Perhaps the biggest storyline during the 2020 NFL season, other than the coronavirus, was the state of the NFC East.
Not a single team in the division had a winning record. Washington “won” the division at 7-9, while the Giants and Cowboys finished 6-10 and the Birds found the basement at 4-11-1, and all four teams played some pretty abhorrent football along the way. At times, it was like watching someone rub a cheese grater over their knuckles, but a lot can change after just one week of free agency.
Browns. Broncos. Football Team. 49ers. Patriots. Giants.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) March 23, 2021
If we remove QB from the discussion, these are teams with ~top 10 (if not top 5) rosters on paper right now. The team(s) that get the most from the QB position have a shot for a big 2021 season.
ESPN’s Mike Clay, a reasonable and sound football mind, declares that two of the top 10 rosters in the NFL now reside in Washington and New York, franchises who have spent the better part of the last decade bottom-feeding and who now suddenly seem much closer to contending than your Eagles.
If true, it would make for a staggering turn of events and perhaps bring back some semblance of the division’s glory years, albeit without the Birds.
Dallas made the biggest move so far this off-season when they re-signed their franchise quarterback Dak Prescott to a huge contract extension, but other than that, they’ve slow-played the early stages of free agency once again this spring. They did add safety Keanu Neal and cornerback Jourdan Lewis, both of whom will help one of the worst defenses in NFL history last year, but there is still a long way to go.
Washington, meanwhile, has made some impactful moves in free agency, none more so than the signing of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick who, although not an All-Pro, is an upgrade over Alex Smith, Tyler Heinicke, and Kyle Allen. The addition of wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who hauled in a career-high 77 balls for 851 yards and rushed for another 200 yards with five total touchdowns, gives Fitzpatrick two bona fide receiving threats, along with Terry McLaurin, as well as a stable of other skill position players in Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas.
The Football Team already had one of the best defensive units in football and upgraded the secondary when they replaced Ronald Darby with free agent cornerback William Jackson. The offensive line still needs some help, but that can be addressed in the draft or later in free agency. No doubt Washington has done an outstanding job building off of last season.
And then there are the Giants, who signed wide receiver Kenny Golladay to a big free agent deal this week. The 5th-year wideout only played five games for Detroit last year after suffering a hip injury but in 2018-19 put together back-to-back 1,000 yards seasons and led NFL wide receivers in touchdowns in 2019 with 11. He is a monster talent who has had trouble staying healthy but when on the field, is one of the best wideouts in the business. With Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and newly-signed wideout John Ross on the roster, along with the return of star running back Saquon Barkley and the tight end duo of Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph, there are lots of options at the skill positions. New free agent running back Devontae Booker should help in short-yardage situations, too.
Retaining Leonard Williams on the defensive line was also a huge move and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo is an underrated talent who should help a defense that gave up the 9th-fewest points per game (22.3) in the NFL last season. The Giants should be a lot better.
Of course, as Clay mentioned, QB play will likely determine which of these teams can best utilize the talent they’ve acquired on offense. Daniel Jones has had his ups and downs but has not shown enough consistency for anyone to declare him a true franchise quarterback. And Fitzpatrick is not a stud (unless he’s playing the Eagles). When he’s hot, Washington will win some games, but when he’s not, the team could struggle, although it’s fair to expect their outstanding defense to win some games for them, too.
As for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, don’t forget they have a loaded offense who can score points with anyone. The defense is still a huge question mark and could once again be their Achilles heel in 2021, but all three teams should be better than the Eagles this year.
The NFC East will not be a total laughingstock and could, for the first time in a long time, feature multiple teams capable of winning the division.
Which team will win the NFC East in 2021?
This poll is closed
RELATED PODCAST: Big Blue View’s Ed Valentine joined BGN’s own Brandon Lee Gowton and Rob “Stats” Guerrera on The SB Nation NFL Show to talk about the Giants’ standing in the NFC East. And he made a prediction that might surprise you!