The Dallas Cowboys are reigning division champions which means they’re public enemy number one for the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins. What else is new?
It’s a difficult thing for an NFC East winner to repeat as division champions, the last time anyone did it was 15 years ago.
It’s hard to say exactly why reigning division champs have so much trouble repeating. Winning your division is obviously a very difficult thing to do, so perhaps it’s simply as obvious in that it’s just twice as difficult to do it two years in a row.
Or perhaps it has to do with what happens the offseason after you win your division. Naturally, as the NFC East is the NFL’s most storied division and all four teams play in huge markets, players on the top team are usually valued by others. They’re poached and given bigger contracts. Teams change. It happens. Welcome to the National Football League.
This is why drafting has become so essential to building a football team. They say you build your squad in order to win your division, surely teams want to win it consecutive years in a row. The Cowboys have been quite good at drafting over recent memory, but that’s just part of the offseason process.
Free agency is part of the offseason, both knowing which players to sign and which players not to sign (it feels like Dallas has been the latter lately). Every move is a calculated one and the Cowboys have a braintrust that consists of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett, and Will McClay in place to make sure that every move is at the benefit of America’s Team.
So how good of an offseason did the Cowboys have, though? We are heading into summertime, and while awards handed out now don’t mean anything, it is interesting to see what NFL minds think of the past few months worth of work. What did they have to say?
Executives, evaluators, and coaches from across the entire NFL were polled by ESPN and asked for offseason grades for all 32 teams. The votes are in, and they’ve given the Cowboys the best grade across the division.
Dallas Cowboys: B
“They believe Kellen Moore will be more creative and I agree,” an evaluator said. “I’m intrigued to see his fingerprints on that offense. He grew up in it, his dad was a really good high school coach and Kellen is very sharp, so it will be interesting to see.”
Dallas extended DeMarcus Lawrence’s contract, acquired Robert Quinn to offset losing Randy Gregory, and used its first two draft picks for linemen on both sides of the ball.
”Randall Cobb was an interesting signing to me,” an evaluator said. “He could be Cole Beasley, except hurt. But if he’s healthy, he could be an upgrade. I think their process was, for less than the price of Cole Beasley, they got Tavon Austin and Randall Cobb. Two can be better than one, but Beasley had great chemistry with Dak and that could be missed.”
This is fair in theory, and certainly nice to see someone else not associated with the organization think, but the hype around Kellen Moore sure is beginning to climb. Losing Cole Beasley could be something that leaves a gap of some kind, but perhaps the combination of Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin truly is enough to overcome it. Well done.
Philadelphia Eagles: B-
“Losing Bennett and [Chris] Long both in one offseason is going to hurt,” an evaluator said. “They drafted [Shareef] Miller and brought back Vinny Curry to address it, but I just feel like on the edge, there is going to be some liability. Their defense played so well the year they won the Super Bowl and I just don’t see them having that again.”
There wasn’t much Philly could have done to keep No. 2 quarterback Nick Foles. His departure brings even greater awareness to how Carson Wentz- dependent the Eagles are becoming. That dependence will grow after Philly pays him.
There’s no doubt that the Eagles are now fully all-in on Carson Wentz. If they don’t perform to the standard that they have over the previous two seasons, which no big deal includes winning the Super Bowl, then the temperature is going to rise around the former number two overall pick.
Chris Long announced his retirement last week and overall Philly does look a bit weaker as far as their edge rushers are concerned. This has been a formidable part of their team for a good chunk of time now, nobody around here will be bummed to see it regress.
Washington Redskins: B-
“The answer is, if the guy is a good quarterback, they are geniuses and if not, they are idiots,” an exec said. “Whether they moved up from 15 and got him at eight or moved down and got him at 28 doesn’t matter. Is he the right guy?”
A team that finished last season with Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez as its active quarterbacks will happily move forward with Haskins and trade acquisition Case Keenum, while figuring out whether Alex Smith will ever play again.
”They were a 5-4 team and in the hunt when they lost their quarterback last year,” an exec said. “They went 2-5 after that because they had no one. Alex Smith is an average quarterback. Maybe they bounce back this year just by becoming average at that spot again.”
Dwayne Haskins is the story of the Washington Redskins, both now and in the foreseeable future. It’s true that Washington was competitive last season and while they beat the Cowboys in the first matchup of the season, do we really believe that was because they were the better team?
Dallas was unstoppable (admittedly I’m using this word a little loosely) once they traded for Amari Cooper. Washington did bring in Landon Collins to help shore up their secondary, it’s possible that they have the best overall secondary group in the division now (an argument can be made at least).
New York Giants: D
For some, it felt as if the Giants were akin to a basketball team sinking 2-point shots while its opponents were hitting 3s.
”You could have had Odell and Harrison from last year’s team,” an exec said. “Instead, you have Dexter Lawrence and a fifth-rounder from Detroit. That makes no sense to me.”
It obviously makes sense to the Giants, but execs agreed that New York’s GM, Dave Gettleman, has not communicated the plan effectively.
One exec said it looked as if the Giants were building a team to stop the run in a potentially run-heavy division within a more pass-oriented league. Another questioned whether a “meat-and-potatoes” team would gain traction in New York during the current age. A third questioned how Gettleman could suggest that Jones might sit for three years, which would make it difficult for the team to decide how to proceed on a second contract.
The G-Men have been the butt of every joke across the NFL this offseason, and that sure is nice to see. Dave Gettleman does seem to be torpedoing their chances for the next half decade, you just hate to see something like that happening to the Giants!
It’s crazy that New York remains so committed to Eli Manning, but it’s so much fun to see as Cowboys supporters. The Giants look like two easy wins for the other three NFC East teams, but football is rarely so predictable.
There will undoubtedly be a comment or two that read similarly to “grades in May don’t matter, tell me what happens in February,” but it’s still worth noting that NFL minds are optimistic in the Cowboys as June and July approach.
Perhaps the most impressive detail here is that the Cowboys have the best grade and that they didn’t have the most valuable commodity that an offseason can have... a first-round pick in the draft.
The Cowboys braintrust has done a phenomenal job of putting talent together on the field. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to utilize it in the right way.