I want to take a look back at each conference’s free agency period. Now that the draft is over, OTAs are complete, and players are free from any mandatory work until mid July, we have a better understanding of each team’s roster and which direction they are headed. Some teams, like the Jets, are clearly looking to rebuild for the future — they’ve dumped valuable assets like Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall and David Harris, to name a few, in desire to get younger and cheaper for the future. Teams like the Patriots, on the other hand, have loaded up in an attempt to fill out their roster for another run at the Super Bowl while their quarterback is still playing at a high level.
Starting with the NFC East, I want to offer one big loss and one important addition that will make an immediate impact on their 2017 season. Thanks to Pro Football Guru, we can look at every team’s additions and losses in free agency that’s updated on a daily basis.
Note: For the sake of these series of articles, I’m only looking at players who were on the roster in 2016 who will no longer be there in 2017. Likewise, I’m looking at guys who were not on the roster in 2016, but will now be in 2017 (in-house re-signings and draft selections excluded).
The Cowboys haven’t made a huge splash in free agency in recent years. They’ve decided to build from the draft while choosing to spend their money wisely. They’ve chosen to draft young players instead of signing expensive veterans. We’ll start with their biggest loss, which is tough considering how many players from their 2016 roster will no longer be with the team for the upcoming season.
Loss: Tony Romo (retirement)
The Cowboys lost a lot of valuable players via free agency. A lot. They lost three starters in their secondary in Brandon Carr, Barry Church and Morris Claiborne, plus safety J.J. Wilcox who may have had his best year since entering the league in 2013. Carr was a reliable starter who hasn’t missed a single start in his nine-year career; Church was a good tackler who will be missed at the safety position, but more so because of his presence up in the box; Claiborne was finally starting to live up to high expectations, but he ended up getting hurt again, forcing the Cowboys to make the tough decision to let him walk instead of risking guaranteed money his way. The Cowboys also said goodbye to long-time Tackle Doug Free, Guard Ronald Leary and DT Terrell McClain. Free had his ups and downs, but he’s been a reliable starter who got better over the years; Leary was a pro’s pro who had to take a backseat to La’el Collins after being a key piece to a dominant offensive line in 2014 — he filled in nicely when Collins was sidelined due to injury last season. McClain was quietly a huge contributor along Dallas’ rotating defensive line; he’ll arguably be missed most in 2017. But Tony Romo is absolutely the biggest loss to the Cowboys’ roster despite not playing more than one drive in 2017.
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and he carried the Cowboys on his fragile back for years. If Prescott were to go down, the Cowboys have no shot of winning more than two games next season. Romo had a great relationship with the front office and was a major help to Prescott’s development. Romo may not be missed on the field in 2017; If Prescott continues to grow into a franchise quarterback, there’s really no reason to think twice about Romo. But the fact is that he was the Cowboys starting quarterback for years, put up huge numbers, and he’ll be missed by many players both on and off the field. It’s the first time Romo won’t be on the roster since 2004, and because of that type of longevity alone, he is the biggest loss of the offseason. Remember: it’s a huge luxury to have two good quarterbacks on your roster. Not a controversy.
Addition: Damontre Moore (from Seahawks)
Moore wasn’t a signing that made a lot of headlines at the time, but it can prove to be the Cowboys’ best free agency signing by the time the season rolls around. Moore is one of the youngest defense linemen on the team at age 24, and his 10 career sacks ranks second on the team. Cowboys’ Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli uses a heavy rotation along the defensive line, and Moore was a good signing to add depth to an important position that the Cowboys need production from to have success in 2017.
New York Giants
The Giants were pretty active in free agency this offseason. Their losses won’t hurt too much, but their additions have potential to make a solid impact on the 2017 season. For instance, they let go of career-Giant Victor Cruz, Rashad Jennings, and Marshall Newhouse, but none of these guys will be missed much on the field.
