael Vick and Nick Foles. He didn't jettison the veteran defenders with experience in the Eagles' 4-3 scheme. He had guys like Trent Cole and Brandon Graham change positions for the Eagles' new 3-4 defense.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesChip Kelly now has final say on all of the Eagles personnel decisions, and on Tuesday news emerged that the team was parting ways with cornerback Cary Williams, outside linebacker Trent Cole and running back LeSean McCoy.
Now we know that was not Kelly's grand plan. That was Kelly getting a feel for the NFL after a career spent in the college game. That was Kelly assessing what he had and what he would need going forward. That was Kelly waiting until he was ready to jump-start his program.

He's ready.

The first tentative sign came right after the season, when Kelly was granted full control of personnel decisions. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie gave Kelly that power at the expense of general manager Howie Roseman. It seemed like a typical NFL power struggle, pretty much like the one former coach Andy Reid won a decade earlier to gain personnel control.

But in the past few days, the picture has become much more complete. Kelly isn't just kicking back in his big office chair. He's remaking the Eagles' roster in the image that has formed in his mind.

The first big domino to fall was guard Todd Herremans, a 10-year veteran who helped McCoy lead the NFL in rushing in 2013. But Herremans missed half of 2014 with a torn biceps and was going to be pretty expensive in 2015. Kelly released Herremans on Friday.

On Tuesday, it was Cole, a player who willingly made the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. ESPN's Adam Caplan reported Tuesday afternoon that Cole would be released as soon as Wednesday.

A little earlier, cornerback Cary Williams was released after starting all 33 games in his two years with the Eagles. That includes last year's playoff game against New Orleans.

And then came the bombshell, Schefter's report that McCoy was out. That marked the second year in a row that Kelly stunned fans by getting rid of one of the team's offensive stars. Last year's release of wide receiver DeSean Jackson could be spun as Kelly looking to move on from a player who was a poor fit for the culture he was trying to establish.

But McCoy? He is 26 years old, one season removed from leading the NFL in rushing. Yes, McCoy's rushing yardage dropped from 1,607 yards in 2013 to 1,319 in 2014, but surely that had more to do with the injuries that threw the offensive line into chaos. Kelly certainly seemed to respect McCoy's game, especially considering the number of carries (626) he gave him over their two years together.

The decision to move McCoy accomplishes a couple of things.

Obviously, the first thing it does is bring Alonso to Philadelphia. An inside linebacker who played for Kelly at Oregon, Alonso will partner with Mychal Kendricks to give the Eagles a dynamic pair on the inside. That probably means the end of the road for DeMeco Ryans, who tore his Achilles tendon halfway through the 2014 season.

The trade also removes McCoy's $11.95 million number from the Eagles' salary cap. Kelly's outlook was summarized by Herremans in a radio interview Monday. Herremans said basically that Kelly prioritizes the quarterback and the offensive line.

"Other than that," Herremans told 97.5 The Fanatic, "I think that Kelly feels like he can kind of -- you know, the system will take care of it."

In other words, McCoy's great 2013 and very good 2014 were, in Kelly's view, reflections of his offensive system. That system will be successful with other running backs, all of whom will cost less than the $11.95 million McCoy was going to count against the Eagles' salary cap.

In the span of a week, Kelly has removed the two longest-tenured players, Cole and Herremans, from the Eagles' locker room. He has cut ties with Williams and James Casey, two free agents signed in Kelly's first, hurried offseason. And he has traded away McCoy, the Eagles' all-time leading rusher.

This part was easy, if shocking. The much harder part is building a better team from what is left behind. Kelly surely has a plan for that.

After all this, the widely held belief that he covets Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota seems even more reasonable. If you're trying to win in 2015, you keep McCoy. If you're going to build around a franchise quarterback, then you're better off moving on from a running back who won't be around when that quarterback is ready to win.

With all of these moves, Kelly has left himself with almost $50 million in salary-cap space. That's enough to be very active in free agency.

Kelly has taken full control of the Eagles. With that, he has the freedom to do things his way. But with that also comes some pressure. For good or bad, the Eagles are Chip Kelly's team now.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles have made moves to give themselves about $33 million in space under the 2015 NFL salary cap.

That’s a good thing, because the Eagles have also put themselves in position to fill a lot of holes in free agency.

The release of cornerback Cary Williams on Tuesday, along with the departures of guard Todd Herremans and tight end James Casey last week, subtracted $13.3 million from the Eagles’ 2015 salary cap. Williams’ release cleared about half of that, or $6.5 million. Casey’s release cleared $4 million, and the release of Herremans cleared $2.8 million.

But releasing Williams creates an urgency for the Eagles to add some defensive backs in free agency. With cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen already due to become free agents, the Eagles need three new starters in their secondary.

