The Redskins have officially begun their Off-season workouts in Ashburn, VA, with essentially every player on the roster reporting and eager to erase the memory of last season’s very disappointing 3-13 season. The team has done very well to augment their roster during free agency with players that can make immediate contributions, as well as give the team flexibility to draft players based on talent, and not so much on immediate need to be a starter.
Indeed, the Redskins still need to improve their offensive line, however, last time I checked, most teams in the NFL have the same need, including every other team in the NFC East; just to put things in proper perspective.
With all that said, where do the Burgundy and Gold currently stand in the very fluid pecking order of the NFC East? Here’s my take:
1) Philadelphia Eagles
By default, the top spot in the NFC East should go to the team that won the division last season. Head Coach Chip Kelly did an outstanding job of elevating the level of execution of the offense, as well as developing QB Nick Foles into a very efficient playmaker. Philadelphia’s defense over-achieved, doing an outstanding job of pressuring opposing QBs, forcing turnovers, and not giving up too many big plays. The addition of RB Darren Sproles should help cushion the impact that the loss of WR DeSean Jackson would’ve otherwise had on the Eagles offense, but let’s not attempt to diminish the impact Jackson has on opposing offenses—his speed and explosiveness will be hard to immediately replace. WRs Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, and RB LeShawn McCoy will be expected to contribute more, and perhaps they will.
The defense needs to add a true playmaker, because with Jackson going to division rival Washington, I do not see anyone on the Eagles defense that can slow him or keep him from making big plays. And having to play the Redskins twice each season, that could be significant. If I were the Eagles’ GM, I’d consider taking a Safety or Cornerback with their first round pick.
1A) Washington Redskins
Yes, I have the Redskins listed as ‘1A’, because the additions the team made via free agency—most notably WR DeSean Jackson from the division rival Philadelphia Eagles—have enabled Washington to close the gap considerably between themselves and the defending NFC East champions. A completely healthy Robert Griffin III and TE Jordan Reed, to go with WRs Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, and Aldrick Robinson give the Redskins an offense that may be very difficult to contain.
The addition of veteran S Ryan Clark gives the Washington arguably the best secondary in the NFC East, to go along with S Brandon Merriweather, and CBs D’Angelo Hall and Tracy Porter. DE Jason Hatcher should improve a pass rush that was non-existent last season, creating more one-on-one matchups for LBs Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo on the edge. Do the Redskins need to upgrade the talent that currently exists on their roster? Conventional wisdom says ‘yes’, however, it’s hard to find fault with the additions they’ve made this offseason.
Nonetheless, Washington needs to understand that no games are played between February and July, and that what they do on the field will say a lot more about them than what they’ve done off of it.
2) New York Giants
New York has been flying quietly under the radar this offseason, adding CBs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond to go along with Prince Amukamura. This will give their defense the ability to match up with the trend of pass-happy offenses. However, the Giants need to improve a LB corps that is noticeably lacking a true playmaker. Bringing back WR Mario Manningham should ease the loss of Hakeem Nicks to free agency, and adding RB Rashad Jennings should improve the non-existent running game New York had last season.
Any team coached by Tom Coughlin is always tough, competitive, and efficient enough to capitalize on mistakes made by opponents. If the Giants can add a talented LB and WR in the draft, ‘Big Blue’ can certainly be in the mix for the NFC East crown. Regardless of what some naysayers may believe, Eli Manning is an elite QB, and any team with him has a chance of winning on Sundays
3) Dallas Cowboys
For the past several seasons, experts have said “the Cowboys have the most talented team in the NFC East.” Several years later, that ‘talent’ has only been able to produce three consecutive 8-8 seasons, and three consecutive seasons missing the playoffs. If there’s a bright side to this, its that Dallas has had a chance to win the NFC East on the last game of the regular season each of those years, only to come up short against the NY Giants, Redskins, and Eagles respectively. Of course we know that this is ‘unacceptable’ to Owner/GM Jerry Jones, and Cowboy fans.
Unfortunately, things don’t appear to be getting better in Big D. The team had to release the likes of Jason Hatcher, WR Miles Austin, and star LB DeMarcus Ware due to being $35 million over the salary cap. Even after clearing some room to get under the salary cap, Dallas had very little flexibility to add players to replace the likes of Ware, Hatcher, and Austin. However, with Ware and Austin being unable to play a full season due to injury the past couple of seasons, their losses may not be as impactful as one would think.
The biggest problem Dallas has is not necessarily a lack of talent, but with who’s responsible for acquiring and developing it. Jerry Jones needs to come to grips with the fact that he needs to hire someone who is proven that he knows how to draft good players, and give him complete autonomy to run the team. Head coach Jason Garrett appears at times to be in over his head on the sidelines at times, especially in high-stakes games.
However, it has become clear that Jones needs to have his ego stroked, and feels as long as he signs the checks, he should have final say on hiring a coach and personnel moves. By the time he realizes he needs to get out of his own way, the Cowboys may be as woeful of a team when he first bought the Cowboys in the late 1980s.