AFC East: Free Agency Grades

Written By Jason Feiner


Buffalo Bills

Grade: C-


Notable Re-signings:

(DT) Kyle Williams (1 year, $5.5 Million)

(LB) Ramon Humber (1 year, $1 Million)

(RB) Taiwan Jones (1 year)

(RB) Travaris Cadet (1 year, $880,000)


Notable Acquisitions:

(QB) AJ McCarron (2 years, $10 Million)

(DE) Trent Murphy (3 years, $22.5 Million)

(DT) Star Lotulelei (5 years, $50 Million)

(CB) Vontae Davis (1 year, $5 Million)

(C) Russell Bodine (2 years, $5 Million)

(T) Marshall Newhouse (1 year, $1.5 Million)

(RB) Chris Ivory (2 years, $5.5 Million)

(S) Kelcie McCray (1 year, $790,000)

(DE) Odighizuwa Owamagbe (1 year, $630,000)

(LB) Julian Stanford (2 years, $3 Million)


Notable Losses:

(QB) Tyrod Taylor (Browns)

(LB) Preston Brown (Bengals)

(CB) E.J. Gaines (Browns)

(WR) Deonte Thompson (Cowboys)

(S) James Ihedigbo (Retirement)

(C) Eric Wood (Retirement)


Best Move(s):

Although the Bills lost their leader on the defensive side of the ball, they added key players that should potentially improve the unit. Retaining their star defensive lineman and leader Kyle Williams will maintain continuity in the locker room and be a game changer in the middle of their defensive system. By awarding Williams with a one-year deal, the Bills gain a dominant veteran who hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down, carrying no risk in the future. They already lost two captains this offseason, and Williams will help preserve the locker room culture that squeaked its way into the playoffs. While Star Lotulelei hasn’t lived up to his first-round potential he will also help shore up their defensive line. With Lotulelei, losing Marcell Darius seems less daunting.


Picking up Vontae Davis on a one-year deal may prove to be a steal in free agency, as he was regarded as a top corner just a few years ago. He has suffered multiple injuries and his age may be catching up with him, but following the departure of E.J. Gaines he should be a suitable replacement and support for a young secondary led by stand out rookie Tre’davious White. Davis is projected to start opposite of the promising second year corner and strengthen their defensive backfield. With only two million dollars of his contract guaranteed, there is little risk in this signing. The additions of defensive end Trent Murphy and tackle Marshall Newhouse shouldn’t be taken lightly either, as they both could compete for starting spots on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Newhouse has a similarly structured contract to starter Jordan Mills, putting the two in direct competition with one another come training camp.


The Bills’ most surprising move of the offseason came with the addition of AJ McCarron after trading Tyrod Taylor. McCarron may not have the same experience of some of the other signal callers on the market but he offers some upside as a bridge quarterback. He presents tremendous value with a below market value contract. The signing gives McCarron a chance to start while the Bills attempt to trade up and draft their franchise quarterback. If he succeeds and they find a way to draft a new face to guide their franchise, the former Bengals backup may develop quality trade value with a team friendly contract as a negotiating factor.


Worst Move(s):

In 2015, Tyrod Taylor became the first Bills quarterback to make it to the pro bowl since Drew Bledsoe in 2003. Although he doesn’t have the greatest mechanics, he is an underrated quarterback that brought the Bills to their first playoff appearance since 1999. He may not have been what the Bills wanted in a franchise signal caller, but Taylor is better than a rookie quarterback who threw NFL record five interceptions in one half of play (Nathan Peterman), and an unproven perennial backup in recently signed AJ McCarron. Taylor has the talent and leadership to guide a team to the playoffs; however, he may not possess the ability to carry a team to a title.


Taylor would have been an excellent bridge to guide a rookie that many expect the Bills to trade up for in the 2018 NFL draft. He now gets to be just that in Cleveland. Who knows, he may even get a statue in front of First Energy Stadium if he lifts them to a winning season or even the unlikely playoff berth.


