There is not a lot of luck to go around recently, but as far as sports go, the NFL might be the luckiest professional sports league right now. Free agency started on time and the 2020 NFL Draft will not be the spectacle it had promised to be in Las Vegas, but it will still begin on Thursday, April 23. And this week, the league announced that it expects to play a full football season in 2020 and it plans for that season to start on time in September.
Meanwhile, the NBA, NHL, PGA and Major League Baseball are all indefinitely postponed. Unlike these leagues, the NFL has the advantage of time.
On Tuesday, the NFL announced on a conference call that it expects to release the 2020 regular season schedule no later than May 9. This is slightly later than than in recent years when the schedule has been released in mid-April right before the draft.
”Our planning, our expectation, is fully directed at playing a full season starting on schedule and having a full regular season and a full set of playoffs,” NFL executive Jeff Pash said, via Tom Pelissero. “Am I certain? I’m not certain that I’ll be here tomorrow. But I’m planning on it.”
For now, the show goes on as the NFL remains the only sport that allows us to pretend that the world is normal right now.
With that said, let’s dive into the news surrounding the NFC East this week.
Washington Redskins: Home grown
Throughout this free agency period, there has appeared to be two consistent reasons players give to express their excitement in signing with the Redskins: Ron Rivera and coming home.
Rivera himself, and the new coaching staff he has assembled with defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Scott Turner should inspire a culture change, though we have no proof of that yet. Del Rio has only coached for two teams in his career and he spent nine years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Turner has spent his shorter career with two different teams, including the Carolina Panthers, where he overlapped with Rivera for two seasons.
Beyond the team itself though, the culture change for the Washington organization also needs to extend to the fans. After Tom Brady and the New England Patriots played at FedEx Field in Week 5 of last season - in what turned out to be Jay Gruden’s last game with the team - he commented on the number of New England fans present, comparing the atmosphere to a home game. He called it “ridiculous.”
It is ridiculous how few people show up to watch the Redskins anymore. It’s also hard to blame them.
So the return of cornerback Kendall Fuller and signing of safety Sean Davis in free agency is particularly meaningful. Fuller was drafted by the Redskins in 2016 but traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 in the deal that brought quarterback Alex Smith to Washington. Now, Fuller is coming back to the team that never should have let him leave and back to the area where he is from.
Davis, meanwhile, comes to Washington from the Pittsburgh Steelers and he has made his excitement clear from the beginning.
“Oh man it was a no brainer,” Davis said of signing with the Redskins. “I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. ... I’m grounded in Maryland.”
Maybe players like these will be able to help turn FedExField into a hub for Redskins fans again.
Dallas Cowboys: A different approach for different results?
Our colleagues at Blogging the Boys noticed a pattern in the Cowboys’ free agency signings this offseason. In the past, Dallas has gravitated towards signing primarily younger players who are less injury-prone and therefore, less risky. This offseason however, the Cowboys are signing older players. Check out the data on the types of players the Cowboys sign during free agency based off of age alone.
Players were classified as a “good decision” if they contributed in some way. Players who never made the roster, could not stay healthy, or played poorly were considered a “bad decision.”
Together, these numbers result in the following success rates.
Then, by comparison, check out the numbers on the players the Cowboys have signed this offseason below.
In the past, the few older players the Cowboys did sign were more affordable simply because they were not as good. This year’s signings however, do have the potential to make a significant on-field impact for Dallas, which might mean the older, the better. Only time will tell.
Philadelphia Eagles: High risk, high reward
I held the Eagles for last today because of the old, “save the best for last” adage. I would argue that, at this point, the Eagles have had the best free agency out of the four NFC East teams. Here’s why: money.
First of all, of the major signings this offseason, SB Nation gives the Eagles a B+ on the Javon Hargrave acquisition. He’ll be making the short trip from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and the Eagles are paying him more than any nose tackle in the league. They hope to use him as an interior pass rusher, which is a bit risky. But the Eagles are betting that the 27-year old Hargrave will be able to make the change.
SB Nation also gave the acquisition of cornerback Darius Slay a B+ grade. Signing Slay fills what was arguably Philly’s largest weakness of the 2019 season - an injured secondary. The Eagles finished tied for second-worst in the league in allowing passes of 40 yards or more with 15 on the season.
Of course, Slay does not come cheaply so these signing could hurt Philly down the road, but I argue that the short-term gain is worth whatever long-term loss may follow.
Then, there is the signing of cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman on a one-year, $1 million contract. He was an above-average cornerback with the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams. In signing Coleman to a modest contract, the Eagles have upgraded two of their three cornerback slots.
The glaring gap in the Eagles’ free agency is the lack of wide receiver signings - a gap that only became larger as Nelson Agholor went to the Las Vegas Raiders and Alshon Jeffrey contines to recover from Lisfranc surgery. With the depth of this wide receiver draft class though, the Eagles’ plan all along could have been to wait until the draft.
By comparison, the Redskins approached free agency conservatively, knowing their re-build would take longer than one season to complete. The Giants added a few key players in cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez, but still have many holes to fill on their roster. And Dallas mostly remained in neutral. It used its franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott and managed to sign wide receiver Amari Cooper, making the Cowboys very similar to last season’s 8-8 team that fell just short of the NFC East title.
We will see how the rest of the offseason plays out, but Philadelphia has taken the most risk and enacted the greatest change thus far.