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NFC East preview: New York Giants might be the most intriguing team

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Time to take a division by division look at the teams the 49ers will not play. We move on to the NFC East.

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Over the last two weeks, we put together a look at each of the San Francisco 49ers 13 opponents with a little help from SB Nation’s network of bloggers. Each person answered a few questions, providing a nice, basic rundown to help preview training camp. We got through that on Monday with the Seattle Seahawks. You can find the rest in our opponents section on the site.

Since we still have two weeks until the 49ers report to training camp, I thought why not use the 18 non-49ers previews to take a look at the rest of the league. The 49ers will not play the 18 teams outside of the playoffs and preseason, but it is always interesting to know more about the rest of the league. And so, we’re going to look at each division over the next week, combing four team previews for each post. We started with the AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, and AFC East, and today we move on to the NFC East. We broke down each team individually, but I thought I’d combine them together so people can compare and contrast all four teams together.

Washington claimed the division last year, and they added a huge name in cornerback Josh Norman. They return Kirk Cousins under the franchise tag, but the division might not be there’s for the taking. If Tony Romo can stay healthy (always a huge if), the Cowboys have a good chance of taking the division. The Giants added some serious defensive talent, opening up the checkbook for Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison. Add in spending a first round pick on cornerback Eli Apple, and this defense could be in store for a significant resurgence. And then there’s the Eagles. Considering their decision to fire Chip Kelly, it’ll be interesting to track how they do alongside the 49ers.

Dallas Cowboys

Notable free agent additions:

  • DT Cedric Thornton - Expected get significant snaps at the 1-technique spot, and probably will get the majority of starts at the spot. Left Philly because he didn’t think he’d be able to win a Super Bowl there and liked his chances in Dallas much better.
  • RB Alfred Morris - Two-time Pro Bowler who rushed for 1.000+ yards in three of his four NFL seasons. Looking for a career re-start in Dallas. He probably won’t get a lot of starts behind Ezekiel Elliott, but he’ll provide the Cowboys with some quality depth.
  • DE Benson Mayowa - Mayowa is most notable for the fact that he is pretty unnotable. The Cowboys poached Mayowa from the Raiders with a three-year, $8.25 million contract, and for that money they got a guy who has three starts in 30 games and two sacks on his resume. If they turn Mayowa into a bona fide pass rusher, they’ll look golden. Odds are they won’t.

Notable free agent departures:

  • CB Greg Hardy - Still looking for a job.
  • QB Matt Cassel - Landed a backup job with the Titans. Could be a short-lived job if they ever ask him to actually play.

Trades:- -

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

  • RB Ezekiel Elliott (first round pick) - He’s the starter from day one, without a doubt, and behind the Cowboys’ O-line he’s expected to be in the discussion for Rookie of the Year.
  • LB Jaylon Smith (second round) - The Cowboys are holding out some hope that he’ll recover sufficiently from the nerve damage in his knee to play late in the season, but that seems like a lot of wishful thinking right now.
  • DT Maliek Collins (third round) - A broken foot suffered in OTAs set him back, but he’s expected to be part of the defensive line rotation this season.
  • DE Charles Tapper (fourth round) - He’ll get some early looks in the defensive line rotation as a pass rush threat with Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence suspended for the first four games.

Biggest offseason addition: Three running backs (Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson) added to what Pro Football Focus called one of the most improved backfields in the NFL.

What many may see as a luxury is a necessity for the Cowboys, who are looking to re-establish their identity as a hard-nosed, physical offense, an identity they forged in 2014 en route to a 12-4 record - and a marked departure from the pass-happy offenses of the previous years.

Switching their offensive identity to a ball-control, ground-oriented attack, the Cowboys ran the ball 50.1 percent of the time, Murray set an NFL record with eight straight games of at least 100 yards to open the season, led the league in rushing yards by a wide margin, and earned OPY honors. The new identity proved to be the cornerstone of the team’s success. Romo had the best and most efficient season of his career, leading the league in passer rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt, Dez Bryant led the league in touchdowns, and the defense benefited from playing with a lot of leads by recording an unheard-of amount of takeaways.

