By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
The NFC East is a complicated division.
After a preseason injury knocked Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo down and out last summer, it seemed that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett would be left with another disappointing season. But that’s when a fourth-round rookie quarterback named Dak Prescott stepped forward and became a star.
He not only handled the pressure and executed the Dallas offense with aplomb, he became the team’s quarterback of the present and future, sending Romo into retirement and the CBS broadcast booth.
So while the Cowboys appear to have a lot going for them heading into 2017, with Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and the best offensive line in the league, it is not so clear cut.
In this piece we will look at the New York Giants’ divisional opponents heading into the NFL Draft and beyond.
The Cowboys have suffered some serious losses this offseason, including cornerbacks Brandon Carr (signed with Baltimore Ravens) and Morris Claiborne (New York Jets), safeties Barry Church (Jacksonville Jaguars) and J.J. Wilcox (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), defensive end Jack Crawford (Atlanta Falcons), defensive tackle Terrell McClain (Washington Redskins) and guard Ron Leary (Denver Broncos).
Dallas has lost far more than it has taken in, but Jones has salary cap flexibility at this point and is in a position to add to his team through trades, if that’s the tact he chooses to take.
As the Cowboys prepare for the draft, they need help all over their defense. Start at defensive end, where they just don’t have the firepower to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. New acquisition Damontre Moore is not the answer, so a supreme pass rusher must be the early target.
The Cowboys have suffered too many losses in the secondary to ignore. They have to find first-rate replacements for Carr and Church, or the defensive backfield play will ruin this team in 2017.
The Eagles may have finished last in the division a year ago, but they have made significant progress since building their offense around second-year quarterback Carson Wentz.
As a rookie, Wentz did not have high-quality receivers on his side, but that is not likely to be the case this year. Bringing in a pair of big-time pass catchers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith gives the Birds a considerable upgrade.
Jeffery is a bit of a gamble because of his history of nagging injuries, as well as a banned-substance suspension, but he is a game changer when he is functioning at full speed. He can dominate on 50-50 balls because of his body positioning and long arms, while Smith is a consummate pro who can make the tough catch in traffic.
While the talent level at the wideout position is quite a bit better, the Eagles still need depth there. So, look for them to add receivers in the draft.
The bigger priority is at running back because Ryan Mathews is just a guy and will not be a part of Philly’s game plan this season. Utility man Darren Sproles is still the do-it-all type, but he is a 34-year-old running back who doesn’t have much left in the tank. He will play one more season, or perhaps two, and that will be it.
Finding a top running back should be one of the Eagles’ top draft priorities, with cornerback is their biggest issue on defense. Leodis McKelvin is gone and so is Nolan Carroll, so the Eagles need to reload in this area.
The Redskins have gone through a tumultuous offseason to this point, and there could be much more turnover before the start of training camp.
They were indignant with former general manager Scot McCloughan, letting him go in embarrassing fashion, and they have been in no hurry to replace him. Team president Bruce Allen has said that won’t happen until after the draft.
While the Redskins are not a rudderless ship, they do have leadership issues at the top of the organization.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was hit with the franchise tag and will earn nearly $24 million this season. The Redskins have been unwilling to commit to the quarterback long-term and Cousins is not thrilled. If they are going to make a move at the position, it could happen on Draft Day.
The losses of wideouts DeSean Jackson (Tampa Bay) and Pierre Garcon (San Francisco) are huge since both were 1,000-yard receivers, and bringing in ex-Brown Terrelle Pryor does not make up for it.
Like the Cowboys, the Redskins need help at defensive end. They lost productive Chris Baker (47 tackles, 3.5 sacks) to Tampa Bay, so they need to upgrade significantly.
The secondary is also an issue, particularly at safety, where DeAngelo Hall is in recovery mode after undergoing ACL surgery and ex-Giant Will Blackmon has never looked completely comfortable.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy