2020 NFL free agency grades for AFC East: Miami Dolphins load up on defense, Patriots watch Tom Brady walk
The AFC East is going to look a lot different in 2020
The first wave of free agency has come and gone and arguably no division has been more impacted than the AFC East. For decades the New England Patriots have dominated the division, but now it feels like a new dawn has come about now that Tom Brady has departed Foxborough for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only that, but a number of other teams within the AFC East have begun building rather competitive rosters with some big-swing transactions.
As you'll read more in depth below, we've taken a look at what each club has done thus far to begin free agency and given them a grade for their progress. Of course, this is a mere snapshot in what is an ever-flowing string of roster moves for all of these clubs at this point in the year, so the grade they get now may not be what they ultimately receive when the offseason is said and done. Once the NFL draft comes and goes and more roster moves come about, we'll get an even clearer picture of what all four of these AFC East teams will look like in 2020.
At the moment, however, here's how we see each of their offseasons going.
Key additions: Brian Hoyer, Beau Allen, Adrian Phillips.
Notable departures: Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts.
It's never going to look pretty after you move on from a franchise icon like Tom Brady, so this grade was hardly going to be favorable for New England. That said, what keeps Bill Belichick and company out of the F range is simply how they've responded to losing Brady. There was no overreaction. They didn't make a knee-jerk trade for Andy Dalton or Cam Newton and didn't bust open the checkbook (mostly because they can't given their cap) to try and land Jameis Winston or another free agent signal caller. Instead, they sat back and are being a bit more methodical in how they'll begin dealing with the post-Tom Brady era, which they should get credit for.
On top of losing Brady, the Pats saw a long list of defensive starters like Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins all walk out the door as well. While they were key pieces to their top-ranked defense in 2019, once Tom Brady departed, it doesn't make much sense for New England to overextend themselves for talent like that at the moment. It's a tough pill to swallow, but the Patriots are playing the long game.
An underrated piece of retaining Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater along with re-signing Brian Hoyer is their leadership, which shouldn't go unnoticed. As the club embarks on this new era, they'll need key leaders like McCourty and Slater along with a quarterback who knows the system as well as Hoyer does and can instill it in whoever becomes the post-Brady starter.
Key additions: Stefon Diggs (trade), Mario Addison, A.J. Klein, Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson.
Notable departures: Shaq Lawson, Jordan Phillips, Lorenzo Alexander.
The big move for Buffalo came via trade when they acquired star receiver Stefon Diggs in a deal with the Minnesota Vikings. The Bills have long been looking for a clear No. 1 pass catcher in their offense and the arrival of Diggs gives them just that. He's coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and is particularly strong against press coverage, which is especially appealing to the Bills. According to Yahoo! Sports, Diggs' 79.1% success rate against press coverage was a career best and his 76.5% success rate vs. man-to-man coverage ranked in the 93rd percentile. He's elite in every sense of the word and makes the steep price tag a bit more palatable. With Diggs now in the fold, that gives Buffalo a rather fast complement of weapons for third-year quarterback Josh Allen. Diggs is the cherry on top of a pass catching unit that consists of receiver John Brown and Cole Beasley along with tight end Dawson Knox and running back Devin Singletary.
The Josh Norman signing is intriguing when paired next to star defensive back Tre'Davious White, but Norman's best days are unquestionably behind him so this should really be looked at as more of a flier.
Buffalo did lose both Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson this offseason after they were No. 1 and No. 2 on the club in sacks in 2019. As Ed Oliver continues to develop, the Bills should look to add a bit more pass rushers along the defensive line to make this offseason even more of a slam dunk.
Key additions: Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, George Fant.
Notable departures: Brandon Shell, Tom Compton, Brandon Copeland.
The offensive line was an area that needed addressing this offseason for the New York Jets and they started to do that by signing left tackle George Fant. That move is a bit risky when you consider his shaky history in pass protection and that he ranked 53rd among tackles in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. Making that guy your blindside tackle for Sam Darnold isn't exactly reassuring for the third-year quarterback.
New York also added Connor McGovern to man the center spot, which is a pretty savvy signing. According to PFF's calculations, McGovern was just one of three offensive lineman with over 600 snaps to not commit a penalty in 2019. The 26-year-old is also strong in pass protection. Retaining corner Brian Poole was a nice lower-level move for New York as well.
What keeps them from getting a higher grade, however, is the club simply not adding much around Darnold. While they are trying to strengthen the offensive line around him, the quarterback isn't seeing many (or any) weapons come in. In fact, it looks like the team may see one head out the doors as their second leading receiver from a year ago in Robby Anderson, who is an unrestricted free agent, could conceivably leave for another club. Again, they could always add an arsenal of weapons for Darnold down the line, but currently it's looking pretty bleak.
Key additions: Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, Jordan Howard, Elandon Roberts, Ereck Flowers.
Notable departures: None.
Miami landed one of the biggest free agent fishes on the market by inking corner Byron Jones to one of the richest deals the position has ever seen. He immediately becomes an anchor along their defense and forms a serious one-two punch of corners with Xavien Howard. Head coach Brian Flores does deploy a lot of man-to-man coverage in his defenses and Jones should seamlessly fit into that type of playing style.
The Dolphins didn't stop there on defense, either. They also pried linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts from the New England Patriots and added Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah to their pass-rushing unit. Flores knows both Van Noy and Roberts extremely well after serving as the Patriots linebackers coach and the de facto defensive coordinator prior to landing in Miami, which should result in both of those players providing immediate results upon arrival. Lawson, who saw a rather rich deal with the Dolphins, was second on the Bills in sacks and provides solid pressure.
The Ereck Flowers signing is a bit of a risk for Miami, especially if they think about switching him back to tackle. If he stays at guard, they get a middle of the road player, but hardly anyone they can rely on. The offensive line signing that is a bit underrated is the one-year deal they gave Ted Karras. He started at center for New England all throughout the 2019 campaign after the team lost starting center David Andrews for the year. In that role Karras played well and should continue to have a starting spot going forward in the NFL.
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