All of a sudden, the AFC East went from the Patriots and three cream puffs to a highly competitive division – a Bill Belichick team is no longer reigning.
The Bills finally broke through last season and established themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the near future.
The Dolphins are also on the rise under Brian Flores, producing a winning record and nearly qualifying for the playoffs.
Well, there was still a cream puff. They stayed in the basement, but with new head coach Robert Saleh they hope to finally make some noise.
As for the Patriots, the six-time Super Bowl champions have fallen off the cliff after two decades of domination.
They let Tom Brady go a year ago this month and saw their former quarterback win the Lombardi Trophy with a new team, as they missed out on the playoffs.
Needless to say, this did not suit the New England masses.
With the salary cap reduced from $ 198 million to $ 182.5 million, there are going to be challenges for all the teams that fill out their rosters.
So on the eve of free agency, with that as a backdrop, here’s a look at the Patriots and their AFC counterparts, where they are at, what ceiling space they need to work with (via Spotrac) and what they’re trying to accomplish this offseason.
2020 review: 7-9
Projected plug space: $ 61.2 million (includes Cam Newton and Justin Bethel, but not Trent Brown)
Potential AF losses: C David Andrews, OL Joe Thuney, RB James White, RB Rex Burkhead, DL Lawrence Guy, DL Adam Butler, DE Deatrich Wise, K Nick Folk
Victims of the cap: Nothing
Main needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, defensive line, linebacker
Outlook: After not making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, there’s a bit of panic at Patriotland, especially not having a quarterback.
Well, they actually do. They brought Cam Newton back for another tour. But it might not be the only quarterback shoe to drop.
Newton’s deal is loaded with incentives, which perhaps allows another quarterback to be added either in free agency, in the draft, or if something unexpected happens, like Jimmy Garoppolo becoming available. .
Historically, not all of the other teams that have gone from legendary quarterbacks have remedied the situation with many successors in a short time. Miami after Dan Marino and Denver after John Elway are two examples of organizations looking for another franchise quarterback for a long time.
Needless to say, the Patriots don’t want to join this club.
Although Newton didn’t get the job done the first year after Tom Brady, he does get a second chance. So, in full free agency, the Patriots go with Newton, the sequel.
Maybe Bill Belichick still believes he can win with anyone behind the center. The way he proceeds beyond re-signing Newton should provide a better guide to his vision for the quarterback position.
As it stands, it’s odd that the Patriots are looking at two teams in the division. It would be a disaster if they didn’t improve, or fell even deeper into the abyss.
Former Patriot Damien Woody put it into perspective: “If the Patriots were in the basement of the AFC East, the whole New England region would implode.
All eyes will therefore be on Belichick. He has the third most money to spend in the NFL and desperate needs on both sides of the ball.
He should also keep in mind that other teams are hooking up some of his internal free agents. The Dolphins appear to be targeting Guy and Butler, given Brian Flores’ connection, and also Andrews, if reports are to be believed.
There could also be a move involving Stephon Gilmore, who is in the final year of his contract. It’s possible the Pats could trade the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year for future picks, or perhaps use it in a deal to acquire another asset.
Along with Newton, the Patriots made a trade with the Raiders to bring back towering lineman Trent Brown, and also re-signed special teams ace Justin Bethel.
The first cards were therefore played in New England. Much more to come.
2020 review: 13-3
Projected plug space: $ 8.4 million
Potential AF losses: EDGE Trent Murphy, CB Josh Norman, G Joe Feliciano, G Brian Winters, QB Matt Barkley
Victims of the cap: WR John Brown, DL Quinton Jefferson
Main needs: Defensive line, cornerback, tight end, offensive line
Outlook: While they want to maintain their grip at the top of the division, they are looking more at what they can do, how they can improve to beat Kansas City, which dominated them in the AFC championship game. Their mission has therefore changed. They’re building to win outside the division, with a focus on passing the Chiefs in the playoffs.
But maintaining their grip on the division won’t be easy. The Dolphins have them on their radar, while the Patriots believe they are determined to recover what was lost.
