As is usually the case, the NFC East is dripping with all sorts of intrigue as the division readies for the next NFL season. The Dallas Cowboys are leading the charge in the sheer number of headlines pouring out of North Texas this offseason, most of them unsavory, putting very real doubt on if they can buck the division trend of grabbing a back-to-back NFC East title. Their rivals have all had much more positive and productive stretches following the conclusion of the 2021 season, from free agency to the draft, and at least two of them are now poised to pounce and steal away the crown for themselves.
The most impressive thus far, from an overall perspective, has been the New York Giants' willingness to finally shake up the entire front office and not simply the coaching staff beneath it. And then there are the Philadelphia Eagles, whose defense stands to be leveled up in a major way and whose offense now boasts A.J. Brown as a potentially nuclear weapon for quarterback Jalen Hurts. But, as is also usually the case, there is one major question looming for each of the four teams -- particularly the Washington Commanders -- as OTAs fire up around the league.
The answer to each will determine the fate of the NFC East when next season rolls around.
Cowboys: Is this Mike McCarthy's swan song?
Things aren't normally normal when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys in any given offseason, but you'd be hard-pressed to remember them ever being this weird, and that doesn't bode well for McCarthy. Entering the third year of his five-year contract, it's the most pivotal, but one also tied to a higher level of difficulty -- exponentially so. On the field, the Cowboys have traded away four-time Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper, released starting right tackle La'el Collins, lost starting right defensive end Randy Gregory in controversial fashion after initially securing him in free agency, lost their bet on Cedrick Wilson after trading away Cooper and, hell, nearly lost All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence before narrowly retaining him on a new contract.
Off of the field, former second-round pick Kelvin Joseph is involved in an ongoing Dallas-area murder investigation that threatens to delete him from the roster at some point -- be it temporarily via NFL suspension or permanently (should police uncover damning evidence against him) -- and though we can probably walk around Jerry Jones' paternity suit as it relates to identifying added pressures on McCarthy (though it does additionally lend to just how weird this offseason has been), there's no denying the looming shadow of Sean Payton as the frontrunner to potentially take his job in 2023 (or possibly Dan Quinn, his own defensive coordinator), with Jones making unsettling comments that led to McCarthy .
Despite a 12-5 finish to last season, an embarrassing loss in the subsequent playoff game adds to an offseason full of items that are unfavorable to McCarthy's chances of staying on in 2023, and a deep playoff run that likely also includes an appearance in the next NFC Championship might be the only thing that keeps him in Dallas after 2022.
Eagles: Is Jalen Hurts truly the QB of the future?
Yes, general manager Howie Roseman is basically yelling at the top of his PR lungs that Hurts is the answer at franchise quarterback for the Eagles and, to his credit, he's not exactly shown belief in the contrary to this point. That doesn't change the reality of the situation though, and that is the fact that while Hurts took steps forward in helping to get the Eagles turned around en route to a playoff appearance last season, there are many who still wonder if he can truly lead an entire franchise -- talent-wise -- over the next decade. Roseman is doing his part, having struck a blockbuster deal to acquire Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Brown to play opposite former Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, a move that equally helps Hurts as it does indirectly admit Jalen Reagor isn't getting it done.
Those who saw the signing of Gardner Minshew as trouble for Hurts in 2021 were incorrect, because Minshew never sniffed any playing time, but his presence does create justified competition to keep Hurts on his toes; and if that doesn't do it, a much stronger QB class in the 2023 prospect pool had better serve that purpose. As a former second-round pick, there is no fifth-year option for the Eagles to potentially exercise in the future, an added wrinkle that also makes the 2022 season that much more pivotal for all involved, because if Hurts has a breakout season in a few months, negotiations on a new deal would need to begin next offseason (being weighted against the aforementioned QB prospects).
But, if Hurts can't take those strides, and with the team having now invested so much in the WR unit, you can bet Roseman will begin reconsidering his stance on his young QB. After all, it's not as if he hasn't recently doubled down on a QB1 before sending him packing after drafting his eventual replacement. One need only ask Carson Wentz for details.
Giants: Can a shiny new regime revitalize Big Blue?
It's the same old Giants, right? Wrong, at least not on paper. The organization went through a cleansing this offseason (including releasing James Bradberry), with co-owner John Mara making good on his veiled threat one year ago that was headlined by his growing impatience with lack of success and in his admission that fans were becoming uproarious and tuned out to the culture of losing in New York. As such, he parted ways with longtime general manager Dave Gettleman and replaced him with former Bills front office star Joe Schoen and, double dipping into Buffalo by hiring former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as head coach to replace the strange and wildly unproductive era of Joe Judge.
Daboll and Schoen have already infused some electric energy into Big Blue, and that includes an impressive haul from the 2022 NFL Draft, but while it all sounds and looks good -- football isn't played in a notebook. Daboll will have to show what he can do with Schoen's acquisitions in New York as he did in Buffalo, and that job also includes needing to be a QB whisperer to get Daniel Jones to the next level, or this might be Jones' final tour for the Giants. The team declined to execute his fifth-year option, and so as he enters his first-ever NFL contract season and in recovery from injury, all eyes are on if he can be what Mara needs him to be.
If not, well, they'll be in position to grab his replacement next April, and they will. Jones isn't the only star player in that boat floating up that creek though, because running back Saquon Barkley is also looking for a paddle. Unable to remain healthy in recent seasons, it's paramount Barkley prove he can in 2022, or he might also find himself in a different jersey one year from now. With so much on the line for the top two players on the roster, and having now installed a new head coach and GM, there is no lack of motivation for the Giants to finally find their way back into the playoffs, having not done so or having had a winning season since 2016.
Commanders: The last dance for Carson Wentz?
Carson Wentz is becoming the living embodiment of "second chance," as his second has now become a third chance in as many seasons -- being traded to the Washington Commanders in 2022. This occurred only one year after the Indianapolis Colts were convinced a reunion with head coach Frank Reich would rejuvenate Wentz, the two having spent time together with the Philadelphia Eagles, but to no avail. Wentz imploded at the worst possible time in Year 1 under Reich, delivering a rancid performance in the team's humiliating loss at the hands of a lowly Jacksonville Jaguars team led by a now-fired Urban Meyer in a win-and-get-in regular season finale. Jim Irsay wasted little time looking for an out on Wentz, a move he openly labels "a mistake," and went on to turn the NFL upside-down by trading for former league MVP Matt Ryan.
That leaves head coach Ron Rivera and the Commanders willfully holding the bag on Wentz, attempting to get from him what his previous two teams could not and eventually gave up on, the Colts doing the latter in swift fashion. And while there is some good to be seen in Wentz, there arguably isn't enough to warrant deeming him the QB1 of the future, but it does show just how desperate the Commanders were at the most important position in football heading into the offseason. Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered injury after being acquired as a free agent in 2021, and that forced them to pass the baton to Taylor Heinicke, who was re-signed with a healthy bit of hype behind him.
Heinicke was basically a disaster as a starter (20 touchdowns to 15 interceptions) and while the Commanders didn't finish as poorly as the Giants did, it was clear they were going to have to answer the question at QB in 2022. They believe they have with Wentz, after trying and failing to convince Russell Wilson they were worthy of his services, and they had better be right with their consolation prize. Otherwise, they'll be back in the market yet again for a starting QB and Wentz, who may have run out of chances at that point, will have to begin considering backup roles around the league.