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NFC East Notebook: Remembering heroes and analyzing draft strategy after free agency

Here is what’s happening around the NFC East this week

Bobby Mitchell - File Photos

After numerous busy weeks in the NFL, things started to settle down as the league gears up for the 2020 NFL Draft on April 23. Mock drafts and opinions continue to circulate the web as football remains the only sport that is operating on its scheduled timeline.

There was some sad news around the NFC East this week as the NFL community mourned the passing of former Washington Redskin Bobby Mitchell and former Philadelphia Eagle Timmy Brown.

Brown was a running back and kick returner for the Eagles, helping lead them to a championship in 1960. He is sixth on the franchise’s all-time list for touchdowns (62), seventh in total yards form scrimmage (7,049), eighth in rushing yards (3,703) and seventh in rushing touchdowns (29). He was inducted to the Eagles’ Hall of Fame in 1996. He was 82.

”Timmy Brown was an all-time great Eagle and one of the most dynamic multipurpose players of his era. He overcame many obstacles in his life to enjoy success both as an athlete and as an entertainer,” Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement.

”A three-time Pro Bowler and member of our 1960 NFL Championship team, Timmy excelled as a running back and return specialist with his incredible athleticism and signature versatility. He was one of the most exciting players to watch during his career. Those who knew him well have said they will remember him for his outgoing, uplifting personality and the connections he built with his teammates and the community. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this time.”

Mitchell will be remembered for his on-field performance and his off-the-field impact. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times throughout his 11-year career. Mitchell recorded at least 58 receptions in six of his seven seasons in Washington. He also became the first African American to play for the Redskins, who were the last NFL team to integrate. In his first season in Washington, Mitchell led the league in receptions (72) and receiving yards (1, 384). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983. He died at 84 years old.

The Redskins official website recently re-surfaced a story about Mitchell and former President John F. Kennedy that I think it worth sharing.

Shortly after Mitchell and his wife Gwen arrived in Washington, they received an invitation to the White House for a state dinner. Because the room was so crowded, Mitchell and his wife decided to go outside the door and stand by the steps so that there was a better chance of seeing the president.

But everyone else at the dinner had a similar idea and crowded around, blocking the Mitchell’s view of the president.

”But we stood back against the wall, and the President and Jackie come down the steps, and when they got the end of the steps, even with the people crowdin’ around, he parted these people — this is the honest truth, folks — he parted the people and walked directly, he and Jackie, to my wife and I. And he said, ‘I’m glad you’re here. There will be others.’

”And Jackie shook our hands; of course, Gwen never washed her hand since then.

”Before they went into that room ... and I should’ve known at that point that I was hooked. Because within the next month Bobby [Kennedy] grabbed me, and we were together ‘til the day he died.”

Washington Redskins

Head coach Ron Rivera spoke to the media this week about a range of topics, but we are of course most interested in what he had to say about free agency and its impact on the draft.

Rivera admitted that the Redskins chased Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper “very hard.” “We would have loved to have him,” Rivera said.

Meanwhile, Rivera admitted that they “weren’t really into” the Austin Hooper sweepstakes because they were not looking to re-define the tight end market the way Cleveland did.

So while the Redskins have been dismissed this offseason because of their caution in free agency, there only real miss appears to be Cooper. And it was always going to be difficult to sign Cooper when he made it clear that he did not want to leave Dallas. The Redskins could still have been more aggressive in their overall approach to free agency but their conservative approach seems to suggest that they know a re-build is going to take time.

Redskins fans should be happy to hear what Rivera had to say about drafting players who fit their system:

“Their perspective on how these players play, what their skillsets are, and whether or not we believe they’ll fit into our systems. It’s not just about being a great football player, but you’ve also got to be a guy that’s going to be able to be part of a fit.”

Additionally, Rivera made clear that he is still looking not only for a skill set that fits his system, but a personality too. He had the following to say about signing linebacker Thomas Davis:

“I felt there was a need for the guys to understand the culture that I want to develop here. Thomas fit that bill. Thomas was also a very productive player the last few years....[he can still play]..but more important for me personally, he’s a guy who can help share my ideas, what my belief in as culture is, and he can help get the message across.”

I think Redskins fans should feel good about these answers. Rivera has preached the significance of culture from his introductory press conference and he is standing by that principle.

Dallas Cowboys

Our friends at Blogging the Boys looked at how each NFC East team would stack up against the Cowboys this season based off of the moves made in free agency. Not surprisingly, the Cowboys still have an upper hand over the rebuilding Redskins and New York Giants. Philadelphia however, still holds an advantage over the Cowboys.

The Eagles have had some losses this offseason, including Jordan Howard, Nelson Agholor and Malcolm Jenkins. But they have also added Darius Slay, Javon Hargrave and Rodney McLeod.

The addition of Hargrave to Fletcher Cox’s defensive line and then Slay and McLeod in the secondary give the Eagles what is arguably the best defense in the conference. When the loss of longtime center Travis Frederick is factored in, the advantage slides even more to Philly.

The Eagles’ offense does not hold a distinct advantage over Dallas after they lost two starting tackles, weakening an offensive line that allowed 37 sacks last season for 12th worst in the league. With Dallas re-signing Dak Prescott and Cooper, the advantage on the offensive side of the ball remains with the Cowboys.

Time will tell if the Eagles’ improved defense is enough to stop the Cowboys’ offense. But right now, next season in the NFC East is shaping up to be very similar to the last one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Speaking of the Eagles’ weak offense, they will surely be focused on selecting a wide receiver in the draft. The Eagles need someone who can make an immediate impact and this wide receiver class is full of options. But Bleeding Green Nation explained why it is difficult to project the success of receivers in the NFL, mostly asserting that the way players won in college simply will not cut it at the pro level.

The Eagles need to search for players who have demonstrated the ability to defeat press coverage consistently and play through contact on the outside. The top players who have shown that ability (according to Bleeding Green) - CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy - probably will not be around for Philly with the 21st pick.

Regardless of the choice they make - and they will have many options - the Eagles should not draft someone and ask them to do something different than what they did at the college level.