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We’re in that part of summer where the crack of the bat and the sound of ball hitting leather starts to give way to the popping of pads and two-a-day practices. Training camps are opening around the NFL and that means that football is right around the corner. As always, there was plenty of upheaval around the league with retirements, trades, free agency and of course, the draft. Which teams were impacted, who went where and who is expected to fill in for those who departed? We’ll take a look at things and see where we stand heading into the preseason. Today, we take a look at the AFC East: it’s been Tom Brady’s playground for what seems like an eternity but is the curtain ready to close on that?
Buffalo Bills Look to Build Off First Postseason Berth Since 1999
2017 Record: 9-7, 2nd in AFC East: Lost 10-3 to Jacksonville in AFC Wild Card Round
Key Free Agency Additions: DE Trent Murphy, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Vontae Davis, C Russell Bodine, T Marshall Newhouse, WR Jeremy Kerley, QB A.J. McCarron, RB Chris Ivory
Key Draft Additions: QB Josh Allen, LB Tremaine Edmunds, DT Harrison Phillips, CB Taron Johnson, CB Siran Neal, G Wyatt Teller, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, WR Austin Proehl
Key Departures: G Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, T Cordy Glenn, QB Tyrod Taylor, CB E.J. Gaines, LB Preston Brown, T Seantrel Henderson, WR/QB Joe Webb, WR Deonte Thompson, CB Shareece Wright, WR Jordan Matthews
Buffalo had a surprising first season under the Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott regime, making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The fact that they pulled that off with a less than inspiring offensive attack, one that ranked last in the league in passing offense, was impressive. Trying to have a repeat performance of that feat will likely be an uphill battle for the Bills for a variety of reasons that can be easily pointed out.
For starters, Taylor is gone from under center: he was jettisoned to Cleveland for a third-round pick. In his stead will be McCarron, who was signed from the Bengals in free agency. How he fits will go a long way to determining what kind of season it is for Buffalo. He’ll go into camp battling with Peterman, who tossed five picks in the first half of his lone NFL start as a rookie, and rookie first-round pick Allen, who the team selected seventh overall. That’s the highest that the Bills have ever selected a QB, so there are expectations to be certain: after all, even Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly was taken 14th overall in the famed 1983 draft.
Buffalo must plug holes on their offensive line as the entire left side from a year ago is gone. Incognito retired and then lost his mind, Glenn was traded, and Wood retired due to a neck injury. Buffalo’s receiving corps was thin last season and losing Matthews and Thompson didn’t do much to improve things. Kerley has the potential to step in as a slot guy but Buffalo needs more from the duo of Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones. One other major change offensively is the hiring of Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator, replacing Rick Dennison. Daboll is familiar with the Patriots’ system and is from Western New York so he knows how important the success of the franchise is to the region.
Defensively, Buffalo will get one more year out of Kyle Williams. Throwing money at Lotulelei gives them a solid DT to put next to him and Phillips will see reps as well. Edmunds was a steal at 16th overall and will step in immediately to the starting defense. Murphy should be able to help bolster a pass rush that was anemic at times last season. Davis played just five games last season and is on a one year prove it deal: he could be a boost or create another void defensively. Buffalo has a great pair of safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer: if they can generate a more consistent pass rush and find a corner to play opposite Tre’Davious White, they’ll be solid defensively.
Miami Dolphins in the Running for Worst Team in 2018?
2017 Record: 6-10, 3rd in AFC East
Key Free Agency Additions: RB Frank Gore, WR Danny Amendola, WR Albert Wilson, DE Robert Quinn, C Daniel Kilgore, QB Brock Osweiler, G Josh Sitton
Key Draft Additions: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, TE Mike Gesicki, LB Jerome Baker, TE Durham Smythe, RB Kalen Ballage, CB Cornell Armstrong, LB Quentin Poling, K Jason Sanders
Key Departures: WR Jarvis Landry, DT Ndamukong Suh, TE Julius Thomas, C Mike Pouncey, LB Lawrence Timmons, QB Jay Cutler, K Cody Parkey, S Michael Thomas, RB Damien Williams, G Jermon Bushrod
Miami’s 2017 season went down the drain when Ryan Tannehill suffered a torn ACL during a non-contact drill during training camp last August. The Dolphins scrambled and signed Cutler to a one-year deal but in all honesty, you could have played just as well, if not better, than he did last season. The team jettisoned a ton of big names in the offseason and easily could be a bunch of doormats this year unless some miraculous events transpire.
The Dolphins dealt Landry, who had reeled in 400 passes and made three Pro Bowls since coming into the league, to Cleveland. In his stead, Miami signed the oft-injured Amendola and the inconsistent Wilson. Landry caught 112 passes for 987 yards and nine scores last season: that duo combined for 103 receptions for 1,213 yards and five scores. Unless Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker step up their game, it’s going to be tough sledding for Tannehill, provided he can stay healthy. The run game will be centered around Kenyan Drake, who took over when Jay Ajayi was dealt to Philadelphia last season but Gore, who ran for 961 yards last year at 34, will see his share of action.
Miami needs help on their offensive line: while the acquisition of Sitton via free agency was a solid move, there are still plenty of holes. Pouncey was awful last season and went to the Chargers, prompting the acquisition of Kilgore from the 49ers. Ja’Waun James was dreadful but had his option picked up: he was on the trade block, but Miami didn’t get a good enough offer for him. Laremy Tunsil was rated the #47 tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus, which doesn’t inspire confidence either. Tannehill may be running for his life. The addition of Gesicki and Smythe likely is going to be touted as the way to replace Thomas, with Smythe doing the blocking and Gesicki more of the receiving target.
