NFC East 2024 buzz on Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Commanders

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 8, 2024

History says there will be a new champion in the NFC East in 2024.

Because it can't be the Dallas Cowboys, will it be the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants or Washington Commanders? Or can the Cowboys become the first team to repeat as division champion since the Eagles in 2003-04?

It has been an offseason of change in the NFC East.

Washington has a new coaching staff, led by former Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and took LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels with the No. 2 pick in the draft.

The Giants have a new defensive coordinator and have been unwilling to say who will call plays on offense, while apparently sticking with Daniel Jones at quarterback.

Philadelphia has new coordinators for the second straight year, and head coach Nick Sirianni is under some pressure after an end-of-season collapse, while quarterbackJalen Hurts looks to reassert himself.

The Cowboys have replaced Quinn with Mike Zimmer, but they enter the season with coach Mike McCarthy and his staff in the final year of their respective contracts. And quarterback Dak Prescott, who finished second in the 2023 MVP voting, is also entering the final year of his contract.

Two years ago, three NFC East teams made the postseason (Eagles, Cowboys, Giants) and they all won a playoff game. Last year, two NFC East teams made the playoffs (Cowboys, Eagles) and neither won a game, while the Commanders and Giants struggled enough to end up with top-10 picks.

With the draft complete and rosters close to being settled, ESPN reporters John Keim (Commanders), Jordan Raanan (Giants), Tim McManus (Eagles) and Todd Archer (Cowboys) look at some of the biggest looming questions in the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest offseason addition

It's difficult to say it's a player, considering the Cowboys' approach to free agency, although linebackerEric Kendricks is a solid addition. But the easy answer is the new defensive coordinator, same as the old defensive coordinator, Zimmer. After a couple of years away from the NFL, following his run as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, Zimmer is back as Dallas' coordinator for the first time since 2006. The Cowboys had a lot of success with Quinn, especially taking the ball away, but Zimmer will bring some schematic changes (varied coverages, different blitz looks) and more size (no more safeties masking as linebackers).

What's left to do on the roster?

The Cowboys can profess to have faith in last year's No. 1 pick, Mazi Smith, at defensive tackle, but he contributed little as a rookie and is coming off shoulder surgery. While they added another tackle, Justin Rogers, in the seventh round, they need some strength on the interior. Adding a veteran defensive tackle looks to be a must. Adding another receiver wouldn't hurt either, especially considering what the group looks like if something happens to CeeDee Lamb and/or Brandin Cooks. But, no, it will not be a player on a high-priced contract.

Assess the Cowboys' QB situation

Good thing you're asking about this year, because none of the quarterbacks are signed for 2025 at the moment. Prescott is coming off his best season and was runner-up in the MVP voting last season. He will have two new starters on the offensive line and a running back by committee with old friend Ezekiel Elliott back and Tony Pollard gone. Prescott and Lamb, who set team records in catches and yards in 2023, have incredible chemistry. And this is the second year of McCarthy calling the plays, so there should be a jump in comfort there, too. With Prescott in a contract year, there is no doubt he will want to repeat or improve upon what he did last season (4,516 yards, 36 TDs, 9 INTs).

Who will be the biggest surprise?

A year ago, nobody had cornerbackDaRon Bland leading the NFL in interceptions and setting a record with five returned for touchdowns. Or kicker Brandon Aubrey coming from the USFL to lead the NFL in points. Let's go with third-year receiver Jalen Tolbert. He went from two catches for 12 yards as a rookie to 22 catches for 268 yards and two scores in 2023. With Michael Gallup gone, Tolbert will get the first crack as the No. 3 receiver. He has earned Prescott's trust and will need to take another step in 2024.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest offseason addition

Running backSaquon Barkley. With the addition of Barkley, the Eagles have assembled arguably the best skill position group in team history. He joins a loaded offense that also features Hurts, receiversA.J. BrownandDeVonta Smith, and tight endDallas Goedert. There is certainly risk in handing Barkley a three-year, $37.75 million contract -- he's entering his seventh NFL season and has dealt with his share of injuries -- but Philadelphia believes there is still untapped potential. "He exhibited a very special skill set, both in the running and the passing game, that we think certainly can be maximized by being on a team with better skill positions, quarterback, offensive line," team CEO Jeffrey Lurie said.

What's left to do on the roster?

Sort out the starting secondary. The Eagles selected defensive backs Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean in the first two rounds of April's draft. Both have a chance to start right away (Mitchell is an outside corner, while DeJean is multifunctional and could fill the need at nickel) but will need to attack the learning curve this summer. It's an interesting mix at cornerback with a couple of older vets in Darius Slay (33) and James Bradberry (31 in August) paired with a lot of youth. On offense, the Eagles need to fill the vacancy at right guard created when Cam Jurgens moved to center to replace All-Pro Jason Kelce, who retired this offseason. Second-year player Tyler Steen appears to be the front-runner heading into camp.

