Hindsight: AFC East Offseason Grades
Now that the draft is behind us, I’d like to revisit each team’s plan of attack in free agency. It may be slightly unfair to praise or knock a team for certain signings, since it’s impossible to know who will be available at given draft slots, but these are the offseason challenges for each franchise; you have to improve your team’s future to the best of your abilities. After the jump, I’ll evaluate each teams free agent signings based on how they drafted, while acknowledging the grey area of available talent at each of their draft slots.
The Bills were fairly quiet in free agency, allowing big ticket safety Jairus Byrd to walk, while making low key signings such as Corey Graham, Brandon Spikes, and Keith Rivers. They only had $11M in remaining cap room, so this is not that surprising. The defense was vastly improved last year, so even with the loss of Byrd, the front 7 should still be a force to be reckoned with. On the offensive side of the ball, they traded for WR Mike Williams while trading away WR Stevie Johnson. I’ve always been liked Johnson’s ability on short to intermediate routes, but the logic here seems to be that the Bills think Williams is a better fit with QB E.J. Manuel. Overall, the difference in overall value added is probably too marginal to call, so the fact that the Bills netted a 4th round pick while giving up a 6th seems pretty good.
Moving on, trading up for Sammy Watkins at #4 could end up being the best pick of the draft. Giving up future picks to move up generally doesn’t work out too well (a 2015 1st rounder and 4th rounder), but Watkins represents such a massive improvement for their WR corps (and any receiving corps for that matter) that I really love the move. In the 2nd round they selected OT Cyrus Kouandjio, which seems like decent value. Throw in a couple late round OL picks and the Bills have vastly improved depth in the trenches. Consider further that they kept all their picks in this deep 2014 draft, and I am quite pleased with the job the Bills have done this offseason. GRADE: A-
I was quite disappointed in the Dolphins 2013 offseason for failing to trade for Branden Albert, and as a result, QB Ryan Tannehill got killed last year to the tune of 59 sacks. However the decision lent them a 2nd round pick this year and they still signed Albert, so from a long term perspective it worked out. Key free agents CB Brent Grimes and DL Randy Starks were resigned, and some cap friendly contracts were given to CB Cortland Finnegan, RB Knowshon Moreno, and Louis Delmas. None of these guys are likely to be impact players, but they are solid enough for the money they were paid. They allowed NT Paul Solai to walk after the Falcons offered him quite a bit of money, replacing him with a cheaper option in Earl Mitchell.
As for the draft, I felt the Dolphins reached slightly on their first two picks of OT Ja’Wuan James and WR Jarvis Landry, but OT Billy Turner in the 3rd seems like solid value. While I would have preferred a couple guys over James in the 1st round, I can’t complain about the effort to improve Tannehill’s protection. None of the Dolphins’ moves are very sexy, but they addressed their needs fairly well. Grade: B-
New England Patriots:
The Pats crushed the cornerback market this offseason by signing two of the best players in the league; Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Revis is essentially on a one year deal for $12M, while Browner took a 3 year deal that is EXTREMELY team friendly. His cap number this year $2.95M, and the Pats would incur just a $1M hit if they choose to cut him. While Browner is very close to being suspended for a full season if he fails another drug test, this is a very good gamble by the Pats as the upside is getting a #1 caliber CB for just $3M this year. Additionally, they were able to resign their best receiver Julian Edelman. Considering they started the offseason with not much cap room, this was a pretty successful free agency for the Pats.
As amazing as these signings were, I am utterly perplexed by their draft strategy. They did not take a single receiver in the top 6 rounds, in a draft where WR was incredibly deep. While they do have some decent young players in Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and some money invested in Danny Amendola, I really would have liked to see them spend one day 2 pick on a receiver. That said, WR Jeremy Gallon in round 7 could end up being a steal, as a shifty slot receiver with plenty of ability after the catch.
Beyond WR, 2nd round QB Jimmy Garappolo is a solid guy to groom, and they added a bunch of OL depth on day 3. Top pick DT Dominique Easley could be very good value at the end of round 1 if he fully recovers from his torn ACL. It’s hard to hate the Patriots draft outside the lack of receivers, but that is ultimately what keeps them from getting a higher grade. Grade: A-
New York Jets:
The Jets entered free agency with a gaping hole at WR, and responded by signing Eric Decker. For an average of $7.5M/yr, I’m not esctatic about him but not unhappy either. He is a good run blocker and will fit into the offense well as a big body target on the outside. The rest of their signings were quite under the radar, most notable of which was signing QB Michael Vick. This is the first time the Jets have had a legitimate veteran QB presence on the roster since Brett Favre, and he will push the play of Geno Smith so I’m quite satisfied with his signing.
The Jets took a lot of flack for failing to sign a good starting CB after letting Antonio Cromartie walk, and the draft did not completely alleviate that negative feeling. Calvin Pryor will be a solid strong safety, but I have to wonder if FS Hasean Clinton-Dix would have been a better fit for Rex Ryan’s defense with his strong coverage skills. CB Dexter McDougle was somewhat of a face melter in round 3, and even though he has good ball skills and seems solid on film, it was disappointing to see CB Phillip Gaines get taken just a few picks later. All of us here at Zone Reads were extremely high on Gaines, so I can’t say I’m too happy about that selection.
CB aside, the Jets did a good job of addressing their lack of receiving threats, taking TE Jace Amaro in the 2nd, and WR’s Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans in the 4th. Amaro has very good size and hands, and Saunders has incredible on field speed. Evans is somewhat of a wildcard but has decent size. I’m not in love with the Jets offseason, but they didn’t take many risks and their financial future is quite strong. Grade: B-