After previewing free agency for the teams in the AFC North, it’s time to do the same for AFC East. As usual, the Patriots will enter next season as the top team by a heavy margin, but keep an eye out for both the Jets and Bills, who are loaded with cap space. Meanwhile, the Dolphins could be a busy team this offseason under new head coach Brian Flores, making this division an intriguing one heading into the offseason.
New England Patriots
Top Needs: WR, DE, CB
Despite winning the Super Bowl last season, the Patriots had, and still have, an extremely glaring hole at wide receiver. Outside of Julian Edelman, there’s no depth whatsoever, so New England would be smart to add a receiver or two on good value deals. On defense, the Patriots ranked just 29th with 2.1 sacks per game and are likely to lose star pass rusher Trey Flowers in free agency; a versatile replacement on the defensive line is needed. They also could use a cornerback opposite of Stephon Gilmore, and would benefit by adding one who can make them a more athletic secondary. Still, this is a very well-rounded team, and regardless of what they do, they’re still the overwhelming favorites to win this division.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: NT Danny Shelton
As mentioned previously, New England is unlikely to resign Flowers. They also are unlikely to pay up to retain tackle Trent Brown; they try to avoid spending top dollar to re-sign their players. Still, nose tackle Danny Shelton ranked above average as Pro Football Focus’ 27th best interior defensive lineman last season, and is an excellent fit as a run stopper up front for the Patriots. He’s coming off a better season that nose tackle Malcolm Brown, also a pending free agent, and will likely cost less. Therefore, he’ll fit right into New England’s price range, and retaining him makes a lot of sense.
Top Free Agent Target: WR/RB Tavon Austin
The Patriots had great success utilizing Cordarrelle Patterson last season; he had 247 receiving yards, averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and had a kick return touchdown. Rather than re-sign him, New England could do what they always do, and find a cheaper replacement. Tavon Austin’s stock in down after totaling just 195 yards from scrimmage with the Cowboys, but he’s a versatile player who hasn’t been used properly on offense. Austin would be able to do exactly what Patterson did, and possible more, especially with screen passes and designed plays.
Top Needs: QB, DL, WR
Coming over from the Patriots, head coach Brian Flores is likely to create a new identity in Miami, meaning a lot of changes could be coming. That starts at the quarterback position; Ryan Tannehill is likely to cut after another inconsistent season. There are rumors that Miami may be holding out for Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft, but at the very least, a veteran stopgap is needed to provide some stability under center. The Dolphins have two solid young pieces on the defensive line with Davon Godchaux and Charles Harris, but they could use a versatile defensive lineman with the ability to play on the inside and the outside. Switching back to offense, whoever plays quarterback for Miami next season won’t have success unless the Dolphins are able to add a more proven receiver to a receiving corps that lacks a #1, or even a #2 option. It’s going to be a long and painful rebuild for the Dolphins, but patience will be needed as Flores implements his system.
DPlayer They Need To Re-Sign: OT Ja’Wuan James
The 26-year-old James ranked as an above average offensive tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, and has made clear improvements over the past couple seasons. He’s a possible long-term piece for the Dolphins up front, and they’d be foolish to allow him to walk, especially with a new quarterback expected to come in. It all starts in the trenches, and Miami needs to make that an emphasis by re-signing James
Top Free Agent Target: DE Trey Flowers
Like Flores, Trey Flowers could soon be making his way from New England to Miami. The Dolphins are considered the favorites to sign the 25-year-old pass rusher, and will likely open up the cap space to sign him after releasing veterans Robert Quinn, Andre Branch, and Josh Sitton, and could free up more by trading Tannehill. As mentioned, Miami could use a run stopper or a pass rusher on the defensive rusher, and Flowers’ versatility allows him to do both. There’s always a concern with signing former Patriots, who usually hit their ceiling with New England and then fall off, but Flores was Flowers’ defensive coordinator when he posted a career high 7.5 sacks. He’s a perfect scheme fit for Flores’ new defense, and Miami should do whatever it takes to make him the centerpiece defensively for years to come.
