AFC East: Needs filled, unfulfilled

The suspension of Tom Brady could be the opening needed for another AFC team. Which teams made the most progress in free agency and the draft?

The AFC East got a little more wide open with the four-game suspension handed to the New England Patriots. Will the Buffalo Bills or another team be able to take advantage?

The Tom Brady four-game suspension meant the Patriots’ over-under on wins was decreased to 10, and a tight salary-cap situation helped lead to the departure of all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis.

The Bills, on the other hand, were aggressive in free agency and the trade market. Will it be enough for them to the close the gap on the defending Super Bowl champions, or will Miami improve to contending status? The Jets still look like they are a quality quarterback away from making any real noise.

Below, we take a look at last year’s records in the AFC East, the Las Vegas odds for this year, what those teams did in free agency and the draft, and the weaknesses that remain.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills
Last year’s record: 9-7
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins:
Top free agent signings: TE Charles Clay (transition), DE Jerry Hughes, WR Percy Harvin, FB Jerome Felton, G Richie Incognito. Even before free agency opened, the Bills concentrated on quality, trading for RB LeSean McCoy and QB Matt Cassel, both areas of need, trading away LB Kiko Alonso and draft picks to make those trades happen.
Needs entering draft: OLB, ILB, OG, QB, RE, RT, TE.
Draft picks: It looks like the QB job will be Cassel’s for a while, as the Bills neglected to take a quarterback of the future (unless they are still holding out hope that E.J. Manuel can be that guy). Without a first-round pick, they took CB Ronald Darby in the second round and guard John Miller in the third round. They still left the draft with plenty of holes to fill, at linebacker and on both lines.
What’s left at need areas: Geno Hayes is about the only starting-quality outside linebacker left in free agency, and Brandon Spikes is still available as an inside linebacker but the Bills reportedly won’t be bringing him back. On the defensive line, Osi Umenyiora remains unsigned but appears closer to retirement than a full-time starting job.

Miami Dolphins
Last year’s record: 8-8
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins:
Top free agent signings: DT Ndamukong Suh, TE Jordan Cameron, S Louis Delmas. The Dolphins got the top-rated free agent at the start of the signing period (a.k.a. before Darrelle Revis was available) and then got the second-rated tight end available in free agency, giving both their offense and defense quite a punch. The signing of Cameron was needed since they didn’t match the offer given to Charles Clay, and they added another ascending offensive weapon in WR Kenny Stills and an aging one in WR Greg Jennings.
Needs entering draft: WR, OG, CB, RB, DE, OLB, ILB.
Draft picks: The Dolphins filled a lot of needs, starting with a big-time wide receiver for Ryan Tannehill with first-round selection of DeVante Parker. DT Jordan Phillips and guard Jamil Douglas can fill needs on both lines, Bobby McClain could compete for a starting job at cornerback and Jay Ajayi at running back. Linebacker remains a big need.
What’s left at need areas: There just aren’t a lot of good starting options at available at linebacker, so the Dolphins might be forced to go with what’s on their roster right now. Mathias Kiwanuka is one of the better defensive ends still left, but how much does he have left after eight years in the league?

New England Patriots
Last year’s record: 12-4
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins: 10 (after Tom Brady’s suspsension)
Top free agent signings: S Devin McCourty, K Stephen Gostkowski, OLB Jabaal Sheard, CB Robert McClain, TE Scott Chandler. Retaining McCourty was necessary for the secondary after losing Revis, who was cut for salary-cap reasons. McClain could also help in that area, but Bill Belichick’s defense will be tested again without Revis Island and Vince Wilfork.
Needs entering draft: CB, DT, OG, WR, RB.
Draft picks: Malcom Brown will have a big jersey to fill (Wilfork’s) but appears capable of offering some reprieve in a clear area of need. They went heavy on defense early for good reason, taking a safety (Jordan Richards) and two defensive ends (Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers) in the second, third and fourth rounds and got good value on the offensive line with Tre’ Jackson (guard) and Shaq Mason (center), but waiting until the seventh round to snag a cornerback could hurt them if they can’t keep up opponents’ scoring down in their first four games without Tom Brady. They also didn’t draft a receiver.
What’s left at need areas: Cornerback really should have been addressed with Ryan Logan and Justin Green as projected starters, but Tarell Brown would be a good option in free agency. Robert Meachem might be the best receiver left in free agency, and why wouldn’t any receiver still available want to join the Patriots? It looks like they could just be going with Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola again.

New York Jets
Last year’s record: 4-12
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins:
Top free agent signings: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Antonio Cromartie, ILB David Harris, DT Damon Harrison, RB Steven Ridley, CB Buster Skrine, OG James Carpenter. With a list of more than 20 free agents signed, both their own and from outside the organization, the Jets were one of the most active teams in free agency after switching head coaches from Rex Ryan to Todd Bowles.
Needs entering draft: QB, OLB, RB, ILB, OG, OT.
Draft picks: With the top two quarterbacks off the board in the top two picks, the Jets still might have gotten the best overall player in defensive tackle Leonard Williams, even though that wasn’t a primary need. Instead, they waited until the fourth round to snag the third-best quarterback in Bryce Petty. Petty might not be ready to win the starting job yet, but they can’t wait too long if Geno Smith continues his erratic ways. They added an offensive weapon in speedy receiver Devin Smith and filled a need with the third-round selection of OLB Lorenzo Mauldin. Running back remains a primary need.
What’s left at need areas: Bowles will have to work some magic on the defensive side of the ball, because, despite upgrading the receiving corps with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in the last years, the Jets still don’t have a quality quarterback to get them the ball, meaning the league’s worst passing offense is likely to struggle again and put pressure on the defense. There isn’t much out there for immediate patch jobs on the quarterback free-agent market, either. All the trade for RB Zac Stacy did was give the Jets another back that should ideally be a backup. It looks like it will be split time for Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley and Stacy.


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