Continuing on with the NFC, it’s time to preview free agency for the NFC East. This division contains two top teams (Eagles and Cowboys), but also has two interesting teams that could possibly aim to contend in the upcoming season, or choose to tear it down (Giants and Redskins). Let’s take a close look at each team in this division, looking at their top needs and players they must sign during the offseason.
Top Needs: SS, WR, OL
On paper, the Cowboys definitely look like the top team in this division. If they want to compete with the top dogs in the NFC, however, they should look to improve in a couple of key areas in free agency. Strong safety Jeff Heath only had one interception and ranked as just the 81st best safety in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Therefore, finding a better safety to pair with Xavier Woods is a must, though it doesn’t need to be a splash signing. Amari Cooper was terrific once acquired by Dallas mid-season, but there isn’t much talent at receiver besides him, so that’s somewhere where the Cowboys should look to upgrade, preferably a slot receiver. Dallas is set besides that, but they struggled to protect Dak Prescott due to injuries on the offensive trenches, so signing a lineman or two to provide depth is also a must. Still, this is a team with few weaknesses.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
This one is a no-brainer. The 26-year-old Lawrence has 25 sacks over the past two seasons, and ranked as the 9th best edge defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Outside of Lawrence, Dallas doesn’t have any other impact pass rushers, and being able to have a quality player at such a premium position is rare for a team. Losing Lawrence would be a major blow for the team, and would set their defense back a lot. Considering their defense is what carried them to the playoffs this season, that’s a huge concern. Obviously there is some risk in signing a player to the deal Lawrence will command, but there’s so much more risk in letting him walk.
Top Free Agent Target: S Adrian Phillips
While many are calling for the Cowboys to sign Earl Thomas in free agency, a better and cheaper alternative would be to sign Adrian Phillips. Phillips graded out as above average by Pro Football Focus, and is a versatile defender. He was a perfect fit in the Chargers’ nickel scheme, a very similar scheme to what the Cowboys run with defensive play caller Kris Richard. Dallas cannot be reckless with their finances with key players due for extensions soon, and Phillips will bring a lot to the table and is a terrific value signing for any team, especially the Cowboys.
Top Needs: CB, RB, WR
Due to a mixture of luck and “Foles magic”, the Eagles were able to claw their into the playoff last season. Still, the 2017 Superbowl Champions still must have aspirations to win another one around quarterback Carson Wentz, but reinforcements need to be made. That starts with cornerback, Philadelphia lacks depth at the position and ranked third-worst versus the pass last season. After the Eagles fix their secondary, they should focus on surrounding Wentz with more talent. Philadelphia has decent options at running back, but they could use a dynamic, all-around threat out of the backfield. THey also need another receiver; Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are the only starting-caliber options currently on the roster. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they have just $16 million in cap space. Therefore, they need to look for value with their free agent acquisitions.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: WR Jordan Matthews
The 26-year-old Matthews was solid in a reserve role, with 300 receiving yards on a 71.4% catch rate. That was enough for him to rank as the 63rd best receiver in football last season, and he’s a tremendous asset in the slot. He’d provide depth and stability at an extremely cheap price, which is terrific value for the Eagles.
Top Free Agent Target: CB Jason McCourty
The 31-year-old has put together back to back seasons, and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 6th best corner in the NFL. The Eagles could use a smart veteran with the ability to play both man and zone coverage on the outside. and McCourty fits that bill. Plus, given his age, he may come cheaper that free agents Ronald Darby and Pierre Desir.
Top Needs: QB, WR, S
The Redskins may be in the worst situation in football. They have just $16 million in cap space, few young assets, and no longer have their quarterback since Alex Smith’s career is likely over after his devastating leg injury. They are stuck in the purgatory that is mediocrity, and their only option is to try to find a starting quarterback for cheap. That new quarterback will also need some weapons on the perimeter, since all Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson bring to the table is inconsistency and potential that has yet to be untapped. Washington desperately needs a true #1 receiver, and acquiring one needs to be the priority outside of cornerback. After releasing DJ Swearinger and with Haha Clinton-Dix set to be a free agent, the Redskins are also barren at safety, where they are more than enough starting-caliber options for them to choose from. It’s unlikely that free agency will get Washington out of this awful situation that they are in. Still, failing to do anything this offseason would only make matters worse.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: T/G Ty Nsekhe
An under the radar player, Nsekhe earned an above average 67.8 grade from Pro Football Focus this season, and shined when thrust into action. The 33-year-old is able to play both inside and outside, and Washington should look to retain him and plug him in at left guard, the only weakness of their offensive line.
Top Free Agent Target: QB Tyrod Taylor
The Redskins were in first place in the division before Smith got hurt, so finding a quarterback with a similar play style would be ideal. In this case, it’s Taylor, who helped the Bills reach the playoffs in 2017. He did struggle in limited action with the Browns last season before giving way to Baker Mayfield, but the 29-year-old should serve a similar role with Washington that he did with Cleveland. The Redskins should look to sign him as safety plan, and also draft a quarterback. Then, competition could decide which is the best fit towards winning games in 2019. Despite the issues with the Browns, I believe Taylor can still win games with solid defense and a solid running game, which is the same formula Washington used with Smith last season.
New York Giants
Top Needs: OL, CB, S
Despite investments made in both the draft and free agency last offseason, the Giants finished 5-11 this past season and still must upgrade the entire right side of the offensive line. If they can do that, then possibly they can finally live up to their offensive potential with so many star skill players on the roster. Meanwhile, cornerback is a mess, and with Janoris Jenkins likely to be cut, New York does not have one starting-caliber player on that position currently on the roster. With Curtis Riley and Landon Collins both unlikely to be kept, the Giants now have also created a hole at safety, and they should look to acquire players on the back-end who fit defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s scheme. New York has just enough money to make that happen with $27 million in cap space, and with quarterback a long-term need, they should look to upgrade as much as possible in free agency; the draft must be dedicated to finding their franchise signal caller.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: DL Kerry Wynn
Wynn is a terrific presence on the defensive line with the ability to play both inside and outside. He graded out well with a 66.2 grade by Pro Football Focus, and was on of New York’s most productive defensive players last season. Plus, he’ll likely come at a very affordable price, so it makes no sense to let him leave via free agency.
Top Free Agent Target: T Ja’Wuan James
Right tackle was a liability for the Giants last season, with Ereck Flowers (cut mid-season) and Phillip Wheeler constantly allowing pressure. Ja’Wuan James has really come into his own as an above average right tackle, earning a 70.8 grade from Pro Football Focus. He may not have the highest ceiling, but unless a team massively overpays for his services, he should definitely live up to his new contract. This would be an incredible signing for the Giants; it would really help open up the offense and allow either Eli Manning or a drafted quarterback to thrive with an immense amount of star power on the offense with Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. This is a no-brainer for the Giants, and they need to steals James away from the Dolphins if they want to find a way to make a playoff push and protect their quarterback next season.