The free agent signing period has officially begun in the National Football League, and just about every team has been busy over the last week. Many franchises were either offering contracts to players (they cannot officially be signed until Tuesday), releasing players, giving out contract extensions and in some cases players have retired.
But overall, every team is trying to either get better, reach the postseason, or win more championships for 2015. This is part one of a six part series going through every NFL division. We will start with the AFC East…..
Last year’s division champions, the New England Patriots (12-4), went on to win Super Bowl 49 in dramatic fashion. While the Buffalo Bills (9-7) and Miami Dolphins (8-8) had respectable seasons but missed out on the playoffs by a game or two.
The New York Jets (4-12) however floundered and missed out on the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. In the end head coach Rex Ryan, and general manager John Idzik were both fired as a result.
The Patriots are looking to repeat as champions, the Bills and Dolphins are looking to break through the postseason brick wall, while the Jets just want to be a winning team again. How they shape their rosters for this year will go a long way in determining how their plans will play out.
With that being said, here are the major moves made by the AFC East teams in recent days….
The New Patriots caught their fan base off guard when they announced that they are declining the 2015 option on the contract of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Many believe that at 33-years-old, Wilfork doesn’t much gas left in the tank (I’m assuming the Pats’ believe this as well). I beg to differ….
With 516 career tackles, 16 career sacks, five Pro Bowl appearances, four All-Pro selections, four AFC Championships and two Super Bowl rings (all with the Patriots), Wilfork is one of the most productive defensive linemen in the game today.
Without Wilfork, Bill Belichick now has a major gap to fill in his 3-4 defense. The only other nose tackles on the roster are Dominique Easley, who just completed his rookie season, Chris Jones (drafted in 2013 by Houston) and practice squad player Joe Vellano (undrafted in 2013).
More than likely, New England will need to either draft a solid nose tackle, or find one in free agency. Even if they can develop the three aforementioned players already on the roster, it’s highly doubtful that they can ever reach the levels of Wilfork.
The Buffalo Bills took a gamble last weekend with a major trade. They offered linebacker Kiko Alonso (2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year) in exchange for Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. While Alonso may have had one of the better defensive rookie seasons in recent memory, last season was a forgettable one. He tore his ACL during offseason workouts last year and missed the entire 2014 campaign.
Now losing him won’t be a total loss for the Bills as they still have plenty of star power on defense thanks to defensive end Mario Williams, defensive tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Preston Brown. Plus, getting McCoy fills a need offensively.
With C.J. Spiller headed into free agency, Fred Jackson’s production dropping as he ages (34-years-old), and with Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown having yet to prove themselves in the NFL, McCoy is an instant upgrade.
The Bills are getting a solid player who’s still in his 20’s -26 to be exact- and who’s rushed for 2,926 yards and 14 touchdowns in his last two seasons combined. On top of that, McCoy is a better runner between the tackles than Spiller, and he will take the pressure off of whomever the quarterback may be come September (E.J. Manuel is on the roster, the Bills are expected to trade for Matt Cassel).
The Miami Dolphins have made the biggest offseason splash so far by agreeing to a contract with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He’ll officially sign that contract –worth over $100 million- on Tuesday. Now while he’s been fined a total of well over $400,000 for various offenses throughout his career, he’s still one of the better defenders in the league.
Suh can play both the run and the pass very well. This is evidenced by his 239 career tackles, 36 career sacks and 15 defended passes. Unfortunately in this case, his production outweighs his transgressions. Suh will be an excellent complement to defensive end Cameron Wake. The Dolphins still have other pressing needs to address, but least they’ll have a much improved pass rush.
Finally, the New York Jets could use just about anything to get their franchise moving again. It seems like new GM Mike Maccagnan is eager to get back into the fans good graces as he’s already made a blockbuster trade. The Jets sent their fifth round pick in this year’s draft to the Chicago Bears in exchange for the talented but sometimes troubled wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
The Jets already have a solid core of receivers with Eric Decker and Percy Harvin. Marshall will give the Jets another offensive weapon as he brings 9,771 career receiving yards, 65 touchdown catches and 12.6 yards per catch along with him. Plus he’s very physical against defenders who cover him and he can block when necessary.
The only question is whether or not the Jets, and new head coach Todd Bowles, can handle the baggage that Marshall brings with him. The Bears frowned upon Marshall’s weekly appearances on Showtime’s “Inside The NFL”, they also weren’t too pleased with him signing his contract extension on a daytime talk show last summer.
Plus; his locker room altercations with teammates during the Bears 5-11 season last year, and his criticism of quarterback Jay Cutler on live radio probably weighed heavily on the minds of new head coach John Fox and rookie general manager Ryan Pace.
Add that along with Marshall’s behavior in Denver and Miami, the organization probably felt that the distractions were no longer worth it. But considering that the Jets are dire need of offensive firepower, Marshall is very welcome addition for now. Now we wait to see whether Geno Smith or Michael Vick will be throwing him the ball.
It should be an interesting year in the AFC East, but will anyone be able to really challenge the Patriots? Only time will tell.