The NFC East has been the most interesting and underachieving division as of late, so it’s only right to discuss who has the “upper hand” in this “toss up” of a division. A multitude of transactions have occurred in the division as teams have been jockeying back and forth for position atop the others. From Alfred Morris transferring to a division rival, to a GIANT spending spree going down in the Big Apple, there has been no shortage of storylines headed into the 2016 – 2017 NFL Season. Now that we are in the third full week of NFL Free Agency, it’s about that time to start piecing together each team’s acquisitions and get an idea of where they now stand in the division. Let’s dive straight in!
NFC East Free Agency Rankings
2015 – 2016 Record:
7 – 9 (second in the NFC East)
Signed wide receiver Reuben Randle to a one-year, $1.025 million contract
Signed quarterback Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million contract
Signed offensive lineman Brandon Brooks to a five-year, $40 million contract
Signed safety Rodney McLeod to a five-year, $37 million contact
Re-signed cornerback Nolan Carroll to a one-year, $2.36 million contract
Traded cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Kiko Alonso and a 2016 first round pick (13th) to Miami for the Dolphins first round pick (8th)
Traded Demarco Murray and a 2016 fourth round pick to Tennessee for their fourth round pick
Welcome to the post-Chip Kelly experiment, Philadelphia Eagles. This offseason has been focused solely on ridding the organization of any and all remnants left behind by former their former head coach. Now that Kelly is gone, new head coach Doug Pederson has a lot on his plate. The Eagles finished the 2015-2016 season with the 30th ranked defense in the NFL; Their pass defense was ranked 28th and their rush defense was dead last in the league.
Their answer? Jim. Schwartz.
By bringing in the former Lions head coach, Philly is placing their defensive woes into his hand. Schwartz is already planning on converting the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which should make a lot of members of that defensive line happy (Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham). This transition takes the former outside linebackers and moves them to defensive end (where they both have experience playing).
At defensive end, Barwin & Graham will operate more as pass rushers rushers and not have to worry so much about pass coverage responsibilities which is a huge weight lifted from their shoulders. Schwartz also has the huge task of strengthening their weak secondary. By bringing in safety Rodney McLeod to compliment Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins, offenses must now think twice when testing the Eagles through the air.
The Eagles also made a surprising addition to their receiving corps by signing Giants former number two receiver Reuben Randle. Randle, who had 57 receptions and eight touchdowns in 2015, will serve as an excellent help for $22-million-dollar man, quarterback Sam Bradford (Or whoever is starting at QB next year… Chase Daniel? Carson Wentz? Christian Hackenberg? Who knows?). With a defense searching for a new identity, a mediocre offense and a new coach at the helm, could this be the year the Eagles surpass everyone’s expectations and “fly” to the top of the division? No. Here’s why.
The Eagles are heading into a true rebuilding season. Having success the first year under a new head coach is always a tall order. The Eagles added some key pieces through free agency that helped them move in the right direction, but that’s about it. Below average quarterback play is not going to magically change with the addition of a wide receiver who didn’t even rank among the top 40 players in receptions during 2015.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the the weak left and right guard positions on that offensive line. The holes are bigger than free agency can fill right now for the Eagles. Offensive line play must improve. A true number one running back must emerge. An identity must be established amongst the offense, defense, heck, the whole team. The Eagles have an uphill battle from here on out. In no way, shape, or form has this free agency catapulted them even half way up the mountain of success.
New York Giants:
2015 – 2016 Record:
6 – 10 (3rd in the NFC East)
Signed defensive end Oliver Vernon to a five-year, $85 million contract
Signed cornerback Janoris Jenkins to a five-year, $62.5 million contract
Signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison to a five-year, $46.25 million contract
Signed linebacker Keenan Robinson to a one-year, $2.6 million contact
Resigned defensive end Jason Pierre Paul to a one-year, $10 million contract
The New York Giants entered the 2016-2017 offseason with more than $50 million available in cap space, and they weren’t afraid to use it. Coming off a 6-10 season, the Giants had the league’s worst defense. The Giants gave up 27.6 points a game, almost 300 yards through the air, and 121.4 yards on the ground. So it makes sense that New York spent a good chunk of that money on a defensive overhaul.
