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NFC East notebook: Breaking down rosters as OTAs begin

Some big personnel changes are coming in the division

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As offseason workouts begin around the league, the NFC East remains the most difficult division to analyze.

Quarterback play remains a question mark outside of Dallas, with Carson Wentz, Jalen Hurts and Daniel Jones all entering 2022 with shaky track records. The division is loaded with star wide receivers, but some are holding out for new contracts or coming off disappointing seasons.

Let’s take a look at the headlines surrounding each team during OTAs and try and predict how their revamped rosters will play out on the field.

Dallas Cowboys

For the last few years, Dallas entered each season with an offense that looked unstoppable on paper but ultimately failed to achieve in the postseason. And that was before they traded Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott potentially aged out of his prime. In OTAs this week, we began getting a look at what the Cowboys’ new offensive identity will look like.

Losing Cooper means that Dallas no longer has a three-headed monster at wide receiver. Jalen Tolbert and James Washington, both deep threats, are currently the top options behind CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup.

Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s system is built around emphasizing players’ strengths rather than adhering to a strict scheme. That means Tolbert and Washington will likely be used to stretch the field, opening up shorter routes for Lamb and Dalton Schultz, who led the team last year with 441 yards and 348 yards after the catch.

Changes also might be coming at running back. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell says that there are “no arguments” against Tony Pollard taking over from Elliott as the Cowboys’ top running back:

in Dallas a season ago. Tony Pollard carried the ball 130 times to Elliott’s 237. Next Gen’s model suggests Pollard was placed in beneficial situations, as his average rush was expected to generate 4.8 yards per carry, a figure topped only by Miles Sanders and Darrell Henderson Jr. Even given those higher expectations in terms of where and when he carried the ball, Pollard simply blew Elliott’s performance out of the water.

Pollard has been more explosive than Elliott over his first three seasons in the league, but in 2019 and 2020, Elliott was a more reliable option. Elliott’s success rate and FDOE marks topped those of Pollard. Pollard’s yards per carry were better than his backfield mate’s, but you could have made a case for Elliott remaining as the primary runner. There are no arguments to be made after last season.

It’s unlikely that Elliott actually gets replaced on the depth chart. But he took only 62% of the backfield’s touches last year, and that number might be even lower in what may be his last season in Dallas. The Cowboys could cut Elliott after this year without eating an untenable amount of dead money,

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia just might be the division’s most impressive team on paper heading into training camp. They will go as far Jalen Hurts takes them. They have a deep defensive line reminiscent of their 2018 Super Bowl run and a stud wide receiver in A.J. Brown. If Hurts takes a step past league average, the Eagles will be a team to watch. It’s part of the reason why Peter King has them ranked as the best team in the NFC East and ninth-best in the league:

What I like about what the Eagles have done this offseason is this: They’ve created a team with a legitimate chance of winning now, with a legitimate offense to make a judgment on Jalen Hurts as the future quarterback. GM Howie Roseman has done it while still retaining enough pieces for the future to address the quarterback position if he needs in 2023. Roseman has three picks in the first two rounds next year, and three picks in the first two rounds of 2024. He’s done his job: He’s built a team for 2022, and he’s built a team that can do a U-turn in 2023 if need be.

First-round defensive tackle Jordan Davis does not even project as a starter on a line that features Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. Third-rounder Nakobe Dean could turn around years of poor linebacker play and allow Haason Reddick to act more like an edge rusher.

“[Nakobe Dean] — high, high football character, highly intelligent, versatile,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said Tuesday. “Production, obviously, was through the roof. Excited to add him to that room.

“With [Jordan Davis], same thing. High football character, versatile, tough, big, strong, violent. Can play a bunch of different spots for us, can affect the game in a positive way.”

And of course, James Bradberry leads a revamped secondary as the No. 2 corner opposite Darius Slay. On Tuesday, Bradberry explained why he signed with the Eagles after the New York Giants cut him.

“I like to play in a defense that offers a multiple look — zone and man,” Bradberry said. “I think I make a lot of plays in both, so that’s the reason that I like the scheme.

“The team that they were building here, and also getting the opportunity to play in front of these fans. Because I’ve played in front of these fans a few times when I was in Carolina, and also in New York, and they’re a pretty rowdy bunch, so I feel like it’d be pretty fun.”

On offense, Brown gives the team enough receiver depth to stop trying to force something out of former first-round pick Jalen Reagor. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he sits behind Quez Watkins, who was drafted in the sixth round the same year.

With an overload of draft capital over the next two years, the Eagles just might have the brightest future in the NFC East.

Washington Commanders

In Washington, pressure is heating up to remove Dan Snyder as the team’s owner. Jarrett Bell reports that owners are growing frustrated with the lack of information they have received about the NFL’s investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and withholding ticket revenue from other owners.

“If that happened, I think that’s the nail in the coffin,” another NFL team owner told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. The owner did not want to be identified, due to the sensitive nature of the matter.

“For the first time, there’s been chatter,” the second team owner told USA TODAY Sports. “We should really think about doing something if they find something there.”

“There’s a feeling, a sense of disappointment amongst the owners that I talk to – I don’t talk to them all, but owners who come to the meetings and are active – that he wasn’t suspended. Disappointment that Roger did not act stronger.”

Twenty-four owners would need to vote to remove Snyder. Bell’s report contends that’s very unlikely to happen until more information is released or some of the allegations are proven conclusively.

The start of the Commanders’ OTAs also came with a bit of controversy. Head coach Ron Rivera is being vague about when Curtis Samuel will return from injury. Terry McLaurin is not expected to take the field until he gets a new contract, and Rivera was similarly noncommittal about that.

Terry, obviously, we’re working through with his contract. I’m not gonna get into specifics about that. We’ve had communications with [Terry and his agent]. We’ve been working with them. It’s just a matter of time.