Williams’ release leaves the Eagles with only Nolan Carroll, slot cornerback Brandon Boykin, and 2015 fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins at cornerback. Starting safety Malcolm Jenkins returns, as do special teamers Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski, and last year’s sixth-round pick, Ed Reynolds.

There is always the draft, of course. Several mock drafts have had the Eagles selecting a cornerback -- Washington’s Marcus Peters is often mentioned -- or a safety such as Alabama’s Landon Collins in the first round.

But it is a big step from college to the NFL for many defensive backs. If the Eagles hope to improve their secondary immediately, then free agency seems like a safer approach.

The Eagles also created a hole in their starting offensive line with the release of Herremans. They have some in-house candidates. Andrew Gardner, Allen Barbre, and Matt Tobin all started games in 2014. But none really distinguished himself as a potential upgrade from Herremans. That might require a draft pick.

There isn’t any urgency to replace Casey. He found his playing time reduced because of the emergence of second-round 2013 pick Zach Ertz. Casey excelled on special teams, however. Trey Burton, who had a strong rookie season on special teams, can fill in at tight end if needed.
IRVING, Texas -- With the news that the Dallas Cowboys have reached an agreement with Cole Beasley on a four-year deal comes the natural wondering why they have not been able to strike deals for Dez Bryant or DeMarco Murray.

Beasley's deal and the contracts for Bryant and Murray will be in far different neighborhoods.

Beasley's cap figure for 2015 is likely less than $2 million based on the $4 million signing bonus and how the Cowboys have structured deals in the past with the first-year base salaries being at or close to the NFL minimum. Once the contract numbers are filed, we'll know for sure.

The $7 million guaranteed for Beasley in the deal will be less than what Bryant and Murray will get in total compensation in the first year of their deals. As it stands right now, Bryant will make $12.82 million on the franchise tag in 2015. His guaranteed money should be more than $30 million. Murray is likely looking at a guarantee in the $20 million neighborhood.

Beasley's $3.4 million average is higher than some might have expected, but slot receivers are a valuable commodity. It is a mismatch game and Beasley, despite his size (5-8, 180 pounds) is a mismatch player. His quickness and field awareness make him difficult for slot corners to cover. Orlando Scandrick is one of the better slot corners in the NFL and he has trouble with Beasley at times.

In the past two seasons, Beasley has 76 catches and six touchdowns. His production rose toward the end of the 2014 season to where Tony Romo was looking at him and Jason Witten more than he was Bryant and Terrance Williams with how defenses were taking guarding the outside receivers.

The Cowboys could have put the low tender on Beasley as a restricted free agent for roughly $1.5 million and run the risk of a team making an offer they could not match. They would not have received compensation in return either because Beasley was an undrafted free agent. They could have put the second-round tender on Beasley for about $2.4 million, which would have guaranteed no team would have made a play for him.

But that would have eaten up more cap space in 2015, and that would have hurt the Cowboys' bid to keep Murray but had no impact on Bryant.

Every dollar counts in the salary cap.

Beasley got his piece of the puzzle and has earned it. But there is still room for bigger pieces, like Murray, that the Cowboys can fit into their puzzle.
PHILADELPHIA – If the Eagles can’t – or won’t – keep running back LeSean McCoy at his 2015 salary cap number then it begs the question: Why did Eagles owner Jeff Lurie keep Howie Roseman in charge of the cap and contract negotiations?

Roseman was the general manager in 2012, when the Eagles agreed to a new five-year, $45-million contract with McCoy. The deal included a signing bonus of $8.5 million and a total of $20 million guaranteed. The last of that guaranteed money is $1 million of McCoy’s 2015 salary of $9.75 million.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy, C.J. Spillman
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy is due a lot of money for 2015, but he has shown over the past two seasons that he deserves it.
That salary and McCoy’s cap number of $11.95 million have led to much speculation about whether McCoy is at risk to be released this month. McCoy himself has said he is willing to restructure his contract to lower the cap hit, but that he is not willing to take a reduction in salary.

And why should he? His agents and the Eagles negotiated this contract. This is the third year of a five-year deal. McCoy is just 26 years old and coming off the two most productive seasons of his career. A contract that would force a team to release a prime-of-his-career Pro Bowl player is, simply put, a terrible contract.

Coach Chip Kelly was not here when the McCoy deal was done. All Kelly has done in his two years in Philadelphia is hand the ball to McCoy 626 times and throw it to him 101 times (for 80 receptions). McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013. His numbers were down in 2014, but that had more to do with injuries to offensive linemen than anything McCoy did.

Kelly’s possible view was explained by guard Todd Herremans in an ESPN Radio appearance on 97.5 The Fanatic on Monday. Herremans’ explanation is all we have, given Kelly’s lack of media access.

