Playing in the AFC East is a breeze for the New England Patriots and a continued nightmare for all of the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. The franchises have tasted small amounts of success in their franchise’s history, but since the Patriots started their dynasty, they have sucked all the air out of the division.
That was still the case last year, despite the Patriots being without Tom Brady for four games and Jimmy Garoppolo, his primary backup, also getting injured. They don’t even have real NFL wide receivers and Rob Gronkowski went down with an injury, and yet they still managed a comfortable 14-2 wins, winning three of the four games without Brady under center — a deflating prospect for the other three teams.
Pressure is in the air for the other teams as free agency is set to begin. Below, we’re going to take a look at the four teams in the division and their biggest needs going into the free agency period. Figuring out the needs of every other team is crucial in figuring out the landscape of the entire NFL and what it means for the 49ers. We’ll cover the rest of the divisions over the next several days.
New England Patriots
Needs: Defensive line, linebacker, running back, tight end
Both LeGarrette Blount and Martellus Bennett are set to become free agents, and the Patriots will need to address both positions if they can’t retain either guy. I feel like Bennett has found his permanent home in the Patriots but you never know. Blount was good for the Patriots but Dion Lewis can’t stay healthy.
On defense, they have some real issues. Trey Flowers is good along the defensive line but they are still trying to fill the void left by both Dominique Easley and Chandler Jones. They need an end and a tackle. On top of that, they have a huge hole at linebacker with Dont’a Hightower also set to hit free agency and a big void where Jamie Collins used to be.
Needs: Linebacker, defensive tackle, offensive guard
Surprisingly, the Dolphins don’t actually have a ton of holes on the roster. Unfortunately the ones that are there are pretty huge. They need a complete revamping of the linebacker position with Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins dealing with injuries last season and both slated to hit the open market. They need not one, not two but potentially three linebackers depending on what happens with those two.
Sticking with defense, it’s clear that Ndamukong Suh cannot hold down the middle of their defensive line alone. They hoped he could and paid him like he could, but he can’t. Running backs are going to continue to run all over the Dolphins if they don’t fix things.
On offense, the Dolphins made a good move in acquiring tight end Julius Thomas, but they do need help at guard. They need to upgrade the position, especially if Laremy Tunsil is moving to tackle as expected.
Needs: Quarterback, offensive tackle, safety, cornerback
I really like Tyrod Taylor as a quarterback, but it doesn’t seem like the Bills do at this point. They may be moving on from him and if that’s the case, they need to find a new quarterback. EJ Manuel is not the answer and I have my doubts about Cardale Jones.
Whoever does play quarterback will desperately need someone better at the right tackle spot. It’s a huge position of need and the Bills have nothing but a revolving door there at the moment. They may look to spend a top draft pick on the position rather than find one on the open market, however.
Safety and cornerback are the two biggest needs on defense. Aaron Williams’ future in the league is up in the air after a dirty hit from Jarvis Landry and the Bills need some help at the position. At cornerback, Stephon Gilmore wasn’t good in 2016 and is also set to become a free agent.
New York Jets
Needs: Cornerback, offensive line, quarterback, defensive tackle
Boy, where to start with the Jets? They cut Darrelle Revis, who was awful last season, and they also have nothing opposite him on top of that. They need two cornerbacks and they need them badly.
They also cut Nick Mangold and a couple offensive tackles and have nobody at the position. They need two new tackles, a new center and needed a guard until they re-signed Brian Winters, so at least they have that figured out.
Oh and there’s a position called quarterback, did you know that? The Jets don’t have one. Christian Hackenberg? Geno Smith? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Two of them are set to be free agents and the Jets desperately need some new blood.
On defense, they need a proper nose tackle as Steve McLendon absolutely did not play well after replacing Damon Harrison in the offseason.