AFC East Free Agency Grades
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Patriots - D+
- OG Joe Thuney, franchise tag
- S Devin McCourty, 2-years, $23 million, $17 million guaranteed)
- QB Tom Brady, signed by Buccaneers
- EDGE Kyle Van Noy, signed by Dolphins
- LB Jamie Collins Sr, signed by Lions
- DT Danny Shelton, signed by Lions
- S Duron Harmon, traded
Losing 6-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady in my view is not the huge loss others have made it out to be. Realistically with the Patriots skill positions their offense has a ceiling. While Brady’s timing, accuracy and precision likely maxes out their ceiling its my view that 2nd year quarterback Jared Stidham can come close to reaching the already low offensive ceiling. I don’t have this view due to my trust and belief in Stidham but instead my trust in potentially the greatest coach of all time Bill Belichick. Belichick is clearly of the belief he can win without Brady as he allowed him to walk, and if Belichick believes he can find a way to win with Stidham at centre and think he will.
Franchise tagging offensive guard Joe Thuney was a wise move for numerous reasons. Despite being a top guard over the last 3 years, he was playing in an offensive line coached by Dante Scarnecchia the Patriots offensive line coach. Scarnecchia is widely regarded as one of the greats in coaching but he retired in 2019, so the franchise tag gives New England the ability to see Thuney without the coaching of Scarnecchia. Despite the Patriots statement that they intend to work out a long-term extension with Thuney, Belichick is also known to deal players of Thuneys ability for draft picks. Also, having another top offensive lineman will only help Jared Stidham who hopes to replace Brady. It’s very likely that Thuney will demand top of the market money, which could lead to him being shipped out of New England as with the exception of Stephen Gilmore the patriots rarely pay big money to their players.
Devin McCourty is a big piece in the Patriots defense. In 2019 despite a career low in tackle he picked off opposing quarterbacks 5 times on way to having an elite year. So, bringing him back as only the 6th highest paid safety was a good move by New England.
Despite a few good moves, the patriots saw a bunch of talent walk out the door. Van Noy, Collins, Shelton and Harmon were all good starters or rotational players in the 2019 Patriots top ranked defense, who only allowed 275.9 yards per game. Given these loses on defense it’s unlikely that they can replicate their 2019 success.
Dolphins - A
- OG Ereck Flowers, 3-years, $30 million, $19.95 million guaranteed
- CB Byron Jones, 5-years, $82 million, $54 million guaranteed
- RB Matt Breida, via trade
- RB Jordan Howard, 2-years, $10 million
- EDGE Shaq Lawson, 3-years, $30 million, $20.8 million guaranteed
- EDGE Kyle Van Noy, 4-years, $51 million, $30 million guaranteed
- EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah, 2-years, $15 million, $7.5 million guaranteed
I loved every part of Miami’s free agency, there was not a singular bad move in my opinion. While at the beginning of the 2019 season the Dolphins lost 7 straight games triggering critics to shun them for tanking, they turned it around becoming competitive and winning 5 of their last 9 games, including wins at Philadelphia and New England. Head Coach Brian Flores was the defensive mastermind behind Super Bowl 53, in which the Patriots held the high-flying Rams offense co-ordinated by offensive genius Sean McVay to just 3 points. Hence, I believe the defensive overload clearly show the direction Miami is headed and I think it’s a great move with Flores at the helm.
The Dolphins first big move was to sign cornerback Byron Jones to a record-breaking deal. The 2018 Pro Bowler signed a 5-year $82 million deal with $54 million guaranteed. Jones is an elite coverage corner who can go toe-to-toe with the best receivers in the game. However, the knock on Jones is that he doesn’t take the ball away with only 2 interceptions in 5 years. Despite this, the deal gives Flores to shutdown corners on the outside which will allow his defensive scheme to flourish.
2-time Super Bowl champion Kyle Van Noy is great versatile signing at who can both cover and rush from the outside linebacker position. Over the past 3 years he has 15.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 221 tackles, he also knows Flores system from their time together in New England so will fit right in. At 24th in highest annually paid edge rusher I think the deal is a good one, players such as Preston Smith, Robert Quinn and Carlos Dunlap all are paid more but do not have Super Bowl rings like Van Noy nor are coverage skills even close to Van Noy’s.
