I'm sorry, it's time to let the '09 season go. This is almost impossible for Cowboys fans who are still trying to figure out whether the Vikings are really 31 points better than their team. The other three NFC East teams are already looking to the future.
The Redskins have renewed hope with the arrival of Mike Shanahan. Eagles fans are beating their annual "let's dump Donovan" drum. And the Giants are trying to figure out exactly what went wrong while hiring new defensive coaches. Now let's address the burning questions for all four teams.
The Burning Questions: Now that we know Wade Phillips will return as head coach, we can stop obsessing about his replacement. I think the Cowboys' 09 season was an unequivocal success. I know it ended in embarrassing fashion, but there are signs that this team will have more opportunities to win divisional playoff games. You no longer have a question mark at quarterback. Yes, I know Tony Romo reverted to some of his old ways during Sunday's loss, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that he completely changed his reputation during the '09 season. Romo learned to trust that his defense would get the job done and he treated the football with a lot more respect. When praising offensive coordinator Jason Garrett (yes, it's possible), we need to start with Romo.
The only significant change the Cowboys could make is replacing left tackle Flozell Adams with Doug Free. Is that the right move? I don't know how anyone could answer that question at this point. All I know is that Free did an excellent job in the seven games he replaced an injured Marc Colombo at right tackle. And I'm not going to judge the man's ability to play left tackle off a game in which he was thrown into the lineup because of an injury and had to face the wild dog known as Jared Allen. I think there's a 50-50 shot the Cowboys go ahead and pull the trigger on releasing Adams. They'll have a hard time getting anyone to trade for a 33-year-old left tackle with a relatively high salary.
The Burning Questions: It's all about the defense, and that's why Tom Coughlin fired defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan immediately after the season and replaced him with former Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. In the past, the Giants were able to generate an excellent pass rush with their front four. That wasn't the case in '09 as former Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora feuded with his defensive coordinator, and star defensive end Justin Tuck saw his production drop while battling injuries. General manager Jerry Reese thought that signing Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty in free agency would bolster a defensive line that faltered down the stretch in '08 because of injuries. Bernard was an absolute bust and Canty missed most of the season with injuries. I've watched Canty up close for several years and I think he'll eventually help this team. I wouldn't count on Bernard one bit at this point. Barry Cofield is the only defensive tackle that held up fairly well this season.
You also have to decide what to do with aging middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. He's a fiery leader for this team, but his production had fallen off before he suffered a season-ending neck injury. It's probably time to open up the competition at middle linebacker and see if Jonathan Goff or Bryan Kehl could be the answer. Danny Clark is an excellent veteran influence in the locker room, but I think his starting days are behind him. You also have to make some changes to the back end of this defense. If Kenny Phillips can return from a serious knee injury, he'll make a big impact. But you can't enter the season with Aaron Rouse or C.C. Brown backing him up. The Giants may look to the draft to find a potential starter. I'm anxious to see where safety Taylor Mays out of USC goes in the draft. He's a potential high-impact player who would probably be available where the Giants are selecting (No. 15).
The Burning Questions: The conversation has to start with quarterback. Everyone's saying Andy Reid will look weak if the Eagles end up trading Donovan McNabb because the coach said he'd already made the decision to bring McNabb back. But what did you want the guy to say? If he's vague in his answer, it could affect McNabb's trade value. The Eagles don't want to imply that McNabb's a declining player. I think there's a chance a team such as the Browns would trade a first-round pick for McNabb. Former Eagles general manager Tom Heckert has joined Mike Holmgren in Cleveland and he appreciates McNabb, as well as his understudy, Kevin Kolb. It would not surprise me that much if Kolb's the starting quarterback in Philly next season. And I don't see the Eagles bringing back Michael Vick as a Wildcat quarterback for $5 million. Doesn't make any sense.
The Eagles will probably have to say goodbye to running back Brian Westbrook. They'll owe him $7.5 million next season, and unless he's willing to redo his deal, he'll probably be released. The Eagles would prefer having a nice retirement party for Westbrook, but I don't think he'll be interested in helping the Eagles save face. This isn't like the Brian Dawkins situation. You knew that he could still be a viable starter in the league. We don't know that about Westbrook after his various injuries. The Eagles also need to fix the back end of their defense, possibly draft a linebacker and they could use another pass-rushing defensive end. Oh, and there's also the offensive line.
It's time to say goodbye to Shawn Andrews. He's not worth all of the headaches that he brings to the organization. And you better find out whether his older brother, Stacy, has anything left at guard. I think the Eagles should consider signing Nick Cole to a contract extension. He's a versatile offensive lineman who could help immensely in the coming years.
The Burning Questions: Where do we start? OK, let's go with quarterback. Mel Kiper, a regular contributor to this blog, is predicting that the Redskins will take Oklahoma's Sam Bradford with the No. 4 overall pick. Shanahan could attempt to trade Jason Campbell if another team's willing to give him a chance as a starter. The Browns and Rams come to mind first, and at some point the Seahawks are going to have to address their quarterback situation. But if the Skins don't find any takers, Shanahan may try to create a quarterback competition between whatever rookie he drafts and Campbell. I don't think it's a given that a rookie would come in and immediately start under Shanahan. And from the people I've talked to, Shanahan has a deal great admiration for Campbell and the way he handled the fiasco that was the Skins' 2009 season.
Shanahan almost has to start over and rebuild the offensive line. He'll try to find some players he's comfortable with in free agency and then look for more talent in the draft. You can't go into the season trying to build an offensive line around Stephon Heyer. Derrick Dockery's about the only guy who's job is safe. I think you even saw some declining play from center Casey Rabach this season. There's also this little question about the starting running back. Shanahan will probably sit down and figure out whether Clinton Portis is willing to change his approach to preparing for the season. Portis has frustrated a lot of his teammates with his attitude and close relationship with Dan Snyder. If he's not willing to change, he should be released. I don't think any team's willing to trade a first- or second-round draft pick for Portis at this point in his career.
On defense, it's probably time to let Carlos Rogers move on unless Shanahan thinks new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can turn him around. You also have to start drafting players who can function in a 3-4 scheme. London Fletcher's a tremendous player, but I don't like him in a 3-4.
We didn't cover everything in this column, but believe me, we'll hit on every conceivable topic this offseason.