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AFC East preview: Tom Brady suspension, Jets contract questions

Time to take a division by division look at the teams the 49ers will not play. We move on to the AFC East.

Over the last two weeks, we put together a look at each of the San Francisco 49ers 13 opponents with a little help from SB Nation’s network of bloggers. Each person answered a few questions, providing a nice, basic rundown to help preview training camp. We got through that on Monday with the Seattle Seahawks. You can find the rest in our opponents section on the site.

Since we still have two weeks until the 49ers report to training camp, I thought why not use the 18 non-49ers previews to take a look at the rest of the league. The 49ers will not play the 18 teams outside of the playoffs and preseason, but it is always interesting to know more about the rest of the league. And so, we’re going to look at each division over the next five days, combing four team previews for each post. We started with the AFC North, AFC South, and AFC West, and today we move on to the AFC East. We broke down each team individually, but I thought I’d combine them together so people can compare and contrast all four teams together.

The big change since we posted the Patriots rundown is the news that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied Tom Brady’s appeal. On Friday, Brady announced that he will not appeal to the Supreme Court, and will accept his four-game suspension. Jimmy Garoppolo will start in his place. Can that swing the balance in the AFC East, or will Garoppolo hold things down for four games?

The New York Jets have two notable contract situations. Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned, and there is no sign this will resolve itself anytime soon. That leaves Geno Smith as the likely starter. Additionally, the team did not sign Muhammad Wilkerson to a contract extension, so he likely will skip part of training camp and report on the franchise tag shortly sometime later in August or early September for the start of the regular season.

As for the Dolphins, they once again will look for Ryan Tannehill to break out this season. Normally I would laugh at that given that it has become an annual storyline, but the addition of Adam Gase as head coach could be a big help in getting Tannehill to take a further step in his career.

New England Patriots

Notable free agent additions: ED Chris Long, LB Shea McClellin, DT Terrance Knighton, WR Chris Hogan

Notable free agent departures: ED Chandler Jones, DT Akiem Hicks

Trades: TE Martellus Bennett (acquired from Bears for 4th round pick), OG Jonathan Cooper (acquired from the Cardinals with a 2nd round pick for ED Chandler Jones)

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

2nd round CB Cyrus Jones: looks to slot in as the immediate nickel corner, eventual replacement for CB Logan Ryan who will be an FA at the end of the season.

3rd round OG Joe Thuney: Playing with the first team unit at left guard, although the three starting guards from 2015 are all hurt.

3rd round DT Vincent Valentine: Should be the 4th defensive tackle on the field at 20% of the snaps.

4th round WR Malcolm Mitchell: Will become the top outside receiver over the coming months.

6th round LB Kamu Grugier-Hill: Projected to be a key special teams contributor.

Biggest offseason addition: TE Martellus Bennett is flying under the radar. He gives the Patriots the best tight end duo in the league and could arguably have been the biggest offensive addition of the offseason in the entire league. He should play 70% of the snaps moving forward, if not more.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: How will the offensive line shake out? Last year, almost every single player battled serious injuries. At tackle, Nate Solder was on the IR, Sebastian Vollmer was concussed and hurt his ankle, and Marcus Cannon had turf toe. At guard, Josh Kline needed shoulder surgery, Tre Jackson needed a knee scope, and Shaq Mason also hurt his knee. Center Bryan Stork started the year on the Short-Term IR list.

Solder, Vollmer, Kline, and Jackson haven’t practiced yet. The health and ability of the line is paramount for the Patriots success.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Can the Patriots extend all of their players? If we look at the three-deep depth chart on defense, we see free agents everywhere. At edge defender, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, and Chris Long will be free agents after the season. At defensive tackle, Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton will be free agents. At linebacker, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins will be free agents. At cornerback, Logan Ryan will be a free agent, while Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent. At safety, Duron Harmon will be a free agent.

The fact that the Patriots need to resign everyone is not a secret. What might be flying under the radar is the fact that New England is projected to have the most cap space in the entire NFL in 2017. The Patriots will be more able to resign their players than most believe.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: The following players didn’t participate in minicamp: RB LeGarrette Blount (hip), WR Julian Edelman (foot), WR Danny Amendola (knee), OT Nate Solder (biceps), OT Sebastian Vollmer (everything, he’s old), OG Josh Kline (shoulder), OG Tre Jackson (knee).

RB Dion Lewis returned to practice after tearing his ACL in 2015.

New York Jets

Notable free agent additions: Matt Forte, Khiry Robinson, Steve McLendon

Notable free agent departures: Chris Ivory, Damon Harrison, DeMario Davis

Trades: Jets acquired Ryan Clady from Denver for a late round pick.

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

Darron Lee: The first round pick is expected to begin the season playing situationally on passing downs. Can he eventually take Erin Henderson’s starting job and show enough to be a three down linebacker? That is the question.

Jarvis Jenkins: The third round pick plays a position, outside linebacker, where the Jets do not have a single player with a proven track record in the NFL. He has a real chance to win a camp competition and begin his rookie season as a starter.