The signing of former first round pick Shaq Lawson was an interesting one. Lawson has never reached his pre-draft potential but in 2019 he had his best year to date with 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hits. Prior to 2019 he had no presence in the run game but in 2019 Lawson had clearly developed it. Whilst his deal places him alongside players such as Leonard Floyd, Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes, at 25 Lawson has the potential to blossom into his first-round potential, but until then he will act as a great depth piece.
Ereck Flowers is a potential great signing. While the previous 9th overall pick in the 2015 draft seemed to be a bust the first 4 years of his career with the Giants, his position switch from tackle to guard appeared to suit him well in Washington. His size allows him to block well in the run game as well as the pass. Although, one good year out of five is no sure hit, Flowers is only 26 and good eventually hit his potential in Miami.
In 2019 the Dolphins had potentially the worst running-back room in the NFL but going into 2020 they will have one of the most underrated running-back duos in the league. Although Matt Breida never won the starting job in San Francisco he still averaged 5.3 and 5.1 yard per carry in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Whilst Breida has never filled the stat sheet with outstanding numbers due to being part of a 3 running back rotation its undeniable that he is a talented runner. 2-yeas $10 million is a good deal Jordan Howard. Although Howards play has definitively fallen off since 2016 when he averaged 87.5 yards per carry as a rookie as well as making a Pro Bowl, he still remains a good power back which will allow the Dolphins to have a duo of power and elusiveness causing mismatches for the defense.
- WR Stefon Diggs, via trade
- EDGE Mario Addison, 3-years, $30.45 million, $15.25 million guaranteed
- CB Josh Norman, 1-year, $6 million
- OG Quinton Spain, 3-years, $15 million
- EDGE Shaq Lawson, signed by the Dolphins
- EDGE Lorenzo Alexander, retired
- CB Kevin Johnson, signed by the Browns
The Bills were having a very quiet free agency until they traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Whilst they did give up a haul of draft picks for Diggs including their 2020 first-round pick, Diggs has averaged 1075 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns over the last 2 years. He is clearly a number one receiver and in 2020 he will either help Josh Allen prove that he can be a franchise quarterback or prove to the Bills that Josh Allen cannot put them over the top. although his contract puts him at a steadily increasing cap hit from $11.5 million in 2020 it ranks as only the 13th highest paid annually which whilst not a steal is a good deal for a number one receiver.
Buffalo also replaced edge rusher Shaq Lawson with 9-year veteran Mario Addison. Addison has led the Carolina Panthers in sacks the past four years with 39, he has also chimed in for 38 tackles for loss and 56 quarterback hits. Whilst the 3-years $30.45 million looks questionable for a 32-year-old edge rusher, they can move off him with a $4 million dead cap hit in 2021 if he doesn’t perform this coming year.
Jets - C-
- CB Brian Poole, 1-year, $5 million
- OT George Fant, 3-years, $30 million, $13.7 million guaranteed
- C Connor McGovern, 3-years, $27 million, $18 million guaranteed
- OG Alex Lewis, 3-years, $18.6 million
- CB Quincy Wilson, via trade
- WR Robby Anderson, signed by the Panthers
- C Ryan Kalil
- OT Brandon Shell, signed by the Seahawks
- CB Trumaine Johnson, released
For a team with a quarterback on a rookie deal the Jets really missed their opportunity to take advantage yet again.
The Jets offensive line has been a disaster for numerous years now and really needs an insertion of youth and talent. Although losing Kalil and Shell to retirement and free agency wasn’t an issue the moves they made to impact the offensive line were. The jets have holes in their O-line from top to bottom, and whist signing Connor McGovern to a 3-year $27 million deal was a good one given the top level he played at in 2019, re-signing Alex Lewis was questionable and signing George Fant for 3-years $30 million was a horrendous move in my opinion. To pay an un-experienced tackle who couldn’t even get into the starting team at Seatlle to $10 million annually is a severely poor allocation of their resources. Whilst I am all for investing big money into your offensive line, Fants deal puts him only $2 million annually behind David Bakhtiari and Tyron Smith and $3 million behind Terron Armstead, three of the NFL elite left tackles.