AFC East: 2014 AFC Offseason Wrap-up

Patriots offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
AM ET
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.With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New England Patriots' offseason moves.

Best move: Adapting to sudden change and landing cornerback Darrelle Revis when Denver swooped in at the last moment and signed Aqib Talib to a big-money deal the Patriots weren't comfortable matching in part because of the injury risk. Even Talib himself previously acknowledged that there is Revis, and then there is everyone else at the position. When free agency began, the Patriots would have been happy to retain Talib, but things changed quickly and it appears the team came out better in the end.

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
AP Photo/Steven SenneThe Patriots tabbed Dominique Easley in the first round despite his rash of knee injuries.
Riskiest move: Selecting Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley in the first round (29th overall). No one is denying that Easley is a big-time talent, but he is coming off bilateral ACLs -- a torn ACL in each knee -- over a span of 22 months. One line of thinking is that some players are now coming back stronger after ACL tears. The other line of thinking is that it's risky to pick an undersized defensive lineman with those recent injuries moving up to the NFL to play against bigger blockers, because he might not be the same type of player he once was. From this view, it's the riskiest first-round pick of Bill Belichick's 15 years with the team. Easley has been described by some as the classic "boom or bust" prospect.

Most surprising move: The first public acknowledgement from Belichick that the team is considering contingency plans at quarterback. With Tom Brady set to turn 37 and signed through 2017, and backup Ryan Mallett entering the final year of his contract, the expectation was that the Patriots would draft a quarterback in 2014. So, in that sense, picking Jimmy Garoppolo in the late second round (62nd overall) wasn't a surprise. It's smart business. We just weren't expecting Belichick to be so open about the team's mindset.

Looking ahead: While the bulk of free agency is completed, tight end and linebacker are two spots that could potentially use a boost. The club previously hosted veterans Dustin Keller (tight end) and James Anderson (linebacker) and they could be candidates to be signed after June 1, when they wouldn't count against the compensatory draft pick formula.

Dolphins offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Miami Dolphins' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeBranden Albert
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins are counting on Branden Albert to help solidify their offensive line.
Best move: The Dolphins made their first offseason move their best one. On the first day of free agency, Miami signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert to a $47 million contract. It was a hefty price to pay, but the Dolphins were forced to do something dramatic to improve their offensive line. Miami allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks last season. Albert is one of the best tackles in the NFL and will immediately solidify protection on quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. Miami is expected to have four new starters on its offensive line this season.

Riskiest move: The Dolphins took on a pair of major medical risks in their secondary. Miami signed projected starting safety Louis Delmas and potential starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who both come with durability issues. Delmas and Finnegan have missed a combined 17 games the past two seasons with various injuries. Yet, the Dolphins are counting on both to stay healthy and provide a veteran presence in the secondary. The good news is Miami signed Delmas and Finnegan to one-year, “show-me” contracts to see if both players can stay healthy. Delmas and Finnegan will be motivated to prove critics wrong during contract years.

Most surprising move: First-year general manager Dennis Hickey was expected to make a big splash. However, Hickey had a low-key draft that surprisingly included five of eight players from non-BCS schools. The Dolphins drafted players from North Dakota State, Montana, Liberty, Coastal Carolina and Marist. Prospects such as offensive lineman Billy Turner, cornerback Walt Aikens, linebacker Jordan Tripp, receiver Matt Hazel and defensive end Terrence Fede all come to Miami with a lot to prove. Hickey proved that he is more focused on “traits” than big names. Whether that works for the Dolphins remains to be seen.

Competition is rising: The AFC East got stronger due to the offseason aggressiveness from Miami's division rivals. The New England Patriots made a pair of bold moves to sign cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. The New York Jets signed former Pro Bowl tailback Chris Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker. The Buffalo Bills were aggressive in trading up to draft dynamic wide receiver Sammy Watkins and trading for veteran receiver Mike Williams. The Dolphins have struggled within the division. They are just 4-8 against the AFC East the past two years.

Bills offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Buffalo Bills' offseason moves.

