NFC East in Focus

With 13 picks, rich Birds should get richer. <BR><BR> <b>PHILADELPHIA EAGLES</b> <BR><BR> The defending NFC champions will enjoy a supermarket sweep of sorts on April 23-24 with a total of 13 draft picks - including five in the first three rounds.

The Eagles were awarded four compensatory selections after losing cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, linebacker Carlos Emmons, running back Duce Staley and offensive lineman Bobbie Williams to free agency in 2004.

PLAYERS LOST: The Birds said bye-bye via free agency in the offseason to defensive end Derrick Burgess (Oakland Raiders), linebacker Ike Reese (Atlanta Falcons) and guard Jermane Mayberry (New Orleans Saints). They also released linebacker Nate Wayne. Burgess came on strong at the end of last season, displaying ferocity in the playoffs and Super Bowl with nine solo tackles and three sacks. The seemingly undersized Reese (6-2, 221), who spent his first seven pro seasons in Philly, is one of the league's premier special teams players (33 tackles in 2004, 139 in his career) and a good pass defender who played primarily in passing situations.

NEW ADDITIONS: Philadelphia welcomed Detroit Lions free agent quarterback Mike McMahon, a Rutgers product, who will compete with Koy Detmer to be Donovan McNabb's backup. In four seasons with the Lions, McMahon threw for 1,709 yards and 10 touchdowns and was intercepted 13 times. He also rushed for 291 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries.

DRAFT OUTLOOK: The first priority will probably be linebacker, and Virginia's Darryl Blackstock might be the guy to fill the bill with the next-to-last pick in Round 1. With their numerous turns at the podium, the Eagles could add depth throughout the roster - especially in the backfield, where things got a little lonely last season for Brian Westbrook, who was spelled on occasion by Dorsey Levens because of a season-ending knee injury to Correll Buckhalter. An offseason freak accident that resulted in a leg injury suffered by promising safety/kick return man J.R. Reed is a major concern. Surgery was required to repair nerve damage, and reports indicate Reed might not be ready for the opening day of training camp. Regardless of Reed's status, the Birds have not been shy in selecting defensive backs during the past few drafts.

DALLAS COWBOYS

The Cowboys took a step backward in 2004 after gaining the playoffs in 2003 in the first year of Bill Parcells' reign. Patience is not among the qualities possessed by Parcells and owner Jerry Jones, so the team spent a reported $30 million on four high-end free agents, including quarterback Drew Bledsoe. On paper, the 'Boys are already an improved squad - with the often-criticized Bledsoe performing impressively in the second half of the 2004 season. Backup Drew Henson (not a Parcells favorite last season) waits in the wings if Bledsoe falters.

PLAYERS LOST: Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, defensive end Marcellus Wiley, linebacker Dexter Coakley, center Gennaro DiNapoli. The release of Coakley opens up more playing time for third-year linebacker Bradie James, whose play last season was an eye-opener.

NEW ADDITIONS: The 'Boys had a busy post-season with the free-agent signings of quarterback Bledsoe (Buffalo Bills), defensive tackle Jason Ferguson (New York Jets), cornerback Anthony Henry (Cleveland Browns) and guard Marco Rivera (Green Bay Packers). Parcells has a well-known fondness for acquiring players he coached at other venues. Bledsoe - who replaces former Jet Vinny Testaverde - quarterbacked the Patriots during their Super Bowl season of 1996, while Ferguson was a Parcells pick for the Jets in the seventh round of the 1997 draft. Last season, Bledsoe threw for 2,932 yards and 20 touchdowns and was intercepted 16 times. Ferguson is effective playing alone in the middle at nose tackle if the Cowboys go to a 3-4, and will help free up DT La'Roi Glover in the 4-3. The former Jet can also pressure the pocket, as attested by his 3.5 sacks last season - a solid total for a defensive tackle. Henry, a four-year veteran, is a physical corner (6-1, 205) with a great nose for the football that picked off 10 passes his rookie season. Slotted to replace disappointing Andre Gurode at right guard, Rivera had back surgery to repair a disc in February. Dallas was also pursuing New Orleans DE Darren Howard at press time.

DRAFT OUTLOOK: The Cowboys have the luxury of two first-round selections (11th and 20th) and their priorities include a defensive end (if a deal for Howard falls through) and wide receiver. In dire need of an effective edge pass-rusher, they might be interested in Georgia's David Pollack, who was impressive at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Oklahoma's Dan Cody or Wisconsin's Erasmus James may also prove intriguing. According to longtime Cowboys observer Mickey Spagnola, the first round could include the selection of a safety, which would allow Pro Bowler Roy Williams to play closer to the line in run support. Possibilities include Oklahoma's Donte Nickerson and Georgia's Thomas Davis.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

A disappointing 6-10 season in 2004 left coach Joe Gibbs scratching his head. Last season, Washington boasted the NFL's No. 3 defense - and, conversely, one of its most unproductive offenses. With a key defection, the offense might get worse in 2005 - while the defense is also in danger of regression with the loss of two top starters. Some Redskins observers are bemoaning what they see as a never-ending rebuilding process.

PLAYERS LOST: Free agency wasn't kind to the Redskins, who had little salary cap leeway. Stellar shutdown cornerback Fred Smoot signed with the Minnesota Vikings, while the Giants lured middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, Washington's leading tackler in 2004, to East Rutherford. In a trade with the New York Jets, top receiver Laveranues Coles returned to his old team and favorite pro quarterback, Chad Pennington. In 2004, Coles led the 'Skins with 90 receptions, but had only one touchdown. Washington reportedly also wants to trade wide receiver Rod Gardner for a fourth-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

NEW ADDITIONS: The Skins inked wide receivers Santana Moss (New York Jets) and David Patten (New England Patriots), center Casey Rabach (Baltimore Ravens) and safety Pierson Prioleau (Buffalo Bills). At press time, the Redskins had yet to acquire a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. Moss, obtained from the Jets, has shown flashes of brilliance but spotty consistency because of nagging hamstring and knee injuries since his rookie season of 2001. He possesses blazing speed and can return punts when healthy, but lacks Coles' size and strength against physical cornerbacks and safeties. Regardless, the 'Skins scored points with the trade, because they would have lost Coles to free agency without compensation. Patten, a former Giant, is 30 years old but has plenty left in the tank. Playing in all 16 regular season games with the world champions last season, Patten hauled in 44 receptions for 800 yards and seven touchdowns.

DRAFT OUTLOOK: Picking ninth in the first round, the Redskins will want to address the loss of Smoot with a cover-cornerback selection - perhaps the University of Miami's Antrel Rolle or West Virginia's Adam Jones. They will also try to land a big, physical wide receiver and defensive end in the second and third rounds.


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