Analysis

NFC East roster reset: Cowboys the favorites with Dak Prescott back in the saddle?

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Nick Shook examines the current makeup of the NFC East below.

Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys
2020 record: 6-10

BIGGEST ADDITION: Keanu Neal, linebacker

Old team: Atlanta Falcons


The Cowboys' actual biggest addition was really a retention in the form of Dak Prescott's four-year, $160 million deal. But if we're looking for outside additions, it's likely Neal, who comes to Dallas after injuries undercut his promise in Atlanta. He played safety for the Falcons -- making the Pro Bowl in 2017 -- but Neal's relocation to Dallas includes a position change to Will linebacker, joining the likes of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in a linebacking corps that needed depth and could use Neal's versatility in sub packages. It's far from the last addition the 'Boys need to make on the defensive side, but it's a good start.


BIGGEST LOSS: Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback

New team: Cincinnati Bengals


Dallas still has exciting second-year corner Trevon Diggs and retained Jourdan Lewis on a new, three-year deal, but the departure of Awuzie leaves a void in a secondary that needs to be better in 2021. That could be the position the Cowboys target first in the draft at No. 10 overall, or it could be safety. Dallas needs a replacement for Awuzie, though, and losing a starting-quality corner -- whose absences due to injury and COVID-19 exposed a weakness in the Cowboys' putrid defense -- will require a replacement.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Defense


This is undoubtedly ambiguous, but you don't get to this point unless your defense was an 11-man sieve in 2020. That was Dallas under Mike Nolan. He's gone, and in comes Dan Quinn to turn Dallas' defense around, a task that would be greatly assisted by some new talent on that side of the ball. Safety is a concern after Xavier Woods' departure, as is corner (as mentioned above). The Cowboys could also use an edge rusher. With all of this considered, Dallas doesn't need to spend every pick on defense, but it does need to upgrade many areas of the D with its selections. The 'Boys also need an infusion of new talent for their once-dominant offensive line. Last year's injuries up front proved this is an area that requires addressing, but it's incredibly difficult to look past the defense with the team's first pick.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


The NFC East was atrocious last season, and it's very fair to wonder if a Cowboys team with a healthy Dak Prescott would have won the division. The defense was a massive Achilles heel, but as Prescott proved before his injury, he was capable of keeping the Cowboys in games. Without him, they fell off a cliff for a good portion of the season. A healthy Prescott and improved defense could help this team take two large steps, and the addition of another playmaker -- wipe the drool from your faces when viewing Kyle Pitts, Cowboys fans -- would only further boost their hopes. After a 7-9 team won the division last season, it's wide open in 2021. We'll see if the Cowboys can take control of it in Year 2 under Mike McCarthy.

New York Giants
New York Giants
2020 record: 6-10

BIGGEST ADDITION: Kenny Golladay, wide receiver

Old team: Detroit Lions


General manager Dave Gettleman didn't shy away from spending in a variety of areas, and after feeling out the market, Golladay decided his best option was with the Giants, bringing a new target to the Big Apple for Daniel Jones. Golladay was a very productive receiver in his last two healthy seasons with Detroit, eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards in both 2018 and '19. The latter campaign was an even more impressive accomplishment for Golladay, considering he spent half of it without Matthew Stafford, and that type of reliability is exactly what the Giants need at the position. Golladay is the embodiment of what should be seen as a significant step toward contention for Big Blue, who can no longer rely on the excuse of a lack of quality talent around Jones. Now it's time to produce.


BIGGEST LOSS: Kevin Zeitler, offensive guard

New team: Baltimore Ravens


The release of Zeitler could be seen coming from a distance after 2020 fifth-rounder Shane Lemieux proved to be good enough to temporarily man a starting spot at guard when he stepped in for Will Hernandez. Cutting Zeitler meant freeing up valuable cap space for the Giants to spend elsewhere, and while that should help New York going forward, Zeitler was still a solid guard whose reliability will be missed. The G-Men should be expected to trot out a line that includes both Hernandez and Lemieux (or free-agent signing Zach Fulton, who comes to New York after having a rough season in Houston), and also shouldn't be excluded from pursuing more interior talent. If Lemieux takes another step in Year 2, this loss will end up being minimal, but on paper, it's still significant and might ultimately grow in stature come fall.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Edge rusher


For a while, many mock drafts had the Giants scoring perhaps the greatest steal of the draft in Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, but that feels like wishful thinking at this stage. Was Evan Engram's Pro Bowl selection curious, if not downright unwarranted? Yes. But the Giants added some depth to the position with the signing of veteran Kyle Rudolph. So at this moment in time, it seems as if the best decision is to go edge rusher in a draft that isn't deep at the position. No. 11 overall is still a good spot at which to get such a player, so New York fans shouldn't fret too much. That said, if Pitts ends up still on the board and the Giants' favorite edge rusher isn't there, I could absolutely see them adding the tight end and expecting him to be what Engram has failed to become: a game-changer worthy of a first-round pick. If they don't get Pitts and opt for an edge rusher, don't boo from home, Giants fans: Your team is simply drafting for need, which you'll be happy to have when you're desperate for a defensive stand in a close game.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


The Giants were in a rough spot at this time a year ago and were headed into uncharted waters with a first-time head coach. Fast-forward to April 2021, and you'll find a team with plenty of optimism after Joe Judge impressed in his first season, leading a scrappy bunch to playoff contention into the season's final weeks. The Giants have spent in free agency to upgrade at multiple positions and are poised to make even more progress in the draft, an exercise Gettleman must nail in order to keep the positive momentum going. From there, it'll be about putting it together with the hope Jones provides more proof he can be a true franchise quarterback.

Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles
2020 record: 4-11-1

BIGGEST ADDITION: Joe Flacco, quarterback

Old team: New York Jets


Mired in cap hell, the Eagles said goodbye to a number of veterans and didn't have much cap space to spend to add anyone of significance. That's essentially how we've landed on Flacco for this selection. Flacco is a massive change in style from presumed starter Jalen Hurts, which could throw a wrench into what is already anticipated to be a difficult season for the Eagles, but the hope is Philadelphia won't have to turn to Flacco much -- if at all -- this season. In the meantime, Flacco can bring a veteran's wisdom to the quarterbacks room, potentially lending mental assistance to Hurts, who will resume his time as the Eagles' starter in 2021 after a tumultuous offseason.


BIGGEST LOSS: Carson Wentz, quarterback

New team: Indianapolis Colts


2020 smacked Philadelphia in the face with a heaping dose of reality, starting with the decline of Wentz. Once seen as a bona fide MVP candidate who was promptly paid as such, Wentz fell to mediocre-at-best status in 2020, leading the Eagles to swing a trade to simply move on from him. The loss isn't a loss in the way we might view other departures, but the name is incredibly significant, and it starts the clock on the Eagles to establish a legitimate successor. After Wentz flopped and the Eagles dumped him, Philadelphia can't afford to swing and miss on a replacement, be it Hurts or someone else. It will take a while to wash the Wentz failure from GM Howie Roseman's record, and he doesn't have a ton of room for error before the rabid Eagles fans start breathing down his neck.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Wide receiver


Feeling a bit of déjà vu? Yes, we were here a year ago, and the Eagles spent their first-round pick on Jalen Reagor, who had to battle through injuries and Philadelphia's offensive ineptitude in his rookie season and didn't make a significant difference. But the Eagles also said goodbye to Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. As the team pivots toward a rebuild, it's time to stop plugging receiving gaps with veterans and invest in another prospect at a higher draft position. In this draft, there's a handful of premier players at the position and most should still be available when we get to Pick No. 12. From there, the Eagles need to shift to the defensive side of the ball, where they could afford to improve their situations at linebacker, safety and corner. Receiver should be first, though.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


The Eagles said goodbye to a number of veterans (Wentz, Jeffery, Jackson, Malik Jackson, Jalen Mills) and could be parting with Zach Ertz before long, too, signaling a change in direction and lowering expectations significantly. This is no longer a playoff-contending squad, but one in need of fresh talent. The Eagles can start with this draft, where they'll have to address a number of positions, but it simply won't happen overnight. Philadelphia will need some time to recover financially while bringing in young talent to begin a new era, and also needs to find younger options for the future on the offensive line after injuries at both tackle positions and guard decimated the blocking unit in 2020. Frankly, and unfortunately, it's going to take a while.

Washington Football Team
Washington Football Team
2020 record: 7-9

BIGGEST ADDITION: Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback

Old team: Miami Dolphins


The signing of Curtis Samuel is a close second in this category, as Washington found a quality receiver to pair with Terry McLaurin. But with quarterback remaining the single most important position in sports, there's no bigger addition than Fitzpatrick, a veteran who proved he can still sling it in 2020 while splitting time with Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. Washington reached the postseason in a terrible division by surviving a rotating cast under center, with Alex Smith emerging as the most reliable option, but Fitzpatrick could be an upgrade based on his most recent performances. If anything, he'll bring experience to a team that is still attempting to turn itself into a winner, and can be counted on for some moments of excitement while we're all fully aware we're not watching Tom Brady in the nation's capital.


BIGGEST LOSS: Alex Smith, quarterback

New team: Free agent


It made financial sense to part ways with Smith, and Washington found a replacement for the Comeback Player of the Year in Fitzpatrick. Smith's destination is still undetermined, and his play wasn't exactly stellar, but he filled a role Washington desperately needed under center and did so in stunning fashion, considering the nature of his gruesome, significant injury suffered in 2018. With the goodwill of Smith's comeback tale in the rearview, the Football Team will attempt to move forward with another veteran leading the way, but folks shouldn't forget how Smith factored into Washington's division title-winning campaign.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Quarterback


Well, it should be, but Washington likely won't be in position to land a franchise guy with its first pick at 19th overall. Instead, the WFT will likely look to snag a tackle who'll be an upgrade on the left side of the line. The fit feels like Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw, if he's still there, but there's a lot of room for fluidity here. Overall, though, Washington needs to find a long-term answer under center. Fitzpatrick is nothing more than a stopgap who could keep Washington competitive but doesn't project to be around for very long.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


Washington's defense carried it to an improbable division title that likely doesn't happen in a typical year. Then again, neither does an unlikely comeback for the ages like the one we saw Alex Smith complete in 2020. All of that goodwill was great, especially amid a pandemic, but we're moving on in 2021, a year in which the challenge becomes greater for Washington to remain competitive. The defense is back to cause havoc for opposing offenses, and Washington strengthened its own offense. Still, this team doesn't yet have the feel of anything more than a former heartwarming surprise with a chance of postseason contention that would be an outside shot if the rest of the division were stronger. We'll see if we're wrong about that this fall.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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