The last time you may have paid attention to the rest of the NFC East, the New York Giants were certain to fire Tom Coughlin as head coach, Dallas' Bill Parcells was warning that Tony Romo could not yet walk on water, and Washington stunk.
A few months later, Coughlin is still on New York's sideline, Romo has a new head coach in Wade Phillips, and the Redskins . . . still stink. But last year's trash often becomes this year's treasure. The gap between first and fourth isn't that large, and this weekend's draft will be the latest competition in a division that sent three of its four teams to the playoffs last year.
Like Parcells, Phillips runs a 3-4 defensive alignment, so there won't be significant changes in defensive personnel.
But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told local reporters last week that he was hoping to take a starter with the 22d pick overall in the first round if he did not move up.
"If you're going to use the one, then you really want it to be someone that impacts things a lot," Jones said. "Candidly, I'd like it on the offensive side of the ball. I'd like to see if we could create some impact over there, do something to juice it up."
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock believes that even though the Cowboys gave $18.75 million in guaranteed money to free-agent tackle Leonard Davis - who will move inside to play guard - as part of a seven-year, $49.75 million deal, Dallas could still take an offensive lineman in the first round. He has mentioned Auburn guard Ben Grubbs and Central Michigan tackle Joe Staley.
Failing that, Mayock said, the Cowboys could also go for a safety, even though they signed free agent Ken Hamlin from Seattle.
"If there's a guy like Grubbs that you really love and he's better on your board than what else is out there, then you take the guard," Mayock said by telephone yesterday. "But just because they picked up Hamlin doesn't mean they solved their safety problem. They signed him to a one-year deal, and he's similar to Roy Williams. He's not a centerfielder."
The most glaring need of the Giants, who pick 20th, appears to be at linebacker, where their gamble on LaVar Arrington failed after Arrington tore his Achilles tendon last season; New York released him in February. The Giants then almost got a deal done with Denver for veteran linebacker Al Wilson, but Wilson flunked his physical.
The left side of the Giants' offensive line is in flux, with converted guard David Diehl starting at left tackle next season. Diehl replaced the injured Luke Petitgout, who was released. Veteran Grey Ruegamer is penciled in at left guard.
"You invested your first draft pick in getting the quarterback [Eli Manning], and used a few more for it, too," Mayock said. "It might make sense to protect him."
The Giants acquired veteran running back Reuben Droughns, a 1,200-yard rusher in 2005 for Cleveland, in exchange for wide receiver Tim Carter, and bullish back Brandon Jacobs is still on the roster as well. But it wouldn't be a shock if New York went for another back on the first day.
The Redskins, picking sixth, have been rumored to covet Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but moving up would require sacrificing future draft picks, something that hasn't worked out well for Washington in previous seasons. The Redskins have only five picks in the draft this year.
Washington shored up its linebacker position by signing free agent London Fletcher from Buffalo, but the Redskins have needs on both the offensive and defensive lines, and could use another cornerback. A safe pick for the Redskins, Mayock said, would be Louisiana State safety LaRon Landry.
"You're looking at a situation with them where they need a pass rusher off the edge to go with [Andre] Carter," Mayock said. "Maybe they take a guy like [Arkansas defensive end] Jamaal Anderson, with [Clemson's] Gaines Adams certainly off the board with Detroit," which picks second.
"At that point, you start talking about, Is there a marriage with them and Atlanta at six and eight? - and I think there could be," Mayock said. "If they want to still get the guy they want and get an extra pick or two out of it, that would make a lot of sense."