Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Gennaro Filice examines the current makeup of the AFC East below.
Over the past 10 NFL seasons, every single team in the NFC East and NFC West has finished in first place at least once. In the AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC North and NFC South, three of four clubs have won division titles. The one outlier division? Yep, the AFC East, where one organization has administered a ceaseless reign of terror.
It has been 3,390 days since the New England Patriots didn't sit in the AFC East throne. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Co. have run roughshod over the division in this span, piling up a 47-13 record against the teams that are supposed to know them best. So, yeah, when asked to assess the current makeup of this NFL quartet, there's really only one thing to type ...
All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division.
OK, I've subjected the fine readers of Buffalo, Miami and Long Island to enough horror. And it's springtime. Spring forward! Hope springs eternal! Rumspringa!!
Actually, on the cultural-mixing front, the AFC East has experienced an interesting game of musical chairs this offseason. Brian Flores left New England to take over as head coach in Miami for Adam Gase, who's now the man in charge of the Jets. In free agency, Dwayne Allen and Eric Rowe relocated from New England to Miami, while Frank Gore left the Dolphins for the Bills. And of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick returned to the division by signing with the Dolphins, his third AFC East team. (Clearly, the Pats are just waiting for Tom Brady to hang 'em up before completing Fitzmagic's divisional tetrad.)
Could the divisional standings see a shakeup in 2019? Well, the Patriotsdid lose their best pass rusher, starting nose tackle, starting left tackle and quite possibly the greatest tight end in NFL history. Is New England suddenly vulnerable? Um, the Pats lost an impactful quartet last offseason -- LT Nate Solder, RB Dion Lewis, WR Danny Amendola and CB Malcolm Butler -- and responded by winning the Super Bowl. So pump the brakes on any thoughts about a changing of the guard.
That said, the Jets might've been the splashiest team in free agency, with blockbuster additions of RB Le'Veon Bell and LB C.J. Mosley, as well as the savvy pickup of WR Jamison Crowder. And the Bills significantly upgraded the roster with a number of signings in need areas like wide receiver (John Brown and Cole Beasley) and O-line (Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe and Quinton Spain). While Miami's clearly rebuilding, at least everyone appears to be in lockstep, starting at the top. "I'm looking at it now to do it the way I've built every business, and build it from the ground up," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said at the Annual League Meeting. "I'm prepared to stay with it. I am committed." So let the (re)building begin!
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In an era defined by prolific, high-flying offenses, the Jets were figuratively grounded in 2018. Only five NFL offenses failed to average at least 300 yards per game, with Gang Green ranking 29th at 299.2. One solution: Go out and get the guy who averages the most scrimmage yards per game ever. Le'Veon Bell's 129.0 figure puts him ahead of Jim Brown (125.5), Barry Sanders (118.9) and everyone else who has played a minimum of 50 games. Just how productive is Bell, compared to his modern contemporaries? Since 2014, Bell has produced 37 games of 100-plus scrimmage yards -- tied for the most with Julio Jones. One accompanying note that's kinda significant: Bell has missed 31 games during this span, including the entire 2018 season. So, yeah, when the guy plays, he generally piles up massive chunks of yardage. How will he fit in Adam Gase's scheme? That's the 52.5 Million Dollar Question. Bell has one of the most unique running styles in the NFL, exercising a degree of patience that'd be ridiculous if it weren't so effective. In 2017, the last time Bell hit the NFL gridiron, he averaged an interminable 3.09 seconds behind the line of scrimmage per rush (most in the NFL among those with a minimum 100 rushes, per Next Gen Stats). Bell's success on Broadway will depend on his new team adjusting to him more than him adjusting to his new team.
Some folks raised an eyebrow when Flowers -- a defensive end who's never logged even eight sacks in a season, much less reached double digits -- received a five-year, $90 million megadeal (with $56 million in guarantees) from the Lions. Just how valuable could the former fourth-rounder and zero-time Pro Bowler be? Well, Bill Belichick certainly appreciated his work in Foxborough. On a conference call with reporters back in November, the Patriots' head man was asked about his young DE's development. As is usually the case when Belichick discusses Flowers, effusive praise ensued:
"Trey works extremely hard, as we know. He's one of the hardest-working guys on the team -- running game, passing game, his physical development and maintenance, in terms of getting treatment and taking care of himself," said Belichick, who can be quite contemplative in these off-camera, low-wattage media arrangements. "He does a good job of -- again, week to week, physically taking care of himself, being able to hold up -- the techniques of playing inside, playing outside, playing on the open side, playing on the tight end side. He's a very versatile and valuable player for us."
