2021 NFL Offseason Outlook: NFC East

2020 Recap

The NFC East was the worst division in the NFL last season as Washington won with just a 7-9 record. The four NFC East teams combined for a 23-40-1 record, just a 36.7% win percentage. Washington had a resurgent season on the back of one of the best defenses in the NFL, and they’ll be looking to build on that success. The Giants looked much better in the first year of Joe Judge as head coach and Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator. The Cowboys suffered several injuries and had some bad luck along the way – they’re a clear playoff threat next year if they resign Dak Prescott. Rounding out the division is the Eagles, who boast one of the worst rosters in the NFL and yet find themselves way over the cap. Three of the four teams in this division will be competitive next year – the Eagles are unlikely to improve in any meaningful way.

Washington Football Teamwashington football team

Current Cap Space: $38.3 million (as of 2/21)

Top Free Agents: OG Brandon Scherff, EDGE Ryan Kerrigan, CB Ronald Darby, LB Thomas Davis, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Reuben Foster, WR Cam Sims (ERFA)

Biggest Team Needs: QB, OT, WR, CB, S, LB, IOL, TE, EDGE

2021 Draft Picks: #19 (R1), #51 (R2), #74 (R3), #82 (R3), #114 (R4), #146 (R5), #207 (R7), #208 (R7)

Analysis: The Washington Football Team is coming off a division title and an entertaining playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, but they still have a ton of work to do this offseason. Luckily, they come in with among the most cap space in the NFL. The first position Washington has to address is quarterback. Dwayne Haskins was traded to the Steelers, and Kyle Allen is a free agent, leaving Alex Smith and Taylor Heinecke as the team’s options at quarterback. Smith is coming off an impressive comeback season after a devastating leg injury that nearly took his life while Heinecke made some big plays in the playoff game. However, neither player is an adequate enough starter. Washington can make a play at Dak Prescott, but there’s no real other options in free agency. The top quarterbacks in this draft class will also likely be well off the board by the time Washington picks at #19. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a potential option, as is a trade for the embattled but still young Jets’ quarterback Sam Darnold. It’s pretty likely that Washington won’t be able to completely fix the quarterback position this offseason.

Beyond quarterback, Washington could stand to add to what was a bottom-ten scoring offense last season. Terry McLaurin is one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL, but Washington needs to find more pass-catching talent beyond Logan Thomas and J.D. McKissic. The team could use its bountiful cap space to make an offer for one of the top free agents at receiver, and they’ve already been linked to Chris Godwin of the Buccaneers. Antonio Gibson will lead the backfield after rushing for 11 touchdowns in 14 games as a rookie. Washington’s offensive line was very solid last season, but their best player in Brandon Scherff is a free agent. Scherff’s projected contract is $60 million over 4 years, something Washington should be able to afford. All four of the team’s other starters on the offensive line are set to return. Cam Sims is the team’s only other free agent on offense of note, but he’s an exclusive rights free agent, so it should be easier to bring him back.

Washington boasted one of the best defenses in the NFL last season as they allowed the fourth-fewest points and the second-fewest yards. Chase Young, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Matt Ionnidis, and Montez Sweat return to form one of the best defensive lines in football, the biggest strength of this team. Ryan Kerrigan is a free agent who may not be brought back given the team’s collection of pass-rushing talent. Ronald Darby is a key free agent for Washington at cornerback, and he’ll be a top priority to resign. Regardless of whether or not Darby is brought back, the team will likely look to add outside help at cornerback. Washington could also look to bring back Kevin Pierre-Louis in the linebacker corps. The Football Team has a bundle of cap space to make small improvements to their defense and pass-catching talent, but it’s going to be difficult for them to find a viable starting quarterback this offseason. Without a real signal-caller, Washington will find it difficult to improve on a solid 2020 season.

First-Round Pick Targets: CB Jaycee Horn, QB Mac Jones, EDGE Azeez Ojulari, WR Rashod Bateman, S Trevon Moehrig, CB Tyson Campbell

Free Agency Targets: WR Chris Godwin, S Marcus Williams, WR Will Fuller V, CB Troy Hill, CB Brian Poole, CB Chidobe Awuzie

New York GiantsNew York Giants

Current Cap Space: $906,453 (as of 2/21)

Top Free Agents: IDL Leonard Williams, EDGE Kyler Fackrell, OT Cameron Fleming, S Nate Ebner, IDL Dalvin Tomlinson, RB Wayne Gallman

Biggest Team Needs: EDGE, LB, WR, IDL, CB, TE, IOL, OT, RB

2021 Draft Picks: #11 (R1), #42 (R2), #76 (R3), #106 (R4), #171 (R6), #175 (R6)

Analysis: The Giants had moments of real improvement in 2020, and Joe Judge was impressive in his first season as head coach. Daniel Jones will remain the starting quarterback while Saquon Barkley will return as a stud running back. His return from injury will make free agent Wayne Gallman highly expendable. Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Golden Tate will return as the leading pass-catchers. While that trio could certainly be improved upon, it’s unlikely the Giants can clear enough cap space to make a significant improvement. New York may look to move off Evan Engram this offseason after another season plagued by inconsistency. He would likely garner at least a mid-round pick in a trade, but he would also save the Giants $6.2 million against the cap if he is released. That option remains unlikely, however.

