Logan Lockhart
BarnBurner Sports Writer


Monday, March 23, 2020

Where Does Each Team In The NFC East Stand As Free Agency Opens And The Road To The Draft Begins?

In 2019, the NFC East was home to mediocre football at the top of the division, and some of the worst team performances at the bottom--in 2020, the play is expected to be much improved. 


NFC East Power Rankings:

1. Dallas

2 . Philadelphia

3. New York Giants

4. Washington


Washington Redskins


After being competitive in the East before Alex Smith’s possible career ending injury for the first half of the 2018 season, Washington has quickly become irrelevant in the division over the last year and a half.


A quarterback duo of Case Keenum and rookie Dwyane Haskins Jr. led Washington to a 3-13 record in 2019, and as a result will select second overall in the upcoming draft. And with Keenum on his way to Cleveland, Haskins will most likely get a full season under his belt in 2020.


Washington’s choice not to sign an established quarterback in the early part of free agency, as well as the can’t miss opportunity to select Ohio State standout DE Chase Young second overall are the reasons Haskins looks positioned to officially take over the reigns in Washington from the start. 


In seven starts, Haskins completed 58% percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, but also threw seven interceptions. Turnovers were a problem early on for Haskins. The 15th overall selection in the 2019 draft was highly regarded as the next best quarterback in the class after Kyler Murray, and in 2020, he will have the full season to live up the praise as a pro. 


The Redskins hired former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera to take over after Jon Gruden was fired on October 7th 2019, as the team started 0-5 under his leadership. Much of the speculation in the early goings of the offseason of 2020 was directed towards if a Carolina reunion between Rivera and QB Cam Newton was a possibility. Rivera has historically been a big supporter of Newton, despite all the drama surrounding the former number one overall pick and upper management in Carolina. Rivera’s appraisal of Haskins Jr. as a quarterback will be even more interesting based on this dynamic. 


Left tackle Trent Williams has sparked trade discussion over the last year and a half, and also hasn’t played a snap in just as much time. He remains a primary trade target, but it must be asked why a deal hasn’t been found yet? Williams was at one time the best offensive lineman in football, but for a player that hasn’t played in so long, what trade value would other teams place on him?


The current incarnation of the Redskins defence is often overlooked--but make no mistake about it, it’s a formidable unit. CB Quinton Dunbar has been available for a trade, just like Williams, therefore the defence may look slightly different in 2020, but the inevitable addition of Chase Young through the draft will hopefully carry the Washington front seven for the next decade. 




New York Giants


The Giants decision to draft QB Daniel Jones sixth overall in 2019 stirred great, typical New York sports talk controversy all throughout the lead up to the 2019 season.


After Eli Manning started the first two games for Giants in 2019, Jones was thrown into the fire in week three to lead a team that played as bad defensively as any team in recent memory.


CB rookie DeAndre Baker struggled all year long, leaving opponents receivers with space and finishing the year with zero INT’s. The first three draft picks by the Giants in 2019 played key roles in either the success or downfalls of the team this past season--Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence and DeAndre Baker.


Lawrence will definitely be counted on to be New York’s top D-line contributor for years to come, but the jury in “The Big Apple” will still be out on Jones and Baker as we approach the 2020 season.


The Giants added to its secondary in the early goings of free agency by signing former Panthers CB James Bradberry. The secondary for the Giants a year ago was young--and it showed. Bradberry will play the role of veteran to help a group consisting of Baker and S Jabril Peppers, among others. The deal given to Bradberry was worth $45 million over three years.


Another notable addition for the Giants in free agency also came on the defensive side of the field, this time signing former Packers linebacker Blake Martinez.


New York, now led under the newly hired head coach Joe Judge, knew the flaws on its roster--and with Bradberry and Martinez amongst the new additions on defence, the Giants will hope Daniel Jones can have more time of possession on offence to develop into the quarterback they hope he will become.



Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles were the winners of the NFC East in 2019, but even when made official in week 17, it hardly felt that way. The infamous battle for the division between the Cowboys and the Eagles in 2019 was so lackluster that the thought of having division winners automatically qualify for the playoffs became a topic for discussion. 


