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NFC East Notebook: Final opt-outs, Doug Pederson, and some much-needed good news

Here’s the news around the NFC East this week

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Should we start with the good news or the bad news on this week’s NFC East Notebook?

Let’s do bad.

As players continue to report to camp, the positive coronavrius tests continue to increase. This is to be expected, but it doesn’t necessarily put anyone more at ease. As September draws closer and closer and the NFL continues to show no signs of developing a bubble format, it’s hard to imagine exactly what a football season will look like (if one happens) in 2020.

So let’s move on to the good news: Alex Smith.

Washington fans, and probably all football fans, have some recollection of that game on November 18, 2018 when Smith, on third-down-and-nine, dropped back and was sacked by Houston Texans defenders Kareem Jackson and J.J. Watt. Some may have since tried to forget the way Smith’s leg contorted itself in opposite direction on the ground afterwards.

Smith suffered from a broken fibula and tibia on that play. The intimate and revealing ESPN “Project 11” documentary that was released in May revealed that Smith would go on to need 17 surgeries. His leg was overcome by four kinds of bacteria, including one deemed to be “flesh-eating.” The leg was almost amputated as the doctor’s focus shifted from saving his football career to saving his life.

The images of Smith’s leg shown in the documentary are gruesome and hard to look at. Yet earlier this week, 22 months after the injury took place, Smith was cleared to play football again by his own doctors.

At its best, this news is a miracle. At its worst, it’s incredibly inspiring.

The Redskins medical staff has not cleared Smith to play yet because they would like to see how he moves around on the field first. Smith has worked out this week though and reported no issues with his leg after each session.

Washington’s head coach Ron Rivera has not ruled the 36-year-old Smith out of the quarterback competition for 2020.

In these times of uncertainty, Smith’s story provides a source of hope. During his recovery, Smith always remained focused on the potential for a positive future. “Football might not be out of the question,” Smith says in the “Project 11” documentary. “Can I go play quarterback again? Can I push it that far?”

He can and he did.

Before we dive into the rest of the news around the division this week, I’ve included a final list of the opt-outs around the NFC East for the 2020 season.

NFC East Opt-Outs:

The deadline for players to opt out was Thursday at 4 p.m. EST.

Cowboys: CB Maurice Canady (July 27), WR Stephen Guidry (July 28), FB Jamize Olawale (Aug. 2)

Eagles: WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

Washington Football Team: DT Caleb Brantley (July 27), LB Josh Harvey-Clemons, (Aug. 3)

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are right alongside the Giants in leading the division in roster opt-outs for the 2020 season. Our friends at Blogging the Boys looked at the options now available to the Cowboys thanks to the additional cap space.

Heading into the 2020 season, the Cowboys originally had around $9 million in cap space. With the new agreement involving players opting out because of the coronavirus, the Cowboys now have an additional $1.5 million in cap space.

“If they really needed to take a look at a position of need it would have to be the defensive line with two possible starters in Tyrone Crawford and Dontari Poe both on PUP as they are recovering from injuries,” writes Blogging the Boy’s Terence Watson. “So defensive ends and defensive tackles could be high on their list. Xavier Williams, Marcell Dareus, Timmy Jernigan, and Vinny Curry all come to mind and they could be low-risk, high-upside signings if the Cowboys do actually decide to use their remaining cap space to sign a defensive lineman.”

With other teams beginning to collect money as a result of the opt-outs, the Cowboys are going to need to act quickly if they want to try to fill some holes on defense.

Philadelphia Eagles

On Sunday night, the Eagles announced that head coach Doug Pederson tested positive for the coronavirus. At 52 years old, Pederson is asymptomatic and doing well, according to the team.

Pederson is believed to have contracted COVID-19 outside of the team’s training facility. He needs to have multiple positive tests before returning to work. In the meantime, Pederson will continue to lead the team virtually while running backs coach/assistant head coach Duce Staley will take over the day-to-day operations.

Earlier this week, Pederson said that he felt “extremely safe” reentering the work environment.

“This is our bubble right here at NovaCare. I can’t control everything. We can’t control everything,” Pederson said. “There probably are going to be some things that come up down the road, but right now, I feel extremely safe, and this is a great environment for our players to succeed in.”

Pederson is entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Eagles, having posted a 38-26 record in four seasons, punctuated by a Super Bowl victory in 2017.

The bigger picture? Pederson is now the second NFL head coach known to have contracted the coronavirus. In March, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said that he tested positive. The important difference for Pederson is that he is first coach to have tested positive in-season. It’s still too soon to tell if he will be in the minority or majority moving forward.

Washington Football Team

Though Washington’s franchise tag drama does not rival that of the Cowboys and Prescott, it has been worth paying attention to. Guard Brandon Scherff will play on the franchise tag this upcoming season as the team could not reach a long-term agreement on the veteran’s contract extension by last month’s deadline.

It would be in the team’s best interest to keep Scherff around. At 28 years old, he is in the prime of his career and remains one of the team’s most proven, talented players. Of course, the only problem is the injuries that have forced Scherff to miss 13 games over the past two seasons.

At a video news conference on Wednesday though, Scherff said that he is not concerned about the injuries as he considers them to be more freak accidents than anything serious.

Washington certainly hopes this is true as Scherff’s tag is worth $15.03 million, making him the league’s highest-paid interior offensive lineman this season, and the fifth-highest paid lineman overall by salary cap number, according to Over The Cap.

For his part, Scherff said that he is not worried about formulating the details of his contract straight away.

“I’m not really worried about that right now,” Scherff said. “I’m just glad I get to play another year here. Like I said, my end goal is to end up as a Redskin my whole career. I’m one more year closer to that.”