AFC East Offseason Update
By: Danny Spero
Just a few months ago people were crowning the AFC East as arguably the worst division in football, but times have changed significantly as the AFC East appears poised to be among the toughest in football in 2015. With the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins all acquiring impact players this offseason, the defending champion Patriots will have their hands full against three teams that are positioned to break the streak of dominance they have had. Darrelle Revis was the key piece during free agency, and his move to the Jets opens up this division.
*Players listed under key acquisitions includes players that were resigned.
Key Acquisitions: LeSean McCoy, Matt Cassel, Jerry Hughes, Charles Clay, Rex Ryan
Key Losses: CJ Spiller
Draft Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Line (guard and tackle), Cornerback
Possible Targets: Lakin Tomlinson (Guard), Bryce Petty (Quarterback), Kevin Johnson (Cornerback),
*Bills do not have a first round pick (Watkins trade)
The Bills offseason was highlighted by the acquisition of LeSean McCoy from the Eagles. In addition to signing one of the top running backs statistically the last 5 years, the Bills decided to dish out some serious cash for the former Panthers star. While he is still relatively young (26), McCoy has a lot of miles on him and it will be interesting to see how long he can maintain his ankle destabilizing agility. Speaking of ankle problems he will undoubtedly be an upgrade over ironman CJ Spiller, who has been healthy about as much as Derrick Rose. As for McCoy, his durability has been outstanding so far in his career and the Bills must believe that will continue. A bigger question heading into the season will be how he fits in with the Bills offense and Rex Ryan’s traditional downhill running style.
What will not be a question is the impact of Jerry Hughes coming off the outside. Hughes was one of the top pass rushers in the NFL last year notching double-digit sacks. A former high school running back, Hughes uses his speed and agility to beat tackles from the outside. He will continued to be teamed up with pro bowlers Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Mario Williams to form the top defensive line in football. It is fair to wonder how Rex Ryan will adapt from his throw-the-kitchen-sink blitzing tactics with such a good defensive line. The most recent and comical offseason acquisition for the Bills is quarterback Matt Cassel. In what could be one of the weakest quarterback situations in the NFL, the Bills have now brought in another below average quarterback to compete for the starting job. The news that the Bills had been inquiring about quarterbacks must have given the players on the Bills hope they would be getting a competent quarterback for their offense—one that would make them contenders. When the Bills announced they had traded for Cassel, the players must felt like a high school kid who was expecting their parents to buy them a car—only to see them come home with a used golf cart. Cassel posted a QBR of 63 last year with the Vikings during limited action. If he can somehow be serviceable in Buffalo, the Bills have a chance to win the division. Fortunately for him, the Bills have a great running back and a few weapons on the outside (Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods) to make his job easier. We will see if Quarterback Guru offensively challenged Rex Ryan has anything up his sleeve to keep the Bills offense moving forward.
Outlook: This is an incredibly talented Bills roster that has a chance to make the playoffs and some noise in 2015. It will all rest on the offense this season with Rex Ryan taking over a familiar situation. Quarterback play should continue to plague the Bills, but the finally have some weapons with LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay, Robert Woods, and Sammy Watkins as skill position players. A questionable offensive line should only hurt their quarterback play. Defensively this team is special. Rex Ryan is one of the best in the game on the defensive side of the ball and combining that with exceptional talent from a top five defense in 2014 should cause serious problems for those in the AFC East. I see the Bills as a borderline playoff team in 2015.
Key offseason acquisitions: Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Cameron, Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron Key Losses: Mike Wallace, Charles Clay, Jared Odrick, Dannell Ellerbe
Draft Targets: Trae Waynes (Cornerback), DeVante Parker (Wide Receiver), Dorial Green-Beckham (Wide Receiver), Jalen Collins (Cornerback)
Few teams were more active this offseason that the Dolphins. They made significant additions that should greatly improve this team. Ryan Tannehill is the key to how far the Dolphins can go in 2015. He needs to take the next step as a passer and in terms of decision making for the Dolphins to unseat the Patriots atop the AFC East. He has a young weapon in Kenny Stills that should be a better fit than Mike Wallace. Jordan Cameron is a slight upgrade at tight end over Charles Clay and gives Tannelhill a big, athletic target over the middle. Ndamukong Suh is clearly the jewel of this offseason for the Dolphins. The huge amount of money the Dolphins paid to Suh is a bit of a party pooper; lets forget that JJ Watt is a superior player who is 3 years younger and is getting noticeably less for the same number of years during this analysis. The Suh signing will have a drastic impact on this defensive that already has an All-Pro pass rusher in Cameron Wake (former CFL great). Suh is the top defensive tackle in the league, and will make an already good Miami defense even stingier. Miami allowed the seventh fewest points per game in 2014 with a good, yet not spectacular Jared Odrick anchoring the line. Suh is a player that dominates on every down and situation, which should make this defense one of the better units in the NFL.
