By Oliver Vaughn
August 16th, 2023
The 2022 NFL season marked a significant milestone for the league and the NFC East. For the first time since 1987, and first-time ever since divisions realigned to four teams, three teams from the same division (Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants) all qualified for the Divisional Round of the playoffs. There’s also reason to believe the NFC East will be even better in 2023 as the Washington Commanders seeks to improve, and the three playoff teams all made moves to try and take their franchises to the next level.
A lot of unanswered questions, however, still surround each team as the season prepares to get underway. Can the Philadelphia Eagles become the first NFC East team since 2004 to win back-to-back NFC East crowns, or have the Giants, Cowboys, and Commanders done enough to supplant them atop the division? This article will delve deeper into the biggest questions surrounding each NFC East team heading into Week 1 of the NFL season.
Before the season starts, will Howie Roseman acquire a linebacker or safety?
The loss of linebacker TJ Edwards and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave has been felt in the preseason. While first-round pick Jalen Carter is poised to fill Hargrave’s shoes just fine, the Eagles still face questions at linebacker as well as in the secondary, which was evidenced in the Super Bowl. While Nakobe Dean is set to take one of the linebacker spots and Terrell Edmunds and Reed Blankenship are poised to start as safeties, there's room for more talent.
As a general manager known for his strategic maneuvers, Roseman has made an impressive 17 trades during training camps or the start of the regular season since reassuming his position in 2016. So, if he perceives the need for an upgrade in these positions, seeing him spring into action wouldn't be surprising. As training camp battles unfold and new additions like Nolan Smith fight for a starting role, the potential for new additions to the team is certainly an exciting prospect to watch.
Is there a potential return for Ezekiel Elliott to support Tony Pollard?
Letting Elliott go was not a popular decision amongst the Cowboys fan base, with many believing the move was premature. With Pollard set to play on the franchise tag this year, it's clear he's the top dog in Dallas. However, he’s coming off a torn fibula, and despite claims that he feels better than ever, it’s not an easy injury to bounce back from. That means the Cowboys need a strong No. 2 option, and thus far, they are still looking for someone to step up.
That someone might be sixth-round pick, Deuce Vaughn. Despite his 5’5”, 176-pound frame, Vaughn, whose drawn comparisons to another undersized Kansas State back, Darren Sproles, has impressed in training camp and the team’s first preseason game. However, his size is still a concern. While Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, and KaVontae Turpin are also fighting for the No. 2 spot, no one has stepped up enough to impress head coach Mike McCarthy. That has led to questions of whether the team should bring Elliott back, who is still seeking a team to play for.
The team can't ignore Elliott’s past work for the club, even if his performance declined last year, as he ranked lowest in yards per carry, tackles evaded, and the proportion of his rushes that gained 10 or more yards. If Elliott can rebound from his lackluster performance, he could provide good support for Pollard, even though it would be considered a gamble.
New York Giants
Will the Giants resolve contractual issues with Saquon Barkley?
The Giants don’t need distractions, but the Barkley saga, unfortunately, has been the story of the offseason. Barkley’s future with the Giants remains uncertain as the franchise and star running back were unable to reach a long-term deal in the offseason. The core of their disagreement reportedly lies in the annual salary, with a $2 million gap and some $22 million in guarantees.
Barkley did sign a one-year deal worth $11 million just before the preseason, giving the Giants the option to franchise tag him in 2024, but it’s still not a long-term solution. Barkley may have to go through this procedure again next year, something he would rather not experience. If the Giants’ season doesn’t materialize, the Giants and Barkley could agree to part ways, allowing the team to trade him to a contender. The Giants hope, however, it doesn’t come to that. With Daniel Jones signing a long-term deal and the additions of tight end Darren Waller and rookie wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, the team has aspirations of following up their comeback season and winning an NFC Championship in 2023.
Is Sam Howell Finally the Answer at Quarterback?
If you listen to the training camp reports, then the Commanders believe they have solved their quarterback woes which have been a problem since the turn of the century. Since 2000, just twice has a Washington quarterback been selected to the Pro Bowl (Robert Griffin III 2012, Kirk Cousins 2016). The last several years have been spent trying to groom players like Taylor Heinicke and Dwayne Haskins while hoping they could revive the careers of Alex Smith, Carson Wentz, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Nothing has worked, and as a result, their NFL odds have plummeted.
Howell is a bit of a mystery. Selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, most expected him to be a career clipboard holder. However, after the Wentz and Heinicke experiments failed, the Commanders turned to Howell and seemingly found something. He showed promise in the team’s Week 18 game last year and has had an exceptional training camp and preseason thus far. Still, while everyone has said the right things regarding his maturation and starting ability, Commanders fans know all too well that seeing is believing when it comes to the quarterback position.
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