The NFC East is the weirdest division in football. It looked like a seven-win team might represent the NFC East in the playoffs early in the 2019 season. The division is a tossup every year, but the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles seem to be the two most powerful forces at the moment.
However, the 2020 offseason could shift the balance in power dramatically. The Cowboys will lose some major contributors in free agency. The Eagles also risk losing several role players. On the other hand, the New York Giants and Washington Redskins will maintain the cores of their teams.
Before getting into the article, a few terms need to be clarified. UFA refers to unrestricted free agents who hit the open market and can sign with any team they want. RFA refers to restricted free agents. RFAs can receive offer sheets from new teams, but their old franchises may match those sheets and retain the player.
ERFA refers to exclusive rights free agents who must sign with their current team if the organization extends an offer. ERFAs may not negotiate with other teams as their current clubs hold exclusive rights over them.
Those explanations about UFAs, RFAs, and ERFAs, skim over a lot of detail, but that’s enough information for readers to understand the implications discussed in this article.
Biggest free agent- Dak Prescott QB (UFA)
The Cowboys are a front office’s nightmare. The team is composed of high-profile UFAs, and there’s no way Dallas can afford to keep all of them. Obviously, Prescott takes priority. Considering how poorly some quarterbacks played this season, Dallas should count themselves lucky to have Prescott.
While owner Jerry Jones and new head coach Mike McCarthy evaluate their team, they should realize that Prescot and running back Ezekiel Elliott are irreplaceable right now. Dallas gave Elliott a six-year, $90 million contract in September. Now, it’s time to pay Prescott.
Aside from potentially giving Prescott a record-setting contract, which would be a massive jump in salary for the former fourth round pick, Dallas will deal out cash to other UFAs on offense. Unfortunately, if Prescott demands a record-breaking deal, which seems to be the trend with free agent quarterbacks, that limits Dallas’ ability to re-sign other players.
Tavon Austin, Randall Cobb, and Amari Cooper are all free agents. Cooper led Dallas in every major receiving category in 2019 and made his fourth Pro Bowl. Cooper is not a top-tier wide receiver. He’s not elite, and that becomes apparent when he’s compared to the league’s All-Pro receivers. However, the 25-year-old pass-catcher could become a staple of Dallas’s offense for the better part of the next decade if he sticks around on a long-term deal.
Austin and Cobb seem replaceable. Austin flunked out of Los Angeles after five seasons with the Rams and never became a consistent contributor in Dallas. Cobb finished third on the Cowboys with 828 receiving yards. However, with McCarthy becoming the head coach, Cobb’s chances of sticking around in Dallas seem high.
Jason Witten is an UFA. After a disastrous year in the broadcast booth, Witten unretired to rejoin the Cowboys on a one-year $4.25 million contract. Surprisingly, Witten almost exactly matched his Pro Bowl production from 2017. Considering the 37-year-old still has gas left in the tank, Dallas could re-sign Witten. If he doesn’t want to play anymore, the team could also bring him on as a coach. Witten’s backup, Blake Jarwin, is an RFA.
Free agency could gut the Cowboys on defense. Five players who started a significant number of games in 2019 could depart Dallas this offseason. Sean Lee is among the players with an expiring contract. Lee joined Dallas in 2010 and became a standout player, despite many injuries. He finished second on the team in tackles this past season with 86.
In the secondary, Jeff Heath and Byron Jones are UFAs. Jones, a combine standout in 2015, transitioned from safety to cornerback in 2018. The move transformed Jones’ career, turning him into a Second Team All-Pro. Injuries hampered Jones in 2019, and he looks like the odd man out in Dallas when it comes to making big-time money.
Heath could join Jones in free agency. The undrafted free agent joined Dallas in 2013 and became a starter in 2017. While Heath doesn’t stand out for any particular traits, he does a little bit of everything for Dallas. However, the Cowboys could look to upgrade from him at safety. Darian Thompson, a backup safety who started four games for Dallas in 2019, is also an UFA.
