A year ago, the NFC East looked like a division full of quarterbacks who could grow old together, with Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins Jr. in starting roles.
Things have changed in various ways.
Haskins, a first-round pick in 2019, has since been cut by the Washington Football Team, and Wentz has been traded by the Philadelphia Eagles to the Indianapolis Colts. The Dallas Cowboys signed Prescott to a four-year, $160 million contract that included an NFL-record $66 million signing bonus. And Jones enters a critical season in his development to determine if he is the New York Giants‘ quarterback for the long term.
Philadelphia appears ready to go with second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts, while Washington picked up veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Following a 2020 NFL season in which Washington won the NFC East with seven wins, it’s a good time to check in on where each team stands at the game’s most important position.
NFL Nation reporters Jordan Raanan (Giants), Tim McManus (Eagles), John Keim (WFT) and Todd Archer (Cowboys) detail the state of the division’s quarterback spot looking ahead to the 2021 season and beyond.
Dan Orlovsky explains how the expectations have ramped up for Dak Prescott with his new contract.
Signings for 2021: Signed Prescott to a four-year, $160 million deal
Subtractions from 2020: Andy Dalton
Projected 2021 Week 1 starter and his 2020 stats: Prescott (5 starts, 151-for-222, 1,856 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs, 78.7 QBR)
What’s left to do? Dalton left Dallas for a starting opportunity — and $10 million guaranteed — with the Chicago Bears. He came to the Cowboys in 2020 hoping to reset his career after a nine-year run as the Cincinnati Bengals‘ starter. He got his wish after some positive moments in replacing the injured Prescott. The Cowboys have Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci on the roster as Prescott’s backups. Could one of them serve as the No. 2 in 2021? Potentially. The Cowboys could look to the veteran market in free agency to find a more experienced backup.
Are the Cowboys better or worse at QB than last season? Based on what we know right now, they’re worse because they don’t have the security Dalton provided. Gilbert fared well in his one start last season, but that was the only real playing time he has had in his pro career. Is that enough to make the Cowboys feel comfortable? Maybe it is and maybe Prescott will return to full health without any issues. He started the first 69 games of his Cowboys career without any problem. Prescott’s rehab from the compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle is going well, and there is anticipation he will be on the field during the offseason program and ready for training camp.
Three years from now, what will we be saying about the 2021 decisions at QB? The Cowboys made the right move in signing Prescott, but they still didn’t get to a Super Bowl. While the $40 million annual average salary might be too high for some, it’s the price the Cowboys had to pay after Prescott showed uncommon patience in resisting megadeals in 2019 and 2020. After the 2023 season, there will be a whole new round of Prescott contract talks because the Cowboys will not be able to use the franchise tag on him in 2025. Imagine what the price could be by then.
Stephen A. Smith bursts into laughter after Max Kellerman picks the Giants to take home the NFC East crown.
Signings for 2021: Signed Mike Glennon to a one-year, $1.35 million deal
Subtractions from 2020: Colt McCoy
Projected 2021 Week 1 starter and his 2020 stats: Jones (14 starts, 280-for-448, 2,943 yards, 11 TDs, 10 INTs, 61.5 QBR)
What’s left to do? Nothing. Sit back and cross your fingers. This is Jones’ show. The Giants showed no interest in upgrading at quarterback this offseason. They are sold on Jones after watching for two years how he works and what he brings to the table. Now it’s time to produce. But as Giants general manager Dave Gettleman explained, how many people are great at their job right away, in the first two years? That’s what the Giants are hanging their hat on with Jones, and they’re doing everything they can to give him a fair chance to succeed. All you have to do is look at the amount they paid to wide receiver Kenny Golladay — and even tight end Kyle Rudolph — as evidence.
Are the Giants better or worse at QB than last season? They sure hope they are better, and it all comes down to Jones playing better. He wasn’t great in 2020, throwing 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in a season when he didn’t make the progress most expected. Jones should be better in Year 3 with an improved supporting cast, having the addition of Golladay and the return of running back Saquon Barkley. That should make a difference. As for Jones’ insurance at No. 2, one NFL assistant said he thought McCoy was the better player when compared to Glennon. So that’s a downgrade.
Three years from now, what will we be saying about the 2021 decisions at QB? The Giants’ patience paid off. Jones at that point will have developed into a pretty good quarterback. He can run, throw and cut down on the turnovers that plagued him early in his career. The Giants also (law of averages) have won more games the past few years than the first two seasons of his pro career. Not too hard considering the Giants struggled while winning 10 games combined in 2019 and 2020.
