AFC East Team Needs: Offseason Analysis

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With Superbowl LV in the books and teams mostly solidified with their coaching and front office staff, we can start to look at team needs as we enter the off-season. For the AFC East, we see a division that had the Bills capturing the divisional crown for the first time since 1995. The Dolphins narrowly missed out on the playoffs as well which would have ended a 4-year drought. Former division titan Patriots had a setback and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Jets enter the off-season with the NFL’s longest postseason drought (10 years) and hope newly-minted head coach Robert Salah can return them to the promised land. 

The following will breakdown the overall team needs heading into the off-season. I will explore potential fits in free agency and potential draft targets. I will also look at potential trade candidates where applicable. Coaching scheme and play style will be taken into account when referencing these targets, for example, a zone-blocking run scheme should not be targeting a mauling blocker. With the basics covered, let’s delve into the division winner needs to kick us off.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills gave the AFC Champion Chiefs everything they could handle before being ousted from the playoffs. Quarterback Josh Allen had an MVP-type season after the team added wide receiver, Stefon Diggs, last summer. The Bills swept the division for the first time in franchise history, including the Patriots, a first since 1999. They did all of this without the usual raucousness of Bills Mafia egging them on, getting fans back into the stands could make this team lethal.

Team needs: LB, OT, TE, EDGE, DB

Draft capital: 1:30, 2:61, 3:94, 5:163, 5:176, 6:214, 7:237

Pending FA’s: Matt Barkley, Daryl Williams, Brian Winters, Joe Feliciano, Trent Murphy, Matt Milano, Josh Norman

Salary Cap space: 19.5 million

The Bills are well-positioned to repeat as AFC East division champions, but they must not get complacent as the Dolphins are hot on their heels. Look for Buffalo to restructure or release a few veterans (John Brown and Quinton Jefferson have been cut) to free up cap space for a few free agents.

Rumor has it that with the salary cap shrink this year, there will be more big-name players willing to take lesser one-year deals with the intent to cash in next summer. The Bills are primed to take full advantage of just those types of contracts. The draft will be spent filling out the rest of the holes, but I wouldn’t put it past them to make a splash trade as they did with Diggs.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins surprised many in 2020 with their ascension to being one of the better teams in the AFC. They did this largely on the strength of their defense, which led the NFL in turnovers (29) and ranked 10th in sacks (41). The Dolphins struggled at times on offense, as to be expected with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa under center for a majority of games. Second-year head coach Brian Flores had the team ready every week and has largely gotten the team to buy into his vision.

Team needs: WR, OT, LB, RB, EDGE, IOL

Draft capital: 1:3, 1:18, 2:36, 2:50, 3:82, 4:125, 6:208

Pending FA’s: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ted Karras

Salary Cap space: 33.5 million

Miami enters the off-season with the gift that is Bill O’Brien’s ineptitude, that being the 4-12 Texans first-round pick (#3 overall) for which they traded for Laremy Tunsil. Who they choose to select at #3 will largely dictate the direction of their off-season. After failing to find a trade partner, Miami cut ties with Kyle Van Noy to free additional cap space.

Did Flores and Co see enough of Tagovailoa to warrant moving forward with him under center? Or does the temptation of a Justin Fields or Zach Wilson intrigue them enough to pull the trigger? These will be the questions that need answering before free agency. They have already added Isaiah Wilson via a trade with the Titans. Whichever direction they move in, the Dolphins are well equipped to become major players in the AFC.

New England Patriots

The rest of the Patriots AFC East compatriots were likely channeling Paul Revere this year with “The Patriots are missing the playoffs” chants. It has been that long of a run for Belichick and Co. and you better believe that they plan to come back with a vengeance.

2020 didn’t turn out how the Patriots envisioned, as they were hopeful quarterback Cam Newton would come in and revitalize his MVP caliber days of play. Newton was unable to do so and numerous players on defense chose the Covid-opt out on the season. Their championship pedigree was enough to carry them to a few additional wins than they might have had this season. 

Team needs: QB, TE, WR, LB, IDL, S

Draft capital: 1:15, 2:46, 3:97, 4:122, 4:141, 5:160, 6:196, 6:198, 7:244

Pending FA’s: Cam Newton, James White, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Lawrence Guy, Jason McCourty

Salary Cap space: 68.5 million

The Patriots will need to invest heavily on offense this off-season and it will all start with the quarterback position. They made a move to acquire Trent Brown from the Raiders, swapping late round picks in next years draft. The viable options in free agency are few to none, so the draft is the likeliest spot for them to find their next signal-caller. Even after bringing Cam Newton back, they should look to potential long-term options like Mac Jones or Kyle Trask in the first round. New England has cap space to fill in other needs along the offense and defense and should find some viable options. 

New York Jets

The Jets flirted with the first overall pick for a majority of the year before winning two of their last 3 games and narrowly missing the draft rights to Trevor Lawrence. All is not lost though as former head coach Adam Gase was let go at season’s end and in comes Robert Saleh to turn things around.

The Jets will need to decide whether to move forward with quarterback Sam Darnold or to draft the team’s next signal-caller. Saleh will need to retool the defense as he sees fit but has some young talent already on the roster to do just that. 

Team needs: WR, DB, EDGE, RB, QB, LB

Draft capital: 1:2, 1:23, 2:34, 3:66, 3:87, 4:109, 5:148, 5:156, 6:187, 7:252

Pending FA’s: Breshad Perriman, Brian Poole, Marcus Maye, Bradley McDougald

Salary Cap space: 69.2 million

All eyes are on New York as they are de facto “on the clock” with pick #2 as Lawrence to Jacksonville is all but set in stone. They will get calls from quarterback-hungry teams looking to move up and if the deal is sweet enough on draft night they might just jump at the offer. Free agent safety Marcus Maye had the franchise tag applied to him, so barring a trade he should return.

The 49ers are a team to watch in a potential trade as Saleh can most likely pry away one of his former defensive players in addition to the draft capital. Whatever happens with the Jets, they are well-positioned to make large splashes in free agency and the draft.