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With the offseason now in view for the majority of NFL teams, it’s time to spin forward. While all 32 clubs will spend the next few months searching for every possible way to upgrade their rosters, each team has one major question front and center in their mind. Here, we’ll explore the most pressing question each NFC East team must answer before the 2019 NFL season begins, and how it pertains to fantasy.
New York Giants
Pressing question to answer: “What the hell are we going to do at quarterback?”
The Giants doomed themselves to this fate when they engaged in an organization-wide conspiracy to turn the 2018 season into an apology tour for long-time quarterback Eli Manning after his benching at the hands of Ben McAdoo ended his starting-streak in 2017.
New York formed a general manager search firm led by former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi that eventually landed on his former employee Dave Gettleman — just as he had five years prior when he helped the Carolina Panthers “find” Gettleman. The old-school GM concluded that Manning still had years left and everyone else added to the staff afterward fell in line.
The team passed on Sam Darnold among other quarterbacks at the second overall pick. They entertained no trade offers and took running back Saquon Barkley.
Barkley was legitimately phenomenal as a rookie but, as is often the case with his position, did little to move the needle for the team overall. New York stumbled to a 5-11 record and Manning was barely average, ranking 20th with a 7.3 adjusted yards per attempt. New York now heads into the offseason with no hope for a future at the most important position in the sport with a starter who has proven time and time again he can no longer elevate those around him.
Eli Manning carries the highest projected cap figure ($23.2 Million) on the roster. If the team carries him into 2019 at that number they’re utterly delusional. New York can save $17 million by outright cutting the longtime veteran. At the very least, they have to explore a pay cut.
Should he decline, who cares? Give him the hero’s press conference, wish him well and let him explore other options. It doesn’t have to be so hard. Then the team can explore a replacement-level bridge quarterback at a cheaper cost in free agency.
No matter if Manning is back at a cheaper salary or the team picks up a Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor-type in free agency, the Giants desperately need to draft their future at the position in April. New York picks sixth in the upcoming draft, behind a gaggle of teams who already believe they have their answer behind center. In an uninspiring quarterback class, the Giants have a chance to right their wrongs of last year and control the market at the game’s most consequential position. A fresh face at quarterback would breathe new life into the stock of skill position players we all know and love on this roster.
Pressing question to answer: “Are we banged at the quarterback position?”
Rather quietly, Washington may well have the worst quarterback situation in the league. Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury in Week 11 that could keep him out of the 2019 season, if not longer. Smith wasn’t performing at a starting level when he was playing but Washington is stuck with his contract almost no matter what (at least until 2021). A horribly unfortunate situation for the player also puts the team in an impossible spot.
Smith’s bloated $20-plus million cap hit will limit their options in free agency. Washington has the eight-fewest cap space heading into 2019 and aren’t flush in obvious saving cuts. The team will have a tough time getting into the Nick Foles sweepstakes. Even someone like Joe Flacco may be priced out of their range.
Washington holds the 15th pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. This year’s quarterback class is not well-thought of at the top, as it stands today. The odds would be against Washington getting starting-caliber play from a rookie in 2019. You can’t get around it: Washington finds itself staring down a painfully difficult path.
It’s bleak. Carrying a massive hole behind center without the resources needed to chase a Foles-type, Washington will likely settle for a second or third-tier free agent add. Teddy Bridgewater’s market could be depressed after just a middling Week 17 performance. Veteran options like Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick have likely burned out their clear starting chances but could serve as possible stopgap options on a modest one or two-year deal. Also, Robert Griffin III is available.
Expect Washington to select a rookie passer at some point in the 2019 NFL Draft. A franchise desperately in need of some juice on and off the field, they should strongly consider Kyler Murray at the 15th pick if the Heisman winner’s height pushes him down draft boards. If Washington doesn’t have a firm answer behind center, their offense may be a clear “avoid” in 2019 fantasy football.
Pressing question to answer: “How much can we chalk up to injury?”
All things considered, the Eagles 2018 postseason run was wildly impressive given how many injuries the team sustained along the way. Philadelphia found its way to the postseason despite layers of injuries at key spots on the roster.
