With the 2021 NFL free agency period settling down, what do the AFC East power rankings look like as the offseason continues?
The Jets have snagged a new No. 1 receiver and talented pass rusher. The Patriots have acquired, well, a lot…to say the least.
Regardless, each AFC East ballclub has done what it can to improve ahead of the 2021 season. Whether it’s re-signing players, acquiring new ones, or restructuring contracts, a multitude of moves have been made en route to the ultimate divisional goal — a 2021 AFC East title.
So how’s the division shaping up as of late March? Let’s dive into our current AFC East power rankings.
1. Buffalo Bills
The Bills weren’t the flashiest team in this year’s free agency period, but they’re still the best team in the division. They employ the top quarterback of the AFC East in 2020 second-team All-Pro Josh Allen and the top offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll.
However, some of the moves they did make were beneficial to the roster.
The acquisition of quarterback Mitch Trubisky to be Allen’s backup is a good move — Trubisky could be a reliable second-string player and has undergone his productive moments on the field, having reached the 2018 season’s Pro Bowl (albeit as an alternate).
If Allen were to unfortunately go down with an injury, at least Trubisky provides notable starting experience (50 starts in his four-year career and two starts in the postseason).
Despite the fact he’s entering his age-34 season, Emmanuel Sanders will be another target for Allen and will perform alongside 2020 first-team All-Pro Stefon Diggs and 2020 second-team All-Pro Cole Beasley.
Sanders can still produce — he caught 61 balls for 726 yards and five touchdowns with New Orleans last year and recorded a career-high 74.4% catch rate.
The Bills additionally signed linebacker Matt Milano to a four-year extension. The 26-year-old must remain healthy, but nonetheless, is a reliable asset within the defensive unit. Milano racked up 101 combined tackles in 2019.
While Buffalo wasn’t as exciting as others during this free agency period, it’s still a 12-13-win team, a number of victories that should snag the Bills a 2021 division title.
2. New England Patriots
After bringing back quarterback Cam Newton on a one-year deal, it was clear Bill Belichick needed to acquire offensive assistance for the veteran.
That’s exactly what he did, and then some.
The Patriots went out and signed tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to multi-year deals. Each will be a reliable pass-catching tight end for Newton, who’s always benefitted from having one on his team. Just think about what he and Greg Olsen were able to do in Carolina for nearly a decade.
Both Nelson Agholar and Kendrick Bourne will provide additional options in the passing game and Belichick figures to utilize either correctly. The former carries a knack for the end zone and caught eight touchdowns for the Raiders last year.
On the defensive end, the acquisition of linebacker Matthew Judon is fantastic — adding to the pass-rushing unit is crucial considering the Pats tied for 26th in the NFL with just 24 sacks in 2020.
Judon is extremely productive and in the prime of his career, having been selected to the last two Pro Bowls as a member of the Ravens. He recorded 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits in 2019 and then six sacks and 21 quarterback hits in 2020.
Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (agreed to a two-year deal) will be a talented addition to the line — he racked up an impressive 75 combined tackles from the nose tackle spot in 2019 (with Miami). His 52 solo tackles (via Pro Football Focus) that year also tied for first among interior defensive linemen.
However, he must stay healthy; Godchaux played in just five games this past season.
Those who think the Patriots are over-spending need to understand that you don’t question what Bill Belichick does. He’s still the top coach in the division and went 7-9 last year despite Cam Newton struggling and the team having many players opt-out prior to the regular season.
3. New York Jets
Yes, the Jets are making moves and are in the No. 3 spot after many would’ve probably put them in last place prior to the free agency period.
With an absurd amount of cap space, general manager Joe Douglas did a tremendous job and addressed a number of the organization’s needs.
The Jets acquired a new No. 1 receiver in Corey Davis, who’s one of the more underrated players at his position in the entire league. He’ll be an upgrade in the passing game and assist in the development of whoever plays quarterback next year.
Wideout Keelan Cole will be a reliable third-string or fourth-string receiver and was actually reported to be somewhat of a hot commodity in free agency. He’s a skillful slot guy who recorded career-highs in receptions (55) and touchdown catches (five) with Jacksonville last year.
Cole will ultimately provide depth, a crucial development when you take into account the Jets were second-to-last in passing in 2020.
Defensively, New York now employs a gifted pass rusher in Carl Lawson, who agreed to a three-year deal to come to Florham Park. Lawson should be a phenomenal fit within Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme.
The Jets additionally acquired former Lion Jarrad Davis and former Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. Davis is a versatile inside linebacker and the move makes you wonder if the Jets will trade C.J. Mosley. Rankins, on the other hand, boosts the front seven and can rush the passer, having notched eight sacks with New Orleans in 2018.
A new head coach in Saleh is in place and the front office is acquiring players who could be significantly valuable in his defensive system. Mike LaFleur is also expected to thrive in the offensive coordinator role given his success as the passing game coordinator out in San Francisco.
It’s just unclear who the Jets quarterback will be. But regardless of whether Sam Darnold or Zach Wilson is the man for the job, the team is improving the surrounding offensive assistance, that’s for sure.
4. Miami Dolphins
Like the Bills, the Dolphins weren’t the flashiest team in free agency.
Miami’s most noteworthy pickup was wide receiver Will Fuller, and while he could greatly assist in the improvement of the offensive unit (22nd in total offense, 15th in scoring last year), it’s not confirmed whether he’s a true No. 1 wideout.
Miami additionally agreed to deals with quarterback Jacoby Brissett (who has starting experience but recorded 81.7 and 88.0 passer ratings in the two seasons in which he was the Colts’ primary signal-caller), center Matt Skura, and cornerback Justin Coleman, each on one-year deals.
Malcolm Brown is another short-term signing and will provide running back depth, but the move doesn’t significantly boost the talent level and offensive assistance needed for whoever plays quarterback in Miami.
And speaking of the Dolphins’ quarterback situation — will they roll the dice with Tua Tagovailoa again despite doubts he could be the long-term answer? Will they somehow trade for Deshaun Watson?
While the Dolphins finished with eight more wins than the Jets in 2020, the Jets roster just seems more intriguing right now. With Gang Green seemingly heading in the right direction and Miami potentially rolling the dice with the unproven Tagovailoa, it’s reasonable to place the former before the latter.
Of course, this is all subject to change as the 2021 offseason progresses.