Mel Kiper Jr. encourages the Eagles to draft wide receiver Ja’marr Chase after signing Joe Flacco.
Signings for 2021: Signed Joe Flacco to a one-year deal with $3.5 million guaranteed
Subtractions from 2020: Wentz, Nate Sudfeld
Projected 2021 Week 1 starter and his 2020 stats: Hurts (4 starts, 77-for-148, 1,061 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs, 41.0 QBR)
What’s left to do? Draft a quarterback. The Eagles added a solid No. 2 option by signing Flacco on Tuesday. He has accomplished enough in this league to push Hurts, the Eagles’ projected starter. And with 175 career starts and a Super Bowl MVP under his belt, Flacco has plenty of knowledge for Hurts to draw from. There is one open spot in the QB room, and it’s a good bet it will be filled through the draft. If the Eagles don’t use the No. 12 overall pick on a signal-caller — a decent bet at this point — Kyle Trask makes sense in Round 3 or 4. Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson was his offensive coordinator at Florida, helping him ascend from a backup in high school to a Heisman finalist this past season.
Are the Eagles better or worse at QB than last season? They are worse from a talent standpoint. Wentz nearly won the MVP in 2017 and was considered a top-15 quarterback overall before a disastrous 2020 campaign. But the whole vibe was off among the QBs last season. Wentz did not appear to respond well to the drafting of Hurts, and split allegiances began to form in the locker room as Wentz struggled and was later benched in favor of Hurts over the final quarter of the season. The Eagles should have a more harmonious QB room this year, so long as the roles are concretely defined. Not to mention, Hurts is likely to have a better season than Wentz had in ’20.
Three years from now, what will we be saying about the 2021 decisions at QB? That they serve as a cautionary tale when it comes to the handling of a franchise quarterback. Hurts could end up being a very good starter in the league. Maybe Wentz tears it up in Indy. Maybe he falls flat. It’s less about the results here and more about the process. The Eagles intended to ride with Wentz for the foreseeable future and thought he would lead their next Super Bowl charge. They never properly accounted for how the drafting of Hurts could negatively impact their relationship with Wentz if or when things got bumpy and the season didn’t go according to script. However it plays out on the field, lessons about properly supporting QB1 need to be applied moving forward.
John Keim breaks down Washington’s decision to sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Signings for 2021: Signed Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal worth up to $12 million; re-signed Taylor Heinicke to a two-year, $4.75 million deal; re-signed Kyle Allen to a one-year, $850,000 deal
Subtractions from 2020: Alex Smith, Haskins
Projected 2021 Week 1 starter and his 2020 stats: Fitzpatrick (7 starts, 183-for-267, 2,091 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs, 76.9 QBR)
What’s left to do? Find a quarterback of the future. Washington will look hard at drafting a signal-caller, and it’s possible the team waits until the second or third round for a player such as Trask or someone else of that ability. When the team signed Fitzpatrick, it did so knowing he would be a good mentor to young quarterbacks. Allen, recovering from an ankle injury, and Heinicke are not viewed as long-term solutions at this point. If Washington doesn’t draft a quarterback, it will see whether either one of those two develops, and if not, try again next offseason.
Is Washington better or worse at QB than last season? Better. Allen entered last season as the No. 2 passer behind Haskins, but it was Smith who finished as the starter. Smith was a great story — a comeback for the ages — and he was an excellent leader. But Fitzpatrick is a good leader and a better passer. He still makes costly mistakes, notably in the red zone, but if Washington surrounds him with another pass-catching threat or two, then he will capitalize and play fearlessly. Allen is a capable backup and Heinicke, a late-season addition, is the wild card. He played well in his one start, a playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Durability is a concern, and Heinicke was out of the league for two years previously, but he provided a spark and earned a two-year contract.
Three years from now, what will we be saying about the 2021 decisions at QB? Even if Fitzpatrick is only here one year, he injected fun back into the offense. It has been a while since Washington had a fun offense. In the past three years, it ranked 29th, 32nd and 25th in points per game and 28th, 31st and 30th in yards. Zzzzzz. It should be much better this season. But obviously the key will be whether they draft a QB and how he develops. Regardless, the right move is to keep searching, and while Fitzpatrick has never been much more than a stopgap, he’s a good mentor. By signing him, Washington knows that its QB-of-the-future quest is not over — and that’s a good thing.