Every team conducts business in their own way. Some like to make a splash every year, and others sleepwalk through free agency. The AFC East has a little bit of everything. The Dolphins and Jets think that the only way to build is by spending money at higher rates than Floyd Mayweather or Pacman Jones at a strip club. On the other end of the spectrum are the Patriots, who have King Midas – err Tom Brady – at quarterback, making any move they make seem successful, and big spending seem unnecessary. Regardless of philosophy, however, every team in the NFL has moves to make, and I will break down potential moves I think should be made.
New England Patriots
The Patriots, contrary to what their outrageous six consecutive 12-win seasons streak would suggest, have plenty of holes. They were 30th in the league last season with only 87.8 rushing yards per game and managed 12 interceptions all season. Not to mention the fact that they gave up 38 sacks and 97 QB hits, both the third most of Brady’s career. The holes along the offensive line are not as worrisome to me because Brady can maneuver around that and they had several injuries that caused undrafted rookies to start. The backfield and the secondary do need fixing, however. Matt Forte seems to be a popular pick to land in New England. This is a natural assumption because the Pats need a running back, and Forte wants a ring. I think Forte is too similar to Dion Lewis and would hamper his development, so I don’t see that move panning out. The one move the Patriots should make, without a doubt, is pairing up Devin McCourty with Eric Weddle. McCourty has established himself as one of the top safeties in the league roaming around the defensive backfield. Weddle is a do-it-all type safety that could play more in the box and complement McCourty extremely well. With this move, the Patriots defense would be one of the best units in the league, and one worth owning in all fantasy leagues.
New York Jets
After an improbable overtime win in which Bill Belichick seemed to give the game away in order to knock the Steelers out of the playoffs, all the Jets needed to do was beat the Bills and they were in. Of course, they were still the Jets, so they could not manage that last win. The Jets are actually a team with very few obvious holes, however. They were top 10 in total offense and defense last year, scored a touchdown on 66% of their red zone trips, and hauled in 30 turnovers on defense. Fair to say Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan knocked it out of the park in their first year running this team. It seems as though there are some tough questions that they will need to answer this offseason, however. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are both free agents and seem to be gone, their offensive line features three starters in their 30’s, they have as much playmaking ability at linebacker and tight end as Andre Drummond has at the free throw line, and what in the world should they do about Muhammad Wilkerson? Wilkerson is arguably the Jets’ best player, and is really one of the best at his position in the entire league. That is something you cannot let walk so easily. The franchise tag was created for a reason, and even though Wilkerson may not be happy to receive it, the Jets must do everything they can to keep him in Gang Green. If they are unable to do so, it would be a failed offseason.
The Buffalo Bills are in a similar spot to the Jets, as they are not filled with question marks, but they are also as close to real contention as I am to scoring a date with Katy Perry. Going into the season, we all expected the Bills to be a team led by their defense because of the Rex Ryan hire. That did not turn out at all as we had expected. What we saw from the Bills was a breakout at quarterback for Tyrod Taylor, a touchdown machine in Karlos Williams, an electrifying LeSean McCoy, and the arrival of elite Sammy Watkins. On the defensive side of the ball, Mario Williams, who will account for nearly 13% of the Bills’ cap in 2016, only recorded 5 sacks, the second worst output of his career. To go along with that, Aaron Williams hurt his neck so severely that he considered retirement, and Nigel Bradham, who is their best linebacker, was very inconsistent. These issues resulted in the Bills having the 16th ranked run defense and 19th ranked pass defense in the league despite having studs like Marcell Dareus, Stephone Gilmore, and rookie Ronald Darby. The Bills also have questions along their offensive line with Seantrel Henderson being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and Cyrus Kouandjio never fully making it back from his knee injury from his college days. So what is the one move the Bills should make that is more important than the rest? Safety. A secondary that features two young studs at CB cannot be among the bottom half of the league in passing yards allowed. The Bills need to re-sign Baccari Rambo, who finished the season very strong, and they need to draft Vonn Bell out of Ohio State in the first round. Those two would make a great pairing, with Rambo being the hard-hitting strong safety and Bell being the instinctive ball hawk.
The Dolphins have become very good at winning the offseason and selling hope to their fan base. Every year seems to be *the* year – until it’s not. The problem is that for as good as they are at finding players to spend money on, they are equally bad at finding game plans to produce sufficient wins. This team is riddled with questions all over the place. Ryan Tannehill seemed to do the Cha Cha Slide last season; two steps back this time. Reshad Jones might be the best safety in the league, and the young talent at wide receiver, led by Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker is undeniable, but the defensive line is vastly overrated, the defensive backfield has an aging and likely gone Brent Grimes as the only other serviceable player next to Jones, and the linebacker unit might be the worst positional unit in the entire league. Well, besides the Dolphins’ offensive line, that is. What this team really needs, aside from a couple of key players, is a change in defensive mentality. The Dolphins under the leadership of Joe Philbin were built to be a finesse team. Finesse teams do not match up well with the smash mouth style of the AFC East, showcased by the Dolphins’ 1-5 divisional record in 2015. To change this, the Dolphins need to become stronger in the middle of their defense. Ndamukong Suh is exactly the kind of player they should be building around, but they need more behind him. For the Dolphins’ offseason to be successful, the #1 thing they should do is one that does not come without risk. They should draft LB Jaylon Smith out of Notre Dame 8th overall. Smith suffered a brutal knee injury in his final collegiate game, and may not be ready to return at the start of next season. But his talent is worth waiting for. Smith is the type of game-changing linebacker that can immediately ignite a defense a la Patrick Willis or Luke Kuechly. Adding Smith, along with some depth through free agency could signal the start of some real improvement in Miami. Until they prove it out on the field, however, I’d advise using caution when projecting any real success coming to South Beach.