NFC East Team Needs: Offseason Analysis
With Superbowl LV in the books and teams mostly solidified with their coaching and front office staff, we can start to look at team needs as we enter the off-season. For the NFC East, the large majority of the season was spent wondering which team would emerge to take the division crown. No team finished above 500, but due to archaic NFL divisional rules, one team needed to be a divisional representative.
The Washington Football Team was just the remedy, with an established coach in Ron Rivera and a young talented defense they were able to take eventual winner Tampa Bay down to the wire in the first round. Both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys were dealt season-ending injuries to team superstars and struggled to remain competitive afterward. Rounding out the division, the Philadelphia Eagles struggled with inconsistency and injury for a majority of the season.
The following will breakdown the overall team needs heading into the off-season. I will explore potential fits in free agency and potential draft targets. I will also look at potential trade candidates where applicable. Coaching scheme and play style will be taken into account when referencing these targets, for example, a zone-blocking run scheme should not be targeting a mauling blocker. With the basics covered, let’s delve into the division winner needs to kick us off.
Washington Football Team (WFT)
The WFT were not expected to compete in the division after finishing with the league’s 2nd worst record in 2019. They quickly found themselves in the divisional mix with outstanding defensive play headed by 2020 1st round pick and DROY Chase Young.
For all of their success in 2020, the WFT largely overachieved. That can be credited to Rivera preparing his team and defense to play their hearts out week after week. Alex Smith helped stabilize the team midway through the year allowing for the final playoff push.
Team needs: QB, WR, DB, OT, S, LB
Draft capital: 1:19, 2:51, 3:74, 3:83, 4:126, 5:165, 7:246, 7:248
Pending FA’s: Brandon Scherff, Ryan Kerrigan, Reuben Foster, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Ronald Darby
Salary Cap space: 38.8 million
WFT has many needs they need to address on both offense and defense. They are one of the teams best positioned to significantly upgrade their roster, both in free agency and the draft. They released Alex Smith and re-signed Taylor Heinicke through 2022. They will look to address the QB position for the long term in the draft (Kyle Trask, Mac Jones) as the free-agent class is underwhelming this year.
With 43 million in cap space and potentially more, look for WFT to be one of the more aggressive teams at the start of free agency. Washington got a head start by applying the franchise tag to Brandon Scherff for the second year in a row. They will continue to look in free agency at some positions of need, WR (Corey Davis, Kenny Golladay) and LB (Matt Milano, KJ Wright) should top their list of talent-rich positions in critical areas of need.
New York Giants
The NY Football Giants always seem like they will make the jump and return to the playoff form of the Manning years. After two straight injury-marred seasons, Saquon Barkley hopes to regain his form as one of the most electric running backs in the game. With Daniel Jones entering his 3rd season as a starter, the hope is he continues to progress. For him to do so, he will need better protection. Defensively, they have missed a pass rush from the edge for some time and James Bradburry could use some help on the opposite side.
Team needs: EDGE, WR, DB, LB, IOL, OT
Draft capital: 1:11, 2:42, 3:76, 4:118, 6:197, 6:202
Pending FA’s: Cameron Fleming, Kyler Fackrell, Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson
Salary Cap space: 3.2 million
The Giants will need to address a few of their pending free agents first before truly determining their needs, Leonard Williams being the highest priority. Williams had the franchise tag applied before the deadline, but the team will work towards a long-term deal with his agent. They have already cut Golden Tate and Kevin Zeitler to get back to the positive side of the cap. How the Giants plan to approach the draft will largely dictate what kind of season they will be in for.
With their 1st round pick, they should target an EDGE or OT (Jaelen Phillips, Gregory Rousseau, Rashawn Slater). They should be able to find help at WR, IOL, and LB (Marvin Jones, AJ Green, Kelechi Osemele, Jarrad Davis) in free agency once they release and re-sign a few players.
The Cowboys entered 2020 as Superbowl favorites, in part due to the dynamic offense they presented on paper. They started to slow out the gate with a 1-3 record before a week 5 contest that completely derailed their season. In that week 5 contest, they lost superstar QB, Dak Prescott, for the season.
Dallas’s defense largely struggled all season as they experienced inconsistency in the secondary and didn’t get the run-stuffing needed from their defensive front. Head coach Mike McCarthy came under fire during his first year with the team and had many calling for his job after the preseason expectations.
Team needs: OT, DB, IDL, EDGE
Draft capital: 1:10, 2:44, 3:75, 3:100, 4:117, 4:140, 5:180, 6:193, 6:228, 7:239
Pending FA’s: Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, Cam Erving, Joe Looney, Aldon Smith, Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods
Salary Cap space: 19.6 million
The largest decision Dallas had this off-season was the contract of star QB Dak Prescott. Dallas was able to reach an agreement shortly before the tag window with Prescott and he gets rewarded handsomely to the tune of a four-year deal worth at least 160 million. Without having the pen to the paper, Dallas did apply the franchise tag to Prescott as a formality. They are now free to address the rest of their roster.
Most of their needs will probably be addressed in the draft as their cap space will be intimately tied to the Prescott contract. They were able to free up quite a bit of cap room by deferring a lot of Prescott’s contract into future years. Anticipate a heavy defensive lean for the Cowboys in this year’s draft.
The Eagles are another team that has major question marks surrounding their roster entering the off-season. They have quickly experienced a downward spiral since their championship in 2017. Their dismal 4-11-1 recond cost Doug Peterson his job. Peterson was replaced by Nick Sirianni, who comes over from the Colts after 3 seasons as offensive coordinator. Sirianni faces a tough task in returning the Eagles to the glory of 2017. Nearly two weeks removed from the Superbowl, they were able to find a trade partner to take quarterback Carson Wentz and the remaining years on his contract.
Team needs: DB, LB, WR, S, IOL
Draft capital: 1:6, 2:37, 3:70, 3:85, 5:152, 5:158, 6:190, 6:225, 6:226, 7:235
Pending FA’s: Jason Peters, Vinny Curry, Duke Riley, Nate Gerry, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Jalen Mills
Salary Cap space: (17.4 million)
The Wentz trade return is a little underwhelming when considering his age, contract, and the return the Lions received with Stafford. This doesn’t account for the dead cap, $33.8 million, the Eagles will carry this season either. They already had one of the worst cap situations in the NFL entering the off-season, so restructuring or releasing some players (Alshon Jeffery or Zach Ertz would save $8 and $4.7 million respectively) will be needed.
The lack of cap space will make signing big-name free agents difficult, look for the team to target lesser named players to come in on “prove it” deals. In the draft expect the Eagles to invest heavily on defense, with 3 of the first 4 picks dedicated to that side of the football. Patrick Surtain has been the most common mocked player to the Eagles at pick #6.