Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (45) against the New England Patriots during the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Free Agency NFC East Grades

There were a slew of big signings in the NFC East, but nobody went harder than the New York Giants, which is a break from their usual M.O. After last season’s debacle, the Giants look like a much better team with a vastly upgraded secondary and offensive line. With a strong draft from Reese, the Giants could be the best team in the vision, but I’m a bit wary about putting them over the Philadelphia Eagles following my prediction last season (I had the Giants winning the NFC East last year).

It’s time to grade the Giants and the other teams in the division based on what they did so far during the free-agent period.

Philadelphia Eagles A-

It was a strong offseason for the Philadelphia Eagles, as Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly were able to keep their No. 2 and 3 receivers (all the more important given the trade rumors surrounding DeSean Jackson, as the ability to re-sign both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper helped make D-Jax expendable) and make upgrades to the secondary. There have been better offseason, but the Eagles did a nice job of keeping key players and adding solid pieces without overpaying.

Well, they did overpay for one player, and I wasn’t a fan of the Malcolm Jenkins deal at all. I haven’t seen him play at an above-average level in a couple of years, and he was terrible last season at free safety. He may be a converted corner, but I think he misses too many tackles and just isn’t consistent enough in coverage. That said, the Eagles didn’t want to pony up for Jairus Byrd, they desperately needed an upgrade at safety of any sort, and they have the ability to make Jenkins a plus player in their scheme.

Adding Darren Sproles was also a solid move, but what pushes the Eagles grade from a “B” to an “A” were the other moves they made. They recognized that they screwed up badly by signing Patrick Chung to a significant deal last offseason, so they cut him, kept the talented-enough Nate Allen, and had Jenkins in tote. The Eagles also locked up star offensive linemen to keep the league’s best offensive line secure financially.

Dallas Cowboys C

It was actually an average offseason for Jerry Jones and the ‘Boys, but that’s because signing defensive tackle Henry Melton was a huge saving grace for them. ACL tear early last season or not, I’m still amazed at how the Cowboys were able to sign him to such a favorable deal, especially given their cap conundrum and mediocrity last season (they only competed for a playoff spot due to the sad state of the NFC East). Melton chose the Cowboys over significant interest from the Seattle Seahawks and some interest from the Minnesota Vikings, and he is an even better player than departed DT Jason Hatcher (more on him later).

Terrell McClain and Brandon Weeden are two terrible players, so the Cowboys will hope they can be serviceable backups and improve in 2014. Jeremy Mincey is a nice situational pass rusher as a No. 3 DE, as he can put pressure on the quarterback on a relatively consistent basis. At the same time, the Cowboys should have been able to keep Anthony Spencer, because he is still a very talented player despite the fact that he may never be the same after needing microfracture surgery. It would have been better to sign him to a cheap, no-risk deal instead of only bringing in Mincey to replace him and DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys restructured some more contracts before the Ware release in order to free up cap, but that short-term navigation only helps them now; they need to make fiscally responsible decisions in the future (I feel like a broken record when it comes to talking about the Cowboys).

New York Giants A

It was an incredibly aggressive offseason for the New York Giants, and they signed some of the best free agents in the open market in Geoff Schwartz, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Walter Thurmond. While the Thurmond signing was a steal in every sense, the DRC deal is a gamble. It could pay huge dividends for the Giants and give them a true No. 1 corner over the next several years, but the worry is that he won’t respond well to a five-year deal. That worry led several teams to balk at his asking price, but the Giants did an excellent job of minimizing the risk of him busting out. If you look at the contract, he’s barely going to get paid anything in 2014, and his deal is severely backloaded. Hopefully his big-time play in 2013 and ability to appear in a Super Bowl cause him to be motivated as a shutdown corner in the coming years, but his initially vague comments during media days regarding a potential retirement raised some eyebrows.

Mario Manningham, Henry Hynoski, Stevie Brown, Trumaine McBride, and Rashad Jennings were five other solid moves, and the only deal that I didn’t like was the signing of John Jerry, who is a mediocre player and was part of the issues in Miami. It wasn’t an awful deal by any means, though, and the Giants really do need interior offensive line help. They made some big upgrades on the OL and in the defensive backfield, and it would be criminal not to give the Giants an “A” due to a slew of solid signings. But they also need to have a strong draft (add another WR) in order to make themselves the noticeable favorite to win the division.

