Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Free Agency Report – AFC East

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The Buffalo Bills remain the favorites of the AFC East despite the developing backstory of a potential blockbuster trade for quarterback Aaron Rodgers between the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers. The Miami Dolphins aren’t too far behind their aforementioned rivals in the early NFL betting futures market while the former multiple championship-winning New England Patriots round out this group as the distinct longshots to win the division in the upcoming 2023 NFL season.

In this column, we look at the free agency comings and goings that could enhance (or detract) from the NFL odds to win the AFC East division.

NFL Odds – To Win AFC East

  • Buffalo Bills +125
  • New York Jets +200
  • Miami Dolphins +350
  • New England Patriots +850

Bills +125

  • Key Acquisitions: G Connor McGovern (Cowboys), WR Deonte Harty (Saints), QB Kyle Allen (Texans), RB Damien Harris (Patriots)
  • Key re-signings: S Jordan Poyer, LB Matt Milano, LB Tyler Matakevich, P Sam Martin

The Bills have dominated the AFC East in the post-Tom Brady era, winning three straight division titles. They’ve also been earmarked for Super Bowl glory across sports betting platforms since ascending to the division’s throne for the first time in 2020. But despite all the bonhomie, Josh Allen and Co. failed to win the AFC Championship Game in their lone appearance.

Building a championship roster is no mean feat. Towards that end, the Bills made some aggressive moves in free agency that they hope will pay dividends in the coming season. Especially on the defensive side of the ball in the wake of the departure of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

One of these was re-signing star safety Jordan Poyer. Retaining the All-Pro was thought to challenge Buffalo’s cap space. He himself seemed to want out, flirting with the idea of joining the division rival Miami Dolphins at one point. But General Manager Brandon Beane was able to restructure Josh Allen’s and Von Miller’s contracts to free up space that ultimately made it possible to bring back Poyer for a seventh season in Buffalo.

Poyer’s importance to Buffalo’s defense can’t be understated. Poyer and Micah Hyde, whose contract was extended to allow him to remain in Buffalo as well, are the most intuitive safety duos in the league. In other areas, GM Beane was able to work out deals with linebackers Matt Milano and Tyler Matakevich and punter Sam Martin.

On the acquisition side of the free agency market, Buffalo upgraded the offensive line with Connor McGovern from the Dallas Cowboys. As well, the receiving corps was shored up with the signing of Deonte Harty after the Bills released Isaiah McKenzie. Harty might be an unassuming wide receiver, but his speciality in “yards after the catch” was an area of the offense that needed attention.

Another key area addressed was the running back position. On the same day that the Bills lost leading rusher Devin Singletary to the Houston Texans, they snapped up running back Damien Harris from the New England Patriots according to Monday’s NFL news wire.

Elsewhere, the Bills signed quarterback Kyle Allen from the Houston Texans. Kyle Allen and Josh Allen go way back, when they trained and roomed together ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft. Unlike Josh, Kyle has bounced around from team to team in his five seasons in the NFL. What’s more, there’s an argument to be made that he’s a downgrade from previous backups such as Mitch Trubisky and Case Keenum.

Jets +200

  • Key Acquisitions: WR Allen Lazard (Packers), C Wes Schweitzer (Commanders), P Thomas Morstead (Dolphins), S Chuck Clark (Ravens, via trade), C Trystan Colon (Ravens)
  • Key re-signings: LB Quincy Williams, K Greg Zuerlein, DL Solomon Thomas

The big elephant in the room is the trade for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The operating assumption is that a deal is imminent, especially after he himself publicly declared on last Wednesday’s Pat McAfee show his wish to play for the New York Jets in 2023. But, dare it be said, there is still the chance – teeny, weeny though it is – that the deal doesn’t get over the line. 😰

The Jets have taken steps that would appear to be in preparation for Rodgers’ arrival. The absence of subtlety only adds to the feeling of inevitability – whether it is hiring former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to signing wide receiver Allen Lazard. There is also speculation about Rodgers’ longtime friend, WR Randall Cobb, jetting off to New York, too.

In the meantime, the other areas have received attention. Safety Chuck Clark is a solid reinforcement to an already elite defense. So too is resigning linebacker Quincy Williams. Guard Wes Schweitzer and Center Trystan Colon reinforce an offensive line that had its fair share of issues that went beyond the well-documented but alarming quarterbacking from Zach Wilson, Mike White and Joe Flacco combined.

Zonovan Knight #27 of the New York Jets runs with the ball during the first half in the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on January 01, 2023 // Steph Chambers – AFP

Dolphins +350

  • Key Acquisitions: LB David Long (Titans), CB Jalen Ramsey (Rams, via trade), WR Braxton Berrios (Jets), QB Mike White (Jets)
  • Key re-signings: RB Raheem Mostert, RB Jeff Wilson Jr. RB Myles Gaskin, CB Nik Needham, WR River Cracraft

The Dolphins decided to pick up quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option, giving them a few more years to figure things out with the former Alabama Crimson Tide prospect. Tagovailoa, however, has proven to be as injury-prone as many feared he would be ahead of the 2020 NFL draft. Case in point, he missed six games last season, including the Wild Card round against the Bills. Backups Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson combined for a 1-5 record during that span, emphasizing the importance of a solid No. 2 quarterback.

In an attempt to upgrade that position, the Dolphins signed QB Mike White (Jets). Whether it is an actual upgrade or plastering a Band-Aid on a festering problem remains to be seen. But if sports bets were being placed on it right now, knowing what we already know … well, then, the latter feels more accurate.

In the meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is getting new players to work with, namely cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Rams. Ramsey is a great addition that should elevate Miami’s defense, which will see the return of CB Nik Needham as well. Snapping up linebacker David Long from Tennessee is another big win for Fangio’s retooled defense.

Patriots+850

  • Key Acquisitions: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, T Riley Reiff (Bears), RB James Robinson (Jets), TE Mike Gesicki, T Calvin Anderson (Broncos), LB Chris Board (Lions)
  • Key re-signings: OL James Ferentz, LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Jonathan Jones, S Jabrill Peppers, LB Mack Wilson, DT Daniel Ekuale, LS Joe Cardona.

Bill Belichick isn’t known for making a splash in the offseason. Bargains underscore the Patriots way as he keeps a tight fist over the franchise’s purse strings.

True to form, there have been few noteworthy comings and goings from New England so far. Well, aside from the departure of wide receiver Jakobi Meyer, who left for the greener pastures of Las Vegas. In Meyers’ place, the Patriots have acquired Ju-ju Smith-Schuster, who is flush off a Super Bowl-winning run with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Adding to the offense with the Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki is another economic splurge typical of Belichick. Running back James Robinson is another underwhelming signing that may or may not work out for the Patriots. Offensive tackle Riley Reiff provides depth. Arguably, the most important if not mandatory upgrade was a staffing change, hiring Bill O’Brien to replace Matt Patricia. It’s not a stretch to suggest nobody would have been able to cope with another season of Vanilla Matt’s offensive play calls.

On the defense front, LB Mack Wilson Sr. has agreed terms for a one-year deal that will keep him in New England. Safety Jabrill Peppers, defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale and long snapper Joe Cardona have also agreed to amicable terms that will keep them in New England at least for the time being.

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