One of the ominous signs for the Cowboys coming into this season is that the other three teams in the NFC East appear to have improved, while the Cowboys have only managed to stay still at best.
Aside from the Keith Brooking signing, the 2009 edition of the Cowboys is going to look an awful lot like the 2008 edition. The only difference is that the team jettisoned three big name players in a case of supposed addition by subtraction: TO (who dropped balls and was selfish), Tank Williams (who was never the big gun his rap sheet suggested) and Roy Williams (who let more people pass by him than an usher at an Arcade Fire concert).
There is no big first or second round pick coming into camp. And ol’ Wade is still bumbling around as coach. That’s not an encouraging sign, given the prolific offseasons of the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins. You might even say they all made a flurry of moves. Football moves always come in flurry form. Here’s a quick glimpse at how those three teams will look in 2009.
Giants (12-4 in 2008): What did they lose? The biggest loss the Giants experienced this offseason is the same loss they suffered through in the middle of last season. Wide receiver and noted pants marksman Plaxico Burress was officially released by the team in April. We all saw how badly Eli Manning struggled from that point on. It’s hard to calculate the importance to the Giants of having a wideout that can catch passes that are routinely overthrown by a solid 15 feet. Also gone from the 2009 Giants are 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Ward and cornerback Sam Madison. Acclaimed defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is now the head coach of the Rams.
What did they gain? Plenty. The Giants elected to try and fill Burress’ void via saturation bombing in the draft, using picks on Hakeem Nicks in Round 1 and Ramses “The Pharaoh” Barden in Round 3. They also bolstered an already impressive front seven by nicking Chris Canty from Big D, and signing tackle Rocky Bernard. They drafted RB Andre Brown to serve as backup to Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Are they better? You could argue that the Giants’ prospects hinge on whether or not Nicks and Barden can fill the same kind of role that Burress did for the team. But everyone, including the Giants, knows it’s not that easy to simply replace Burress, particularly with rookies. That’s why they moved to improve an already excellent front seven with Bernard and Canty. And Osi Umenyiora is back as well. It all adds up to one very unpleasant defense to face, regardless of Eli’s wild pitch count.
Eagles (9-6-1 in 2008):
What did they lose? The biggest loss for the Eagles occurred just last week when defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died from skin cancer. Johnson had a tremendous knack for making Pro Bowlers out of average players. That skill helped allow the Eagles, through the years, to let any number of notable players walk right off the roster, as they did with Brian Dawkins this spring. But if new coordinator Sean McDermott lacks Johnson’s flawless touch, the Eagles may soon lose the ability to plug any warm body into their system and keep on moving. Also, Correll Buckhalter and LJ Smith are gone, so you can’t count on them being injured anymore. Pity.
What did they gain? For a team always perceived as lacking in playmakers, the Eagles moved aggressively in the draft to take WR Jeremy Maclin (a top 10 value to many) and RB LeSean McCoy. Cornerback Ellis Hobbs comes in from the Pats. And tackle Jason Peters arrives via a trade from Buffalo to shore up the offensive line. Lines are always being shored up.
Are they better? Yes. If Donovan McNabb avoids his usual Week 8 knee injury/hernia/tiger mauling/fight with a NAACP director, it’s possible the Eagles will field the best offense in the NFC.
Redskins (8-8 in 2008):
What did they lose? Ancient cornerback Shawn Springs, linebacker Marcus Washington, and Jon “Thumbs” Jansen.
What did they gain? $100 million worth of head-stomping nuttiness in Albert Haynesworth. Yes, Haynesworth has a well-known reputation for loafing, and anyone that signs a big contract with Dan Snyder is guaranteed to go into career freefall. All that said, when Haynesworth is on, the man is ON. Tennessee’s defense was absolutely nasty last year, and Haynesworth’s ability to stop the run like Pat Williams and rush the passer like a young Warren Sapp was the main reason why. Derrick Dockery is back to plug the guard spot. And the team gave DeAngelo Hall $22.5 million in guaranteed money. Because sometimes, the Redskins just have to be the Redskins.
Are they better? Yes. Unless Haynesworth discovers Five Guys, then it’s all ruined. So that’s what the Cowboys are up against this coming season. A better Giants defense. A better Philly offense. Haynesworth. Make it out of this division alive, and you really are playoff tested.