With the 2021 Dallas Cowboys going 6-0 in the division, this record is often cited as a criticism against the team, pointing out that Dallas struggled against non-NFC East opponents. But winning your division is half of the battle, and it was a big reason the inconsistent Cowboys still finished as a three-seed.
The Patriots won six Super Bowls on the back of a weak division schedule year in and year out. But the woes of the NFC East cannot continue forever, and eventually, the Cowboys will have a formidable division opponent. So, in the next seven months, how will each team attempt to prevent Dallas from cruising to its second straight NFC East title?
The Dallas Cowboys
Cap space: -$21.2 million (30th in the NFL)
First-round pick: 24th
2022 odds to win the NFC (per DraftKings Sportsbook): 13.3% (T-4th in the NFC)
The entire Blogging The Boys website, podcasting network, and social media channels will be discussing how Dallas should approach the offseason in the following months. Thus, there is little need to spend much time on the Cowboys, but there is a clear path forward.
The Cowboys will likely begin the offseason by making some tough decisions. This will include restructuring contracts, trading players, and even cutting a few familiar faces. While the salary cap is nothing to lose sleep over, Dallas will need to free up some space.
Adding a little wiggle-room to the cap wouldn’t necessarily allow them to be massive spenders in free agency, but it would allow them to resign the players they want. Guys like Randy Gregory, Jayron Kearse, Dalton Schultz, and Bryan Anger were all significant contributors last season, yet will hit the open market.
Thus, in free agency, expect Dallas to center their strategy around freeing up space to re-sign the needed talent.
With the draft and remaining room (if any) they have in free agency, the strategy will be to bolster the offensive line. Several familiar faces upfront could be gone in 2022 due to free agency or because the Cowboys need to improve the cap situation.
Thus, expect a similar Dallas Cowboys roster as last season, with some key players leaving in free agency, but most new faces will be on the offensive line.
Cap space: $22.4 million (13th in the NFL)
First-round pick: 15th (via Miami), 16th (via Indianapolis), and 19th
2022 odds to win the NFC: 5.8% (T-8th in the NFC)
If the Cowboys face competition in the division next season, it will assuredly be from the Eagles. Looking at the outlook over the next seven months, the Eagles are in a solid position to build their roster.
The real question comes down to if Philadelphia trusts Jalen Hurts to be the franchise quarterback. If they don’t, they could entertain the possibility of using their draft capital to trade for one of the quarterbacks who is dissatisfied with their situation (Aaron Rodgers, Russel Wilson, Deshaun Watson, etc.). They won’t use their picks on a quarterback in the draft given the lack of depth this year paired with the star-studded QB class next year.
However, Hurts was the 10th ranked quarterback by PFF, seventeenth by EPA per play, and led his team to a playoff berth. And keep in mind this was essentially Hurts’ rookie year, with only 20 total starts under his belt. More likely than not, provided a team isn’t desperate to ship out an elite quarterback, Hurts is the guy in 2022.
Thus, the strategy for the Eagles will be to use their $22.4 million in cap space and three first-round picks to build out the roster around Hurts. And they will focus a lot of their spending on the defense to do so.
RJ Ochoa and Brandon Gowton discussed the state of the division on the latest edition of the NFC East Mixtape. You can listen to it on the Blogging The Boys podcast network as well as the networks for each NFC East SB Nation site. Make sure to subscribe to the Blogging The Boys network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Because with Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Anthony Harris all possibly leaving in free agency, there will be several holes to fill on defense. They will likely use a sizable portion of their cap space to retain these players, but they will still have some room to add depth to the secondary and defensive line.
Then you bring in the draft picks. You can start to focus on adding a second receiver opposite Devonta Smith, assuming they don’t spend any money on a relatively weaker free-agent receiver class. With the remaining two first-round picks, they can then fill the holes left on the defense and maybe find Jason Kelce’s replacement if he retires (or leaves in free agency which is unlikely).
The Eagles are in a solid position given Hurts’ rookie contract, and although they might not be a Super Bowl favorite in 2022, they finished the 2021 season strong. If there is one team to dethrone the Cowboys next season, it will be the Eagles, and look at them to be competitive quickly.
The Washington Commanders
Cap space: $30.4 million (10th in the NFL)
First-round pick: 11th
2022 odds to win the NFC: 3.8% (T-12th in the NFC)
The inaugural season of the new-look Washington Commanders likely won’t end with the confetti raining. But at the very least, they will look to get things back on the track.
Coming into the 2021 season, Washington was touted as a team that was only a quarterback away from being a serious contender, and they were a popular choice to win the NFC East. Well, things took a turn for the worst.
