As free agency has progressed, all four AFC East teams have made newsworthy moves, some head-scratchers, some brilliant. As the dust begins to settle on NFL Free Agency, let’s take a look at how the landscape of the AFC East has changed.
AFC East Changes: A New Look
New Look Bills
The Buffalo Bills swapped out quarterbacks this off-season by unloading Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns and bringing in ex-Cincinnati Bengal A.J. McCarron. At this point, no one can be entirely sure whether this move was an upgrade or a downgrade. It seems that the Bills like McCarron’s upside, as unproven as it is, enough to sign him to a two-year contract. At best, McCarron as a replacement for Taylor is a lateral move, and the Bills can be expected to target a signal-caller in this year’s draft.
The addition of Chris Ivory to the offense speaks volumes about how the team feels about the durability of LeSean McCoy and the abilities of Travaris Cadet to step up in support of McCoy. Ivory failed to average four yards per carry in two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and is unlikely to make a drastic change to the Bills ground game.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills stocked up on the front seven by signing Lotulelei, Williams, and Murphy. With E.J. Gaines‘ departure from the team, the Bills had a hole in the secondary that they filled with Vontae Davis. Davis is a two-time Pro Bowler and has potential game-changing ability. Pairing him with TreDavious White makes the Bills defense look like one of the better units in the AFC East, as long as they can fill their need at linebacker in the 2018 NFL Draft.
- Danny Amendola
- Frank Gore
- Brock Osweiler
- Sam Young
- Daniel Kilgore
- Albert Wilson
- David Fales
- Josh Sitton
New Look Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins signed David Fales and Brock Osweiler because apparently, the Jay Cutler experiment did not strike the fear of incompetence into the hearts of the coaching staff. The Fins seem poised to run with Ryan Tannehill at the helm if he is healthy, only turning to Osweiler or Fales in case of an emergency, so there really is no dramatic offensive change there. Miami let go of Mike Pouncey, who had a down year in 2017, and replaced him with Daniel Kilgore. Again, this appears to be a lateral move at best and certainly not an upgrade at the position.
Albert Wilson had a 67.74% catch percentage for a career-high 554 yards and averaged 13.2 yards per reception and a league-best 4.1 yards of separation in 2017. Wilson is an unassuming weapon for Tannehill when he returns. Add Danny Amendola to the mix, and the Dolphins almost make up for losing Jarvis Landry this off-season. Almost. The Dolphins did sign offensive guard Josh Sitton and running back Frank Gore this off-season, which adds a little more punch to their ground game, but Gore is on the wrong side of 30 for a running back.
On defense, the loss of Ndamukong Suh is going to sting for the Dolphins. Suh was a playmaker and a fearsome presence on the field. The release of Lawrence Timmons was inevitable after the linebacker disappeared without warning before a week two game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Frankly, the Dolphins lost too much with Suh, Landry, Thomas, and Pouncey than they gained in free agency. Some speculate that Adam Gase is trying to rebuild a team culture that certainly was not benefitting from the presence of Suh and Timmons. Time will tell if a different culture and a few draft picks can send the Dolphins back to the playoffs in 2018, but right now, it is doubtful.
New England Patriots
New Look Patriots
It seems like every week of this off-season, Patriots fans had another reason to rub their temples and wince. Losing Danny Amendola was tough for fans, but not necessarily for the team. The loss of Brandin Cooks was shocking, given his production last season, but may have been a necessity to keep more expensive players in the fold. The Patriots are still stacked at wide receiver with Julian Edelman, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett. Bringing in Cordarrelle Patterson was just putting more icing on an already-finished cake. Patterson also adds his talents to the special teams unit, which saw the loss of Johnson Bademosi to the Houston Texans. The Patriots brought in Jeremy Hill to fill the vacant slot left by Dion Lewis’ departure. Hill will likely reprise the role of first-down back that he enjoyed in his rookie year with Cincinnati.
The worst loss of the season was Nate Solder. Many people speculated that Solder would either stay with the team or retire this off-season, but he shocked everyone by signing with the New York Giants. This has proven to be the hardest hole for the Patriots to fill. They have signed Matt Tobin, the offensive tackle who “has no business being on anyone’s roster” according to Seth Joyner. The Patriots will have to draft an immediate starter at the position if they hope to keep Tom Brady in one piece this year.
The Patriots lost Butler in free agency as was expected, so they traded with the Browns for Jason McCourty. No one expects McCourty to display the same level of talent as Butler did during his tenure with the Patriots, which means that the Patriots secondary has a good chance to be worse than it was last year. Since the Patriots will likely spend their first round pick on an offensive tackle, the team is looking at a second-round talent to compete with McCourty on the left side.
In the front seven, the Patriots made significant upgrades. Adrian Clayborn had a franchise-record six sacks against the Dallas Cowboys during his 2017 season with the Atlanta Falcons. New England has long struggled with the pass rush, a problem they tried to remedy by bringing in James Harrison and drafting a couple defensive ends in 2017. Clayborn should provide a bit more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2018. The team also traded with Cleveland for Danny Shelton. Shelton was a little underwhelming after being selected 12th overall by the Browns but could turn things around in his fourth season.
New York Jets
- Terrelle Pryor
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Trumaine Johnson
- Isaiah Crowell
- Cairo Santos
- Travis Swanson
- Thomas Rawls
New Look Jets
The Jets added a handful of question marks on offense. Terrelle Pryor is athletic and competitive but has yet to make a splash as a receiver. Isaiah Crowell demonstrates bursts of talent but never emerged as a top-tier option in the run game. The same can be said for Thomas Rawls. Teddy Bridgewater has not played hardly any football in the last two years. Cairo Santos only attempted five field goals in 2017.
Matt Forte retired from football this off-season, so the Jets are clearly trying to stir up some magic in the run game by adding Crowell and Rawls to compete with Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire. Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown will be dueling in camp with whomever the Jets draft with the third overall pick. Terrelle Pryor will have to compete with Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, and Jermaine Kearse for the top wide receiver spot, which sounds like a race between three-legged horses.
In light of the lukewarm signings, the Jets did not lose anyone irreplaceable this off-season. Seferian-Jenkins, Wilkerson, and Richardson were not sign-or-sink players for the New York squad. Gang Green did make a great play with Trumaine Johnson, who ought to add a wealth of experience to the Jets secondary alongside Morris Claiborne, another seven-year cornerback. The impending signing of Travis Swanson could bolster the team at center and would certainly not be the worst signing they made this off-season. If anything, the Jets will look largely the same as they did in 2017. They will win some surprising games, lose some not-so-surprising games, and miss the playoffs.
Last Word on AFC East
With so much movement in the AFC East and the 2018 NFL Draft still ahead, it is hard to determine where exactly these teams will fall in 2018. As is, it will be difficult for any team to unseat the Patriots as kings of the division, but fans can expect Buffalo to make another run at it. A fresh start for the Buffalo defense and a new face under center might just be the ticket they need for a second playoff berth in two years. Given the Dolphins personnel losses but propensity to upset the Patriots in Miami, the Dolphins will likely claim the number three spot in the division, leaving the Jets at the bottom of the heap.
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