Each offseason, NFL teams undergo a self-assessment. They identify the areas in which they are strong and weak, and for the most part, they plan their free-agent and draft strategies accordingly.
Filling needs, shoring up weaknesses, and accentuating strengths are all on the agenda, for everyone. But the coaches and players tabbed to fill those needs, shore up those weaknesses, and/or accentuate those strengths carry varying degrees of intrigue.
That's why we're here. Over the next several weeks, we are going to identify the most intriguing newcomer on every team in the NFL. For some teams it might be a coach. For others it might be a rookie or a free-agent signing or something else entirely.
We'll begin below, with the NFC East.
For the past decade, the Cowboys have been coached by Jason Garrett. Garrett's old-school philosophies made Dallas one of the most conservative teams in the league, with an offense focused on the running game and fourth-down and two-point decision-making that was damn near retrograde. In more recent seasons, Garrett's conservative nature transferred over to the defensive side of the ball, where the Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli-led defense was one of the most vanilla in the NFL.
For those reasons and more, the most intriguing newcomers for the Cowboys this year are the entire coaching staff.
Mike McCarthy's playbook got stale by the end of his time in Green Bay, but during his tenure he was one of the most pass-heavy and aggressive coaches in the NFL. That's the kind of offense the Cowboys (and most other teams) should be running. Mike Nolan hasn't been a defensive coordinator in quite some time and his defenses have tended to be up and down, but he at least has shown a willingness to swing between 4-3 and 3-4 fronts and utilize personnel in a variety of different ways. And after having one of the worst special-teams units in the league the past couple years, the Cowboys brought in John Fassel, who is widely regarded as one of the best special teams coaches in the league.
John Breech says the NFL should scrap the 2020 schedule, and he explains what it should do instead on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to Breech, Ryan Wilson and host Will Brinson break it all down below, and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
The Giants' offense gets significantly more attention than their defense. That'll happen when you use top-five picks on both a quarterback and a running back. But the defense needs a ton of work. That's where safety Xavier McKinney comes in, as we wrote earlier this offseason.
McKinney figures to be an important piece for the defense due to his versatility. During his final collegiate season, McKinney lined up all over the place, splitting his time nearly equally between setting up in the box, as a deep safety, and in the slot.
Position Snaps % Snaps Box Safety 285 34.5% Free Safety 272 32.9% Slot CB 227 27.4% D-Line 38 4.6% Perimeter CB 5 0.6%
He seems to be gearing up to do something similar in New York.
"I've always said this and I'll always keep saying it, my biggest comfort zone is I'm comfortable anywhere," McKinney said, per the team's official website. "Any zone that I feel like I'm uncomfortable at, I try to make it my comfort zone. But how I play and the way I play, I'm comfortable at any level of the defense. I try not to just pinpoint one thing that I do well. I'm just excited to be ready for wherever the opportunity might be."
Coming as he does from New England, [new head coach Joe] Judge has experience with versatile safeties like McKinney. Devin McCourty began his career as a cornerback before moving to free safety, and his ability to work in both single-high looks and as a rover has helped form the backbone of the Patriots defense for years. If McKinney can approach anything resembling McCourty's level of contribution on the field, the Giants will be very happy with how this pick worked out.
That's a high bar for McKinney to clear, but the Giants desperately need that type of impact on the back end.
The Eagles have still managed to field an above-average defense over the past two seasons, but their play in the secondary has been lacking during that time. According to Football Outsiders, Philly has ranked 16th and 22nd in DVOA on passes to No. 1 receivers, and 21st and 16th in DVOA on passes to No. 2 receivers in 2019 and 2018, respectively. Their pass defense has been carried by a strong pass rush and particularly strong coverage of tight ends and running backs, thanks to the play of their linebackers and safeties.
Philly had previously tried to address its cornerback issue with volume, but this offseason, the Eagles swung a trade for Darius Slay. He gives the team its first true lockdown corner in several years, giving the back end of the defense s bit of a different look. When he is on his game, Slay is one of the best in the league: he has at least eight pass breakups and two interceptions in each of the past six seasons, putting him in rare company. Slay was not even at his best last season, and he still allowed a passer rating of only 86.9 on throws in his direction, per Pro Football Focus. Philly can use him to shadow top receivers or just play sides, but either way, he should improve the team's play on the outside.
Washington Football Team
There's a reason Washington chose to make Chase Young the No. 2 overall pick in this year's NFL draft. He is an absolutely dominant player on the edge. Case in point: Young led all draftable edge rushers in Weighted Overall Win Rate, a metric that combines Pro Football Focus' Pass Rush Win Rate and Run Stops in order to adjust for the importance of rushing the passer in comparison to playing run defense. Young was dominant in both areas, but it's potential as a sack and pressure player that makes him such a special talent.
Washington has devoted a lot of resources to its defensive line in recent years, using first-round picks on Jonathan Allen, Da'Ron Payne, and Montez Sweat before snagging Young with the No. 2 selection in 2020. Young is still likely to see his fair share of double teams simply because he's so threatening coming around the edge, but the rest of the front four has the potential to make teams pay for devoting that attention to him. And if he gets single coverage, he could do a lot of damage himself.