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David Helman - @HelmanDC

Somewhere within the hierarchy of DallasCowboys.com, someone signed off on the idea of giving yours truly some extra space to talk football.` 

Between myself, Nick Eatman, Rowan Kavner and Bryan Broaddus, the Cowboys are pretty well covered on this site, I’d say. The focus of this blog is more on the NFC East as a whole. Outside of the enormous popularity of the Cowboys, their division features some pretty prominent, popular franchises in their own right – and there’s the undeniable truth that all three are in the way of a Cowboys’ playoff berth.

I’m still in the process of digesting the Cowboys’ draft class, but something stood out to me during our wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 NFL Draft this past weekend. Read

Take a closer look at the draft picks throughout the NFC East, and you can see the Cowboys’ rivals gearing up to contend for the top spot. In a division that hasn’t seen a repeat champion since 2004, the difference between the playoffs and not is razor thin – just ask the 2013 Cowboys and the 2014 Eagles. Read

So it’s no surprise at all to see the Eagles, Giants and Redskins addressing some of the very problems that knocked them out of division contention last fall with their premium draft picks. Read

Last year’s draft brought several names worth knowing into this division, including Odell Beckham Jr., Jordan Matthews and Bashaud Breeland. Here’s a brief look at this year’s additions, which could begin causing problems for the Cowboys in short order. Read

New York Giants Read

There isn’t a pick here that’s as flashy as Odell Beckham Jr., who claimed NFL Rookie of the Year honors after a ridiculous debut deason. Read

There are, however, several selections that – should they pan out – will make the Giants a better team right away. New York averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season, and 3.3 yards per carry in the two losses to Dallas. The Giants’ ground game was woeful, and their line has struggled to protect Eli Manning for several years now. To that end, the selection of Ereck Flowers at No. 9 overall makes perfect sense, and it’s in keeping with Tom Coughlin’s desire that his team play more like the Cowboys. Read

Landon Collins was widely considered a first-round talent, and the Giants managed to acquire him at No. 33 overall. The Alabama safety might have been the best player on the board, but it was also a need New York couldn’t afford to ignore after parting ways with both Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown. Read

The final marquee pick would be Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who garnered a lot of attention in Dallas. He’s got freakish athleticism and should be a candidate to compete for big snaps early on – especially if the Giants can’t coax any production out of fellow third-round pick Damontre Moore. Read

I honestly don’t think the Giants are very far away from contending for a playoff spot, despite their disappointing finishes the past two years. If Flowers and Odighizuwa can make meaningful contributions right away, it could go a long way. Read

Philadelphia Eagles Read

I’ll get back to the Eagles’ first-round selection in a minute, but let’s look over their entire draft class for a second. Read

Philadelphia made six selections in the 2015 draft, and half of them play the same position – cornerback. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched Dez Bryant abuse Bradley Fletcher last December at Lincoln Financial Field, or anyone that’s seen Philly’s struggles in the secondary during Chip Kelly’s coaching tenure. Read

Much like Byron Jones in Dallas, Eagles’ second-round pick Eric Rowe is expected to begin at corner but has the versatility to play safety. Late-round picks JaCory Shepherd and Randall Evans should help bolster a position that has three players entering contract years. Read

Back to the first round, it certainly would have been interesting to see Kelly trade away the house in an effort to obtain Marcus Mariota. Such as it is, it looks like he’ll be working with Sam Bradford – though he at least has a new weapon in Nelson Agholor. Similar to Collins in New York, Agholor was sorely needed after the offseason departure of Jeremy Maclin. If he meets expectations, he should form a dangerous duo with the more physical Jordan Matthews. Read

The third round selection of Jordan Hicks seems to be puzzling some in Eagles territory, but combined with Mychal Kendricks, Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans, it should add to Philly’s already-stout front seven. Read

Given the transition at quarterback and the addition of DeMarco Murray, there’s so much we don’t know about how Philly will compare to last year. If they can fix their secondary, though, it’d shore up one of the biggest problems of the Kelly Era in Philadelphia. Read

Washington Redskins Read

The early word in Washington is that No. 5 overall pick Brandon Scherff is going to play tackle, but this certainly seemed like a move reminiscent of Dallas drafting Zack Martin last spring. Read

