The poor, poor NFC East. Nobody takes it seriously these days. Gone is the NFC Beast moniker. Aside from the AFC South, it’s likely the worst division in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys dominated the division last season, going 6-0 on their way to a 12-5 record. The Philadelphia Eagles were a 9-8 wild-card team under first-year coach Nick Sirianni. The Washington Commanders faded to a 7-10 record and the New York Giants, well, stunk with a 4-13 finish.
The Giants flushed out their coaching staff and front office and hope new coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen can do in the Meadowlands what they helped build in Buffalo. Washington traded for QB Carson Wentz and is hoping the defense returns to form with the return to health of pass-rusher Chase Young. The Eagles are building around QB Jalen Hurts on offense and hope to coax more out of the defense. Coach Mike McCarthy is seemingly entering a win-or-else third season with the Cowboys, and by win we mean do more than just get to the playoffs.
With the first-wave of free agency over and the draft approaching fast — the Giants and Eagles each have two first-round picks — NFL Nation reporters Tim McManus (Eagles), Jordan Raanan (Giants), John Keim (Commanders) and Todd Archer (Cowboys) offers up a discussion on where things stand in the division.
Biggest offseason move: Is it cheating to say keeping DeMarcus Lawrence? I don’t think so. If the defensive lineman didn’t agree to a re-worked contract, he was likely going to be cut in June. Instead he got a deal that includes $30 million guaranteed. He is a vital part of the defense because of his overall play, but the Cowboys want to see him increase his sack total. It’s been three years since he reached double digits.
Cowboys are better, worse or the same entering the draft? Definitely not better or the same, but it’s not clear how much worse they are even after losing receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, pass-rusher Randy Gregory and guard Connor Williams. The Cowboys did not believe Cooper was a $20 million receiver and opted to move on. The group isn’t better without Cooper, so by extension the offense is not better. Now, if they add a receiver in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL draft (April 28-30, ESPN), maybe they are closer to the same. Have they replaced Gregory with free agent-signee Dante Fowler Jr.? They need offensive line help. There are still plenty of questions.
Best guess at first-round pick: Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green. The decision was between him and Boston College guard Zion Johnson. The Cowboys lost Williams in free agency to the Dolphins and have not added a free agent who could be considered a starter. The offensive line is a must-add position. Green and Johnson have some flexibility, and each would be an immediate starter at left guard.
Cowboys win the division if… the defense makes a second-year jump under coordinator Dan Quinn and the offense regains the form it had before quarterback Dak Prescott’s calf injury last season. The Cowboys will enter as the NFC East favorite, which might not be saying much, but it should be noted that no team has repeated as division champion since 2004. The Cowboys dominated the division a year ago with an average margin of victory of 22.2 points . While the gap might be closed to a degree, it’s not enough for another team to take over the top spot at the moment.
Tim Hasselbeck and Bart Scott have different views on how much of the blame should be placed on Daniel Jones for the Giants’ woes.
Biggest offseason move: Looking around this division, there wasn’t a great influx of talent. The Giants’ top move was to sign serviceable starting guard Mark Glowinski. Usually, that would be the third or fourth best addition in an offseason, but they were dealing with salary-cap restraints and had to shop on the cheap. So Glowinski, who almost lost his starting job last season with the Colts, is the new regime’s biggest addition to date. Sure the bar is low, but at least he’s a proven starting-caliber guard. They needed that.
Giants are better, worse or the same entering the draft? Gone are defensive backs Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers, tight end Evan Engram and linebacker Lorenzo Carter. Top cornerback James Bradberry could be next. How is it possible the Giants aren’t worse at this point? The plan from the start was for their biggest additions to come from the draft. We know now that will be the case. Two top-10 picks will make them better. In the meantime, this roster is worse than the 4-13 version that started last season, and perhaps the worst it has been in this century.
Best guess at first-round picks: Alabama OT Evan Neal and Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. It’s going to be an offensive tackle (someone to play on the right side) at No. 5 assuming Neal or NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu is still available. Working on the premise here that Ekwonu goes first and Neal is available makes it an easy decision for Schoen. Gardner is the cleanest cornerback in the draft. He plays a premium position, fits coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s man-coverage schemes and it’s probably not a coincidence that Schoen made it to Cincinnati’s pro day.
