NFL free agency will start on March 12th, and thus, the most tumultuous part of the NFL off-season will begin. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Eagles are not the only team in the NFC east looking to improve during the free agency period, and with prime talent on the market like Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Brent Grimes, and Jake Long, teams will have a chance to improve across the board.
The Dallas Cowboys used their franchise tag for the second straight year on hybrid defensive linemen-linebacker Anthony Spencer, in addition to releasing veteran safety, Gerald Sensabaugh. The release of Sensabaugh leaves a large question mark in the Cowboys secondary due to the lack of talent remaining on the roster in that area. Barry Church, who missed much of last year with an ACL injury, and Matt Johnson, same story but with hamstring issues, are not the NFL quality starters Jason Garrett will be looking for in the upcoming year. The Cowboys are rumored to be targeting one of the big name safeties on the market come March 12th, which does not include Jairus Byrd, the pro-bowler from Buffalo who was given the franchise tag by the team. Ed Reed, Dashon Goldson, Glover Quin, Kenny Phillips, and Louis Delmas lead the way in the free agency market at the safety position, so look for the Cowboys to make a move on one of them. With the re-signing of Spencer, the Cowboys may also decide to forego the safety position during the free agent period, and look instead for help on the Offensive line. Dallas finished 31st overall last season in rushing yards per game averaging just 79.1 yards per game, which was due in part to the injury suffered by second year running back, DeMarco Murray. With veteran Michael Turner available on the market, and likely available on the cheap, Dallas could turn to the ex-Falcon to shore up their rushing attack. Murray’s injury wasn’t the only problem on Dallas’s offensive unit, as their offensive line struggled often throughout the season. A unit led by veteran all-pro tackle Doug Free, including Tyron Smith, Nate Livings, Ryan Cook, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, leaves much to be desired on the protection front. Saying that replacing Sensabaugh is integral to Dallas’s success next season is to drastically over-rate the impact Sensabaugh had in the secondary just a year ago. Furthermore, the free agent class is loaded with talent on the offensive line, such as Miami’s Jake Long, so look for Dallas to make a move to find a lineman they can build around.
Dallas isn’t the only NFC East team looking to bolster their line, as the New York Giants could use help in their front five as well. The Giants re-singed left tackle William Beatty prior to Monday’s franchise tag deadline, but still have other needs to address on their offensive line. Kevin Boothe, the Giant’s left guard is an impending free agent, and the right side of the G’men’s line is in no better shape. David Baas and Chris Snee battled injuries throughout the 2013 campaign, and David Diehl did not play to the level expected of him. With only James Brewer left as a viable replacement on the line for the Giants, New York will look to free agency and the draft to improve in this area. Also on the offensive side of the ball, the Giants will face huge question marks regarding the future of Eli’s favorite targets from a year ago: wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, who wants a new deal, and Victor Cruz who will be a free agent if he is not signed, in addition to tight end Martellus Bennett who will be looking for a large paycheck during free agency. Including to the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants offensive unit could look very different come September.
While protecting Eli Manning is a huge necessity if the Giants intend to contend for an NFC East division title next season, they will have to get better on the defensive side of the ball as well. Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn will enter free agency, and Mathias Kiwanuka will return to play defensive end next season, so the Giants have a huge area of need at the line-backing position. Paul Kruger out of Baltimore may be the Giant’s primary target during free agency, but the G-men will also look at Daryl Smith from Jacksonville, and Erin Henderson from Minnesota. In addition to the Giant’s needs at linebacker, the corner position was a large problem for the Giants last year as well. Corey Webster is no elite corner, Prince Amukamara is a viable option, but his health remains an issue, Jayron Hosley, the nickle corner, is inconsistent at best, and Terrell Thomas may be considering a move to safety. The Giants like to play a nickle package, with five defensive backs on the field at once, so they almost surely will be on the market for a top tier corner-back this off season. The G-men were horrendous on defense last season, giving up an average of 254.3 yards per game through the air , ranking them just 28th in the league, adding to the team’s defensive incompetence would be their lack of run-stop ability, where they ranked just 25th and gave up an average of 129.1 yards rushing per contest. The Giants will need a lot of help on defense prior to the season’s start, but the Washington Redskins will be looking for help on the defensive side of the ball too.
Washington ranked just 30th in the league last season regarding passing defense, and gave up an average of 281.9 yards per game through the air. Playing in a division with capable quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and dare I say it, Michael Vick, the Redskins will have to address their needs in the secondary if they hope to improve on their wildcard round exist from a season ago. Brent Grimes, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be high on the Skin’s radar coming into free agency, in addition to Baltimore’s Carey Williams and, if the Patriots can’t sign him, Aqib Talib from New England. Washington will also be looking for help at the safety position as the duo of Madieu Williams and Reed Doughty are not among the NFL’s elite.
The bright spot for the Redskins last year was their rushing game, as rookies Alfred Morris and of course RGIII, led Washington to be the best rushing unit in all of football. The Redskins will need to improve their passing game however, as the finished in the bottom half of the league last season, averaging just 213.9 yards per game through the air. Washington lost veteran tight end Fred Davis to the free agent market, and Davis, who is coming off an ACL injury, will look for elite caliber money in the free agency period, and thus may be too expensive for Washington to re-sign. Another issue regarding the passing game comes at wide receiver. Veteran Santana Moss may be too old to carry the full load at this point in his career, as he will be 34 by the time the season starts. No one is questioning the talent of Pierre Garcon, but his health issues may lead Washington to look for help at the wide receiver position. Veteran speedster Mike Wallace, in addition to big play threat Greg Jennings lead the free agent class at wide out . If Washington can address their issues in the secondary, and find one more weapon for RGIII‘s explosive offense, the Redskins could be looking at a consecutive division crown in the 2013-2014 season.
Last, and if you consider last season’s record, least, the Philadelphia Eagles underwhelmed drastically in 2012, but will have money to play with after the release of Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, and the reported release of Nnamdi Asomugha. Philadelphia’s issues on offense from a season ago could be attributed to injury, or lack of game-planning, so their biggest areas of concern lie on the defensive side of the ball. Philadelphia will likely shift to a 3-4 defense in the coming year, leaving them with a hole to fill at the linebacker position. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will enter the free agent pool on March 12th as well, because Philadelphia deemed him a poor fit for Chip Kelly‘s aggressive scheme on defense. Adding to the problems in the secondary will be the hopeless Kurt Coleman, and underwhelming Nate Allen, who will remain on the team, if only due to their current price tags. Colt Anderson could fill in for one of the duo in the upcoming year, as he emerged as a diamond in the rough that was the Eagles secondary from a year ago. The Eagles will almost certainly target a safety in the upcoming draft, such as Florida’s Matt Elam, who was recommended by former Eagle Brian Dawkins as the best available safety in the draft. High on Philadelphia’s wish list will be Packers corner Sam Shields, who fits Kelly’s planned aggressive scheme in the 3-4 set up. Whether Philadelphia signs additional help on the offensive line or in the linebacking corps should be a secondary priority behind finding help in the secondary. In the weeks leading up to free agency, Philadelphia fans can expect decisions regarding many players, and once those dominoes fall, there is not telling how far Howie Roseman and Kelly will go to put a winner on the field in the 2013-2014 season. So for now, we play the waiting game.Tags: Chip Kelly, Colt Anderson, Cullen Jenkins, Dallas Cowboys, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, free agency, Howie Roseman, Kurt Coleman, Mike Patterson, Nate Allen, New York Giants, NFC East, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles, Sam Shields, Washington Redskins