Four Downs: AFC East

Four Downs: AFC East

by Rivers McCown

Welcome back to our offseason series of Four Downs. We'll be reviewing each division one-by-one, looking at each team's biggest hole going into free agency as well as the most important players who may be on the market (provided they aren't franchise tagged or re-signed before March 5).

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Hole: Offensive line

The sudden retirement of Eric Wood and the sudden Richie Incognito-ing of Richie Incognito left the Bills with an unsolvable puzzle up front in 2018. They had already committed to trading Cordy Glenn to the Bengals, and all of a sudden they were trying to paper over the middle of the line with bargain-bin free agents like Russell Bodine. Despite Josh Allen's incredible season running the football, the Bills finished 24th in rushing offense DVOA and 30th in adjusted line yards. Spencer Long, who struggled for the Jets last year, was signed as a cut free agent early in the offseason. That isn't nearly enough to fix this line, but at least it won't be part of the draft pick compensation format. The Bills should be trying to replace Wood with someone like Matt Paradis or Mitch Morse, and they could probably do better at guard as well if they wanted to invest the money. Remember, this team has roughly $77 million available to play with per Over The Cap. They can afford to pursue multiple upgrades, and they will have to since most of the non-Dion Dawkins line is hitting free agency.

Major Free Agents:: T Jordan Mills, DL Kyle Williams (retiring), G John Miller, C Ryan Groy, DL Jordan Phillips

Losing Williams is a big deal, but something the Bills have had time to prepare for. Harrison Phillips, a third-round pick last year, should get the first shot at replacing him. And, of course, while many offensive linemen are hitting free agency, there's not a whole lot here that is a must-keep. Miller had his best season and has some pedigree, so he might draw a little interest in free agency. But overall, expect these linemen to be regarded as depth pieces.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest Hole: Offensive line

Last offseason the Dolphins made some gambles with the line that did not pay off. They let long-time center Mike Pouncey head to the Chargers, then replaced him with ex-49ers center Daniel Kilgore and longtime Packers and Bears guard Josh Sitton. Sitton played just 62 snaps before hitting IR, and Kilgore made it all the way to 182. (Given Kilgore's lengthy injury history, that was probably close to the over/under.) Already relying on undrafted free agent Jesse Davis at right guard, the Dolphins stacked their interior line with the Ted Larsens and Travis Swansons of the world and it left them vulnerable. The only offense that had a higher adjusted sack rate than the Dolphins last year was Houston, and even with a middle-of-the-pack adjusted line yards ranking, they were below-average in power situations.

With Ja'Wuan James hitting free agency, an argument can be made that only Laremy Tunsil deserves to have a starting spot locked in for 2019. No matter who the Dolphins wind up with at quarterback, be it Ryan Tannehill or a rookie, they'll have to improve the line play to be able to get a full evaluation for Brian Flores' new staff.

Major Free Agents:: T Ja'Wuan James, DE Cameron Wake, C Travis Swanson, QB Brock Osweiler, RB Frank Gore

The major free-agent prize here is Wake, who could be in a ring-chasing stage of his career and might not have the patience for a rebuild as he enters his age-37 (!) season. James is up-and-down but will probably command enough of a market that the Dolphins will have to clear the deck of bad contracts to have a real shot at re-signing him. A tag could logically be applied to either of these players, but with Miami at around just $9 million in cap space, moves would have to come first to open up some cash.

New England Patriots

Biggest Hole: Receivers

Under contract at wideout next year, the Patriots have Julian Edelman (turning 33 in May), Matthew Slater, and a bunch of low-round rookies and UDFAs who haven't produced yet. Under contract at tight end are Rob Gronkowski (turning 30 in May, on Year 2 of retirement rumors), Dwayne Allen (a likely cap cut), and UDFA Jacob Hollister. Yes, they have two well-established performers -- but they're both at dangerous ages, and Gronkowski already runs like a shopping cart. The Patriots will see Josh Gordon into restricted free agency and will have to decide what that means to them. A big reason that the Patriots stagnated at times in the Super Bowl was because they didn't have a receiver capable of winning one-on-one outside. They have many advantages in finding one, such as their history of winning and having Tom Brady. But this position may need more than one move for New England to feel comfortable about it in 2019. And given Belichick's drafting history, this is one area where he probably can't be trusted to draft a solution.

Major Free Agents:: T Trenton Brown, CB Jason McCourty, WR Chris Hogan, DE Trey Flowers, WR Josh Gordon (RFA)

With only $15 million in cap space, the Patriots will likely lose multiple players on this list. Flowers has been bandied about as the happy consolation prize of the edge rusher class -- he's not Jadeveon Clowney or Demarcus Lawrence but he's also not likely to be tagged. Flowers finished seventh in the NFL in pressures per Sports Info Solutions. McCourty played a huge role in the Super Bowl, and Brown had his best season after being brought over in a pick-swap trade with the 49ers. As one of the perceived best tackles on the market, Brown will probably get paid more than the Patriots can afford. Guess they'll have to take that compensation pick and try to re-create the scenario again! Drat!

