The Cowboys were probably one of the NFL’s biggest underachievers last season, and because of that, head coach Wade Phillips lost his job. It didn’t help Phillips that starting quarterback Tony Romo missed the final 10 games last season because of a broken collarbone. Not all of their issues, however, can be attributed to his absence.
The defense, especially in the secondary, was poor. For whatever reason, the cornerback play regressed significantly. The move to hire Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator under new head coach Jason Garrett should help.
Key free agents
Doug Free/OT – It’s unlikely that the Cowboys will use their franchise tag on him, but Free has surprised league observers with how well he has played at left tackle. Some thought he would be better off at right tackle. The Cowboys clearly do not have anyone left on the 80-man roster to replace him, so they need to bring him back for a fifth season.
Kyle Kosier/G – The Cowboys don’t have anyone left on their 80-man roster who is capable of taking over for him, so re-signing Kosier, who turns 33 this coming season, is not a bad idea.
Marcus Spears/DE – Three out of their top four defensive ends are unsigned, so re-signing Spears makes some sense.
Gerald Sensabaugh/SS – Sensabaugh had perhaps his best season as a pro in 2010, but despite his size, he has not been an impact player for the Cowboys. They need an upgrade here.
Alan Ball/FS – Personnel sources said Ball is a below-average free safety, so re-signing him seems unlikely unless it’s for a backup job.
The Giants clearly underachieved last season. Their performance down the stretch was completely underwhelming. Quarterback Eli Manning must stop turning the ball over – he had 30 turnovers last season – for them to get back to the playoffs.
Of their 19 free agents, only about five of them are important players from both sides of the ball. Because of the inconsistency of running back Brandon Jacobs, re-signing Bradshaw is a must. And one of the reasons Manning threw so many interceptions (25) was because of the absence of wide receiver Steve Smith for seven games and parts of two others.
Key free agents
Ahmad Bradshaw/RB – Bradshaw is one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL and is a priority for the team to re-sign. He fills a variety of roles for the Giants, and his versatility would be hard to replace if he signs elsewhere.
Steve Smith/WR – Smith was headed for another big season in 2010 before he suffered what turned out to be a serious knee injury. Smith’s absence had a big impact on Manning. The Giants must re-sign Smith if they want to get their offense back on track.
Kevin Boss/TE – Boss has battled concussion issues over the past few seasons, but he quickly has developed into one of the most versatile young tight ends in the NFL. The Giants really need to re-sign him because tight end Travis Beckum has been virtually a non-factor in his first two seasons.
Barry Cofield/DT – Even if he doesn’t re-sign, the Giants have pretty good depth at defensive tackle. However, he started 47 out the past 48 games for the team.
Mathias Kiwanuka/DE, OLB – He got off to a fast start in 2010 until a neck injury derailed his season after just three games. The team really could use Kiwanuka for depth purposes.
Head coach Andy Reid made a big decision by moving offensive line coach Juan Castillo to the other side of the ball as his defensive coordinator. Philadelphia’s red-zone defense last season was the NFL’s worst in the past 20 years, so Castillo will have his hands full. Adding veteran defensive line coach Jim Washburn, perhaps the best at his position in the NFL, should help Castillo’s transition go more smoothly. Sources believe the Eagles will strongly consider signing cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha assuming he doesn’t re-sign with the Oakland Raiders (and that seems remote).
The offense is in good shape at almost every position. The interior of the offensive line, specifically right guard, could use some upgrades.
Key free agents
Michael Vick/QB – He’ll get the franchise designation, and once the new collective bargaining agreement is reached, the team will work out a long-term deal with him.
Max Jean-Gilles/G – While he started 10 games last season, Jean-Gilles did not perform consistently.
Nick Cole/C-G – Cole has been one of the team’s most versatile backups for the past few seasons, but he did not play as well last season as he had in previous seasons.
Stewart Bradley/MLB – It’s believed the team wants to re-sign the talented linebacker, but he has missed 20 regular-season games because of injury during the past two seasons. And if he returns for another season, it remains to be seen where he would line up – SLB or MLB.
Ernie Sims/WLB – Sims was one of the few personnel decisions last year that didn’t really work out like the team had planned. He never really showed enough discipline from game to game and continued to look out of place.
Quintin Mikell/SS – He’s one of the team’s most respected leaders, but there's much less than a 50-50 chance he's return.
Ellis Hobbs/CB – The veteran cornerback will retire because of his second serious neck injury in the past two seasons. This one, a source said, will end his career because it’s higher up in his neck. He has a pretty good career in broadcasting waiting if he wants to pursue it. He gave excellent analysis during the season on Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia after he got hurt.
Sav Rocca/P – Rocca, who turns 38 in November, is coming off the best season statistically in his four-year career. The former Australian Rules football player should get an offer from the Eagles to come back for his fifth season with the team.
David Akers/K – The team wants to re-sign the veteran kicker, and while he turns 37 in December, he’s still at the top of his game.
The Redskins are entering the offseason with 14 free agents, but less than half of them would be classified as important players. But there’s one position which continues to be the bane of their existence.
The Redskins acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb for two draft picks, but he clearly has not been what they thought they were getting. McNabb is still under contract, but Rex Grossman, who played fairly well in two of his three starts last season, is a free agent. The Redskins must figure out who is their quarterback going forward.
They also need to rid themselves of veteran defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who badly needs a change of scenery. While Haynesworth was a major disappointment in his two seasons in Washington, he's still capable of helping another team if they can set reasonable expectations for him.
Key free agents
Rex Grossman/QB – He surprised many with his fine play during two of his three starts last season and finished No. 1 on the depth chart. Still, Grossman is nothing but a backup at this point in his career.
Santana Moss/WR – The veteran receiver was able to void his contract, so he will become an unrestricted free agent. While he turns 32 in June, Moss is still capable of playing at a high level. In fact, he’s coming off one of his best statistical seasons – as far as yards and receptions are concerned – in his 10-year career. The Redskins are in bad enough shape at wide receiver as it is, so re-signing him should be a priority.
Jammal Brown/OT – The Redskins gave up a mid-round pick to get him last year, so you would think they would try to re-sign him. However, Brown did not have a strong season in 2010 and was actually in a rotation because of his bad hip.
Kedric Golston/DE – The Redskins mostly have journeymen in back of him, so re-signing Golston makes sense.
Rocky McIntosh/ILB – Say what you want about him, but the Redskins don’t exactly have McIntosh’s replacement lined up within their 80-man roster.
Carlos Rogers/CB – Rogers never lived up to the hype of being a first-round pick out of the 2005 NFL draft. He basically never became the playmaker the team thought they were getting.