And that’s exactly what the Cowboys are looking to repeat this year.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp:

Tony Romo’s health. When healthy, few doubt that Romo can be one of the top QBs in the league. Few believe he’ll stay healthy.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:

Dez Bryant is a headline magnet and every piece of news however remotely connected to his name will get a lot of airtime, but the (possible) emergence of Bryant as a veteran team leader will be something to watch, even if it goes against most of the convenient Bryant narratives out there.

Notable injuries heading into training camp:

Expected to be healthy at the start of camp: WR Dez Bryant (foot), LB Sean Lee (knee scope), DE Benson Mayowa (knee scope), S Barry Church (broken arm), CB Orlando Scandrick (ACL), TE Gavin Escobar (Achilles), DE Demarcus Lawrence (herniated disc), DT Tyrone Crawford (shoulder surgery).

Possibly out at start of camp: DT Maliek Collins (broken foot), Darren McFadden (elbow surgery)

Likely out at start of camp: Lance Dunbar (likely PUP after ACL)

New York Giants

Notable free agent additions: DE Olivier Vernon; DT Damon Harrison; CB Janoris Jenkins; LB Keenan Robinson; LB Kelvin Sheppard; FB/TE Will Johnson

Notable free agent departures: DE Robert Ayers; CB Prince Amukamara

Trades: None

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

Eli Apple, CB, Round 1: Whether or not the reports are right that the Giants preferred either LB Leonard Floyd or OT Jack Conklin no longer matters. They selected Apple 10th overall, and he figures as one of the team’s top three corners. Whether that is in the slot or not has yet to be determined, but teams use three corners a great deal now, so Apple will play a lot.

Sterling Shepard, WR, Round 2: The Giants seem more excited about getting Shepard than any of their other picks. He has been called a “perfect fit” for the West Coast-based Giants offense. Whether he starts or not, Shepard is expected to be a major contributor immediately.

Darian Thompson, S, Round 3: Thompson is competing with Nat Berhe to start alongside Landon Collins. He is a ball-hawking free safety and that skill set is something the Giants have been lacking for a couple of years.

Paul Perkins, RB, Round 5: The Giants’ backfield is crowded with veteran players, but the Giants drafted Perkins for a reason. He could be their featured back of the future. Will that come this season? It might, but veteran Rashad Jennings figures to get first crack at the job.

Biggest offseason addition: It’s not one guy. It really is the troika of high-priced free-agent defensive players the Giants signed -- Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins. The defensive was worst in the NFL last year, and the Giants were aggressive trying to address it. Five of the six big free agents they signed were defensive players, and three of their first four draft picks were also defensive players.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Ben McAdoo says he is “over it” already, when asked about being a first-time head coach and replacing a franchise legend in Tom Coughlin. Still, the changes from Coughlin to McAdoo are noticeable around the practice facility and on the practice field. Will they be noticeable in the won-loss record?

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: For Giants fans this is not under-the-radar, but I will say the question of when or if the Giants will ever address their offensive line by bringing in a veteran right tackle to replace Marshall Newhouse. Fans have been screaming about it since the end of last season. The Giants have missed on a few free agents and did not draft an offensive lineman. What the Giants do, or don’t do, there will continue to be a story.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: No new ones of major significance, which is the first time in several years that has been the case. Perhaps the “injury” of note is Victor Cruz coming back from a torn patellar tendon in 2014 and calf surgery that cost him all of 2015. Maybe the story is that with a new head coach in Ben McAdoo and new strength coach in Aaron Wellman the Giants have yet to suffer any devastating injuries.

Washington

Notable free agent additions: CB Josh Norman, DL Kendall Reyes

Notable free agent departures: QB Robert Griffin III, RB ALfred Morris, DT Terrance Knighton, LB Keenan Robinson, WR Andre Roberts

Trades:

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: WR Josh Doctson, S/LB Su’a Cravens, CB Kendall Fuller

