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NFC East Notebook: Distinguishing between the needs and wants for teams around the division

What each NFC East team could do in the 2021 NFL draft vs. what they should do

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Should have. Would have. Could have.

We are at the point in the offseason where mock drafts have been written, rewritten and turned upside down. For every team in the league, there are the expected picks and then there are the rogue rumors describing unexpected outcomes. NFL Draft’s have long inspired creativity, but with two weeks until the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off, which predictions should be taken seriously and which are far-fetched? Sometimes an aggressive move is the best move, but other times, it’s a bad idea.

As the draft gets closer, let’s consider what the other teams in the NFC East could do and what they should do in the draft.

Washington Football Team

It feels fitting to start with the defending NFC East champion Washington Football Team. At this time last year, the Football Team was rebuilding and recovering from a three-win season in 2019. This offseason, things are different in Washington. Ron Rivera has expressed no sense of urgency throughout free agency and in the buildup to the draft. Instead, he has emphasized “fit.” Rivera promised to change the culture in Washington when he arrived one season ago and he is sticking to it. He is therefore seeking players who not only fill needs on the Football Team, but also enhance the environment he is trying to build.

Below is Washington’s draft order:

  • First round: No. 19
  • Second round: No. 51
  • Third round: No. 74 (via 49ers)
  • Third round: No. 82
  • Fourth round: No. 124
  • Fifth round: No. 163
  • Seventh round: No. 244 (via Raiders)
  • Seventh round: No. 246

The Football Team’s biggest need heading into the draft is arguably at left tackle. Geron Christian and Cornelius Lucas were not overly impressive last year and former LSU standout Saahdiq Charles was sidelined all season with injury. Washington needs someone who can jump right into the starting role and complement Morgan Moses on the right side. Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw or Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins could both fill the left tackle need for Washington.

Some later-round targets include positions on the defensive side of the ball, particularly at linebacker and free safety. Washington needs to replace Kevin Pierre-Louis and it has lacked stability at the safety position for years.

Washington’s draft haul does not need to be flashy to be successful. The Football Team filled its biggest needs in free agency by signing journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receivers Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries and cornerback William Jackson III.

But there is always what they could do...

Ex-front office employee Michael Lombardi, who has sources and connections around the league, said the following on a recent episode of The GM Shuttle.

“I think Washington is going to be the next team to unload all their picks to try to get QB,” Lombardi said. “I think they love Lance. I don’t think, I know Washington loves Lance. So will they trade up to get Lance? That remains to be seen.”

North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is a bit of a mystery as he has only 17 career starts, none of which came against FBS opponents. And Washington, of course, only has a temporary solution at QB in Fitzpatrick. While the Football Team does need to figure out a long-term plan under center sooner rather than later, I think going “all-in” is too risky, especially for new GM Martin Mayhew.

Dallas Cowboys

There is one word to keep in mind for the Cowboys heading into the draft: defense.

After (finally) signing franchise QB Dak Prescott to a four-year deal this offseason, the Cowboys solidified their offensive strength for years to come. With Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and a receiving corps of CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper, the Cowboys are in good shape on offense. They put off focusing on the defense last year and now, they must address it.

Below is Dallas’ draft order:

  • First round: No. 10
  • Second round: No. 44
  • Third round: No. 75
  • Third round: No. 99
  • Fourth round: No. 115
  • Fourth round: No. 138
  • Fifth round: No. 179
  • Sixth Round: No. 192 (via Lions)
  • Sixth Round: No. 227
  • Seventh Round: No. 238

The Cowboys should target a cornerback who can line up opposite Trevon Diggs. There is a needy to replace safety Xavier Woods, who signed a deal with Minnesota and Dallas could stand to add more depth at safety and defensive tackle.

Mostly, Dallas needs to become more balanced on both sides of the ball. Even without Prescott, the Cowboys were ranked 14th in the league last season in offensive yards per game with 371.8. Their offense is talented enough that even a rotating string of quarterbacks (shoutout Ben DiNucci) led by Andy Dalton could not slow them down. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense was in the bottom 10 in the league last season, allowing 386.4 yards per game. The Cowboys hired former Falcons coach Dan Quinn as the team’s new defensive coordinator this offseason so they know that work needs to be done on that side of the ball.

Now that we’ve established that the Cowboys should prioritize defense, let’s move on to what they could do. For Dallas, this mean trades.

The Cowboys have 10 picks in the draft, behind only the Eagles (more on them soon). Since taking over the Cowboys in 1989, Jones has made 161 trades, 68 of which have been draft-day deals, per ESPN.

In this case, while the Cowboys could make trades, they also probably should.

Dallas already has many high-priced players on its roster, including Prescott, Elliott, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and linebacker Jaylon Smith. Targeting young talent in the draft will allow the Cowboys to build depth while not spending too much. Expect Jones to be active on draft day.

Philadelphia Eagles

This 2021 NFL Draft is very important for the Eagles, perhaps more so than any other team in the division. Philly is strictly entering a rebuilding season under new head coach Nick Sirianni. They posted a 4-11 record last year, losing games and respect in the process as drama surrounded Carson Wentz’s inability to graciously play backup QB to Jalen Hurts.

The draft’s is Philly’s best chance at improvement because they are going to face salary cap constraints for the next two seasons. The Eagles entered the offseason with the second-worst salary cap situation in the league. Thanks to some trades, the Eagles have the most draft capital of any team with 11 picks, a big step up from the 10 combined picks the team had in the 2018 and 2019 drafts.

Below is Philly’s draft order:

  • First round: No. 12 (from Dolphins, via 49ers)
  • Second round: No. 37
  • Third round: No. 70
  • Third round: No. 84 (from Colts in Wentz trade)
  • Fourth round: No. 123 ( from Dolphins)
  • Fifth round: No. 150
  • Sixth round: No. 189
  • Sixth round: No. 224 (compensatory)
  • Sixth round: No. 225 (compensatory)
  • Seventh round: No. 234
  • Seventh round: No. 240 (from 49ers)

As to be expected with a team that had only four wins last season, the Eagles have many holes heading into the draft. They need to add a cornerback to work opposite Darius Slay. The team also has to fill its nagging need at the wide receiver position now that Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson have been released.

They should address some long-term questions on the defensive line with Brandon Graham turning 33 years old this season. And even with the addition of linebacker Eric Wilson, the Eagles could use some insurance at the position.

With this team, it is a little more difficult to distinguish between what they should do and what they could do simply because the Eagles have so many positions to fill. Like the Cowboys, Philly should look to make strategic trades and moves throughout the draft in order to address their specific needs. The one thing the Eagles should not do is select a quarterback in the early rounds. While there are still some unanswered questions about Hurts, he should get a shot next year to lead the team. Other than that, the Eagles can’t go wrong by adding some all-around depth.