If this isn’t the time for optimism in the NFC East, why bother playing the season?
Sure, times have been tough for what was once one of the NFL’s more competitive divisions, and it doesn’t seem to be returning to its glory days anytime soon. With the offseason program wrapped up by the time training camp begins in late July, the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders can win the division.
Some are better than others, of course.
Dallas is trying to become the first repeat champion in the NFC East since the Eagles in 2003-04. Lots of talent is returning for the Cowboys, including the division’s top quarterback (Dak Prescott) and top defenseman (Micah Parsons). The Eagles have made some upgrades on both sides of the ball and appear intent on helping quarterback Jalen Hurts in his second full season as a starter. The Giants added a new coach and two top 10 picks in Brian Daboll. The Commanders traded for quarterback Carson Wentz in hopes he can find his Eagles form from 2017, and they welcome back pass-rusher Chase Young.
NFL Nation reporters Tim McManus (Eagles), Jordan Raanan (Giants), John Keim (Commanders), and Todd Archer (Cowboys) provide an overview of the offseason, what to expect at training camp, and a projected order of finishes in the NFC East.
Most Fascinating Battle of Positions: Who will be the starting receiver alongside CeeDee Lamb as Michael Gallup works his way through rehab with his left knee this summer? James Washington? Jalen Tolbert? Noah Brown? Some unnamed veteran picked up before training camp? Washington has the credentials as a former Pittsburgh second-round pick, but he caught 24 passes last season. Tolbert, a third-round pick in 2022, has to learn fast. Brown was no higher than No. 4 during his Dallas days. Prescott has to trust whoever wins the fight.
Rookie will most likely do something in week 1: If it’s not their first round, offensive lineman Tyler Smith, then something is wrong. At the very least, he needs to be their left flank starter early in the season. If something were to happen to attack Tyron Smith, the Cowboys might move Tyler Smith to that spot. The rookie showed in the offseason that he has the strength to play indoors. He’ll need some fine-tuning, but if he can solidify the middle, help with the running game and protect Prescott, he’ll quickly justify his first-round status.
Greatest Remaining Need: With the way they’ve turned to free hand early and late, the Cowboys don’t think they have much of a need. Maybe they could use an experienced inside offensive lineman, especially a center. Maybe they could use another pass rusher. Kicker could be a problem if only the undrafted Jonathan Garibay is on the list. However, wide receiver seems to be the most pressing need. In an OTA, Prescott’s top three receivers were a third-round pick and two undrafted free agents because Lamb, Washington, Gallup, and Brown weren’t practicing. Any injury to this group in the future could be devastating.
Estimated order of completion: At some point a team has to repeat themselves as NFC East champions, and that’s what’s happening this season as the Cowboys do what the Eagles did in 2003-04. Philadelphia will close the gap on Dallas and receive another wildcard bid, followed by the Giants and Commanders. There are too many questions at all stages for New York and Washington to believe they can challenge Dallas or Philadelphia in the divisional race.
Take a look at Kayvon Thibodeaux’s most aggressive plays at DE and find out why he could be the best player to emerge from the draft.
Most Fascinating Battle of Positions: wide receiver. The Giants have invested heavily in the position in recent years. Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson either signed lucrative deals or were drafted in the first two rounds. Throw in Darius Slayton and there’s serious competition for game time, although Golladay and Toney are the clear frontrunners to play on the outside. Whoever stays healthy could determine who plays the biggest roles.
Rookie will most likely do something in week 1: The Giants had two picks in the top 7 this year, so it should be edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5 overall) and offensive tackle Evan Neal (No. 7). It’s clear the Giants have high expectations of both of them right away because they worked with the first team on Day 1 at OTAs – Neal at right tackle and Thibodeaux across from Azeez Ojulari.
Greatest Remaining Need: Help in secondary school. The Giants could use veterans at safety and cornerback. Right now they have Xavier McKinney at a safety point and Adoree’ Jackson as their #1 cornerback. Everything else is up for grabs, from their #2 cornerback to their strong safety to their slot corner.
Estimated order of completion: Let’s start by placing the Giants last. They have the worst squad in the group. The commanders are the joker. They’re better than most would like to believe, especially when Wentz can stand his ground. The Eagles knocked down the draft and traded for receiver AJ Brown, and the Cowboys’ offensive line is on the decline. So Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and the Giants.
Booger McFarland and Jeremy Fowler explain how much of the Eagles’ success will depend on Jalen Hurts.
Most Fascinating Battle of Positions: wide receiver. AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith are No. 1 and 1A, respectively. From there it gets interesting. The staff is high on Quez Watkins. Zach Pascal is an absolute favorite of coach Nick Sirianni. Undrafted rookie Britain Covey opened some eyes this spring. Where does former first-round pick Jalen Reagor fit in? Who will claim role #3? Who will look inside from the outside? There are many questions to be answered this summer.
Rookie will most likely do something in week 1: Defensive tackle Jordan Davis. Teammates were impressed by Davis’ strength in the weight room. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon believes the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Davis has plenty of pass-rushing ability in his huge stature, even if he wasn’t asked for much of it in college. He and fellow Georgia teammate Nakobe Dean, a linebacker, plan to make the difference starting with the jump in Philadelphia.
Greatest Remaining Need: Security. They added veteran Jaquiski Tartt in June. Prior to his signing, the scheduled starters were Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps. The training camp will decide whether it stays that way. Regardless, safety is the biggest question mark ahead of the season barring one more move from the front office.
Estimated order of completion: Eagles, cowboys, commanders, giants. Outside of safety, there are no discernible holes in the Eagles’ roster. They have a strong line and good players up front and should improve defensively after signing linebackers Haason Reddick and Kyzir White and cornerback James Bradberry. In his second season as a full-time starter, will Hurts make the leap? That will decide how sweet Philly’s 2022 season will be, but this spring there have been signs of improvement and supporting cast has him set for success.
Check out the highlights that helped Penn State WR Jahan Dotson become an NFL draft prospect.
Most Fascinating Battle of Positions: Washington doesn’t have many, if any, starting jobs that are really up for grabs, but it has to decide who will be the additional defender in its nickel package. Last season, Landon Collins excelled as a safety/linebacker hybrid. This season it could be occupied by a committee, a corner (Benjamin St-Juste) or a safety (Darrick Forrest, Percy Butler or Jeremy Reaves). St-Juste had a strong source.
Rookie will most likely do something in week 1: Receiver Jahan Dotson. The No. 16 overall looked sharp this spring, showing a veteran’s know-how with his route and the way he attacks defenders. He will mainly play alongside Terry McLaurin in the slot, although Dotson can sometimes work outside as well.
Greatest Remaining Need: Depth, especially on defense. The commanders are thin behind the starters at linebackers and especially the secondary players. They have the players to be a good defense but can’t afford injuries – and need Young off his torn right cruciate ligament as soon as possible. The line should remain the strong point, and Montez Sweat could be the end that has the best season.
Estimated order of completion: Dallas, Washington, Philly, New York. Any of the top three teams can win the division, but the Cowboys have the best quarterback and defensive player. Washington and Philadelphia will be interesting — the Eagles have a higher cap — and so much depends on quarterback play for both. I like what the Eagles have done, but while Washington hasn’t been as active as Philadelphia this offseason, much of their improvement will come from the return of several key players who missed a lot of time last season through injury, and were upgraded with Wentz as quarterback.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34085491/will-nfc-east-repeat-champ-where-cowboys-commanders-eagles-giants-stand Will the NFC East finally have a repeat champ? Where the Cowboys, Commanders, Eagles and Giants stand