The franchise tag deadline has passed, and on Monday teams can “legally tamper” (which is an oxymoron) ahead of the official start of free agency on Wednesday. Some last minute deals will get done, some unexpected cuts will be made, and then chaos will happen. And chaos is where the NFC East thrives.
The goal: Get back to the Super Bowl, realistically win the division again in a “retooling” year.
Cap situation: Not great, but the cap hits for Darius Slay and Lane Johnson are each over $24M, at least one of those will get restructured to free up money to sign some of the 117 free agents they have and the replacements for the ones they can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t re-sign.
Key free agents (40+% of snaps): CB James Bradberry, DT Fletcher Cox, LB TJ Edwards, S Marcus Epps, S CJ Gardner-Johnson, EDGE Brandon Graham, DT Javon Hargrave, RB Miles Sanders, G Isaac Seumalo, LB Kyzir White
What have they done so far: Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.
Biggest need: About $70 million in cap space to magically appear.
Biggest need they can actually address in free agency: Defensive Tackle. The Eagles defense saw peak seasons from multiple players, but the keystone might have been Hargrave. Like several other notable defenders on the team, Hargrave won’t be back unless the market unexpectedly implodes. The problem the Eagles will have in replacing him is that Hargrave is the best DT on the market, anyone will be a step down and has their own issues. Dre’Mont Jones didn’t become a starter until this season, Dalvin Tomlinson is 29, Zach Allen is an undersized DT/DE… the Eagles should have given Hargrave a contract extension last year that would have prevented this and given them a little more cap space (his cap hit last year was nearly $18M) but they didn’t. Too late now!
Biggest need they should actually address in free agency: Secondary. Three fifths of the starting secondary are free agents, and at least two of them, James Bradberry and CJ Gardner-Johnson, won’t be returning. There’s never a shortage of defensive backs signing one year deals, so filling those roster spots with at least some warm bodies won’t be a problem. Getting players who can perform as well as Bradberry and Gardner-Johnson did will be a problem. That’s the risk you run with so many players on expiring deals.
Can they win the offseason? A super team of the greatest PR professionals alive would not be able to spin what the Eagles are about to go through as “winning.”
The goal: As always, to win the Super Bowl and if that fails, to make Jerry Jones a bunch of money. They have accomplished exactly one of these goals every year for decades, this is a franchise that knows what it is doing.
Cap situation: Poor, as usual. According to OverTheCap the Cowboys need to clear $16M just to get under the cap. They’ll easily make space by punting millions down the road by restructuring the contracts of Dak Prescott (who just signed his contract two years ago), and any of Demarcus Lawrence (31 when the season starts), Zack Martin (32), Tyron Smith (32), or Ezekiel Elliott (28). A foolproof plan as always.
Key free agents: LB Anthony Barr, CB Anthony Brown, WR Noah Brown, G Connor McGovern, TE Dalton Schultz, T Terence Steele, S Donovon Wilson, LB Leighton Vander Esch
What have they done so far: Franchise tagged Tony Pollard, as it stands now the Cowboys will be spending more money in 2023 on running backs than the Eagles will be on wide receivers.
Biggest need: Mike McCarthy to actually do half the stuff he says he will.
Biggest need they can actually address in free agency: Someone to catch a pass. In 2021 the Cowboys had four players with at least 600 receiving yards, in 2022 they had just one. But, as we’ll see below, the free agent market for WRs is terrible. Tight end probably won’t offer an improvement, Dalton Schultz might be the best of the options.
Biggest need they should actually address in free agency: Offensive line. Two starters are free agents, while Tyron Smith hasn’t played more than 13 games since 2015, and Jason Peters played over half of snaps in just one of the 11 games he appeared in. The Cowboys have done a good to great job of building an offensive line through the draft and undrafted free agency, but they’ve got too many potential holes to fill this year. All that money invested in running backs won’t matter much if the line can’t create space.