Biggest offseason addition:

Matt Forte is the most significant addition. The Jets offense took off in November as Bilal Powell emerged as the third option in the passing game. The Jets re-signed Powell to continue contributing out of the backfield, but they also added one of the most decorated pass catching backs in the league today.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp:

Who is the quarterback? After a career year, Ryan Fitzpatrick is still unsigned. There doesn’t seem to be interest outside of New York in his services, but he still isn’t happy with what the Jets are offering. Team management is on record saying the deadline for any deal is the start of training camp. Will something get done?

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:

Can Marcus Williams adjust to a bigger role? The third year cornerback impressed last season in his role as number four on the depth chart with six interceptions. There is a big leap in responsibilities between the fourth spot and the third spot in Todd Bowles’ defense, however. The number three corner is essentially a starter. Can Williams become more than a role player in this league? It will have a big impact on the team’s success.

Notable injuries heading into training camp:

Muhammad Wilkerson is recovering from a broken leg suffered in the season finale against Buffalo. Darrelle Revis is recovering from a wrist injury he apparently played through last season. Clady is coming off a torn ACL.

Buffalo Bills

Notable free agent additions: CB Sterling Moore, S Robert Blanton, LB Zach Brown, DL Leger Douzable

Notable free agent departures: DE Mario Williams, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Leodis McKelvin

Trades: None

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

DE / OLB Shaq Lawson (1st rd): It’s believe that he’ll miss first part of the season with shoulder injury. Will likely be a hybrid edge defender in Rex Ryan’s defense.

LB Reggie Ragland (2nd rd): Expected to be one of the team’s starting inside linebackers.

DL Adolphus Washington (3rd rd): Should fit in as rotational defensive linemen in a variety of spots.

Biggest offseason addition: Either Shaq Lawson or Reggie Ragland. Both filled major needs on Buffalo’s defense that underwhelmed in 2015 and will be key members of that side of the ball as rookies.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Defensive improvement. As alluded to, Rex Ryan didn’t have the greatest impact on the Bills defense a season ago. With some noteworthy departures and additions, how the defense performs is what everyone will be talking about during Bills training camp.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Battle for the No. 3 WR spot. Sammy Watkins is nursing a broken foot, and Robert Woods is the only decent wideout behind him. Guys (realistically) battling for this gig - Jarrett Boykin, Greg Little, Greg Salas, Leonard Hankerson, Walt Powell and rookie Kolby Listenbee

Notable injuries heading into training camp: Sammy Watkins (foot), Shaq Lawson (shoulder)

Miami Dolphins

Notable free agent additions: Mario Williams, Andre Branch, Isa Abdul-Quddus

Notable free agent departures: Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby, Brent Grimes (cut), Louis Delmas, Rishard Matthews

Trades: Byron Maxwell (Eagles), Kiko Alonso (Eagles)

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:

1st Round: Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil - Expected to start at left guard and be the heir apparent for Branden Albert at left tackle.

2nd Round: Cornerback Xavien Howard - in a position battle with Tony Lippett for the second starting cornerback spot

3rd Round: Running back Kenyan Drake - expected to be the second-string running back and see carries in a platoon system with Jay Ajayi

3rd Round: Wide receiver Leonte Carroo - most likely the fourth wide receiver on the team, should see playing time but may be stuck behind Kenny Stills for the third WR spot

6th Round: Wide receiver Jakeem Grant - likely will be the primary kick returner, could see punt return duties as well, and will likely see some offensive plays to utilize his speed as a mismatch

Biggest offseason addition: Adam Gase, head coach - Miami fired Joe Philbin a quarter of the way into the 2015 season, then hired former Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase to be their head coach this year. Gase will look to bring the success he has had working with quarterbacks, including Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, and Jay Cutler, to Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins have been in a decade of mediocrity, and it will now be Gase’s responsibility to finally end that.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Will Ryan Tannehill finally provide an answer to who he is as a quarterback? The team is giving him the freedom he did not have under Joe Philbin, they are reloading the offensive weapons with younger players who should fit the scheme well, and they are working to get the offensive line puzzle finally solved. This should be the year Tannehill can step up and prove he is a franchise quarterback.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Can the defensive line pressure the quarterback? Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Andre Branch. Each of those names comes with high expectations of success, either from past NFL experiences, or based on potential, and each of those names has question marks surrounding him. Wake is coming off an Achilles tear and is 34 years old. Williams had a miserable season last year with the Buffalo Bills, but was also playing out of position as a linebacker rather than a 4-3 defensive end. Suh played well last year, but many were frustrated that he was not the dominant player his contract seemed to suggest he would be for the Dolphins, and he did not make the Pro Bowl - a chip that is sure to be on his shoulder this year. Branch never materialized into the pass rusher the Jacksonville Jaguars hoped he would be, and now Miami will try to find that in him as a replacement for Derrick Shelby as the third defensive end. Everything in the offseason seems to say these pieces will come together and the Dolphins defensive line will be dominant - but they looked like that last year, and we have not seen them this year in pads.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: Cameron Wake (Achilles tear recovery); Kenyan Drake (hamstring strain); DeVante Parker (not disclosed); Mike Pouncey (offseason hip surgery recovery)