The Redskins passed on Leonard Williams, who was widely considered the top talent in this draft, to secure a Day 1 starter to beef up their offensive line and help Alfred Morris regain his Pro Bowl form. If that wasn’t enough, the Redskins spent a fourth-round pick on Alabama guard Arie Kouandijo. There’s no telling if those two have the potential to be a rookie All-Pro, like Martin was, but the pick makes sense for a franchise whose fortunes are tied to the health of Robert Griffin III. Read

Speaking of Griffin, he’s got to feel good about some of the weapons he gained this weekend. Third-round pick Matt Jones is absolutely monstrous at 6-2, 231 pounds and could be quite a complement to Morris. The pick after Jones, Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, brings top-level speed and skill as a return man to a receiver corps that already featured Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Read

Mississippi State defensive end Preston Smith appears to be the heir apparent to departed pass rusher Brian Orakpo, though that’s a little bit curious. At 6-5, 271 pounds, Smith looks more like a down defensive lineman, but it’s likely he’ll be tried as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Either way, it’s another piece the Redskins can add to their front seven. Read

My main impression is that the Redskins’ fortunes are directly tied to whether Griffin can rediscover his 2012 form. It’s a long road, but two impact offensive linemen and two readymade contributors at the skill positions are a good way to help boost Griffin’s performance. Read

I wasn’t expecting anything truly groundbreaking to affect the NFC East until free agency opened – which seemed like a totally plausible thought process. That was up until the Eagles shocked the NFL on Tuesday with the most high profile player-for-player trade since Clinton Portis and Champ Bailey in 2004. Read

So LeSean McCoy – the NFL rushing champ in 2013 and a two-time All-Pro running back – is going to be a Buffalo Bill in exchange for Kiko Alonso. It’s a bit of news that’s bound to make Cowboys fans happy, as one of the division’s most dangerous weapons is now gone in favor of a third-year linebacker coming off an ACL tear. Read

First of all, I honestly think it’s a better deal for Philadelphia than you initially might think. The Eagles just rid themselves of a big, clunky contract – McCoy is going to cost Buffalo $10 million this year – and they solidified their defense. Alonso was considered for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 after amassing 159 tackles, and he should be

ready for training camp after tearing his ACL last July. He’s also cheap, as he’s still playing on a rookie contract. Assuming he’s healthy, he gives Philly a formidable inside linebacker pairing alongside Mychal Kendricks. Read

That’s not really what I wanted to write about, though. Instead, let’s focus on how this pertains to the Cowboys, who have some big questions of their own to answer at the running back spot. After months of speculation, we’re finally just six days away from determining what happens to DeMarco Murray in 2015. The free agency window is going to open, and Murray will easily be one of the three or four biggest names up for grabs. Read

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I can’t help but be intrigued about Murray’s value roughly 18 hours after McCoy was dealt – for one player. Don’t get me wrong: Alonso has all the makings of a rock-solid defender for the foreseeable future. But we’re talking about trading 6,792 career rushing yards and 54 total touchdowns for 159 tackles. Read

If that doesn’t send a clear message about the value of a running back in the modern NFL, I don’t know what does. Read

Obviously, there’s different factors to weigh in any given situation. McCoy has far more mileage on him, and he’s currently far more expensive than Murray. But if the Eagles are so willing to part ways with a dynamic – but expensive -- playmaker, how do we know other teams will want to take on the cost of signing Murray? Read

I’ve been assuming for the better part of two months that Murray would get at least one or two offers that would simply go beyond what the Cowboys are willing to pay. That doesn’t necessarily mean a deal that pays $10 million a year. But I have my doubts Dallas would be willing to pay more than $6 or $7 million per season, and I have long assumed someone in the NFL would be willing to top that offer. Read

Maybe that’s not the case, though. In a world where a team is willing to trade one of the league’s best backs for one player, who’s to say there’s a mega-offer out there for Murray? Maybe the best deal he can hope for is the one he’ll get from his current team. The Cowboys know Murray better than anyone, they know how he fits into their scheme and they certainly know he fits in their locker room. Read

It’s impossible to forecast the future with 100 percent accuracy, but this latest shakeup in the NFC East has got to make you feel a bit more confident that Murray’s days in Dallas aren’t done. Read

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It’s been a little while since I’ve taken a look at the landscape of the NFC East – alright, it’s been a long while. These are the types of things that happen when the Cowboys lock up the division with two weeks to play, not to mention make a playoff run. Read

But the offseason is finally starting to settle in for 30 of the league’s 32 teams. While the Patriots and Seahawks gear up to play Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, we’ve already been inundated with questions about the Cowboys’ offseason. Read

