Offseason GM: NFC East
Continuing with the series ‘Offseason GM,’ I’ll move on to the NFC East. While they may not have any juggernauts, the division is always very competitive. Any edge in offseason performance could easily tip the balance for who wins the division in 2014. Also it was recently noted that the expected cap limit this year is going to be around 130M, not 126 as previously projected.
Free agent starters: WR Riley Cooper, WR Jeremy Maclin, S Nate Allen
Current needs: WR, CB, S, DT
Cap Situation: The Eagles enter free agency with a hefty $122M payroll, but a chunk of that is non-guaranteed money. DeMeco Ryans, Brent Celek, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung, and Brad Smith combine for $19.3M of entirely non-guaranteed money. Throw in $17M in carryover cap space from 2013 and the Eagles have $44M in cap space to play with this offseason. Keep an eye on the DeSean Jackson situation; he seems worth his $12.7M salary but has been talking about wanting a new contract. If he gets restructured, the Eagles could choose to front-load or back-load the deal, depending on how they want to address their surplus.
Free Agency: $44M. A lot of positions will need to be replaced, but that’s a ton of money to do it with. At least one of Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper will be re-signed, but I wouldn’t rule out both. Cooper had a career year under Kelly, so it’s hard to see him going anywhere. Maclin will likely get more money from a team other than the Eagles, but sitting on the sidelines behind Chip Kelly very well may induce him into giving the Eagles a hometown discount.
The next priority is the secondary, and it might as well be the number one priority. They have no choice but to throw some money at one or two quality free agents. Luckily for them, the market is deep: Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Charles Tillman, Brent Grimes, and Sam Shields lead an impressive CB group. Safeties are solid, too, with names like Jairus Byrd and TJ Ward available. Some of these guys will get re-signed, but other teams will be hard-pressed to match offers from the Eagles.
Outlook: This situation is a GM’s dream. Your team is on the rise with lots of young talent both on the roster and the sideline, you’ve got a full slate of draft picks, and a ton of money to throw at free agents. In year one, Chip Kelly proved he can manipulate offensive talent very well. Year two will reveal how well he identifies and brings in talent of his choosing.
Free agent starters: DE/OLB Anthony Spencer, DT Jason Hatcher, G Brian Waters
Current needs: G, S, DE, DT
Cap Situation: As much as I raved about the Eagles situation, that’s how awful the Cowboys are looking; they start with a cap number of $140M, 10M over the limit. Only 1.3M in carry over space doesn’t alleviate the burden, and there isn’t a lot of non-guaranteed money to cut. DeMarcus Ware has 7M non guaranteed of a $16M salary, but its hard to see his number coming down that much. No one else on the roster has more than $2M in non-guaranteed money, and only a couple are worth cutting. It will take some expert restructuring manipulation for the Cowboys to free up enough space just to sign their draft picks.
Free Agency: Haha. Don’t expect anything beyond minimum contracts. Jerry Jones has only himself to thank for that.
Outlook: This is going to be largely the same roster as last year; there just isn’t any room to maneuver. Just getting under the cap won’t be easy, and they have a full slate of draft picks to sign. This draft is extremely important for the Cowboys, as they cannot afford to make blunders like last year.
Free agent starters: DE Justin Tuck, CB Corey Webster, LB Jon Beason, WR Hakeem Nicks, TE Brandon Myers, DT Linval Joseph, G David Diehl
Current needs: G, RB, LB, DE, CB
Cap Situation: The Giants currently stand at a payroll of $110M, and have a lot of non-guaranteed money to potentially restructure. Eli Manning has $13M non-guaranteed of a 20M cap number, and Chris Snee has $6.8M non-guaranteed out of 11M. Neither one justified their salary last year, so restructures could be likely. Antrel Rolle is very likely to get cut, as he would free up $7M with only 2M dead. They have absolutely no space to carry over from last year, but the Giants should comfortably have $30M to spend in free agency.
Free Agency: This is an interesting situation. The Giants have nice pieces on both sides of the ball, but the performance of Eli Manning and the offense makes things somewhat unpredictable. The defense played well last year, but has a lot of free agents. Do they spend a lot to get back in contention or start to think about retooling? Re-signing these starters will cost most of their cap space, and GM Jerry Reese does not usually make more than one big splash anyway.
Outlook: It was a pretty disappointing season for Giants fans as the offense looked out of sync all season. It’s difficult to say which of their free agents they will attempt to re-sign, and how they will attack the market. Look for the Giants to continue their trend of moderate free agent activity while trying to make good draft picks.
Free agent starters: LB London Fletcher, DE/OLB Brian Orakpo, CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Josh Wilson, S Brandon Meriweather
Current needs: CB, WR, LB, S, G
Cap Situation: No carry over space at all from 2013, and not a ton of contract room for restructures and cuts. Despite that, the Redskins start with a low payroll of $94M. That gives them about $36M to re-sign their key guys and make a splash or two.
Free Agency: Orakpo and Hall are very likely to be re-signed, and both will cost a decent amount. Still that should leave them with $15-20M that Dan Snyder will not hesitate to spend with reckless abandon. I have no idea who he will want to go after in a deep free agent market, but without a 1st round pick, expect it to be someone near the top of the prize pool.
Outlook: The Redskins don’t have a 1st round pick, but the rest of their draft slate is intact and there’s a good amount of cap room to make some additions. Assuming RG3 bounces back in 2014, the Redskins should once again make this a very competitive division.