NFL Free Agency Updates: NFC East

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Zack Goodrow, Sports Editor

In this barren wasteland of sports news, there has been one league that has become a savior of our sports sanity: NFL free agency. Lanthorn Sports will be recapping keys moves of the off-season while breaking down where teams now sit after the initial free agency period. Today, we will be recapping the NFC East.   

DALLAS COWBOYS: The Dallas Cowboys are gearing up for a Super Bowl run. Last season, Dallas started out the season 6-4, with one of the best point differentials in the league and one of the top offenses and defenses at the mid-season mark. It quickly went downhill for the Cowboys, finishing the season by losing four out of six games and missing the playoffs. Most of the blame fell on head coach Jason Garrett, who was fired after the season. The Cowboys hope new head coach Mike McCarthy’s presence will sturdy the ship with more unique play calling and more aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball. 

With the new leader of the coaching staff in place, the Cowboys focused their off-season on bringing back key players to the team. Dallas re-signed star receiver Amari Cooper on a five year, $100 million deal. Cooper caught 79 catches for 1,189 yards and 8 touchdowns.

With Cooper re-signed as the team’s number one receiver, Dallas needed to ensure their star quarterback would be on the team next year as well. Quarterback Dak Prescott was placed on the teams franchise tag after he threw for a career best 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns.  Dallas will continue to negotiate with Prescott on a longer term deal throughout training camp. If worse comes to worse and Prescott holds out this season, Dallas made sure to have a back-up plan. Former Bengals starter Andy Dalton was brought in by the Cowboys earlier this off-season. The move ensures that the quarterback position at least has a verteran to back up Prescott or potentially start the season if he holds out. Dalton struggled last year on an abysmal Bengals roster and was benched late in the season, on his birthday. The veteran signal caller does have quality play left in the tank, as the 32-year-old was an excellent addition by the Cowboys for one year and 7 million dollars. 

On defense, the Cowboys focused on bringing back key veteran contributors. Dallas re-signed cornerback Anthony Brown to a three year, $15.5 million deal and  linebacker Sean Lee to a one year, $4.5 million deal. Dallas brought in from All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a three year, $18.3 million deal after one season in Carolina. With the Panthers, McCoy recorded five sacks and should fill a hole created by defensive end Michael Bennett after he was not retained by the Cowboys.

Dallas lost more pass rushing with the departure of outside linebacker Robert Quinn to the Chicago Bears. Quinn resurrected his career last season with America’s team by recording 11.5 sacks last year, his most since 2013. Quinn will be sorely missed on defense, but not as much as cornerback Byron Jones. Jones has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for the past few seasons. In 2019, Jones allowed the second fewest yards per target (5.1) and was ninth in the league in receptions allowed with only 33. The Cowboys brought in former Chicago Bears safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a one year deal after he had two interceptions last season. Losing two highly productive players from last season in Quinn and Jones will hurt this defense, but the additions of McCoy and Clinton-Dix puts a bandage on these defensive holes at least for this season. 

Dallas may have had the steal of the draft, taking Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb with the seventeenth overall selection. Lamb was considered by many to be the best receiver in the draft and surely wouldn’t be available when it was the Cowboy’s turn to pick. However Lamb slid in a deep and talented receiver class. Lamb will join a wide receiver group that includes Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Prescott will have an abundance of weapons and puts Dallas in contention to be one of the best offenses in the league. Dallas got more luck again with picking cornerback Trevon Diggs in the second round after he fell, giving the team another talented player and steal in the draft.

There are still a few holes on this team, most notably in the middle of the offensive line. Longtime Cowboys center Travis Fredrick shockingly retired at the age of 29 after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disease.  In his seven year career in Dallas, Fredrick was as solid as a rock in the run and passing game and will be missed by the team. Dallas retained veteran back-up interior lineman Joe Looney for 2020. Looney and center Tyler Biadasz, who was drafted this year from Wisconsin, will compete to replace Frederick. 

 The Dallas Cowboys will be hungry in 2020 to win the division after a disappointing final stretch in the 2019 season. With Mike McCarthy running the show and new weapons on offense to combine with a stellar offensive line, Dallas could field a top five offense this year. On defense DE DeMarcus Lawrence and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch are entering their primes and will lead the team to have a competitive defense. Even with the loss of two key defenders and their star center, Dallas has a new head coach, receiver, and something to prove to the league. STOCK UP. 