Can they win the offseason? The Cowboys always have a great offseason and a terrible offseason, and you can hear both angles through out the offseason on talking head shows.
New York Giants
The goal: Prove 2022 wasn’t a fluke. Considering that they went 1-5-1 in the division, it won’t be hard to repeat that showing.
Cap situation: It was great. Then they agreed to a contract with Daniel Jones at the last minute and franchise tagged Saquon Barkley. Now it’s just pretty good. The Giants are easily in the best salary cap shape of any team in the division. They would have had even more cap space and a better long term look if a year ago they picked up Daniel Jones’ fifth year option but oh well!
Key free agents: G Jon Feliciano, WR Richie James, S Julian Love, CB Fabian Moreau, WR Darius Slayton, LB Jaylon Smith, S Jihad Ward, EDGE Oshane Ximines
What have they done so far: Gave Daniel Jones $82M guaranteed and franchise tagged Saquon Barkley
Biggest need: Despite signing Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones and his 15 TDs in 16 games to a contract extension, this team still needs a QB who can make plays.
Biggest need they can actually address in free agency: Wide receiver. If you combined the Giants top two WRs, Darius Slayton and Richie James, into one person, you’d have maybe the 5th best WR in the division. Unfortunately for the Giants, both those receivers are free agents, and the WR free agency market is brutal. The best WR scheduled to hit free agency is… Jakobi Meyers? Ju-Ju “Toilet Water” Smith-Schuster? The WR market is so bad that Odell Beckham and his 67 catches combined in 2020 and 2021 might get paid.
Biggest need they should actually address in free agency: Linebacker. The Giants need someone, anyone, who can reasonably make a tackle when a ball carrier advances beyond the line of scrimmage. The good news for the Giants is that this year there will be plenty of off ball linebackers available in free agency, and the Giants don’t need to go after the top of the market, a second tier free agent linebacker would fill a big hole.
Can they win the offseason? It’s a competition between the Giants and the Bears to see who can win the offseason. The national media love overinflating New York teams and pretending that Justin Fields is a starting caliber QB, so they’ve already got hype baked in. The Bears have more cap space than anyone, while the Giants are coming off a playoff win and bringing back their offensive “identity” of Danny Dimes and six good games by Saquon Barkley in the first half of the season. There is simply no way this can lead to a let down during the season!
Washington Football Team Commanders
The goal: Ron Rivera’s goal is to not get fired during the season. Good luck!
Cap situation: According to OverTheCap they have $15M in cap space, which is not bad for an 8 win team, but not at all good for a team whose only QB under contract is Sam Howell.
Key free agents: QB Taylor Heinicke, LB Cole Holcomb, C Tyler Larsen, S Bobby McCain, G Trai Turner
What have they done so far: Cut Carson Wentz, franchise tagged Daron Payne
Biggest need: A new owner and a new quarterback.
Biggest need they can actually address in free agency: It’ll never happen but the Commanders could return to some form of relevance by signing Lamar Jackson to an offer sheet that the Ravens would actually refuse to match. They won’t, which is actually better for both the Commanders and Jackson because there’s simply no way Jackson plays home games on the FedEx Field playing surface without suffering a major injury or several medium injuries.
Biggest need they should actually address in free agency: Tight End. The Commanders have had a TE with over 400 receiving yards just twice in the last five seasons, and one of them was Jordan Reed. Getting mere competency at the position could give the Commanders a theoretically balanced offense, and fortunately for them there are a bunch of TEs such as Hayden Hurst, Foster Moreau, and Robert Tonyan who offer competence. Of course that won’t matter if they can’t get some competence at quarterback. Which they won’t.
Can they win the offseason? Only if the team is sold.
DC billionaire Mitchell Rales is partnering with Josh Harris in their attempt to buy the Washington Commanders, per league source. Rales is the co-founder of the Danaher Corporation, DC’s largest company.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 9, 2023