After being the butt of a lot of jokes during the 2015 season, the NFC East attempts to undergo a facelift this off-season as they try to improve on some of the, erm, “entertaining” football played last season, with all 4 teams having a chance to grab the title.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has been the Redskins mantra this off-season, putting most of their effort into to retaining their key players after lifting the 2015 NFC East crown. The biggest of all has to be the retention of Kirk Cousins at QB, who after a rocky 2-4 start, ended up breaking the team’s single season passing yards record and made himself indispensable. He was duly rewarded with the non-exclusive franchise tag (Nearly $20 million for the 2016 season), but it is thought a long term deal will be hammered out before the team begins pre-season.
Probably the most underrated signing by the Redskins was Junior Galette; after sacking his agent, Galette managed to get the one year prove it deal he had been after from the Redskins, who he was desperate to return to after a lost season thanks to a torn achilles tendon. The Linebacker traded for from the Saints has previously shown he is a game-changer on defence with 31.5 sacks in 4 years with the Saints; but his off-field mishaps have held him back.
Redskins GM Scot McCloughan has always been a big believer in building though the draft, as he looks to accumulate 12 picks this season. Whilst that may be an ambitious total, having the same strategy last season when he gathered 10 worked reasonably well. They aim to take advantage of the deep DL class this year after Terrance Knighton left for the Patriots; and I would be surprised if they didn’t draft one in the first two rounds. Andrew Billings is a player the Redskins may look towards sitting at 21st overall as a direct replacement for Knighton as a decent run stopper.
Another position the Redskins need an upgrade at is CB, with Bashaud Breeland the best Corner on the roster, but he’s not an elite talent who can be the “shutdown corner” that so many NFL teams covet these days; and if one happens to fall into the Redskins lap in the top 2 rounds then they could very well pull the trigger.
After 3 years, the Chip Kelly experiment is over in Philadelphia, and the Eagles wasted no time washing their hands clean of some of his acquisitions, with DeMarco Murray shipped out to Tennesee, whilst Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso have gone to Miami; both for a relatively minimal price. In what could turn into a very under-the-radar move, they re-signed Sam Bradford to a very affordable 2 year $35 million contract which at the very least buys them time to find their signal caller of the future. Bradford finally looked like a healthy, capable QB in the last few games of 2015 and if new Head Coach Doug Pederson gets a full season of that, it gives them a solid base to work from on offense.
My favourite signing made by the Eagles has to be Rodney McLeod on a 5 year $35 million deal from the Rams. As part of an extremely good Rams D, McLeod managed to record 245 tackles in 4 seasons, and now pairs up with Malcom Jenkins to form a very intimidating safety duo.
After the trade with the Dolphins that shed Maxwell and Alonso salaries, the Eagles moved up in the first round to 8th overall, and if he’s still on the board then I would be shocked if they don’t seriously consider taking RB Ezekiel Elliot. With DeMarco Murray gone, and Ryan Mathews probably not the most convincing of Running Backs, the Eagles are in dire need of a running game to allow Doug Pederson’s new system to work effectively. At Ohio St. Elliot took College Football by storm, and would bring a completely new dynamic to the Eagles ground attack, with the potential to match Todd Gurley’s production from last season.
Another big need for the Eagles has to be to add a pass rusher to join Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox in a pass rush that lacks depth. With lots of OLB turning into hybrid DE these days, they could look to go that route to beef up the edge rush, and improve on a team that sat in the middle of the road finishing 17th in sacks.
New York Giants
One of the biggest overhauls this off-season took place in East Rutherford as the Giants splashed the cash trying to improve one of the worst defences in the NFL in 2015. The headline grabber was the 5 year $85 million contract they handed out to former Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon, whilst also adding Damon Harrison from the Jets and re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul to give the Big Blue a much improved defensive line. The Giants finished 30th in the NFL in sacks, they hope that the revamp will give offensive lines more to fear than just a one handed JPP.
The other big move made by the Blue side of New York, was the signing of CB Janoris Jenkins from the Rams on another whopper of a deal at 5 years $62.5 million contract. In his time in St Louis, Jenkins showed that he had the makings of an above average corner, but I think it’s very telling that the Rams chose to hold onto Trumaine Johnson whilst letting Jenkins walk. It also strikes me as an odd signing, given the Giants willingness to let Prince Amukamara leave on a one year deal to Jacksonville; and although it addresses a big need on a weak defence, there may have been better ways to go about it.
Despite the massive overhaul, the Giants still have a gaping hole across their linebacking corps, with none of their current starters projecting as better than average. So they could look to go there if an OLB such as Myles Jack falls to them at 10th overall. But in a much more likely scenario, they may look towards and ILB like Reggie Ragland who proved during his college career and he can be an exceptional run stopper on the inside, or take one in the 2nd or 3rd round where some real steals can be had this year.
In 2013 they drafted Odell Beckham Jr. in a similar spot, and if they don’t like what they see at Linebacker, then they could attempt to give Beckham at play-mate on the outside after Number 2 receiver Reuben Randle departed for Philadelphia. After Beckham, Eli manning is severely lacking in receiving options, and the top two receivers in the draft, Treadwell and Fuller, project to go around where the Giants are picking.
Injuries appeared to kill a seemingly promising season for the Cowboys as Tony Romo and Dez Bryant went down early in the season, and America’s team was then led by Brandon Weeden/Matt Cassel to a 4-12 record without its stars. Similarly to the division topping Redskins, the Cowboys prioritised keeping a hold of what they had, which the bulk of, only a year ago guided them to the NFC East title. None of the players retaining were game changers, but keeping hold of the likes of Ronald Leary, Rolando McClain, Morris Claiborne and Lance Dunbar gives them a good base to work from for the 2016 season.
However one addition they made that could be very shrewd is Alfred Morris, on a two year deal, from the rival Redskins. With the jury still out on Darren McFadden as Dallas’ Number 1 back, Morris could turn in some sneaky value if he were to rediscover his pre-2015 form as a nice compliment to Lance Dunbar as the third down back. I for one, as a Redskins fan, will dread seeing Morris put on the Cowboy white but behind their great Offensive Line, he could really bounce back this season.
Picking at number 4 overall in the draft , there are a lot of options the Cowboys could go with, but my favourite fit for them would have the be DE Joey Bosa out of Ohio State as a direct replacement for Greg Hardy. If the top 3 go as expected with Tunsil to Tennesee, Wentz/Goff to Cleveland, and Ramsey to San Diego then Bosa will fall nicely into Jerry Jones’ lap. Bosa has the potential to be a game-changing talent on a fairly average Cowboys D-Line and end up turning into the best player in this draft class.
As highlighted last season, when Romo went down, the Cowboys really have no viable alternative to their Star QB; and with time running out on his career, Jerry Jones really needs to consider a long term replacement. There are a few QBs in this draft class below the top 2/3 who they Cowboys could look towards such as Connor Cook or Dak Prescott to fill the back-up role and learn from Romo for a few years before taking the reins.
Blake is a Washington Redskins fan after getting into NFL in 2012 to further his American Sports obsession. When he’s not shouting “You Like That!” in the winter, he plays/manages the Birmingham Outlaws and watches the Washington Nationals; and mixes in watching Bath City. Follow him on twitter @FinneyBlake.