The Cowboys franchised WR Dez Bryant (photo above), so DeMarco Murray will probably move on.
By Mary Cunningham
NFL free agency opens a week from today, March 10, and all four teams in the NFC East will be players.
Here is a brief summary of what each team needs:
Last Season’s Record: 10-6
Needs: QB, WR, pass rusher, CB
Analysis: Will the Eagles try to trade up in the draft to land coach Chip Kelly’s former QB at Oregon, Marcus Mariota? Or will they bring back Nick Foles as their starter? That is the biggest offseason intrigue for Kelly’s team after it entered last season as the heavy favorite in the division but then missed the playoffs. There has been speculation about RB LeSean McCoy being asked to take a pay cut, but no firm indication as to whether that might be attached to an “or else” ultimatum about being released. The Eagles did not place their franchise tag on WR Jeremy Maclin. Will they allow a 1,300-yard receiver to leave for a second straight offseason, with Maclin potentially exiting a year after the Eagles said goodbye to DeSean Jackson? If LB Brandon Graham leaves via free agency, his production as a situational pass rusher must be replaced.
Last Season’s Record: 12-4
Needs: RB, CB, pass rusher
Analysis: The defending NFC East champions used their franchise player tag on WR Dez Bryant. That left RB DeMarco Murray, last season’s NFL rushing leader, eligible for unrestricted free agency. The Cowboys must either work out a deal to retain Murray or replace him, potentially with Adrian Peterson if he does not remain in Minnesota. But Peterson is under contract to the Vikings and presumably would have to be acquired in a trade, given that Minnesota seems unlikely to release him and let him leave for nothing. So far, the Vikings have said they plan to keep Peterson. The Cowboys played better than expected on defense last season but need to get better if they’re going to go further in the playoffs. Late last season, owner Jerry Jones said he second-guessed his decision to part ways last offseason with DeMarcus Ware, wondering if Ware’s absence as a top pass rusher might cost the Cowboys a Super Bowl title. Was that a case of Jones tipping his hand about trying to find a way to squeeze a top free agent pass rusher beneath the team’s salary cap this offseason?
Last Season’s Record: 6-10
Needs: offensive line, DT, LB, S
Analysis: The Giants used their franchise player designation on DE Jason Pierre-Paul. That means they don’t have to spend big money in free agency for a top pass rusher. But their defense needs help in plenty of other areas. The run defense needs to be improved. The safety corps might have to be remade, particularly if Antrel Rolle is not re-signed. QB Eli Manning has enough dependable pass catchers with Victor Cruz returning to join Odell Beckham Jr. at WR and with Larry Donnell at TE. But the offensive line is only adequate and could use some fortifying.
Last Season’s Record: 4-12
Needs: offensive line, defensive line, LB, CB, S
Analysis: The Redskins have called Robert Griffin III their starter at QB. If they stick to that, they no longer can put off making major upgrades to their offensive line, particularly at right tackle, to give Griffin a chance to succeed as he tries to develop into a reliable pocket passer. If new GM Scot McCloughan follows his old blueprint, this will be a gradual rebuilding process done primarily through the draft. Is the rest of the organization patient enough to wait for that? Can the Redskins resist getting involving in the bidding for free agent DT Ndamukong Suh? One big-ticket free agent addition almost certainly isn’t enough to fix this defense, with needs practically everywhere. The secondary must be addressed, particularly the seemingly ever-present need for help at safety. The problem is, it will be difficult to find capable safeties in free agency, particularly if the Patriots manage to re-sign Devin McCourty before the market opens.