1) 1) How much of an impact will the signing of Jason Taylor be in Miami? Does he fix their problems or is he just another piece in the puzzle?
Tyler Dunne (BuffaloFootballReport.com):Jason Taylor isnt the Defensive Player of the Year force he was in 2006. Dont expect 13.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles again. But Taylor doesnt need to be his old self. With Joey Porter in his prime one the other side, Taylor will see inferior offensive tackles for the first time in his career. While everybody is ready to write off the Fins as a one-year wonder, Taylor should make Miami a top 10 defense. The Redskins were simply a very poor fit for his talents. Back in Miamis 3-4, hell return to his game-changing ways in 2009.
Dan Leberfeld (Jets Confidential): Bill Parcells was right on target last year when he said that Jason Taylor would retire a Dolphin. It's hard to tell what he has left because his rough year in Washington last season was due to an injury. Taylor has been pretty healthy over the course of his career, so he's still pretty spry for a player his age. And he always keeps himself in great shape. Taylor knows how to rush the passer, and should be able to help the Dolphins as a situational pass rusher.
Alain Poupart (Dolphin Digest): The signing of Jason Taylor undoubtedly will have a significant impact on the Dolphins because he addresses their need of getting a pass-rushing complement to Joey Porter. There has been hope all along -- and it still remains -- that two-time CFL defensive MVP Cameron Wake could provide that kind of pressure, but there's just no guarantee he can become an impact player in the NFL. With Taylor, the Dolphins have even more possibilities defensively. With Taylor and Wake, the pass-rushing issue no longer should be a major concern. Taylor won't fix all of the Dolphins' problems -- there's still no viable backup nose tackle and no true No. 1 receiver -- but there should be no more concern about the pass rush.
Jon Scott (Patriots Insider): The Patriots' flirtation with Taylor was to address a need at a position of questionable depth. When he opted to re-sign in Miami, he chose proximity to his home and familiarity over opportunity. Though he could have been a big part of the defense in New England, he'll likely be reduced to a role player in Miami. Is he the missing piece of their puzzle? Probably not. If he can stay healthy he gives Miami an improved defensive front seven. Right now, he's just one piece of their defensive makeup, having Taylor on the roster (or not) won't make of break the Dolphin's talented defense, but it certainly doesn't hurt them.
2) Which AFC East team had the best Draft and why?
Tyler Dunne: Have to go with the New York Jets here, completely based on the Mark Sanchez pick. While the Bills may have found two starting guards and a dangerous pass rusher, the Jets have a franchise quarterback on an already-loaded team. Sanchez played in a pro-style system at USC and has a cannon compared to Matt Leinarts BB gun. He can throw on the run, make NFL throws and above all has the charming charisma to thrive in New York. The Jets landed this years Matt Ryan. Beyond that, Shonn Greene was a steal in the third round and should start by next season. After catching flack for the Vernon Gholston pick last year, the Jets rebounded in a big way this spring. Dont worry Jets fans, Sanchez is not Blair Thomas or Ken OBrien.
Dan Leberfeld: The Buffalo Bills had the best draft. While Maybin still needs to get bigger and stronger, he's a great athlete with natural pass rushing ability. In my opinion, Eric Wood was the best center in the draft and should be a terrific guard also. Nobody will outwork him. Andy Levitre was another terrific pick and he should make a smooth transition to guard, the position he's built to play. Tight end Shawn Nelson could turn into a steal. He has a very good size-speed ratio.
Alain Poupart: That has to be the New England Patriots, who entered the draft with a lot of ammo and again did a great job of getting players and acquiriing two 2009 second-round picks as a bonus. I'm not sure top pick Patrick Chung will be a difference-maker at safety, but I loved the picks of CB Darius Butler and NT Ron Brace later in the second round.