Outlook: Offense is the key for the Dolphins in Ryan Tannehill’s fourth season. Lamar Miller emerged as a versatile back at the end of last season and should have the running game in good hands. The offensive line is not a weakness and is above average especially in run blocking. Tannehill will have options in the passing game with Jarvis Landry returning after a strong 2014 campaign. If the offense can get rolling and stay healthy Miami has a chance to break through into the playoffs this year. Adding one of the best players in the NFL in Suh should position this solid defense to take another step forward and cause Tom Brady some major problems. Drafting a viable corner would further upgrade the defense.
New York Jets
Key offseason acquisitions: Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine , Antonio Cromartie, David Harris, Ryan Fitzpatrick, James Carpenter, Todd Bowles
Key offseason losses: Rex Ryan, Percy Harvin, Chris Johnson
Draft Targets: Marcus Mariota (Quarterback), Randy Gregory (Pass Rusher), Landon Collins (Safety)
Once the Jets are through filing tampering charges they can reflect on what has been an active offseason. Last year the secondary looked like a college team, but the issue was addressed in the offseason in what should be a strength this year. It doesn’t get much better than snatching the best corner in football from a division rival and Super Bowl champion. Revis should have a huge impact in Todd Bowles heavy blitzing defensive scheme with his man-to-man cover skills. The Jets used a significant portion of their cap space addressing the secondary by bringing in three new corners and a mediocre safety. The interior offensive and defensive lines are strengths for the Jets and should allow them to control the line of scrimmage. Offensively, the acquisition of Brandon Marshall should give whoever the quarterback is a dependable large weapon. Coupling Marshall with Eric Decker gives the Jets great size at receiver. The million-dollar question continues to be who can play quarterback at a high enough level to keep the Jets relevant. Everyone continues to believe that Marcus Mariota will fall to the Jets at the number six pick and will ride off into the sunset with an up and coming team. It would take a miracle for Mariota to still be available at number six in my opinion, and the Jets may be forced to trade up if they believe he is the answer. If it is not Mariota or someone else through the draft, lets examine the potential quarterback plug in starters.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Harvard Graduate. Got a perfect score on the Wonderlic Test. Was the “Fed Ex Air NFL player of the week” week 13 in 2014 (yes, that is an award). It demonstrates a bold strategy by Fed Ex to associate with someone that has a career interception to touchdown ratio of 45:55. Hopefully their packages aren’t intercepted 45 out of 100 shipments. Mediocre player, but I think he’s a nice guy and probably will have a career after football—smarter off the field than on it.
Geno Smith: As a Patriots fan my second favorite Jets draft pick of all time (Mark Sanchez #1). Geno is really a great player with the exception of: making terrible decisions, displaying poor accuracy, and showing little football IQ. No NFL accolades available.
Matt Simms: Not too much to know except he’s the worst of the bunch. Son of Phil Simms who was also a quarterback, but unfortunately the football comparisons stop there.
Outlook: The Jets have a new coach and a ton of new talent. Quarterback is still the main issue and will continue to be as they solidify the rest of the team. The draft will be crucial in determining how the Jets season pans out in a loaded division. Some team has to be left out of playoff contention, and the Jets are the favorites of the group despite their improvements. In such a tough division it will be hard for this team to show too much progress.
New England Patriots:
Key Additions: Devin McCourty, Bradley Fletcher, Alan Branch, Jabaal Sheard
Key Losses: Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Shane Vereen,
Draft Targets: Josh Shaw (Cornerback), Carl Davis (Defensive Tackle), Breshad Perriman (Wide Receiver)
How do you follow up one of the greatest super bowl wins and fourth trophy in just over a decade? If you said “lose the additions that helped you get there,” you are apparently correct!!! The Patriots lost the best corner in football who I had as the second most valuable player on the team last season (tied with Gronk). Not only is losing Revis a huge blow to a much improved defense last year, they will also have to deal with him twice a year against their rivals. They supposedly were not willing to go as high as the Jets on what ends of being a three-year contract because of guarantees. The Patriots also cut Brandon Browner for some inexplicable reason. Browner didn’t have a great season but is a nice piece to have because of his size against large receivers. So now the Patriots go from having probably the second best to best secondary in football to one of the worst. Devin McCourty is the lone win for the Patriots this offseason despite his relatively large contract. Vince Wilfork is also gone creating another need for the Patriots along the defensive front. The Patriots struggled at times against the run last year, but even with Wilfork’s inconsistent play the run defense in 2015 should get considerably worse unless a capable replacement is found. On the bright side, the Patriots should have one of the best linebacker units in the NFL. They have three pro bowl caliber linebackers highlighted by Jamie Collins who is a rising star. Pass rush is still an issue as it always have been with Belichick, but they have more pressing needs to fill.
Outlook: The Patriots should contend in the AFC again in 2015, but if they cannot somehow figure out a way to get quality cornerbacks and a good defensive tackle they will be virtually no threat for a super bowl repeat. This division is up for grabs for the first time in a number of years and the Patriots could easily be on the outside looking in. When you look at in perspective, they have the best quarterback by a mile in the AFC East, and that should be what puts them over the top.