The NY Jets weren’t the only AFC East team to have a number of their players opt-out.
The NY Jets were left reeling following the announcement that star linebacker C.J. Mosley would be opting-out of the 2020 NFL season. And while Mosley wasn’t the only Jets player, he was arguably the most high-profile player in the league to opt-out.
Other Jets such as backup offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi and wide receiver Josh Doctson joined him, but it’s clear that Mosley’s absence will have the largest impact.
But the good news for the Jets is that they certainly aren’t the only team in their division to lose key players to opt-outs.
Around the NFL, a total of 69 players announced their decision to opt-out — 15 of which came from the AFC East. Of course, one team in the division accounts for more than half of those opts-outs, but that’s still a sizable total.
Many of these players were set to play key roles when their respective teams played the Jets twice this year. However, those teams are now searching for answers following their opt-outs.
Which player opt-outs will have the greatest impact on the division? Who will be the hardest to replace? And which teams were hit the hardest by the opt-out period?
Let’s take a look at every 2020 opt-out in the AFC East and analyze the impact of their decision.
Next: 1. Buffalo Bills
1. The NY Jets won’t have to play these two Buffalo Bills players
Lotulelei joined the Bills as a free-agent signing prior to 2018 and started all 32 games for the team over the past two years. While not much of a pass-rushing threat, the Bills are losing their starting one-technique defensive tackle and a stout run-defender.
In his place, the Bills will hope to see former third-round pick Harrison Phillips finally break out after an underwhelming first two seasons. Phillips looked to be on the verge of an impressive 2019 season before tearing his ACL in September.
As long as his knee is fine, expect the Bills to give Phillips every opportunity to win the starting one-technique role. Don’t count out veterans Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson seeing time there as well — especially if Phillips isn’t fully healthy.
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As for Gaines, the veteran cornerback missed all of last season with a core muscle injury, but was expected to provide valuable depth in the secondary in 2020.
In his absence, expect veteran Josh Norman to see the majority of snaps opposite Tre’Davious White with 25-year-old Levi Wallace also in the picture looking to bounce-back after a mildly disappointing 2019 season.
Ultimately, the Bills defense takes a hit, but not nearly as big of a hit as it would have taken if White had decided to opt-out.
Next: 2. Miami Dolphins
2. The NY Jets won’t have to play these two Miami Dolphins players
Much like the Bills, the Miami Dolphins also had two players opt-out. However, in their case, both players play the same position on offense meaning that their defense came away unscathed.
Former first-round pick DeVante Parker broke out in his first season away from former head coach Adam Gase topping 1,200 yards and looking every part of the former top-15 pick that he once was.
Parker will be asked to carry the lion’s share of the receiving work along with 2019 undrafted rookie Preston Williams. Williams shined in his rookie season and was on pace for around 900 yards before tearing his ACL.
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Presumably, those two will serve as the starters on the outside — provided Williams is healthy. But Wilson was expected to return as the team’s starting slot after hauling in 43 catches last season.
With Wilson out, speedy return man Jakeem Grant will now get the first crack at the slot receiver role. Grant has never been much more than a special-teamer throughout his four-year career, but he’ll be given a golden opportunity to impress in 2020.
Their depth now is almost nonexistent with the likes of Isaiah Ford, Gary Jennings, Mack Hollins, and Malcolm Perry all competing for depth roles on the team. Not exactly an inspiring group.
Perhaps Miami would be better off scavenging from the free-agent market for receiver depth. But as it stands now, it’s hard to imagine a worse receiver corps in the NFL — Jets included.
Next: 3. New England Patriots
3. The NY Jets won’t have to play these eight New England Patriots players
Both the Bills and Dolphins will feel the effects of the opt-out period, but no team in the NFL will come close to being as negatively impacted as the New England Patriots.
The Patriots had a league-high eight players opt-out of the 2020 season. Only one other team had more than three opt-outs, that being the Cleveland Browns who had five — still three fewer than the Patriots.
And many of these players weren’t just no-name opt-outs. They were key returning starters who figured to play important roles on the 2020 team. Obviously, that’s not the case anymore.
Former Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be replaced by the likes of Ja’Whaun Bentley, second-round pick Josh Uche, third-round pick Anfernee Jennings, and former Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland.
Meanwhile, longtime safety Patrick Chung will likely be replaced by another former Jets defensive player in veteran safety Terrence Brooks. Adrian Phillips could play a little in his place as well as second-round pick Kyle Dugger.
The Patriots also saw starting right tackle Marcus Cannon opt-out. Former third-round pick Yodny Cajuste will get the first crack at the job, but don’t be surprised if 2018 seventh-round pick Korey Cunningham earns the job after playing in just one game for the team last year.
New England also had special-teamers like veteran running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale, and tight end Matt LaCosse opt-out. And to cap it all off, wide receiver Marqise Lee and backup offensive lineman Najee Toran will all be sitting out as well.
The Patriots will look completely different in 2020 for a number of reasons and it’s hard to argue that any team was hit harder during the opt-out period than they were.
That’s bad news for Bill Belichick’s squad and good news for the rest of the AFC East.