The real hits could come to Dallas’ defensive line. Michael Bennett, Maliek Collins, Christian Covington, and Robert Quinn are all UFAs. Defensive tackle Antwaun Woods is an ERFA. Despite limited snaps in nine games, Bennett ranked third on the team in sacks (four) and quarterback hits (11).
On the interior of the defensive line, Collins also recorded four sacks and added ten quarterback hits. Collins took over as a starter for Dallas during his rookie season in 2014. Covington, a backup defensive tackle, contributed 28 tackles in 2019.
The Cowboys got lucky with Quinn. The former Pro Bowler signed a one-year deal before the season and led Dallas with 11.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. Instead of getting the injured, depleted Quinn we’ve seen since 2015, Dallas got a resurgent defensive end who returned to his earlier Pro Bowl form. Quinn should cash in with a lucrative, long-term deal somewhere this summer.
Dallas could even lose several special teams players. Kai Forbath, who took over as Dallas’ kicker late in the season, made all ten of his field goal attempts with the Cowboys. The journeyman kicker will join former Pro Bowl long snapper L.P. Ladouceur in free agency. Ladouceur joined Dallas back in 2005 and is just over a month away from turning 39.
Biggest free agent- Markus Golden LB (UFA)
After four disappointing seasons in Arizona, Golden signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the Giants last offseason. The short deal paid off for Golden, who recorded 72 tackles and ten sacks in 2019. Now, Golden is free to sign an oversized contract in 2020.
The Giants made the unusual move of trading for Leonard Williams midseason, despite knowing the former Pro Bowler was in the final season of his rookie deal. Williams added some name recognition to New York’s defensive front, but that didn’t translate into production. Williams finished the season with the fewest sacks (0.5) and quarterback hits (16) of his career.
Despite his limited production in 2019, some team will inevitably offer Williams a large contract based on his age (25) and the potential he flashed earlier in his career.
On offense, Mike Remmers started 14 games at right tackle. The former undrafted free agent originally became a full-time starter in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers. Entering his age 31 season, Remmers will receive several offers in free agency.
The only other offensive UFA worth mentioning is Cody Latimer. The former second round pick by the Denver Broncos posted career numbers in 2019. His 24 receptions, 300 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns all mark career-highs.
On defense, the Giants may lose David Mayo. The linebacker signed a one-year deal worth $805,000 with the Giants before the 2019 season. He started New York’s final 13 games, accumulating two sacks and 80 tackles.
New York could undergo a changing of the guard on special teams. Zak DeOssie, New York’s long-time long snapper, is also an UFA. DeOssie joined the Giants in 2007 as a fourth round pick. He went to Pro Bowls in 2008 and 2010 and is 35 years old now. Michael Thomas, a safety and former Pro Bowl special teams player, will also enter free agency.
Kicker Aldrick Rosas is an RFA. After making 97.0% of his field goal attempts in 2018, Rosas connected on only 70.6% of his attempts in 2019.
Pending free agent quarterback, Eli Manning retired.
Biggest free agent- Ronald Darby CB (UFA)
Besides Dallas, Philadelphia could face the heaviest losses in free agency this year. Unlike Dallas, most of Philadelphia’s free agents are low-end starters and role players. None of the team’s UFAs are superstars. Darby, who the Eagles signed to a one-year, $6.5 deal last spring, is the team’s biggest free agent.
Philadelphia’s cornerback positions are unstable. Every year Darby and his fellow corners, like UFA Jalen Mills, suffer injuries that cost them large chunks of the season. The Eagles try to duct tape Darby and Mills back together, but neither can stay healthy, and they are both inconsistent. Philadelphia might be better off blowing up the cornerback position and starting from scratch.
Rodney McLeod marks Philadelphia’s third starting defensive back entering free agency this spring. McLeod started all 16 games for the Eagles in 2019, contributing 74 tackles, two interceptions, and six passes defensed. While it seems unlikely that the Eagles will hold onto all three defensive backs, the team will probably bring one or two back.
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles could also lose Vinny Curry, Timmy Jernigan, and Hassan Ridgeway. All three are UFAs. Curry, who the Eagles originally drafted in 2012, finished third on the team in sacks (five) and quarterback hits (12).
