Outsiders: NFC East offseason needs

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
3:55
PM ET
Football Outsiders is an Insider feature here on ESPN.com, which cracks me up every time, but if you have the Insider access you can check out Vince Verhei's piece on the biggest offseason needs for each team in the NFC East. If you don't have Insider access or you're too lazy to read Vince's whole piece, I have the Cliff's Notes for you.

Dallas Cowboys: Vince cops out! He says cornerback and guard. No fair. Got to pick one, says I. Vince lists both but spends the bulk of his analysis on cornerback. To wit:
So far in our charting data (which is incomplete for a handful of teams), we've found 80 cornerbacks who were targeted in pass coverage 40 or more times last season. Only 28 of those players had a success rate below 50 percent, and three of those players were on the Cowboys. Terence Newman was the worst of the bunch, ranking 72nd in success rate and last among those 80 cornerbacks in yards per play.

He goes on to explain that their historical comparisons to Newman indicate there's not much hope for a recovery, and concludes that it's time to move on. I agree. I'd say cornerback is the biggest need.

New York Giants: Offensive line. Fair enough. A lot depends on whether Will Beatty can come back and continue to develop, but with David Diehl getting up there in age and Kareem McKenzie looking like a free-agent casualty, the Giants need to start figuring out what their offensive line will look like in the future. I still think that if they target one position in free agency or the draft, however, it's more likely to be tight end.

Philadelphia Eagles: Linebacker. No doubt. The biggest thing the Eagles need is for the players they have at cornerback and safety to play better than they did in 2011. Assuming that happens, yes, they need better, quicker, stronger, surer-tackling linebackers than they had last year to support the "Wide 9" defensive line scheme and help them stop offenses that can find a way through their studs up front:
The stat pages at Football Outsiders make the holes in the Philadelphia defense very clear. First, the defensive line statistics, where we see Philadelphia ranked third in stuff rate but 29th in second-level yards and 22nd in open-field yards. In plain English, that means the defensive line was very good at hitting runners in the backfield, but when those runners made it across the line of scrimmage, they usually went for big gains.

This isn't a position 4-3 teams tend to prioritize, and it remains to be seen whether the Eagles will do so. But given their relative strength and depth at other positions, there's no reason for them not to make this the focus of their offseason.

Washington Redskins: Quarterback. Everyone agrees on this. The question is what to do about it. It'd be easy if they were picking No. 2 in the draft. They'd just take Robert Griffin III and get on with it. But they're not, and they may not be able to get Griffin without completely ignoring their many other needs, so they need to consider other options, which they are. One of those is Peyton Manning, whom Vince describes (as others have) as "a fading star." I don't know why this keeps bothering me so much. Manning has not done any "fading" whatsoever. He was a superstar in his prime two years ago and missed this past year due to injury. If he proves he can throw the way he did in 2010, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and quarterback-needy teams should climb all over each other trying to get him. If he can't, he'll probably retire, which would bring an abrupt end to a brilliant career. But no matter what happens, the guy is not "fading." He's either his old, great self or he's done. If he's done, no one will sign him. If he's not, the Redskins would be foolish to rule it out just because they got Donovan McNabb when he was "fading." These simplistic comparisons are bugging me. Anyway, quarterback, as everyone knows. Sorry. Rant over.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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