The Giants could also find some ways to improve their offensive line this offseason. Nate Solder could return after opting out of the 2020 season, but he would also save the Giants $6 million against the cap if he is released. Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez lock down the respective guard spots, while second-year left tackle Andrew Thomas will be expected to make a significant jump. Nick Gates could be improved upon at center, however. Cameron Fleming’s status as a free agent makes it all-the-more important that the Giants resolve their situation with Solder. It would not be shocking to see the Giants target offensive tackles in Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw, or Samuel Cosmi in the first round, although they did already address that position last year.

The real problem for the Giants this offseason comes in the front seven. Leonard Williams, Kyler Fackrell, and Dalvin Tomlinson are all free agents on the defensive line. Williams (4/$80M) and Tomlinson (4/$52.5M) are projected to garner sizable contracts on the open market by PFF, and the Giants will need to find ways to clear cap room to keep one or both of them. S Jabrill Peppers ($6.2M), TE Levine Toilolo ($2.9M), LB David Mayo ($2.3M), and CB Isaac Yiadom ($2.2M) can all offer New York significant cap relief if released. The Giants need to add some cornerback help alongside James Bradberry, and Blake Martinez could use some help in the linebacker corps, but this offseason will be focused on the defensive line. Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham yielded impressive results last year, and he’ll certainly be pushing for New York to find a way to bring back his stud defensive linemen.

First-Round Pick Targets: CB Patrick Surtain II, CB Caleb Farley, OT Rashawn Slater, EDGE Kwity Paye, OT Christian Darrisaw, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Free Agency Targets: S John Johnson III, DT Ndamaukong Suh, CB Gareon Conley, OT Matt Feiler, C David Andrews, CB Mackensie Alexander

Dallas CowboysDallas Cowboys

Current Cap Space: $19.4 million (as of 2/21)

Top Free Agents: QB Dak Prescott, IDL Tyrone Crawford, LB Sean Lee, QB Andy Dalton, IOL Cameron Erving, IOL Joe Looney, EDGE Aldon Smith, TE Blake Bell, LB Joe Thomas, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, S Xavier Woods

Biggest Team Needs: OT, CB, IDL, EDGE, TE, IOL, S

2021 Draft Picks: #10 (R1), #44 (R2), #75 (R3), #105 (R4), #167 (R6), #200 (R7)

Analysis: This offseason for Dallas comes down to the future of Dak Prescott with the franchise. The Cowboys won’t give Prescott the franchise tag again, but they’re going to have some work to do in order to afford a well-deserved extension in the realm of 4 years, $158 million (from PFF). Backloading Prescott’s contract would help some, but there’s going to be some tough decisions to be made. The team has plenty of cut candidates, including Anthony Brown ($2.75M), Blake Jarwin ($1.5M), Connor Williams ($2.4M), Greg Zuerlein ($2.2M), Michael Gallup ($2.4M), Dalton Schultz ($2.2M), Randy Gregory ($1.9M), and Darian Thompson ($1.2M). Cutting all of those players would get Dallas close to being able to afford a lucrative extension for Prescott, but the team has other free agents who need to be addressed.

Six defensive starters from last season become free agents, including defensive linemen Aldon Smith and Tyrone Crawford, linebacker Joe Thomas, safety Xavier Woods, and cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Dallas’s defense was genuinely awful last season, and none of these players have proven that they’d be worth sacrificing the team’s ability to resign Prescott. However, Dallas is likely going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel in free agency to find defensive help. There should be some enticing options available at #10 in the draft, including linebacker Micah Parsons, cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Caleb Farley, and edge defenders Kwity Paye and Gregory Rousseau. All of those players would bring some much-needed defensive firepower. With the bulk of the team’s cap room needed to resign Prescott, it’s unlikely this defense will improve much heading into next year.

Luckily for Dallas, the team’s offensive line shouldn’t be as much of a disaster as it was last season. An absurd number of injuries plagued that group as Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins all missed significant time. Joe Looney may be unlikely to return as a free agent, but sophomore Tyler Biadasz should be ready to take over as the team’s starting center. Of course, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Ezekiel Elliott give the offense plenty of juice. If Prescott is resigned, the Cowboys should have a top-five scoring offense next season. Their defense is another story, but Dallas can’t remake its roster into a contender overnight, and the top priority, for now, is making sure their franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott is locked up for the long term.

