The NFC East is the primetime melting pot hot bed of drama and chaos. Somehow, the topsy-turvy division of fan bases in large markets that absolutely lose their minds when things go awry has never had a repeating champion since 2004. There’s almost always an underperformer that we still seem to see on primetime 1-2 times too many per season, and it’s a rotating cast of reality TV show-like characters, to say the least.

This year, the drama exists in a variety of ways- there’s the Washington COMMANDERS for the first time. In the midst of being a dumpster fire off the field, they also traded for Carson Wentz this offseason, the embodiment of that sort of beautiful nightmare of chaotic energy that surrounds Washington. Yes, they had the weird 2020 season where their young defensive core with Chase Young was strong enough to carry them to maybe the most mediocre postseason appearance ever, but that defense went from 4th to 25th, and Young will be out for at least the first four games.

The Giants may seem on the right track now that they at least have a new regime in the building with new head coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen, but that kind of turnover and the moves that they have made, specifically declining Daniel Jones’s option, tells us that they don’t truly believe in this roster and would rather have a fresh start.

That leaves the division with two possible winner candidates: Philadelphia and Dallas, two teams that both made the postseason last year. Whoever takes the NFC East crown this year will be an interesting case study for the NFL going forward due to how vastly different the rosters are set up.

The quarterback is arguably the single most-important position in any sport, and the way that the NFL has protected offensive production with the rules changes over the years, the value has only increased. Naturally, if you have any elite quarterback, you have the upper

hand.

In Dallas’s case, they by far have the best quarterback in the division in Dak Prescott, who when healthy has a top-10 level ceiling. He led an offense with the highest average yards and points per game last year in his first season back from surgery at 407 YPG and 31.2 PPG. 

However, their confidence is in the quarterback and possibly their quarterback alone- the rest of the roster isn’t nearly as weapon-heavy and built to support Dak as it would be in Philly. The offensive line underwent heavy turnover with Tyron Smith out until December and La’el Collins now in Cincinnati; they traded Amari Cooper for absolute pennies to Cleveland merely because they couldn’t afford his contract down the line, and Ezekiel Elliot seems to be hobbled more and more each year only for them to continue to feed him the ball over Tony Pollard because Jerry Jones loves his superstars in Dallas. He has been trying to recreate his good ol’ boy Emmitt Smith ever since the glory days, and Zeke’s massive contract becomes expendable next season should they want to move on.

On the other side of the ball, Micah Parsons is easily a DPOY candidate, but for a defense that lost Randy Gregory and relied so heavily on turnovers in 2021, regression is merely imminent.

For Philly, it feels as if they have the upperhand at almost every single position except the most-important one: the quarterback. The Eagles made massive roster upgrades via the draft in their trade for Pro Bowl receiver AJ Brown paired with beefing up that defense with monsters out of National Champion Georgia in Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean, they may have the best offensive line in football consisting of Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson at the tackles, and their already loaded defense just added CJ Gardner-Johnson and James Bradberry to the secondary with Haason Reddick to the linebacking core.

This roster with their balanced offensive attack is complete enough to contend now hinging on the success of one man: Jalen Hurts. While Hurts is young and still uncovering his capabilities, he’s known more so for his leadership strengths and locker room presence rather than his actual football skills that Dak has the upperhand in. He’s such a likable figure that you want to pull for to get a starting role on a roster having overcome getting benched in a championship game at Alabama, but the reality is that thus far, his athletic prowess hasn’t been near the level of the other franchise quarterbacks around the league. Hurts was abysmal in their lone playoff blowout loss to Tampa Bay last season, and his passing limitations were harshly felt- they trailed 31-0 through 3 quarters, and his statline was all 4th quarter garbage time numbers. 

While he has the mobility to move around the pocket as a skilled runner and is still developing as a young talent, they haven’t committed to him in the long-term in the least bit since he’s only had one full season of starting games. With the draft capital and resources they’ll have next year with a win-now team, the reality is that he’ll have to perform at

Photo: Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press

a high-level for a team with management that isn’t scared to make drastic decisions regarding quarterbacks.

 

The reality of this two-team race in the NFC East is that this will be quite the interesting case study for roster construction going forward. Should the Cowboys win the division, it will undoubtedly be because the importance of the quarterback position just means that much to a roster with how thin the rest of his surrounding support system is. If Philly wins the division, it will be because Hurts did merely enough to take a team that values infrastructure, depth, coaching scheme, and stability in the surrounding support systems. 

We’re not too far from seeing this before- Jimmy Garoppolo was benched this offseason and has made a Super Bowl and NFC Championship in his two healthy seasons with a complete team around him. Blake Bortles was the quarterback of a Jaguars team that went to the AFC Championship in 2017. But on the other side of that coin, the Rams made one move to get Matthew Stafford to upgrade the most-important position and it won them a Super Bowl in one season.

In the NFC East, we’re about to see just how important having a franchise quarterback is as GM’s continue to play salary cap gymnastics to build winning teams with young, inexpensive commodities under center.

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