When the gates to the offseason burst open, and particularly free agency in March, the NFL was met with a slew of headline moves that shifted power pieces all over the league. Things didn't get off to a roaring start in the NFC East, however, at least not for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. The former stole the world's attention when they inked two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott to a record-setting deal, yes, but they were much more measured in their overall approach up to now. For the Eagles, it was all about working to move on to the post-Carson Wentz era -- coinciding with post-Doug Pederson era -- but they're having a hard time making waves outside the building because of the decision to move on from the former second-overall pick.
Meanwhile, you have the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team, who didn't waste any time in their chase to be frontrunners for the division crown in 2021, after Washington took the honor last season amid division controversy -- the Eagles basically rolling over and trying to clear the path for the Giants to be heartbroken following their Week 17 win over the Cowboys to keep hope alive for a possible NFC East crown. This division doesn't need any more reasons for you to keep an eye on it, but it has them, nonetheless, thanks to a variety of big moves that can now be justifiably dissected.
It's clear who's in the driver's seat right now, but what happens in the draft could change the seating assignment on this road trip.
1. New York Giants
Biggest addition: Kenny Golladay, wide receiver
Dave Gettleman and John Mara aren't kidding around in 2021. They've been the biggest spenders in the division in free agency, and while time will reveal if that translates to wins during the regular season, you'd be remiss to give them anything but high marks for what they've accomplished ahead of the calendar flipping to April. CBS Sports broke the news on March 17 that the Giants were trying hard to close in on Golladay and, following an extended visit, they were successful in inking him to a massive four-year deal. This adds an instant playmaker for quarterback Daniel Jones, whom the Giants continually double and triple down on their belief in. That said, it also applies pressure to Jones to take the next step in 2021.
Biggest loss: Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive lineman
Before the champagne was Swiffered off of the floor, they had already also reeled in former first-round pick Adoree Jackson, who'll join James Bradberry in the defensive backfield while a now-extended Leonard Williams pushes the defensive front -- having finally landed his multiyear deal after initially being tagged a second time. Had there been no issue found in the medical evaluation of Kyle Rudolph, things would feel that much better in New York, but that stands as the only red mark on an otherwise impressive offseason push by Big Blue that could extend to them uniting with Jersey native Jason McCourty, but Williams will be asked to repeat his breakout season without the help of Tomlinson -- the starting nose tackle now suiting up for the Minnesota Vikings. The loss created a gaping hole that could compromise the integrity of the team's run defense in a major way if it doesn't identify a worthy successor.
Top draft priority: Offensive line
With Golladay in the books, you have to like what the Giants are cooking on defense. After all, they'll also get all-world running back Saquon Barkley back from injury in 2021, so things are certainly looking up in that regard. The problem is there's an issue that still hasn't been completely addressed on the offensive side of the ball, and that's their offensive line. For while Jones has shown an ability to be mobile, he also nursed some lower-body ailments in 2020, and shouldn't be asked to constantly make plays with his legs or downfield while running for his life behind the line of scrimmage. A pick like Kyle Pitts would be dynamic for them if they have a shot at him, but throwing a bunch of playmakers at the unit without being able to keep Jones upright long enough to get them the ball is counterproductive.
Where Giants stand heading into 2021:
A controversial loss by the Eagles stole away the NFC East crown from the Giants, but that came on the heels of a mostly disappointing season that saw them fall well short of expectations. Their success was mostly bolstered by the fact they're in what was the worst division in football last season, but that's the very reason they'll find themselves in contention yet again for the division throne. None of these teams can be ruled out, and the Giants' odds are as good as at least two of the other three teams on the list. Should they fail again, however, Mara will begin reconsidering if Gettleman is the right man for the job ().
2. Dallas Cowboys
Biggest addition: Dak Prescott, quarterback
It's a move that routinely flies under the radar because he's been in a Cowboys uniform since being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but it can't be overstated how big the move actually is. After two years of failing to come to terms with Prescott on a longterm deal, the Cowboys succeeded, inking him to a four-year contract worth $160 million that could expand to $164 million if he continually leads the team to the Super Bowl. It's a re-signing that not only puts to bed any question marks about the QB position in Dallas, . The team instantly had money to spend after avoiding a second franchise tag on Prescott, and no longer has to entertain using a top pick at the position.