Jernigan and Ridgeway dealt with injuries this past season. Jernigan appeared in ten games, contributing two sacks and ten tackles. Since missing 13 games in 2018, Jernigan lacks his usual motor, and his impact is decreasing. Ridgeway also recorded two sacks in 2019, making seven appearances and five starts.
Four significant offensive players could leave Philadelphia in free agency. Nelson Agholor, Jordan Howard, Jason Peters, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai need new contracts. Far past his prime, Peters might retire instead of leaving the Eagles. The 38-year-old, nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle joined Philadelphia in 2009. He started 13 games in 2019.
Eagles fans may not miss Agholor. The former first round pick is notorious for dropping passes. In five seasons and 62 starts with the Eagles, Agholor produced 224 receptions, 2,515 receiving yards, and 18 receiving touchdowns.
Philadelphia may not want Howard or Vaitai to leave. As far as backup tackles go, Vaitai is a stellar player to fall back on in the case of an injury. Did you know that the Eagles are injury-prone? With Peters moving on, Andre Dillard still developing, and Lane Johnson coming off of another injury-shortened season, the Eagles may want to keep Vaitai around.
Speaking of injury-prone players, Howard appeared in ten games for Philadelphia, but he missed the second half of the regular season. The former Pro Bowler took a back seat to Miles Sanders, who more than doubled Howard’s yards from scrimmage. Losing Howard wouldn’t be a death blow, but Philadelphia would need to look elsewhere for running back depth.
The Eagles hold a team option for linebacker Nigel Bradham. If the Eagles opt in, Bradham’s cap hit will more than double between 2019 and 2020. The 30-year-old veteran amassed 348 tackles over the past four seasons. In terms of production, Philadelphia wants Bradham back, but the veteran’s cap hit may be too much to stomach.
Biggest free agent- Brandon Scherff G (UFA)
Washington’s in-house free agency period primarily concerns the offense. After five seasons, Scherff’s rookie contract is up. The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Scherff made the third Pro Bowl of his career in 2019.
While Scherff is an incredible player when he’s healthy, injuries are never far behind. Scherff finished the 2018 and 2019 seasons on injured reserve (IR). After starting all 32 games on his first two seasons, Scherff missed 15 games over the past three years. His upside will still warrant a massive contract in free agency.
Besides Scherff, Washington could lose two more offensive linemen. Ereck Flowers, a former top-ten pick by the Giants, started all 16 games for Washington this past season. Flowers signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Redskins last offseason, and he primarily played guard for them. Flowers is replaceable, but he would also be a cheap player to re-sign.
Donald Penn’s contract with Washington is also expiring. The former Pro Bowl left tackle signed a one-year deal worth just over two million dollars in late July. Penn played in place of seven-time Pro Bowler, Trent Williams. Williams held out for the entire season, citing issues between himself and the organization. Williams’ deal runs through 2020.
Vernon Davis, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, and Chris Thompson are all also UFAs. Davis played a significant role in Washington’s offense since 2016, but he only appeared in four games this past season before landing on IR.
Keenum and McCoy both started games for the Redskins in 2019. Keenum started six of the team’s first seven games before Dwayne Haskins took over the starting role. McCoy started in Week 5 but performed poorly. The former Texas star also started two games with Washington in 2018.
Thompson, who joined the Redskins in 2013, carved out a role for himself on the team as a dual-threat running back. He tallied 2,927 yards from scrimmage over the past five seasons.
On defense, Jonathan Bostic is trending toward free agency yet again. Washington is Bostic’s fifth team in as many years. He set a career-high with 105 tackles this season.
The Redskins tried shifting their focus at running back to Derrius Guice this past season, but Guice proved incapable of staying healthy. He only appeared in five games. Guice’s injury history will play a role in the team deciding on whether they will pick up Adrian Peterson’s team option for 2020. In 15 games this past season, Peterson tallied 898 rushing yards and 1,040 yards from scrimmage.
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