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NFL off-season previews: D-Day for Dak Prescott, perplexing Detroit

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Roar Guru
22nd February, 2021
6

My thoughts on all 32 NFL franchises ahead of the chaotic 2021 off-season turns to the NFC today, beginning with the always entertaining NFC East and North divisions.

NFC East

Dallas
Big question: do they get a deal done with Dak Prescott?

What has taken the Cowboys so long to sign Dak long-term?

Prescott played season 2020 on the franchise tag, before suffering a horrific ankle injury that wiped out his season. Subsequently, the injury forced the Cowboys to come to the realisation that they’re a god awful football team without him.

Despite the defensive issues and awful injury luck to the offensive line, there’s no way the Cowboys are beaten to the divisional title by a seven-win Washington team with a healthy Dak Prescott for 16 games.

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A second franchise tag for Prescott would cost the Boys $37.6 million (A$48 million) in cap space, which probably isn’t that far from what he’ll get should he sign a long-term deal, either with Dallas or elsewhere.

Dallas has a strange history with how they treat their quarterbacks. It could be about to get a whole lot stranger.

New York Giants
Big question: what’s the offseason priority? Offence or defence?

Here’s where the Giants need help, in no particular order: offensive line, receiver, everywhere on defence.

That might be a bit rough on a defence that had its moments in 2020 and found a couple of big pieces in free agency in linebacker Blake Martinez (third in the league for total tackles with 151) and cornerback James Bradberry (who ranked fourth in forced incompletion rate among cornerbacks, per Pro Football Focus).

But while the Giants 12th-ranked defence could still do with some talent infusion, it’s Big Blue’s offence that is crying out for help.

New York’s offence finished 31st in total offence and points per game (17.5), while producing the second-fewest explosive plays.

Daniel Jones NFL

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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That might change with the return of star running back Saquon Barkley from an ACL tear, but there’s still plenty of work ahead for coach Joe Judge to get the Giants back to the top of the NFC East.

Philadelphia
Big question: how quickly can they put a disastrous 2020 behind them?

Never in their wildest nightmares could Philadelphia have imagined what would transpire this past season.

A team with genuine Super Bowl aspirations coming into the season saw its franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, regress out of sight and injuries ravage multiple position groups, ultimately leading to a disappointing record of 4-11-1 and the dismissing of both head coach Doug Pederson and the beleaguered quarterback.

In comes new head coach Nick Sirianni and a pair of new coordinators to try to fix an Eagles team that finished with the 24th-ranked total offence, 19th-ranked defence and close to the worst turnover differential in the league in 2020 (-10, ranked 29th).

Last year’s second-round pick Jalen Hurts looks set to take the reins, and while Hurts looked like a clear upgrade over Wentz after taking over halfway through the season, the jury is still out on whether or not he’s a viable long-term solution at quarterback.

Washington
Big question: what does the offence look like in 2021?

The Football Team have the best defence in the division by a considerable margin, but there are questions galore on the other side of the ball.

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There are persistent issues at quarterback, where Washington saw four players start at the position in 2020, including the incredible comeback from Alex Smith after a horror leg injury suffered in 2018.

There are also issues at skill positions outside of star young receiver Terry McLaurin, surprise rookie running back Antonio Gibson and breakout tight end Logan Thomas.

Washington’s offence has been in the bottom quarter of the league for the past three seasons, last finishing as a top-10 unit in 2016 with Kirk Cousins under centre.

It’s still unknown if Alex Smith returns for another season, but even if he does, there’s still plenty of work to do on offence for a team with a defence ready to contend.

NFC North

Chicago
Big question: who’s the 2021 quarterback throwing to?

Let’s steer clear of the obvious for those with quarterback fatigue. Though Chicago is another team considering its options at the position, they have just as big a concern at receiver.

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Allen Robinson, who led the team with 102 receptions for 1250 yards and six touchdowns, is an impending free agent. Rookie gem Darnell Mooney was next-best with 61 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns.

Third was running back David Montgomery, fourth was Jimmy Graham (a 34-year-old tight end) and fifth was Anthony Miller (49 receptions for 485 yards and a pair of touchdowns).

It’s safe to say that, should Robinson leave in free agency as many expect, the Bears receiving group could be in a lot of trouble.

Teams that wish to tag their receivers this offseason will be on the hook for an estimated $15.808 million (A$20 million) (per Pro Football Focus). Whoever plays quarterback next season for the Bears would appreciate them writing that cheque.

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Detroit
Big question: what are they doing?

There’s been a concerted effort to avoid using pronouns in this piece, but that stops now. I don’t get what this team is doing.

Trading away quarterback Matthew Stafford for an inferior quarterback in Jared Goff, while in turn receiving compensation they won’t reap immediately with a roster that has needs everywhere (now including quarterback).

The Lions got a third-round pick in the upcoming draft as well as 2022 and 2023 first-round picks in exchange for Stafford in what was a truly bizarre trade from Detroit’s point of view.

Maybe they really do think Jared Goff is an upgrade over Stafford, or perhaps they’re planning on trading up (using acquired first-round picks as well as Goff) to get their guy.

The Detroit Lions, ladies and gentlemen.

Green Bay
Big question: how do they take that next step?

In the NFL, it’s tough to get out of the cellar and into playoff contention. It’s even more difficult to take the next step into Super Bowl contention.

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The Green Bay Packers know this all too well after back-to-back gut-wrenching NFC championship game losses.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Behind a career year from eventual MVP winner Aaron Rodgers, the Packers finished with the number one scoring offence (31.8 points per game), ninth-best scoring defence (23.1 points per game), the league’s fewest giveaways (11), tenth in sacks (41) and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in Aaron Rodgers’ career. And that still wasn’t enough.

General manager Brian Gutekunst was lambasted after the 2020 draft for not acquiring more immediate help for the franchise’s star quarterback. Surely that won’t happen again in the upcoming draft.

There seems to be a missing piece here, but what is it?

Minnesota
Big question: is this a rebuild?

There’s a couple of teams in the NFC that would be better off tearing everything down and starting again, and the Vikings are one of them.

In fairness, Minnesota actually had a great season offensively in 2020, finishing with the fourth-best offence in the league, while averaging 26 points per game (11th).

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Most of that was thanks to stud running back Dalvin Cook, who finished second in the league in rushing with 1557 yards, and rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who hauled in 88 receptions for 1400 yards (fourth-best).

The defence, which finished the season ranked 27th, and the offensive line, which graded out as the 28th pass-blocking unit in the NFL (per Pro Football Focus), continue to be sore spots for the franchise.

While quarterback Kirk Cousins finished top ten in the league for passing yards, completion percentage and yards per attempt, it doesn’t feel like Minnesota are going anywhere meaningful with him.