Dolphins' trade for Marshall indicative of AFC East's pass-first trend

The New York Jets finished one step away from Super Bowl XLIV on the strength of the NFL's top-rated rushing attack and No. 1 defense.

Whether that's the right blueprint for success is debatable.

After all the New Orleans Saints, a passing team, won the Super Bowl. The Indianapolis Colts, another passing team, beat the Jets in the AFC Championship Game.

Great deal for Dolphins

For the Miami Dolphins, I absolutely love this trade. Offensively, they needed playmakers, and Marshall is able to change the whole game plan, Mike Mayock writes. **More ...**

And, now, there have been three major offseason moves in the AFC East that also support the notion the NFL continues to be very much a pass-first league.

The latest and most dramatic is the Miami Dolphins' acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall from the Denver Broncos.

By surrendering a pair of second-round draft picks and giving Marshall a contract extension worth a staggering $47.5 million, including $29 million coming over the first three years, the Dolphins clearly demonstrated an urgency to upgrade the league's 20th-ranked passing attack.

Marshall has the ability to do exactly that. As he proved during the last four seasons with the Broncos, he just might be the most talented receiver in the game. His size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), speed, and athleticism make him a constant nightmare for opposing defenses.

Marshall is good enough to help make Chad Henne better and more productive in his second year as the Dolphins' starting quarterback. Henne's game needs work, but his best quality is his arm strength. He can take full advantage of a receiver such as Marshall, who can consistently be a game-breaking threat.

Two other offseason transactions in the AFC East that underscore the priority of enhancing the ability to move the ball through the air were made by none other than the Jets.

First, they traded with the San Diego Chargers for one of the NFL's top cornerbacks in Antonio Cromartie. With Darrelle Revis at one corner spot and Cromartie at the other, the Jets are seemingly well equipped to deal with Marshall, New England's Randy Moss, Buffalo's Lee Evans and any other receiver they can expect to see a minimum of twice per season.

Last Sunday, the Jets made a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers for an elite receiver of their own in Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes. Although Holmes is scheduled to miss four games while serving an NFL suspension, he still should have plenty of opportunity to help improve the league's 31st-ranked pass offense last season.

The opposition has certainly taken notice.

"I think the first part of the year, and in some weather conditions and stuff, it is a pass-first league, it is a quarterback-driven league," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "But I still firmly believe you've got to play defense and you've got to be able to run the ball to win championships. Somewhere in that playoff run, you're going to have to be able to run the ball."

The Bills are loaded with question marks throughout their roster. One place they have been solid, however, is in pass defense, which ranked second in the NFL last season. Their cornerbacks are solid, and safety Jairus Byrd had nine interceptions for a share of the league lead as a rookie.

The Dolphins and Patriots could be the most vulnerable when it comes to defending the pass, where they ranked 24th and 12th, respectively, last season. It will be interesting to see how that might influence the way they and the rest of the division proceed in the draft as well as other player acquisitions between now and the start of the season.

One suspects that defensive backs, as well as receivers, could very well become a greater focal point of decision-makers in the AFC East.

"I think the thing to do is wait and see how this turns out," Nix said. "None of us know. It gives everybody something to talk about, but I don't know yet how that'll turn out."

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