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Division Links: Offseason talk - BTB is talking Super Bowl, BGN is talking rebuild, and BBV is still talking about the decisions to draft Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones

Blogging the Boys

The Cowboys may have a viable plan to make a playoff run in 2021

There are a lot of moving parts and things that might fall short, but the effort is showing in Dallas.

Maybe it’s just the usual offseason optimism, but it sure looks like the Dallas Cowboys have a real blueprint for trying to get back to the top of the NFC East and make a playoff run. It looks like this might actually have a shot at working.

At the heart of all this is that the personnel moves in the early stages look better than they have in recent memory. Admittedly, this isn’t a wholly objective view. Still, the steps taken show that the brain-trust of the team do not think they are a couple of seasons or more from getting back to being in the thick of things.

The big one

Previously in the offseason, there was one big, dark cloud still looming for Dallas. That was getting the contract worked out with Dak Prescott. It is understandable that there was pessimism, the team had dropped the ball in the past few years when they could have done a deal for less money

The defense should have a faster start to the season

Part of the reason the Cowboys were 1-3 going into the disastrous fifth game for Prescott was that the defense was a complete mess. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan took the brunt of the blame.

Now Dan Quinn has the responsibility to fix things, and there is reason to be optimistic about getting OTAs and minicamps back this year. There are still some limitations, mostly centering around relying more on virtual meetings while the COVID pandemic hopefully continues to wind down. It should still be more effective in getting Quinn’s defense installed.

Now if free agency doesn’t fool us again

Let’s be honest. Dallas has really struggled to find any real help in free agency for years. Last season was just the latest in a string of frustrating bargain hunts, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Dontari Poe the most obvious examples.

It is assumed that the Cowboys are not done in free agency, with two positions still in need of help. Linebacker play was at times just dismal last year, and rolling with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch as the starters makes many of us nervous, to put it mildly. Keanu Neal may be at least a partial answer there, but the team would be wise to bring in someone who can step in if the staff decides it needs more. Rumbles persist that something may yet be in the works with K.J. Wright, arguably the best remaining free agent backer out there. If they do secure his services, things will be looking up.

Cornerback also remains as a position of need, with the numbers currently under contract a bit limited. That depressed market has some good names still available. Richard Sherman and Quinton Dunbar are two that are often mentioned as possible targets, but they are not the only possibilities. It would be disappointing to see the brain-trust whiff entirely at corner in free agency, and I don’t think they will.

Get those final two holes plugged, and that sets up the team for the big event.

The draft

It’s coming fast, and all signs are that the Cowboys will have several attractive options at pick 10 in the first round. There is expected to be a real run on quarterbacks before they go on the clock, which is very good for them. It is entirely possible that all nine selections before them will be offensive players, setting them up to get real defensive help, with Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn among the most enticing names to shore up cornerback. If one of the top offensive players like Penei Sewell, Kyle Pitts, or Rashawn Slater are still available, we could also see a repeat of the CeeDee Lamb situation, where the team adds to a position of strength with a real difference maker.


The Philly Voice via Bleeding Green Nation

Philadelphia gets an “F” for their free agency grade

Ever since the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl, they have drafted poorly, they have missed in free agency, and they have made some truly awful decisions on contract extensions for players already on their roster.

We saw the result of all of that on the field in 2020, when the team went 4-11-1 in what has to be considered one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Subsequently, the Eagles’ 2021 free agency period was destined to become a tear-down, or perhaps better stated, time to pay the bill, as the team was like eleventy billion dollars over the salary cap.

As expected, the Eagles restructured the contracts of a slew of aging players, kicking the can down the road into future years, while also jettisoning a bunch of big-name players, including the unhappy, unaccountable franchise quarterback.

What’s left is a roster that isn’t realistically going to compete for a Super Bowl for quite a while.

OverTheCap.com has the Eagles at $39,860,001 in dead money, which leads the NFL. Once they add in Malik Jackson, they’ll be up to $43,471,001. That would be 23.8 percent of their cap, spent on players who are now playing for other teams.

All told, the Eagles signed a couple of safeties, they added a veteran backup QB on a strange deal, and they’ll probably still add a Band-Aid corner, and/or maybe a linebacker. Whatever. This free agency period wasn’t about that. It was more about facing the music after a three straight years of front office mismanagement. F.


Big Blue View

Big Blue View rules for draft success, 2021 edition

It’s time to update the rules, and argue again about what they mean for the Giants

If you aren’t familiar with these rules, I created this guide to my draft philosophy several years ago. Each year the rules get tweaked with new examples and, on occasion, modified to reflect the changing realities of the NFL and my evolving beliefs.

1. Draft ‘value’ over perceived need

Truth is, you are never certain what your ‘needs’ are going to be in any given NFL season. You never know where injuries may strike, or where players already on your roster may under-perform or over-perform expectations.

Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman explained it this way during his 2018 pre-draft press conference:

“You’ve got to stay with the value. You have to stay with the value because you guys have heard a million stories, I’ve heard a million and one and you’ve probably heard half a million where a guy says, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be there in the next round.’ Then the next round comes around and he ain’t there. You have to stay with your board, you have to stay with value. You can’t get too cute.”