Biggest loss: Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback
It's their biggest loss, yes, but not one they can't easily recover from. With Awuzie heading to the Cincinnati Bengals on a three-year deal, the Cowboys are that much more needy in their secondary, yet did nothing to address the position in free agency. There's still some interest to the roster, sources tell CBS Sports, but Sherman would have to first move past his disdain for the organization and then meet the Cowboys at the table with a salary they deem palatable. But outside of making that move or something similar, their eyes are on the draft -- hoping to use a top pick to find a dynamic complement to former second-round pick Trevon Diggs.
Top draft priority: Cornerback
Brent Urban, Carlos Watkins and Tarell Basham (the latter helping them say goodbye ), before moving on to sign Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal. Neal will be used as a safety and linebacker and isn't the end of the conversation for the Cowboys at the back end of their defense, having also added Jayron Kearse for depth. After visiting with , they also . With cornerback Jourdan Lewis re-signed on a three-year deal, if the Cowboys add more firepower to their secondary with a top pick to help complement Donovan Wilson, Lewis and the newcomers, Quinn will have changed the entire defensive outlook in Dallas in short order. It has to begin with grabbing a cornerback, though.-- the single biggest signing in the entire division, if not conference or league -- the freed up cap space allowed the Cowboys and newly signed defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to add beef to their needy defensive line by way of
Where Cowboys stand heading into 2021:
Without Prescott, they were mostly dead in the water -- exposed by both injury and a very, very bad defense. The good news for Dallas is Prescott is ahead of schedule in his return from ankle surgery and he's returning with Andy Dalton and Co. to come through in the clutch, instead watching them do the opposite. All signs point to the Cowboys being a frontrunner to take the division from Washington, but Ron Rivera isn't looking to hand it over nicely., both of whom are also getting back to the field after season-ending injuries. Despite it all, they were in position to steal the crown last year if they could only get
3. Washington Football Team
Biggest addition: Curtis Samuel, wide receiver
The Football Team hasn't exactly been slouches either this offseason. Ron Rivera is coming off a division crown in his inaugural season that was also not devoid of drama, having now moved on from former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins and then releasing now retired Alex Smith this offseason. Re-signing fan-favorite Taylor Heinicke will go over well in the D.C. area, as will adding Ryan Fitzpatrick to the mix at QB. Those two don't yet provide enough oomph to potentially threaten some of the better defenses in the NFL, but might be enough to do the trick in the NFC East -- keeping in mind Fitzpatrick is far from immune to errors he usually mixes in with his magic. Adding Samuel to the mix opposite Terry McLaurin will go a long way in helping the QBs, though, and tagging Brandon Scherff keeps one of the better pass protectors in tow as well, while William Jackson, III brings added oomph to the secondary.
Biggest loss: Ryan Kerrigan, EDGE
OK, this one isn't yet determined, but it sounds like the Washington legend is done playing second fiddle.and, barring injury to one of the other stout defensive linemen, his chances of doing that in Washington are slim to none. That means he'd have to accept falling back into a rotation role if he's to stick around, but once the draft passes and teams see what they have or don't have, Kerrigan's phone should begin lighting up. There's still plenty of tread left on the tires for the four-time Pro Bowler and all-time Washington sack leader; and the organization should do whatever it can -- within reason -- to keep him onboard for mentoring and because his prowess adds firepower to an already strong defensive front. Players like Kerrigan don't fall out of trees and if he ends up leaving, in one way or another, Washington will feel that sting.