The defense that many thought to be the best in the division was arguably the worst. They edged out the Giants to take the crown of the worst defense in the NFC East by both points per game and EPA per play. If there is one bright spot, it shouldn’t get any worse.
With $30.4 million in cap space, they will be massive spenders in the cornerback and safety market. The Washington defensive line played admirably, and they will get help with Chase Young coming back from injury. But the secondary needs help, and Washington will pay to make that happen.
This might include pursuing Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Williams, and Kyle Fuller to pair alongside his brother. Bottom line, the secondary was the problem with the disastrous Washington defense, and they will likely look to change that.
The Commanders should be able to re-sign Brandon Scherff, who is set to hit the market, and that should be enough to bring stability to the solid Washington offensive line. But outside of the offensive line and running back, Washington needs help across the board on offense.
Adding a second and third receiving option outside of Terry McLaurin, possibly an upgrade at tight end over Logan Thomas, and most importantly, a quarterback is all on the Commanders’ to-do list. Obviously, this won’t all be accomplished in one offseason, but they will start by filling in a few of these holes in the draft and free agency.
As for the quarterback position, they could go after one of the quarterbacks rumored to possibly leave. But the more likely option is that they find a bridge QB to stop the bleeding while they find a replacement. The perfect example is Jimmy Garoppolo, who they could get at a discount if San Francisco is ready for the Trey Lance era.
But similar to the Eagles, this isn’t a deep QB class, and they won’t be able to find a franchise quarterback at pick eleven. This could be another down year while they wait for the highly anticipated signal-callers to declare for the 2023 draft.
Sorry Washington fans, but there are too many holes for this to be a one-year rebuild. The potential is there, but it will take a lot of work.
The New York Giants
Cap space: -10.7 million (28th in the NFL)
First-round pick: 5th and 7th (via Chicago)
2022 odds to win the NFC: 2.4% (15th in the NFC)
After five straight seasons of less than six wins, the Giants might actually be turning the ship around. On top hiring Joe Schoen, the former Buffalo Bills assistant general manager, to be their GM, the Giants had arguably the best head coaching hiring in this cycle with Brian Daboll.
Unfortunately for Schoen and Daboll, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Here are the Giants’ position groups that landed inside the bottom ten by PFF:
- Quarterback (31st)
- Offensive Line (25th)
- Running Back (28th)
- Wide Receivers (31st)
- Defensive Line (26th)
- Special Teams (30th)
The point is that the Giants, who allowed the 10th most points in the NFL yet scored the second least, need a lot of help. However, their current cap position is not going to allow them to be massive spenders in this year’s free agency.
To put it kindly, your likely going to see the Giants start tearing things down this offseason. Outside of Andrew Thomas and possibly James Bradberry, no one on this team should feel safe.
Some potential moves the Giants could make now are cutting Sterling Shepard for over $4 million in savings (and even more in 2023) and possibly letting Evan Engram, Jabrill Peppers, Will Hernandez, and Lorenzo Carter all walk in free agency.
If there is one bright spot, the Giants look to have a lot more flexibility in 2023. Here is what they are probably planning on doing next offseason:
- Cutting Kenny Golladay for $11 million in savings
- Moving on from Leonard Williams for $18 million in savings
- Choosing not to re-sign Saquon Barkley barring a bounce back season
- Moving on from Sterling Shepard (if they don't do it in 2022) for $10 million in savings
- Potentially letting James Bradberry, Blake Martinez, and Darius Slayton walk in free agency and not picking up Daniel Jones’ fifth year option
Obviously there are decisions to be made, but there is not a lot of room for the Giants to move in this offseason specifically. They will use their two top-ten picks to find young talent in the draft and starting looking towards the future.
But 2023 is where things will get very interesting for New York. In the meantime, the Daniel Jones experience will likely last one more year, Saquon Barkley will look to hopefully stay healthy and prove he can still be that top-five running back, and New York will be primarily developing their young pieces.
Expect this to a bridge year where they are more focused on player development than truly starting the rebuild. This will also put them in a good position to possibly capture a top two pick next year as C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young are two promising quarterback prospects.
But, the Giants are far from competing in the NFC East. Let’s see what Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen can do.
The NFC East is a mixed bag. The Eagles see the light at the end of their rebuild, the Commanders have incredible flexibility to move, and the Giants have found the leaders they believe will end their drought.
For now, the Cowboys sit atop the NFC East and there is a solid chance they still hold that title a year from now. But it will not always be this easy.