This is the ‘can or should the Giants draft a receiver at No. 11 after signing Kenny Golladay?’ debate. The Giants have needs (edge rusher, guard) bigger than wide receiver, but that doesn’t mean they absolutely have to take an edge rusher or a guard in Round 1. In this spot, you take the player you believe will have the biggest positive impact on your football team.

2. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback, get one

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you don’t have a top-tier one, you cannot have any type of sustained success. You can have a good year, or a good stretch within a year, but you simply can’t be competitive year after year without one. If you need a franchise quarterback, think there is one available when it is your turn to draft, and pass on drafting him shame on you.

This is why the Sam Darnold vs. Saquon Barkley debate took place. It’s why quarterbacks might be the first four players chosen in this draft. It’s why I supported the Giants’ decision to draft Daniel Jones at No. 6 in 2018. Whether or not he turns out to be a top-tier quarterback remains to be seen.

If you pick the wrong quarterback, you set your franchise back. Gettleman calls it “a five-year mistake.”

3. Do not take running backs in the first round ... unless they are franchise-changers

This is a modified, softened version of the previous “don’t take running back in the first round” rule. It reflects the reality that teams do it, sometimes with good reason. Like the Giants did with Saquon Barkley.

The NFL game no longer revolves around the running game. Offenses revolve around the quarterback, the offensive line and the wide receivers. Running backs are rarely the centerpiece of an offense, they are complementary players.

To get true value from a running back at No. 2 he would have to end up having a career far superior to any player at a premium position who could be taken in that spot. Historically, there are always plenty of quality running backs available in the middle of the draft. Take one then, and use your first pick on an impact player at a more important position.

Tiki Barber, Joe Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs were not first-round picks. David Wilson, Ron Dayne, Tyrone Wheatley, George Adams, Rocky Thompson and Tucker Fredrickson were first-round picks.

Did the Giants do the right thing drafting Barkley? To be honest, probably not. They probably could have accelerated their rebuild by trading out of that spot in the 2018 draft and acquiring additional draft picks. As great as he is, that will always be a question if the Giants can’t put good enough talent around him to win while he’s in his prime. You cannot predict injury, of course, but if he doesn’t come back fully from his torn ACL and we have already seen his prime, that choice looks even worse. Going back to what I said earlier, ideally the Giants would have drafted Barkley — a running back with a limited shelf life — as a finishing piece rather than a building block.

4. When in doubt, draft a lineman

This applies to both the offensive and defensive lines.

I don’t care how pass-happy the NFL gets or how much the rules change, the game is still won and lost along the front lines.

How does that impact this draft? As I advocated in 2020, the Giants used three of their 10 draft picks on offensive linemen. Despite that, you won’t read complaints from me if the Giants bypass the sexy receivers or edge rushers and use the 11th overall pick on an offensive lineman. They still need more talent there. You can pick the wrong lineman, like the Giants did with Ereck Flowers. In my view, though, it’s rarely wrong to pick an offensive lineman. You need more of them on each play than any other position on the field and your quarterback, your most important player, cannot succeed without them.


Bleeding Green Nation

Eagles reportedly have interest in a veteran free agent cornerback

Looking for a stop-gap solution?

The Philadelphia Eagles “have some interest in” veteran free agent cornerback T.J. Carrie, according to Inside The Bird’s Adam Caplan (via r/Eagles).

We previously wrote about Carrie as a potential Philly target due to the connection with his former position coach and current Eagles defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon.

Carrie, who turns 31 in July, also doesn’t really fit what the Eagles should be looking for [in terms of youth and upside]. But if they want a more affordable stop-gap option than Xavier Rhodes, they could sign Carrie to be their new Leodis McKelvin (shoutout to a legend).

The Eagles have been expected to sign a corner. The starting spot across from Darius Slay is wide open with Avonte Maddox failing to prove himself as a viable option in that role last year. The Eagles showed interest in Adoree’ Jackson but he signed with the New York Giants before he even made it to Philly for a visit.

If Carrie does wind up playing for the Eagles, this “retooling” team will hardly have a youthful secondary in 2021. The starting corners will be 31 (Carrie) and 30 (Slay) while the starting safeties will be playing their age 31 (Rodney McLeod) and age 30 (Anthony Harris) seasons.


Blogging the Boys

With Dak Prescott’s huge contract, there is only one expectation in Dallas - a Super Bowl

His intended designation: backup Tony Romo, whom Dallas saw as its resolute QB1 for at least two years. But when opportunity came knocking at his door, Prescott was ready and willing to answer the call, leaving Dallas with no choice but to opt for his services at the helm moving forward.

From there, everything Prescott embodied from locker room presence, to weight room excellence, to on-field intelligence, unequivocally warranted a rightfully gifted financial present. Which, now deposited, means the Prescott must now uphold his end of the bargain. And if he does win Jerry a Super Bowl, you can bet that whether he deserved it will never be questioned again.

It’s a sentiment that Prescott is fully aware of. In response to circulations surrounding the obvious pressure he now faces to live up to the walloping monetary total, Prescott said:

“Pressure is privilege. I’m privileged that this organization, they believe in me, they put their faith in me.”

His own faith is clearly where it needs to be the most, within himself. Meanwhile, his team is putting together pieces that will put that faith right to test.

So fans, where does your faith lie? Will Prescott be able to right the ship in Dallas and endow the city with its first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years? And if he doesn’t win within the next four years, will the contract have been a waste?