Picking over the detritus in the NFC East, and what’s this? The Washington Commanders hired a respected adult to oversee their football operations with the title “general manager.” Maybe hogs can fly after all.
There is much work to be done in Ashburn, and Adam Peters — hired last week, introduced at a news conference — has barely started. But between the moment Commanders owner Josh Harris extended an offer to the San Francisco 49ers assistant general manager and the time he sat before a mic, the perceived pillars of the division about collapsed. Peters has a team to build, and the blinders have to be on. But for a couple of minutes, who could blame him if he allowed himself a little smile?
“This is where I’m supposed to be: the general manager of the Washington Commanders,” Peters said Tuesday as he sat next to Harris. “I just can’t tell you guys how excited I am to be here. … This is one of the cornerstone franchises in the NFL, [one of the] pillars of the National Football League.”
The funny thing? No one had to muffle laughter.
The power hasn’t shifted in the NFC East, but the first weekend of the playoffs certainly shook its foundation. Division champ Dallas got embarrassed at home by seventh-seeded Green Bay, falling behind 27-0 in an ugly 48-32 loss that is cause for soul-searching. Defending NFC champ Philadelphia completed an epic collapse with a noncompetitive 32-9 shellacking at Tampa Bay that was its sixth loss in seven games, a slide that had Coach Nick Sirianni deflecting questions about his future after the game.
Ouch. In two markets where dissecting the NFL team is a year-round sport, cue the existential questions.
Peters doesn’t yet know who his first coach with the Commanders will be. “We’re looking for the best leader for the Washington Commanders,” he said Tuesday, adding that he values a shared belief system more than whether the new guy coaches offense or defense.
But in helping Harris pick that coach — from among a group that includes offensive coordinators Ben Johnson of Detroit and Bobby Slowik of Houston as well as defensive coordinators Mike Macdonald of Baltimore and Raheem Morris of the Los Angeles Rams — Peters is operating in a decidedly different environment than has been in that building for decades. He is aligned with ownership. He wants to hire a person who will help him evaluate both the current roster and the best fit for the second pick in the draft. The team has draft capital, salary cap space and thorough, process-oriented people in charge of how to use both.
When, exactly, has Washington had the most optimistic outlook in the division?
Now this is all relative, because it’s not as if Peters flipped the roster this week and the Commanders suddenly have more talent than the Eagles or Cowboys. They don’t.
“There’s a few cornerstone pieces on this roster,” Peters said. “I believe we have a lot of work to do.”
Translation: We need players. Lots of them.
The optimism, though, is a vibe. Harris’s dismissal of Ron Rivera as coach and de facto GM; his subsequent acknowledgment and understanding that coach and general manager should be different jobs; his decisiveness on Peters and Peters’s answers Tuesday — that’s an all-but-unprecedented run of competence in Ashburn. These men haven’t accomplished anything with their new team, and they know that. But there’s a sense they are smart people who will hire more smart people. No guarantees, but it should be fun to watch play out.
In Dallas and Philadelphia? This week, there’s only car wreck voyeurism going on. Two sets of owners, coaches and quarterbacks with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations were de-pantsed in such a fashion that some level of franchise overhaul isn’t out of the question.
Start with the Cowboys, because they went down first. Dallas this season ranked fifth in yards allowed (299.7) and points allowed (18.5) per game and ninth in yards allowed per play (5.0). Sunday evening at AT&T Stadium — where they had won their past 16 games — they allowed Jordan Love, making his first playoff start, to direct the Packers to 415 yards at 7.7 per play.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, coming off his best season — in which he had been picked off multiple times in a game just once — threw two egregious interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. CeeDee Lamb, coming off a record-setting season at wide receiver, had two catches for 18 yards in the first half, by which time the score was 27-7. This was organizational-wide humiliation.
So after a 12-5 season that was supposed to still be alive in Dallas, everything would seem to be on the table. Mike McCarthy back for a fifth season as coach? Who likes his odds, what with owner Jerry Jones being 81, not an age for staying patient? Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is interviewing for coaching jobs around the league, but even if he returns, the egg laid in his most recent performance is liable to outweigh the body of work that preceded it among the Cowboys faithful.
Now, as Belichick might say, “On to Philadelphia.”
Whew, the Eagles. How could a Super Bowl team from the previous season start the next campaign 10-1 and end up as a downright … mess?
“It was almost like we couldn’t get out of the rut we were in,” Sirianni said after the debacle in Tampa. “And that’s all of us.”
Well, it starts with Sirianni. The third-year coach was heralded as a rising star when he took the Eagles to last year’s Super Bowl. But 2023 was such a struggle that he replaced defensive coordinators midstream, then watched as his team allowed an average of 31 points over its final eight games, including the sleepwalk against the Bucs. Quarterback Jalen Hurts, whom the team is now paying $51 million annually, was either hurt or regressed or both; he threw 15 interceptions, as many as he had coughed up in the previous two seasons combined.
Oh, and don’t forget the New York Giants. A year ago, Coach Brian Daboll was heralded for salvaging inconsistent quarterback Daniel Jones and leading the Giants to the playoffs — where they won a game. But Jones lasted only five starts this season before he was injured. The fact that the Giants played better with journeyman Tyrod Taylor and rookie Tommy DeVito means the offseason again reverts to “Is Jones really the guy?” — except now he has a $160 million contract. Let’s get to the phone lines. Lou in Yonkers, you’re up.
The Commanders aren’t the best team in the NFC East just because a thorough, orderly process brought Adam Peters aboard to lead a complete rebuild. But after a 4-13 debacle, they sit in a decent spot. Optimism doesn’t win football games. But it does color an offseason, and given that the Commanders don’t play for nine months, it’s healthier when the mind-set is more “Let’s build this up” rather than “Do we have to tear it all down?”