Washington Redskins D-

I was incredibly disappointed with the offseason Bruce Allen and the Washington Redskins put together, and they were much worse than the Dallas Cowboys despite stealing away one of their rival’s best free agents. Jason Hatcher had a terrific 2013 season going after the quarterback, but the Redskins are paying a whole lot of money to somebody who might not be a true 3-4 DE and might never meet last year’s production. That said, he and Andre Roberts were still decent signings, and I loved Allen’s decision to keep both Brian Orakpo and Perry Riley around.

That said, how can the Redskins justify that awful Shawn Lauvao signing? Why on earth would they release Will Montgomery, who is a very solid interior lineman, in order to save just a few million, while being willing to sign a well below-average starting guard to a bigger deal? They came into the offseason with massive (that can’t be understated) holes in the secondary, and they simply didn’t do enough to address them. Re-signing DeAngelo Hall was OK even if he was too expensive, but I have no idea why they thought Tracy Porter was an adequate upgrade. He’s not, and he’s making a bit too much money as well. Re-signing Brandon Meriweather was their big move at safety, and that should embarrass Allen.

Oh well, at least the Redskins should have really good linebackers next year with Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan, and Adam Hayward to add to Orakpo, Riley, and Kerrigan.

Tags: Dallas Cowboys New York Giants Notes And Analysis Philadelphia Eagles Washington Redskins

  • SmartThinking

    Whoever the Denver #45 player is in the photo for this story, he needs a shave!

  • Jack Farguson

    I think I give Dallas a Better Grade Three years of middle of the league play, and In my opinion its on the defense. Dallas’s offense scored an average of 27 points per game in 2013, and around 24 the two seasons prior. Changes were needed, and I think some more might be needed in the backfield. I know our 50 million dollar man didn’t look worth 50 cents last year especially against big receivers. Of course Newman was having the same problem. Our DB’s need to be fighting harder for the ball, instead of letting them catch and tackle. Get that arm in there!!!!

    • Ryan

      No you can’t justify getting rid of a hall of fame player. Your right they need an entire secondary. But if you really didn’t want ware trade him and at least get something for him there were plenty of teams ready to pony up big dollars for him. Even if it was a 5th round pick at least you got something and you don’t take the cap hit. If anything the boys should have got a worse grade.

      • Jack Farguson

        I’ve seen this discussion on other blogs, and the point was made that Ware’s contract number and cap hit were too high to get any takers in trade talks. Denver paid more but they didn’t absorb any extra cap hit nor did they give up any picks.

      • David

        You cant justify getting rid of a HOF player??? Dallas is saving 25 million this year and next to get rid of a player who over the last three years was injury plagued. He had 6 sacks last year and did not adapt to playing a 4-3 DE very well..Give me a break already.

        • Ryan

          Give you a break. Ok I will enjoy your boys being 8- 8 again. If not worse not saying ware was worth the cap hit but they replaced him with nothing so I still feel that it was a bad move. They can go ahead and reach for a pass rusher in the first round or give up other picks to get clowney but it still would have been better to keep ware for one more year.

          • David

            Wow so they have to replace his 7 sacks. No you are right he is worth the 13 million this year. He did so well as a 4-3 end last year.

        • Ryan

          O and they wrote the contract he just signed it. That is piss poor planning by your gm to not be able to keep him. No excuse

    • Ryan

      Yes but this was on this off season and this off season they got rid of great players and gained good ones. Their Play over the past three years has no barring on this off season

      • Jack Farguson

        The last season that great player was far less than good. Hatcher was a one hit wonder when he wanted a raise, much like spencer. Melton had more sacks in his last good year, with 13 to Hatchers, and Spencer’s 11. We all have to agree something needed to change. Hopefully the draft will be good to Dallas!

  • Ryan

    I’m an eagles fan and I still don’t get how the boys get a better grade than the skins. They should be the same at d+. Maybe give the skins a c-

  • David

    Ok another guy who has his heap up his arse. Yeah the iggles keeping all of their FA’s is so good. Yet they are trying to unload Jackson. And keeping an OK safety yes thats a huge move. And I love how this genius who wrote this article claims Hatcher might not be a true 3-4 DE. Thats where he played his entire career until last year genius and was pretty good there. Where do these guys come from..

    • Joe Soriano

      Wait, how does trying to trade Jackson have anything to do with the Eagles offseason being poor? Better yet, how does it make their re-signings of Cooper and Maclin look bad in any way?

