Football Memo

NFC East: Anyone’s Division

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NFC East Report

With the early blitz of free agency signings in the rearview mirror, teams now turn the bulk of their attention to next month’s NFL Draft.

In the NFC East the story is: As usual, it’s anyone’s division

Let’s analyze the free agency season up to date and see how the four teams have fared so far, and where they should go from here.

Philadelphia Eagles
Where they’ve improved:
The Eagles bolstered its last-ranked pass defense with the additions of safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos. Jenkins, in particular, provides leadership and stability to the secondary and should team with Nate Allen to give Philly its best tandem in quite a while. The signing of Darren Sproles adds an interesting dynamic to the backfield. Head coach Chip Kelly is an offensive mastermind and his job is to find a defined role for Sproles without duplicating what LeSean McCoy brings as one of the best dual-threat talents in the NFL. If he can find ways to productively have both players on the field at the same time, the Eagles will stress defenses laterally as well as any team.

Areas of concern: No matter the reason for his release, the Eagles have nobody even close on their roster who can replace DeSean Jackson’s production. Jackson was as vital as McCoy in making Kelly’s offense click. Jackson is fantastic on bubble screens and is not only one of the best deep threats in the league – as his 17-plus yards-per-catch average indicates – he was by far the most dangerous receiver on the Eagles’ roster. The return of Jeremy Maclin from injury will certainly help and the emergence of Riley Cooper gives the Eagles a decent starting duo, but they definitely will need to add at least a few receivers into the mix. Upgrading the cornerback and linebacker positions should also be a priority.

Possibly first-round targets at No. 22: WR Brandin Cooks; WR Odell Beckham Jr.; WR Marqise Lee; CB Courtney Roby; CB Jason Verrett; LB Ryan Shazier

Dallas Cowboys
Where they’ve improved:
I’m sure Cowboys’ fans are aware that it’s really hard to find a position where Dallas is stronger than last season. Maybe Jerry Jones bought a new big screen for the stadium. Would that count? Seriously, other than the addition of Brandon Weeden giving Dallas more depth at quarterback, there isn’t another area of obvious improvement. Henry Melton’s signing at defensive tackle definitely softens the blow of losing Jason Hatcher. Melton, who is coming of major knee surgery, has huge upside if, and when, he returns to full strength.

Areas of concern: For one season the offensive line isn’t a major area of concern, and other than quarterback and running back, it’s probably the only other area where the Cowboys don’t need immediate help. Dallas could use some depth at receiver and tight end, but the majority of the concerns in “Big D” are on the defensive side of the football. Dallas must improve its front seven. They need both pass rushers to replace DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, who is likely also departing. Another defensive tackle or two also need to be added to the rotation if the Cowboys hope to slow down opposing offenses. Perhaps the biggest area of need is at safety, where both positions really need to be upgraded.

Possible first-round targets at No. 16: S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix; S Calvin Pryor; DT Aaron Donald; DT Timmy Jernigan; DE Dee Ford; DE Kony Ealy; LB C.J. Mosley

New York Giants
Where they’ve improved:
The Giants probably have the most roster turnover than any team in the league – let alone the division. Most of the positions have seen tradeoffs of relatively equal talent, for example, they added running back Rashad Jennings and lost Andre Brown. The area the Giants have improved tremendously is at cornerback. In are Zach Bowman and two underrated talents in Walter Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Thurmond can play both on the outside and in the slot as he displayed with the Super Bowl champion Seahawks last season. Cromartie is a gifted athlete with the ability to shadow the best receivers in the league. With Prince Amukamara already penciled in at one corner, the Giants now have the best defensive backfield in the division.  The Giants also added a top kick returner in Trindon Holliday, who can be a game-changing talent on special teams.

Areas of concern: The Giants still have several weaknesses on their roster. No matter what you think of Hakeem Nicks and his injury plagued career, he still commanded respect from opposing defenses. The Giants are banking on the continued development of Rueben Randle and a return to form from Mario Manningham, who is returning after spending the past two seasons in San Francisco. The defection of defensive tackle Linval Joseph and defensive end Justin Tuck, who was a team leader, leaves some holes along the defensive lines. Linebacker, tight end and the offensive line are other areas the Giants should target early in draft and free agency.

Possible first-round targets at No. 12: WR Mike Evans; TE Eric Ebron; DT Aaron Donald; OT Taylor Lewan; LB/DE Anthony Barr

Washington Redskins
Where they’ve improved:
Two areas stick out when evaluating the Redskins’ offseason so far: Defensive line and wide receiver. The signing of DeSean Jackson gives Washington one of the biggest on-field additions for any team. Jackson, despite the reported baggage off the field, is a playmaking machine that scares the heck out of opposing defenses. Paired with Pierre Garcon, the Redskins, and Robert Griffin III have one of the top receiving tandems in the NFL, which should also open up more running lanes for Alfred Morris. The signing of DE/DT Jason Hatcher greatly improves the athleticism along the defensive front. Hatcher will play 5-technique defensive end in the Redskins’ 3-4 scheme and will provide a much-needed pass rusher to complement outside backers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

Areas of concern: With all the firepower the Redskins now own at the skill positions, it won’t mean much if they don’t upgrade their offensive line. Washington needs to add a few starters and some depth to its front. Safety is another huge concern for the Redskins. Right now, it looks as if Brandon Meriweather and recent signee Ryan Clark will man the starting positions. Meriweather has never lived up to being a first-round selection in 2007. Clark, who was a nice player and leader for the Steelers, is entering his 13th season. The Redskins could also use some youth at inside linebacker.

Possible second-round targets at No. 34: S Deone Bucannon; S Jimmie Ward; OT Joel Bitonio; OT Cyrus Kouandjio; G David Yankey; G Xavier Su’a-Filo; LB Chris Borland

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