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AFC East: One Free Agency and Draft Question for Each Team

We investigate intriguing offseason situations for each team out east in the AFC.

Daniel Hepner Feb 18th 10:54 AM EST.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 29:  Aaron Rodgers (8) of the New York Jets talks with Sauce Gardner (1)  prior to the game against the New York Giants on October 29, 2023 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 29: Aaron Rodgers (8) of the New York Jets talks with Sauce Gardner (1) prior to the game against the New York Giants on October 29, 2023 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The NFL train doesn’t stop. Just a week after the Super Bowl, we are all hungry for offseason content, with free agency about a month away and the draft to follow. Things won’t really slow down until after the draft in the short lull before summer training camps start.

With that in mind, I want to go through each team and pose one question about free agency and the draft. This isn’t necessarily the most important or pressing issue, but it’s something that stands out to me based on team history and circumstances.

We’ll start in the AFC East, with all four teams ending their seasons with as many questions as answers.

 

Buffalo Bills

Free Agency and Draft: Defensive line and WR2, which position is easier to fill in free agency and which in the draft?

We’ll combine these two questions for the first team, as I see them as the two glaring positions for the Bills to focus on most. 

Gabe Davis is a free agent, and the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of replacements to complement Stefon Diggs. There are still questions about Diggs after a few weird offseason events and a down season from his top form.

There are real wide receiver upgrades available both through the draft and free agency. Mike Evans, Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman are WR1s potentially available on the free agent market, with Calvin Ridley and Marquise Brown in the next tier.

ESPN mock drafts have regularly been projecting five or more first-round receivers, continuing a trend of high-level pass catchers entering the league expected to make an immediate impact. The Bills pick 28th and could probably get a starting-level receiver at that spot, according to draft experts.

Seven defensive linemen listed on Buffalo’s depth chart are unrestricted free agents. Six of those seven were veterans on one- or two-year contracts. There isn’t much home-grown talent along the D-line.

Von Miller was signed to a big contract in 2022; he tore his ACL during that season and struggled to make an impact in 2023. His contract dictates that he will probably be on the roster next season, but it will be tough for him to return to form at 35 years old.

It will likely take more short-term contracts to fill the ranks, but Buffalo will hope to bring in at least one impact pass rusher. Two of their top four sack leaders from 2023 are among the free agents, accounting for 31.5% of the team’s sacks.

This is a weaker draft for top-end defensive talent, so the Bills are more likely to find depth there than an instant star. There are always veteran pass rushers on the free agent market, and many of them would surely be interested in joining a team contending for a Super Bowl.

 

Miami Dolphins

Free Agency: Can they find another offensive piece to help create consistency?

A potential extension for Tua Tagovailoa will be one of the biggest talking points, but he’s under contract for one more year with franchise tag options after that, so I’m not concerned about it. Miami will likely be looking to surround the quarterback with even more talent.

While Tyreek Hill is the most explosive player in the league and Jaylen Waddle was a top-10 pick, Miami doesn’t have any other non-running backs who instill fear in the defense. The running game is great, but the Dolphins suffered through bouts of inconsistency, leading to Miami losing to essentially every winning team they faced.

The offensive line is also a question, and that could be the place for the team to make the biggest impact. Cincinnati’s Jonah Williams, Dallas’ Tyron Smith and their own free agents (center Connor Williams and guard Robert Hunt) are some of the names who could make the biggest impacts.

Draft: How many picks will they make?

Miami only drafted four players in both 2023 and 2022. With their veteran contracts swelling, cheap rookies will be vital to filling the roster. The Dolphins currently own their first- and second-round picks, then a fifth, two sixths, and a seventh.

That’s an underwhelming trove. Multiple trades back would help fill the coffers. Then again, top-line talent will be needed to compete with teams like the Chiefs and 49ers, so Miami could look to strike big with a young player if they don’t make any big moves in free agency.

 

New England Patriots

Free Agency: Are they really going to “burn some cash?”

That quote is from new head coach Jerod Mayo, who made it seem as if the Pats are going to be aggressive in bringing in veteran players. Nearly every position could be upgraded (particularly on offense), meaning the team has many options.

New England made a free agency splash in the 2021 offseason with mixed results, getting competence at a few positions and a star pass rusher in Matthew Judon. New England’s defense is their best unit by far; Mayo is a defensive guy. It would make sense for the team to target offensive players, but they might double down on a strength and solidify the D.

Draft: Quarterback, trade down, or door No. 3?

Many mock drafts are projecting quarterbacks Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels as the top three picks, with one of them going to New England at No. 3. It’s reasonable, as former first-rounder Mac Jones seems to have flamed out.

A lot will happen between now and the draft. The combine starts at the end of February, and players will have pro days and meet with teams. There are a lot of ways forward for the franchise, including taking a young quarterback to kick off a new era.

New England’s history has been to trade down and accrue more picks, but Bill Belichick is out of town, and the new regime might act more aggressively in their first offseason. The best move for a barren roster would probably be to trade back; it will be interesting to see how the team operates.

 

New York Jets

Free Agency: Will they bring in someone other than Aaron Rodgers’ friends?

It’s a worn-out joke now, but there are a few names that would make sense on New York’s roster. Davante Adams would give the Jets two front-line receivers (with Garrett Wilson) if he could be pried from the Raiders, who may be looking to retool the roster under a new coach and GM.

David Bakhtiari, Green Bay’s stalwart left tackle, fell to injuries in 2023 and may be released for cap reasons. His name was brought up last year by Rodgers, though that rumor was quickly shut down. Both guys could conceivably fill holes on the roster.

The team would do well to widen their search, though, and get more meaningful depth. While the defense played very well, the team didn’t look just a quarterback away from contending. Multiple imports on the offensive line and more pass-catching talent is needed.

Draft: Is the focus on the future or win-now players?

Some teams draft specific positions when in position to contend, while others bereft of talent can take the best player available and insert him into the lineup. New York looks in a position where they should take the best player available but might draft more for need.

The team will surely look to win with Rodgers in 2024, but a bust out likely means a new coach, quarterback, and era for the Jets in 2025. I see a scenario in which New York goes all in, fails to make a real run, and is left without much of an outlook.

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