You’ve heard them all and asked them all before. Will Dez Bryant sign a new deal or be franchised? Is DeMarco Murray going to get a new deal in Dallas? What do the Cowboys do with their free agent linebackers? What about Doug Free and Jermey Parnell? What are the draft priorities? Read

The list goes on. And unfortunately, for the time being, we can really only speculate. Many of these questions won’t be answered until we get into the meat of the offseason. Read

Since we’ve blanketed the topic from the Cowboys perspective, I wanted to take a look at their three divisional rivals. What big decisions await the Eagles, Giants and Redskins in 2015? Read

New York Giants Read

After losing seven in a row at one point, the Giants finished 2014 by winning three of four. Odell Beckham Jr. also took the league by storm as one of the NFL’s most exciting rookies. Read

Those silver linings are nice, but it was a forgettable season in New York. A depleted offensive line struggled to protect Eli Manning – who is under contract for just one more year, mind you – and it failed to generate a viable rushing game. Read

The skill players – Manning, Rashad Jennings, Beckham, Rueben Randle and potentially Victor Cruz, who is rehabbing a torn patellar tendon – are in position if the Giants can find someone to block for them. It’s hard to fault New York for passing on Zack Martin, considering Beckham’s rookie production. But it’s a good bet that offensive line is an area the Giants may target with their No. 9 overall pick. Read

Perhaps the most intriguing questions for this team in the offseason center around defense. Arguably their two best defenders, Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle, will become free agents in March. Read

The Giants are currently projected to have about $15 million in cap space, which should give them funds to do a few things. It seems likely they’ll lock up Pierre-Paul, which would be huge for a defensive line that needs upgrading. After firing defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, Giants coach Tom Coughlin brought back Steve Spagnuolo, who helped build New York’s Super Bowl-winning line in 2007. Read

There are plenty more questions to answer, though. Even if Rolle stays, the Giants need to address their secondary. Walter Thurmond and Prince Amukamara both spent the majority of the season on injured reserve, and there isn’t really a quality starter to team with Rolle at safety – again, assuming he stays. Read

Honestly, it doesn’t look like the Giants are too far removed from competing for a playoff spot. But if they’re going to do that in 2015, there are several offseason moves they must get right. Read

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Philadelphia Eagles Read

If the formatting was different, the 10-6 Eagles would have been a playoff team over the 7-8-1 Panthers this year. That amounts to essentially nothing in the results-oriented world of the NFL, but it’s at least encouraging for the Eagles that they weren’t too far away from the dance. Read

In another encouraging twist, Philadelphia also has the fewest amount of free agents to worry about. A measly 10 Eagles contracts are set to expire when the league years begins this March. A few of those – like Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen – hardly seem like high priorities, which is devastating news for Dez Bryant and his fans. Read

There is one big question to consider, though: Jeremy Maclin. After tearing his ACL in training camp in 2013, Maclin signed a one-year, bet-on-me deal with Philly and it undoubtedly paid off. The five-year veteran had the unquestioned best year of his career in 2014, hauling in 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. Read

The Eagles have addressed their receiving group in the draft recently. They drafted Zach Ertz in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and they followed that up by selecting Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in 2014. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles don’t look like they’re going anywhere, either. Read

After parting ways with DeSean Jackson last spring, though, it seems unwise to let Maclin depart. Philly is likely looking at about $20 million in cap space, so it’ll be interesting to see how much they’re willing to pay him. Read

The real issues surrounding the Eagles in 2015 are purely the result of rumor at this point. We started hearing rumors about a month ago that Nick Foles might not be long for Philadelphia, and nothing has happened to quell that, considering we’re now talking about St. Louis potentially trading for him. Read

That’s a bit staggering, since Foles threw for 27 touchdowns and two picks, and was named to the Pro Bowl just two seasons ago. It’s hard to say with any clarity whether Eagles coach Chip Kelly actually wants to draft Marcus Mariota, his old protégé at Oregon, to be the future of the franchise. If they deal Foles, though, it’s hard to believe he’d be comfortable moving forward with Mark Sanchez or Matt Barkley as his starter. Read

There are other pressing needs on this roster, as well. Philadelphia’s secondary was atrocious in 2014, despite the offseason addition of Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles, like the Cowboys, also have some existing contracts they’d like to work on. Read