Top Needs: OL, WR, RB
The Bills are a very strange team. On defense, they look incredibly strong and well-rounded. On offense, however, quarterback Josh Allen is set as the team’s long-term answer at the position, and that’s it. Allen had no help around him last season, and for him to progress, Buffalo needs to spend big on upgrading offensively. It all starts in the trenches. Since Allen tends to hold onto the ball longer than usual, it’s critical and a must that the Bills put the protection in place for him to do so; he’s not going to develop into a passer by constantly having to scramble. This may seem extreme, but at least three starting caliber offensive linemen should be added in free agency. Meanwhile, Allen needs vertical threats for him to utilize his incredibly strong throwing arm; his current top option is former undrafted receiver Robert Foster. Also, with LeSean McCoy likely to be cut this offseason, Buffalo should look to add a young, but proven running back to take the pressure off of Allen. With around $80 million in cap space, the Bills need to go big in free agency. If they want Allen to develop and make a playoff push next season, they’ll be incredibly aggressive in overhauling the offensive unit.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: WR Deonte Thompson
Fortunately for Buffalo, they have zero players that they HAVE to re-sign. From the weak crop of pending free agents, Deonte Thompson is definitely the best pick to be re-signed after. He’s a solid vertical threat, and would seem to be a solid fit for Allen. He’d provide needed receiver depth, and he likely won’t for ask for much than the league minimum.
Top Free Agent Target: OT Trent Brown
While there are plenty of offensive players that make sense for the Bills, Trent Brown seems like an ideal fit for them in the trenches. He was excellent for the rival Patriots, and although the concern about former Patriots applies to him, Buffalo can’t play it safe. They need to protect Allen no matter what, and Brown’s ability to play on the left side or right side combined with his upside makes him a very attractive free agent. He’ll likely command a contract worth over $10 million per, but with how weak the Bills offensive line is, they should be willing to pay Brown whatever he wants if it means keeping Allen upright.
New York Jets
Top Needs: OL, EDGE, WR
Heading into free agency, practically every position besides quarterback (Sam Darnold) and safety (Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye) needs to be addressed by the Jets this offseason. Luckily for them, they have over $100 million in cap space, and they’re in a terrific position to be major players on the free agent market. While many believe the Jets need to go after the skill players and superstars, New York’s top priority needs to be upgrading on the trenches offensively. Darnold has harassed consistently last season; better protection is needed for Darnold to develop into the elite quarterback he could easily become. Meanwhile, on defense, the Jets need to upgrade at edge rusher with no proven pass rushers currently on the roster. Luckily for them, both free agency and the draft are stacked with edge rushers, so that shouldn’t be a problem for New York. After those two positions are upgraded, the Jets can turn their attention to the skill positions, primarily wide receiver, where a #1 receiver is desperately needed. New York is trying to build a contender around Darnold, and while they have the opportunity to spend this offseason, it needs to be done logically. Starting with protecting Darnold and rushing the passer should be main focusses, but expect a lot of splash signings to be made.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: DL Henry Anderson
Anderson was one of New York’s only bright spots a year ago, compiling 7 sacks and ranking above average as Pro Football Focus’ 35th ranked defensive interior lineman. New defensive coordinator Greg Williams would benefit greatly from a flexible, interior pass rusher like Anderson, and re-signing him needs to be a must. The Jets’ defensive line is currently a major issue, and would only get worse by letting Anderson walk.
Top Free Agent Target: C Mitch Morse
Center was an enormous problem for the Jets last year; Darnold’s centers struggled frequently to give him a clean snap. Therefore, they should look at signing the best center possible, and luckily for them, Mitch Morse looks to be available on the open market. Morse ranked as the 13th best center last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and has been a staple of one of the league’s best offensive lines with the Chiefs. He’s also a very solid pass blocker, making him an even better fit for New York, whose main priority is to protect Darnold at all costs.