With the 2021 NFL free agency period ending, what does the AFC East standings look like as the offseason continues?
The Jets landed a new No. 1 wide receiver and a talented pass thrower. The Patriots have acquired, well, a lot… to say the least.
Regardless, every AFC East ball club has done what they can to improve ahead of the 2021 season. Whether it’s re-signing players, acquiring new ones. new or restructure contracts, a plethora of moves have been made en route to the division’s ultimate goal – an AFC Est 2021 title.
So, how is the division looking at the end of March? Let’s dive into our current AFC East power rankings.
1. Bison bills
The Bills weren’t the flashiest team in this year’s free agency period, but they’re still the best team in the division. They employ the AFC East’s best quarterback in 2020, second-team All-Pro Josh Allen and best offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll.
However, some of the moves they made have benefited the roster.
Acquiring quarterback Mitch Trubisky to be Allen’s replacement is a good move – Trubisky could be a reliable second-string player and had his productive moments on the field, having reached the Pro Bowl of the 2018 season ( although as a replacement).
If Allen were to unfortunately suffer an injury, at least Trubisky offers notable starting experience (50 starts in his four-year career and two playoff starts).
Despite entering his season at 34, Emmanuel Sanders will be another target for Allen and will perform alongside 2020 All-Pro first team Stefon Diggs and 2020 All-Pro second team Cole Beasley.
Sanders can still produce – he caught 61 balls for 726 yards and five touchdowns with New Orleans last year and recorded a career-high 74.4% catch rate.
The Bills also signed linebacker Matt Milano for a four-year extension. The 26-year-old must remain in good health, but nonetheless remains a reliable asset within the defensive unit. Milano racked up 101 combined tackles in 2019.
While Buffalo hasn’t been as exciting as the others during this free agency period, it’s still a 12-13 winning team, a number of wins that should wrest the Bills a 2021 division title.
2. New England Patriots
After bringing back quarterback Cam Newton on a one-year contract, it was clear Bill Belichick needed to acquire some offensive assistance for the veteran.
That’s exactly what he did, and then some.
The Patriots came out and signed tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to multi-year deals. Each will be a reliable tight end to catch passes for Newton, who has always benefited from having one on his squad. Think about what he and Greg Olsen could have done in Carolina for almost a decade.
Both Nelson Agholar and Kendrick Bourne will provide additional options in the passing game and Belichick figures to use them properly. The former has a gift for the end zone and caught eight touchdowns for the Raiders last year.
Defensively, the acquisition of linebacker Matthew Judon is fantastic – the addition to the rush unit is crucial given the Pats are tied for 26th in the NFL with just 24 sacks in 2020.
Judon is extremely productive and at the peak of his career, having been selected for the last two Pro Bowls as a member of the Ravens. He recorded 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits in 2019, then six sacks and 21 quarterback hits in 2020.
Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (agreed to a two-year contract) will be a talented addition to the line – he’s racked up an impressive 75 combined tackles from nose tackle point in 2019 (with Miami). His 52 solo tackles (via Pro Football Focus) that year were also tied for first among inside defensive linemen.
However, he must remain in good health; Godchaux only played five games last season.
Those who think the Patriots are overspending should understand that you are not questioning what Bill Belichick is doing. He is still the top coach in the division and went 7-9 last year despite struggling Cam Newton and many players retiring from the team before the regular season.
3. New York Jets
Yes, the Jets are moving and are in third place after many would have likely put them in last place before the free agency period.
With an absurd amount of ceiling space, General Manager Joe Douglas has done a terrific job meeting a number of organizational needs.
The Jets have acquired a new No. 1 wide receiver in Corey Davis, who is one of the most underrated players in his position in the entire league. He will be an upgrade in the passing game and help in the development of whoever plays the quarterback next year.
Wideout Keelan Cole will be a reliable third or fourth channel receiver and would in fact have been considered a popular free agency product. He’s a skillful slot player who recorded career highs in receptions (55) and touchdowns (five) with Jacksonville last year.
Cole will ultimately provide depth, a crucial development considering the Jets who were second-to-last in 2020.
Defensively, New York now employs a gifted passing coach in Carl Lawson, who has accepted a three-year contract to come to Florham Park. Lawson should be a phenomenal fit in Robert Saleh’s 4-3 pattern.
The Jets also acquired former Lion Jarrad Davis and former Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. Davis is a versatile inside linebacker and the move makes you wonder if the Jets will trade CJ Mosley. Rankins, on the other hand, boosts the top seven and can rush the passer, having scored eight sacks for New Orleans in 2018.
A new head coach in Saleh is in place and the front office is acquiring players who could be considerably valuable in their defensive system. Mike LaFleur is also expected to thrive in the offensive coordinator role given his success as the passing play coordinator in San Francisco.
It’s unclear who the Jets quarterback will be. But whether Sam Darnold or Zach Wilson are the man for the job, the team improves the surrounding offensive assistance, that’s for sure.
4. Miami Dolphins
Like the Bills, the Dolphins weren’t the flashiest team in free agency.
Miami’s most notable pickup was wide receiver Will Fuller, and while he could greatly help improve the offensive unit (22nd in total offense, 15th in scoring last year), he did is not confirmed if he is a true No. 1 wide.
Miami also agreed to deals with quarterback Jacoby Brissett (who has starting experience but recorded 81.7 and 88.0 passer scores in the two seasons in which he was the Colts’ main caller), center Matt Skura and cornerback Justin Coleman, each on one-year offers.
Malcolm Brown is another short-term signing and will provide depth back, but the move doesn’t significantly increase the level of talent and offensive assistance needed for anyone playing quarterback in Miami.
And speaking of the Dolphins quarterback situation – will they roll the dice again with Tua Tagovailoa despite doubts he might be the long-term answer? Will they somehow trade for Deshaun Watson?
While the Dolphins finished with eight more wins than the Jets in 2020, the Jets’ roster just looks more intriguing right now. With Gang Green apparently heading in the right direction and Miami potentially having the dice roll with the unproven Tagovailoa, it makes sense to place the former before the latter.
Of course, all of that is likely to change as the 2021 offseason progresses.