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Division Links: QBs drive the discussion across the NFC East SB Nation sites this week

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New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Blogging the Boys

NFL analysts show confidence that the Cowboys will return to the playoffs in 2021

ESPN recently talked to a panel of NFL observers and analysts, and the Cowboys name was one that was repeatedly brought up.

Which team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2020 will make it in 2021?

Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Cowboys. A defense that bottomed out last season will improve with new personnel and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. A healthy Dak Prescott with one of the deepest receiver corps in the league will catalyze a top-five offense. And the NFC East will leave the playoff door wide open.

Jason Reid, The Undefeated senior NFL writer: Cowboys. Now, I’m assuming the Cowboys and Prescott come together on a multiyear contract extension. I’m assuming that there’s no way the Cowboys could possibly be as bad on defense next season. Big assumptions? Possibly. But with a healthy (and happy) Prescott and even the slightest improvement on defense, Dallas will be back in the postseason.

Seth Walder, sports analytics writer: Cowboys. They would have obliterated the woeful NFC East with a healthy Prescott, who will be back if there’s any sanity in that front office. Don’t get me wrong: That defense has problems. But defense can also be fixed much quicker than offense.

Field Yates, NFL analyst: Cowboys. The division is wide open and I’m convinced Prescott will finally be signed long-term this offseason. His value was highlighted by his absence this past season and I expect an exceptional comeback.

If you notice a theme running through those answers, you aren’t the only one. The first point is the most obvious one - the Cowboys have to get Dak Prescott signed. Hopefully they will get him signed to a long-term deal and not a franchise tag. As noted, a healthy Prescott would have likely delivered the Cowboys a 2020 NFC East title. Not much has changed for 2021. If Prescott is back, then the Cowboys’ potent offense returns.

Bleeding Green Nation

Why the 2021 Eagles could be really bad

As the Carson Wentz trade saga drags on and on and mentally drains us and Bears and Colts fans, it also overshadows that the 2021 Eagles have a really good chance to be a really bad team. We’re talking historically bad for the franchise. The 4 wins in 2020 were the 2nd worst win total in a 16 game season in Eagles history, behind only the 3-13 1998 team. The 2012 Eagles also won 4 games, those three teams had the worst records in Eagles history in the 16 game era.

The 2021 Eagles may improve on the 2020 team. But they also have a fair shot to be even worse. Every truly terrible team hits a trifecta of awfulness: bad management, bad offense, and bad defense. It’s not hard to see the Eagles having all three.

We don’t know what kind of coach Nick Sirianni is yet. We may not even know a year from now considering the Eagles roster is in such bad shape. But a “new coach bounce” isn’t guaranteed.

If you wanted to create a coach in over his head, Sirianni has a lot of choice ingredients to work with. He’ll be 40 when the season starts, was a coordinator for only three seasons, and is stepping into multiple roles (head coach and play-caller) for the first time. His staff is one of the youngest in recent history, if not the youngest. His defensive coordinator has just three seasons as a position coach, his offensive coordinator has less than two years of experience in the role, and his special teams coordinator is 29. Of the nine coordinator and position coaches hired under Sirianni, just three are older than him. Two are in their 20s. Most of the coaching staff has never had the job they have before. No one who is calling plays for the Eagles has ever called plays before at any level. There isn’t much experience for these coaches to fall back on when things get tough, and his offensive and defensive coordinators being coworkers from his previous two teams means there isn’t a whole lot of diversity of experience.

Howie Roseman’s drafts have been abysmal, and due to his salary cap mismanagement in recent years, there will be no large scale roster turnover with free agents, the Eagles will not have the cap space to sign impact players. There’s little reason to believe that the additions that Howie Roseman will make for 2021 will be any different from the ones he’s made in the past few seasons. And his poor drafting record extends beyond the past few seasons, it is the primary avenue of roster building the Eagles will have this year.

You don’t need to squint too hard to see a 6 win team.

But it also isn’t too hard to see a team that continues to slide. It is not hard to see a group of young players who largely did not progress under a veteran coaching staff continue to not progress under a hugely inexperienced coaching staff. It is not hard to see the defense going from mediocre to lousy because most of the key players on it get a year older and worse. It is not hard to see a non-top prospect QB who played mostly to non-franchise QB expectations not take a big leap in his second season. It is not hard to see a group of key players who have had multiple injuries in recent seasons continue to have injury problems. It’s not hard to see a coaching staff with a grand total of 24 games as an NFL play-caller and whose play-callers have never called plays before struggle at play calling. It’s not too hard to see Nick Sirianni going for it less often on 4th downs and 2 point conversions than Doug Pederson did. It’s not too hard to see another draft class full of players who don’t contribute. You don’t need to squint too hard to see a team that ends up with a top-two draft pick.