Jon Scott: The Jets accomplished one goal -- finding a quarterback. They managed another in adding RB Shonn Green but the lack of picks eliminates them from contention regardless of how well Sanchez does as a rookie. The Dolphins fared better landing Vontae Davis and Sean Smith for the secondary then picking up Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline as new targets for Chad Pennington. Pat White was an interesting pickup, but Miami still didn't address their line troubles until late. The Patriots addressed most of their needs with the exception of linebacker until late. Trading down created value, but they gave up the opportunity to land another immediate impact player from round one. The Bills fared the best in my opinion, adding Aaron Maybin, the undersized, but speedy pass rusher they desperately needed. They fortified their secondary with Jarius Byrd, Corey Harris and the undervalued Ellis Lankster. Nic Harris can turn into a top safety with some time. The offensive line got a big boost with Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. Buffalo added better players at position of need than the other teams in the division.
3) Which team had the best off-season?
Tyler Dunne: If were not counting Tom Brady as an off-season gain for the Patriots, than its the Bills. Buffalo needed to re-haul the offensive line, find a pass rusher and sign a physical wide receiver. Check, check and uhh check. Eric Wood (first round), Andy Levitre (second round) and free-agent pickup Geoff Hangartner will all start at guard, guard and center baring disaster. They all have a nasty streak the line has been missing and should be a major upgrade against the 3-4 fronts of the AFC East. Defensive end Aaron Maybin may be a situational pass rusher as a rookie, but appears to have a lethal first step. The Bills needed to get heat on the quarterback. And that wide receiver need? Terrell Owens is without the question the biggest name the Bills have ever signed in free agency. He might (check that, probably) will wreak havoc in the locker room. But on paper, the Bills passing game should take off. Speedster Lee Evans will see 1-on-1 coverage and Josh Reed can move into the slot. Owens could deteriorate Trent Edwards young career, but he also could take the offense to new heights. Its definitely a major gamble.
Dan Leberfeld: The New England Patriots had the best off-season. Patrick Chung is a smart, hard-hitting safety who will fit in perfectly in Belichick's defense. Belichick is a good judge of corners and fell in love with Darius Butler in the scouting process, so that says a lot about the kid. The Pats also added two really good tight ends in Chris Baker and Alex Smith. They added two veteran receivers in Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway who should help. But the must important addition of the off-season was Tom Brady returning to practice after his devastating knee injury last season.
Alain Poupart: I think you'd have to go with the Jets, if for no other reason that they likely landed their quarterback of the future in the draft in Mark Sanchez. You also have to love some of the veteran acquisitions, most notable ILB Bart Scott and CB Lito Sheppard. Despite their great draft, the Patriots lost their depth at QB by trading Matt Cassel and also gave up a valuable and versatile veteran in Mike Vrabel. The Dolphins did a great job at the top of the draft landing top cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, but the talent level remains pretty much the same as last year. The Bills, meanwhile, rebuilt their offensive line, but I'm not sure it's any better after they gave up Jason Peters. The acquisition of Terrell Owens also was a major gamble because of how disruptive he can be -- to his own team, that is.
Jon Scott: I'd say each team addressed needs, specifically the Jets with their linebacker (Bart Scott), cornerback (Lito Sheppard) and safety (Brian Leonard). New England however fixed the most glaring issues in their one major weak area, the secondary. They upgraded the unit by signing Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, drafting Patrick Chung and Darius Butler then re-signing James Sanders. The addition of two experience TEs (Chris Baker and Alex Smith) and a pair of veteran receivers (Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway) puts the team back in contention for a high-powered offense. Fred Taylor signing upgrades the RB unit.
4) What's the biggest remaining issue facing any team in the division?
Tyler Dunne: Whether Tom Brady is able to bounce back from a torn ACL is obviously a major issue, but Im interested to see if Chad Pennington can duplicate his renaissance year. Last season, Pennington was nearly flawless up until the wild card game. He threw for 3,653 yards, 19 touchdowns and only seven interceptions all with a slapdash receiving corps. Can he repeat this? Hard to say. That four-pick smackdown the Ravens laid on him may be hard to come back from. It looks like the Dolphins will continue to rely on the Wildcat offense after drafting West Virginias Pat White. With an entire off-season to prepare for the zany offense, opposing defenses might have their way with the Dolphins. But if Pennington is sharp as a razor again, dont count out Miami stealing the division again.