Top draft priority: Quarterback
Yes, Heinecke was re-signed, but is he definitely the future? Sure, Washington grabbed Fitzpatrick, but is he anything more than a stopgap for 2021?? These are very real and poignant questions facing the quarterback position in Washington, and that's why Washington has to and is considering drafting a quarterback. Sitting at No. 19, though, Washington will need either one to cliff dive to it or it will have to create a trade package to move up and grab one but, however it does it, don't rule out the possibility of it happening. There are other needs as well -- e.g., linebacker, offensive tackle -- but teams live and die at QB and Fitzpatrick has been known to mix in toxic fumes between his magic moments.
Where Washington stands heading into 2021:
The winner of the NFC East stands in position to repeat, if it gets strong QB play. That will be what makes or breaks this team in a division shared with Prescott, and Jones has also shown flashes of capability to go along with his newfound weapon in Golladay. The defensive front in Washington is arguably the best in the entire NFL, and will carry the team to several wins, but when it comes time to outscore an opponent -- Fitzpatrick will either blow the doors off or throw five interceptions in a blowout loss. If the latter should happen in a must-win game late in the season, Washington will have a hard time trying to repeat as champs but, for now, the belt remains in D.C. until someone takes it.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Biggest addition: Anthony Harris, safety
It's difficult to spend cash when you're handcuffed to the bank's counter. That was the problem for the Eagles as they entered free agency, having been massively in the red as it relates to the NFL salary cap heading into the offseason. Things didn't get better in seeing how they traded away Carson Wentz and choked down a $33.8 million dead-money hit for his contract -- the largest in NFL history. Because they were/are so hamstrung, there's not much they could/could've achieved thus far in free agency, but the addition of Harris has to be viewed with golden lenses. Not far removed from being one of the best ballhawks in the league, the veteran safety gets plopped into a secondary that's long been in need of safety help, and much more so after sending Malcolm Jenkins on his way one year ago. They hope safety Andrew Adams will help as well, but that's a longer reach, and the Eagles also lost several players to other teams, making things that much more challenging.
Biggest loss: Jalen Mills
Including Jalen Mills to the New England Patriots, it hasn't been a good run in this year's free agency for Philly, to say the least. This was largely due to a self-inflicted cash crunch. That inability to spend freely cost them Mills, who got an offer he couldn't refuse from Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick, in the form of a four-year, $24 million contract. Mills isn't a world-beater by any standard, mind you, but the Eagles didn't expect to lose him in free agency. In doing so, it threw a monkey wrench in their plans for their secondary -- one that must now be worked out to make the signing of Harris matter that much more. Mills spent time at safety for the Eagles in 2020, but could've moved back to cornerback with Harris in the mix. With that no longer being an option in Philadelphia, the goal is replacing him with another starter this offseason.
Top draft priority: Wide receiver
Even with the need at cornerback due to Mills' departure, it's the wide receiver unit that owns the most glaring void. Granted, veteran wideout DeSean Jackson couldn't remain on the field, but now he won't at all unless it's in a Los Angeles Rams uniform. Add to that the release of Alshon Jeffery -- something that was long in the making -- and you see where this is headed. The Eagles are hoping for a level up from Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward in 2021, and while there's some promise there (particularly in Reagor and the ability of running back Boston Scott as a dual-threat talent), this can't be the best the Eagles can do. Thankfully for them, they own 11 picks in the upcoming draft and will have an opportunity to get Jalen Hurts the weapons he needs to be successful, even if that means moving back up into the top 10 to grab Pitts.
Where Eagles stand heading into 2021:
Owners of the worst record in an abysmal division last season, and on the heels of the nuclear fallout that came thereafter, the Eagles need to bring home a potent draft haul to catch up to their three division rivals. As they usher in the post-Doug Pedersen/post-Carson Wentz era in Philly, there is that much more to iron out, and no time to waste in figuring out how to do it. The team finished 4-11 last year and has been on a downward trend since winning the franchise's first Super Bowl in 2017. The engineers of that feat are now gone, though, and as Philadelphia hits reset -- it does so knowing full well how difficult and lengthy a rebuild can be. It's possible it figures out a way to contend in 2021, but the odds are long and more realistically pointing toward the club feeling itself out this season while the dust settles from a tumultuous offseason in Eastern Pennsylvania.