NEW YORK GIANTS: With QB Eli Manning officially retiring this offseason, it’s a new era for the New York Giants. Last year’s first round pick, QB Daniel Jones, showed flashes of greatness in 13 games. In those games, Jones threw for 3,027 yards and 24 touchdowns, but turnovers were a huge issue. The rookie quarterback threw 12 interceptions and fumbled the ball 18 times. These issues of holding onto the ball will be worked on during training camp, with new head coach Joe Judge. General manager Dave Gettleman made it a point to add weapons to Jones’ arsenal and to improve an atrocious offensive line. Gettleman also used the team’s $74 million dollars in cap space to improve the 30th ranked defense in the NFL last year. 

The Giants signed cornerback James Bradberry to a three year , $45 million dollar contract. New York paid a hefty price to obtain Bradberry’s services, but he arguably had a career year last season in Carolina. Bradberry had 65 tackles and a career high three interception with the Panthers in 2019. Bradberry is being paid $15 million dollars a year and may be overpaid to be a number one cornerback. With an abundance of cap space however, it shouldn’t hurt the Giants at least for this season.

Elsewhere on defense, the Giants improved their linebacker corp by bringing in former Green Bay Packers middle linebacker Blake Martinez. Martinez signed a $30-million contract over three years with the Giants to be a starting interior linebacker. Martinez was first in the league with 114 solo tackles and has been a solid linebacker for the Packers over his career. He didn’t fit very well in the Packers’ new defensive system last season, but has proved to be one of the better linebackers in coverage over the years. In a new situation in New York, Martinez should see even more production next year. 

 The Giants also brought back defensive lineman Leonard Williams by using their franchise tag on the five-year veteran. The Giants traded a third round pick in the draft to the Jets for William’s services, and he rewarded the Giants by only recording half a sack. The former Pro Bowler has a chance to regain his old form in his first full year with the Giants and the team couldn’t let him get away after giving up assets to bring him onto the roster in the first place. With the Giants second round pick in the draft, the team selected safety Xavier McKinney from Alabama. McKinney should start next to former Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers to form one of the youngest and highest upside duos in the league. 

On offense, New York brought in running back Dion Lewis as an insurance option and relief for franchise star Saquon Barkley. Barkley had a down year with the Giants last season with horrible offensive line play, and Lewis is an excellent back-up. Lewis has experience in the league and has shown to be a reliable pass catching option out of the backfield. To improve the offensive line, the Giants signed tackle Cam Fleming for division rival Dallas on a one year deal to compete for a starting job. With the fourth overall pick in the draft, New York selected Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas to be the team’s right tackle for the next several years. Thomas stands at 6’5”, weighs 315 pounds, and was a force to be reckoned with in college football last year. 

The New York Giants completed many of their offseason goals. They invested heavily in the offensive line and should see the groups’ play increase over the next few seasons. Gettleman and company also devoted money into the defense, bringing in several new players. While none of these new players may be stars, they are improvements over the players that were fielded last season. With another season of development from Daniel Jones and new head coach Joe Judge taking over the locker room, the Giants are heading in the right direction. They may not be competing for the division title this season, but should be a team contending for the spot in a few years. STOCK UP. 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Last season the Philadelphia Eagles were decimated by injuries all over the roster. Wide receiver, cornerback, and offensive line is just a short list of positions that struggled immensely from key players missing time. Philadelphia rallied from these medical obstacles however, and were led by QB Carson Wentz to a 9-7 record and playoff berth. No matter what players were brought onto the team this off-season, the Eagles should be an even better team with a healthy roster. 

There were two main areas on the roster that Philly needed to address: wide receiver and cornerback. CB Nickell Robey-Coleman was brought in on a one year contract to improve the secondary. Robey-Coleman is a nine year veteran and will provide the team with his leadership and solid play in coverage and on special teams. He can stay healthy as well, as he has only missed one game in his career. 

Robey-Coleman has never been a turnover machine or a player that strikes fear in receivers, not like new cornerback on the team Darius Slay. The former Lion is a three time Pro Bowler, and the Eagles got him at a very cheap price. Philadelphia traded a pair of third-round picks and a fifth-round pick over to Detroit for the star cornerback. Slay made the Pro Bowl last year, and had 46 tackles and two interceptions. Slay’s addition to the team will turn one of the worst secondaries in the league to one that teams dread to face. 