“I think he values the quarterback position on his offense (the most),” Herremans said. “I think so. Well, the quarterback and the offensive line. Other than that, I think that he feels like he can kind of -- you know, the system will take care of it."

Kelly was certainly willing to trust his system to take care of the wide receiver position when he unceremoniously dumped DeSean Jackson last year. And it’s certainly true that Chris Polk has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the last two years, while Darren Sproles averaged 5.8 yards in his first season with the team.

But the bigger number is that 626. Kelly has given McCoy the ball over 300 times per season, while Polk carried the ball just 57 times in two years and Sproles’ workload was reduced during the 2014 season. That’s a pretty definitive statement that Kelly values McCoy.

The Eagles have no pressing salary cap issues, no tangible reason they should do anything except pay McCoy the money they themselves agreed to pay him in 2015. Certainly, if restructuring so that he gets money in the form of a bonus will help the team’s cap flexibility, that’s no problem. But if the Eagles should find themselves tempted to part ways with McCoy because of his contract, they probably should feel the same about the guy who gave him that contract.
[+] EnlargeRandy Gregory
AP Photo/Nati HarnikThe Redskins are in need of a dynamic rusher, and Nebraska's Randy Gregory seems to fit Washington's profile.
The Washington Redskins don't have to select a pass-rusher with the fifth pick. They might make a move in free agency that negates the need; they could trade down. But if they stay there, there will be some interesting choices.

Nebraska's Randy Gregory will be, and has been already, projected to the Redskins by any number of mock drafts. That could be cause for celebration -- and a little bit of crossing the fingers. Gregory is a freakish athlete; he's also someone who needs work to make his game fit in the NFL.

So says ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. Gregory's film supports Kiper's belief: In my write-up on him, it was clear he made athletic plays, but his strength is an issue, whether against the run or in beating his opponent in a pass rush where speed isn't working.

"Gregory has to get stronger," Kiper said. "He's more the developmental type. ...If he does, then you could be looking at a guy who can be a very good pass-rusher."

That word, developmental, could scare people. But with Gregory, there are things you can't teach or coach or improve. Like his athleticism and his length. Both are attributes of a (potentially) special pass-rusher.

It's often difficult for pass-rushers to make instant impacts, even if selected high in the draft. J.J. Watt is a dominant rusher now; he was drafted 11th overall and in his first year recorded 5.5 sacks -- and then 20.5 as a second-year player. Last year's No. 5 overall pick, Khalil Mack, had fantastic measurables (a 1.53 in the 10-yard split; anything under 1.6 is good) and showed good things as a rookie. He had just four sacks. St. Louis' Robert Quinn had five sacks as a rookie; two years later he had 19. Teams are trying to find guys who can make a long-term impact, not just an instant splash.

The trick is projecting who will develop into that special rusher. Which of the available pass-rushers could be that guy?

Gregory benched 225 pounds 24 times at the combine, an OK number. But Kiper said his film looked more like someone who benched that weight 15 times. In watching him, Gregory often had a tough time getting off blocks in the run game.

If the Redskins drafted him, they wouldn't necessarily need him as much in the run game with Trent Murphy available. Murphy played the run well, but lacks the explosiveness of any of the available-pass rushers in the first round. Gregory, though, likely would play a lot given how much nickel the Redskins are forced to play (partly because of the division).

However, they'd still have to cross their fingers and hope it pans out. Here's the thing: That's true of pretty much every player in the draft. The more players are scouted and watched, the more they're picked apart. The offensive tackles all have flaws as well -- some project more to guard. Nose tackle Danny Shelton has warts, too; there's concern about his inconsistent game film.

But with the pass-rushers, there is a choice. Florida's Dante Fowler, Jr., has the necessary size, but his game, too, is raw -- he has an explosive first step, but needs to learn how to react thereafter. For Gregory, it's about adding strength -- and staying explosive. Will that happen? It's a bet some team will make.

"Gregory's a great athlete," Kiper said. "Phenomenal athlete. He has the length; long arms. He could be spectacular in this league. He has to show he can be durable as well. He has enormous upside."
IRVING, Texas -- With the salary cap set at $143.28 million for 2015, the Dallas Cowboys officially have a cap of $148,298,313, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information.

That gives them $19.15 million in cap room, but that does not include the $12.823 million franchise tag tender for Dez Bryant.

So the closer number is $6.328 million in room, but that does not take into account possible restricted free-agent tenders or money to sign the draft picks.

But cap room is always a fungible number, to use a Jerry Jones term.

Fear not, the Cowboys still can create plenty of cap room by restructuring the contracts of left tackle Tyron Smith and quarterback Tony Romo, and they will gain room by either designating Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut or by agreeing to a re-worked deal with the cornerback that will lower his cap figure from $12.7 million.

