Continuing on our trip around the NFL to explore the best, worst, and next move for every team in free agency. We began by going over the Norths; both AFC and NFC. Our last installment covered the AFC East; a division rife with change the past 18 months. Next up, we will dissect the NFC East where it appears to still be a two-team race.
Free Agency Best and Worst: NFC East
Best Move: Replenishing the D-Line
The phrase “the rich get richer” comes to mind with this. After the Dallas Cowboys ranked 10th in opponent rushing yards per attempt and 11th in total rushing yards in 2019, the need for interior defensive linemen didn’t seem immediate. While they lost Maliek Collins to the Las Vegas Raiders, they have Antwaun Woods returning and drafted Trysten Hill in the second round.
That didn’t stop them from snatching up Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, both of whom played with the Carolina Panthers last season. The other interesting point about the signings is the scheme. It’s been reported that Dallas won’t be changing schemes but these signings (Poe in particular) signify there will be at least some clear 3-4 principles.
Worst Move: Ignoring the O-Line
NFL life giveth and it taketh away. That has to be the mantra for Cowboys fans who had to watch their All-Pro center, Travis Frederick, suddenly retire after seven years in Texas. Frederick (who missed all of 2018 with Guillain-Barre) is not the only loss on the line either, just the most significant.
Dallas also lost guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and tackle Cameron Fleming. Both are reserves but they do have 18 starts over the past two years between them for Dallas. Interior lineman Joe Looney was brought back. But with a guaranteed hole at center, Looney’s role off the bench needs filling in addition to those other guys. Once a strength, the offensive line is now a huge question mark.
Next Move: Find a Pass-Rusher
With Dallas signing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, fans can finally cross ‘playmaking safety’ off their wishlist. However, they lost 19.5 of their 39 sacks in just Quinn, Collins, and Michael Bennett. Dallas has largely ignored their pass rush outside of signing Aldon Smith who hasn’t played since the 2015 season and hasn’t recorded double-digit sacks since 2012.
DeMarcus Lawrence only had five sacks in 2019 after tallying 25 over the past two seasons combined. Their next best pass rusher still on the roster was defensive back Jourdan Lewis who had four followed by Jaylon Smith who had 2.5. Dallas will need to find a complementary rusher even if Lawerence returns to form.
New York Giants
Best Move: Tagging Investments
Free agency was ugly for New York Giants fans expecting to be aggressive in trying to upgrade the talent around Daniel Jones for his sophomore season. At least they didn’t let an investment walk for nothing. Leonard Williams was acquired mid-season and while that always made his return likely, it still wasn’t a given.
Williams hasn’t been all he was cracked up to be leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft when he went sixth overall to the New York Jets. He has just 17.5 sacks in six years and his career-high is just seven back in 2016. As a down lineman, huge sack totals aren’t to be expected but he was touted as a game-changer. The Giants mostly tagged him because they traded for him.
Worst Move: Not Adding Weapons
New York will return their top three receivers from 2019 in Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton. That should be a boon, and perhaps it will be. None of those three saw all 16 games, started more than 10 games, or even cleared 750 yards. Evan Engram has seen less and less game action due to injury as each year passes.
Levine Toilolo and Eric Tomlinson are nothing more than backups. Lewis is a scat back. Where are the playmakers? Giants brass is putting a lot of faith in a group that has dealt with injuries of varying severity throughout their careers. That is counter-intuitive to the notion that a young quarterback like Jones needs to be surrounded by talent. Maybe this situation is the exception.
Next Move: Protect the Franchise
Jones took tied with Mitchell Trubisky and Josh Allen for ninth in sacks taken with 38. He did so while playing in 13 games (12 starts). Only Kyle Allen of the Panthers took more sacks (46) in as many games as Jones. Their offensive line was middling at best and they just lost both of their starting tackles.
New York has attempted to replace one of those starting tackles with Cameron Fleming. Stealing a piece from the rival Dallas Cowboys is sweet burn, but Fleming has all of six starts in his career. Counting on him to step in and be a bookend might be too tall of an ask. They have Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler at guard, but tackle is a weakness.
Best Move: Bolstering the Secondary
This was a tough call that almost resulted in a tie. Pairing former Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave with Fletcher Cox should have interior lineman worried. But the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line, even in down years, has been formidable. Their secondary has been the total opposite of that. Darius Slay was brought in to change that.
Philly ranked third in rushing yards allowed but was 19th against the pass, further illustrating the deciding factor in praising Slay’s addition over that of Hargrave. His 55.9 percent completion percentage allowed is better than any Eagles corner from 2019 and that was a down year for him. He also got out of a bad situation in Detroit so he could look to show out for his new team.
Worst Move: Ignoring the Offense
Carson Wentz made it through an entire 16-game slate for the first time since his rookie season. He was the only one as only three eagles total even appeared in every game. The receiving corp was especially hard hit last season by injuries so the lack of movement is surprising. By year’s end, Wentz was leaning on converted college quarterback Greg Ward.
This offense leans on tight end Zach Ertz and a multi-faceted ground attack. But Wentz still needs more, reliable weapons. Especially if the ultimately moves on from disgruntled receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has dealt with his own injury woes throughout his career. Most mocks have taken note of this and have the Eagles targeting the position early in the draft.
Next Move: Find Another EDGE
Philly ranked 14th in sacks last season; very average. Signing Hargrave should do wonders for their already stout run defense. But they are wafer-thin on the edges. Their top pass rusher, Brandon Graham, is 32 years old and Vinny Curry just walked. That just leaves 2017 first-rounder, Derek Barnett, and 2018 fourth-rounder Josh Sweat behind Graham.
Picking 20th, the Eagles are in prime “best player available” territory. Many mocks have them taking a receiver in the first, but the position is considered to be as deep as it’s been in years. That opens the door to not only a position that isn’t necessarily a need but could still be a great value. They could also trade down if they aren’t in love with anyone.
Best Move: Revamping the Secondary
The Washington Redskins finished 2019 ranked 18th in passing yards allowed, marking the third straight year they regressed from the previous season. Redskins brass responded accordingly, moving on from starters Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar, as well as reserve Aaron Colvin, and replacing them with Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby.
Safety isn’t an issue with Landon Collins and Montae Nicholson but cornerback was clearly a different story. The issue is that neither Fuller nor Darby had particularly good seasons. Fuller’s was the better of the two, but he allowed 77.8 percent completion of throws in his coverage and dealt with injuries.
Worst Move: Ignoring D-Line
What’s worse than having the 18th-ranked passing defense? Having the 31st ranked run defense is a pretty good guess. Washington found themselves scraping the bottom despite having invested plenty into the position in the last three-plus years. Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne are both former first-round picks but only Payne played like one last season.
Matthew Ioannidis was their best lineman. The former fifth-round pick led Washington in sacks with 8.5, an impressive number from a lineman in an odd front. It could simply be a matter of not being able to play any worse, and the switch to Ron Rivera should help. But with Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley in the division, they need to up their run stuffing.
Next Move: Figure Out QB
Dwayne Haskins couldn’t seem to catch a break as a rookie. Rumors started immediately after he was drafted about not everyone in Washington not being on board with the selection. Then, during the season, video surfaced of Haskins pleading with his offensive line to block only to be met with apathy. Even this offseason he has dealt with former coaches questioning his intelligence.
This is an interesting age in the NFL. Quarterbacks used to get every chance to prove they weren’t the guy before a team admitted they gaffed in taking them. In Haskins’ case, the buyer’s remorse seemingly happened before he was even taken. If the Redskins are going to commit to him, they need to say so in no uncertain terms. How do you get a proper evaluation if you aren’t even looking to conduct one?