We are now in the part of the offseason when major free agency moves have already been made and mock drafts multiply by the day in preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft to begin in just three weeks.
A team’s moves during free agency are always revealing as they simultaneously answer some questions and pose others. So during this in-between time, it feels fitting to reflect on what we have learned about each NFC East team at this point in the offseason. I’ve chosen one word that to summarize each team.
New York Giants: Now
We won’t spend a lot of time here because if you’re on this site, you likely know about the Giants’ major free agency moves. But the signing of wide receiver Kenny Golladay ($18 million per year), cornerback Adoree’ Jackson ($13 million per year) and defensive end Leonard Williams ($21 million per year) suggests there is a sense of urgency in New York.
That urgency stems from Daniel Jones.
The spotlight is on Jones as he enters the third year of his professional career. The turnovers went down last season from 18 fumbles to 11 and 12 interceptions to 10, but Jones’ performance was not enough to convince many that he is the future leader of the Giants. Jones’ lack of offensive weapons due to injuries (Saquon Barkley) and drops (Evan Engram) has made it more difficult for him to succeed. In free agency, New York already added some offensive weapons and it may choose to add more in the draft if wide receivers drop down to No. 11. The true test will be seeing how Jones performs with actual help around him.
Perhaps because this upcoming season is Jones’ moment of reckoning, it will be the same for Joe Judge and the Giants. New York has not posted a winning record since 2016. Though it was an abysmal division all around last year, the Giants were one Doug Pederson and Nate Sudfeld away from making the playoffs. They want to win now and the money they paid their major free agent signings confirms it.
Washington Football Team: Stability
Meanwhile in Washington, Ron Rivera has practiced patience throughout the entire free agency process.
As questions surrounded the Football Team following the end of the 2020 season about their quarterback, their lack of offensive weapons or the weakness of the secondary, Rivera made one thing clear: “We are not desperate.”
Washington, of course, signed journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal worth $10 million with up to $12 million in incentives. The Football Team certainly signed the 16-year veteran because they believe he can help them win, but they also signed him because he is temporary. Fitzpatrick is a placeholder until Washington finds exactly what it is looking for under center. Rivera has made clear that he feels no pressure to find a franchise quarterback right now. When he joined the Carolina Panthers as the head coach in 2011, the Panthers drafted Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick in the same year. Rivera then built the team around Newton. Now, the situation is reversed and Rivera is on the lookout for a quarterback that complements the Football Team’s established strengths.
That’s where wide receivers Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries come into the picture. Samuel provides some much-needed speed and Humphries has established himself as a strong third-down receiver. Cornerback Williams Jackson III will replace Ronald Darby and work alongside Kendall Fuller on defense.
Washington entered free agency with the sixth-best cap situation in the league, but it did not spend big. Instead, the Football Team’s moves represent a smart and safe free agency haul. The most bold thing Washington did was place a second franchise tag on guard Brandon Scherff, making him virtually unaffordable next season. But the move illustrates Rivera’s desire to keep their own and grow from there.
Philadelphia Eagles: Rebuild
Doug Pederson confirmed Philadelphia’s mindset when he took Jalen Hurts out of the Week 17 game against the Washington Football Team and put Nate Sudfeld in: the team is no longer focused on winning now, but later.
That mindset has only become more clear throughout free agency. Unlike last season, Philadelphia will be the only team in the division with a new head coach in 2021. Doug Pederson was let go after five seasons with the team and just four years removed from a Super Bowl victory. Nick Sirianni spent the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts and is a first-time head coach in Philly. Sirianni’s arrival was not as notable as Pederson’s departure. Releasing Pederson, a coach that posted three winning seasons in five years, made it clear that Philadelphia wanted a change right away. And Carson Wentz, of course, was gone shortly after.
The Eagles’ offseason up until this point has largely been defined by cap space, or lack thereof. Philly entered the offseason with the second-worst salary cap situation in the league. They did not have the money to be big spenders and so they did not make many head-turning moves.
In fact, the biggest part of Philly’s offseason was its involvement in a three-team trade with the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins. They traded down from No. 6 to No. 12 and received an extra first-round pick in 2022. Philly also gained an additional third round pick in this year’s draft from the Colts in the Wentz trade and a conditional 2022 second round pick.
Philly’s hope is in its future. Winning now is not necessarily top of mind.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak
Naturally, the contract negotiations that have dominated the NFL for the last two offseason’s would provide insight into what we have learned about Dallas.
The Cowboys, as we know, signed quarterback Dak Prescott to a four-year, $160 million deal to finally resolve a situation that had dragged on too long.
The signing is notable for many reasons, but mostly because of what it reveals about the Cowboys: they are all in on Prescott and they expect him to lead this team to a Super Bowl at least once in the next four years. Prescott is to be the answer to this team’s problems.
It’s not an unrealistic ask by the Cowboys because the offense has finished in the top 10 in efficiency in three of four years with Prescott at quarterback, and they’ve been in the top three in two of those years. Before Prescott went down in Week 5 against the Giants last season, he tallied 151 completions for 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns. He was poised to break records if he continued at the same pace.
Even in Prescott’s absence and with Andy Dalton under center, the Cowboys’ offense continued to show signs of promise last season. It finished 14th in the league in yards per game with 371.8 and 17th in points with 395. Those numbers, while mediocre, rank higher than all of their NFC East counterparts. Now imagine what a Dak Prescott-led offense could do, particularly with the receiving corps of CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.