Giants win the division if… all the other teams quit on the season. Really, something crazy would need to happen for these Giants to win the NFC East. Their roster is weak and they are going to be relying heavily on rookies. Not ideal. In addition, running back Saquon Barkley would need to play like he did pre-injury as a rookie, quarterback Daniel Jones needs a Josh Allen-like jump and most of Barkley, Jones and receivers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard must remain healthy . That seems to be asking a lot.
Biggest offseason move: They made one splash move with the signing of edge rusher Haason Reddick to a three-year, $45 million deal. He’s had 23.5 sacks over the past two years and will level-up a pass-rushing group that finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks last season (29). And he will make defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s scheme more dynamic. Expect more odd fronts, with Reddick rushing from all over, including as a stand-up rusher from the strongside linebacker post.
Eagles are better, worse or the same entering the draft? Better. They added Reddick, linebacker Kyzir White and receiver Zach Pascal, and re-signed defensive end Derek Barnett, safety Anthony Harris, running back Boston Scott, receiver Greg Ward and defensive back Andre Chachere. Only one of their free agents, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, has signed elsewhere to this point (49ers). The Eagles did a good job of locking up key players from the 2018 draft (TE Dallas Goedert, CB Avonte Maddox, DE Josh Sweat and OT Jordan Mailata) before they hit free agency.
Best guess at first-round picks: Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt (15th overall) and LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. (18th overall). The Eagles build from the inside-out, and should have some gifted defensive linemen fall to them at No. 15, whether it’s an edge rusher like Jermaine Johnson II or one of the studs Georgia tackles (Wyatt and Jordan Davis). They still have holes at safety and corner, and general manager Howie Roseman has been slow to plug them in free agency. He could see some attractive options in the first round, including Stingley and Washington CB Trent McDuffie.
Eagles win the division if… the old guard can stand strong for one more year. The remaining key pieces from the 2017 team that won the Super Bowl had mixed results last season. Center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson stayed relatively healthy and played at a high level. However, defensive end Brandon Graham ruptured his Achilles early in the season and standout defensive tackle Fletcher Cox never found his dominant form. In order for Hurts to remain upright, and for the Eagles to build on their playoff appearance from a year ago, they need meaningful contributions from their veterans.
Dan Orlovsky reacts to Carson Wentz being traded from the Colts to the Commanders.
Biggest offseason move: They needed a quarterback, they added a quarterback. Wentz’s value will continue to be debated. Was it worth the cost? Why has he been traded twice in a year? Can he once again play like a possible NFL MVP? All fair. But there is no debate he’s an upgrade in Washington, which owns the NFL’s lowest combined total QBR over the past four seasons. Wentz provides a strong arm, allowing Washington to use more of the field in the passing game. Taylor Heinicke deserves plaudits for how he played — he adds value as a backup — but they have long wanted to upgrade the position. Wentz has to prove he’s the long-term solution, but in the short term he should help.
Commanders are better, worse or the same entering the draft? Slightly better because of Wentz. Again, he has a lot to prove, but Washington now might have the second best quarterback in this division. That matters. If others — notably Young, receiver Curtis Samuel and tight end Logan Thomas — are healthy after missing most of last season then that makes them better. Young’s production will be key for the defense. However, losing guard Brandon Scherff, even if not surprising, hurts the offensive line and they have lost depth along the defensive line. They also need to replace hybrid safety/linebacker Landon Collins, who played their all-important Buffalo nickel role — a package they used more than half the time last season.
Best guess at first-round pick: So much depends on whether two quarterbacks get picked in the top 10. If that happens, then a couple players will fall to No. 11 that Washington would love. Safety Kyle Hamilton would be a terrific choice if that happened. He would help fill their Buffalo nickel role. They also could use a receiver and two could go in the top 10, leaving Chris Olave there at 11.
Commanders win the division if … Wentz plays at a solid level and Young, coming off a torn ACL, returns to the form he showed at the end of his rookie season. They also have to hope Dallas takes a step back and that the Eagles don’t ascend after a surprising playoff season, armed with good draft capital. The Commanders played without a number of players expected to be key parts down the stretch last season, so if they have relatively good health, it greatly increases their chances.