Patrick Ramsey made significant strides during the second half of the 2004 season and is entrenched as the starting quarterback for head coach Joe Gibbs, but Washington's unimaginative and predictable offense may have taken a step back at wide receiver with the Laveranues Coles-for-Santana Moss trade.
The Redskins' defense was surprisingly solid despite a perceived lack of overall talent. With the lack of a true pass rusher and injuries to linebacker LaVar Arrington and Michael Barrow, Washington thrived under the tutelage of assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The Redskins boasted the third-rated defense in the league thanks to the solid play of Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot in the defensive backfield, a tough run defense and the superior play of Pierce.
Presently, the Redskins do not appear to have the makings of a comparable defense. With the departure of Pierce to the Giants, Washington is susceptible at middle linebacker. The loss of the reliable Smoot to Minnesota also left a void in the secondary, which was the team's strength. Now, the defensive backfield could be the Redskins' weakness.
If there was a team that needed to be proactive this offseason, it was the Dallas Cowboys. Having high hopes following a 10-6 record in Bill Parcells' first year as head coach, the Cowboys lived a frightful season in 2004. A disappointing 6-10 record sent Parcells on a mission in free agency.
Spending freely, the Cowboys signed quarterback Drew Bledsoe, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson, guard Marco Rivera and cornerback Anthony Henry. Bledsoe should solidify the quarterback situation, but he still needs a playmaker at wide receiver and quality at right tackle. Henry gives the Cowboys a legitimate cornerback to team with Terence Newman after Dallas struggled against the pass. Jason Ferguson is a favorite of Parcells and should provide plenty of run-stuffing ability for an at-times-overwhelmed Cowboys defense.
With its spending spree close to coming to an end, Dallas can focus on its remaining issues in the draft. The Cowboys own the 11th and 20th overall picks but may part with one of their high choices to acquire pass-rushing defensive end Darren Howard from New Orleans. Should they decide to keep their first-round selections, the Cowboys are in a great position to secure much-needed talent at wide receiver, defensive end or linebacker. Due to the amount of talent obtained in free agency and the potential of immediate improvement in the draft, Dallas could easily become a factor in the NFC East in 2005.
Being a factor again in the division has been the offseason quest of the New York Giants. Offensively challenged at times last season with rookie Eli Manning, the Giants placed their primary focus on adding talent to help the young quarterback.
Without a legitimate threat in the passing game outside of receiver Amani Toomer, New York capitalized on a dry market by signing veteran wide receiver Plaxico Burress. A duo of Burress and Toomer should provide Manning a significant upgrade, but the Giants still lack depth at wide receiver. Another area of concern is running back, where New York has All-Pro Tiki Barber but not much else in the backfield.
The offensive line, which was overwhelmed at times last season, has improved with the acquisition of free agent Kareem McKenzie from the Jets. McKenzie is a proven talent at right tackle and provides the Giants the opportunity to slide 2004 starter David Diehl to guard. However, until the Giants are able to improve their depth at key positions (wide receiver, cornerback, offensive line) and secure the services of quality starting talent on the defensive side of the ball (defensive line and backfield), they will struggle to compete with the likes of the Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles.
Philadelphia does not have any immediate needs to fill. With 13 selections in the draft, including five in the first three rounds, the Eagles can comfortably shape a roster that has been consistently productive since the arrival of head coach Andy Reid.
The Eagles are a solid team with depth and quality players at the critical positions. The re-signing of middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was crucial to sustaining the defense's much-improved play against the run as well as keeping Trotter's great locker-room presence. To reload for the future, Philadelphia will need to improve its overall talent and depth at wide receiver and linebacker. To improve this team for 2005, the Eagles could use a pass-rushing defensive end to line up opposite Jevon Kearse, or a hybrid type of outside linebacker.
The offseason has treated the Eagles well. Despite losing defensive end Derrick Burgess in free agency to Oakland, the Eagles were able to retain running backs Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter as well as linebacker Keith Adams. All could play key roles this season.