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Following Divisional Round exits, the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars need to figure out what went wrong and what’s next.
Luckily for them, they don’t have to think too hard. I’m here to think for them! They’ll thank me later.
Following another poor playoff performance, Dak Prescott is rightfully under the microscope. However, the Cowboys can’t realistically move on from him — because of his contract — until after next season.
Plus, there’s no solution for next year that’s realistically going to give them a better chance to win than Prescott. Those who think they need to move on may be correct, ultimately, but there’s no sense in playing that scenario for 2023-24.
The same is true for Zeke Elliott, who is soaking up way too much of the Cowboys cap space for a guy that produces so little. But, cutting him doesn’t make a ton of sense from a financial perspective.
The problem, as it always has been, is Jerry Jones. He’s too involved in football operations and is a terrible general manager. He gave Elliott one of the worst contracts in the NFL, only to watch him be outplayed by a former fourth-round pick, Tony Pollard.
The truth is that Dallas will not return to prominence until Jones steps aside. And that just isn’t going to happen anytime soon. They have very good pieces that allowed them to win 12 games and reach the Divisional Round. But you can’t compete for Super Bowls paying a washed-up running back $16 million.
It’s not Zeke’s fault he got paid. It’s not Prescott’s, either. They’ve been able to draft well, grabbing Micah Parsons last year, CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs the year before, but they can’t supplement in free agency.
So, what do they do this offseason? This is going to be tough to hear for a team two wins away from a Super Bowl appearance, but they need to blow it up. Play for 2024-25 when they can get out from under Prescott’s contract. At that point, they’d have to pay Lamb, too. He’s very good, but giving him another Zeke contract is a mistake.
They need to draft a quarterback to develop next season, and get some young playmakers in that offense. Beyond Lamb, the cupboard is bare. I’m not sure there’s an offseason solution, given their draft position and cap situation, that makes this team good enough to that step forward next season.
New York Giants
Another interesting NFC East offseason team, the Giants aren’t as talented as the Cowboys, but their problems seem eminently more fixable. I don’t think Daniel Jones is a long-term answer — unless it’s financially reasonable — but they have an excellent head coach. That’s a great place to start.
The Buffalo Bills clearly missed Brian Daboll, who took a Giants team with a 6.5 win total over/under, into the Divisional Round. That was the ceiling for this team, and they reached it. It’s pretty clear that they need players on offense. I’m not breaking any news to even the most casual fan with that assessment.
But they also need a ton of help up-the-middle at the second and third levels of their defense. Up front, with Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibideaux, they have the building blocks of a strong defense.
But their linebackers and safeties were terrible this season. None of them ranked inside the top 40 at his position according to Pro Football Focus. They could use a true shutdown corner, as well.
A lot of the focus will be placed on the offense and the receivers, but if Daboll could get what he did out of Daniel Jones, Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins and Richie James, then they don’t need to go crazy. They have to be cautious with Saquan Barkley, who is clearly their best offensive player, because they can’t afford to give him that “Zeke contract.”
If I were the Giants, I would prioritize drafting young skill players, and bringing in some veterans on defense. Players like Lavonte David and Jessie Bates make a lot of sense for New York. Not only are they still good players, but they can help lead a young group.
The Giants have an enviable cap situation, as well, ranked third-best by PFF. Only the Bears and Falcons have more effective cap space heading into next season and those are non-playoff teams with many more holes to fill. Side note: the Bengals are actually right behind the Giants at fourth, which should be terrifying to the rest of the league.
The Giants have pieces in place, all of their draft picks including two third round selections, and a ton of cap space. They’re a team on the rise with a crucial offseason ahead.
This is a tough one. The Dallas Cowboys are very disappointed to not advance, but at the end of the day, they went on the road against the #2 team in the NFC. For the Buffalo Bills, though, they lost at home as a team that was expected to compete for the Super Bowl.
Unlike the Cowboys, the Bills are still set up well for the near-term future. They do have their quarterback of the now and the future, and don’t have to worry about that. But the manhandling they suffered against Cincinnati should serve as a massive wake-up call.
Buffalo had virtually no pass rush against the Bengals, and that’s alarming. Cincinnati has well-documented offensive line woes yet they gave Joe Burrow a clean pocket all game and the Bengals ran the ball at will, also. Losing Von Miller to injury hurt, and they’re going to need him to get healthy for next season since he’s contracted.
Buffalo’s cap situation doesn’t look great, so it’ll be tough for them to be too aggressive in the free-agent market. But if the Eagles don’t retain Javon Hargrave, he’s a great target for the Bills if they can make the money work. He’s a disruptor in the middle who can get to the quarterback. Buffalo needs a player like that.
They need someone opposite Stefon Diggs, too. Though, they need Diggs to grow up a little in the offseason, too. Gabe Davis is a nice player, but look at the teams remaining in the playoffs. The Chiefs are the only ones lacking at least two matchup nightmares, but they have Patrick Mahomes. Cincinnati has Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. San Francisco has Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle. Philadelphia has AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith.
For a team as good as the Bills, they have their work cut out this offseason. Josh Allen is getting some hate on social media, including by our guy Dan Dakich, but the truth is that he elevates this team beyond their roster. In the AFC, though, when the two teams you’re competing with have Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes, you better bring more to the table.
They need to beef up their offensive and defensive lines and get another playmaker in the offense. Easier said than done.
Like the Giants, the Jaguars OutKicked their Coverage (see what I did there?) this season. They also had a Vegas win total around 6-6.5 and managed to win the AFC South and a playoff game. Unlike the Giants, they have their quarterback of the future Trevor Lawrence.
The turnovers are concerning, though, and Lawrence should spend the offseason figuring that out. He had 22 giveaways this season, including nine (!!) lost fumbles. He threw five interceptions in two Jaguars playoff games.
That aside, the front office has work to do. They are over the cap, so it will take some financial maneuvering from the front office. The good news is that they have a quarterback and an explosive playmaker (Travis Etienne) on rookie contracts. Plus, they traded for Calvin Ridley who should return from suspension next season to add another dimension to the Jaguars offense.
They also have solid defensive building blocks in place, including the other Josh Allen and first overall pick in last year’s draft Travon Walker forming a strong pass rush along with Arden Key. Tyson Campbell gives the Jaguars a #1 corner, too.
Their offensive line needs work, though. None of their tackles or guards grades out in the Top 40 at his position and their center is outside the Top 35. They have to start there. There are holes to fill on defense, but with a strong line, they can worry more about the offense right now.
There aren’t a ton of great offensive lineman likely to hit the market, but two guys still in the playoffs — San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchey and Kansas City’s Orlando Brown — could really help. The Jaguars have their first four picks, plus an additional fourth rounder.
There’s work to be done, but the AFC South is wide open for the taking again next season.
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