The initial waves of free agency have already washed to shore and now that the dust has settled on a large chunk of the madness, we're getting a better sense of how each team is looking heading into 2021. For the AFC East, these past two offseasons have been monumental. New England's reign as the perennial favorite within the division started to falter last March when Tom Brady left for the Buccaneers and fully collapsed throughout the season, paving the way for Buffalo to claim the throne for the first time since 1995.
As we see these clubs preparing for next season, each organization is in a rather different spot. Buffalo is looking to build off the momentum of winning the division and trying to construct a squad that can go even further than their AFC Championship appearance last postseason. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are also looking to continue on the positive track they've set for themselves, nearly making the playoffs in 2020. As for the Patriots and Jets, they needed to fill a number of holes to claw back toward relevancy.
How did each team fare this free agent cycle? Let's find out in our grades below.
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Buffalo Bills - A-
Key additions/re-signings: WR Emmanuel Sanders, QB Mitchell Trubisky, TE Jacob Hollister, OT Daryl Williams, OG Jon Feliciano, LB Matt Milano, WR Isaiah McKenzie
Key subtractions: WR Andre Roberts (Texans), WR John Brown (Raiders), OT Ty Nsekhe (Cowboys), DE Quinton Jefferson (Raiders), OG Brian Winters (Cardinals), LB Del'Shawn Phillips (Jets)
While there were certainly more headline-grabbing moves elsewhere in the division, you really can't find many flaws in what Buffalo has done thus far this offseason. Retaining Williams, Feliciano and Milano were subtle but extremely important maneuvers for GM Brandon Beane. All three were key figures in Buffalo's success in 2020 and can now be looked at as building blocks heading into 2021. Meanwhile, Sanders is an upgrade over Brown for next season and the veteran receiver should be a strong weapon for Josh Allen opposite Stefon Diggs. I also love the potential that Hollister brings to that unit. As for Trubisky, he goes from being one of the league's most undesirable starters to one of the better backup quarterbacks.
Miami Dolphins - C+
Key additions/re-signings: WR Will Fuller, QB Jacoby Brissett, RB Malcolm Brown, CB Justin Coleman, DT Adam Butler, LB Vince Biegel, K Jason Sanders, LB Elandon Roberts, LB Benardrick McKinney (trade with Texans)
Key subtractions: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Washington), OL Ted Karras (Patriots), DT Davon Godchaux (Patriots), LB Kyle Van Noy (released, signed by Patriots), LB Shaq Lawson (trade with Texans)
The Dolphins have had what I would describe as a lukewarm offseason to this point. They were able to ink Fuller to a one-year deal, but I'm not sure this is the splash at receiver that takes this offense over the top with Tua Tagovailoa at the helm. While talented, Fuller's injury history precedes itself and he's hardly the type of player you can lock in being there on a weekly basis. If he remains healthy during a 2021 season, where he's once again playing for a long-term deal, that will benefit Tagovailoa, who wasn't really allowed to uncork the deep ball during his rookie season. If Fuller can't stay on the field, this addition is moot. Outside of Fuller, the Dolphins added some solid depth pieces in Brissett, Coleman, Butler and Biegel. Again, this wasn't the biggest of free agent periods for the Dolphins, but we know that most of their action should come at the draft where they are currently holding two first-round selections, including No. 3 overall.
New England Patriots - B+
Key additions/re-signings: TE Jonnu Smith, LB Matthew Judon, DT Davon Godchaux, DB Jalen Mills, TE Hunter Henry, WR Kendrick Bourne, WR Nelson Agholor, OL Ted Karras, LB Kyle Van Noy, QB Cam Newton, C David Andrews, RB James White, DT Lawrence Guy
Key subtractions: OL Joe Thuney (Chiefs), DT Adam Butler (Dolphins), S Patrick Chung (retirement), RT Marcus Cannon (trade with Texans)
You might be surprised by this grade, considering that the Patriots went on the biggest spending spree in franchise history. In a vacuum, the additions of Smith, Judon, Henry and others were great and New England has done an excellent job at retaining some of its big free agents like Andrews, Guy and White. What keeps the Patriots out of the "A" range, however, is what they did elsewhere in free agency. They were unable to improve the quarterback position and re-signed Newton to a one-year deal. Bill Belichick could always improve that position at or around the draft but right now New England's QB1 looks like it'll be Newton, whose arm appeared to be shot in 2020. The club also seems to have misread the wide receiver market. For example, the Patriots signed Agholor to a deal that will pay him $16 million in guarantees over the next two seasons. I like what Agholor brings to the offense, but when you compare his deal to some of the more established receivers in this free agent market like JuJu Smith-Schuster and even Fuller, his contract seems a bit out of whack.
New York Jets - B+
Key additions/re-signings: DE Carl Lawson, WR Corey Davis, LB Jarrad Davis, RB Tevin Coleman, DT Sheldon Rankins, WR Keelan Cole, DB Lamarcus Joyner, TE Tyler Kroft, S Marcus Maye (franchise tagged)
Key subtractions: DE Henry Anderson (Patriots), WR Breshad Perriman (Lions), OLB Tarell Basham (Cowboys)
The Jets had a sneaky good free agent cycle. While they didn't bring in a massive amount of household names, the additions of Lawson, Rankins and Joyner while retaining Maye on the franchise tag should only make first-year head coach Robert Saleh's job easier on defense. After Shaq Barrett re-signed with Tampa Bay, Lawson was the best pass-rusher on the market. While his sack totals don't jump off the stat sheet, he's a disruptor who had 44 pressures and 11 hurries in 2020. Meanwhile, the additions of Corey Davis and Cole were two shrewd moves that will immediately boost the receiving unit. Of course, New York still needs to figure out the quarterback situation at the NFL Draft, but it spent money wisely this offseason.