Waves on waves of injuries took out the multiple top corners, starting running back, vertical threat receiver, exciting second-year pass rusher and starting free safety. All the while, their star young quarterback was coming back from a late 2017 season torn ACL and sustained a back injury to close 2018.
It was clear by mid-season the Eagles were playing with one hand tied behind their back. Which makes their run to the divisional round of the playoffs all the more impressive. Spinning forward, the Eagles brass must decide which lacking areas from 2018 will naturally improve with injured players presumably returning healthy. The secondary already needed another steady body in the cornerback corps heading into this past season and with Ronald Darby hitting free agency, they can’t sit tight there.
The backfield lost Jay Ajayi in 2018 and he’s set to hit the open market in March. His replacements were streaky, at best, so expect some movement there. While the pass rush will welcome back Derek Barnett, it’s set to lose Brandon Graham in free agency. Mike Wallace never got to make an impact with the Eagles, as his season ended after just 73 snaps. He’s unlikely to return in 2019 but the team desperately needs a vertical presence in their offense.
While the Eagles currently have the least amount of cap space in the league headed into 2019, they’ll get some relief when Nick Foles’ contract comes off the books. They can also create some room by shedding some offensive line salaries, although that will only cause another roster hole.
At least offensively, expect some movement in the backfield and in the wide receiver corps. It became all too apparent around midseason that the Eagles scoring unit was far too bland and lacked a big play element. Philadelphia ranked 24th in explosive run play rate and 15th in passing.
The Eagles currently carry three picks in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft and seven picks in total. While they have needs at more consequential positions, we could see Philadelphia chase more offensive explosion in the draft. The class is expected to be deep at wide receiver and comes with some intriguing running backs. We want to invest in the Eagles offense and having it fortified at the fringes with more big-play threats would only increase the outlook of all players involved.
Pressing question to answer: “How will we navigate a salary cap that’s about to look much different?”
The Dallas Cowboys currently have the 10th most cap space in the NFL. While that looks nice on paper and isn’t a luxury Dallas has enjoyed in recent years, it’s a bit misleading.
The team will likely slap the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence for the second year in a row to buy time to negotiate a new deal. Lawrence has already said he won’t play 2019 on the tag but his deal will take up a chunk of their $54.7 million in cap space either way.
The offense is also in line for some reworking. Amari Cooper will head into his fifth-year option season with a $13 million cap charge. Dallas may actually bring that number down slightly in the first year of a long-term extension but he’ll expect to noticeably clear the $16 million per year in average salary that Sammy Watkins got last offseason. Watkins’ cap hit checked in at $7.8 million in 2018 but balloons over $19 million this year.
Dak Prescott also heads into the final year of his incredibly affordable rookie deal. Think what you want of Prescott, but the team brass seems all the way behind him. Like it or not, he’s getting a starting quarterback extension. The only question is whether the Cowboys give him top tier quarterback money or tries to sell him on something different. Looking at the quarterback market, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t clear $20 million per year.
As if those three contracts don’t already change the complexion of the roster enough, defensive cornerstones like Byron Jones and Jaylon Smith will head into the last years of their deals with a combined $7.6 million charge. It’ll be a chore for Dallas to get those done this offseason but if they do, it will only squeeze the cap even harder and further change how the team will look to fortify their roster.
Dallas has had a solid streak of hitting on their draft picks and it will need to keep that up in 2019. The Cowboys do not have a first-round selection after the Amari Cooper trade but own one selection in every other round. Expect the team to sink a few of those picks into the defensive line and secondary. While perimeter pass coverage was a huge strength with Jones playing at a high level, their middle of the field was vulnerable on occasion throughout 2018.
Offensively, the team will have to count on progress from young players already on the roster or contributions from a cheap free agent or two. If Michael Gallup takes the next step, their receiver corps may actually be more than fine with him as a strong No. 2 across from Amari Cooper. Gallup flashed more than enough ability as a rookie to get excited about him and was downright excellent in Dallas’ playoff loss. With the team soon to be hamstrung by hefty contracts on both sides of the ball, Gallup is the perfect player to highlight as an option to fill in the gaps for this well-rounded team.