Eagles Supreme Leader Chip Kelly signed DeMarco Murray (above) and Byron Maxwell to massive free-agent deals and added defensive back Eric Rowe in the second round.
By Peter Gleason
The conventional wisdom, which is often way wrong, says the Dallas Cowboys should be favored to win the NFC East in 2015.
Former Eagles and current network analyst Brian Baldinger, who is often right, says the Cowboys have taken a step back.
So, who’s right, the CW or Baldy?
It is obviously too soon to know or even have an educated guess.
OTAs and training camp will give us a better idea about what happens in the first week in September.
FootballPerspective.com Chase Stuart’s figured out that the Eagles are the first team in seven years to turn over their starting quarterback, starting running back and No. 1 receiver in a single offseason, and they’re the first team in NFL history to replace all three the year after finishing in the top five in points scored.
The moves Chip Kelly made during his first season as general manager are completely unprecedented.
Kelly traded Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy for Sam Bradford and Kiko Alonso. He lost Jeremy Maclin in a bidding battle but drafted Nelson Agholor. He released veterans Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and Cary Williams. He signed DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell to massive free-agent deals and added defensive back Eric Rowe in the second round.
And he’s still not finished.
He could easily still trade Evan Mathis, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin in the next few months.
But with all the changes the Eagles have done, how much better have they actually gotten? Are they improved at the main positions, or are they just different?
More importantly, do they deserve to be NFC East favorites, or should the Dallas Cowboys—or even New York Giants or Washington Redskins—be the favorites in 2015?
You can rule out the Redskins, who were 4-12 in 2014, as NFC East favorites in 2015. The Giants, who finished with a losing record for the second straight season, should be improved, but there’s no reason to think they’re ready to take down the Cowboys or Eagles in the division.
The NFC East will likely be decided by either the Eagles or the Cowboys. After winning 12 games in 2014 and significantly improving their team this offseason, there’s no way the Cowboys shouldn’t be the favorites in the division.
In free agency, the Cowboys lost reigning rushing champion Murray to the Eagles, a crushing blow for them that was predicated around running down the clock and keeping their defense off the field for as much as possible.
They did manage to add star defensive end Greg Hardy to a severely lacking pass rush. Even with Hardy suspended for the first 10 games of the 2015 season, the Cowboys will have one of the league’s best at getting to the quarterback in the closing weeks of the season, as well as the playoffs.
The Cowboys were also tremendous in the draft, adding what is basically three first-round talents.
They took UConn defensive back Byron Jones in the first round to solidify their secondary; pass-rusher Randy Gregory, an easy first-round talent who slipped because of character concerns, with their second-round pick. And they signed first-round talent La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent to add to what is arguably the most dominant offensive line in the National Football League.
Oh, and Dallas still has the dangerous combination of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, one of the league’s most feared quarterback-receiver duos in the game.
Romo turns 35 years old this offseason, but with easily the most feared offensive line in the game, staying healthy shouldn’t be much of a problem. If the Cowboys lose Romo for an extended period of time, they’re in big trouble.
Former first-round bust Brandon Weeden has never shown to be a competent starter, and the combination of Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Ryan Williams won’t help hide Weeden much during games.
On paper, the Cowboys have stability at quarterback, while the Eagles have a former No. 1 overall pick who has had a mediocre career and is attempting to return from consecutive ACL tears. Forget about his Heisman Trophy and success running a fast-paced spread offense at Oklahoma in 2008. That’s terrific, but that has nothing to do with running Kelly’s offense in 2015.
Running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews are both injury-prone. Wide receiver will be less successful with rookie Agholor replacing a Pro Bowler in Maclin. The offensive line is a year older and again, the Eagles failed at adding necessary depth.
The Eagles are definitely improved on the defensive side of the ball, with Alonso, one of the league’s most impressive rookies in 2013, and Maxwell, the Eagles’ best cornerback, on paper, since Asante Samuel.
But NFL games are won and lost at quarterback, and Dallas has one of the league’s best and most underrated quarterbacks. The Eagles have a major question mark, a player who could turn in a solid campaign if he stays healthy, or a player who is one hit away from yet another major injury.
Coming off a surprising 12-4 season, the Cowboys look significantly better. On paper, they’re poised to repeat as NFC East champions and possibly compete for an NFC title. The Eagles, fresh off a 10-6 season and no trip to the postseason, are loaded with just too many question marks to be considered the preseason favorites in the division.