The Cowboys would rather not create the maximum amount of room possible with a restructuring of Romo’s contract because of the dead money it will add to the deal down the road.

Also, if the Cowboys reach a deal with Bryant on a long-term contract, then his 2015 cap number would be lower than the franchise tag as well, creating more room.

The Cowboys want to re-sign several of their own free agents, starting with DeMarco Murray, however, the chances of reaching a deal before March 10 are slim. The Cowboys also have eyes on deals for Doug Free, Justin Durant, Rolando McClain and have to make decisions on restricted free agents, like Cole Beasley, who could receive a multi-year deal, Sterling Moore, Lance Dunbar and Chris Jones.

As for free agents outside the building, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on numerous occasions recently, “free agency is not the answer,” when it comes to building a roster because the value never equals the cost. (See Carr, Brandon.)

IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Dallas Cowboys have placed the franchise tag on Dez Bryant, what’s next?

One of Bryant’s agents, Tom Condon, laid out several possibilities without offering up which direction they will go while speaking on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday.

Unless Bryant signs the tender, which is worth $12.823 million, then he does not have to show up to anything. While extremely unlikely, Bryant could skip the first 10 games of the season, play the final six and still get an accrued season to his credit.

The offseason workout program is voluntary, as are the organized team activities. If Bryant does not sign the tender, he would not be required to show up for the mandatory June minicamp either, because he would not be under contract.

“There’s a lot of different options,” Condon said. “There’s a substantial number of moving parts.”

Condon was asked what his advice to Bryant will be.

“I probably shouldn’t disclose the plan, don’t you think?” he said.

Condon also wondered whether a team would be willing to give up two first-round draft picks for Bryant should the Cowboys not match an offer sheet.

“He’s a special player, so if you’re picking late in the first round, let’s say you’re in the last four, five picks of the first round and you know that Dez Bryant is a superstar, do you give up a very late pick in the first round this year and a very late pick in the round next year to ensure that you’re competing for the Super Bowl for the next several years?” Condon said. “That part of it is pretty interesting.”

The Cowboys did just that for Joey Galloway in 2000 after the Seattle Seahawks placed the franchise tag on the wide receiver. The Cowboys gave Galloway a seven-year, $42 million deal and the Seahawks turned those draft picks to select running back Shaun Alexander and Koren Robinson.

Galloway suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his first game, Troy Aikman retired after the season and the Cowboys went through three straight 5-11 finishes.

The Cowboys’ hope with Bryant is to sign him to a long-term deal by July 15. They had their first face-to-face meetings with Condon and Kim Miale last week with the promise of more discussions. At the NFL scouting combine, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he hopes the tag is a “placeholder” until a multiyear agreement is reached.

“The Cowboys have given us every indication that they don’t want to lose the player,” Condon said, “and that they value him very much.”
PHILADELPHIA -- We'll know in a few hours if the Philadelphia Eagles decide to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The deadline for tagging players is 4 p.m.

It says here that tagging Maclin would be a mistake inspired by previous mistakes -- hardly a good way to go about the business of running an NFL team. The Eagles have used the franchise tag a few times in the recent past. It has ended disastrously (Jeremiah Trotter, Corey Simon) or been a step toward working out a long-term contract (Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson -- neither of whom were around for the end of those contracts).

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAfter committing significant money and draft picks to the wide receiver corps last year, the Eagles would be hard-pressed to use the franchise tag on Jeremy Maclin.
But here’s where mistakes come in to play. If you make the argument that the Eagles need to tag Maclin just to keep him off the free-agent market while a new contract can be worked out, then you have to acknowledge that there already has been plenty of time to negotiate. If a deal is not done by now, that’s a failure by both sides -- the Eagles and Maclin’s camp -- to work out a fair contract.

If you make the argument that the Eagles can’t afford to risk losing Maclin, then you have to acknowledge that it was the Eagles, not Maclin, who created that situation. It was the Eagles who released Jackson a year ago, forcing Maclin into the No. 1 receiver role on a one-year contract. It was the Eagles who signed Riley Cooper to a five-year, $22.5 million contract, committing above-market resources to a below-market player.

And it was the Eagles who drafted Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in the second and third rounds of last year’s draft. Matthews, who caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, was a solid pick. For now, coach Chip Kelly seems to prefer using him as a slot receiver. That leaves Cooper penciled in as the other outside receiver opposite Maclin.

In the third round, Huff was probably a bit of a reach. Huff caught eight passes for 98 yards. The next two wide receivers taken in the third round: Indianapolis’ Donte Moncrief caught 32 passes for 444 yards and Arizona’s John Brown caught 48 passes for 696 yards. They both produced more as rookies for teams that finished with better records than the Eagles and went to the playoffs.

