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Saturday, June 1, 2013
Eight in the Box: Playing for a contract

By Dan Graziano


» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player entering a contract year on each NFC East team who must deliver in 2013.

Dallas Cowboys: Playing on a one-year franchise player deal for the second season in a row, defensive end Anthony Spencer is key to the Cowboys' transition to a 4-3 defensive front. He and fellow pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware will switch from the 3-4 outside linebacker position they've always played to a 4-3 defensive end position that will put them closer to the offensive line and likely require them to be more physical in their efforts to get to the quarterback. Spencer took a huge step forward in 2012 as a pass-rusher and was, for much of the season, the best player on the Cowboys' defense. He had 11 sacks, and his previous career high had been six. If he can make the transition to his new position and follow his best season with another excellent one, he'll likely be able to get the long-term deal he seeks. If he can't, the Cowboys will be looking for a new pass-rush anchor next offseason.

New York Giants: Sticking with the pass-rush theme, defensive end Justin Tuck is the Giants player under the most pressure this season to perform the way he used to perform. After racking up 11.5 sacks in 2010, Tuck has collected just nine, total, in the past two regular seasons. The Giants' pass rush took a step backward last season and lost Osi Umenyiora to free agency. They'll replace Umenyiora by moving Mathias Kiwanuka back up to the line from the linebacker spot he played the past two seasons, but their pass rush would function best with Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul as dominant bookend starters. Another lackluster season could mean the end of Tuck's decorated career with the Giants. A return to early-career form could transform the Giants back into a championship contender.

Philadelphia Eagles: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles' 2009 first-round pick, has averaged 65 receptions, 863 yards and 6.5 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the NFL. His numbers are actually pretty consistent, year to year. But what the Eagles had in mind when they drafted Maclin was a No. 1 wide receiver. And while he's flashed that ability at times, he hasn't been able to maintain that level or develop his game. The Eagles have fellow wideout DeSean Jackson signed long term, but they will have the money and the cap space to sign Maclin next offseason if they choose to do so. Whether they will want to depends on how Maclin plays in the new Chip Kelly offense and, likely, whether he looks as though he can be counted on to carry the load as a true No. 1.

Washington Redskins: I still think it's possible linebacker Brian Orakpo gets his contract extended before the season starts, but if he doesn't, he'll enter the season carrying the pressure of a contract year along with the pressure of having to kick-start the Redskins' pass rush. A pectoral muscle injury in Week 2 ended Orakpo's season, and fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan struggled without Orakpo on the other side to draw the attention of opposing blockers. The Redskins' 3-4 defense is designed around the idea of former first-rounders Orakpo and Kerrigan getting to the quarterback. They need Orakpo to stay healthy and to produce like one of the best pass-rushers in the league.