Although Buffalo made the necessary signings to counter their losses in the open market, it will be hard to overcome the production and talent of E.J. Gaines. Preston Brown ranked first in total tackles last season, and Gaines was rated as the 16th corner by PFF. Davis will be an effective starter opposite White, but with this move, the secondary is getting older. They also have yet to sign an adequate replacement for Brown, and his talent and ability will be greatly missed. He was a leader on the team and in the locker room with the ability to go sideline to sideline and make plays all over the field.


Summary:

Throughout the course of the past few weeks, The Bills have managed to trade away their starting quarterback, failed to re-sign their play calling linebacker, and a top ranked corner in Gaines. They have signed quality replacements and potential impact players, but they have certainly not improved across either side of the ball while also growing older. They made good moves in acquiring Davis, McCarron and Lotulelei. McCarron has a chance to prove he is more than a backup, but it is hard to look past what Buffalo lost.

They didn’t improve their roster; they just secured potential replacements for the players they lost.


Miami Dolphins

Grade: C-



Notable Re-signings:

(DE) William Hayes (1 year)

(T) Sam Young (1 year)

(DE) John Denney (1 year, $1 Million)

(CB) Walt Aikens (2 years, $2.7 Million)

(QB) David Fales (1 year, $705,000)


Notable Acquisitions:

(G) Josh Sitton (2 years, $15 Million)

(RB) Frank Gore (1 year)

(WR) Danny Amendola (2 years, $12 Million

(WR) Albert Wilson (3 years, $24 Million

(QB) Brock Osweiler (1 year)


Notable Losses:

(WR) Jarvis Landry (Traded, Browns)

(DT) Ndamukong Suh (Released)

(K) Cody Parkey (Bears)

(RB) Damien Williams (Chiefs)

(G) Jermon Bushrod (Saints)


Best Move(s):

Adding Josh Sitton to a struggling offensive line was the best move the Dolphins had in free agency. He will come in and replace Jermon Bushrod and upgrade the position group right away. Sitton is regarded as a top 10 guard in the league, even as he reaches the doorstep of age 32. He has familiarity with Dowell Loggains, Miami’s new offensive coordinator, and his athleticism and technique will give the coaching staff an opportunity to use him in a variety of ways. There is a risk with this signing as he has missed three games in each of the past two seasons. There is always risk with adding a player on the north side of 30. He will need to stay on the field, but the Dolphins definitely won this signing.


Miami also added two veterans that should help right away. Every year, fans and analysts alike continue to write off the aging Frank Gore. But, year-after-year, he continues to prove his doubters wrong. The future Hall of Famer will join a youthful backfield that includes third-year runner and breakout 2017 performer (for the second half of the season) Kenyan Drake. Gore’s experience and leadership will be sure to help out Miami’s locker room, but only time will tell if Gore can put together another solid performance his aging legs seem to keep turning out. Gore is a Miami native, and it seems natural that he will end his decorated NFL career in his hometown.


Danny Amendola has made a career as a clutch performer that Tom Brady could rely on for the past five seasons. He has been dubbed Playoff-Dola for his heroics in the postseason. He has been a safety blanket for New England, always coming up with impressive catches when the game is on the line. Let’s rattle some off: the divisional round touchdown reception from Julian Edelman to put New England a score behind in the divisional round, the 3rd and 15 in Super Bowl 49, the clutch 2-point conversion versus the Falcons, and his two-touchdown game and game winner against Jacksonville to send the Pats to Super Bowl 52. He has been a big part of New England’s success, and the Dolphins made a crafty move to steal him away and slightly weaken the superpower in the division.


Worst Move(s):

The Dolphins have made some mind-boggling moves in order to gain some cap relief. When they traded away their star receiver after placing the hefty $16 million franchise tag on him everyone thought they had saved enough money, but they pulled off an even bigger offseason deal. Three years into his $114 million deal, the Dolphins cut their star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, signaling a rebuild. After removing their best two players from their roster, a hard pill to swallow, the Dolphins look defeated and helpless. They have failed to bring in a replacement for their dominant defensive tackle and will likely look to the draft to fill the void. With the 11th pick, Vita Vea, the Washington product, may be their next toy up front.


