If there's one knock against the machine that is the New England Patriots dynasty (and, really, there isn't one), it's the division in which they reside.
Because while you can certainly credit Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for owning the AFC East since 2001, you also have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, their three "rivals" simply haven't been competent enough to win more than two -- that's right, two! -- division titles in the last 18 years. The 2002 New York Jets and 2008 Miami Dolphins almost deserve a Hall of Fame plaque for interrupting New England's two-decade run, and yet, if we're being honest, they're no more than specks in a sandstorm of Patriots dominance.
Entering 2019, Brady and Belichick's crew have been on top of the East for 10 straight years. That means the last time anyone else -- the Dolphins, Jets or Buffalo Bills, in case you forgot they existed -- stole the crown, George W. Bush was president, the Great Recession was in effect and the original "Iron Man" was fresh out of theaters.
The AFC East is, to put it simply, the anti-AFC South. It's not an open race, and it almost never has been. In fact, not even the second-place finisher has been the same in back-to-back years since 2009-2011. And with four Super Bowl appearances in their last five seasons, the Patriots don't seem in a hurry to surrender the division.
All that said, it's why the offseason is especially important to front offices -- and fan bases -- in Buffalo, Miami and
New York New Jersey. Big trades and signings alone aren't going to convince anyone with a brain that the Pats are about to be overtaken, but that doesn't mean the gap can't be closed with smart moves.
Did anyone actually pull them off in recent months? And what about the reigning champs? How have they fared? We've got a breakdown of the entire AFC East right here, with 2019 offseason grades for all four teams.
Grades for all 32 teams can be found.
- Key additions: RB Frank Gore, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Cole Beasley, WR John Brown, TE Tyler Kroft, OT Ty Nsekhe, G Spencer Long, C Mitch Morse, CB Kevin Johnson
- Key losses: TE Charles Clay, G John Miller, DT Kyle Williams
- Key rookies: RB Devin Singletary, G Cody Ford, DT Ed Oliver
The Bills made a clear effort this offseason to surround quarterback Josh Allen with talent, which is commendable. The Brown signing, in particular, makes a ton of sense -- a true deep threat for Allen's rocket launches. And the low-risk upgrades up front (Long, Nsekhe) have the potential to keep him much better protected.
But who's actually inspiring you among those additions? Don't tell me it's a 36-year-old Frank Gore or a serviceable 30-year-old slot receiver in Cole Beasley. Ford is an excellent long-term investment, and Singletary might be the most exciting new offensive piece, but even he's stuck in one of the oddest, oldest RB groups in the NFL.
On the other side of the ball, Buffalo didn't necessarily have to go above and beyond thanks to its promising 2018 lineup, and Oliver alone offsets the loss of Williams' longtime presence. The Bills also didn't say goodbye to a ton of important pieces in general.
All in all, however, this was the kind of offseason that points to one year down the road for true impact additions. The Bills went heavy on mid-tier depth, and they -- Allen specifically -- should be better for it. They've got the makings of a really solid core. But even if most of their new faces hit their respective ceilings in 2019, it's hard to project them as serious playoff contenders. Take free agency out of the mix and look only at the draft, and we're probably talking about a grade in the A's.
Offseason grade: B-
- Key additions: Head coach Brian Flores, QB Josh Rosen, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, TE Dwayne Allen, DT Akeem Spence, CB Eric Rowe
- Key losses: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Frank Gore, WR Danny Amendola, OT Ja'Wuan James, G Josh Sitton, DE Cameron Wake
- Key rookies: G Michael Deiter, DT Christian Wilkins
Belichick's coaching tree has yet to produce serious fruit, but Flores is an instant upgrade on Adam Gase, who seemingly had the locker room divided, not to mention increasingly devoid of actual talent.
The biggest position of interest, though, is quarterback, and Miami at least has far more upside there entering 2019. Tannehill was probably never as good or as bad as he was made out to be, and between Fitzpatrick and Rosen, Flores has both a gritty gunslinger and a potential long-term technician to work with. Best-case scenario, Fitz keeps fans interested and/or Rosen shows enough to develop. Worst-case scenario, the team swallows its small commitments to both and pursues "the guy" in 2020.
