Thursday, February 16, 2012
Leading Questions: NFC East
By Dan Graziano
With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each NFC East team as they begin preparations for the 2012 season:
Do they have too much work to do?
It's possible that we expect too much from the Cowboys. Their skill-position talent on offense makes them an easy team to like going into the season. Few teams are as good as they are at quarterback and wide receiver, and if DeMarco Murray comes back healthy, they look pretty good at running back, too.
But the offseason needs for the Cowboys are myriad. They need guards and a center. They need cornerbacks and safeties. They need a pass-rushing outside linebacker to complement DeMarcus Ware. They could stand to beef up on the defensive line.
That's a lot of needs, and it's fair to wonder whether they'll be able to fill them all adequately and construct a 2012 contender. That they were a contender (heck, a leader) in the NFC East right up until the end of the 2011 season leads one to believe they necessarily should be thought of as one again for 2012. But the division was, for the first time ever, won with only nine wins. And the way the Cowboys played defense and protected Tony Romo during their 1-4 finish was more alarming than the 7-4 record was encouraging.
NEW YORK GIANTS
What to do with Osi Umenyiora?
The Giants have other issues, sure. They need to work on the offensive line. They need to find a tight end. They need to make individual decisions on players like Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham. But for a team that believes the pass rush is the cornerstone of good defense, the Osi question is a fair one on which to focus right now.
Last summer, when he had two years left on his contract, Umenyiora was obviously unhappy. He sat out training camp practices. He sought (and received) permission to find a team willing to trade for him. He called GM Jerry Reese a liar in a sworn affidavit as part of one of the lockout lawsuits. The Giants never blinked, and in the end Umenyiora returned and became a major contributor to their Super Bowl run.
Now, he has one year left on the contract he hates, and the Giants must decide what to do. Sign him long term, as he wants? Trade him now, while his value is high coming off the Super Bowl and his postseason performance? Or stand pat again and force him to play out his contract, running the risk that he'll be more resolute in his protests and holdouts this time around?
The emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end opposite Justin Tuck gives the Giants leverage, but at the same time, they were much better when all three of those guys were healthy and in the lineup together.
Is a full offseason really what they need?
Last August, after the lockout ended, the Eagles signed a bunch of free agents to play for a revamped coaching staff with a lot of new ideas about how to play defense and offensive line. The party line in Philadelphia now is that this was all too much too soon, and that the Eagles' 3-6 start was due in large part to the inability of all of these new pieces to get on the same page in the absence of an offseason program.
They played well at the end of the season, they point out. Heck, they played well at the beginning of the season, too -- they just couldn't hold a lead. So we'll see whether a real offseason of OTAs and minicamps all spring and summer helps everyone relax and get the most out of a talented roster.
We'll see whether it helps quarterback Michael Vick better handle the new responsibilities he took on in 2011, such as changing the protection at the line of scrimmage. We'll see whether the sting of 2011's disappointment can propel the Eagles to great things in 2012, or if it's all a bunch of hooey and they were never that good in the first place.
Who's the quarterback?
Rex Grossman can't come back as anything other than the backup, and John Beck ... well, just ... no.
The Redskins have many needs, but none as big as this one. Picking sixth in the draft, they'll need to trade up (and outbid other teams to do so) if they want Robert Griffin III, who's the best all-around option and a potential franchise quarterback.
But if trading up means dealing away multiple first-round picks and making it difficult for them to address areas such as wide receiver, offensive line and the secondary, it might not be the wisest course of action. That would necessitate a free-agent pursuit of someone like Kyle Orton, Matt Flynn or -- if they can be convinced he's fully healthy -- Peyton Manning.
Redskins fans aren't likely to be happy with an imperfect, short-term solution. But only one team is going to get Griffin, and if the Redskins are not that team, they need to spend their resources on a No. 1 receiver and help for the line.
They have about $47 million in cap room and the ability to fill enough holes that plugging in a healthy Manning could make them a 2012 contender. And if that's the way they go, there's always a Matt Barkley or Landry Jones-type option next year.