Trade off?

The focus of the NFL media – if only for a couple of days – has veered off its "all Brett Favre, all the time" course. At least momentarily, the biggest news in the NFL is in the NFC East.

Two of the Cowboys' biggest rivals, the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, have made major trades in the last 48 hours. The Redskins reacted to the season-ending knee injury defensive end Phillip Daniels suffered on the first play of the first preseason practice by getting on the horn and acquiring Jason Taylor from the Miami Dolphins. New York lost an extremely talented weapon – and an extreme distraction – by shipping disgruntled tight end Jeremy Shockey to the New Orleans Saints.

So how do these moves affect Dallas?

Before the trades, most viewed the Cowboys as the prohibitive favorites to win the NFC East, and nothing has been done to change that. Dallas remains loaded at nearly every position, from quarterback to its Pro Bowl punter and kicker. Are there holes that could be filled a little bit better? Sure – Dallas could use another wide receiver across from Terrell Owens, and another safety, and maybe another versatile offensive lineman to back up some starters or another big running back, but if the season started today and the team was constructed of players only on its current roster, the Cowboys would be the clear-cut favorite to win the NFC East.

But after that?

Many would suggest that the Giants should be picked next – or even first – because of their status as the reigning Super Bowl champions, and there's some logic there. However, losing Michael Strahan to retirement and trading Jeremy Shockey sheds two of the team's biggest egos, two of its biggest mouths … and two of its biggest talents. It's not like Strahan was an old man out there last year – he was still extremely effective in what … might … have … been … his … final … season (lots of people still expect him to have an epiphany after training camp and decide he still wants to give it one more shot, after lots of soul-searching that coincided beautifully with the team's sprints in the August heat).

Shockey's presence in New York gave the NFC East three of the elite tight ends in football, along with Washington's Chris Cooley and Dallas' Jason Witten. He's among the more annoying players in football, but he's huge and runs well (if fully recovered from the broken leg that ended his 2007 season prematurely) and has great hands. He has to want to be good, but when he wants to, he's sensational.

If New York was in the discussion with Dallas as the division's elite teams, the departure of Shockey and Strahan have pushed the Giants back toward the rest of the back.

Taylor's arrival in the nation's capital is little more tricky. Losing Daniels is potentially devastating, as the Skins lose one of the game's great run-stopping defensive ends. On the other hand, teams no longer can gang-tackle Andre Carter in obvious passing downs, and the attention he'll demand should open a little breathing room for the defensive tackles. Taylor will flip over to the left defensive end spot, giving the Redskins one of the game's elite pass-rushing defensive end tandems, which also will allow them to do more scheming with their linebackers and theoretically will make their secondary better, as the extra heat Taylor is expected to apply on quarterbacks should force quarterbacks to throw more quickly.

Chances are, the Redskins will be improved because of the trade. Many teams throw more than they run, and the lopsided pass rush has been a fatal flaw for Washington in recent years. If Taylor's presence allows the Redskins to do more with outside linebackers Marcus Washington and Rocky McIntosh, the defense could be far more effective than last year, which already was a decent unit. Washington still hasn't found a replacement for the late Sean Taylor – replacing the league's best at any position is a daunting task, of course – but if the young receivers pan out, then the Redskins will enjoy significant upgrades on both sides of the ball, and without owner Daniel Snyder's typical offseason spending spree.

This week's trades might well have pushed the Redskins into second place in the NFC East, but they don't change the fact that the Dallas Cowboys remain the heavy favorite to win the division.

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