Philadelphia hobbled its way as the NFC East champion by winning its last four games of the year, including a comeback overtime victory on Monday Night Football against the Giants in Eli Manning’s second last start as an NFL quarterback. Despite hosting a playoff game, and ultimately losing to Seattle, the optimism in Philadelphia was low.


Concerns towards Carson Wentz’s injury history returned and virtually all of the Eagles starters on offence went down and missed time throughout the season. The secondary play was questionable at best, and free agent acquisition from 2019 WR DeSean Jackson almost never saw the field. 


The Eagles were a mess in 2019--but a mess that was just good enough to win the division. 


Amongst notable additions to Philadelphia’s roster this offseason is the acquisition of CB Darius Slay from the Lions. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Rasual Douglas provided sub-par play in the secondary, making the addition of the pro-bowler Slay a must.


Slay will reunite with defensive coordinator Jim Scwartz in 2020, who drafted Slay 36th overall in the 2013 draft when he was the head coach of Detroit. Despite losing Malcolm Jenkins to New Orleans via free agency, depth in the secondary will not be an issue for the Eagles, and Slay will be counted on to carry the production. 


Philadelphia also added to its defensive line by signing former Steelers run-stopper Jason Hargrave to a three-year worth $39 million. The trio of Hargrave, Maliek Jackson and Fletcher Cox rounds out a defensive line group that should be the best in the division.


The Eagles are due to have a healthy year collectively, after facing problems on the injury front the last few seasons. Almost all of the Eagles WR’s in 2019 went down, and the loss of Nelson Agholor to the Raiders makes the receiving core even thinner.


There has not been a repeat winner of the NFC East since the Eagles in 2004. In 2020, Philadelphia will hope the recent trend will change, and they repeat as division champs.



Dallas Cowboys 

Dallas was the one of the biggest disappointments in football last season. A 3-0 start, and then after that, 5-8. A demoralizing Thanksgiving Day loss, and offensive no-shows against the Patriots and Eagles on the road cost the Cowboys the division crown. 


The talk around Dallas this past season was about only one man--Jason Garrett. Garrett coached the team from 2010 up until January of 2020. A lack of leadership, preparation and direction summarized Garrett’s coaching performance in 2019. But the tide has turned--a new era of Cowboys football is upon us and it will be led by former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. The subtraction of Garrett alone makes the Cowboys the best team in this division, but as we watched last year, probably not by much. 


Dak Prescott had a career year statistically. Despite adding to his stats when it mattered the least, (late in the game when the Cowboys are trailing by a steep deficit) Prescott threw for the most yards he’s ever thrown in a season, as well as throwing for the most touchdowns in his four year career. 30 touchdowns, and almost 5000 yards passing--ranking him fourth and second in those categories respectively.


Dallas was unable to reach a long-term deal with Prescott this week, hence why the franchise tag was applied, but will have until July 15th to do so. Questions about the Cowboys quarterback playing under the franchise tag are real--and don’t expect him to do so. The Cowboys need to get a deal done, in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year with Ezekiel Elliott.


After losing safety Jeff Heath to the Raiders, the Cowboys added former Bears S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a two-year deal worth $8 million. Despite the addition of Clinton-Dix the secondary will be amongst the top priorities for the Cowboys as they enter the draft. The loss of CB Byron Jones to the Dolphins simply came down to money--time to pleanish the cupboard with players on rookie contracts. 


The other priority for Dallas will be the defensive line--a unit that provided almost no value worth noting for the Cowboys a year ago. The team’s top pass rusher from 2019 is gone (Robert Quinn) and DeMarcus Lawrence has yet to live up to his lucrative contract. 


It’s hard to imagine this team being the best in the East with such a tough start to free agency, but the subtraction of Garrett is a game-changer. New life for the offence, and a new 3-4 defensive scheme led by a new coordinator Mike Nolan will spark the beginnings of new life in Dallas.