If the Dallas Cowboys would have stayed healthy last season, there is no doubt they could have had their way with a rather shoddy NFC East. However, if you think it's going to be easy picking in 2016 then you may not have paid attention to how the world has moved around you. The NFC East opponents have made some offseason moves that can make the division a whole lot more interesting.
This may be a division that hasn't produced consistent double-digit champions every year, but it is still one to be feared and I will put the competitive nature and tenacity of this division up against any in the NFL. We talk about parity in the NFL, there is a whole lot of that taking place right in front of our eyes. The NFC East hasn't crowned a repeat winner since the 2003-2004 Philadelphia Eagles. Over a decade since anyone in this division has been able to win back-to-back. No other division in football comes close to that type of competition level, which is why I thought it important to recap what the three other NFC East teams have been up to this offseason. Because, as the old adage goes, it's wise to "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."
Let's start with the defending division champions.
Kirk Cousins Just Got An Arsenal Of Pass Catchers
Those hoping that Cousins turns back into a turnover machine may be in for a rude awakening as his receiving corps is more than capable of bailing him out a few times. They already have DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, two receivers that make excellent WR2, now they have a potential WR1 in Josh Doctson.
The rookie may have the largest catch radius of any wide receiver in the class of 2016. He's a playmaker and showed it countless times at TCU. At 6'3, he's got good height and his ability to jump and pluck the ball out of the air is plain scary. If that wasn't enough, Washington has Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis as safety-lever tight ends for the quarterback. Do you think the Cowboys' secondary is going to hold up against all this firepower in the passing game?
Dez Bryant vs Josh Norman
Dez is still the most proven wide receiver in the division and that isn't going to change. The Josh Norman vs Odell Beckham matchups garnered a lot of attention, so it's easy to forget that Norman held Dez in check too. Yes, Dez was bothered by a foot injury and Tony Romo had played poorly in that game, but give Norman his due. Much like the Cowboys lucked into getting La'el Collins, Norman fell into the lap of Washington after the Panthers refused to make him the highest paid cornerback in the league.
In games, I worry about Dez Bryant's psyche because we've seen some of the top corners get the best of him. That is something that he hasn't been able to shake just yet. He did well against Richard Sherman two years ago but we've seen cornerbacks get into his head. If he's going to be that dynamic, take-over-games type of receiver, then he has to push himself to remain cool and collected under pressure. We don't know if Norman is a great corner or if he was a product of an outstanding Panthers defense, but Dez needs to make him look mediocre on Sundays.
Hey, Big Spender!
What do you do when your market is New York, your team has underachieved for many seasons, and you have a rookie head coach? You spend, spend, spend - and that it exactly what the Giants have done this offseason. Big-ticket items in free agency don't typically pan out, but the G-Men made some sound decisions too. Sure, they overpaid for Olivier Vernon ($85M) and Janoris Jenkins (guy admits to laziness in games) but they also re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul, which has the potential to be a key move for their pass rush. They also added a nose tackle in Damon Harrison to clog up some rushing lanes.
Their pass rush will be improved and they have Steve Spagnuolo there to help with the process. After being virtually dead last in every defensive category in 2015, the Giants will be a team looking to put some heat on Tony Romo in 2016.
A Gaff Leads To Glory
The Giants reached on CB Eli Apple and his overly annoying mother. However, the Giants aren't known for being the most flexible team in the NFL. What they should have done was likely move up for Jack Conklin because their offensive line is still suspect. Apple may turn into a pretty decent player but he tends to not trust his own feet and will grab at the receiver the first chance he gets. He certainly warrants a late first-round grade due to his position and competition in the 2016 class but taking him at 10 was a bit high as this is not a corner known for playing discipline (four holding calls and seven PI's in two seasons).
Where the Giants made up for the gaff in round one was with the additions of WR Sterling Shepard and RB Paul Perkins. Both guys are going to have every opportunity to become studs in the NFL. Shepard has a ton of tape that screams elite-level receiver with 137 receptions, 2,258 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns over his final two years at Oklahoma. Perkins was a favorite amongst Cowboys fans and he's going to creep up early in the competition at a crowded position. With Beckham and Larry Donnell added to the mix, the Giants are getting younger around Eli Manning and that bodes well for them.
A Nasty Front Seven
With Fletcher Cox signed, the Eagles keep a ferocious pass rush intact with Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, and Connor Barwin. This has been a defensive line that gives you nightmares and they will continue to do so. The linebackers lost Kiko Alonso but still have Jordan Hicks (Romo-Destroyer) and the former Longhorn seemed to do well in his rookie season.
The front seven in Philly are perhaps the scariest defensive line the Cowboys will face and division games are always turned up a few notches. Not to mention they just hired Jim Schwartz as their defensive coordinator, a guy who is known for his aggressive defensive style and for flirting with the rules in the NFL rulebook.
Franchise QB In The Wings?
Admittedly, the Eagles have the makeup of a team in rebuilding mode after undoing almost every move Chip Kelly made over his tenure with the Eagles. Still, the Eagles have made some moves that will help their transition and some that are headscratchers. When it comes to quarterbacks, who really knows what the Eagles are thinking? They have Sam Bradford, who was 31st in QBR last season, and gave Chase Daniel (a backup) low-level starter money (3-years, $21M). They also mortgaged future draft picks in order to get Carson Wentz at second overall. No knock on Wentz who was routinely picked as the best in the class.
With that said, Wentz is going to need some time to shine but his pedigree and the fact that the others in front of him are nothing to write home about just might push him to start early. The Eagles did manage to sign one of my favorite offensive linemen in Isaac Seumalo, he's going to push to start and is an immediate upgrade. They nabbed Jalen Mills, a DB from LSU who could become a solid contributor if he stays out of trouble (domestic violence issues) and strip clubs. As previously mentioned, the Eagles don't threaten much as they seem to be a team in transition but you never know in the NFC East.
If the Cowboys remain healthy and play their style of smash-mouth football, they have as good a chance as any to walk away as division champions. But let's not act like that is a forgone conclusion just yet, as there are others knocking on the door.