By bringing in Oliver Vernon, Damon Harrison and re-signing Jason Pierre Paul, the Giants are looking to rebuild a huge piece of their defense that historically has been their heart and soul. Just a few years ago, the Giants had the eighth-ranked defense but the 28th ranked offense. It’s almost like their offense and defense can never seem to get on the same page.
This past year, the Giants offense was amongst the leagues best (eighth), headed by quarterback Eli Manning and star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. If the money the Giants spent on their defense successfully correlates to the field, the Giants may have an opportunity to compete for the “wide open” NFC east.
It’s obvious that the Giants Achilles heel is their defense. The question is, will they have made enough acquisitions in free agency and the upcoming draft to establish them as competitors again? The first year under a new head coach (Ben McAdoo) is always a difficult transition, especially when the previous coach was there for 12 years (Tom Coughlin). Can Eli and OBJ repeat as a lethal threat through the air in 2016? These are all questions you must ask yourself. The only thing saving the Giants is the fact that they are in such weak division. It’s almost impossible to not be in the conversation when January rolls around.
2015 – 2016 Record:
9 – 7 (1st in the NFC East)
Signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a one-year, $19.953 million contract
Signed tight end Vernon Davis to a one-year contract
Signed linebacker Terrance Garvin to a one-year contract
Signed safety David Bruton to a three-year, $9 million contract
Signed defensive end Kendall Reyes to a one-year, $2.5 million contract
Resigned linebacker Junior Galette to a one-year, $1.6 million contact
Resigned cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year, $2.05 million contact
Released quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris, safety Dashon Goldson, defensive end Jason Hatcher, safety Jeron Johnson
It’s the quietest it’s ever been in the nation’s capital. No big name signings, no bank-breaking contracts, no blockbuster trades … just calculated and precise bits and pieces added by general manager Scot McCloughan. Redskins fans are still adjusting to this new image McCloughan is bringing to the team. At the annual NFL meeting, McCloughan made the following remarks on free agency: “The thing that’s scary about free agency is you always overpay. It’s not just about bringing in guys from the outside in, but re-signing our own. That’s how you start building things because you know how they are in the meeting rooms, off the practice field, the locker room, the weight room and that’s what I believe in. Which is why the draft is so important to us. It’ll be the same way every year. I’m not going to live, and we as an organization aren’t going to live in free agency. If we have the opportunity to make us better for the right price, we’ll stay in ‘em. All of a sudden the value is much higher than we think it’s worth, then we’re out.”
This is the outlook that a once flustering organization needs. The Redskins finished first in the struggling NFC East last year. The team was headed by Kirk Cousins who navigated the Redskins into the playoffs where they lost to the Green Bay Packers, 30-18. The offense (or should I say the passing attack) was the highlight of the team, ranking 11th in total passing yards and 17th in total offense. Cousins finished the season with the best completion percentage in the NFL (69.8 percent). The last Redskins quarterback to lead the NFL in that stat was Sonny Jurgensen in 1970 (59.9 percent).
But everything isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows for the Redskins. Their rushing attack was the worst in the NFC East, their total defense ranked 28th, and their injuries in the secondary are never ending. The defensive line definitely needs an overhaul (which I believe will be addressed in the draft), but the re-signing of outside linebacker Junior Galette gives Joe Barry’s 3-4 defense a huge boost at the edge rush position. When healthy, Galette has proven to be a great, versatile, pass rusher and pairing him with fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan could make for a dynamic duo during the upcoming season. Having Galette and Kerrigan at full blast could take a lot of pressure off of interior linemen Chris Baker, Ricky Jean Francois and Stephen Pea.