Yes, Huff also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. But the point is, if the Eagles’ wide receiving corps is limited after they devoted $22.5 million and two high draft picks on the position, that is the Eagles’ fault.

They can’t fix that situation by locking up Maclin for a nearly $13 million salary-cap hit for just one season.

To get things turned around, the Eagles need to start making good long-term decisions at wide receiver. That means working out a fair deal that compensates Maclin while maintaining cap flexibility for this year and beyond. The franchise tag can be a tool in that process, but it is not the best one. The Eagles’ misadventures with the franchise tag should have taught them that much.
The deadline for NFL teams to designate franchise players is 4 p.m. ET Monday. Barring a major last-second break in long-term contract negotiations, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is likely to be among the half-dozen or so players to receive that designation. We won't know the final franchise numbers until the 2015 salary cap is official, but based on all projections you can expect Pierre-Paul's one-year salary -- if he plays on the franchise tag -- to be about $15 million for 2015.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJason Pierre-Paul, who was drafted by the Giants in 2010, faces his first free-agent payday as the franchise deadline draws near.
Getting franchised today doesn't preclude Pierre-Paul from getting the long-term deal he seeks from the Giants. The two sides would still have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract. If they don't get something done by then, Pierre-Paul would play out the 2015 season on the franchise salary and then be eligible for free agency again this time next year, shortly after his 27th birthday. His 2016 franchise number, should the team decide to franchise him again, would be 120 percent of his 2015 salary, or about $18 million. That rule is designed to make it more difficult for teams to franchise players multiple times.

From what I have been told, Pierre-Paul is looking for a contract close to the top of the pass-rusher market. The deal Robert Quinn signed with the Rams last year averages about $14.2 million per year and came with about $15.6 million in guarantees. That's probably a good guideline as to where Pierre-Paul sees himself, and at this point the Giants aren't ready to commit to Pierre-Paul at that level. There are still legitimate health concerns, as Pierre-Paul's 2012 and 2013 seasons were severely affected by injuries. And while Pierre-Paul played all 16 games in 2014 and finished eighth in the league with 12.5 sacks, the Giants privately and publicly expressed concerns about the consistency of his production in the pass rush. Nine of his sacks came in the season's final five games.

So, assuming they can't get him to sign a long-term deal at their preferred price, letting him play one year on the franchise number isn't a bad way to go. It gives him a chance to put another year between himself and his health issues, and to demonstrate the week-to-week consistency they're asking from him. And at his very young age, a long-term contract signed this time next year would still include several prime seasons.

Also, they can afford to do this. The Giants have about $25 million in cap room right now, and this move would obviously eat up a large chunk of it. But they have the ability to increase their cap room with adjustments to the contracts of players such as Eli Manning, J.D. Walton, Jon Beason and Jameel McClain. They could save $3 million by releasing Walton, $2.858 million by releasing Beason and $3.1 million by releasing McClain, and they could save up to about $11 million if they extended Manning's contract beyond 2015.

It sounds crazy to say this about a team that's 13-19 over the past two seasons and has missed the playoffs three years in a row, but the Giants don't have a lot of big spending to do this offseason. The positions at which they need free-agent help aren't very costly ones. They need a right tackle or guard, a safety or two, a couple of rotation players at defensive end and defensive tackle, maybe one or two 4-3 outside linebackers and a change-of-pace running back. Tagging Pierre-Paul will use a lot of cap room, but he's by far the biggest-ticket item on their shopping list. They can absorb it.

The stickier question is how Pierre-Paul will take it. Sometimes, a player who has been looking ahead to his first big free-agent payday gets annoyed or upset about being franchised instead of signing the long-term deal of which he's been dreaming. Often, that player is annoyed enough to skip offseason workouts. Even the mandatory minicamp would not be mandatory for Pierre-Paul if he waited until after it ended to sign his franchise tender. So the biggest risk the Giants are running if they franchise Pierre-Paul is upsetting him.

But there's little-to-no risk of Pierre-Paul holding out into the regular season. Like almost everyone else who's ever been franchised, he'll eventually make his peace with the fact that this is the collectively bargained situation under which he and his fellow NFL players must operate. While the system is obviously slanted heavily in favor of the teams and not the players, a $15 million salary is a pretty sweet consolation prize. And there are worse things than being a 27-year-old free agent with two (or possibly three) double-digit sack seasons on your resume.

So there you have it. A full rundown of the situation most likely to unfold before 4 p.m. ET. Fundamentally, the Giants want Pierre-Paul on their team in 2015, and this appears to be the best way to make sure that happens. It doesn't ruin the chances of his spending his whole career with the Giants. It just delays the decision on that for at least a few more months and maybe one more year.
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys decided to release DeMarcus Ware last year, they left the negotiations on a new deal open with their all-time leader in sacks as he hit the market without ever making an offer.