“Everyone’s chasing the Bills,” said Woody. “We will see what they will be like when they play the part of the hunted. ”
On Thursday, they re-signed linebacker Matt Milano to a 4-year, $ 44 million contract, preventing him from reaching the open market. On Friday, they signed tackle Darryl Williams for a three-year extension. They have therefore already locked up some of their internal free agents. Milano is one of the best cover linebackers in the league. Both parties were happy that it worked. Ditto for Williams, who is the protector of Josh Allen’s blind side.
Like the Patriots, the Bills also had problems stopping the run, even with the highest-paid defensive line in the NFL.
The retired Lotulelei star is back. So that should help the run defense unless there are other additions. The fact that they were part of JJ Watt’s draw suggests they’ll want to land a passing rusher as well.
Add a top corner to play against Tre’Davious White, assuming Norman signs elsewhere, and the Bills have their work cut out for not only keeping their position, but leveling up.
2020 review: 10-6
Projected plug space: $ 27.15 million
Potential AF losses: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, C Ted Karras, RB Matt Breida, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB Elandon Roberts, S Kavon Frazier, P Matt Haack
Victims of the cap: LB Kyle Van Noy
Main needs: Running back, wide receiver, center, safety, linebacker, backup QB
Outlook: Are they continuing to build around Tua Tagovailoa, or are they moving on?
With Fitzpatrick also a free agent, there will be movement in the quarterback position.
Some find it hard to believe the Ends will drop out of Tua after just one season. With Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson able to be traded, however, all bets are off.
The Dolphins sit third in the standings, behind the Jaguars and Jets. They have the ammunition to be on Watson, if the Texans ultimately decide to trade their disgruntled star. Same as Wilson.
If none of these materialize, Tua will likely remain the best gun. If Fitzpatrick signs elsewhere in free agency, the Ends will need another veteran replacement. That’s the end line at the quarterback.
“I think they have a chance to add dynamite weapons for Tua,” said Woody. “I think Tua will be in a good position to take a step forward next year.”
Brian Flores is certainly not kidding if a player or coach is out of shape. He released Van Noy after just a year, believing he was not worth the $ 12.5 million he was owed this season.
Most of the offseason for the Ends will be attacking and building this unit for Tua, or whoever it is. It wouldn’t be surprising if they add a wide receiver and come back to the mix.
For what it’s worth, Flores backed continuing with Tua at a press briefing on Thursday, saying he was “delighted to be working with Tua” and had “confidence in him”.
With Flores, however, it could also mean a goodbye kiss.
2020 review: 2-14
Projected plug space: $ 67.2 M
Potential AF losses: QB Joe Flacco, RB Frank Gore, WR Breshad Perriman, S Bradley McDougald, CB Brian Poole, EDGE Jordan Jenkins
Victims of the cap: DL Henry Anderson
Main needs: Pass rusher, cornerback, receiver, inside offensive line, running back
Outlook: Finally, the Jets left head coach Adam Gase, replacing him with 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who has a very good reputation in the league.
They’re armed with a ton of ceiling space, a ton of choice, including the # 2 seat behind Jacksonville, and nowhere to go except up high.
Like Miami, they need to figure out if they keep Sam Darnold, or if they’re in the Watson / Wilson draw, or maybe, take one of the better quarterbacks (Zach Wilson?) With the No. 2 pick. .
“I think they’re going to be the most intriguing team this offseason. And they’ve got the goose that lays the golden eggs, ”said Woody. “This # 2 pick is so valuable whether you keep it or trade it for a ton of extra assets.”
Speaking with reporters in New York, the needs are “everywhere”, and the wonder is how aggressive they are and how much they are going to spend on free agency. Managing Director Joe Douglas tends to be conservative, but he has the money to splurge and acquire significant assets.
Whether the quarterback is Darnold or someone else, the Jets always have to provide an arsenal. Right now the closet is pretty bare. They can certainly afford Kenny Golladay or JuJu Smith-Schuster. It wouldn’t be surprising if one of the high-priced wide-outs landed in New York City.
On the other hand, they have so many holes that they might have to split that money.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Saleh will want to bring some 49ers on board. Cornerback Richard Sherman is a free agent and a big fan of Saleh. Other Niners who could land with the Jets include corner K’Waun Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
The Jets also placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl safety Marcus Maye to keep him in the fold for at least another season.
Above all, Gang Green is able to set off all kinds of fireworks with all of their draft assets, not to mention pick # 2.