Assess the Eagles' QB situation

Hurts took a step back last season after a near-MVP campaign in 2022. The trio of Sirianni, offensive coordinator Brian Johnson and Hurts struggled to sync up for much of the season -- a disconnect that came to light during the team's 1-6 slide to end the campaign. Johnson was replaced by Kellen Moore in an effort to revitalize the offense. Hurts will have to learn the revamped scheme and overcome the loss of Kelce, who was instrumental in setting protections and problem-solving up front. But Hurts is surrounded by a ton of talent and has shown that he can play at a high level.

Who will be the biggest surprise?

Wide receiver/returner Ainias Smith. The rookie fifth-round pick out of Texas A&M could have an opportunity to impact the game in multiple ways. The Eagles need someone to step up to claim the slot receiver spot. Smith (53 catches for 795 yards in 2023) is adept at working the middle of the field and, with some running back in his background, can create after the catch. He also made splash plays in the return game at A&M -- a skill set that could come in handy as the NFL transitions to a new kickoff format. Another candidate to surprise is second-year corner Kelee Ringo. He started four games as a rookie and flashed big upside over the course of 199 defensive snaps.

New York Giants

Biggest offseason addition

Outside linebackerBrian Burns. His addition completely changes the look of the Giants' defense. They now have a Pro Bowl edge rusher opposite Kayvon Thibodeaux, who had 11.5 sacks in his second professional season. Throw in Dexter Lawrence IIin the middle of the line, linebacker Bobby Okereke in the middle of the defense and cornerback Deonte Banks, and this is the core that general manager Joe Schoen is building around. "I do think we have pieces in place that I like that are going to be together for a couple of years here," Schoen said after the draft. That group is a lot more imposing with Burns, who has a 20.2% pass rush win rate since entering the league in 2019.

What's left to do on the roster?

The big question hanging over this roster is whether veteran tight end Darren Waller is going to be a part of it. The Giants are giving Waller time and space to figure out if his commitment level is there. That makes you think they're going to have to find out whether the additions of third-round pick Theo Johnson and offseason signings Chris Manhertz and Jack Stoll are enough when combined with Daniel Bellinger and Tyree Jackson. Waller has said he hopes to have an answer by the end of spring.

Assess the Giants' QB situation

It's still Daniel Jones' show. The Giants have been adamant about Jones being the starter when he returns from a torn right ACL. The 26-year-old quarterback told ESPN last week that he was cutting on the leg and "doing everything" during the team's offseason workout program. All signs point to Jones being cleared for the start of training camp. So unless newly signed Drew Lock or Tommy DeVito do something spectacular this spring, it's Jones' job to lose. Given his work ethic, it's hard to envision Jones not starting Week 1. Whether he plays well enough to keep the job for the entirety of this season and into the future is another story.

Who will be the biggest surprise?

CornerbackNick McCloud. Never heard of him? That's because he hasn't had a chance to be a consistent starter in three professional seasons. But with only one cornerback penciled in to the lineup for new coordinator Shane Bowen, the opportunity is there for McCloud. He allowed 5.7 yards per target last season as the nearest defender, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the lowest of any defensive back on the Giants, including Banks.

Washington Commanders

Biggest offseason addition

General manager Adam Peters. Clearly, Daniels could end up being the face of the franchise, but Washington has needed a strong GM for years. The organization has needed someone who can build a consistent winner, and if his decisions at head coach (Quinn) and draft picks pay off, then Washington will finally emerge from a long period of poor seasons. Peters' penchant for finding talent beyond the first round helped build the 49ers. His drafts will be a huge key to any success in Washington -- and inconsistent drafts are, in part, why the organization has struggled for so long.

What's left to do on the roster?

Determine the starting left tackle and solidify the corner position. Third-round pickBrandon Coleman was considered a guard or tackle by evaluators but will play left tackle for Washington. If he can't handle it, then veteran backup Cornelius Lucas will have to start. Lucas is best as a short-term solution. Second-round pick Mike Sainristil should start as a slot corner, but questions remain outside, including whether last year's first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes can be a quality starter.

Assess the Commanders' QB situation

Promising but unproven. Washington drafted Daniels as the latest hope in their decades-long quest to find stability at this position. Daniels' dynamic ability should inject life into this offense -- he produced in college with his arm and leg -- but he's also a rookie. Did the organization finally get it right? It's hard to imagine him not being the Week 1 starter. Marcus Mariota is an experienced backup and will start if necessary. The Commanders signed him because he fits well in offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury's system if he's pressed to start.

Who will be the biggest surprise?

There are multiple candidates in the secondary, including corner Benjamin St-Juste, thanks to improved coaching. But let's go with second-round tight end Ben Sinnott. He can reduce the load on veteran Zach Ertz in the pass game, perhaps catching around 30 to 35 passes. Kingsbury loves using two-tight-end packages -- Arizona ran the seventh-most two-tight-end sets in his final three seasons as its head coach. But Sinnott will also help the run game as a blocker out of the backfield in particular; he can help Daniels on some zone read carries as well.

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