With Super Bowl LV complete, attention officially shifts to the 2021 NFL season.
Which means some way-too-early predictions.
According to power rankings from ESPN, the NFC East is ranked as followed heading into next season:
- Dallas Cowboys (19th)
- Washington Football Team (21st)
- New York Giants (25th)
- Philadelphia Eagles (26th)
Of course, these predictions are far in advance and do not take into account any major offseason moves. With free agency beginning March 17 and the NFL Draft scheduled for April 29, significant changes are still expected around the division and the league. But right now, the expectations are low for the NFC East next year. This is probably to be expected though for a division that was clinched with just a 7-9 record.
Something else to keep in mind heading into the offseason is the salary cap. Adam Schefter tweeted the following on the day of the Super Bowl:
Though the NFL’s salary cap is not expected to be officially set until next month, league sources believe it will be roughly $180-$181 million. Throughout the past season, many expected it to be around $175 million, but it now is projected to come in slightly higher, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 7, 2021
The adjustments each team can make this offseason are dependent on their cap space. According to Schefter, the NFL’s salary cap is not expected to be officially set until next month, but it is believed to be roughly $180-$181 million for 2021. This projected cap is a drop from last season’s $198.2 million, but is higher than the $175 million that was expected.
So where do teams in the NFC East stand on the projected salary cap?
Based off of a projected base salary cap of $180.5 million per Over the Cap, the Football Team is fifth in the league in cap space available with $39.6 million. The Cowboys are 13th with $18.4 million available. The Giants are ranked 19th with $1.1 million available and the Eagles are 31st in the league with $49 million over the projected cap.
In other words, Washington is in good shape as far as cap space. They are poised to be big spenders this offseason. The way they aggressively pursued Matthew Stafford suggests that they are prepared to make some waves. The Eagles, meanwhile, are in the worst shape of any team in the division and will have to do some shuffling around if they are going to make ends meet this offseason.
Now, let’s check out the quarterback headlines from around the division this past week.
With the end of the Super Bowl also came increased speculation about Dak Prescott’s future in Dallas. Rumors began to fly when the Cowboys released a hype video for the 2021 season that did not include Prescott. The organization has called this an oversight and it might be just that.
But speculation is continuing to rise over whether or not the Cowboys will be able to lock Prescott into a long-term contract after playing on the franchise tag last season. If Dallas is not able to reach a long-term agreement with Prescott by March 9th, they will have to place the franchise tag on him for the second-straight season. This would guarantee Prescott a minimum of a one-year, $37.7M salary that is 100% guaranteed for 2021 and would lock him in for a franchise value of $54.4M in 2022.
This means that Prescott would essentially be signed up for a two-year deal worth $92.1M guaranteed.
The high contract is why many believe that this will be Prescott’s last season with the Cowboys if he does in fact play on the tag again. The rate set by the tag in 2022 would be too much for any team to absorb.
In ESPN’s bold predictions, reporter Todd Archer predicted that the Cowboys and Prescott would not reach a long-term deal.
Despite both sides saying they want to get together with a multiyear commitment, the circumstances to get one done this offseason are much more difficult with a shrinking salary cap. How can they break the roadblock that has been there the past two offseasons? Without a long-term deal, Prescott will play the 2021 season on the franchise tag for the second straight year, earning $37.7 million and all but cementing a departure in 2022 with the franchise tag rising then to more than $52 million.
This is, of course, an intentionally aggressive prediction. But still something to consider as both sides try to reach a long-term deal.
Dallas is not the only city with quarterback problems. In fact, the situation is more urgent in Philadelphia.
It looked like the Eagles might have been nearing a deal for Wentz over Super Bowl weekend, but those whispers have since died down. Technically, Philly has until March 19th to trade Wentz because they want to get him off the books before his $10 million roster bonus kicks in.
But the situation looks more pressing because Philly cannot afford to lose any team that is interested, particularly the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears. The more teams in the running, the more leverage the Eagles can yield.
This begs the question: How much is too much for Wentz?
Wentz was a consistently strong quarterback throughout the first four years of his career, surpassing 3,000 passing yards in each season and never being sacked more than 37 times. Wentz threw 14 interceptions in his rookie campaign - a number that appeared to be an anomaly until this past season when he threw a career-high 15 and was sacked a league-leading 50 times. He was also 34th in completion percentage at 57.4%.
The Eagles want to be compensated for the talent that Wentz did show early in his career. They are also facing an NFL-record $34 million dead cap hit in 2021 by trading him. But Philly also has to temper its expectations due to Wentz’s tragically bad performance last season.
Washington Football Team
Meanwhile in Washington, playoff hero Taylor Heinicke signed a two-year contract this past week.
After Heinicke’s breakout performance in Washington’s Wild Card matchup against the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, it remained unclear what the Football Team would do with the signal caller. Before Washington signed Heinicke to its practice squad in early December, he had been taking math classes at Old Dominion University and had not seen NFL action since 2018. He had played in just seven NFL games, with one start, prior to his start in the playoffs.
But with just under two-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter against the Bucs, Heinicke showed a flash of promise. He dodged defenders, ran down the sideline and lunged into the endzone, just hitting the pylon to score a touchdown. It was enough for the Football Team to want to keep him around.
Heinicke’s contract includes salaries of $1 million and $1.5 million in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The rest can be earned in bonuses/incentives for a maximum value of $8.75 million. These terms are important to consider because the contract does not project Heinicke into Washington’s starting lineup. It simply gives Heinicke the chance to fight for the starting role.
But make no mistake, Washington is still searching for its franchise QB.