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NFC East Is NFL's Most Fascinating Division Race After Trade Deadline

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystOctober 31, 2018

Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper (19) catches a pass during NFL football practice in Frisco, Texas, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

The Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins entered into a midseason arms race at the NFL trade deadline, which makes their upcoming competition for an NFC East title all the more enthralling. 

The division was already becoming one of the NFL's most competitive races in recent weeks. Three of the four organizations—not including the 1-7 New York Giants—then made moves to improve their chances of making the postseason. 

"Our foot is always on the gas," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told reporters after trading a 2019 third-round pick for wide receiver Golden Tate on Tuesday. 

Each team took a different approach to bolstering its roster for the stretch run.

The Cowboys blinked first by sending a 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for wide receiver Amari Cooper. 

"We wouldn't give that first-round pick up if it weren't for the long term," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday during his weekly appearance on 105.3 The Fan (via Sporting News' Chelsea Howard). "And the other thing we can do is step in here and have immediate value for him for this year."

Jones became enamored with Cooper, who he believes can "definitely change the dynamics of the offense."

The septuagenarian isn't wrong. Cooper may not be an elite No. 1 receiver, but he'll improve an underwhelming Cowboys receiving corps. 

"He's certainly as advertised in terms of just his conscientiousness, how he approaches it, his work ethic," Jones said. "And, of course, he has unique skills."

Cole Beasley leads the Cowboys with 33 receptions for 350 yards. He's a slippery slot receiver best suited to work underneath routes as Dak Prescott's security blanket. Tight end Geoff Swaim is Dallas' second-leading receiver with 205 yards. Meanwhile, Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson and rookie Michael Gallup haven't provided nearly enough working outside the numbers this season. 

Cooper produced a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns and two Pro Bowl berths in his first two seasons before he began struggling with drops and inconsistency over the past year-and-a-half, as CBS Sports noted: 

CBS Sports HQ @CBSSportsHQ

Highest drop % among 50 most-targeted WRs over the past 4 seasons: Amari Cooper - 8.4% Ted Ginn - 7.8% Davante Adams - 7.5% Dez Bryant - 7.4% Michael Crabtree - 7.4% https://t.co/wnd8yYfzUV

Despite those issues, Cooper is now the most talented receiver on the Cowboys roster. The 24-year-old is only six months older than Calvin Ridley, whom the Atlanta Falcons selected with a first-round pick in April. He'll improve Dallas' 29th-ranked pass offense by making defenses account for him at all times.

Is it enough for the Cowboys to win the division? Well, the Eagles added a far more productive target in Tate for only a third-round pick, per ESPN's Adam Schefter

The 30-year-old is the NFL's best slot receiver. He has at least 90 catches in each of the last four seasons and had at least 1,000 yards in three of those campaigns.

"We think we have a really good football team and we are adding a really good player," Roseman said, per Dave Spadaro of the Eagles official site. "He fits this culture. ... What he does with the ball in his hands is special."

Special is an understatement. Tate is the league's most elusive receiver after the catch, according to NFL Next Gen Stats: 

Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats

The @Eagles have acquired Golden Tate from the Lions for a 2019 3rd round pick. @ShowtimeTate has been among the best receivers creating yards after the catch, leading all WRs in total YAC (1528) and YAC Above Expectation (+296) since 2016. #FlyEaglesFly https://t.co/CEak01CUhY

Tate will immediately become a multidimensional weapon in Doug Pederson's offense, much like Nelson Agholor already is. Pederson can utilize both Tate and Agholor as a slot receiver, outside target, deep threat, intermediate option or gadget player out the backfield.

Fran Duffy of the Eagles official site shared a few examples of how the Lions manufactured touches for Tate: 

Fran Duffy @fduffy3

Shot 8 - Then you've got him as a ball carrier. Tate carries the ball on Jets, Reverses and End Arounds, and even in the backfield as a RB. Him on the field with Alshon, Ertz, Agholor, Goedert, etc will be fun to watch. #FlyEaglesFly https://t.co/qSCDtPsYaV

Dallas and Philadelphia both addressed areas of need for their offenses. Washington, meanwhile, bolstered its already strong defense by sending a fourth-round pick to the Green Bay Packers for safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Clinton-Dix is a perfect complementary piece in Washington's defensive backfield. D.J. Swearinger is better working near the line of scrimmage as a downhill safety, while Clinton-Dix is a traditional over-the-top free safety. According to ESPN.com's Mike Clay, the two defensive backs currently own Pro Football Focus' second- and third-best grades among safeties. 

Washington also has plenty of depth at the position to present different big nickel looks with Montae Nicholson or Deshazor Everett. 

New Washington Redskins safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix makes a play on the ball against the San Francisco 49ers.
New Washington Redskins safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix makes a play on the ball against the San Francisco 49ers.Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

Clinton-Dix will be a free agent after this season, which is likely why the Packers were willing to move him. Washington will either get a jump on re-signing the 2014 first-round pick, or it's likely to receive a compensatory pick in the 2020 draft. 

Either way, the NFL's fourth-ranked defense improved along its back line. That became a necessity after Washington's primary competition for a division crown both added weapons in the passing game. 

Jay Gruden's squad already makes teams one-dimensional by allowing only 80.1 rushing yards per game. Now, the group is even more prepared to defend the pass. 

Washington has a 1.5-game lead over Philadelphia and a two-game lead over Dallas. The Cowboys and Redskins each have four divisional games remaining, while the Eagles have five.

The moves these teams made ahead of Tuesday's trade deadline could help decide which one emerges as division champion. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.

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