AFC East: A look around the division after free agency

Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

In the AFC East with the initial waves of free agency over, here is a look at the aftermath of each team and a prognosis of what’s to come.

The AFC East has a whole new dynamic post free agency period and perhaps it may finally be the year that another team takes away the division crown. So with all that being said lets take a look at what each team in the division did to separate themselves from the pack.

It will be taken into account what each team did in free agency (additions and subtractions), breaking down any trades that occurred this offseason as well as finally a brief outlook on each team’s draft plans and 2016 outlook.

Did the New England Patriots bring back the dynamic-duo on offense? Have the New York Jets closed the gap? Will the Miami Dolphins ever get out of their own way? And can Rex Ryan capture that elusive AFC East title with the Buffalo Bills?

All that and much more as the AFC East will continue being one tough division heading into next season.

Next: Miami Dolphins

Oct 4, 2015; London, United Kingdom; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) carries the ball while pursued by Miami Dolphins right end Oliver Vernon (50) in Game 12 of the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins

It has been an interesting offseason for the Dolphins thus far, they were initially cap-restricted by the freakish Ndamukong Suh contract (who could have possibly saw that coming) and that hindered things. Then the Dolphins decided to restructure which basically means instead of eating it this year they’ll split cost over several seasons which is always dangerous.

It has been an offseason of addition by subtraction for the Dolphins. They uniquely tagged Olivier Vernon with the transition tag so they could prevent him from leaving and find a capable replacement (Mario Williams) simultaneously. Here’s a recap of all the additions of note since they’ve been the most busy within the division:

While they added some interesting pieces, the bigger story might be who they lost in free agency:

  • Brent Grimes was released and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Vernon after being taken off transition tag signed a record breaking deal with the New York Giants
  • Lamar Miller left to sign with the Houston Texans
  • Greg Jennings also was released

For the Dolphins in free agency, it’s hard to grade their moves now because it is so boom or bust. Williams could be a viable replacement on the defensive line, but will a viable option replace Grimes production? The other big news was surrounding the trade the Dolphins made that brought two veterans to the mix with Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso.

Ultimately this offseason will be judged on whether or not these two players can recapture the fire with their new team. The Dolphins swapped spots in the first round (minimal value depending on who you ask) and potentially filled two holes on the roster as we’ll see if it works out over time.

The Dolphins finished in last place in a tumultuous 2015 campaign that saw their head coach get canned, Ryan Tannehill regressed and their defense not live up to the hype. The Dolphins have a lot of work to do in the offseason and they have holes on the roster to fill, fortunately they still have the 2016 NFL Draft to fall back on.

Next: Buffalo Bills

Dec 27, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills tackle Cordy Glenn (77) against the Dallas Cowboys at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo beats Dallas 16 to 6. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills

The goals of the Bills for free agency was to keep as many guys as possible and safe to say they are pretty happy thus far. The Bills kept their franchise left tackle (franchise tag) in Cordy Glenn and they re-signed offensive guard Richie Incognito (three-year deal) who outplayed even the highest expectations of the team as a Pro Bowl level guard.

The Bills ideally would like to re-sign Tyrod Taylor to a long-term deal, unfortunately their cap space will most likely prevent them from doing so. At the annual AFC coaches’ breakfast Rex Ryan shared his thoughts on the situation via Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News:

“No, I think the agent’s probably the most disappointed of all, obviously,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday during the annual AFC coaches’ breakfast with the media at the NFL meetings. “But there’s a football team to run, not just one player. For the agent, you know, he’s got a player, so I get it. But you have to do what’s in the best interest of your team and not just one player.”

Fortunately they won’t have to make a rash decision with still one year left on his deal. The goal though for Ryan and company this offseason is to fix their defensive woes of last season. Many thought Ryan would come in and turn a tough defense into one of the best but he was unable to do so.

Exit Mario Williams and hopefully the draft can help replace the loss. The underlying factor is that this team didn’t buy into Ryan’s schemes all of last season as there were problems reported in the media with teammates arguing about positional responsibilities and not buying into the overall system.

Next: New York Jets

Sep 28, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) reacts after the Detroit Lions scored a touchdown at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

New York Jets

The offseason of the Jets and future of the team rests in the hands of Muhammad Wilkerson and Fitzpatrick. Let’s rephrase that, the Jets are trying to trade Wilkerson due to a surplus at the position and also they’re trying to figure out who will be under center in September for the upcoming season.

Until those decisions are finally made, the Jets are another team in the division with an incomplete grade. They have lost a key piece in Damon Harrison but replaced him with Jarvis Jenkins and Steve McLendon. The Jets let Demario Davis go but brought back Erin Henderson. They also let Chris Ivory walk but brought Bilal Powell back and brought two new guys to the fold in Khiry Robinson and Matt Forte to round out the backfield.

The Jets have answered every bell with a whistle in free agency. One of the last remaining dominoes yet to fall is what the Jets will do at quarterback as they have a few options. Colin Kaepernick could be had via trade, the Jets could stop the stalemate with Fitzpatrick or even sign a veteran and let them all compete. Who knows, they might even draft another quarterback to have more options.

There is too much speculation going on right now and not enough substance. The Jets are desperate to find a trade partner for Wilkerson and perhaps they’ll try to find one that can address both issues at once. Ideally, it would make sense to trade Wilkerson for a quarterback and some draft pick compensation or perhaps a draft day trade they could package together and move up in the first round.

If the Jets are unable to move up, expect them to stay at No. 20 and take the best player available. Noah Spence could slip due to character concerns or the Jets could go offensive line since they need better depth or maybe just maybe, take a chance on a quarterback.

Next: New England Patriots

Nov 22, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett (83) catches a pass in front of Denver Broncos strong safety David Bruton (30) during the second half at Soldier Field. Denver won 17-15. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots

Interestingly enough, it seems head coach Bill Belichick continues to change and adapt as time goes on. Usually the Patriots and blockbuster trades don’t go in the same sentence but that is exactly what happened this offseason… TWICE!

The Patriots first got rid of defensive end Chandler Jones and got back a former first round offensive lineman whose dealt with a myriad of injuries, but has a ton of potential in Jonathan Cooper. Then they acquire Martellus Bennett hoping for the dual tight end approach on offense again for a fourth-round pick and got a sixth rounder back.

Once again, the Patriots improved and in a scary way. Though their defense losing Jones is a huge loss for them, the Patriots always make smart decisions for the overall benefit of the team. Belichick has lost good players before and found ways to cope, but last season with the injuries the depth on their roster, it was a weakness that needed to be address this offseason.

The loss of Jones is going to be hard to replace, his production was solid and consistent. The Patriots have brought in some interesting pieces at the receiver position and it’ll be scary to see how this offense evolves with all the new weapons around Tom Brady.

Due to the infamous #DeflateGate the Patriots are without a first-round draft choice this season, but they usually find ways to acquire more. Look for the Patriots to do everything they can to improve their offensive line in face value and depth. They own four picks in the top 100 and overall 11 draft picks even though five of them are in the sixth round (they’ve done some wonders there before).

More jets: Matt Forte is key to offensive consistency of Jets

The Patriots need help at the running back position, offensive line, defensive tackle and cornerback. Overall their offseason has gone extremely well and the table is set for a big season in 2016 despite the fact that Brady could still be suspended for four games next season.