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NFC East Notebook: The QB question in Philly, Jason Witten’s farewell and good news in Washington

Here are the headlines from around the division from this past week

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

At this time last year, the Washington Football Team had recently hired new head coach Ron Rivera. In his introductory press conference, Rivera talked about changing the culture.

“We’ve got to stay true to what I believe is a little bit of a philosophy and that is the best team has a great sense of family,” Rivera said. “The best family has great culture and within that culture there’s tremendous character, and that’s what we’ve got to build. We’ve got to build character, we’ve got to build culture, we’ve got to build team, we’ve got to build family. If we can do that, we can win.”

Of course, Rivera could hardly know at the time just how important culture would become in Washington as the offseason progressed. Amidst a national reckoning on racial injustice and facing pressure from financial backers, Washington dropped its 87-year-old nickname, “Redskins.” Shortly after, The Washington Post published articles detailing the harassment claims of former female employees. Calls for team owner Daniel Snyder’s dismissal rang around the league.

Yet, just over a year later, it is worth taking a step back and recognizing that Rivera did in fact deliver on his promise of changing the culture in Washington.

Last week, Washington named Martin Mayhew its new general manager, making him the fifth Black general manager in the NFL and the third hired in this cycle, joining the Atlanta Falcons’ Terry Fontenot and the Detroit Lions’ Brad Holmes.

But Mayhew’s appointment also carries a larger meaning across the NFL. In addition to hiring one of five Black general managers in the league, the Washington Football Team now has a Black team president (the only one in NFL history) in Jason Wright, a Latino head coach and a female senior vice president of media and content in Julie Donaldson. The Football Team also announced this week that Rivera promoted intern Jennifer King, making her the first Black woman to be a full-time coach in the NFL.

All of these hires have happened in the past 13 months. No other team has made such notable diversity and inclusion hires in such a short period of time. The fact that these appointments happened in Washington, an organization that felt particularly rooted in the past, feels significant.

It is also worth remembering that Washington was the last NFL team to integrate. A franchise that was once so behind is now blazing a trail.

Now, let’s dive into the other headlines from around the division from this past week.

Philadelphia Eagles

The biggest question facing new Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni is the quarterback position. Is Carson Wentz the starter after his worst season yet or do the Eagles turn to Jalen Hurts? Or, do they start looking elsewhere?

Sirianni gave his first insight into this question when he spoke to Dave Spadaro on PhiladelphiaEagles.com earlier this week.

“You look at a lot of rosters and they don’t have any quarterbacks that they feel really good about,” Sirianni said. “We have two. That’s unbelievable, to have two quarterbacks that have played and have played well.”

Sirianni also said that he is already familiar with Wentz because of the tape he watched of him in 2018 when he was installing the offense with the Indianapolis Colts.

“He’s got so much talent and, from what I’ve heard from everybody, great person,” Sirianni said. “And, you know, good talent, good person, it takes your game to really high levels.”

Of course, this only scratches the surface of the quarterback debate and Sirianni is not going to say anything too revealing on his opening days with the team.

During his introductory press conference on Friday afternoon, Sirianni remained vague. When asked if there is to be an open quarterback competition for the Eagles this offseason, he did not give a definitive answer.

“That’s something we have to look at and evaluate, and I’m not ready to say that either way yet,” Sirianni said.

Sirianni said that he has reached out to both Wentz and Hurts, and is focused on getting to know each quarterback as a person for now. This is no doubt just the beginning of what will be a major storyline for the Eagles this offseason.

Dallas Cowboys

The biggest news in Dallas this week was not about any new addition to the team, but instead about a notable departure.

Star tight end Jason Witten announced his retirement after 17 seasons.

The end of Witten’s career has been anticipated for years now. Witten took one year off in 2018 where he joined ESPN Monday Night Football before returning to play for Dallas once more.

He did not stop there. Witten went west to the Las Vegas Raiders along with other members of the 2019 Cowboys team. The Raiders finished at a respectable 8-8 this past season but it appears Witten is now ready to move on from the NFL. The Pro Bowler told ESPN that he intends to sign a one-day contract and retire as a member of the Cowboys in March when his contract with the Raiders expires. He finishes his storied career with 1,228 catches, 13,046 yards and 74 touchdowns in 271 games played. Those are the most games played by a tight end in NFL history.

Washington Football Team

In some very positive news to close out the week, Ron Rivera announced on Thursday night that he is cancer-free. Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in August and underwent treatment throughout the beginning of the season. He missed just three practices over the course of the season and no games.

In addition to Rivera’s good news, Washington made history this week when, as mentioned earlier, they promoted Jennifer King to assistant running backs coach, making her the first Black female assistant coach in NFL history. At 36 years old, King becomes the second woman in league history to be an assistant position coach after Tampa Bay’s assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust.

King joined the Football Team at the start of the 2020 season. She worked with Washington’s running backs coach, Randy Jordan. In the 2020 campaign, Washington’s running back group compiled 423 attempts for 1,697 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns.

“It’s another step forward for women in football,” King said to Washington’s senior vice president of media and content Donaldson. “It’s a good moment for me, but it’s also a good moment for a lot of people who are aspiring to be in this situation as well.”