It's easy to view the offseason in a vacuum, to add up the new veterans and rookies, to guage the fit, and to proclaim it a success. Dallas does seem to have improved not only the overall talent level of its starting 22, but to have added depth at key positions.
However, change does not occur in a vacuum. We can only measure how much Dallas might improve by comparing its moves to those of the three teams in the division. With that, let's take a brief look at what New York, Philadelphia and Washington have done for themselves.
The Giants swept Dallas last year and have made some key additions, in both free agency and the draft. Their primary objective in March was to add weapons for and to improve the protection of Eli Manning. New York succeeded on both counts by signing WR Plaxico Burress from Pittsburgh and RT Kareem McKenzie from the Jets.
The Giants were hurt by sacrificing their top pick to San Diego in the Manning deal. (The Chargers turned the pick into Shawne Merriman.) They did get value on day one, however, landing LSU CB Corey Webster and Notre Dame OLB/DE Justin Tuck. The tread on Michael Strahan's tires is getting worn, and they've got some head cases on offense, but the Giants will not be pushovers this year.
The Eagles were quiet in the free agency and trade markets this year, a departure from their past of early, high-impact signings like Jon Runyan, Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens. There were rumors that the Eagles would chase receivers like Muhsin Muhammad or trade with Buffalo for RB Travis Henry. The Henry deal is still a possibility, but the rumors have quieted of late.
The Eagles had a solid draft that rated top grades from many pundits. Top picks Mike Patterson of USC and WR Reggie Brown of Georgia could earn lots of playing time as rookies. Of note to Cowboys fans were the middle rounds, where the Eagles snagged three players -- RB Ryan Moats of Louisiana Tech, FS Sean Considine of Iowa and OT Todd Herremans of Saginaw Valley State -- who interested Dallas. All three of these players attended the Cowboys pre-draft banquet.
These picks ensure that a deep team got deeper. On the flip side, the "I, me, mine" disease that infects winners is becoming an epidemic in the Philadelphia. Owens and RB Brian Westbrook missed the Eagles' mini-camp with contract disputes. DTs Hollis Thomas and Corey Simon are disenchanted with their deals as well. Simon was close to being traded to the Ravens just before the draft. Even with these distractions, it is unlikely than any of these players will miss the season because of money. Their locker room may be more turbulent, but the Eagles are not falling back to the division, health willing. The Cowboys will have to reach up and catch them.
The Redskins had another bizarre offseason, which means Daniel Snyder is still at the controls at Redskins Park. Washington entered free agency with decent cap room, but squandered much of it in its haste to ship out disgruntled WR Laveranues Coles. Coles got his wish of being dealt to the Jets for WR Santana Moss, a player Snyder coveted when Moss turned pro. The acceleration in Coles' enormous signing bonus meant Washington could not afford to retain CB Fred Smoot, who became a Viking.
Moss then rewarded his new team by holding out of the team's offseason activities, stating he would not show up until he received a new, long-term contract. Moss was joined in petulance by safety Sean Taylor, who is already unhappy with his deal after one year in the league. As if that were not enough, LB LaVar Arrington sniped at the team's management for mistreating his injured knee.
On draft day, the mercurial Snyder and right hand man Vinnie Cerrato hamstrung the team's long-term rebuilding efforts by making more questionable deals. Already missing a third round pick because of last year's Clinton Portis trade, the Redskins again dealt with Denver, picking up an extra first round pick, but sacrificing this year's second and next year's first and fourth round picks. Washington had only two first day picks and will have only two next year, which means the pressure on rookie CB Carlos Rogers to produce will be immense. Even more pressure will fall on QB Jason Campbell, whom HC Joe Gibbs hand picked as his QB of the future.
Right now, the odds on Parcells staying past his deal look a lot better than they do for Gibbs.