Loss: Johnathon Hankins (Colts)
Hankins won’t be missed too much because of the Giants’ depth at the position; they drafted who they hope will be his replacement in Dalvin Tomlinson. But Hankins is young and at the forefront of what New York Giants’ football is all about; pressure from the defensive line. The 25-year-old tackle has good football in front of him, and the Giants will miss him more than any other player they let walk in free agency this past offseason.
Addition: DJ Fluker (from Chargers)
Brandon Marshall was the splash, headline signing for the Giants, and rightfully so. He’s in a good place in his career after having a lot of off-and-on-the-field issues in his career. Ideally, he’ll actually help Odell Beckham mature while giving the Giants a tall and strong receiving option on the outside; it was a really good signing. But I think Fluker is actually the more important signing for the Giants considering how desperate New York is along their offensive line. It’s been their weak link for years now, and protecting the immobile Eli Manning is essential at this point of his career (and always). Fluker is versatile and plays multiple positions of desperate need for the Giants. He may not be a day-one starter, but he can fill in where he’s needed and the Giants really need depth on their offensive line. He’s young, stays on the field, and a good luxury for the Giants right now.
The Redskins’ offseason has certainly been an interesting one. They fired highly-respected General Manager Scot McCloughan on the first day of the free agency period, just weeks before the NFL draft. Despite such dysfunctional tactics, the Redskins still hauled in a pretty solid free agency and draft class. Kirk Cousins was franchised, and the team’s other offseason moves will directly impact his play moving forward.
Loss: DeSean Jackson (Bucs)
Cousins, despite underachieving in big spots, has put up some really solid numbers. DeSean Jackson was a huge reason why. He’s simply a game changer who can strike for a big play at any moment – that’s why his addition to the Bucs is so important, and his loss to Washington the same. They’ll also miss Chris Baker, Pierre Garcon and Ricky Jean-Francois, but Jackson is a guy that defensive coordinators really have to worry about. He’s one of the most respected deep threats in all of football, and has made a career off of beating guys over the top. Losing that type of player hurts any football team, especially one with a younger quarterback trying to get some long-time security.
Addition: Terrelle Pryor (from Browns)
While Pryor is still a work-in-progress, this was a big addition for the Redskins after losing Jackson and Garcon. All eyes will be on Pryor; his story alone makes his play must-watch television. The quarterback-turned-receiver showed some serious promise last season in Cleveland, and Washington hopes he’ll make another step forward in his path to becoming a full-time NFL receiver. Last season was his first as a pass catcher and he racked in over 1,000 receiving yards. Only time will tell if he can continue to grow and develop into a reliable no. 1 receiver after spending years trying to make it as a quarterback.
The Redskins also added two starters to a mediocre defense in former-Cowboy Terrell McClain and ex-Cardinal DJ Swearinger. Both were significant signings, but Pryor is the most important addition to a team that’s reliant on throwing the football.
The Eagles had the most active free agency out of any NFC East team this offseason. While they let go of some important contributors, they added more than they lost. Their fate is pretty much solely dependent on the step Quarterback Carson Wentz takes in his sophomore season; he showed promise last year, and he’ll have a more complete offense to work with this season thanks to their activity in free agency.
Loss: Connor Barwin (Rams)
The Eagles lost a few defensive players in the offseason, such as Bennie Logan, Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin. But I think Barwin is the most significant; he’s been a productive Eagle for the past four seasons, racking up 31.5 total sacks (14.5 in 2014 alone). I get why they let him go, but still think he and Logan will be missed most out of their losses in free agency, despite being in good shape along their defensive line.
Addition: Alshon Jeffery (from Bears)
The Eagles had a huge offseason haul, and I’d be fine saying adding Timmy Jernigan from the Ravens was their best move. But considering their depth at the positions, I think Jeffery is the biggest signing for 2017. The Eagles’ receiving core was awful last year, and Wentz desperately needs some production from his receivers. Jeffery is their automatic no. 1 receiver, while Torrey Smith will also help some. They also added Lagarrette Blount and Chance Warmack. It was a good offseason for a team on the rise that needs help surrounding their franchise quarterback, and kudos to the Eagles’ Front Office for signing Jeffery to a one-year, “prove it” type deal.