Image licensed from USA Today Sports
We’re in that part of summer where the crack of the bat and the sound of ball hitting leather starts to give way to the popping of pads and two a day practices. Training camps are opening up around the NFL and with that means that football is right around the corner. As always, there was plenty of upheaval around the league with retirements, trades, free agency and of course, the draft. Which teams were impacted, who went where and who is expected to fill in for those who departed? We’ll take a look at things and see where we stand heading into the preseason. Today, we take a look at the NFC East: Philadelphia is coming off the first Super Bowl title in franchise history but can they hold off the rest of the division to return to the postseason with a chance to defend their title?
Dallas Cowboys Hoping for Better Results in 2018
2017 Record: 9-7, 2nd in NFC East
Key Free Agency Additions: T Cameron Fleming, WR Allen Hurns, WR Deonte Thompson, LB Joe Thomas, DE Kony Ealy
Key Draft Additions: LB Leighton Vander Esch, T/G Connor Williams, WR Michael Gallup, DE Dorance Armstrong, TE Dalton Schultz, QB Mike White, LB Chris Covington, WR Cedrick Wilson, RB Bo Scarbrough
Key Departures: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, CB Orlando Scandrick, LB Anthony Hitchens, G Jonathan Cooper, WR Brice Butler, CB Bene Benwikere, FB Keith Smith, LB Kyle Wilber, T Byron Bell, RB Alfred Morris
Dallas had an up and down season in 2017, which was majorly impacted by the six-game suspension Ezekiel Elliott served over the second half of the season. When he went out, the Cowboys were 5-3 in the first eight games before going 3-3 with him out: that stretch, with three straight one-sided losses to the Falcons, Eagles and Chargers pretty much dooming them. Dallas hopes that having Elliott for a full 16 game schedule could help them return to form and get back to the postseason after missing out last year. With Morris not re-signed, Scarbrough, who may have been a steal as a seventh-round pick, should see some action as well.
There aren’t a ton of changes for the Cowboys this season as they’ll continue to work with their offensive line and try to run the ball with Elliott to set up Dak Prescott to throw. Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, three-fifths of their line, are all under contract until at least 2023: there are only EIGHT players in the entire league that have a deal running that far into the future. Who Prescott throws to will be an interesting situation as two longtime targets are gone: Bryant was cut while Witten retired earlier this year. In addition, Terrance Williams may be facing potential discipline from the league after he crashed his Lamborghini into a light pole and was charged with public intoxication.
Defensively, Dallas has some work to do, especially in the back seven, if they hope to contend. The team franchised Demarcus Lawrence but lost Hitchens, which poked a hole in their linebacking corps. Jaylon Smith has to stay healthy in order to help that unit out: the same could be said for Vander Esch, who many teams had issues about medically before the draft. It was reported that one team flunked him medically but the Cowboys seemed confident enough to select him 19th overall. Losing Scandrick thins the secondary as well: this wasn’t a deep unit last season as the team totaled just 10 picks all year.
Throw in the fact that David Irving is suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and Randy Gregory is conditionally reinstated are there are question marks on that side of the ball. Gregory has played just two NFL games in the three years since he’s been drafted: can he be a contributor or is he doomed to flame out of the league as another bust?
New York Giants in State of Flux
2017 Record: 3-13, 4th in NFC East
Key Free Agency Additions: T Nate Solder, LB Alec Ogletree, RB Jonathan Stewart, DE Kareem Martin, WR Cody Latimer, G Patrick Omameh, S William Gay, S Michael Thomas
Key Draft Additions: RB Saquon Barkley, G Will Hernandez, LB Lorenzo Carter, DT B.J. Hill, QB Kyle Lauletta, DL R.J. McIntosh
Key Departures: WR Brandon Marshall, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, P Brad Wing, G Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, CB Ross Cockrell, QB Geno Smith, LB Devon Kennard, OL D.J. Fluker, WR Dwayne Harris, RB Shane Vereen, RB Orleans Darkwa
It’s a season of transition for the Giants, who had a slew of personnel changes from a season ago. The team finished just 3-13, marking the first time since 1983 that the team finished with three wins or fewer in a season. Coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese were both cut loose in week 13 with Steve Spagnuolo and Kevin Abrams taking over on an interim basis. In the offseason, New York hired Pat Shurmur to take over the coaching job while Dave Gettleman is in as the team’s general manager. Shurmur has to get more from an offense that scored 17 points or less in nine games last season.
Rather than draft the eventual successor to the aging Eli Manning at quarterback, the Giants went a different route. With Manning already 37 and turning 38 right after this season ends, New York has some work to do. Lauletta was a solid steal with a fourth-round pick but he has to develop into an NFL quarterback. There’s not a veteran option to fall back on should Manning go down with an injury this season: other than Manning and Lauletta, there’s Davis Webb, who hasn’t proven anything at the NFL level as of yet. New York needs to have Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard stay healthy to help the passing game.
New York’s biggest addition offensively, besides bringing in Barkley to take over as the feature back from day one, was the signing of Solder. The Giants had issues at left tackle last season as Ereck Flowers continued to play below average. New York went out and vastly overpaid Solder, giving him a four year deal worth $62 million with $35 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league. Flowers will get one more chance to prove he’s worth a roster spot as he flips to right tackle. Losing Pugh hurts the interior of the line: look for Hernandez to get a chance to push his way into the starting lineup.
