2020 free agency grades for NFC East: Eagles and Cowboys lead pack, Giants making strides but Redskins aren't
Two teams are going hard at improving, but the other two still have much to do
To say 2020 NFL free agency has been a wild ride is akin to calling the surface of the sun "balmy." From the the earth-shattering trade of DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans to Tom Brady shunning his beloved New England Patriots for new digs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and lots in-between, it's easily been one of the most frenzied offseasons in recent memory. And while most of the moves in the NFC East have paled in comparison to what's happening around the league, it hasn't exactly been crickets and tumbleweed for the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Washington Redskins.
The jockeying for position in the race for the division crown is at full throttle after sweeping changes saw the latter three clubs replace their head coach with Mike McCarthy, Joe Judge and Ron Rivera, respectively. This has created a sort of chess match as new Giants offensive coordinator and former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett tries to siphon talent from North Texas, and McCarthy eyes talent that once suited up for the Redskins, but also for him as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
Byron Jones left the division, despite courting by every team except the one that cut his checks the past five years, and it forced the Eagles to respond in kind. Randall Cobb and haven't yet replaced him, although they still have the best WR unit in the division without him., but the Cowboys lost
So where does every team in the NFC East stand after the first wave of free agency?
Let's take a stab at grading them accordingly.
They lost out on Byron Jones, but doubled back and landed Darius Slay. Some will argue what they gave up to acquire him from the Detroit Lions -- namely a third- and fifth-round pick in 2020 along with awarding him a three-year, $50 million deal with $30 million guaranteed -- was an overpay, but what can't be debated is how Philly instantly filled a dire need in one fell swoop. Slay is not only the Eagles' instant CB1, he's one of the best in the league at what he does. Time will tell if his dip in 2019 was simply a failing relationship with Matt Patricia and the Lions or if the 29-year-old is approaching a decline. Until further notice, however, the move was an A+ for the Eagles, even if they had to overpay a bit to make it happen.
They still have work to do in their secondary after oddly opting to release Malcolm Jenkins, but adding Javon Hargrave to their already beefy defensive line on a three-year, $39 million deal is a huge win. Hargrave plus Fletcher Cox is a recipe for terror, and combines with the Slay move to give Philly an impressive early grade after the first week of free agency. Piecemealing the rest of the secondary together (Jalen Mills at safety?) with one-year deals on talent that has proven itself a liability at times won't cut it though -- especially against the wideouts they'll face in the division (ahem, Cowboys) -- and that's why the Eagles are dangerously close to a C+ here.
That said, they're also one or two high-value moves away from looking at a solid A.
Robert Quinn -- who led the team with 11.5 sacks in 2019 -- stings mightily, but combines with to rapidly stitch that wound. They also landed a needed upgrade to their safety unit by reuniting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with Mike McCarthy, one that comes on the heels of losing Jeff Heath to the Las Vegas Raiders. Along with Heath went Maliek Collins, but McCoy upgrades the defensive interior over what a talented Collins brought to the table., but they didn't give their fans much time to moan and whine about it. Sure, the loss of
The problem is Clinton-Dix is on a one-year deal, making him a stopgap measure at best, and while re-signing Darian Thompson helps, it doesn't solve the long-term issue beside Xavier Woods. Still, it's a key signing for Dallas along with that of McCoy, and they're currently trying to close a deal (or a short list of others they're interested in), which would easily buoy this grade to an early A-. Oh, and by the way, they re-signed Amari Cooper to a five-year deal -- by far an A+ move -- but being forced to tag Dak Prescott balances that back out. A deal will eventually land for Prescott but, until it does, the Cowboys are trending just above average for now.
That gaping hole at CB1, and the lack of a signing to fill it in Wave 1, simply can't be ignored. Getting Jason Witten is an absolute steal, however, so up goes the Cowboys initial grade.(more than $1 million below his market value, per Spotrac) to be the definitive successor for
It was quite unusual to see the Giants not play the usual role of big spender in the first wave of NFL free agency. Dave Gettleman instead opted to scale back his money-rain in 2020 -- choosing to pass on an uber-expensive Byron Jones and instead settle in on James Bradberry on a three-year, $43.5 million contract with $31.98 million guaranteed. This reunites Gettleman with the former Carolina Panthers cornerback, who logged four interceptions in 2019 and provides an instant boost to talent-depleted secondary, making for an A+ move by the Giants. By landing Blake Martinez on a three-year, $30.75 million deal with $19 million guaranteed, the Giants add that much more oomph to the defensive unit.
But now comes the bad, and man, is it bad. They doubled down on the odd decision to trade for Leonard Williams by hitting him with a massive $16.1 million franchise tag, tearing away a chunk out of their cap space after consistently failing to get him to agree to terms on a long-term deal. They also failed to address their dire need on the OL and still don't have an elite edge rusher. They landed Cameron Fleming from the rival Cowboys, but Fleming was wildly inconsistent as a backup swing tackle for Dallas. Their attempted double-dip failed when they whiffed on a much more talented Joe Looney, leaving them with questions still.
And as far as their pass rush goes, Kyler Fackrell on a one-year deal) helping drag down the Giants early grade.to return, it'll help in a big way -- his absence and lack of a ready-made replacement for his 10 sacks in 2019 (they're praying for more rain with
Top two acquisitions: Kendall Fuller, Peyton Barber
If you're looking for some blockbuster moves this free agency from the Redskins this offseason, you're hunting in the wrong forest and with a spoon instead of a crossbow. They did make the wise move to bring back cornerback Kendall Fuller a four-year deal worth $40 million, but they failed to convince Byron Jones he should look in their direction. Fuller being a mostly a nickel corner, the need at CB1 following the decision to cut Josh Norman has not been resolved -- similar to the Cowboys post-Jones. Securing running back J.D. McKissic and linebacker Thomas Davis were solid need-based moves, but nothing that necessarily moves the needle from where they are to where they'd like to be. And then came the decision to sign Peyton Barber, which isn't a bad one, but a curious one.
To be clear, Adrian Peterson will eventually have no choice but to succumb to Father Time, and while , the team is stacking RBs at an insane pace. Barber lands on a two-year, $3 million deal that thrusts him into a room with six (!!!) other bodies. And while he's a proven rotational talent, like other moves not tied to Fuller, it's not pushing the playoff agenda forward. For a club with over $30 million in remaining cap space, coming off a third consecutive losing season wherein they couldn't muster four wins, and looking to blast off under a new regime -- now probably wasn't the time to tighten the purse straps.
Because while they're hoarding halfbacks, Terry McLaurin is still wondering if he'll get help to avoid double teams in coverage, as one example. To their credit, they tried to land Amari Cooper, but got stiff-armed. That's no reason to stick with what they have though because outside of McLaurin, it isn't anything to write home and tell mother about.
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