Buffalo Bills (B-)
The Bills used free agency as a period to acquire depth to their squad. After pushing the Patriots last year, they now look to fully take over the Tom Brady-less AFC East and are the best positioned to do so. They resigned their starting O-lineman that were leaving, allowing all 5 to return this year. This will help Josh Allen as the continuity will help him turn into a franchise QB. They added experience to the defence with Mario Addison and the reliable AJ Klein, but they did not sign a splash. Daryl Williams on a one-year deal was a good signing as he hasn’t been the same since his knee injury but if he returns to form; the Bills can resign him and he’ll hold the right tackle spot (or guard) for years to come. However, no signing will help raise the ceiling of the team, just raise the flaw.
However, they used their first-round pick on Stephon Diggs. This was a splash and finally gives Josh Allen an outside threat of which he can release his huge arm. Diggs can open the downfield pass game and will demand a covering safety. This can allow more room for Beasley to work out the slot and open the run game for impressive second year back Devin Singletary and rookie Zach Moss. Epenesa will be able to learn from Hughes and Addison on the D-Line this year but that was the only big add to the defence. The drafted their Josh Allen insurance in Jake Fromm (and stopped other QB needy teams from acquiring him) and finally drafted a receiver over 6ft 2in (Isaiah Hodgins 6ft 4in) to give height for Allen. The Bills are resting on Diggs making a large impact and whilst the defence did not need to be improved much, it still lacks a star in the front seven and only Tre-Davious White striking fear into opposing offenses. Even though they didn’t take full advantage of the off-season, they have one of the best coaching setups in the league, a playoff spot is waiting, and the Bills lead the charge behind the Chiefs, Ravens and Titans.
Miami Dolphins (B+)
Defence, defence, defence. This seems to be how the Dolphins went through free agency. They took some Patriots with Elandon Roberts and the monster contract (for his years of production) given to Kyle Van Noy (4yrs, $51million) but if there is a team outside of New England to keep him at this top level, it’s Miami as the former Patriots defensive coordinator, Brian Flores, is running the ship in Florida. Flores is the best decision that Dolphins have made since Dan Marino and will build this team all the way up. They picked up undervalued running back Jordan Howard to be their lead back, but their main acquisitions were in the secondary. Signing Byron Jones to be the highest paid CB ($82million 5yrs) to pair with Xavion Howard to create a lock down secondary. Jones is Flores’ Gilmore and with the signing of Ogbah to improve the pass rush, there will be many INTs down in Miami.
Whilst the Dolphins free agency was impressive, their draft was not as much for what it could have been (albeit still good). Tua will be a beast if he stays healthy but his availability will be in question, but the Dolphins didn’t want to miss … again (Dree Brees). Austin Jackson will take time to develop, he doesn’t have to start right away (probably will) and Robert Hunt adds depth with upside at interior O-Line. Igbinoghene will instantly place at nickel corner. These picks may seem good but there was value on the board. Josh Jones would have been available in the second which would have allowed for the Dolphins to get a great pass rusher (K’Lavon Chaisson) at 18, or line-backer (Kenneth Murray or Patrick Queen) to pair with Van Noy or even get a WR. They still do not have a true WR1 in the system and with a deep class, I would have liked to have seen a WR taken (Aiyuk, Hamler or Mims) or a safety such as McKinney, but they did get Brandon Jones in the 3rd who has been talked up by people I trust. A very good offseason for the Dolphins which propels them out of the basement, but I feel it could have been so much more, at least they have next year and Brian Flores.
New England Patriots (D)
It should really be an F due to the losses, but they made a few good moves which deserve recognition and the losses were mostly out of their control (hence the raise to a D). Brady has gone and it is the end of an era, but Belichick is still the coach (and GM) and so there is still hope in New England. They also lost on defence with Van Noy and Collins leaving for richer pastures. However, they retained the McCourty twins and Mathew Slater who will all keep motivation going for the Patriots. The loss of Dorsett will not be much of an issue and the pickup of the speedy Damien Byrd might even be an upgrade. Adrian Phillips was a gem of a free agent signing and will replace Duron Harmon. Beau Allen may beef up the interior of the D-Line but overall (just like usual), there was no big splash from New England in a year that probably needed one.
Most people were critical of New England not getting a QB, but why would they? Stidham lit up preseason and has reportedly improved more. They were not going to get Burrow or Tua so they would have got a 2nd to 3rd tier QB. But they already have one in Stidham who has had a year in the offense, a rookie might not get more than a month. Therefore, Stidham was always going to be the best non-veteran QB for the Pats, and why would they get a veteran with another strong QB class next year? To add to this, the only teams that might need a QB will be the Jags, Steelers and maybe Colts. Therefore, even if Lawrence isn’t available, Fields or another ascending QB (like Burrow this year) will be or maybe Stidham is the next Brady? Instead, they were able to acquire draft capital. They got Kyle Dugger who learns from the most experienced safety due in the league (Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung), and Josh Uche, a raw pass rusher with so much untapped talent who fits Belichick’s versatile defence. They also got a pair of TEs of which Dalton Keene is reported to have very little fear on the field (a bit like Edelman) so that pick has upside. However, the rest of the draft was a bit underwhelming as they searched for a potential Joe Thuney replacement (I doubt he’ll get resigned). A kicker in the 5th made this a proper Bill Belichick draft The Pats won’t compete for a Superbowl for the first time in 20 years, but if they find a QB, Belichick is creating a roster which will compete for one again.
New York Jets (A-)
Joe Douglas hit a home run in the draft and this success was proceeded by a decent free agency period. They bought in Connor McGovern to a 3 year $27 million deal ($18 million guaranteed) to hold down the centre position and George Fant to who will serve as at right tackle if it takes first round pick Mekhi Becton time to get up to speed. These upgrades were needed, whilst Darnold was only sacked 33 times last year, there was no holes for Le’Veon Bell to run through. With Robby Anderson gone, the Jets had to address wide receiver. They were able to replace Anderson’s speed with Breshad Perriman, a decent No.3 option in any offense. The Jests have helped Darnold out for his third year. They were also able to resign nickel corner Brian Poole and add a Colts starter last year (Pierre Desire) to the outside on a one-year deal. This secondary needed improvement so resigning the one working piece and improving elsewhere is a success.
However, it was the draft that the Jets crushed. Taking Becton in the first round was a surprise given the franchises history of misses. However, it seems a turn around is happening with recent picks Adams, Williams and Darnold looking to be hits. However, addressing O-line left the wide receiver as a need and Denzel Mims started to drop along with KJ Hamler. Hamler went to the Broncos two picks before the Jets so it seemed they would take Mims. Instead they traded back for a 4th round pick and the prospect of Mims seemed to disappear. But Mims kept dropping and now the Jets have a 6ft 3in speed demon to lead their WR group with Crowder in the slot and Perriman on the opposite side. When the season roles around the Jets have an intriguing offense, especially once drafting Perine as a change of pace from the Bell. They also improved on defence by adding Zuniga who will be Robin to Quinnen Williams’ Batman and Bryce Hall, who if healthy, will perform way above his round 5 draft grade. The Jets have improved mightily from last year, if Darnold continues to improve then a playoff spot is likely due to the AFC’s weak second tier of teams.