- Cowboys have depth at WR and OL, but TE and S might pose issues, the Giants’ QB job is Eli Manning’s until he loses it, Eagles’ Carson Wentz is setting up for a big bounceback season and Washington may low-key have the most offseason drama of any team.
The MMQB team made its way around the nation visiting NFL training camps this preseason. Up today we have a few observations and takeaways from visiting the NFC East teams.
• The Cowboys’ current top four wide receivers weren’t on the team prior to the 2018 draft, which means the WR makeover is working. Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Michael Gallup are solid, and I’d say there’s even reason for cautious optimism on Tavon Austin. And rookie Jon’Vea Johnson has impressed the staff at camp too.
• Dallas’ offensive line depth is as good as its been, with Joe Looney, Xavier Su’a-Filo and Cam Fleming as backups (rookie Connor McGovern is out right now). That depth can help the team maintain its identity through injuries, and maybe create some trade opportunities.
• If there are areas of concern roster-wise, one would be depth at safety. That said, the coaches really like what they've seen from Xavier Woods, a third-year centerfielder with great range.
• Another concern might be depth at TE, beyond Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin. Overall, though, this is as strong a roster as the Cowboys have had in a long time.
• On the contract front, there's a decent shot Dallas finds a way to get Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott signed (with Dak over $30 million, and Elliott maybe nudging past Todd Gurley) before Week 1. Talks regarding Amari Cooper’s contract have been slower moving. — Albert Breer
NEW YORK GIANTS
• Barring injury, Eli Manning is going to start Week 1 for the Giants. He’ll probably start Week 2, too. He could even go to Week 3 as the starting quarterback of the New York Giants. It’s this simple: the Giants organization is in alignment that the job for 2019 is Manning’s until he loses it in the regular season. You can disagree with that until you’re blue in the face, but I don’t see anything that gives this job to Daniel Jones next month even if he’s balled out in the preseason.
“Pat [Shurmur] and I talk. We’re always talking. I love to talk,” Giants GM Dave Gettleman told me at the start of training camp. “We’ll know when it’s time. We’ll know. And we plan on Eli having a great year. He’s ready to rock and roll.”
• Through two exhibition games, Jones is 16-of-19 for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Giants fans have done a complete 180 on him since draft night. I get that fans are ready to turn the page on Eli, and I understand that John Mara and Gettleman all want Manning to have a great 2019. The fact is we will probably see Jones take over at some point this season once things start sliding. Remember, Gettleman says, “the greatest job to have is the backup quarterback.”
• Who are these guys going to throw to? Great question. Sterling Shepard (thumb) should be ready for Week 1. But Golden Tate (suspension) will miss the first four games after looking fantastic the two days early in camp when I saw him. There’s going to be a heavy dose of Saquon Barkley early on. But as we saw with last year’s Cowboys, without a true No. 1 receiving threat, teams will stack the box and make life tough on the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
• One guy on defense that stood out to me in two practices: cornerback Antonio Hamilton. DeAndre Baker and Sam Beal have been banged up for part of the preseason and Hamilton has seized his opportunity.
• The biggest questions here have already been posed, so I’ll give one for you fantasy folks. Will Barkley become the first 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver since Roger Craig? He was fewer than 300 receiving yards short last season, and Barkley breaking that total should lead to an increase in wins for the Giants in 2019. — Jonathan Jones
• The Eagles feel like this is as deep a roster as they’ve had—one staffer called it a little “shocking” to see some of the position groups in camp. The offensive line is one area where it stands out, because the NFL in general is lacking in quality reserves at those spots. Philadelphia, conversely, has an experienced starter (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) and first-round pick (Andre Dillard) behind its first five.
• Another spot where you see this is at running back. The most likely scenario, those in the building believe, has new acquisition Jordan Howard starting the season as the No. 1, with rookie Miles Sanders (who shown himself to be a true three-down back) getting more and more work as the fall wears on. What’s really crazy, though, is the depth behind those two—Darren Sproles, Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood, among others.
• If there’s one question mark, it’s how the depth at linebacker will take shape. The Eagles think Zach Brown has been good coming over from the Redskins, and the defense is in nickel and dime a lot, which mitigates the issue. But it wouldn’t be a shocker to see the team make some sort of move to bolster the position between now and the trade deadline.
• One other area to watch is with the edge rushers. Chris Long and Michael Bennett are gone, and the Eagles don’t really have a bellcow at the position. But they do have young prospects like Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, and trusted veterans like Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, so the hope is they can throw numbers, and fresh rushers, at opponents consistently.
• Carson Wentz wasn’t as hot this summer as he was in the spring, but the team’s still confident that the leaner, healthier 26-year-old quarterback is setting up for a big bounceback in 2019. And, again, a big part of that is what’s around him. There’s the aforementioned depth at tailback and on the line, and also at receiver (with DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside added) and tight end (with Dallas Goedert emerging), that’ll make it so Wentz should never have to feel like he’s gotta shoulder to heavy a load. — AB
• Washington is going to struggle mightily without Trent Williams. I would be surprised if he and Washington wind up coming to terms and get back together. Naturally Washington wishes to keep one of the best left tackles in the game on its team. But this has gone beyond your standard-issued contract dispute. Williams is upset with the team’s medical staff, and throwing a couple extra dollars at him won’t make him feel better about the team being callous—in his view—regarding his long-term health. Adrian Peterson has gone so far as to publicly beg for his good friend to rejoin the team, and that probably still won’t be enough. Washington will soon see how serious Williams is and, I predict, will do what it can to get decent trade compensation for him.
• By the way, no team has as much preseason drama around it as Washington. I know the Raiders have their hands full with Antonio Brown. The Browns take up all the air space. And the Giants have their quarterback battle. But consider what’s happening in Washington: a true quarterback battle among Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, a star offensive lineman not showing up and a generational talent at running back reportedly in financial straits. It’s a lot of internal and external noise for a team trying to improve from a 7-9 season.
• It’s OK if you don’t love Washington’s receivers. But for the second camp in a row that I’ve been to in Richmond, Trey Quinn continues to stand out. He struggled to stay healthy in his rookie season last year and only saw three games (nine receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown). I’m ready to see what he does on the field. Similarly, I hope that Jordan Reed is healthy this year. His 13 games last year were the second-most in his pro tenure behind only his career 2015 season. Washington has missed (or never really known) his consistent production that would strengthen this pass-catching group.
• This is going to be a big year for cornerback Josh Norman. He’s in the fourth year of his record five-year deal and Washington can get out of it before next season for only $3 million in dead cap. His first two years combined in Washington couldn’t equal the breakout 2015 season he had before getting three picks and forcing three fumbles in 2018. At the very least Norman has to maintain that production if he wants to avoid being a cap casualty.
• Remember all that drama around this team? Now look at how Washington begins its season. Four out of the first five games are against 2018 playoff teams (Eagles, Cowboys, Bears and Patriots.) Jay Gruden has the hottest seat of all coaches entering this season. Can he keep things afloat early before things compound on Washington? — JJ
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