The Dolphins were about cutting costs and getting out of big money deals: that was why Suh and Timmons were cut loose while Landry was dealt rather than work out an extension. Whether things work out in South Beach could go a long way to determining whether Adam Gase is still coach when 2019 rolls around.
New York Jets Looking for Improvement
2017 Record: 5-11, 4th in AFC East
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Terrelle Pryor, K Cairo Santos, CB Trumaine Johnson, RB Isaiah Crowell, LB Avery Williamson, LB Kevin Minter, C Travis Swanson, RB Thomas Rawls, WR Andre Roberts
Key Draft Additions: QB Sam Darnold, DT Nathan Shepherd, TE Chris Herndon, CB Parry Nickerson, DT Foley Fatukasi, RB Trenton Cannon
Key Departures: DT Muhammad Wilkerson, LB Demario Davis, K Chandler Catanzaro, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, DE Kony Ealy, QB Christian Hackenburg, QB Bryce Petty, RB Matt Forte, WR Devin Smith
New York was one of those teams who had a ton of space under the salary cap and targeted making meaningful acquisitions to boost the roster. Of course, when you finish 5-11 the season before, there are plenty of spots that can be upgraded. The Jets went after some big names and had middling success but they can’t really be worse than they were a season ago, so that’s something to cheer about for Gang Green right?
The Jets set their sights on Kirk Cousins but he walked away from the two Brinks trucks the team backed up to his door and signed with Minnesota. With Plan A out the window, the team re-signed Josh McCown and then picked up Bridgewater on a prove-it deal to give him a chance to reestablish himself as a NFL QB. The Jets’ big move was trading up from #6 to #3 with the Colts to get Darnold, who the team hopes is their franchise QB. If he fails to pan out, there could be a lot of heads rolling for the franchise.
Crowell had a solid yet unspectacular tenure in Cleveland but seems to be in line to battle for the lead back spot for the Jets with Bilal Powell after Forte retired during the offseason. Rawls has shown flashes but has been injury prone, which is why Seattle cut him loose. New York hopes that Pryor’s season in Washington was the aberration and that he can return to the form that saw him catch 77 balls for 1,007 yards and four TDs for Cleveland in 2016. Other than him, the rest of the unit is pretty much in place from last season.
Defensively, the team cut Wilkerson rather than pay him a hefty amount of money: he signed with Green Bay. The Jets also lost Davis to the Saints and they must find some pieces to help in the front seven in order to be successful. New York is building a solid secondary with Johnson, who was given his own truckload of cash to be lured from the Rams, anchoring one cornerback spot. The team has a pair of talented young safeties in Marcus Maye and Jalen Adams. Morris Claiborne likely isn’t the answer at the other corner though the Jets re-signed him in the offseason.
New England Patriots Shoot for Another Super Bowl Run
2017 Record: 13-3, Lost Super Bowl LII to Philadelphia, 41-33
Key Free Acquisitions: DE Adrian Clayborn, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Jordan Matthews, TE Troy Niklas, C Luke Bowanko, G Matt Tobin, DT Danny Shelton
Key Draft Picks: T Isaiah Wynn, RB Sony Michel, CB Duke Dawson, LB Ja'whuan Bentley, LB Christian Sam, WR Braxton Berrios, QB Danny Etling, CB Keion Crossen, TE Ryan Izzo
Key Departures: WR Danny Amendola, RB Dion Lewis, CB Malcolm Butler, T Nate Solder, T Cameron Fleming, TE Martellus Bennett, LB James Harrison, LB Shea McClellin
New England made another Super Bowl run last season before falling short to Nick Foles and the Eagles. Age is starting to take a toll on the current group as Tom Brady turns 41 in August. The Patriots need to figure out who the QB of the future is because it isn’t going to be Brian Hoyer. Etling will get a chance to prove he’s worth something but it remains to be seen what he can do as a pro after an up and down college career.
The Patriots took some hits on their offensive line as Solder signed a big money deal with the Giants while Fleming went to Dallas. New England could have used some help on the interior of their line as well: Joe Thuney didn’t overwhelm anyone last season. Wynn is expected to be slotted into the starting left tackle spot, which could be troublesome as he’ll be protecting Brady’s blind side. The skill position groups for the Patriots were thinned out a bit as well: the team lost Lewis, who was a major cog in last year’s run game, while Amendola signed with Miami. New England plugged Hill, who was signed from Cincinnati, along with Michel and the re-signed Rex Burkhead in the mix of the ground game for 2018.
Rob Gronkowski mulled retirement in the offseason but decided to come back. The Patriots lost Bennett to retirement, which means Dwayne Allen has to step up and contribute. Julian Edelman, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, is facing a four-game suspension for PEDs though he hopes to fight it. Matthews, who failed to meet expectations in an injury-prone season with Buffalo, is going to have to fight for a roster spot here with Philip Dorsett, Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell.
The secondary has some changes as Butler, who was Super Bowl MVP a few years ago only to be inactive in the Super Bowl loss in February, signed a deal with the Titans. New England picked up some beef on the defensive line, adding Shelton in a deal from Cleveland and Clayborn as a pass-rushing end to try and improve their front seven. As long as Brady is still around to run the offense, the Patriots are going to be a threat, not only in the AFC East, but in the league as a whole.