There’s familiarity. Maybe even some contempt.
The four teams in the AFC East battle it out every season. And during the offseason, they keep a sharp eye on the moves each of their bitter rivals are making.
With the draft behind us and free agency mostly finished, it’s a good time to assess the personnel moves the Bills and their three division cousins have made this offseason. For the Bills and the Jets, it’s been an active four months. The Dolphins have shed some salary and talent so far this offseason. And for the Super Bowl Champion Patriots, it’s another offseason with low-key, under-the-radar personnel moves.
“I think each of these teams sort of have interesting storylines attached to them,” says Albert Breer, former NFL Network reporter and now Senior NFL Reporter for the MMQB. “The Dolphins are a total rebuild, we’ll see where that goes. The Bills are coming out of the woods after their tear off the band-aid year last year and now the Jets are all in-- being in that window with their quarterback being on a rookie deal. I think it’s really interesting how those three teams weigh out right now even if it’s hard to see any of them challenging the Patriots just yet.”
Here’s a look at the key personnel additions made by each of the AFC East teams this offseason:
1. BUFFALO BILLS
BEGINNING TO BUILD THE OFFENSIVE LINE AND WIDE RECEIVER GROUP
The Bills made it clear—their goal this offseason was to build around second year quarterback Josh Allen.
They added seven new offensive linemen to the roster, three free agent wideouts, and two running backs—one through the draft, one via free agency.
“Kudos to them for saying we've got to support Josh Allen and get him weapons and build it up around him,” says Jarrett Bell, NFL Columnist for USA Today Sports. In an appearance on One Bills Live he lauded the Bills focus on the offensive line. “Rebuilding the offensive line… you're going to have a pretty much new offensive line. Now, the question is how fast can that come together? Because typically when you talk about units, the offensive line is the unit that takes the longest to develop chemistry and to gel and to grow together.”
The key additions on Buffalo’s offensive line are free agent center Mitch Morse and free agent guard Spencer Long, and second round draft pick tackle Cody Ford. But there are four other new faces up front that could also factor into roster decisions.
The Bills added John Brown and Cole Beasley at wide receiver along with return specialist/wide receiver Andre Roberts. And third round draft pick Devin Singletary is likely to be part of Buffalo’s running back rotation.
FINDING REINFORCEMENTS AT CORNERBACK AND DEFENSIVE LINE
Unlike the offense, Buffalo’s defense did not need a total offseason makeover, but there are been key additions. Most notably, first round draft pick defensive tackle Ed Oliver fills an immediate need at the position with the retirement of Kyle Williams. And free agent cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and E.J. Gaines will factor into the defensive backfield mix.
2. NEW YORK JETS
GETTING PLAYMAKERS ON OFFENSE
Like the Bills, the Jets weren’t standing pat after slogging through a four-win season in 2018. And like the Bills, they’re determined to build around their first round quarterback from a year ago.
Sam Darnold should get plenty of help with the addition of free agent running back Leveon Bell. He sat out all of 2018 so he should be fresh. But some observers wonder if Bell might struggle with a nondescript offensive line in front of him.
“I think the biggest question mark I really have with the Jets is can this offensive line buy him enough time to be that patient runner that he was in Pittsburgh,” says NFL Network Analyst Shaun O’Hara. He played 11 seasons on the offensive line in the NFL, and he told One Bills Live Bell might struggle to find holes to run through. “As much as Leveon Bell could talk about his contract and why he held out and this and that - the bottom line is be careful what you wish for. He wanted to go somewhere else and get paid, guess what --now you’re in someone else's yard and playing with a different O-line. He played with one of the best O lines his entire career (in Pittsburgh).”
The Jets did trade with Oakland for former Pro Bowl guard Kelechi Osemele, but they have big questions up front.
ADDING HIGH-END TALENT ALONG THE DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN
There are very few questions about the Jets first round draft pick Quinnen Williams (third overall). He’s regarded as maybe the best overall player available in the draft last month.
And New York’s linebacker corps got stronger with the signing of middle linebacker C. J. Mosley from Baltimore.
Shaun O’Hara thinks the Jets will dial up the pressure with the additions they’ve made on defense.
“Defensively they're coming after people,” he says. “Quinnen Williams, CJ Mosely. That's going to be a pretty aggressive front. I’m curious to see how they all adapt to Gregg Williams as we know he’s going to throw everything at you. The one thing I knew when we were playing, and Greg Williams coached defense - when we came in on Wednesday and Thursday and started to install the blitz package and the third down package. We knew we were going to see every front. He would throw up every kind of blitz you could imagine and see if he could get a home run and get a free run at your quarterback. The Jets are going to take some shots.”
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS
NEW QUARTERBACK WILL LEAD THE OFFENSE
It’s a new coach and a new approach for the Dolphins and maybe a total reboot. There will be a new quarterback. Veteran free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick signed on with Miami this spring and the team traded for Arizona starter Josh Rosen on draft weekend.
“One of the things I love most about what Miami did is that they took a swing at a franchise quarterback,” Albert Breer of MMQB told One Bills Live. “They didn’t give up more than a two to get him and they get the player in the building for a year, they get to assess it and still have the flexibility to go back and take one next year or the year after if they want to and they’ve got a ton of draft capital.”
“I really like what Miami’s doing,” Breer continued. “The idea of doing a total teardown and let’s build it up it sort of reminds me a little bit of what Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott did after their first year in Buffalo.”
FORTIFYING THE DEFENSE WITH A ROOKIE AND FAMILIAR VETS
Miami’s key addition on defense was first round draft pick Christian Wilkins, a highly regarded defensive tackle from Clemson. They also signed free agent cornerback Eric Rowe, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots, to a one-year contract.
4. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
FINDING NEW OPTIONS IN THE PASSING GAME
If it ain’t broke….and it’s hard to say the offense for the defending Super Bowl champions was broken last year. Slowing down? Maybe.
The addition of wide N’Keal Harry, the first round draft pick from Arizona State, should keep things humming in the Patriots pass game. He’s been compared to a Michael Irvin-type of wide receiver – big, strong, with incredible route-running skills.
The Patriots have a hole to plug at tight end with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. And they’ve signed a couple of veterans, Benjamin Watson and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins to fill in.
BENNETT BRINGS EXPERIENCE TO A YOUNG DEFENSIVE LINE
New England traded for defensive end Michael Bennett during the offseason, to bring some experience to their young defensive line group. At age 33, the three-time Pro Bowl performer is already raving about “The Patriot Way” and calling Coach Bill Belichick a “Jedi.”