Blogging the Boys

What is your worst nightmare first-round draft scenario for a rival team of the Dallas Cowboys?

Setting aside what the Cowboys do for a moment, what player do you not want to see go to a division rival?

Washington could make a big move and take a chance by going after the high-risk/high-reward quarterback, Trey Lance of North Dakota State. Things should get crazy as the QB sweepstakes always is, and we could see a Cowboys division rival get right in the middle of it. Washington is actually a good landing spot for a player like Lance as they could leverage off the veteran presence of Alex Smith while they develop their young star.

Recently, Dane Brugler from The Athletic completed his mock 3.0 and he has Washington making a move for Lance.

Washington Football Team receives:

2021 first-round pick (No. 7 overall)

Detroit Lions receive:

2021 first-round pick (No. 19 overall)

2021 third-round pick (No. 82 overall)

2022 first-round pick

With Alex Smith, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke, Washington has several short-term options at quarterback. But Lance would give the organization a young, high-upside player with the physical talent and football character that translates well to the pro level. With the competition for quarterbacks in this draft, it will likely take multiple draft picks, including a future first, to make this deal happen for Washington.

It’s risky, but do we really want Washington to have a chance to build around a young talent throughout a cheap rookie contract? I profess that we do not.

Big Blue View

NFC East Notebook: Salary cap considerations and QB updates for each team

Based off of a projected base salary cap of $180.5 million per Over the Cap, the Football Team is fifth in the league in cap space available with $39.6 million. The Cowboys are 13th with $18.4 million available. The Giants are ranked 19th with $1.1 million available and the Eagles are 31st in the league with $49 million over the projected cap.

In other words, Washington is in good shape as far as cap space. They are poised to be big spenders this offseason. The way they aggressively pursued Matthew Stafford suggests that they are prepared to make some waves. The Eagles, meanwhile, are in the worst shape of any team in the division and will have to do some shuffling around if they are going to make ends meet this offseason.

Dallas Cowboys

If Dallas is not able to reach a long-term agreement with Prescott by March 9th, they will have to place the franchise tag on him for the second-straight season. This would guarantee Prescott a minimum of a one-year, $37.7M salary that is 100% guaranteed for 2021 and would lock him in for a franchise value of $54.4M in 2022.

This means that Prescott would essentially be signed up for a two-year deal worth $92.1M guaranteed.

The high contract is why many believe that this will be Prescott’s last season with the Cowboys if he does in fact play on the tag again. The rate set by the tag in 2022 would be too much for any team to absorb.

In ESPN’s bold predictions, reporter Todd Archer predicted that the Cowboys and Prescott would not reach a long-term deal.

Despite both sides saying they want to get together with a multiyear commitment, the circumstances to get one done this offseason are much more difficult with a shrinking salary cap. How can they break the roadblock that has been there the past two offseasons? Without a long-term deal, Prescott will play the 2021 season on the franchise tag for the second straight year, earning $37.7 million and all but cementing a departure in 2022 with the franchise tag rising then to more than $52 million.

Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas is not the only city with quarterback problems. In fact, the situation is more urgent in Philadelphia.

Wentz threw 14 interceptions in his rookie campaign - a number that appeared to be an anomaly until this past season when he threw a career-high 15 and was sacked a league-leading 50 times. He was also 34th in completion percentage at 57.4%.

The Eagles want to be compensated for the talent that Wentz did show early in his career. They are also facing an NFL-record $34 million dead cap hit in 2021 by trading him. But Philly also has to temper its expectations due to Wentz’s tragically bad performance last season.

Washington Football Team

Meanwhile in Washington, playoff hero Taylor Heinicke signed a two-year contract this past week.

After Heinicke’s breakout performance in Washington’s Wild Card matchup against the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, it remained unclear what the Football Team would do with the signal caller. Before Washington signed Heinicke to its practice squad in early December, he had been taking math classes at Old Dominion University and had not seen NFL action since 2018. He had played in just seven NFL games, with one start, prior to his start in the playoffs.

But with just under two-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter against the Bucs, Heinicke showed a flash of promise. He dodged defenders, ran down the sideline and lunged into the endzone, just hitting the pylon to score a touchdown. It was enough for the Football Team to want to keep him around.

Heinicke’s contract includes salaries of $1 million and $1.5 million in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The rest can be earned in bonuses/incentives for a maximum value of $8.75 million. These terms are important to consider because the contract does not project Heinicke into Washington’s starting lineup. It simply gives Heinicke the chance to fight for the starting role.

But make no mistake, Washington is still searching for its franchise QB.