With these two moves made and low cap space to work with, the Eagles released veteran safety Malcom Jenkins and CB Ronald Darby. With these new holes on the team after releasing Jenkins and Darby, the Eagles patched them up with Safeties Will Parks, Jalen Mills, and Rodney McLeod. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was also signed to a three year, $39 million contract. Hargrave will improve an already great defensive line as he had 60 tackles and 4 sacks last year. 

Wide receiver was improved during the draft, as former TCU WR Jalen Reagor was selected in the 21st pick. Reagor ran a 4.47 forty time and will add some much needed speed alongside DeSean Jackson to the offense. The Eagles further invested in the wide receiver position by picking Boise State WR John Hightower and Southern Miss WR Quez Watkins in the later rounds of the draft. 

With a clean medical report the Eagles will be a menace in the NFC East. Carson Wentz will be looking to lead the team to another Super Bowl with head coach Doug Peterson. The wide receiver and cornerback position were vastly improved. The Eagles still have a hole at tackle, but may still bring back OT Jason Peters who was released earlier this offseason as a cap casualty. Other than that, the Eagles seem to be in a prime position to regain supremacy in the NFC if they can just stay healthy. STOCK UP. 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Ron Rivera is the new man in town. After Jay Gruden was fired before the season came to a conclusion in 2019, Rivera was brought in to turn around one of the worst locker rooms and cultures in the league. Rivera has been an excellent defensive coach during his time with the Bears, Chargers, and Panthers. He’s been to the Super Bowl two times as a defensive coordinator and head coach, and was an excellent hire for the Redskins. Building talent on defense is the first priority for the next few years of rebuilding, and that was evident in the 2020 offseason.  

With the second overall pick in the draft, Washington selected arguably the best player in the draft. Former Ohio State defensive end Chase Young brings almost unlimited potential to the team after dominating the Big Ten last year. Young will join a defensive line riddled with first rounders alongside DT Jonathan Allen, DT Daron Payne, and DE Montez Sweat. If these players can develop even more under Rivera, the Redskins can have one of the scariest defensive fronts in the league in a few seasons. 

In free agency Washington also improved the rest of the defense. One of the biggest signings in the league was CB Kendall Fuller returning to Washington after a successful stint with the Kansas City Chiefs. Fuller has been an excellent corner in coverage and can lock down opposing receivers. The Redskins rewarded Fuller coming off his Super Bowl winning season with a four year, $40 million contract.

Other moves on defense that Washington made were bringing in former Panther’s starter and captain, LB Thomas Davis on a one-year-deal. Rivera knows Davis well, and should be an excellent addition as a leader in the locker room. The Redskins also brought in safety Sean Davis from the Steelers on a one-year, $5 million deal. Davis played in only one game last year, but is an excellent flyer on a one year deal.

On the offensive side of the ball, Washington made some underwhelming moves. They placed the franchise tag offensive guard Brandon Scherff, as he has been one of the best guards in the league and a staple of the Redskins O-line.  In the draft Washington traded long time star offensive tackle Trent Williams to the 49ers. Williams sat out all of last season refusing to play for the team after he was misdiagnosed concerning head injuries and later found out he had a tumor. Williams was traded for a fifth round pick and a third rounder in next year’s draft. The compensation was low, but at least the Redskins got something in return for a player who wasn’t on the field and the team had almost no leverage in the deal.

Running backs Payton Barber and J.D. McKissic was signed to two-year-deals. They figure to platoon and compete with RB Darius Guice and RB Adrian Peterson on the team. Many analysts speculated that the Redskins may sign QB Cam Newton after he was released by Carolina. With strong connections with Rivera and a quarterback in place on the team that underperformed as a rookie, Dwayne Haskins, competition was likely to be brought in.

Rivera did bring in a quarterback he was familiar with, however it was Newton. Washington traded for QB Kyle Allen from the Panthers, who was the team’s starting quarterback for most of the year in 2019. Allen was mediocre last year, tossing 17 touchdowns versus 16 interception, and led the team to a 5-7 record. Perhaps there were better options for Washington, but Allen’s familiarity with Rivera may lead to him starting games if Haskins plays poorly. 

It would have been difficult for the Redskins to not improve this off-season after an awful performance in 2019. The Rivera hire was excellent and will boost the team’s play. New faces on defense like Chase Young and Kendall Fuller will improve the defensive unit. The offense remains much of the same. With Washington being several years removed from contention, at least they upgraded some aspects of the team. STOCK UP.