All of that will pale in comparison if Philly’s quarterback spot is in upheaval, though. Read

Washington Redskins Read

Plenty of uncertainty for the team that finished last in the division for a second-straight year. Washington heads toward the draft with the No. 5 overall pick, which is nice. Aside from that, though, I’m not sure how many positives there are to glean. Read

It’s hard to look too far past the quarterback spot. I don’t want to spend too many words contributing to the debate, but is Robert Griffin III the right guy going forward? The Redskins would do well to figure that out, because Colt McCoy is a free agent this spring, while Kirk Cousins hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in anyone. Read

The rest of the skill positions leave plenty to feel good about. Washington still has Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and their battery of young tight ends. It might not be the sexiest selection in the world, but an offensive lineman at No. 5 overall in the draft could pay dividends for a line that has Trent Williams at left tackle and not many other reliable pieces. Read

The Redskins are likely about to lose Brian Orakpo to free agency after franchising him for 2014, but that doesn’t look as bad as it sounds. Plagued by persistent injuries, Orakpo has only played in 24 of a possible 49 games over the past three seasons. He collected 10 sacks in 2013, but he missed nine games this year. Washington also probably can’t afford to pay premium money to three pass rushers, as Ryan Kerrigan is in line for a big payday either this spring or next, while Jason Hatcher still has three years remaining on $27.5 million deal. Read

Much like, well, everyone in the division, the Redskins would probably be smart to retool their secondary. Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark are both out of contract, and Duke Ihenacho is a restricted free agent. It’s hard to feel great about anyone playing defensive back in Washington right now, except for perhaps Bashaud Breeland, who enjoyed a phenomenal rookie year as a fourth-round pick. Read

If there’s one positive, it’s that new defensive coordinator Joe Barry has pledged to maintain the same 3-4 scheme used by Jim Haslett. At the very least, Washington isn’t looking at a complete overhaul. Read

Bottom line: until the Redskins find a tenable quarterback situation, the rest of that will look like cold comfort. Read

From one standpoint, the Seattle Seahawks made things incredibly simple for the Cowboys – win, and you’re in. Read

With Philadelphia’s loss to Seattle on Sunday, they have the same record as Dallas at 9-4. The winner of Sunday night’s NFC East rivalry game will take the lead in the division at 10-4 with two games to play. If the Cowboys go 3-0 through the remainder of the season, they’ll make the playoffs as the NFC East champions. Read

Unfortunately, things get a little convoluted if the Cowboys lose to Philly – or if they lose any of their remaining three, to be honest. Read

As many of you have noticed, the Cowboys are currently in a three-way tie for wildcard standing with the Seahawks and the Lions. In a three-team tie, head-to-head results aren’t used and conference records determine pecking order. Seattle and Detroit are both 7-2 in the NFC, while the Cowboys are 6-4. Read

Ideally, the Cowboys want one of those two teams to lose – and it’d be better if it were the Lions. Dallas has a head-to-head tiebreaker with Seattle, so a two-way tie would favor the Cowboys by virtue of their 30-23 win at CenturyLink Field in October. Read

If the Cowboys are going to lose a game down this stretch, the Dec. 21 home game against the Colts would probably be the most forgiving loss. Like I just mentioned, Seattle and Detroit are in strong position because they’ve been good against the NFC. Four of their combined eight losses are against AFC teams – the Chargers and Chiefs for the Seahawks, and the Bills and Patriots for the Lions. Read

If Dallas wins its remaining NFC games and loses to the Colts, the Cowboys will finish with a healthy 8-4 mark within the conference. That’d be a far more favorable result than losing to one of their NFC East rivals. Read

Conversely, a loss to the Eagles this weekend would almost assure that the Cowboys can't win the division. Philadelphia is currently 3-0 in the NFC East, while Dallas is 2-2. By winning the rematch, the Eagles would complete a season sweep of the series, and they'd guarantee themselves a better division record. The only way the Cowboys can win the division if they lose this game is by winning the final two, and having Philly lose to both Washington and New York to close out the season. Read

Either way, there’s still no escaping a pretty scary fact: if the Cowboys lose another game, they’ll probably need some help to make the playoffs. The best way for Dallas to make the playoffs at 11-5 would be if either the Lions or Seahawks lose two of the remaining three games. Read