First-Round Pick Targets: LB Micah Parsons, CB Patrick Surtain II, CB Caleb Farley, EDGE Kwity Paye, EDGE Gregory Rousseau

Free Agency Targets: EDGE Bud Dupree, EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, S Malik Hooker, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB Cameron Sutton, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Troy Hill, CB Jason Verrett

Philadelphia EaglesPhiladelphia Eagles

Current Cap Space: -$43.2 million (as of 2/21)

Top Free Agents: OT Jason Peters, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB Cre’Von LeBlanc, S Jalen Mills, LB Duke Riley, LB Nate Gerry, LB Alex Singleton (ERFA), RB Boston Scott, WR DeSean Jackson (SFA), WR Greg Ward (ERFA)

Biggest Team Needs: WR, EDGE, IDL, RB, CB, LB, TE, S, IOL, OT

2021 Draft Picks: #6 (R1), #37 (R2), #69 (R3), #84 (R3), #133 (R5), #139 (R5), #164 (R6), #196 (R7)

Analysis: The Eagles are very much a team in transition after wiping the slate clean by firing head coach Doug Pederson and trading away quarterback Carson Wentz. Nick Sirianni, a Frank Reich disciple who coached under him with both the Chargers and the Colts, has taken over as head coach, while Jalen Hurts is likely to be the team’s starting quarterback. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they come into this offseason in salary-cap purgatory as they’re way over the limit without many options for how to create more space. Zach Ertz ($4.7M), Derek Barnett ($10.1M), Malik Jackson ($7M), Alshon Jeffery ($4.3M), and Marquise Goodwin ($4.2M) could all help clear significant cap room via release, while a potential Jason Kelce retirement would clear about $8.4 million off the cap. However, even after all of these moves, the Eagles still wouldn’t quite get under the cap. Fletcher Cox ($16M) and Brandon Graham ($13M) would offer significant cap relief as post-June 1 cut candidates, while Cox, Darius Slay, and Andre Dilliard are all potential candidates to be traded.

Outside of the Eagles’ obvious need for salary cap relief, they have a handful of free agents who will be missed. The team’s need for an offensive line overhaul is underscored by Jason Peters’s likely departure. Meanwhile, the upcoming free agencies of Nickell Robey-Coleman, Cre’Veon LeBlanc, and Jalen Mills highlight a secondary that is in need of an influx of talent. Linebackers Duke Riley and Nate Gerry will not be back after starting last season, while DeSean Jackson and Greg Ward are pretty much out the door. The Eagles need some reinforcements at wide receiver beyond Alshon Jeffery and Jalen Reagor, but it’s going to be difficult to address that need this offseason. Boston Scott is unlikely to return, which would leave Miles Sanders with a likely monstrous workload in the run game. It’s difficult to imagine the Eagles clearing enough cap room to bring back any of these mild contributors, and an offseason in which Philadelphia fails to sign a single new player is really not out of the realm of possible outcomes.

With the Eagles in so much salary cap trouble, the draft will be all-the-more important as far as team-building goes. A selection at #6 gives the Eagles plenty of flexibility with who is likely to still be on the board. If Zach Wilson or Justin Fields sees a surprising slide, a team may look to aggressively trade up to #6 with the Eagles. If not, Philadelphia would have plenty of options. Wide receivers Devonta Smith, Ja’Marr Chase, or Kyle Pitts would provide an instant boost as the team’s immediate top pass-catcher. Patrick Surtain II and Caleb Farley could bring much-needed reinforcement to the secondary, while defensive lineman Kwity Paye could help offset some of the potential offseason cap casualties on the defensive line. At #37 overall, the Eagles will still have some great options on the board. One player to watch out for in this range is Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, a player who would be a clear-cut first-round pick in a normal draft class that isn’t so heavy on receiver talent.

First-Round Pick Targets: WR Devonta Smith, WR Ja’Marr Chase, TE Kyle Pitts, CB Patrick Surtain II, CB Caleb Farley, EDGE Kwity Paye

Free Agency Targets: QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Rashard Higgins, LB Anthony Walker Jr., S Malik Hooker, LB Josh Bynes, RB Marlon Mack, RB Kalen Ballage, EDGE Romeo Okwara

  
I've been writing about sports for Lineups since the beginning of 2020 and on my own website since 2018. In May 2021, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in sport management. With my educational background in the sports business and a strong knowledge of the inner workings of professional and collegiate sports, I hope to tell enthralling stories about the world of sports as it unfolds around me.

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