NFC East welcomes cap relief

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Teams in the NFC East potentially have the most to gain from the $10 million jump in the salary cap.

For two years, the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Washington Redskins have been cap-strapped. Watching them operate over that span has been fascinating, especially the different strategies used by Dallas and Washington.

NFL owners imposed cap penalties of $10 million against the Cowboys and $36 million against the Redskins for trying to free up future space by spending big during the uncapped year of 2010. I know that doesn't sound right, and Jones and Redskins owner Dan Snyder would agree.

The Cowboys and Redskins lost their appeals and two years of cap flexibility, with the penalties being assessed in 2011 and '12. Jones tried to deal with it by restructuring contracts, which ate up money in future cap years.

Thanks in part to those adjustments, the Cowboys are now about $16 million over the 2014 cap, with about $14.9 million of that from restructuring contracts in 2012 and 2013.

The Redskins didn't borrow as much from the future. They limited their signings to players willing to take less to play in Washington. As a result, they are now about $29.3 million under. Their cap albatross has been lifted.

The Giants, meanwhile, limited themselves mostly to signings of $1 million or less to get through two tight years of trying to keep what they thought was a Super Bowl team together. Now, they are $18 million under and can operate close to normal.

Don't underestimate the damage imposed to those three teams by tight caps. The Cowboys have been stuck at 8-8. The Giants have been out of the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl. The Redskins made the playoffs in 2012, thanks in large part to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, but they crashed last season.

Only the Philadelphia Eagles have been able to build during the past two years. They have recovered from the 2011 Dream Team fiasco and have an early edge in the division this offseason. Last week, they re-signed wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper and extended the contracts of offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce.

They did all that and still have more than $20 million of cap room. Because they have transitioned from Michael Vick to Nick Foles, they can follow the lead of the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks and leverage a couple of years with a low-priced starting quarterback to add an extra high-priced player or two to get them over the top.

The Eagles can't even think about extending Foles until after the 2014 season because of the new rules in the CBA prohibiting a draft choice from getting a second deal until after three seasons. Last year, the Seahawks used that advantage to improve their pass rush by adding Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, which helped them win a Super Bowl.

The Redskins are in a similar position, thanks to RG III. They can let his rookie contract play out while spending the savings on other players.

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