No team in the NFC East had a winning record last season. I anticipate it will still be the worst division in the NFL next season, but I do expect it to be better than it was in 2020. When I look at all four teams, they all are in a position to perform better than they did in 2020.
Here’s a preview of what lies ahead during the offseason for the NFC East:
Estimated Cap Space: $22.4M
Draft Picks: 10 (Rd 1), 44 (Rd 2), 75 (Rd 3), 106 (Rd 4), 168 (Rd 6), 202 (Rd 7)
Needs: DE, IDL, IOL, CB
The biggest question with the Cowboys is still the uncertainty with Dak Prescott (played 31.41% of team’s snaps in 2020). Dallas will try to do a long-term deal, but I have my doubts on whether it will get done this offseason or next. Without agreeing to a deal, Prescott will cost Dallas $37.7 million in cash and cap on his second franchise tag. They really need to address that so they can start planning their cap both short-term and long-term.
Beyond that, they need to continue to add talent on defense and hope Dan Quinn is the right hire as defensive coordinator. I know his philosophies, and it is vital in his scheme they have a dominant defensive line. I expect a massive defensive orientation in both the draft and free agency to help solve that problem. They brought in Dontari Poe (24.1%) and Gerald McCoy (did not play) last offseason before quickly moving on from both of them. They also have Aldon Smith (68.95%) and Tyrone Crawford (38.45%) as free agents. They really need some other people to help fill that void opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. This is totally consistent with their history of relying on older players on short-term deals along the defensive line. I think it is one of the main factors to why they have underperformed on defense for a number of seasons.
Dallas should prioritize the D-line but they need help at almost all levels, with CB Chidobe Awuzie (38.63%), CB Jourdan Lewis (70.22%) and S Xavier Woods (84.12%) hitting free agency. With no incentive for a player to do a long-term deal, it might be hard for them to sign a guy like Awuzie. He will have plenty of leverage against Dallas. Unless the deal is absolutely irrefutable, I do not advise any player to do long-term deals right now.
On offense, they have made a large number of moves to improve their weapons around Prescott, while their offensive line has begun to age significantly. Teams that under-achieve almost always have great weapons while having lesser offensive and defensive lines. For me, that has been the Cowboys’ story dating back a number of years.
This offseason, to me, their plan is simple: Get Prescott signed and then do everything in your power to improve your offensive and defensive lines so you can best utilize your weapons against the best teams in the league.
Fifth-Year Option Decision: Leighton Vander Esch (41.52%)
I would not give it to him. I like the player and would try to keep him, but giving him a large amount of money needs to be tied to him staying healthy. I am not a proponent of paying linebackers top dollar, but he makes a very compelling difference when he is on the field. With his health status, I just think that is too large an amount of guaranteed money. I do believe the Cowboys will exercise his option for 2022, but I would have serious concerns with that.
New York Giants
Estimated Cap Space: $3.9M
Draft Picks: 11 (Rd 1), 42 (Rd 2), 76 (Rd 3), 107 (Rd 4), 172 (Rd 6), 177 (Rd 6)
Needs: DE, OT, CB, IOL
The Giants are almost the opposite of the Cowboys, because they have put significant capital into getting talented offensive and defensive linemen the past couple drafts, but they have not gotten to a comfortable spot yet. I still think that should be their focus, beginning with Leonard Williams (67.34%). They cannot let him leave via free agency. Even applying a second tag only delays his free agency and would mean the Giants paid him over $35 million in guaranteed money with no assurances beyond 2021. Once they fill that hole and add an edge pass rusher, they can begin to start upgrading some of their secondary positions, especially at corner.
On offense, they have done a good job of finding receivers in the draft with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. They should move on from WR Golden Tate (41.86%), which saves them over $14.5 million over two seasons. TE Evan Engram (78.28%) is interesting, because he is only due $6 million, which is relatively low, but the player has not lived up to a first-round pick. I would probably keep him this year, but I would worry about him being a part of my long-term future.
Their offensive line remains a question. If Nate Solder (Opt Out) and RG Kevin Zeitler (93.09%) were younger and more productive, they would really be in a good spot to start developing a better line. They drafted LT Andrew Thomas (90.62%) in the top five last year, and he really started to develop toward the end of the year. They should continue to throw darts at the o-line and hope they can hit on a few in free agency or the draft.
Fifth-Year Option Decision: Saquon Barkley (6.61%)
Once they committed that high of a draft pick on him, they committed themselves to him for at least five years. I also think they will spend big money to extend him, but I do not know if that will be the right decision. That is no disrespect to the player, because I think he is more talented than some of the other running backs drafted that high, but health has already been a problem for him. That does not take away from the fact that he still has the opportunity to be a very special player.
