NFC East offseason advice: Decision ahead for Cowboys, Redskins
With free agency starting on March 9, USA TODAY Sports is taking a look at all eight NFL divisions and what could be in store for teams this offseason, as well as the moves they should make. Today, the NFC East ...
Prominent free agents: WR Brice Butler, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church, CB Morris Claiborne, DE Jack Crawford, RB Lance Dunbar, LB Justin Durant, G Ron Leary, DT Terrell McClain, RB Darren McFadden, QB Kellen Moore, QB Mark Sanchez, S J.J. Wilcox, WR Terrance Williams
Cap situation: $4.2 million of cap space, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: A defense that was exposed in the playoffs could lose five starters, including three in the secondary. Depth at receiver looms as a problem, and Dallas will have to settle on a backup for QB Dak Prescott — Moore? Sanchez? Someone else? — given Tony Romo's expected departure.
Our advice: Jerry Jones and Co. have already had to move some money around to get cap compliant, though offloading the remainder of Romo's deal will bring further relief. Final resolution of that situation seems fairly imminent, though a trade (and a modicum of compensation) would obviously be preferable to releasing the longtime quarterback outright. Beyond that, with so many areas to address on somewhat of a shoestring budget, the Cowboys will have to spend and draft shrewdly to get the defense up to par. Older but capable veterans — think DT Nick Fairley or CB Prince Amukamara — might be the ticket as short-term solutions assuming Dallas can't keep everyone. A prime league destination and loaded offense should help Jones' recruiting pitch.
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NEW YORK GIANTS
Prominent free agents: T Will Beatty, WR Victor Cruz, TE Larry Donnell, K Robbie Gould, CB Leon Hall, DT Johnathan Hankins, RB Rashad Jennings, G John Jerry, QB Ryan Nassib, T Marshall Newhouse, LB Keenan Robinson, LB Kelvin Sheppard
Franchise tag: DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Cap situation: $14.3 million of cap space, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: GM Jerry Reese didn't take long to begin addressing his cap, cutting the cord with Cruz and Jennings shortly after the season ended. Now he moves forward needing to weigh his options on a roster that didn't have balance on either side of the ball.
Our advice: Reese made a major splash in the free agent pool last year, effectively revamping a defense that finished last in 2015. Keeping Pierre-Paul, who had a resurgent campaign after learning to play with his disfigured hand, was a priority to keep the band's major players together. New York could use upgrades at linebacker, too. Zach Brown could be a more realistic option, and one who would fit the scheme nicely. Offensively, despite spending a first-round pick on LT Ereck Flowers, he has underperformed and Reese needs to look for an upgrade there -- and along the offensive line -- to help a running game that was all but non-existent in 2016.
Prominent free agents: CB Nolan Carroll, DT Bennie Logan, CB Leodis McKelvin, LB Stephen Tulloch, OL Stefen Wisniewski
Cap situation: $9.7 million of cap space, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: It's pretty simple — the Eagles need to get more explosive weapons for second-year QB Carson Wentz while also upgrading at cornerback. But with so little cap space, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman will likely have to get creative.
Our advice: Roseman probably can't afford both a good corner and an offensive game breaker in free agency, so expect him to spend for one and draft the other. A big receiver like Alshon Jeffery or a speedy one like DeSean Jackson would be a needed asset for Wentz while creating more room for incumbent No. 1 WR Jordan Matthews and TEs Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. But the budget likely can't currently accommodate a player of Jeffery's or Jackson's caliber. Roseman would (and probably should) first have to move on from LBs Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks, who are no longer ideal scheme fits, and probably restructure some other deals to free up the requisite money. But WRs Kenny Britt and Kenny Stills could be less expensive versions of Jeffery and Jackson, respectively. Philly also needs help at running back, where Ryan Mathews hasn't been reliable. An incentive-laden deal for a player like Eddie Lacy or Darren McFadden could be a solution. However if Roseman opts to target a prime corner like A.J. Bouye or Trumaine Johnson, Wentz will surely have to wait for help.
Prominent free agents: DE Chris Baker, TE Vernon Davis, WR Pierre Garcon, DE Evander Hood, S Duke Ihenacho, WR DeSean Jackson, DT Cullen Jenkins, S Donte Whitner
Cap situation: $58.9 million of cap space, according to overthecap.com.
Primary issues for 2017: Washington already addressed its most pressing issuing by issuing the exclusive franchise tag to QB Kirk Cousins. However the Redskins also stand to lose both their starting receivers, Garcon and Jackson, and still need improvements at every level of the defense. GM Scot McCloughan, who's reportedly under the gun, faces what is almost surely the most crucial offseason of his Washington tenure.
Our advice: It's hard to figure why the Redskins are dragging their feet on Cousins, unless they really don't believe he's their long-term guy. But how much more does he have to prove after continuing to rewrite the franchise's passing records? What outside quarterback provides a reasonably alternative solution (and at what price)? And what sense does it make to have Cousins to play 2017 on a $24 million franchise tag if it's going to cost at least an additional $34 million-plus to keep him in 2018? So it's time to get a long-term deal done, not only to end this risky and expensive dance with Cousins, but to attach a more palatable cap number to his contract and enable realistic pursuits of Garcon and/or Jackson plus defensive upgrades. Otherwise, it's time to incite a bidding war between, presumably, the San Francisco 49ers and any other team that might have an interest in Cousins so Washington can reap as big a bounty as possible for its inevitable reboot. DE Calais Campbell, CB Morris Claiborne and S John Cyprien are among defenders worth considering in free agency, but only if Cousins is coming back on a financially prudent deal that allows this team to realistically load up for a Super Bowl run.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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