Biggest offseason addition: It would be hard not to call the acquisition of an All-Pro CB our biggest addition of the offseason, especially when the secondary has been one of the biggest weaknesses of this Redskins team over the last few seasons. The importance of the insertion of Josh Norman into this defense can not be understated.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Will Kirk Cousins play on the franchise tag, and more importantly, will he take a step forward from his meteoric finish to the 2015 campaign? He threw for 23 touchdowns and three interceptions over the last ten games of the season last year en route to both the playoffs and a firm grasp on the locker room. If he continues evolving from there, Washington can call itself a true contender.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: What is our safety position going to look like? DeAngelo Hall returns as likely the most certain member of our starting safety duo, which doesn’t exactly inspire fear in opposing passing offenses. David Bruton and Duke Ihenacho will certainly factor heavily in the training camp battle to fill out the backside of our defense, but all eyes will be on rookie Su’a Cravens, the hybrid safety/linebacker. If he is able to log meaningful minutes at the strong safety position and make the kinds of plays our coaches feel confident he can make, this secondary could be exponentially better than it has been for years.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: Junior Galette continues to heal from his Achilles injury suffered in August 2015, and all reports seem to lean toward an impressive recovery. Should he regain his pass-rushing form from two seasons ago, it would be the equivalent of adding a top free agent from our own roster. First-round draft pick Josh Doctson is also being held out of a lot of workouts so far to allow a tender Achilles to heal fully before training camp.

Philadelphia Eagles

Notable free agent additions:

S Rodney McLeod, OG Brandon Brooks, CB Leodis McKelvin, WR Rueben Randle, WR Chris Givens, QB Chase Daniel, OL Stefen Wisniewski, CB Ron Brooks, LB Nigel Bradham

Notable free agent departures:

DE Cedric Thornton, DB Walter Thurmond (retired)

Trades:

RB DeMarco Murray and Eagles 2016 fourth round pick (No. 113) sent to the Titans in exchange for Tennessee's fourth round pick (No. 100)

CB Byron Maxwell, LB Kiko Alonso, and Eagles first round pick (No. 13) to the Dolphins in exchange for Miami's first round pick (No. 8)

QB Mark Sanchez to the Broncos in exchange for Denver's (conditional) 6th round pick in 2017

Eagles trade 2016 first round pick from Miami (No. 8), 2016 third round pick (No. 77), 2016 fourth round pick (No. 100), 2017 first round pick, 2018 second round pick in exchange for Browns 2016 first round pick (No. 2) and 2017 fourth round pick

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

R1 - QB Carson Wentz - There’s a non-zero chance Wentz could outplay Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel this summer, but it’s more likely he’ll spend his rookie season on the bench.

R3 - OL Isaac Seumalo - The versatile Seumalo is competing for an opportunity to start at left guard. Veteran Allen Barbre is considered the favorite for now.

R5 - RB Wendell Smallwood - Philadelphia plans to use a running back by committee. Smallwood is likely stuck behind the injury-prone Ryan Mathews and 33-year-old Darren Sproles on the depth chart, but he’ll get some regular playing time.

R5 - OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai - Likely won’t play much in 2016 unless there are a lot of offensive line injuries.

R6 - S Blake Countess - The backup safety doesn’t seem to be primed for much playing time this season.

R7 - Jalen Mills - Could potentially earn a job as a starting cornerback on the outside. More likely to contribute in nickel and dime packages.

R7 - Alex McCalister - Might not make the team, could be practice squad material.

R7 - Joe Walker - The Eagles are thin at linebacker. Special teams contributor.

Biggest offseason addition:

The Eagles’ decision to trade up and select Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft will ultimately define this offseason. Philadelphia believes Wentz is their franchise quarterback of the future. The team is planning for him to sit behind Bradford and Daniel as a rookie before likely taking over as the starter in 2017.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp:

The Eagles have been upfront about their quarterback plan: Sam Bradford is the starter, Chase Daniel is the backup, and Carson Wentz is the third string guy for now. But maybe that could change depending on how the quarterbacks perform this summer. Could Bradford lose his job if he struggles? Can Bradford stay healthy? Can Daniel make a run at the starting job? Can Wentz look so impressive that he forces the Eagles to abandon their plan and get him on the field sooner than anticipated?

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:

The Eagles generally lack talent on offense, but the wide receiver position is especially questionable. Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor, who mightily struggled as a rookie, is facing sexual assault allegations. No one knows what to make of his situation. Slot receiver Jordan Matthews appears to be the Eagles’ only reliable pass catcher, and even he’s struggled with drops in the past. Philadelphia took a flier on the likes of Rueben Randle and Chris Givens to see if they can bring anything to the table.

Notable injuries heading into training camp:

None.