And those comments came before Flowers went on a tear in the back half of last season, racking up seven sacks and 19 QB hits over the Pats' final nine games (playoffs included). So, how will Belichick and Co. replace the multi-talented Flowers? The trade for Michael Bennett helps, but the veteran defensive end turns 34 midway through the coming campaign. Flowers, who's just entering his prime at age 25, will be missed.
Buffalo's offensive line finished 26th on Pro Football Focus' rankings, but you didn't need an advanced grading system to tell you the Bills' front didn't cut it in 2018 -- a pair of eyes would suffice. Buffalo's decision-makers certainly saw it, which is why they've already brought in a half-dozen OLs. Mitch Morse, who became the highest-paid center in the game with a four-year, $44.5 million deal, is the headliner, but Nsekhe's intriguing for a number of reasons. First of all, the road to Nsekhe's first substantial payday (two years, $14.5 million) was undoubtedly the one less traveled by. The 33-year-old's Wikipedia career history is a sight to behold. Undrafted out of Texas State in 2009, Nsekhe spent time with the Corpus Christi Sharks (of the Arena Football League's developmental league), Dallas Vigilantes (AFL), Philadelphia Soul (AFL), San Antonio Talons (AFL), Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams, New Orleans Saints, Montreal Alouettes (CFL), Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Kiss (AFL) and Redskins again, before hitting free agency this offseason. Tell me that's not a guy worth rooting for. The other interesting aspect with Nsekhe is that, while he's logged 56 NFL games, he's only started 16, spending most of his time as a swing tackle. In Buffalo, he'll get his first opportunity to start, likely at right tackle. While he's graded out pretty well according to PFF, particularly as a run blocker, Nsekhe will have to prove himself in protecting Josh Allen's front side. With Nsekhe signing on the first day of the free agency frenzy, the addition was completely lost in the shuffle. But he could wind up being a crucial piece in Buffalo's O-line overhaul.
Buffalo Bills: One of the more active teams in free agency, Buffalo certainly got Josh Allen some help on offense. With 10 selections in this month's draft, the Bills could continue to fortify the franchise QB's supporting cast -- finding a tight end or a long-term solution at tackle wouldn't hurt -- but it's easy to see Sean McDermott adding more juice to his defense, particularly when it comes to the Bills' three top-75 picks. No. 9 overall might be too rich for any of the corners in this draft class, but there will be plenty of intriguing front-seven defenders available at that juncture. Buffalo quietly ranked second in total defense last year, but just 26th in sacks. This unit needs more firepower up front, especially given the retirement of cornerstone DT Kyle Williams.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins clearly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a bridge quarterback. But to where -- or whom -- does the bridge lead? With Miami holding the No. 13 overall pick, Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock could all be gone by the time the Fins come on the clock. Could they trade up? Sure, but the organization lacks extra 2019 draft currency (seven total selections) and has an abundance of need areas beyond QB (see: O-line, D-line, WR). Of course, the franchise could just put off the QB hunt until next offseason. With GM Chris Grier choosing to part ways with veterans like Ryan Tannehill, Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn, Ja'Wuan James, Danny Amendola and Andre Branch, Miami's stripped-down roster very well might produce a higher draft slot in 2020.
New England Patriots: As mentioned above, the defending Super Bowl champions have experienced substantial attrition for the second straight offseason. And they've yet to really dive into the free agency pool. But roster replenishments are coming -- in a big way -- at the end of this month. Not only do the Pats possess a whopping 12 draft picks (tied with the Giants for the most this year), but six of those selections are slotted within the first three rounds. This gives New England the opportunity to plug a bunch of holes and/or package picks to move up the board. In the wake of Rob Gronkowski's retirement and Dwayne Allen's relocation to Miami, tight end is suddenly a major position of need. The Patriots might have to move up from No. 31 in order to snag one of the Iowa TEs (Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson), but Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. could be a fit. One way or another, New England must come away with some pass-catching juice, considering the receiving corps is seriously lacking beyond Julian Edelman. Oh, and the quadragenarian quarterback will probably play until all fingers and toes sport rings, but just in case, it might not be a bad idea to invest some draft capital in the position again.
New York Jets: What will the Jets do at No. 3 overall? With Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa looking more like the top two picks with each passing day, New York's initial selection feels like the first real fulcrum point of this draft. Is Josh Allen the edge rusher Gang Green's been missing since they traded John Abraham back in 2006? Is Quinnen Williams just too dominant a force to pass on, even if the Jets don't have a crying need at DT? Or is trading down -- a possibility Mike Maccagnan openly discussed in February -- and gaining a gaggle of picks the best course of action? Inquiring minds want to know who'll be the subject of Jets fans' booing!