It will be tough to replace the production of Suh and Landry, and although they brought in Amendola, he has shown he’s an injury prone receiver who can’t handle a full workload throughout an NFL season. The Dolphins overpaid for his services, as $6 million a year is not worth the money for a productive playoff receiver, especially since the Dolphins probably won’t be making the postseason this year. It was a good strategy to steal him from the Patriots, but he is no replacement for Jarvis Landry and his price tag is steep for a one-trick pony. Amendola has been taking pay cuts to stay with the Patriots and hasn’t exceeded the $2 million dollar price mark in over three seasons. The Patriots don’t overpay for stars, and they certainly don’t overpay for their supporting cast. Although ‘Dola is a hero in New England, even his fans know he isn’t worth what Miami dished out in his contract.


Summary:

Miami gained valuable leadership through the veteran signings of Sitton, Gore, and Amendola. Each of these players will impart valuable knowledge to each player in their locker room while taking on important roles in the system. However, the Dolphins have become dramatically older in their offense, and the team took a nosedive after losing players. They will need to look to the draft to find adequate replacements and begin to rebuild this team with rookie deals and team-friendly contracts. The signings show the Dolphins are locked in purgatory. They have not gotten better, and only improved in leadership and age.


New England Patriots

Grade: C+


Notable Re-signings:

(WR) Mathew Slater (2 years, $5.2 Million)

(RB) Rex Burkhead (3 years, $9.75 Million)

(T) LaAdrian Waddle (1 year)

(LB) Marquis Flowers (1 year, $2.55 Million)

(DB) Brandon King (2 years, $2.6 Million)


Notable Acquisitions:

(DE) Adrian Clayborn ($2 years, 10 Million)

(DT) Danny Shelton (1 year, $2 Million- fifth year option)

(CB) Jason Mccourty (1 year, $2.375 Million)

(T) Matt Tobin (1 year, $815,000)

(RB) Jeremy Hill (1 year, $1.5 Million)


Notable Losses:

(LT) Nate Solder (Giants)

(RB) Dion Lewis (Titans)

(CB) Malcolm Butler (Titans)

(WR) Danny Amendola (Dolphins)

(CB) Johnson Bademosi (Texans)

(DT) Alan Branch (Released)

(T) Cameron Fleming (Cowboys)


Best Move(s):

Matt Slater’s visit to the Steelers may have been the biggest story to hit New England yet. The Patriots had already lost their left tackle in Nate Solder, their featured running back in Dion Lewis, and their star corner and Super Bowl hero, Malcolm Butler. It seemed like an ominous light had shed on New England, and their six-time special team pro bowler and team captain seemed to be the next to leave. Special teams and field position is one of the most important parts of New England’s game management, and Matthew Slater is the best special teamer to hit the field in years. His leadership and inspiration bring the Patriots together, and his how do we feel chants following a win are always pleasing to hear if you sport the red, white, and blue. He is a big part of the team, and it would have been a tragic loss to add him to the offseason wreckage (especially if he went to Pittsburgh, New England’s rival and biggest threat). Resigning Brandon King shouldn’t be overlooked either, as he has been a core contributor on special teams and looks to remain a high impact player, crashing down the field.


Resigning their Swiss-Army-Knife Rex Burkhead should prove invaluable too. They have already lost Dion Lewis to the Titans, and Burkhead looks ready to assume his role as the featured back. Before his injury, the Patriots were using him everywhere on the field — in the backfield, on the goal-line, in the slot, split wide, and on special teams. He is a do-it-all player and a model Patriot (do your job, and do it well). He will compete for early down work with Mike Gillislee and new acquisition Jeremy Hill, while also stealing some snaps from star change-of-pace specialist James White.


The signings of Jeremy Hill and Adrian Claiborne are more favorable than most people think. Hill was signed to a team-friendly, one year prove-it deal, and a change of scenery may allow him to regain his featured back status he once had before his falling out in Cincinnati. Four years ago, Hill put together an 1100-yard campaign while securing 9 touchdowns. He is a pure road grader and should provide excellent support in short yardage situations and on the goal line. One of the biggest factors that contributed to New England’s demise in Super Bowl 52 was their lack of pass rush, allowing Nick Foles to throw all day. By adding Claiborne they get much needed assistance on the edge of their defense while gaining flexibility in the draft. It is a risk to sign a pass rusher that had 6 of his 9.5 sacks come in one game, but anything is better than nothing and New England definitely needs help along their front seven. Claiborne figures to work in a four-player rotation along with standout Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr., and Derek Rivers.