New York Jets

Biggest Hole: Edge rusher

New York finished 24th in defensive pressure rate per Sports Info Solutions, and has not been above-average in that stat since 2015. New York's leader in quarterback hurries last year was not any of their edge players, but interior lineman Leonard Williams. Jordan Jenkins led the team in sacks with seven, and the team hasn't had anybody get 10 sacks since Muhammad Wilkerson was still healthy and inspired. The last pure edge rusher to get 10 sacks for the Jets in a season was Calvin Pace in 2013. Depending on how much you weight single-season situations like Pace, the Jets have arguably never replaced John Abraham.

The good news is that the Jets have a horde of cap space and that edge rusher is one of the strengths of this free-agent class. The bad news is that the last time they had a horde of cap room and a glaring need, they created Trumaine Johnson's 2018 season. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will definitely want to chase somebody to upgrade this room.

Major Free Agents:: CB Morris Claiborne, WR Robby Anderson (RFA), DL Henry Anderson, LG James Carpenter, QB Josh McCown

With a brutal 2018 as the team refused to let Sam Darnold dial up much in the way of deep passes, it'll be interesting to see if Robby Anderson actually has an RFA market worth talking about. He definitely has the jets that teams covet outside. Henry Anderson rebounded from the cacophony of injuries that felled him in Indianapolis and turned in his best season for the Jets. Claiborne has become a reliable stop-gap corner who should be able to find a starting job elsewhere if the Jets don't want him back.


15 comments, Last at 04 Mar 2019, 12:18pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

The Patriots have also their kicker (Gostokwski, 13 years on the team) and their punter (Allen, 6 years on the team) going FA. At least the former, despite having not-elite years during 2016-2018 (but do not forget he is still great in kicking off), could qualify as a major FA.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

So my takeaway from this Four Downs is that I'm wondering if the Patriots should try to sign Robby Anderson.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Pats fans would love it if there were some way to retain Trey Flowers. If he's considered a "consolation prize", more the better. Flowers provides great value on run defense as well as pass defense.

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Flowers, to me, seems like a guy that Belichick would very much like to keep. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Patriots extend to a greater extent than usual to keep a very good pass rusher that can play effectively all along the D line as he enters his prime years.

Actually, the fact that he didn't get traded last year probably suggests that Belichick thinks he can retain him.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

I also think it's very possible Flowers will be under valued in the FA pool as a result of his low sack numbers and end up back a Patriot on a deal bigger than what the Pats will often reach. With regard to players on the DL it's long been obvious that the Pats value run/lane discipline way more than most teams around the NFL - by the same token it would be very unusual to see a DE with 7.5 & 8.5 sacks in the last two years get a really high-end deal.

On a related note I do think that this year's superbowl is going to cause some serious soul-searching around the NFL regarding how defense is played that might lead to better economic results for players like flowers - but who knows.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Ordinarily I would think Flowers would slip under the radar, since so many football people are excessively in love with the Sack statistic. But Miami's new HC is Brian Flores, who knows Flowers as well as anybody. And there are rumors Miami wants Flowers. Flores brought a boatload of assistant coaches with him from Foxboro, and I think it would be fair to say he'd be interested in bringing in Flowers, too.

It doesn't help that "Flores" is Spanish for "Flowers". :(

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

The AFC east featured 3 out of the 5 of the worst QB performances in the league last season. Oddly neither of the Jets, Bills or Miami are likely to try to fix this situation in free agency. The Bills and Jets are probably going to give the young guy another year and Miami is talking about blowing things up to the point no one has a clue who will QB the team but whoever it will be will be very cheap on the books. You probably feel good as a Pat fan going into free agency based on this fact.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

Is there any evidence of human trafficking? Or other forms of coercion? I was under the impression that despite the rhetoric the police were using, this is likely just a prostitution case, and I firmly believe that consenting prostitution should be legal. In fact, prostitution ought to be a respected profession.

As much as I love the schadenfreude, I can't blame a guy for wanting to pay for sex. Kraft should have tipped better though, $100 is terribly cheap.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC East

The police report suggests that some (or all) of the women were there illegally (and potentially against their will). The charges don't indicate that Kraft knew anything about that, but rather that he simply paid for services. How "bad" that is I guess really depends on your point of view; from a legal point of view it's likely he'll face a fine and potentially community service. I don't have a dog in the "prostitution should be illegal" argument, but it's pretty nonsense based on the available evidence to connect Kraft to human trafficking in a serious way.