NFC East: 2014 NFL key to success

Giants' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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The biggest key to the New York Giants' success over the next three years is a player who's only signed for two of them, and it's not a young player. Quarterback Eli Manning is as vital to his team's success as any player in the league, and the extent to which the Giants can handle the tremendous offseason roster turnover they underwent this season and return to contender status in the NFC rests on Manning's ability to reinvent himself in a new offense this year and in the years immediately following.

Manning
Manning's 2013 season was the worst of his career so far, as he threw a career-high and league-leading 27 interceptions. The offense crumbled around him. The offensive line collapsed due to injuries. Top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks mysteriously shut it down in a contract year. The running game never showed up. But Manning would admit that he was also part of the problem. He appeared to let the mess that was mushrooming around him affect his performance and his decision-making, and the result was an unacceptable level of performance.

Manning is 33 years old now and has two years remaining on his contract. Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants chose not to try to extend Manning's contract this offseason, though it would have saved them significant cap room. His cap numbers the next two years are $20.4 million and $19.75 million, which are monster numbers that make it difficult for the Giants to budget around him, but they don't mind that if he's performing like a two-time Super Bowl MVP.

That's why the biggest key to the Giants' success over the next three years is Manning's ability to master new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense, help all of the new pieces jell together and convince the Giants that an extension that keeps him in blue for the remainder of his career is a no-brainer. If Manning flames out in 2014, then the Giants have a major decision to make about the most important position on their roster. And that would throw their next three years -- and likely a few after that -- into disarray.

Cowboys' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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IRVING, Texas -- Since Tony Romo took over as quarterback, the success of the Dallas Cowboys has mostly centered on Romo's effectiveness.

Romo
He has played well enough in the past three seasons to throw 90 touchdown passes and get intercepted 39 times, but the Cowboys have not been able to finish better than 8-8 and have missed the playoffs. They have not qualified for the postseason since 2009.

As the Cowboys look to end the drought in 2014, Romo will remain the central part to their success, but the core of the team has changed.

While Romo and Jason Witten remain, the core of the team has become players like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have transitioned from an older team to a younger team.

Starting next year, the Cowboys will be in much better salary-cap space. The days of the Cowboys setting the market on free agents might be over. They signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2011 and have not received the payoff. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin this offseason. They did not attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher. For a team that did not hesitate to pay age often, the Cowboys have turned almost frugal.

They have drafted better and smarter. Three of their past four first-round picks have been offensive linemen. Their drafting will never be perfect but it has been better. They have found more role players after a disastrous 2009 draft. They are trying to build the roster from the inside out as opposed to outside in.

For the Cowboys to make the jump from 8-8 to a consistent playoff team, they honestly need to continue down the same path. Patience has never been one of owner Jerry Jones’ strong suits, but the team has shown a willingness to change its ways.

If they continue to build smartly and avoid the costly mistakes that come about in free agency, the Cowboys could find themselves beginning to open up another window of opportunity as Romo and Witten wind down their careers.

Eagles' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
Jones
Kelly
The elephant in the room when discussing the Philadelphia Eagles' prospects for the next few years is named Nick Foles. If Foles continues to be the quarterback who threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions last season, who led the NFL in passer rating in 2013, then the Eagles should be in fine shape for the foreseeable future.

But I don’t think that’s really the question we should be asking. To me, the Eagles’ chances for continued success under Chip Kelly depend largely on the coach himself.

Remember, Foles went 1-5 as a starter under Andy Reid in 2012. He certainly benefited from that experience, but the single most important reason for his big 2013 season was Kelly’s offensive strategy. Foles performed at an elite level while LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens as a result of good coaching that finds ways to get the most of the players available.

As long as that is Kelly’s approach, the Eagles have a chance to contend for the next few seasons. And there is no reason to believe Kelly will change his approach.

Consider the worst-case scenario regarding Foles. If he regresses significantly in 2014, the Eagles are under no obligation to sign him to a long-term contract. They would be free to see if Mark Sanchez or Matt Barkley can excel in Kelly’s system. If the answer is no, they could draft a quarterback in 2015 -- Marcus Mariota, anyone? -- and let Kelly work with him.

If Foles is able to replicate his success, or even build on it, then the Eagles will be fine. So it’s easy to conclude Foles is the key. But in truth, the No. 1 determining factor for this franchise in 2015, 2016, 2017 and beyond is Kelly.

Redskins' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
Midway through the 2012 season, the narrative surrounding the Redskins’ future had changed. They went from a team headed nowhere to one guided by an exciting young quarterback, capable of big-time wins.

Griffin
A year later that narrative changed, with Robert Griffin III's future -- and that of the Redskins -- more in question. One knee injury altered that storyline.

As the Redskins look to the future, it’s clear that one person holds the key to their success over the next three years: Griffin. They could still succeed if Griffin fails, but that would require them to solve a position they haven’t been able to for a long, long time. (They’ve had two Pro Bowl quarterbacks since 1998: Brad Johnson in ’99 and Griffin in ’12.) Maybe backup quarterback Kirk Cousins could be that guy, but that’s far from certain.

Of course, the defense must play better. And the defense is hardly built for long-term success at this point, unlike an offense that features a young nucleus. The defense is aging and needs more good young players.

The head coach, Jay Gruden, needs to prove he can handle his new gig. The general manager, Bruce Allen, must show he can build a winner -- he’s fully in charge now for the first time in his career. The pressure is on both men, but Griffin’s play on the field trumps all because of the importance of the position. If he plays well, it’s easier for Gruden to coach and for Allen to build. If Griffin stumbles or gets hurt, everyone in charge has a much tougher task. Griffin's play can get guys paid -- or fired. That's power.

The Redskins also tied their future to Griffin the minute they sent a large haul to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick: three first-round picks and a second. That preceded news about the two-year salary-cap penalty that restricted their ability to fortify the roster. Add it up and Griffin’s success became even more important. They need him to deliver.

If Griffin improves and stays healthy, the Redskins have a dynamic young quarterback capable of delivering big plays and, perhaps, titles for years to come. Doing the latter takes more than one player, but Griffin’s performance in 2012 gave Washington something it had not had in a long time: hope. That hope still exists, though it now comes with fingers crossed. But nobody else can deliver what Washington needs more than Griffin.

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