That’s not an extraordinary ask, if you look at the schedules. Detroit finishes its season with a home game against Minnesota, followed by back-to-back road trips to Chicago and Green Bay. Seattle finishes with a home game against San Francisco, a road trip to Arizona and a home finale against St. Louis. Read

Like the Cowboys, Detroit has two road trips remaining. The Seahawks are at home twice, but both Detroit and Seattle finish their seasons entirely against divisional rivals. Crazier things have happened. Read

If the Lions and Seahawks aren’t willing to help out, the Cowboys could also look toward the Cardinals. Arizona was on a two-game losing streak and was in danger of losing its playoff hold until Sunday, when the Cardinals held off the Chiefs at home. Read

Now sitting at 10-3, Arizona also has three-straight division games – two of them on the road – and there is some work to be done in order to hold off the surging Seahawks. They play at St. Louis this coming Thursday before a home date with Seattle, and then they finish on the road against San Francisco. Read

If the Cardinals lose out and the Cowboys finish 2-1 down the stretch, it shouldn’t matter what Philadelphia, Seattle and Detroit do – that should be enough to push Dallas into the playoffs. Read

It’s theoretically possible that the Cowboys can also make the playoffs if they finish 10-6, but it’d likely require multiple losses from multiple teams. It’s sad to say, but it doesn’t seem likely that a 1-2 finish down this three-game stretch will be good enough for this team. Read

Like I said, it’s all irrelevant if the Cowboys win out – that’s the easiest scenario of all. If they don’t, though, it’s going to be an agonizing wait to see who gets in. Read

The questions have already started to flow into my inbox – not just before the season is over, but before the guy’s benching even officially happened. Read

You’re familiar with the guy in question – Robert Griffin III, or RG3. However you want to classify the NFL’s most polarizing quarterback. Read

On Sunday, the Redskins faced Indianapolis with Griffin sitting on the bench, which marks the second-straight season Washington will go with an unheralded backup over their No. 2 overall draft pick. It seems like eons ago that Griffin consoled Tony Romo in the minutes following the Cowboys’ Week 17 loss to Washington to end their 2012 season. Read

Another benching seems to put the writing clearly on the wall for Griffin – first-year Washington coach Jay Gruden doesn’t see RG3 in his long term plans for the franchise. Read

So, like I said – the emails continue to trickle in. Should the Cowboys take a look at Griffin as a backup for Romo, who will turn 35 before the start of the 2015 season? Read

Like most of the speculation about famous players winding up in Dallas, I’m just not seeing this. First and foremost, the Redskins would have to either cut Griffin or agree to trade him – for a fee that isn’t outrageous. Even if the higher-ups in Washington are convinced Griffin isn’t part of their future, it seems crazy to think they’d let him walk without trying to get anything for him. Read

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Obviously, given Griffin’s injury history and his track record, Washington isn’t bound to get much for him. But since he’s playing out a relatively cheap rookie contract, I can’t imagine there’s a huge impetus to get his salary off the books. Read

Secondly, my guess is Griffin would want a chance to compete. He might be done in D.C., but he’s a mere 24 years old and has shown flashes of ability in his three seasons. It might be good for him to sit behind an incumbent starter like Romo and learn, but my guess is he’d want a crack at a starting job. Read

That’s not going to happen any time in the next three seasons in Dallas, provided Romo is healthy. If given the choice, I’d guess Griffin would prefer a more palatable quarterback situation. Read

Third, do you even want the circus? Read

The answer for Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones and this franchise is typically “yes.” The Cowboys were unafraid to sign Michael Sam to their active roster, and they haven’t been afraid to bring Josh Brent back into the fold. We have seen and we will continue to see rumors about Dallas acquiring Adrian Peterson – despite his legal issues this season. Read

Adding Griffin to this roster would invite even more scrutiny, in my opinion. Sam and Brent both occupied small enough positions on the team that their impact was negligible following the initial decision to sign them. Read

That won’t be the case with Griffin, who plays the most high-profile position in the sport, is from Texas and won a Heisman Trophy 100 miles south of AT&T Stadium. Not to mention, he would be an injury away from playing time every week. It’s the type of situation that could break Twitter if Romo ever struggled or got hurt. Read

Do the Cowboys need to think about the future of the quarterback position? Absolutely. Romo won’t be around forever, his health is under constant scrutiny and it doesn’t look like Brandon Weeden is any kind of long term answer. Read

All of that said, there’s got to be a better solution than gambling on a resurgence from RG3 – and all the baggage that would go with it. Read