      I didn’t call keeping Allen a huge move, and it’s not a huge move at all…it’s a decent, small move. By “true” I meant “best fit”, and Hatcher broke out as a 4-3 DT last year. Then again, he was really good in 2012, so maybe I am underestimating his ability to be a very good 3-4 DE. Even so, I’m not sure the Redskins should have spent so much for him, because they have much bigger issues in the defensive backfield. I should have been more clear that I meant “best-fit” when I said “true”, instead of insinuating that he can’t play as a 3-4 DE.

      • David

        Well your big claim was the iggles keeping their own guys. Well they just let their biggest offenisve weapon aside from Shady go. And really good in 2012 for Hatcher might be a bit of a stretch. He was good but nothing spectacular. Hatcher played a 3-4 DE his entire career except for last year, a contract year. Like I said as a 3-4 DE he was average to good most of his career. And you think the iggles are still an A with just keeping Cooper and an often injured Maclin. Come on now..

        • Joe Soriano

          I probably did grade them a tad too high (maybe a “B+” would have been more appropriate), but I usually curve my grades higher for above-average free agencies. In my view, the important thing isn’t looking at the grade as an exact letter, but rather a rough estimate of how well the Eagles did. And honestly, I think they did a very nice job of locking up their OLs, keeping good weapons around Foles, and then upgrading the secondary. They still need to draft a DB or edge rusher and the D-Jax release could backfire, but I thought they did a very nice job. One thing that stands out to me is that they didn’t overpay anyone, though their one subpar contract was the Malcolm Jenkins one. It’s tough to grade the Jackson release, because that’s really one we have to revisit after the 2014 season.

          I always appreciate commenters keeping me honest and view all criticism as constructive. For the Redskins sake, let’s hope that Hatcher can pick up where he left off last year.

          Since you’re a Cowboys fan, how would you grade their offseason?

          • David

            Joe I honestly look at their offseason in two ways. What they have done for the future of the team and what they have done now. I will start off with the grade of what I think they have done with the future of the team. In this case I would give them an A. The best teams in the NFL usually have the philosophy of not paying age and knowing when to let their high priced players go. They have been a cap mess for years because of this. Dallas has never figured that out until this year. By letting the recently often injured and declining production Ware go they are saving like 25 million over this year and next. By letting Hatcher go, they are not giving a huge contract to a one year wonder player past the age of 30. I hope you see where I think these are huge steps for the future.
            In the FA additions part I would give them a C+. They had very little to work with and many needs obviously. The Melton signing is the key to their grade. He was one of the best DL before this last year and hurt his knee. He fills the ever so important 3 tech that drives the front four in Marinelli’s version of the Tampa 2 which is now more of a cover 3 with a single high safety. They also signed some role players in McClain and Mincey. I know these are not big names but Marinelli has already said he is going to use an 8 or 9 man rotation with the D-line. They will also have Crawford and Bass coming back from injjury to add to the mix. Now if Marinelli can get bell hops and bus boys to play like they did last year I would really love to see what he can do with some of the legit talent on the roster. Let me know what you think of my grades.

          • Joe Soriano

            Hey, I completely agree with your analysis of the Hatcher and Ware moves, because it’s been beyond frustrating to see them spend too much money on a select few players instead of building a deep roster. They would allocate too many funds to top players, and you really have to be willing to make tough cuts in order to run a successful franchise. I mean, just look at the sort of big-name players the Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens are willing to let go of in order to save money. Ware was a fixture on the Cowboys, but he simply wasn’t worth that kind of money, especially since the Cowboys aren’t SB contenders with copious cap space like the Broncos.

            As for Hatcher, he’s a very good player but also wasn’t worth that money given the Cowboys cap situation. I think it was a huge steal for them to land Henry Melton on that cheap of a deal, especially since I consider Melton to be the better player. I mean, the only bad thing about Melton is that he’s coming off of an ACL tear, and those are getting very easy to recover from these days.

            I’m not a fan of McClain at all after watching him get blown up in the running game frequently as a rookie in Carolina, but he has some ability as a fast-twitch interior pass rusher. Jeremy Mincey is a guy I’ve always liked, and he was a quality signing for the team. He’s ideally a somewhat frequently used rotation guy as a No. 3 DE, but he is an above-average starter if he’s motivated.

            I think those are solid, completely fair grades, David.

          • David

            I understand where you are coming from on McClain. However I really believe he was playing out of position in both 3-4 defenses he played in. And if its true Marinelli has wanted him for a couple of years then he must have something. If him and Hayden can be solid 1 tech’s then thats a homerun for them.