Putting together an NFL team is hard. Teams have to navigate a balancing act, deciding whether they can go for a playoff run this year at the cost of future years’ success. We’ve seen major trades this week as teams have raced to decide if they’re in win-now or rebuild mode. All four NFC East teams recently made acquisitions; this is a game-changer in a division with three teams that suddenly look much more threatening. The Cowboys made the biggest splash by grabbing Amari Cooper, and the Eagles brought in veteran receiver Golden Tate from the Lions. The Redskins traded a fourth-round pick to Green Bay for safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and the Giants sent cornerback Eli Apple to the Saints for fourth- and seventh-round picks. These trades have confirmed what was already becoming evident midway through the season: It’s clear which NFC East teams think they’ve got what it takes to make a run and which teams are content to wait until next season.
The Cowboys made an excellent trade by obtaining Cooper, despite having to sacrifice a first-round pick. It is evident that the Cowboys think they have the weapons they need to make a playoff bid, and though their 3-4 record might not suggest it, they actually do. Dallas currently has the second-best defense in the league by points allowed. They have one of the league’s best running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and a solid offensive line to back him up. The only weak spot is their passing game. The Cowboys are 30th in the league in passing yards per game because they have no one for quarterback Dak Prescott to throw to. Adding Cooper will give the Cowboys a viable number one receiver. Defenses playing the Cowboys need to focus on shutting down the run game because of Elliot, which will make it even easier for Cooper to make big plays downfield.
It’s an even better deal because the Cowboys likely would have used the first-round pick they gave up to take a wide receiver in the draft, and there are none as good as Amari Cooper available. The Cowboys now have the advantage of a young player — Cooper is only 24 — who has already proven himself in the league. His numbers have dropped recently, most likely due to the dysfunctional Raiders’ offensive system, but Cooper is still far more skilled than any other Cowboys receiver. His talent should elevate the entire Dallas offense.
Meanwhile, the Eagles, second in the division at 4-4, bolstered an elite receiving corps of Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery by acquiring Tate. The established veteran is an underrated receiver and a deep threat. Just as their acquisition of running back Jay Ajayi last season paved the way for their Super Bowl run, Tate may be Philadelphia’s missing piece. Quarterback Carson Wentz has been playing at a high level since he returned, and Tate can fill in for injured receiver Mike Wallace. Tate’s contract expires after this season, so the Eagles are essentially renting him for eight months: They’re going all-out because they still see a path to this year’s playoffs. Perhaps the best time to judge these trades will be two weeks from now when the Cowboys face off against the Eagles. In their last matchup, Tate torched the Cowboys for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
The Redskins, quietly leading the NFC East with a 5-2 record, added safety Clinton-Dix to an already formidable defense. Adding Clinton-Dix alongside standout D.J. Swearinger should give the Redskins one of the best safety duos in the league. The question for them is whether their offense will be able to sustain the success the Redskins have found in the first eight weeks of the season. Sure, defense wins championships, but the NFL is more pass-heavy than ever with offenses like the Rams and Chiefs leading the league. The Redskins are having a hard time with their passing game, which may haunt them later in the season. But for now, the Redskins’ recipe for success is working, and Clinton-Dix should make the team even better.
Lastly, the 1-7 Giants. Let’s take a second to appreciate Eli Manning. He’s fought for the only job he ever wanted, won two Super Bowl MVPs and been the face of the franchise for a long time. The Giants are struggling. They keep finding ways to lose games, and the only exciting thing about their team is running back Saquon Barkley. People hold quarterbacks accountable for the team’s success, but Manning is not at fault here. He has made mistakes, but he’s playing behind an offensive line that lets anything and everything through. The fact that Manning goes onto the field every week knowing he’s behind an abysmal offensive line takes courage. So what does all of this have to do with the Apple trade? Everything! The Giants made a decision last year when they drafted Barkley. They decided that they had the talent to make a run for the playoffs and felt that they could do that with Manning throwing the ball. Unfortunately, none of that went according to plan: So far, the Giants have surpassed even the most pessimistic predictions in a remarkably bad first half. The Apple trade came 24 hours after a loss to Atlanta, and it was a sign that the Giants have officially entered a rebuilding phase. What this trade should tell us is to take some heat off of Manning. The whole organization needs a revamp.
But the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins all bet on themselves and look better for it. So keep your eyes on the NFC East. It should be a tight three-way race for the playoffs.
Kshitij Sachan ’22 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.