They did not want to submit something Ware would sniff at and feel insulted.

A day later, Ware signed a three-year deal with the Denver Broncos that guaranteed him $20 million, which was a figure the Cowboys never would have come close to matching.

This year the Cowboys are preparing to let DeMarco Murray, their single-season rushing leader, hit the open market with the hope he allows for a chance to match an offer from another team.

Are the Cowboys unwilling to make an offer to Murray because they don’t want to offend the NFL’s reigning rushing champion, as they were with Ware last year?

It sure seems that way.

While owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine he has some flexibility in the parameters of a deal for Murray, it might not be close to what the running back can get on the open market.

There have not been detailed negotiations between the two sides, despite the publicly stated positions by the Cowboys and Murray that both sides want to continue the relationship for the long term. Coincidentally, Ware and Murray are represented by the same agency.

Murray has said money will not be the only factor in his decision. Winning will matter. The Indianapolis Colts went to the AFC Championship Game this past season and have more than $40 million in cap space. The Atlanta Falcons struggled badly last season but have a core in place that can turn things around quickly and have roughly $23 million in cap space available. The Arizona Cardinals can create enough cap space to make a deal for Murray more than possible.

And so can the Cowboys, even with the impending franchise tag of Dez Bryant.

The possible -- or impending -- departure of Murray will be about the Cowboys not wanting to spend big on a running back, not about a lack of salary-cap space.

Stephen Jones said at the combine that if Murray hits the market it would not preclude his return, in the same way Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek hit the market in the past but eventually returned.

It’s a risky strategy.

Murray will be under no requirement to offer the Cowboys a chance to match or come close to an offer before signing elsewhere.

And the Cowboys will be under no requirement to wait for Murray to bring them an offer. They will be able to peruse the free-agent market to find a potential replacement at a cheaper price.

It all makes you wonder if the Murray saga will end the same way as the Ware saga.

Thoughts on latest Redskins moves

February, 28, 2015
Feb 28
A little this and a lot of that:

  • A few days ago I thought the Washington Redskins would do something with defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield. Before signing defensive end Ricky Jean Francois I figured that would mean pay cuts and much lower cap figures. But after they signed Francois, it became clear that one had to go.
  • [+] EnlargeBarry Cofield
    AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherThe door is not closed on Barry Cofield's return to Washington.
    I’m a little surprised by Cofield’s release, but I was told there’s an injury issue so if that’s the case it makes sense to release him, see what happens with his health and possibly re-sign him later (like when they cut DeAngelo Hall two years ago). I was told the door was not closed on a possible return.
  • Cofield can still help, if healthy, as a versatile backup who can play end or nose tackle. But keep in mind that new general manager Scot McCloughan wants bigger bodies. Though Cofield was a little larger than his listed weight of 305 pounds, he was still a small nose tackle.
  • Durability was a big concern with coach Jay Gruden last year. It’s safe to say there was definite frustration with the number of players who missed time, especially those who had re-occurring injuries (Phillip Thomas, Jordan Reed, etc). Cofield had missed only one game in his first eight seasons so I don’t put him in the same category as some others. But he’ll be 31 later this month. If he played hurt last year and is dealing with some other injury, I’d definitely wait until the spring to see what happens with him.
  • Bowen was more limited with his play. He was fine down the stretch, but really didn’t show a lot of quickness so he would not have helped in the pass game and would have been just a backup end. At season’s end, though, Bowen was told he was part of their plans. But a change in defensive coaches and an $8.02 million cap hit have a way of changing things.
  • Bowen and Cofield’s release saves the Redskins a combined $9.62 million. Before the Francois signing, the Redskins had $16.7 million in available cap space. I don’t have Francois’ contract breakdown yet to know the initial impact on the cap.
  • McCloughan said at his opening news conference he would not want to spend big on free agents ages 30 or over (see: Hatcher, Jason). The same rule must apply to others as well. Hence, Friday's moves. I thought this group was too old last year and would need a lot of changes this offseason. So here we go. I’m not sure Francois is a sure-fire starter -- the Colts did not view him that way, that’s for sure. But he’s younger and can provide versatility.
  • The Redskins also re-signed offensive tackle Tom Compton. I do not have the numbers for his new deal yet, but I would imagine they’d make another move at this right tackle. Compton is a good guy to have because he can play both tackle spots. Also, Morgan Moses will lose a lot of his offseason development while recovering from his Lisfranc injury. Teammates viewed him as having a long way to go, so I would still put him in that project role for now.
  • There will be more moves, as there should be. I always thought there’d be up to 25 or so new faces this season. This is the purge that often takes place in the first year of a new coach’s regime. But the Redskins saved the bigger rebuilding for Year 2 under Jay Gruden. (The same was true when Mike Shanahan was here; they made bigger moves in the second year.)
  • I don’t know what the next moves are. I know Chris Chester’s name always gets mentioned because he’s in the last year of his contract and will count $4.8 million against the cap, which is a tough number to justify. It could still happen, but as of late Friday afternoon there had been no movement toward lowering that cap number.
  • Again, McCloughan likes bigger players so I could see making a move: Chester is only 303 pounds and just turned 32. Only one of the five linemen McCloughan drafted in San Francisco weighed less than 315 pounds. You’ll hear a lot about San Francisco guard Mike Iupati. (McCloughan was gone before the 49ers drafted him in 2010.) He will be costly and he will have choices. Doug Free is another name because of his ties to new line coach Bill Callahan. But my guess is there will be a lot of flying parts as they make over the roster. Also, Jay Gruden likes more of a power run game. Callahan is well-versed in both power and zone schemes, though they used more of the latter last season in Dallas.
  • It would be nice if the Redskins actually developed their own linemen for a change, something that has not been done in Washington for a long, long time. Rather than spend to replace Chester, if he’s not around, they could plug in last year’s third-rounder, Spencer Long. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
IRVING, Texas -- By 4 p.m. ET Monday, the Dallas Cowboys will likely place the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant.

