[Disclaimer: This post was written on Wednesday, March 16th. Free agency is a constantly evolving landscape and recent updates may not be reflected in this article.]
The NFC East has been waiting in the shadows of free agency. If you are a Cowboys fan, this is a double-edged sword. The downside is that the Dallas Cowboys don't seem to be aggressively pursuing any high-priced free agents (yet) but this was expected. The upside is that the teams they see six times a year are similarly passive.
But with that said, 60 players so far have negotiated terms to change teams and will be on a new roster in 2022. Even if most of those 60 didn't land in the NFC East, there are still implications for Dallas. So, what transactions should Cowboys fans pay attention to?
Note that we are only discussing the players that are changing teams. If a player re-signs, fans should have a good understanding of their role on the team.
Contract Details: 5 years, $70 million, $28 million guaranteed to play with Denver
The first name on this list is obviously salt in an open wound for Cowboys fans. If you aren’t aware of what happened you can read the story here. But at its most basic level, Randy Gregory will be a Denver Broncos player in 2022. There is little that needs to be said about what transpired.
But what this means is that Dallas is now on the hunt for a defensive end. Immediately following Gregory signing with Denver it was announced that the Cowboys have mutual interest with edge defender and Super Bowl winner Von Miller. There have also been Bobby Wagner rumors ever since he was cut by Seattle.
However, the name Cowboys fans should pay attention to is Dorance Armstrong. He ended up playing more snaps than Gregory and Lawrence in 2022, and finished with the seventh-highest defensive PFF grade on the team. He was also the fourth-best run defender of all Cowboys players, beating out Gregory by a wide margin.
In the pass-rush, he isn’t as strong but he has improved over his four-year career, increasing his snap total in nearly every season he was drafted. He is an under-the-radar player that Dallas should prioritize now, even if Miller is successfully recruited.
Contract Details: 3 years, $45 million, $30 million guaranteed to play with Philadelphia
This is, by a wide margin, the biggest free-agent signing the NFC East has seen since the tampering period began.
Reddick’s career with Arizona was up and down, especially during the first few years of his time with the Cardinals. However, in his fourth year, Reddick was a dominant force on the Cardinals defensive line racking up 56 pressures, 12.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles.
In 2021, the Panthers signed Reddick to a one-year, $6 million “prove-it” deal. It was a bit of a down year from 2020 but the edge defender managed to put up 44 pressures, 11 sacks, and one forced fumble. He also took a big step forward in his run defense.
Finishing as the 54th graded edge defender in 2021 per PFF, the contract seems a little generous. However, for a player that can get to the quarterback, Cowboys fans should watch out for Reddick coming off the edge when they play Philadelphia.
Contract Details: 3 years, $49.5 million, $16.5 million guaranteed to play with Jacksonville
This is the first name that is good news for Cowboys fans. Coming into the offseason, Washington was armed with $30 million in cap space, and it seemed like retaining the 13th ranked guard by PFF was a certainty.
However, after trading for Carson Wentz their cap situation immediately became less favorable and as a result, they were not able to re-sign the player responsible for protecting the new QB. As Washington is only $5 million under the cap, Scherff was part of Jacksonville’s free agency spending frenzy.
2021 was a down year for Scherff after dealing with injuries that sidelined him for five weeks. But 2020 was the best year of his career and he is still 30-years old, so there are presumably still a few good years left in the tank.
The Washington line was actually solid last year, ranking as the fourth-best pass-blocking offensive line and the seventh-best at run blocking. So, it is not as if a depleted offensive line got worse. They will likely be a decent offensive line in 2022.
But losing a first-team All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler is not going to improve Washington’s roster. And Cowboys fans should be happy he is in the AFC now.
Contract Details: 2 years, $11 million, $8.2 million guaranteed to play with the Giants
No, Tyrod Taylor does not make the rest of the NFC East quarterbacks shake in fear for when they have to play the Giants. Will Taylor even start for the Giants? Who knows. At face value, this is probably a contract that you don't care about.
But the implications of this signing are interesting. Daniel Jones is an unproven quarterback who has scrambling ability and has flashed at times but has largely been inconsistent and flat-out bad. But Brian Daboll, the new head coach of the Giants, turned an unproven and inconsistent quarterback with scrambling ability who flashed at times with Josh Allen, into a top-five quarterback.
This is not an argument that Daboll is going to do the same with Jones. But many expected Daboll to at least try to develop him into a starter-quality player with upside. At the very least, Daboll would work with Jones for the next year and if it didn't work out they could let him walk.
But with the Taylor signing, this is clearly not the case. Because for $5 million per year with 75% of the contract guaranteed, T-mobile is not signing for backup quarterback money. With that much on the table, he is signing to compete for the starting job.
This means that Daboll has clearly had time to look at Jones’ tape, work with him, and doubt that he is the future of the Giants. And instead of riding out his rookie deal, Daboll wants a quarterback who can put them in a better position in the short term.
This is an odd signing because the Giants aren’t a team that is one quarterback away from competing. But this speaks volumes about how Daboll sees Jones. He wants a new quarterback as soon as possible.
The great AFC migration
This one is not a specific player, but rather a larger trend that is happening in free agency. Once again, we are still early on in the process but so far, there is one very obvious pattern to these signings. The high-priced free agents are going to the AFC.
Reminder we are only discussing players in free agency that have moved teams, so Aaron Rodgers’ mega-deal is not included in this discussion.
Ten of the thirteen largest contracts that have been handed out in 2022 free agency have been from AFC teams. That means only three of the thirteen highest-paid free agents so far are coming to the NFC.
Here are some more numbers, the five largest AFC contracts so far total 20 years, $319 million ($16 million per year). Inversely, the five largest NFC contracts so far total 13 years, $166 million ($12.8 million per year). The good players are packing their bags and moving to the AFC.
There has been a focus on the quarterback talent in the AFC compared to the NFC, but it seems like most other positions are choosing to migrate as well. There are two reasons for this:
- AFC teams realize the quarterback competition in their conference is about as difficult as you can get. And if you want to win next year, you not only have to have an elite quarterback, but you have to build up the roster around them with star players.
- The only NFC quarterback who is solid and still on their rookie deal is Kyler Murray, who is now demanding to be paid. This means that all 16 NFC teams don't have the flexibility that teams like the Chargers, Bengals, or Patriots have where they can spend money on every position other than the quarterback.
Maybe this changes as more free agents sign and realize that if they want to win, moving to the NFC is the best place to do so. But for now, it seems the massive talent pool that the AFC touts isn't limited to quarterback alone anymore.
The free agency landscape is always changing, and there will assuredly be big names that sign hours after you read this. But for Cowboys fans, it has been a relatively quiet free agency in terms of moves that impact the team. Not just from Dallas being passive, which is usually the case, but the other three teams in the NFC East have remained dormant.
Keep an eye out for that to change soon as the Eagles, Giants, and Commanders look to bolster the roster and dethrone the Cowboys as NFC East champions. And maybe Dallas surprises everyone and adds a big-name free agent themselves.