Defensively, the Giants have some holes to fill, especially in the secondary. Cockrell signed a hefty deal with the Panthers while the team cut Rodgers-Cromartie. That puts pressure on Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins, who missed seven games last season, to step up and perform. Carter, Hill and McIntosh will get an opportunity to step in and create pressure on opposing quarterbacks: Olivier Vernon had 6.5 sacks last season and is the team’s returning leading pass rusher. The Giants have to be able to contain opposing teams as they are in a state of transition offensively.
Philadelphia Eagles Try to Defend Super Bowl Crown
2017 Record: 13-3, 1st in NFC East, won Super Bowl LII 41-33 over New England
Key Free Agent Additions: DT Haloti Ngata, WR Mike Wallace, LB Paul Worrilow, WR Markus Wheaton, TE Richard Rodgers
Key Draft Additions: TE Dallas Goeddert, CB Avonte Maddox, DE Josh Sweat, T Matt Pryor, T Jordan Mailata
Key Departures: LB Mychal Kendricks, CB Patrick Robinson, TE Trey Burton, DE Vinny Curry, K Caleb Sturgis, P Donnie Jones, DT Beau Allen, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Brent Celek, LB Najee Goode, RB Kenjon Barner, CB Corey Graham, T Will Beatty, WR Torrey Smith, CB Daryl Worley
It’s hard to argue with a team that was deep enough to win a Super Bowl despite losing their starting quarterback in December. The Eagles picked up their first Super Bowl title with Nick Foles under center: despite teams being interested in picking him up, Philadelphia wasn’t moved by the offers they received and chose to keep him. With Carson Wentz still rehabbing his torn ACL, it seems to be a smart move and provides insurance should he be slow to come back or suffer another injury. Trying to replace other missing pieces, especially defensively, may be a challenge.
The running back stable, which was so deep last season, saw some changes. Blount signed a deal with the Lions while Barner inked a contract with the Panthers. That leaves Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement as the top two backs while Darren Sproles back for his final season. Philadelphia sent Smith to the Panthers in the deal that brought in a corner in Worley. Unfortunately, Worley’s stint with the team lasted a month before he was cut loose after being hit with six charges, including DUI: he signed a week later with the Raiders.
Defensively, the Eagles lost several key starters from a year ago. Due to salary cap implications that were added to with the contract extension signed by Nigel Bradham, Philadelphia has a series of changes on that side of the ball. Curry and Kendricks were both cut before signing with the Buccaneers and Browns, respectively. Losing Goode from the linebacking corps along with Kendricks takes a depth piece out of the mix along with a starter: Worrilow isn’t going to step up and provide a major impact. The secondary took some hits with Robinson and Graham leaving: currently Ronald Darby is slotted as a backup corner, which makes one wonder if he too, is on his way out of town. Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones are currently marked as the starters: the corner group is definitely young and inexperienced.
The pickup of Goeddert, who Philadelphia acquired in the second round after dealing their first-round pick for a pair of seconds, is a smart pick. He’ll slot right in as the #2 tight end and will be a complementary piece with Zach Ertz. The Eagles still have the firepower but can their defense hold up to the challenge? Jones retired, decided that he might want to play again, and then was cut: that means Cameron Johnston is the frontrunner for the punting job.
Washington Redskins Retooling After Active Offseason
2017 Record: 7-9, 3rd in NFC East
Key Free Agent Additions: QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, CB Orlando Scandrick, DE/LB Pernell McPhee
Key Draft Additions: DT Da’Ron Payne, RB Derrius Guice, T Geron Christian, S Troy Apke, DT Tim Settle, LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, CB Greg Stroman, WR Trey Quinn
Key Departures: QB Kirk Cousins, WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Ryan Grant, CB Bashaud Breeland, LB Will Compton, C Spencer Long, DE/LB Trent Murphy, TE Niles Paul, CB DeAngelo Hall, DE/LB Junior Galette, CB Kendall Fuller
Washington’s changes start right at the focal point of the offense as Cousins, after playing on the franchise tag the last two seasons, signed a deal with the Vikings. The writing was on the wall early on in the offseason and was cemented with the trade the Redskins made to acquire Smith from the Chiefs in exchange for Fuller and a third-round pick. How well Smith adjusts to the Washington offense will go a long way to determining how successful this season is for the team. Seeing that he’s already 34, one has to wonder how many good years he has left.
The receiving corps took a couple hits too as Pryor left after one disappointing season to sign with the Jets. Meanwhile, Grant inked a deal with the Colts that came after he had a deal voided by the Ravens. To try and replace lost production, the team went out and gave Richardson, who caught 44 balls for 703 yards and six scores last season with Seattle, a five-year deal worth $40 million. That’s a hefty chunk of change to throw around to a guy who hasn’t stayed healthy or put up big production in the NFL. Josh Doctson will get the nod as a starter and needs to prove himself: Jamison Crowder is still a threat in the slot. The Redskins have to hope that Jordan Reed can stay healthy as he is a dynamic playmaker when he can stay on the field.
The front seven for the Redskins got a major boost both from the draft and from retaining a couple of their own free agents. Hanging on to linebackers Mason Foster and Zack Brown was just as critical as any other acquisition in the offseason. The acquisition of Payne and Settle via the draft gives Washington some bulk in the middle of their defensive line, which can only help against the run: Settle also can get some pressure on the quarterback. Hamilton, provided he can stay healthy, will be a boost for the defense as well.
Scandrick will slot in as a starter in the secondary, which took some hits in the offseason. Hall retired, Breeland signed with the Panthers before having his deal voided and Fuller was dealt. That thinned out the cornerback group beyond Josh Norman: how Washington’s young, unproven pieces step up will prove critical to the Redskins’ success. On special teams, the Redskins did re-sign kicker Dustin Hopkins to give some continuity there.