Wednesday, May 31 2023

For most of last season, the Philadelphia Eagles threatened to run away with the best division in the NFL. And if Jalen Hurts hadn’t gotten hurt and missed two of their final three games, that’s exactly what they might have done.

Right now, though, the Eagles look a little more vulnerable. They have lost seven starters out of their lineup already this offseason, plus their coordinators on both sides of the ball. They’re still dangerous, no doubt. But they certainly seem ready to take at least a little step backward in 2023.

But will that even matter? Has anyone in the NFC East actually closed the gap?

The answer to that is: Maybe … at least a little. But as good as the division was overall last season, only one other team has positioned itself this offseason to really make a run at the division title. And if Dak Prescott can stay healthy and cut down on his interceptions next season, the Cowboys just might give the Eagles all they can handle.

The Giants and Commanders? They might be better. But they’re just not there yet.

The Cowboys, obviously, were close last season, going 12-5 and coming within an overtime loss in Jacksonville in Week 15 of really making the division race interesting over the final couple of weeks. And now, they are inarguably better after addressing their two biggest needs — a No. 2 receiver and a No. 2 cornerback — with bold offseason trades.

The Cowboys got receiver CeeDee Lamb the support he so desperately needed by sending fifth- and sixth-round draft picks to Houston for the speedy Brandin Cooks. And they boosted their secondary by sending a fifth-round pick to Indianapolis for five-time Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore. Lamb, Cooks and a healthy Michael Gallup could be a really dangerous receiving corps. And with Gilmore, Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland, the Cowboys now have as good and as deep a cornerbacks corps as any team in the league.


They do have issues, just like everybody else in the division. They have to hope that Jake Ferguson or Peyton Hendershot can step up now that tight end Dalton Schultz is in Houston. And they need running back Tony Pollard to be fully recovered from his broken leg and the torn ligaments in his ankle so he can carry an even bigger load now that Ezekiel Elliott is gone.

But if Cooks gives the Dallas offense the expected boost and helps Prescott cut down on his NFL-worst 15 interceptions, and if Gilmore can help out a defense that already had one of the best pass rushes in the league, the Cowboys are at the very least a 12-win team again. Maybe more. And maybe that will be enough.

Cowboys’ offseason grade after Gilmore, Cooks moves?

America’s Team has had a busy offseason. Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Ric Bucher and T.J. Houshmandzadeh grade the Cowboys’ moves.

It certainly makes them closer to Philadelphia than the Giants and Commanders are, even though both of them improved in their own way, too. The Giants in particular have made some really significant additions, considering how their passing attack stumbled behind one of the worst receiving corps in the league. This offseason they have made sure that Daniel Jones, their $160 million quarterback, will have better weapons in 2023, signing Parris Campbell and Jamison Crowder and trading for tight end Darren Waller.

But as much as that’s better than what the Giants had last year, that’s still, easily, the fourth-best group of pass-catching weapons in the four-team division. Their numbers will improve, no doubt, especially if Jones is really what the Giants think he is. And maybe they’ll help him out more by adding a No. 1 receiver in the draft. But right now, as their roster stands, they’re only marginally better than they were a year ago. That makes them still a .500 team, give or take a game either way.

That’s probably still better than the Commanders, who probably have more offensive talent but have the most questionable quarterback situation in the league. Never mind that they re-signed defensive tackle Daron Payne and rebuilt their offensive line in free agency. Everything for Washington hinges on the development of quarterback Sam Howell, who has made exactly one NFL start.

It’s hard to imagine him leading a run at a division title in just his second year in the league.

Which brings the NFC East back to exactly where it was last year, with the Eagles and the Cowboys leading the way. Last season it took an injury to Hurts to really make the race close at all. There was no doubt that the Eagles were the division’s best team.

They might be the division’s best team again this season. But the improved Cowboys should at least be able to make sure they don’t run away with it.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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