It remains the first priority. Win in the division and you "take care of business" close to home, as NFL coaches like to say. The NFC East has everything you want in a four-team grouping, with great talent, awesome rivalries, emotion at every turn and a healthy dislike for each of the other three teams. As we inch closer to the draft, it's time to look at the division and how the Eagles fit in as they look to reclaim the top spot ...
Off the top, two convincing wins over the Giants and the blowout victory over Dallas restored some Eagles' order to the NFC East. I'm still trying to figure out what the two losses to the Redskins were all about in 2008, and the addition of Albert Haynesworth certainly adds some legitimacy to a Washington defensive line that last year was a vast disappointment. New York lost defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, cut wide receiver Plaxico Burress and helped its defensive depth in free agency. Dallas cut its ties with wide receiver Terrell Owens, is hoping to stave off speculation that head coach Wade Phillips is on the hot seat and is looking to find the right chemistry to reach the playoffs.
The Eagles? You know the story of this off-season. The Eagles added a couple of starters in free agency, and they also made the decision to give some long-standing players the opportunity to up and leave in free agency.
So how does the division shape up? Here is a quick peek prior to the draft ...
NEW YORK GIANTSThe Giants have serious changes to their coaching staff, but they usually transition well and will largely play the same, aggressive style they employed the last couple of seasons. The Giants should be better defensively up front with the return of end Osi Umenyiora and the addition of tackle Rocky Bernard and end Chris Canty. There is depth along the front seven, including Michael Boley, a weakside linebacker who, they say, will have the job of covering Brian Westbrook in the passing game.
New York still has needs. Burress isn't coming back, so the Giants don't have that home-run hitter in the passing game. The offensive line wasn't great last year, and key running back Derrick Ward vacated in free agency.
The Giants are loaded with draft picks, much like the Eagles, so expect a great challenge from this team in 2009. Much depends on Eli Manning, who was roundly criticized last season after his late-year struggles. The Giants have to prove their secondary is as good as it needs to be, too, and they have to find more weapons on offense. This is a team to watch in the draft. The Giants could be active in a trade to acquire a veteran or to move up in the early rounds.
DALLAS COWBOYSWho thought Phillips would survive after the Cowboys ended the season in such a lousy manner at Lincoln Financial Field? Not many folks, but here is Phillips, trying to piece together a still-talented team that hopes to put it all together this year.
Without Owens, a pain in the butt in just about every phase of the NFL world except when he is on your side catching passes, the Cowboys are minus one major weapon on offense. They think Roy Williams will become the go-to receiver and that Tony Romo will blossom as a quarterback without the pressure of having Owens breathing down his neck on every snap.
But there is no doubt that the Cowboys right now are easier to defend -- on paper, that is -- without Owens. Williams isn't the kind of physical presence, and tight end Jason Witten is easier to bracket. Still, the Cowboys could add a piece or two to the mix at wide receiver in the draft. There are other changes to consider, like Felix Jones replacing Marion Barber as the starting running back and Keith Brooking replacing Zach Thomas at linebacker. Dallas lost some depth when Canty went to the Giants in free agency. Signing Igor Olshansky from San Diego should ease that loss.
Where will Dallas go in the draft? Wide receiver is a possibility. The offensive line, which is aging, could be an option. The defense needs some impact to complement DeMarcus Ware. The challenge for Dallas is that the Cowboys don't have a first-round draft pick. They'll have to do their damage with two fourth-round picks, three fifth-round selections and two picks in each of the sixth and seventh rounds.
WASHINGTON REDSKINSSigning Haynesworth was the big move for Washington, but the Redskins need more to make a move toward the top of the division. The offense has serious question marks, beginning with the offensive line. Who plays tackle for this team? More than that, the Redskins did not hide their attempt to trade for quarterback Jay Cutler, so you know that Jason Campbell is going to face a media circus this season. He has shown great maturity so far, but there are rumblings that he isn't the least bit happy.
Washington has five draft picks, starting with the 13th selection overall. The Redskins could keep that pick, or trade to add more selections. They don't have a pick in the second or fourth rounds.
The Redskins beat the Eagles twice last year, first by doing a superb job of controlling the line of scrimmage and running a flawless offense to overcome a 14-0 deficit at Lincoln Financial Field and then by clamping down on the Eagles' offense in a late-season win at FedEx Field.
Washington added the highest-profile free agent in the off-season, but this is a team that appears to have more needs. The Redskins were offensively challenged for much of the year after a hot start, and Campbell has clearly not convinced the coaching staff that he is the quarterback of the future there.
If teams can control Haynesworth, the defense -- minus veterans like Jason Taylor, Marcus Washington and Shawn Springs -- will have to rally around and win games by playing together.
Yeah, the Redskins made the big splash in free agency, but they probably need more ripples in the water to compete at the top of the division for the ever-impatient ownership group in Washington.
NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- Jeff Garcia signed in Oakland, but I guess I can't imagine the Raiders starting him over JaMarcus Russell. Garcia is a backup, right? Or is there going to be a quarterback controversy in Oakland? Hey, I'm rooting for one, because, of course, the Eagles play the Raiders, but I just can't believe that there is a team out there that thinks Garcia can start at this point in his career.
- Is it me, or does just about every day include a different player the Eagles are interested in drafting? It's very exciting, although I never know how much of it is a smokescreen or the truth.
- The off-season program for the entire team started on Monday, with great attendance at the NovaCare Complex. There is a great buzz there, has been since the shock of losing in the NFC Championship Game wore off a little bit.
- Who wins the job along with Quintin Mikell at safety? It is totally open, but I will tell you that Quintin Demps is approaching his off-season the right way, working hard, studying, understanding that he has a great, great opportunity in front of him.
- Amazing, amazing contract the Bucs gave to tight end Kellen Winslow. I know there are some Eagles fans out there who wanted the Eagles to make a run at Winslow -- I read the Comments here, guys -- and I want to check back with you at the end of the season to see if it was a good deal for Tampa Bay to give up two draft picks and then guarantee $20 million to Winslow.