It is an interesting time for the AFC East, as the Buffalo Bills in 2020 became the first team other than the New England Patriots to claim the division crown since 2008. Miami will look to earn its first playoff berth under head coach Brian Flores – they came down to the wire last season. The New York Jets, meanwhile, will attempt to accelerate their rebuild with new head coach Robert Saleh.
Below is the offseason outlook for each AFC East team:
Buffalo finished the 2020 season tied for the second-best record in the NFL behind quarterback Josh Allen’s massive improvement. Last season’s playoff berth was Sean McDermott’s third in his four seasons as head coach. Buffalo enters the offseason with a middling amount of cap space and draft capital, but boasts one of the most complete rosters in the NFL.
Buffalo is set at QB with Allen (played 95% of snaps in 2020) still under his rookie contract and his fifth-year option available. The team could look to begin contract extension negotiations with Allen this summer, similar to how Kansas City and Houston extended Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, respectively, last summer. The team has invested substantially in weapons around Allen with the fourth-most cap space dedicated to WRs: Stefon Diggs (89%), John Brown (42%) and Cole Beasley (63%). The team ranks 26th in offensive line spending and will likely invest resources there this offseason, considering the following are no longer under contract: RT Daryl Williams (96%), LG Ike Boettger (57%), RG Brian Winters (57%), and RG Joe Feliciano (53%).
McDermott’s typically stout defense took a step back last season, but retains a majority of its impact players, including CB Tre’Davious White (82%), S Jordan Poyer (94%), S Micah Hyde (88%) and LB Tremaine Edmunds (85%). Buffalo’s key free agents include starting linebacker Matt Milano (31% – injured for most of the season) and defensive backs Levi Wallace (57%) and Josh Norman (32%).
Fifth-Year Option: Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds
As key pieces of Buffalo’s core, both Allen and Edmunds will have their options exercised by the team. Expect the team to seek extensions for both players over the summer.
Miami doubled its previous season’s win total in 2020, significantly improving under second-year head coach Brian Flores. The team’s resurgence was led by its defense, while its offense failed to maintain consistency switching between QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick (46%) and Tua Tagovailoa (54%). The team is armed with both cap space (eighth-most in the NFL) and draft capital (third-most in the NFL), including two top 20 picks.
Miami’s offense was inconsistent with Tagovailoa, as the rookie was benched more than once in favor of Fitzpatrick, who is now a free agent. Miami‘s most pressing offseason decision revolves around its opinion of Tagovailoa. If Miami decides to build around Tagovailoa, the team should invest primarily in its offensive line (29th in spending), where C Ted Karras (100%) is an unrestricted free agent. I would expect the Dolphins to add a WR either in the draft or free agency to aid Tagovailoa’s development as the team did not have a WR eclipse 800 yards last season. Look for Miami to add at least one RB to complement top back Myles Gaskin (42%) as well.
Miami returns most of its defensive core after releasing starting LB Kyle Van Noy (78%) to save $10 million in cap space. With most of its young core under contract, the team will likely add to its now-thin linebacker group.
Fifth-Year Option: None
New England’s first season without Tom Brady was a major step-back from form. It was New England’s first season without a playoff berth since 2008 and its first sub-.500 record since 2000. Starting QB Cam Newton (87%) struggled on his one-year prove-it deal in New England and the team dealt with an NFL-high in opt-outs due to COVID-19. Armed with the third-most cap space in the NFL and its first draft pick inside the top 15 since 2008, head coach Bill Belichick will look to rebuild on the fly.
New England’s lack of investment on offense showed in its first season without Brady. The team should look to rebuild the unit this offseason, starting with the QB position. Considering neither Newton nor backup Jarrett Stidham (8%) showed much promise, many expect the team to invest in a new QB — either with the 15th pick, free agency or trade. Additionally, the team has a notable lack of weapons, with former first-round WR N’Keal Harry (58%) failing to develop, aging WR Julian Edelman (26%, turns 35 on Sept. 1) missing most of last season, and starter Damiere Byrd (89%) entering unrestricted free agency. Finally, the team faces major decisions with its offensive line, as starters Joe Thuney (97%) and David Andrews (72%) are unrestricted free agents. Regular contributors RB James White (33%) and RB Rex Burkhead (27%) will also enter free agency.
New England’s defense regressed from last season after notable opt-outs such as LB Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung, as well as season-ending injury to CB and former DPOY Stephon Gilmore (62%). The team will have to decide on Gilmore’s future, as he enters the last season of his contract while his counterpart, CB J.C. Jackson (84%), is a restricted free agent. The Patriots must decide on key free agents EDGE Jon Simon (69%), CB Jason McCourty (65%) and starting DLs Lawrence Guy (50%) and Adam Butler (47%).
Fifth-Year Option: Isaiah Wynn (63%) and Sony Michel (18%)
It is unlikely former first-round RB Sony Michel will be given his option after struggling with injuries and the emergence RB Damien Harris (25%). New England faces an interesting decision with versatile OL Isaiah Wynn, who despite struggling to remain healthy has played well when on the field.
New York enters the offseason after one of its worst seasons in franchise history in which the team started 0-13. The Jets then won two of their last three games – losing a shot at the first overall pick in the draft but securing the second overall pick. Under new head coach Robert Saleh, the team will look to remake the roster with the second-most cap space and draft capital in the NFL.
The team will primarily have to decide on the future of QB Sam Darnold (75%) as the team evaluates whether to draft a new QB with the No. 2 pick. If the team does not draft a QB, it’s likely to continue to bolster is offensive line after the success of rookie T Mekhi Becton (70%). With starting WR Breshad Perriman (64%) entering free agency, the Jets will also look to add offensive weapons.
New York has multiple holes to fill on defense as it adapts to Saleh’s scheme. Key LB Neville Hewitt (99%) and EDGE Tarell Basham (64%) will enter unrestricted free agency. The team placed the franchise tag on S Marcus Maye (100%) to prevent him hitting free agency. Additionally, the team cut starting DL Henry Anderson (48%).
Fifth-Year Option: Sam Darnold
QB Sam Darnold is eligible for his fifth-year option, but it is unlikely the team will exercise given the start to his career.
Tyler Brown contributed to this story.