Estimated Cap Space: ($40.4M)
Draft Picks: 6 (Rd 1), 37 (Rd 2), 70 (Rd 3), 85 (Rd 3), 134 (Rd 5), 140 (Rd 5), 165 (Rd 6), 198 (Rd 7)
Needs: WR, OL, DE, LB, QB
The Eagles are a team with some upside that could have some “surprise” potential. Not that I expect them to be a juggernaut, but I expect improvement after a 4-11-1 season. They are still in a position to have a very good defensive line, but do have holes to fill elsewhere. On offense, they have a very old offensive line, but if they were lucky enough to have them all stay healthy, they could have a decent offense. Obviously, Jalen Hurts is a question mark and depth at receiver is a question mark. If the o-line stays healthy, there should be enough creative things they can do with Hurts, even if you have doubts about his ability. RB Miles Sanders (53.27%) and TE Dallas Goedert (53.45%) are excellent weapons when they are on the field. I actually think they will have a decent offense if they can all stay healthy and Hurts is at least solid. I think part of the reason for having the better of the two draft picks they got from Indy be next year’s draft was to give Hurts one year as the unquestioned starter. If he is not the answer, they will have extra capital to address the quarterback next offseason.
An interesting guy on offense to monitor is C Jason Kelce (99.56), who has taken undervalued deals for a long time. He has thought about retirement in the past, and they need to save money. I think the most likely outcome is they redo his contract to lower his cap for 2021. He is only due $5.5 million and already has over $10 million pushed out. I do expect him back but under a different contract.
On defense, they will always have a chance to overachieve because their defensive line has the ability to dominate at times. I would bring back DE Derek Barnett (48.55%) on his $10 million fifth-year option. I would also bring back DE Brandon Graham (68.78%) if we were able to agree to an extension or if he agrees to a paycut. I would have serious concerns about bringing him back for one more season while paying him $13 million. He also has a current dead cap of $17 million, so a resolution might not occur until June 1. In my opinion, he is a good leader and they need to keep some of those guys around while focusing on getting younger and faster.
In the back-end, S Jalen Mills (91.92%) is a free agent. His biggest supporter has been defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, so I think it is time for both parties to move on. I expect the Eagles to be significant players in the low-end, second-tier linebacker and safety markets. They will not invest a lot of capital there, but whether that is mid-round draft picks, cheap free agents or an abundance of undrafted free agents, that is something they will certainly look to address.
The final storylines for the Eagles this offseason are a couple potential extensions. I think with Zach Ertz likely out the door, an extension for Dallas Goedert will happen eventually. I think OT Jordan Mailata (64.87%) might get an extension as well if he continues to show progression through the offseason. Their philosophy has always been to extend guys early before they hit their peak, and I suspect these two could be next in line for that.
Overall, I think Philadelphia has a chance to be better than people expect coming off of four wins with cap problems. That is not to underestimate how many holes they need to fill to be a legit contender again.
Washington Football Team
Estimated Cap Space: $41.3M
Draft Picks: 19 (Rd 1), 51 (Rd 2), 74 (Rd 3), 83 (Rd 3), 115 (Rd 4), 147 (Rd 5), 209 (Rd 7), 211 (Rd 7)
Needs: QB, OL, WR, CB
If they had a quarterback, they are on the verge of being a really competitive team, but I do not believe that guy is on the roster. They have guys that can be okay in short stretches, but they continue to lack a long-term solution at the position. I think they were active in the Matthew Stafford talks. They probably assumed they were out on Carson Wentz, being in the same division, but they should continue trying to be active to find that answer. Right now, I think the best start to that is to eat the $8.6 million in dead cap and cut QB Alex Smith (42.15%), despite his tremendous story. This would save them $40 million over this year and next.
On the other side of the ball, Washington has a good enough defensive line to be a really good team. I think they believe they have a good enough offensive line, although I still think they need to make significant upgrades. RG Brandon Scherff (78.7%) is a free agent, and I would let him go, despite what I am saying. He is likely to cost them $15-17 million annually, and I just do not think the player warrants that. I think they can replace him with someone good enough to win and use that money elsewhere to upgrade other positions.
As the draft approaches,they need to address whether or not they can trade up from 19 and get a quarterback. They are probably capped at about where they ended up last year unless they do something meaningful there. They need to really study the potential first-round guys and see what it would take to move up. If I could, that is what I would be doing.
Fifth-Year Option Decision: Da’Ron Payne (84.31%)
In addition to Jonathan Allen (77.42%), who is entering his final season under contract, Washington also has a decision with Payne’s guaranteed fifth-year option. I think both guys should be extended long-term. This is how you build winning teams — get a dominant defensive line. They cannot afford to lose good, young guys like that. Paired next to Chase Young, they could have a really compelling defensive line for years to come.