Heading into the offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles stood out as the clear-cut favorites to repeat as division champions in 2014.
Chip Kelly's bunch remain the class of the NFC East, but two division rivals have worked tirelessly to close the gap. The New York Giants have signed a whopping 15 players from other rosters since Feb. 3, a figure topped only by Tampa Bay's 17. The Redskins, meanwhile, added 13.
Washington arguably overpaid for a handful of marginal players (see: Shawn Lauvao), but signing DeSean Jackson after he was cut by Philly was an aggressive move that furnished Robert Griffin III with a game-changing weapon on offense. We also love the addition of fellow pass-catcher Andre Roberts.
To counteract Washington's reimagined air attack, the Giants spent money rebuilding a secondary that ranked 10th against the pass in 2013. Big Blue got better, but I can't say the same about a cap-strapped Dallas team that couldn't afford to keep DeMarcus Ware or Jason Hatcher.
1. New York Giants
Why they're atop our list: The Giants haven't always been players on the open market, but their free agency haul this time around has been impressive.
New York's revamped secondary rivals Washington's ramped-up collection of receivers as the NFC East's most improved position group. The combination of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond give New York two immediate starters. The G-Men were solid stopping the run last season, and now have a secondary packed with potential.
» Another tight end: Signing Kellen Davis did little for a position group that lacks a proven difference-maker. Adrien Robinson is an interesting prospect with breakout potential, but he's struggled to stay healthy. We wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants target a tight end in May.
» Replace Hakeem Nicks: Tom Coughlin has "high expectations" for Rueben Randle, but New York needs to add a playmaker to pair with Victor Cruz. Mario Manningham hasn't totaled more than 523 yards in a season since 2010, while Julian Talley and Jerrel Jernigan are projects.
» Improve the pass rush: New York likes to unleash waves of edge rushers, but there's little depth at end behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore. The departure of Tuck wasn't a surprise, but it's time for New York to restock.
2. Washington Redskins
How they improved: The Redskins paid nearly $80 million to 12 unrestricted free agents.
That kind of open-market splash rarely works out in the NFL, but Washington has set the table for an RGIII bounce-back campaign.
Unlike Carolina's approach with Cam Newton, the Redskins raided the open market to surround their young quarterback with weapons. The DeSean signing was an inter-division coup d'état. Pairing him with Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and ascendant tight end Jordan Reed gives new coach Jay Gruden the top group of targets in the NFC East.
The Jason Hatcher signing gives the 'Skins a talented 3-4 end who can push the pocket. Still, there's plenty more work to do on a defense that held this team captive all season.
» Secondary help: Washington's defensive backfield missed tackles and gave up big plays from wire to wire. Opposing QBs completed a whopping 65.6 percent of their throws against the 'Skins and only St. Louis gave up more yards per attempt than Washington's 8.0. Young safeties Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas need work, and Ryan Clark isn't about to save the day.
» Offensive line depth: Shawn Lauvao was signed to take over at left guard, but he's far from an elite blocker. While right tackle Tyler Polumbus played well last season, it wouldn't be too early to find his successor in May.
» Fixing special teams: The Redskins were a nightmare in this department last season, ranking near the bottom of the NFL in kickoff and punt coverage. Look for new special teams coach Ben Kotwica to improve the unit, but that will require better play from the lower half of the roster.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
What's changed: The departure of DJax will be felt, but the return of Jeremy Maclin and the re-signing of Riley Cooper ensure that Nick Foles will have two reliable targets to throw to. Foles won't face competition from Michael Vick, who signed with the Jets in a move that resulted in Mark Sanchez winding up as the Eagles' new backup. That's a downgrade.
Kelly's fluid and versatile offense will miss Jackson's speed, but his production can be matched with a combination of Maclin and the recently acquired Darren Sproles, one of the game's finest pair of hands out of the backfield.
The Eagles haven't been especially active in free agency, but they're still the team to beat in the East.
» Help at receiver: Look for the team to mine May's draft for a legitimate No. 3 pass-catcher. Nobody behind Maclin and Cooper has emerged as the frontrunner, but this year's crop of college prospects is thick with talent.
» Add edge rushers: Trent Cole surged down the stretch last season, but he's on the wrong side of 30 and scheduled to make $11 million in 2015. It's time for the Eagles to add young talent to a unit that finished 20th in the league with 37 sacks in 2013.
» Continue to groom the secondary: Adding safety Malcolm Jenkins wasn't the splash some hoped for when Philly was whispered about as a target for T.J. Ward or Jairus Byrd. NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah expects Philly to use the No. 17 pick on a defender and specifically named safety prospects Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor.
4. Dallas Cowboys
Why they have regressed: Cap-strapped to the point of suffocation, the Cowboys have seen too much talent walk out the door this offseason.
A Dallas defense that crumbled to pieces in 2013 will get a healthy Sean Lee back at linebacker, but Ware and Hatcher have moved on. Signing defensive tackle Henry Melton to a team-friendly deal helps, but the Cowboys have depth issues at every level.
On offense, we don't make much of the Brandon Weeden signing and wouldn't be surprised if he's out of work come September, with Kyle Orton expected to return as the backup quarterback. In the backfield, the 'Boys remain a candidate to add Chris Johnson to complement DeMarco Murray in the backfield.
» Add receiver help, extend Dez Bryant: Coach Jason Garrett told Around The League in March that Bryant is "certainly the type of player" Dallas wants to keep around long-term. That's a no-brainer, despite Dez's lingering back issues. We'd also like to see the Cowboys add talent at the position after parting ways with Miles Austin.
» Defensive line help: There's no replacing Ware, but Dallas better add bodies along the defensive front. Melton at tackle helps a unit that allowed a whopping 128.5 yards per game on the ground last season, but there's little depth at end after George Selvie.
» Safety position still a mess: Dallas allowed a franchise-record 4,589 passing yards in 2013. Barry Church is a reliable fixture at safety, but young J.J. Wilcox struggled after suffering a knee injury. Jeff Heath, meanwhile, was toasted with regularity.
In the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys continue the offseason Roster Reset series by breaking down the NFC West and AFC South.