This is the fifth of an eight-part series that looks at the upcoming season for each division in the NFL. Today's story looks at the NFC East.
The Dallas Cowboys had barely gotten over their painful playoff loss at Seattle when coach Bill Parcells retired abruptly and was replaced by Wade Phillips.
Most of the players seem eager to embrace the change from the authoritative Parcells to the more affable Phillips. With a team built to win now, owner Jerry Jones expects Phillips to do what Parcells couldn't -- capture the NFC East title and end a franchise-long 10-year drought without a playoff win.
The Philadelphia Eagles had a prolific offseason and won't relinquish the division title without a fight. The New York Giants and Washington Redskins made a few good acquisitions, but remain a notch below Dallas and Philly.
Here's a rundown of the offseason moves by each NFC East club, along with key questions each team faces entering training camp:
Key gains: QB Kelly Holcomb (Bills), QB Kevin Kolb (Houston), RB Tony Hunt (Penn State), WR Kevin Curtis (Rams), WR Bethel Johnson (Vikings), LB Takeo Spikes (Bills), DT Montae Reagor (Colts), DT Ian Scott (Bears), DE Victor Abiamiri (Notre Dame), LB Stewart Bradley (Nebraska).
Key losses: QB Jeff Garcia (Buccaneers), WR Donte Stallworth (Patriots), DT Darwin Walker (Bills), LB Shawn Barber (Texans), CB Roderick Hood (Cardinals), S Michael Lewis (49ers).
Breakdown: The good news is QB Donovan McNabb's surgically repaired knee will be healed by training camp. A.J. Feeley and Holcomb have to fight off Kolb's challenge. The defense gets a big lift from Spikes, Reagor, Scott, Abiamiri and Bradley. The Eagles signed Curtis over Stallworth, their most experienced and dangerous receiver who teamed with Garcia to spark a late-season surge. Johnson will return kicks. Hunt is a big back to complement Brian Westbrook.
Questions: Can McNabb stay healthy? He has suffered injuries the last two years. Will Spikes return to Pro Bowl form? Is Curtis, a career backup, really worth $30 million?
Key gains: Phillips (Chargers), QB Brad Johnson (Vikings), G/T Leonard Davis (Cardinals), OT James Marten (Boston College), OT Doug Free (Northern Illinois), S Ken Hamlin (Seahawks), DE/LB Anthony Spencer (Purdue).
Key losses: Parcells (retired), QB Drew Bledsoe (released), C Al Johnson (Cardinals), DE Kenyon Coleman (Jets).
Breakdown: Phillips has already made a favorable impression on the players. WR Terrell Owens, who had a frosty relationship with Parcells, has been an active participant in minicamps. The Cowboys are convinced Tony Romo is their franchise quarterback. Davis got a monster contract to help protect Romo. Johnson can handle the backup role better than Bledsoe. Spencer should wreak havoc opposite Pro Bowl OLB DeMarcus Ware in Phillips' aggressive 3-4 scheme.
Questions: Will Phillips' low-key approach work? Is Romo the real deal? Will Davis, an underachiever in Arizona, justify his $50 million contract? Owens and Terry Glenn are getting old, and Patrick Crayton is the only legitimate receiver behind them. Is Hamlin enough to help a suspect secondary?
Key gains: QB Anthony Wright (Bengals), RB Reuben Droughns (Browns), CB Aaron Ross (Texas), WR Steve Smith (USC), LB Kawika Mitchell (Chiefs).
Key losses: RB Tiki Barber (retired), OT Luke Petitgout (Buccaneers), LB LaVar Arrington (released), LB Carlos Emmons (released), K Jay Feely (Dolphins).
Breakdown: Barber's departure means 264-pound bruiser Brandon Jacobs will start. Droughns was signed to provide depth. The Giants hope Ross is ready to start. Smith is more polished than Giants' 2006 top pick, Sinorice Moss. With Arrington gone, '06 first-round pick Mathias Kiwanuka moves from defensive end to outside linebacker. Mitchell can play inside or outside.
Questions: Will QB Eli Manning finally live up to expectations? Is Jacobs ready to carry the load? Is David Diehl, a natural guard, good enough at left tackle? Coach Tom Coughlin got a contract extension, but will he lose his job if he misses the playoffs again?
Key gains: OT Jason Fabini (Cowboys), OG Ross Tucker (free agent), LB London Fletcher (Bills), LB H.B. Blades (Pittsburgh), CB Fred Smoot (Vikings), CB David Macklin (Cardinals), S LaRon Landry (LSU), S Omar Stoutmire (Saints).
Key losses: OG Derrick Dockery (Bills), LB Warrick Holdman (Broncos), CB Mike Rumph (Rams), CB Kenny Wright (Browns), S Adam Archuleta (Lions).
Breakdown: Help was needed on defense. Fletcher, Smoot and Macklin should help. The Redskins made the most of only one Day One draft pick by getting Landry, who will form a hard-hitting safety tandem with Pro Bowler Sean Taylor. Signing Fabini and Tucker doesn't negate Dockery's departure. Already rehabilitating from shoulder and hand surgeries, RB Clinton Portis now has knee tendinitis. Good thing the Redskins have Ladell Betts (1,154 yards last year) in reserve.
Questions: How is Gregg Williams going to fix the NFL's 31st-ranked defense without a pass rush (a franchise low 19 sacks in 2006)? Is QB Jason Campbell ready to lead the offense full time?
Next: NFC North.
Philadelphia: Spikes's career-long playoff drought may be over.
Dallas: Wade has big job in Big D.
N.Y. Giants: Brother's Super Bowl wim makes Eli's job tough.
Washington: Has Gibbs lost his touch?