Best move: Signing linebacker Brandon Spikes to a one-year, $3.25 million deal was easily their best move of free agency. While former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's group set a franchise sacks record last season and was near the top of the league in several pass-defense statistics, the run defense was suspect at points. Spikes has question marks as a pass-defender -- or else he would have commanded a more lucrative long-term deal on the open market -- but there is little doubt about his abilities as a run-stuffer. If he can stay healthy, he and Kiko Alonso should make a formidable duo at linebacker.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Bill WippertFirst-round pick Sammy Watkins gives the Bills' offense another home-run threat.
Riskiest move: If we're viewing risk through a long-term lens, it has to be the Bills' decision to give up a 2015 first-round pick to acquire Sammy Watkins. That's a trade that can define the tenure of a general manager. But viewing risk simply in the context of this season, trading Stevie Johnson presents an element of uncertainty. Johnson missed four games with injuries last season and might have been a higher-maintenance player for the coaching staff, but his production from 2010 to 2012 -- more than 75 catches and 1,000 yards each season -- is hard to give up. Johnson is 27 and still in the prime of his career. Having Watkins lessens the need for Johnson, but it's tough to argue that dealing Johnson has made the Bills better.

Most surprising move: This move wasn't necessarily surprising for the Bills, but tight end Scott Chandler was likely hoping to earn more on the open market than he got by returning to the Bills. Chandler came back to Buffalo on a two-year deal that pays him less than his previous contract. Given that Chandler is 28 and coming off a season in which he set career highs with 53 catches and 655 yards, that's a surprise. The Bills are hoping that Tony Moeaki can return to his previous form, but if he doesn't, Chandler should be the opening day starter at tight end. It's a position the team will likely address in the draft next season.

Are they better? After all of their moves this offseason, are the Bills markedly better than they were when they walked off the field after their last game in December? I don't think the answer is unequivocally "yes." On the plus side, Watkins should be an upgrade over Johnson, while the Bills are deeper at running back and cornerback. On the down side, they have question marks at safety after losing Jairus Byrd and it has yet to be seen how players like defensive end Jerry Hughes, who excelled in Pettine's scheme, will fare in Jim Schwartz's system. A big second-year jump from quarterback EJ Manuel would overshadow any potential issues elsewhere, but this team still has a lot to prove on the field before the offseason can be considered a success.

Jets offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Jets' offseason moves:

Best move: The Jets doled out $7 million a year for Eric Decker, but he's an upgrade over the previous No. 1 receiver, Santonio Holmes, a diminished diva whose sour attitude won't be missed. Decker is a 6-foot-3 target whose catching radius will help Geno Smith, who struggled last season with his accuracy. No doubt Decker benefited from having the Broncos' Peyton Manning as his quarterback the past two seasons, but he's still a quality player who can help in a variety of ways. For instance: Decker had seven red zone touchdown catches last season, only one fewer than the Jets produced as a team.

[+] EnlargeDimitri Patterson
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeThe Jets hope Dimitri Patterson can fill the void created when Antonio Cromartie departed.
Riskiest move: They're counting on journeyman Dimitri Patterson, signed from the Dolphins, to replace Antonio Cromartie at cornerback -- a big gamble. Patterson, 31, has missed 33 of his past 48 games, so the Jets are taking quite a leap by thinking he will stay healthy. What's more, he's best suited for the slot, not one of the outside positions. General manager John Idzik mismanaged the cornerback market. Knowing the importance of corners in Rex Ryan's man-to-man system, Idzik should've made a stronger commitment to the position. He flirted with some big names but wound up with Patterson, who will be playing for his sixth team in 10 years. To exacerbate the issue, Idzik waited until the third round before drafting a corner.

Most surprising move: The Jets bill themselves as a young, ascending team, yet they allowed one of their ascending players to walk out the door -- right tackle Austin Howard, who signed with the Raiders. The Jets found him on the scrap heap, invested three years of development and watched him become an above-average player with upside. And then he was gone. Howard's replacement, Breno Giacomini, formerly of the Seahawks, is a comparable player -- and cheaper. Statistically, he's a better run-blocker than Howard but is not quite as adept in pass protection. Here's the big difference, though: Howard, 27, is two years younger than Giacomini, meaning he would've been a better fit in the long-term plan.

John the Deliberate: Overall, Idzik had a solid offseason, adding several new pieces on offense (let's not forget about running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick) -- but the second-year GM didn't spend as much money as he could've. After dumping Holmes' and Mark Sanchez's contracts, the Jets were among the league leaders in cap space, but Idzik was relatively conservative in free agency, relying on a 12-player draft haul to upgrade the roster. Unlike some GMs, who overpay for second-rate talent, he refuses to deviate from his long-term plan. It's the right approach for a franchise previously obsessed with quick-fix moves, but it's not foolproof. The cornerback situation will come back to bite him.

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