The Patriots traded for Browns defensive tackle and former first round pick, Danny Shelton and followed suit by bringing in Devin Mccourty’s twin brother, cornerback Jason Mccourty. Danny Shelton is a clog in the middle of the defense; he won’t be of much use in the passing game, but he will certainly drain the middle and prevent the run from gaining many yards. He will be an excellent replacement for the aging Allen Branch who they recently cut. Jason Mccourty, although older than Butler, will serve as a quality replacement and work opposite of Stephon Gilmore. He showed that he can still play at a high level last year in Cleveland. The Mccourty twins team-up for the first time since their days at Rutgers, which is sure to be one of the feel-good stories of the 2018 season. Jason will certainly help shore up the secondary, eliminating the prospect of starting Eric Rowe as one of their corners, a nightmare that no Patriots fan wanted to come true (evidenced by the Super Bowl).


Worst Move(s):

The Patriots have made a lot of head turning moves throughout this offseason, and the departures of their offensive and defensive stars certainly sting. The Giants stole Nate Solder right out from under them, as they made the LT the highest paid O-lineman in the NFL. The Patriots couldn’t spend $15 million a year on the high-profile lineman, and honestly, he isn’t worth that much. Solder’s departure puts a big hole in the Patriots offensive line, and they will almost certainly look to the draft to fill it. Another possibility and likely outcome would be to hand the reins to recently drafted third round pick, Antonio Garcia. But leaving it up to a player who missed his entire rookie season with blood clots in his lungs is a risky proposition. Although he was cleared to play last week, Garcia dropped nearly 40 pounds and will need to gain it back if he has any chance to play this season. Look for names like Brian O’Neil, Chuks Okorafor, or Jamarco Jones to be called by the Pats on draft night with one of their day two selections.


The departure of Malcolm Butler stings but isn’t the least bit surprising. He was benched for the entire game in New England’s Super Bowl 52 loss, receiving only one special teams snap after completing the year with 98% of the defensive snaps under his belt. Although he had a down year, Butler still remained New England’s greatest defensive player and his absence is sure to hurt. Jason Mccourty will certainly help their secondary, but Butler is a do-it-all type of player and will be greatly missed in the secondary in New England.


The Patriots always seem to have a running back carousel year-after-year, gaining new faces in a backfield that seems to only sport one or two familiar ones. With the departure of Dion Lewis, the Patriots will once again look to spread the ball to each of their backs and play with a running back by committee. The production, versatility, and elusive nature of Lewis will be hard to replicate. He was a three-down workhorse who also participated on special teams as their kick returner. The Patriots added returning ace Cordarrelle Patterson, and their stable of backs will be just enough to overcome Lewis’ departure. Patriots fans will certainly miss the plays where he dekes a defender out of his shoes on route to a big gain.


The Patriots also lost two role players that will be greatly missed. The loss of Johnson Bademosi shouldn’t be overlooked, as he was a core special teams player. He may have gotten ripped apart in the Super Bowl while filling in for Butler, but he accounted for 10 total tackles on special teams this past year. He will be missed, but Belichick is sure to make a move so the team barely notices his absence. The loss of Danny Amendola is a little more detrimental to the team, as he was a clutch performer and reliable target for Tom Brady. Playoff-Dola was a key contributing factor that brought the Patriots Lombardi Trophies in Super Bowls 49 and 51.


Summary:

The Patriots offseason started on a bad note and their departures are sure to hurt, but the promise in the pieces they have added softens the blow. With acquisitions via free agency and trade the Patriots have some flexibility come draft night. If you ask me, I believe the Giants actually hurt themselves more by making Solder the highest paid offensive lineman in the league. The Giants watched their top three offensive lineman leave, and they’ll keep us guessing as to whether they are trying to win or commit to a total rebuild. Until they figure that out, the Patriots will be back in the playoffs with or without Solder, and the G-men will continue to rot in Purgatory.


