Lettuce push onwards! Next up, the ultra competitive NFC East.
The Cowboys began the offseason in financial hell, over the cap by a fair margin. Since DeMarcus Ware was unwilling to take a pay cut, he forced his own departure from the team. Following him out the door was quality DL Jason Hatcher, and the not so impressive C Phil Costa.
After Ware was cut, I laughed at the thought of what the 2014 Cowboys DL would look like, but Jerry Jones surprised me. He signed DE Jeremy Mincey, DE Anthony Spencer, and DT Henry Melton all for $1.3M or less. While all of these guys have question marks (Spencer and Melton coming off injuries) they all have the upside of being league average starters or better this year. They won’t replace the production of Ware and Hatcher, but they could easily end up being an above average unit. The signing of QB Brandon Weeden may have inspired many chuckles across the nation, but for just $570k, he’s quite a bargain as a backup QB. I have laughed at many of Jurrah’s moves over the years, he deserves credit here; finding potential starters for scraps is not easy.
Moving onto the draft, the Cowboys took OT Zack Martin with their 1st pick, a very good pass protector. He may not be the best fit since he has a lot of work to do when it comes to run blocking, but he represents a big upgrade over Doug Free at RT. DE Demarcus Lawrence in the early 2nd is another boost to a DL in rebuilding phase, and will benefit from playing behind veterans rather than being thrust into a full time role as a rookie. WR Devin Street is very raw, but has the physical ability to be decent enough value in the 5th round. The only head-scratcher for the Cowboys was their failure to take a safety until the 7th round, as that has been an area of concern for them for quite some time. Jerry Jones has no one but himself to thank for the financial woes this offseason, but he did a pretty decent job patching up the roster outside of safety. Grade: B
New York Giants:
The Giants were the most active team in free agency, signing a whopping 15 free agents in addition to resigning 8 of their own players. However only a couple of these players cost anything significant (CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and OG Geoff Schwartz) and they were arguably bargains at their respective prices. Starters LB Jon Beason and S Stevie Brown were brought back on cheap deals, saving the Giants from needing to make bigger moves at these positions. Other key depth signings included CB Walter Thurmond, S Quinten Demps, DE Robert Ayers, and OT Charles Brown. None of these moves are sexy, but depth was a big problem for the Giants last year and the roster now looks a lot more solid top to bottom.
WR Hakeem Nicks was allowed to walk, which worked out nicely as WR Odell Beckham dropped into their laps in the 1st round. It’s uncertain why Nicks played so poorly last year, but Beckham is a great prospect who could easily end up being the 2nd best receiver in this draft.
The rest of their draft was not so impressive, with many players who will only lend positive contributions to one aspect of the game. 2nd round C Weston Richburg fills a need but was somewhat of a reach, as he will only really contribute in pass protection. 3rd round DT Jay Bromley has some pass rush moves, but struggles against the run. 4th round RB Andre Williams is a bruising runner who will instantly improve the running game, but is very unlikely to contribute in the passing game.
All in all, the Giants did a very nice job addressing their secondary and receiver issues, but some of their draft picks could have been better in my opinion. Grade: C+
The most notable headline of the Eagles offseason was choosing to cut DeSean Jackson, despite eating $6M to do so. They must have really disliked him, as they preferred to resign Riley Cooper and the injured Jeremy Maclin. Despite an abundance of cap room, the Eagles chose to sign just one free agent starter; S Malcolm Jenkins. A more notable pickup was RB Darren Sproles, acquired in a trade from the Saints. The potential he has in Chip Kelly’s spread offense is scary to think about, especially if he is on the field at the same time as LeSean McCoy.
The Eagles first draft pick was DE Marcus Smith, an intriguing prospect as an edge rusher. He has a really nice burst off the snap and will be a nice eventual replacement for the aging Trent Cole. WR Jordan Matthews in round 2 is not a flashy prospect, but he is a big body receiver that will be useful in the slot. Chip Kelly could only wait so long to take some Oregon players, selecting WR Josh Huff in the 3rd and DE Taylor Hart in the 5th. Huff didn’t seem like a 3rd round prospect, but its also likely that Kelly will get more value out of him than any other coach.
The biggest disappointment of the Eagles offseason was the failure to upgrade their weak CB’s; they didn’t touch any free agent corners in a deep market, and waited until the 4th round to nab CB Jaylen Watkins. He has some physical ability, but didn’t show much on the field at Florida. Judging by the signings of Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, and drafting of Ed Reynolds in the 5th, it seems that Kelly may value safeties more than corners. Kelly may be an offensive genius, but the failure to address CB this year has me wondering how much of a knack he has for defense. Grade: C
The Snyders were without a 1st round pick this year, resulting in their typical offseason approach; spend oodles of money on free agents. DL Jason Hatcher and WR DeSean Jackson represent major upgrades at positions of need, and for once it seems that Snyder did not overpay his free agents. Other very solid additions include safety Ryan Clark, and CB Tracy Porter. Neither player is a star at this point in their career, but will help improve what was a poor secondary in 2013. Key re-signings include LB Perry Riley and edge rusher Brian Orakpo who was franchised.
While I applaud their work in free agency this year, the Snyders left me somewhat underwhelmed in the draft. 2nd round edge rusher Trent Murphy was a reach at a position that was already very solid; one has to wonder if he was drafted simply because he led the nation in sacks, as his physical talent does not warrant a 2nd round pick. OT Morgan Moses could be a very nice pick in the 3rd, as his potential jumps off the film. However they again reached later in the 3rd, taking OG Spencer Long. He might be decent in pass protection, but the upside is extremely limited here. The Snyders saved their draft by selecting CB Bashaud Breeland in the 4th, and RB Lache Seastrunk in the 6th, both very good values that could end up being steals. Breeland will get to develop behind Hall and Porter, while Seastrunk finally gives RG3 a dangerous receiving weapon out of the backfield.
Overall, the Snyders made some very nice additions this offseason, and I would have given them an A if not for their selections of Murphy and Long. Grade: B+