It will mark just the fifth time the Cowboys have used the tag since its inception. Bryant will join Flozell Adams (2002), Ken Hamlin (2008) and Anthony Spencer, who was tagged in 2012 and '13, as the only Cowboys’ tagged. Hamlin never played under the tag having reached a six-year, $39 million deal.

During the 2014 season, Bryant said he would be “highly disappointed” if the Cowboys used the franchise tag. Players largely view the tag as a hindrance, not a financial boon. It effectively keeps them off the open market because other teams are unlikely to give up two first-round picks as compensation.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Elsa/Getty ImagesIf the Cowboys apply the franchise tag to Dez Bryant, they'll have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal.
They want the security of a long-term deal with heavy guaranteed money, but they have few options.

They can sit out the voluntary offseason program, skip the mandatory June minicamp, which would subject them to fines, or sit out of training camp and games in protest. But they won’t be getting paid.

Several executives asked at the NFL scouting combine said the player’s reaction to the tag is not weighed when making the decision. Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had a succinct answer when asked the questions: “Uh, no.”

“The player has no choice in the matter,” Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “It’s something that we agree on that’s been collectively bargained.”

As much as the players don’t like it, it’s not a tool teams enjoy using much because of the amount of cap space it eats up. While it will not prevent the Cowboys from being active in free agency, tagging Bryant would force them to move money around in ways that could hurt their cap in the future.

On a long-term deal, the player’s first-year cap number is relatively low.

“For some players there’s a negative reaction to it but that’s not the case with all players,” Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “For the team, it’s a tool to continue to try to keep good players.”

Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett said they would not be worried about Bryant’s reaction to the tag, even though there has been heavy speculation that Bryant will stay away from the team in the offseason without a long-term deal.

When the Cowboys tagged Spencer in 2012 and ‘13, he wasted little time in signing the tender.

“If you sign it right away, it’s automatically guaranteed,” Spencer’s Dallas-based agent, Jordan Woy said. “You can still negotiate to get a long-term deal. But I don’t see the benefit in not signing it because if I don’t sign it, it’s not guaranteed, No. 1. The team could take it away and if you wait too long other things can happen (like teams not having cap space). Or people could change their mind. I think it’s better signing it and having the guaranteed money sitting there.”

The likelihood of the Cowboys pulling the tender from Bryant, however, is slim. Another agent said for a player of Bryant’s caliber teams will always create cap space to get a deal done.

“I’ve never seen anybody just pout to the extent that they wouldn’t do it over this kind of money,” Jerry Jones said. “That usually is not realistic. It’s just too much money. And consequently it’s not set up or packaged the way that parties might want -- and I want to emphasize again – it’s not really set up in our best interest at all. There’s a much better way for our future and our cap this year if we didn’t franchise, but this is here when you don’t have your meeting of the minds about how you want to structure something long term. And so if anything it’s in the right situation, it’s a placeholder for addressing it as you move through the future.”

Spencer made $19.4 million in the two years he was tagged, and he played in just one game in 2013 because of a knee injury. Had he signed a longer-term deal, he might not have been able to make the same amount of money.

If the Cowboys are unable to reach a long-term deal on Bryant, then they could always use the franchise tag on him in 2016, which could bring his two-year total up to $28 million. And if they so desired, they could use it in 2017, according to league rules, and likely have to pay him the quarterback tender.

Perhaps Hamlin could serve as the template for the tagging of Bryant.

The Cowboys put the $4.396 million tag on Hamlin in 2008 but reached a six-year, $39 million deal in July that included a $9 million signing bonus. Hamlin, however, lasted just two more years. The Cowboys never got the value they were expecting.