Dan Leberfeld: The Buffalo Bills left tackle spot. It remains to be seen if Langston Walker can hold up there over an entire season. He needs to lose weight. The Bills should probably sign Levi Jones. If the Bills don't get an answer at left tackle this could be a long season in Buffalo, especially in a division with some pretty good defenses.
Alain Poupart: Going with each team, the candidates would be finding a true No. 1 receiver in Miami; ditto for the Jets; settling on an offensive line in Buffalo; and finding a pass-rushing outside linebacker in New England. We'll give the nod here to the Patriots, who struck out on Jason Taylor and might not have any luck with Julius Peppers, either. It's been assumed since the start of the offseason they would end up with one of those two Pro Bowl players and that pretty much would take care of their OLB issues. Now, they may be left to look in-house at options like Pierre Thomas, and it's just not the same thing. Of course, maybe the Peppers possibility can be re-ignited at some point, but for now it doesn't look like the Pats will be able to get that dynamic pass rusher.
Jon Scott: Each team has issues. The health of Tom Brady's knee will determine what happens to the Patriots. The Bills need to sort out their chemistry with T.O. And the Dolphins need to show 2008 wasn't a fluke with the Wildcat formation. But the Jets need to find their quarterback and that will make or break their season. Brett Favre helped New York go 8-3 before their collapse. Will it be Mark Sanchez or one of the other quarterbacks for New York? And can the Jets have the type of success with Sanchez that Baltimore had with Joe Flacco and Atlanta with Matt Ryan?
5) Which defense has the best chance at rattling Tom Brady this year and why?
Tyler Dunne (Bills): With Porter and Taylor flying off the edge, the Dolphins have the best shot to at least slow down Brady. Buffalo is still shaky at outside linebacker and will start a new cornerback after losing Jabari Greer and the Jets pass defense ranked 29th in the league last season. The Dolphins upgraded at cornerback with the speedy (yet mouthy) Vonte Davis. If the 34-year-old Jason Ferguson holds up and the Porter/Taylor duo takes off, the Dolphins may be able to rattle Brady.
Dan Leberfeld (Jets): The Jets because of Rex Ryan's unconvential 3-4 approach. You never know where the rush is coming from, and Brady doesn't have that much experience against the Baltimore defense.
Alain Poupart (Dolphins): That has to be the Dolphins because of their history against him. Just check out Brady's career numbers and you will find a disproportionate number of off games against Miami. Early in Brady's career, that could be explained by Miami having two stud cornerbacks in Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, but even as their play faded and they eventually left the Dolphins, Brady still was having issues. Just think back to the 2006 season when the Dolphins shut out Brady and the Pats, 21-0, in December in Miami. Jason Taylor often has been a pain for Brady, and now that he's back for Miami, that should help the Dolphins deal with Brady. Of course, Brady also has had some huge games against the Dolphins, but he's had more bad ones against them than against anybody else.
Jon Scott (Patriots): I would have said New York because of the Rex Ryan factor, but I still think Miami has ways to get to Brady. Parcells and Sparano have the benefit fo Miami's secret weapon against Brady - Jason Taylor. With Taylor, Porter and Roth causing issues up front, the Patriots offense could have trouble getting on track. Still, The Jets have talent, but I think Miami has a better shot. Sorry Bills fans, Buffalo is probably still a year away, they need more talent in the front seven, Maybin helps, but isn't the whole answer.
Dan Leberfeld covers the New York Jets for Jets Confidential Magazine
Alain Poupart covers the Miami dolphins as the Associate Editor of Dolphin Digest
Tyler Dunne covers the Buffalo Bills for the Buffalo Football Report
Jon Scott covers the New England Patriots for Patriots Insider