New York Jets

Grade: B+


Notable Re-signings:

(QB) Josh Mccown (1 year, $10 Million)

(CB) Morris Claiborne (1 year, $7 Million)

(DE) Xavier Cooper (1 year, $615,000)

(S) Terrence Brooks (2 years)

(DT) Mike Pennel (3 years, $12 Million)


Notable Acquisitions:

(CB) Trumaine Johnson (5 years, $72.5 Million)

(QB) Teddy Bridgewater (1 year,$ 6 Million)

(WR) Andre Roberts (1 year, $1.8 Million)

(RB) Isaiah Crowell (3 years, $12 Million)

(K) Cairo Santos (1 year, $2 Million)

(C) Spencer Long (4 years, $27.5 Million)

(LB) Avery Williamson (3 years, $22.5 Million)

(LB) Kevin Pierre-Louis (2 years, $6 Million)

(LB) Brandon Copeland (1 year, $615,000)


Notable Losses:

(RB) Matt Forte (Retired)

(LB) Demario Davis (Saints)

(DT) Muhammad Wilkerson (Packers)

(TE) Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jaguars)

(K) Chandler Catanzaro (Buccaneers)

(LB) Julian Stanford (Bills)


Best Move(s):

New York was not messing around this offseason, acquiring players in all phases of the game that should help improve their roster as a whole. The Jets were able to retain many of their own free agents while bringing in new faces to the franchise. General Manager Mike Maccagnan then decided to trade away a first and three second round picks to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for their number three overall pick, which will surely be for one of the top four quarterbacks available. Gang Green has been aggressive this offseason in a desperate attempt to close the gap in the AFC East. Retaining Mo Claiborne was a big signing and became even larger when Trumaine Johnson, one of the most coveted free agents this year agreed to join the Jets. Johnson now joins a group that features two young and productive safeties and an impressive slot corner. It is sure to turn into one of the better stories and impressive units in the league. Although the Jets gave Johnson a top of the line contract, they acquired their number one corner and a quality secondary.


The Jets re-signed Josh McCown and signed former first round pick Teddy Bridgewater. Both of these signings will give the Jets a chance at a quality starter at below the market value for quarterbacks. McCown’s age is a factor, and there is still uncertainty with the level of play Bridgewater will be at following his devastating knee injury that was felt league-wide. Bridgewater, while a great signing with a team friendly deal, may never reach the same level of play that made him a first round pick in 2014. With these two signings, the Jets have two veterans who are capable of leading a team and teaching whichever prospect they draft come April.


The Jets may have lost Chandler Catanzaro to the Buccaneers, but they were able to bring in Cairo Santos, a dependable kicker with a big leg. This is a risky signing, but if he can overcome the groin injury he suffered last season he has the potential to be a boost for an ailing special teams unit. Avery Williamson is a good player with the ability to come in and produce right away for a defense that will greatly miss the production of linebacker Demario Davis. Williamson was brought in on a team friendly contract and should prove to be a steal once the season kicks off. Gang Green may not have been able to retain Davis, but they brought in a quality replacement. Williamson is a tackling machine and excellent in coverage. He should be a great contributor for New York as they pair him next to Darron Lee in the front seven. The younger and cheaper player in Williamson will replace Davis.


Worst Move(s):

The Jets haven’t made any poor moves throughout the offseason, but they may have overpaid for the number three overall pick. They traded up three spots and gave away three second round picks in the process, but if they find a franchise quarterback it will all be worth it in the end. Let’s just hope the quarterback they do choose in April doesn’t wind up like another Mark Sanchez or some people may be out of a job.

Letting Demario Davis walk in free agency may hurt when looking back at the offseason, but it is hard to nitpick a team that added a younger and cheaper player in Williamson.


Summary:

Gang Green has definitely won the offseason when looking inside the AFC East. They were able to retain valuable assets while adding key players in their lineup. The Jets managed to keep a key secondary member (Mo Claiborne), a young and productive defensive tackle (Mike Pennel), while adding players like Trumaine Johnson, Teddy Bridgewater, Andre Roberts, Isaiah Crowell, Spencer Long, Avery Williamson and Cairo Santos. They have improved the roster leaps and bounds compared to last year and set themselves up to draft a potential franchise savior and quarterback. The future looks bright for the Jets, but until the Brady-Belichick era ends, it may be a while before they actually take the division.