Monday is the deadline to put the tag on Bryant, but the next deadline is July 15, which is when a long-term deal needs to be finalized or the receiver would play the year under the franchise tag.

By then we’ll know if the tag is a “placeholder,” or the deal.
PHILADELPHIA -- It’s that time of the year when the Philadelphia Eagles are getting their salary cap in order by releasing a few veterans and have a chance to scoop up some bargains as other teams do the same.

First, a quick assessment. The Eagles’ decision to release veteran guard Todd Herremans was cap-related, in that the team can use the $2.8 million in salary-cap space on another player. But the move was not forced by the salary cap. The Eagles were not forced to cut Herremans or tight end James Casey because they were over the cap or pressed against it.

According to ESPN’s Roster Management System, the Eagles currently have $26.4 million in salary cap space. That’s the 12th largest chunk of cap space in the NFL.

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Al Bello/Getty ImagesTodd Herremans struggled to stay on the field, missing 16 games in the last three seasons.
So the Eagles are not under any pressure to make a move regarding running back LeSean McCoy, whose $11.95 million cap value is the biggest number on the team. They may decide to restructure McCoy’s contract, paying him some portion of that money in a bonus rather than in salary. That would allow them to spread the payment out over several years. But there is nothing forcing the Eagles to reduce McCoy’s cap hit.

Likewise, the Eagles may restructure the contract of outside linebacker Trent Cole, whose salary-cap charge is $11.6 million. They don’t have to do so, but allotting more money in bonus and less in salary would free up more space for the team to use in free agency.

As for Herremans and Casey, the calculations were different. The team decided that Herremans’ performance, including injuries that have cost him 16 games in the last three seasons, wasn’t commensurate with the $4 million salary and $5.2 million cap hit he represented.

If the Eagles are going to spend that much for a right guard, they could sign a free agent they believe would be better. Or they could go with Allen Barbre or Matt Tobin at a much lower cap hit and allocate Herremans’ cap space at another position.

Same with Casey. When the Eagles signed him two years ago, they hadn’t yet drafted Zach Ertz. When they did draft Ertz, Casey’s role changed. He became a very good special-teams player, but caught only six passes in two seasons. That changed his value in dollars, as well. The Eagles can get that production from Trey Burton at a fraction of the cost.

So don’t be surprised if the Eagles take a shot at signing a player released by another team while trimming their own roster. They aren’t being forced to make cuts by the salary cap, although the salary cap is in mind with everything they’re doing.
IRVING, Texas -- The dilemma the Dallas Cowboys are facing in trying to re-sign DeMarco Murray is playing out at different spots across the league.

Over the past few days running backs such as DeAngelo Williams, Reggie Bush, Chris Johnson and Peyton Hillis have been released. Steven Jackson will officially be added to the list Friday.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsAt age 27, one has to wonder how many years of high-level production are remaining for DeMarco Murray.
Those names get added to the running back market in free agency, which gets added to a fairly decent crop of runners available, including a deep NFL draft class.

In the laws of supply and demand, there’s more supply, so the prices might be lower. Now, all it takes is for one team to make an extremely lucrative offer to alter the marketplace, but the Cowboys and any team looking for a running back will have to ask how much more will they get from a younger Murray coming off an incredible season than they would from one of these more veteran backs at a cheaper price.

And this doesn’t take into account whether Adrian Peterson will be available.

But the point of this post isn’t to make running back-to-running back comparisons between Murray and those backs. It’s to point out the nature of the position. When it ends, it ends.

In 2011, the Carolina Panthers signed Williams to a five-year, $43 million deal that included a $16 million bonus. In 2013 they extended his deal another two years, guaranteeing him more money while lowering his cap value.

Jackson signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons in 2013. The Detroit Lions signed Bush to a four-year, $16 million deal in 2013. They didn’t play out their contracts.

As I’ve said before with Murray, what will matter most will be the money in the first three years. At 27, it’s reasonable to expect he has another three years left in him to play at a high level. What’s not reasonable to expect is another 1,845-yard season because that had never been done before in franchise history.

What the Cowboys -- or any team that might sign Murray should he hit the open market -- can expect is three years of quality production. The design of the contract will be for more years and more money but that’s only for cap purposes to help the team and make the deal seem larger than it really is.

In reality, most free-agent deals are designed to be three years. After the third year, teams want to have a get out of jail free card, which means when they cut a player they create cap room. The Falcons will get $3.75 million in room from Jackson. The Lions gained $1.7 million by cutting Bush.

Wherever and whenever Murray signs, there will come a day when he will be like Jackson, Bush, Williams, Johnson and Hillis -- former stars with diminishing skills.

Todd Herremans tough to replace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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