The dust is settling on the 2021 NFL free agency period. How does the NFC East currently shape up ahead of the new season.
Some players have been signed, others have been re-signed, and numerous remain on the market. The 2021 NFL free agency period has been underway, but given it’s been over a week since the start of the “legal tampering” period, the dust is officially settling.
A multitude of moves have been made within the NFC East — most notably the re-signing of star Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams along with the lucrative four-year extension of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (which actually occurred prior to the free agency period).
The four NFC East teams look a little bit different than they once did. How do the divisional power rankings shape up with the offseason progressing?
1. Dallas Cowboys
The Giants have arguably been the flashiest team in the division this free agency, having made a number of moves to improve the talent level in and around the roster. However, the pending return of Dak Prescott makes this Cowboys team the favorite to win the NFC East.
It’s clear Prescott is the top signal-caller in the division. Even coming off a season-ending compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, no one is comparing the two-time Pro Bowler with Daniel Jones, Taylor Heinicke, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Jalen Hurts. He’s the best NFC East quarterback and it isn’t even close right now — a huge reason why Dallas is atop the power rankings.
The Cowboys additionally added a talented safety in Keanu Neal, who reunites with former Falcons head coach and current Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Neal earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2017 while with Quinn and has proven to be an extremely physical and aggressive safety, having recorded at least 100 combined tackles in three of his five seasons thus far.
The injuries are an issue though — Neal played in four games combined through the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Additional moves on the defensive side of the ball include the acquisition of former Jets outside linebacker Tarell Basham and former Texans defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, both of whom are expected to bring notable levels of production to the front seven on short-term deals. The Cowboys certainly need defensive assistance after finishing 23rd in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed last season.
The intriguing storyline for the Cowboys will be whether their offensive unit picks up right where it left off when Dak suffered the injury in Week 5 of 2020. Dallas averaged over 30 points per game in the four full matchups in which Prescott was healthy last year.
2. New York Giants
Don’t sleep on this Giants team heading into 2021. Sure, New York did win just six games last season and the only reason it nearly made the postseason was because every other NFC East team seemed to struggle just as much at times.
But the moves Big Blue has made thus far in the offseason cannot be overlooked, and as previously mentioned, have increased the roster’s talent level.
The Giants had two main priorities this free agency period: re-sign star pass rusher Leonard Williams and acquire a No. 1 wide receiver. They’ve accomplished both, signing Williams to a new three-year, $63 million deal and bringing in wideout Kenny Golladay on a four-year, $72 million contract.
You could argue the Giants’ third-most important priority was to snag a talented corner to perform alongside James Bradberry, and they did just that Monday with the acquisition of Adoree’ Jackson on a three-year deal.
Additional signings include wide receiver John Ross as well as defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who are expected to add depth to either position group.
General manager Dave Gettleman has done a great job putting the pieces together this offseason. Now, there are no excuses for either Daniel Jones or the team itself — time to win games.
3. Washington Football Team
Washington is a good team that’s on the right path…except it seemingly doesn’t possess a long-term plan at the quarterback position. The defense is excellent, Ron Rivera is a terrific head coach, and the organization employs productive offensive weapons in wide receiver Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas.
The Football Team have also made notable acquisitions this free agency period with the signings of wide receiver Curtis Samuel and cornerback William Jackson, the latter of whom allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 51.4% of throws for a passer rating of 88.2 last year.
But the problem is the uncertainty regarding the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick will win you some games here and there, but Washington needs to make a move for a long-term answer at that spot, and it must happen sooner rather than later.
There’s a slim chance the Football Team could still trade for someone like Sam Darnold if the Jets elect to draft BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. It’s unconfirmed, however, the legitimate chances of that occurring.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
It’s astonishing to see how things have changed in Philly. Just three short years ago, the Eagles were celebrating their first-ever Super Bowl title. Now, they’re coming off a four-win season in which they finished last in the NFC East, and it’s unclear if they’ll improve at all in 2021.
No one knows if Jalen Hurts will be the successful starting quarterback Philly is hoping he’ll be. It’s also unclear what you’re going to get out of first-time head coach Nick Sirianni, who was previously the Colts offensive coordinator.
The signings in this year’s free agency period should assist the ballclub, but none of them are major moves. Safety Anthony Harris (one-year, $5 million) will slot in well with talented cornerback Darius Slay while safety Andrew Adams will be a depth piece. Nonetheless, this organization still isn’t providing fans or outsiders with much confidence in what it could bring to the field in 2021.
Things may change when the draft occurs though. Maybe Philly finds itself in the quarterback market with the No. 6 overall selection or adds a talented offensive weapon such as Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.