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Here’s the need-to-know news around the NFC East this week
The focus of the National Football League this week is the 2020 NFL Combine, which can be dramatic not only for the on-field performances, but also for the off-the-field press conferences.
The most notable presser to out of the combine this week from the NFC East teams came from Washington Redskins head coach Ron Rivera.
Rivera addressed the quarterback situation in Washington, praising former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, drafted No. 15 by the Redskins a season ago. But despite the positive words, Rivera said no decision has been made about who the Redskins will actually start in the 2020 season.
“Everything is an option,” Rivera said. “We’re not closing the door on anything.”
Rivera is going to look around as the Redskins plan to host quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa (neither of which are participating in the combine) in pre-draft visits. Alex Smith is the only other QB on the Redskins roster right now and he is still questionable to participate due to the compound fracture of his right leg.
Before reading too much into it, know that Rivera telling the media that the Redskins will continue to pursue quarterback options is more about perception than anything else. Washington could very well be bringing quarterbacks in to create a smokescreen, which would in turn increase the value of the No. 2 overall pick. If teams do not think the Redskins are going to take a quarterback, they could be more likely to try to trade up to No. 3.
The combine is the ideal forum to plant these seeds. I believe that Rivera wants to bring in another QB to challenge Haskins – that is the smart move because it creates a sense of competition. But I still believe Haskins is to be the face of the franchise in the future. Therefore, everything said at the combine must be taken with a grain of salt.
In other news …
As the week nears a close, teams are also faced with the NFL franchise tag window opening. The franchise tag is a labor designation that restricts a player’s potential movement in exchange for an expensive one-year salary. It is governed through the collective bargaining agreement. The tags this year are slightly different though because teams can normally use the franchise tag or the transition tag in one offseason, but never both. The current CBA, however, is calling for a one-year change that allows team to use one of each this offseason. This can helps teams as they navigate which free agents to sign.
Let’s dive into how this change in the franchise tag will impact teams around the NFC East and some of the other stories we’re following around the conference this week.
In addition to figuring out their quarterback situation and navigating the ongoing drama that is the Trent Williams debacle, Washington is trying to figure out how, if at all, it will use its franchise tag. My prediction is that the Redskins will use their tag on guard Brandon Scherff.
This might sound surprising at first because Scherff has missed 13 games in the past two seasons due to injuries. But the Redskins already made an effort to sign Scherff during the season and he remains a solid guard who shows strong blocking skills. Scherff has already been with the team for five seasons, and I think using the franchise tag would allow both the Redskins and Scherff himself to decide how much longer they want to work together.
In other relevant Redskins news, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young expressed his confidence at a presser at the combine, saying that he thinks he is the best player in the draft. The projected No. 2 pick behind Joe Burrow says that he has already been in contact with Haskins and that he would appreciate the opportunity to play for his hometown team.
Rivera predictably did not give away any indication as to whether or not the Redskins will definitely draft Young with the second overall pick, but it’s hard to imagine them choosing anyone else.
For the Cowboys, the most notable unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason is quarterback Dak Prescott. The Cowboys and Prescott reportedly met on Wednesday to discuss contract details. According to the Dallas Morning News, the meeting was the first between the Cowboys and Prescott since September. A long-term deal was not reached as the March 12 deadline for the franchise tag looms.
Re-signing Prescott is understandably going to be expensive for the Cowboys but they do not want to see their franchise QB hit the free agent market. The Cowboys do have the cap room but if they use the money to sign Prescott to a long-term deal right now, they would not be as able to keep other free agent or pursue additional free agent options.
For this reason, I think the Cowboys will use the franchise tag on Prescott because it allows them to keep the quarterback they want for the short term and pursue other players on the market while they figure out how to structure a long-term deal.
The Cowboys also have to figure out what they want to do with star wide receiver Amari Cooper, who presents a similar problem as Prescott. The 25-year-old pass catcher has transformed into an explosive part of the Cowboys offense. The four-time Pro Bowler started all 16 games for Dallas last season, recording 79 receptions for 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns. His on-field performance has earned him a big contract that the Cowboys, no doubt, are figuring out how to maneuver.
I think that the Cowboys will do one of two things with Cooper. Remember that transition tag that teams can use if there is no extension of the CBA? Option one is that the Cowboys use their transition tag on Cooper in order to sign him to a short-term contract that keeps him on their roster.
Or, the Cowboys choose not to use a tag on Cooper and defer to the draft to pick up a wide receiver who can fill Cooper’s place. The draft is not short on talented receivers as Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III are sure to add an immediate impact to whichever team they join.
The Eagles, meanwhile, will not use their franchise tag. Why? None of their 15 unrestricted free agents are worth tagging. The players are listed below:
CB Ronald Darby,
CB Jalen Mills
LT Jason Peters
DE Vinny Curry
QB Nate Sudfeld
QB Josh McCown
So while the Eagles will not be using their tags, the fact that other teams will be using their franchise tags will impact Philadelphia. According to Over the Cap, the Eagles have about $41.9 million in cap space to work with this offseason so we can expect them to be big spenders during free agency. But the Eagles could have a problem if teams use their tags on players they were hoping to try to acquire. For example, the Cowboys’ Cooper, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback James Bradberry are among players the Eagles could chase if they are not tagged.
Of course, from a division-rival perspective, how the Cowboys and Redskins choose to use their tags will also impact the Eagles on the field for the 2020 season. They will no doubt monitor the Prescott situation in Dallas very closely. The Eagles want the Cowboys to tag Prescott because doing so will use up a larger amount of cap space. And the longer the Cowboys wait to give Prescott a long-term deal, the more they will have to spend on keeping him. And the more Dallas spends on keeping Prescott, the less they can spend on any other difference-making players, which in turn, helps the Eagles.