The Redskins didn’t solve their secondary issues by bringing in safety David Bruton, but they didn’t hurt the situation either. Bruton will compete with safety Duke Ihenacho for the starting job, but they both are coming off of season-ending injuries suffered last year (Bruton a fractured fibula, Ihenacho a fractured wrist). I’d imagine that McCloughan will definitely pick up a Safety in the upcoming draft; if he turns those nine picks into “12” like he’s mentioned, I wouldn’t be surprised if he brought in a couple safeties.
The Redskins parted ways with running back Alfred Morris and seem to be investing their trust into second year running back Matt Jones. Jones struggled with holding on to the ball last season losing four fumbles on five “cough ups”. Jones has shown glimpses, though, of possibly being a dependable work horse for Head Coach Jay Gruden, and his offense.
Any coach will tell you that the key to continued success is keeping the core of your team intact … Scot McCloughan has done just that. By keeping Kirk Cousins in house, (which was the ultimate goal of the Redskins this free agency anyway) and making calculated additions plus re-signing key players, all the while keeping their spending to a minimum, the Redskins have put themselves in a great position to repeat as NFC East Champions. (Barring what they do in this year’s upcoming draft)
2015 – 2016 Record:
4 – 12 (4th in the NFC East)
Signed running back Alfred Morris to a two-year, $3.5 million contract
Signed defensive end Benson Mayowa to a three-year, $8.25 million contract
Signed defensive tackle Cedric Thornton to a four-year, $16 million contract
Resigned linebacker Rolando McClain to a one-year, $4 million contract
Resigned linebacker Kyle Wilber to a two-year, $3.25 million contract
Attention! Attention! Jerry World is under attack! The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their worst season since 1989 when they went 1 – 15. Ok, well maybe it isn’t quite as bad as it seems. The Dallas Cowboys suffered from season-ending injuries to their biggest pieces on offense, wide receiver Dez Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo. Romo broke his collarbone week two of the season and then fractured his clavicle week 11 when trying to miraculously lead the Cowboys to a postseason opportunity late in the year. Star receiver Dez Bryant broke a bone in his foot week 2 which sidelined him until week 8 of the season. It was clear though, even when he returned to the field, that his foot had never fully healed.
Without Dez and Romo the Cowboys offensive production decreased drastically. If the two of them can stay healthy, combined with the addition of Alfred Morris (could provide consistency as a compliment to Darren McFadden), I believe their offense will pick up right where it left off. Alfred Morris’s last days in Washington were quite shaky in terms of production; Part of the reason was that Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay gave up on the running game. But under the “run-first”, play action style of offense, headed by Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, it’s impossible to think that Alfred Morris won’t get his groove back behind that patented offensive line.
The Cowboys total defense last year was the best in the NFC East and their pass defense was ranked fifth in the NFL, so defense wasn’t necessarily an issue, per se. The key to maintaining a strong defense is to bring back vital pieces. I give you sixth year linebacker Rolando McClain. McClain is a solid linebacker who delivered 80 total tackles, two sacks and an interception during his 2015 campaign. Paired with Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee, McClain should continue to flourish in an already, “above average”, defense.
The Dallas Cowboys approach to this free agency period has been a solid one. Remove “bad seeds” (*cough cough* Greg Hardy), bring in hard workers and re-sign vital pieces. Though it may have been a quiet one, this offseason for the Cowboys has only made them that much more dangerous (Barring a healthy Romo & Bryant of course). Look for Dallas to draft a quarterback to sit behind Romo in case of any, “repeat incidents” *knocks on wood*; as well as a pass rusher or secondary piece to really strengthen that defense. Though the Cowboys finished at the bottom of the division last year, I smell a “Worst to first” scenario in our near future. Hey, it’s not like the “Worst to first” scenario has been true the last 3 of 4 years in the NFC East right? Wrong.
Take a look at my final 2016 off – season NFC Free Agency Rankings …
Final Free Agency Rankings:
- Dallas Cowboys
- Washington Redskins
- New York Giants
- Philadelphia Eagles