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NFC East Notebook: Free agency highlights and analysis

Let’s check out the headlines from around the division from this past week

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As the clock struck 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17, the new league year officially begun and teams around the NFC East did not waste any time in making changes.

Already members of the media have begun discussing who will win the NFC East in the wake of the most recent signings.

Regardless of where you stand on this much-too-early debate, it’s safe to say that the NFC East is slowly getting more competitive with each offseason move. Large gaps still exist, but others have already been filled.

In honor of free agency beginning, this week’s notebook will be structured a little differently as we take a deep dive into each team’s biggest offseason needs and how they have addressed them so far.

Washington Football Team

New additions: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Chris Samuel, CB Williams Jackson

Re-signings: exclusive rights tender on QB Kyle Allen, RB Lamar Miller, OT David Sharpe, CB Danny Johnson

Departures: LB Kevin Pierre-Louis signs two-year, $8 million deal with Houston Texans, CB Ronald Darby signs three-year, $30 million deal with Denver Broncos, LS Nick Sundberg

Analysis: The Washington Football Team’s primary need this offseason was at the quarterback position. Following the end of the 2020 season, the Football Team signed playoff hero Taylor Heinicke to a two-year deal. Since then, Washington has parted ways with veteran Alex Smith and Kyle Allen has signed an exclusive rights free agent tender. It was expected that Heinicke and Allen would compete for the starting job, but with only 18 combined regular season starts between the two, Washington needed more depth and experience at the QB position. It filled that need when it signed Ryan Fitzpatrick this past week.

Fitzpatrick is 38 years old and has played for eight different teams over the course of his 16-year career. He signed a one-year deal worth $10 million, but he can earn another $2 million in incentives. He will take over the starting job in Washington after spending the last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Fitzpatrick started in 20 games with the Dolphins, throwing 33 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. In the last two years combined, he ranked seventh with a total QBR of 71.5.

Because of his age, Fitzpatrick will likely not be in Washington for long. But for now, he provides the Football Team with veteran playing experience. He also buys Washington some time as it continues the search for a franchise QB who has some staying power.

Another major offensive need for Washington is at the wide receiver position as Terry McLaurin has largely carried the weight in the receiving corps for the past two seasons. The Football Team added depth to that position by signing the former Carolina Panther, Curtis Samuel to a three-year, $34.5 million deal. This is a big pickup for Washington because he adds some much-needed speed to the offense and he has the ability to run routes outside or in the slot. The combination of Fitzpatrick and Samuel significantly improves Washington’s passing attack.

Dallas Cowboys

New additions: LS Jake McQuaide (Rams), OT Ty Nsekhe (Buffalo), DT Carlos Watkins (Houston)

Re-signings: QB Dak Prescott, WR Noah Brown, CB C.J. Goodwin, CB Jourdan Lewis

Departures: OT Cam Erving (Carolina), LB Joe Thomas (Houston), CB Chidobe Awuzie (Cincinnati), Andy Dalton (Chicago), Blake Bell (Kansas City)

Analysis: Of course, the biggest offseason signing for the Cowboys was Dak Prescott, which was finally finalized last week. But Dallas also needs to address its weaknesses on defense if it is going to improve this upcoming season. Its defense was ranked 31st against the run and allowed a franchise-record 473 points in 2020. For this reason, the Cowboys also entered free agency needing to add depth at cornerback, safety, linebacker and defensive line.

One of the most important additions for the Cowboys this past week was defensive tackle Carlos Watkins. Dallas agreed to a one-year deal with Watkins who most recently played for the Houston Texans. Watkins recorded 27 tackles and two sacks in a career-high 11 starts last season and will add depth to the defensive front

At the cornerback position, Jourdan Lewis returns to the Cowboys on a three-year deal worth a max of $16.5 million, including $8 million guaranteed. As a slot corner last season, Lewis started 13 of 15 games and recorded 60 tackles with two sacks, five tackles for loss, two pass deflections and a fumble recovery. Lewis will team up with last year’s second-round pick Trevon Diggs, who led the Cowboys with three interceptions in 2020.

With the No. 10 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Dallas has also been linked to Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley. If the Cowboys do in fact choose to pick a cornerback in the draft, their secondary will transition from a weakness to a strength.

Philadelphia Eagles

New additions: S Andrew Adams

Re-signings: DT Hassan Ridgeway

Departures: WR Alshon Jeffrey and DT Malik Jackson

Analysis: The Eagles, by comparison, have been quiet in free agency so far. This is to be expected because Philly is not in great shape with its salary cap. The Eagles have the second-worst salary cap situation in the league as they are about $12 million over the set cap of $182.5 million. They have done some creative accounting and contract restructuring but are still not poised to be big spenders.

The division’s worst team in 2020 still, of course, has major needs to fill. Philly entered free agency in the market for a top cornerback to work opposite Darrius Slay and it also needs to add depth to the receiving corps with DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey now no longer on the team. Additionally, in the wake of Carson Wentz’s departure, Jalen Hurts is the lone quarterback on the team.

So far, the Eagles have added depth to their secondary in free agency by signing former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Andrew Adams. Adams was mostly a special tam contributor for the Bucs but he has also established himself as an effective cornerback. He has 32 starts over the past five seasons and six career interceptions. This is just a starting point for Philly in improving their secondary, but a step in the right direction.