Outside of the QB imports, the Dolphins truly didn't do much to improve their 2019 stock. Guys like Allen and Rowe are mostly just bodies for depth. If they make even a couple of splash plays this year, it'll be considered a win. But the reality is Miami won't be sniffing the playoffs for a while. This is Year 1 of a total overhaul. And you can't ask for much more than a future defensive centerpiece in Wilkins, a breath of fresh air at head coach and two solid, if short-term, options at QB.
Offseason grade: B
New England Patriots
- Key additions: WR Demaryius Thomas, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE Benjamin Watson, DE Michael Bennett, LB Jamie Collins
- Key losses: WR Chris Hogan, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Dwayne Allen, TE Rob Gronkowski, OT Trent Brown, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Trey Flowers, DT Malcom Brown, CB Eric Rowe
- Key rookies: RB Damien Harris, WR N'Keal Harry, DE Chase Winovich, CB Joejuan Williams
As per usual, the Patriots were content to let a handful of Super Bowl veterans -- namely Brown and Flowers -- leave for bigger paychecks in free agency, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt in replacing them considering how often they've gone this route over the last decade-plus. On top of that, Bennett seems like a perfect fit for what they do on defense.
New England couldn't have fully prepared for the departure of Gronkowski, though, even if they knew his retirement might be coming. So once again, the biggest question may center on the weapons surrounding Tom Brady. Starting Phillip Dorsett out wide for 16 games doesn't seem like an ideal plan, and Thomas is no guarantee to be healthy. It's hard not to love Harry as a future No. 2 opposite Julian Edelman, but to bank on him and aging or inconsistent vets like Watson and Seferian-Jenkins as top reserve pass catchers is still a bit of a risk.
Like the Bills, the Patriots don't deserve overwhelming praise simply because their veteran haul consists mostly of mid-tier talent. The only difference is they've got a firmer foundation on which to lean, giving them more leeway. Their rookie class is also headlined by guys who could easily see time right out of the gate, giving them yet another solid, if unspectacular, offseason.
Offseason grade: B
New York Jets
- Key additions: Head coach Adam Gase, QB Trevor Siemian, RB Le'Veon Bell, WR Jamison Crowder, G Kelechi Osemele, ILB C.J. Mosley, K Chandler Catanzaro
- Key losses: RB Isaiah Crowell, G James Carpenter, G Spencer Long, CB Buster Skrine, K Jason Myers
- Key rookies: NT Quinnen Williams, OLB Jachai Polite
Much like Buffalo, the Jets spent money to surround their young quarterback with more talent, giving Sam Darnold a new starting running back, a proven possession receiver and a Pro Bowl interior lineman. Each of those moves is admirable, in some sense, and they should at least make Darnold feel more comfortable in his important second season. Williams is also a monster get at the top of the draft and should make New York's interior fearsome for years to come.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot else to like about the Jets' offseason. In what world, other than maybe a 1980s coach's fantasies, is a 27-year-old inside linebacker worth $51 million guaranteed and an average of $17 million per season? You can argue that New York had money to spend, but you're telling me there wasn't another way to do it? Unless Mosley morphs into Ray Lewis for the remainder of his career, there's no doubt we'll be picking apart his contract down the road. And it came just a year after the team issued a similarly ill-advised overpayment to Trumaine Johnson on the same side of the ball.
If Bell and Crowder elevate Darnold to new heights and Mosley helps the Jets' "D" rank among the NFL's best, well, then maybe the money will have been worth it. But that assumes New York will run competently under Adam Gase, who's listed as an "addition" here but could just as easily be seen as a "loss." No disrespect to his early success in Miami, but Gase has been on the job for a few months and has already managed to jettison the team's general manager -- and been forced to publicly make amends with guys like Bell and Mosley. Does anyone really feel confident in him leading the charge of this rebuild?
Offseason grade: C