As one of the NFL's most watched divisions, the AFC East has largely been a dissapointment for the past several seasons. The BIlls, Jets, and Dolphins have all struggled to win consistently, and even the Patriots haven't won at the levels we're used to. What needs to happen during the offseason for these teams to turn it around?
After watching the Bills seemingly ignore CJ Spiller to instead ride Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills fans have to be looking forward to 2013. Before they can kickoff the season, there is a good bit of work to be done on the roster in Buffalo. What's step one?
Signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a lucrative deal after a stretch of a few good performances was one of the more short-sighted moves in recent memory, but fortunately they'll be able to release him prior to March 13 and begin to free themselves of that expensive burden.
New head coach Doug Marrone runs an offense that is centered around the rushing attack, so Buffalo shouldn't feel like they need to address the starting position through free agency. That's good news for the Bills because the free agent market for quarterbacks leaves something to be desired. Matt Moore could be a potential target, however.
If the Bills do elect to look to the draft, the obvious option would be Marrone's quarterback from Syracuse, Ryan Nassib. Marrone played a huge role in Nassib's development while in college, and they would figure to pair well again in the NFL.
A big key to having a successful 3-4 defense is getting a strong pass rush from the outside linebackers. The Bills took a step towards bolstering the pass rush with the addition of Mario Williams last season, but they can't afford to stop there.
The Bills will have quite a decision to make with the ninth pick in the draft. Quarterback is a glaring need, and with a top ten pick they could very well have this choice of the draft's quarterback prospects. However, they'll also be top outside linebacker prospects such as Dion Jordan and Barkevious Wingo that should be available with the ninth overall selection.
There will be a handful of free agent options that the Bills could choose to pursue if they elect to not draft an outside linebacker early in the draft. Paul Kruger would be the obvious top choice, however the Bills should take into account that in spite of playing well during the post season he's a very inconsistent pass rusher.
Stevie Johnson excels playing in the slot and the Bills appear to be ready to employ his talents there for the most part in the future. They pursued Vincent Jackson last season and haven't since acquired anyone that can pull defense's attention away from Johnson.
The obvious solution here, assuming he parts ways with Kansas City, is Dwayne Bowe. Bowe's talents would compliment Johnson's well. Unfortunately for the Bills it's not a lock that Bowe will even available. If he is, he'll surely be one of the more highly pursued free agents – will Buffalo look to make a big splash in free agency two years in a row?
Kelvin Sheppard was supposed to be next in line at this postion, but the 2011 draft pick has yet to gain much ground in that regards. It might not be their top priority, but Buffalo will more than likely address this position at some point during the off season.
After struggling to move from the cellar of the AFC East, it finally appears as though the Dolphins have begun to get moving in the right direction. Their young quarterback looks to be the real deal, and on the defensive side of the ball they're building a strong pass rush. There are still plenty of pieces needed, but things are definitely looking up in Miami.
The goal for the 2013 offseason is pretty simple for the Dolphins: get Ryan Tannehill some weapons to work with. There's no question that Tannehill is in desperate need of someone to throw the ball to. Fortunately for Miami, there's a wealth of options both in free agency and the draft. It'd probably serve them well to use both routes in re-tooling the offense.
Lots of Dolphins fans have been envied Greg Jennings since it began to appear as though he wouldn't be a Packer in 2013, and for good reason. Even though he's getting older, he still be be a valuable contributor to an offense devoid of reliable targets. A veteran such a Jennings is almost always of benefit to a young quarterback, as well.
The best way to build a team is through the draft, however. While it makes a ton of sense for the Dolphins to add a veteran receiver, they should target some younger talent in the draft as well. With the best options currently on the roster being Davone Bess and Brian Hartline, it's clear there is plenty of upgrading possible.
At the start of the 2012 season, the last thing the Dolphins would have anticipated would have been to head into this offseason potentially needing two starting offensive tackles. Unfortunately, that's exactly where they're finding themselves. Left tackle Jake Long has been one of the better offensive tackles in the league up until 2012, but he regressed noticeably this year. In spite of that, the free agent reportedly wants $10 million dollars a year, a price that Miami may not think he's worth.
On the other side of the line is Jonathon Martin. He was highly touted by some heading into the 2012 draft, but his rookie season certainly wasn't one that will inspire much confidence. His draft status could likely earn him at least another chance heading into 2013, but Miami still needs to start looking at other options at both left and right tackle.
Had Martin lived up to expectations, the simply solution would have been to move Martin over to the left side, and look for a new starter at right tackle. That looks to be an exceedingly risky move at this point. Should Miami over pay Long to keep some sort of stability along the line?
The Dolphins have made some solid moves in the front office, but some of their trades have been quite puzzling. One of the worst was trading away Vontae Davis to the Colts. Davis' replacement, Sean Smith , is a free agent, and while he was solid during his time replacing Davis he can't cover every receiver on the field on his own.
There's been some speculation that Richard Marshall could have a bigger impact in 2013, but it's doubtful that he can bring the sort of ability to the table that the Dolphins will be looking for. He only appeared in four games this past season, and it's pretty clear the Dolphins need to add a starting corner via the draft or free agency.
This isn't a primary need thanks solely to Cameron Wake's ability to create a pass rush seemingly no matter what the circumstances. Outside of Wake, though, there's not much of a pass rusher to be found in Miami's group of defensive ends. Jared Odrick has been decent stopping the run but isn't able to get after the quarterback. Adding a pass rusher opposite Wake could provide a big boost for the Dolphins.
Following their exit from the playoffs, many around the leauge proclaimed the Patriots' dynasty dead. And while they aren't playing at the same level of dominance they were several years ago, the fact remains that they still have an extremely talented roster and were on the cusp of another Super Bowl appearance. What do they need to get over the hump?
Rumblings out of New England are beginning to suggest that the Patriots' offense could look quite differently than it's 2012 version. With both Wes Welker and Julian Edelman set to test the free agency waters, the potential is there for the Patriots to have only one wide receiver on the roster with considerable NFL experience and ability.
The obvious solution here is to re-sign Welker, but the Patriots have been known to err on the side of parting ways too early with a player rather than too late. Edelman might be more affordable from an absolute point of view, but Welker's contract probably would be a better value.
If New England could find room under the cap it would be interesting to see how Dwayne Bowe would work as a Patriot. He'd likely benefit from the strong locker room in New England, and the Patriots could certainly use a player with his size and speed. Their cap situation may force them to keep their search for a wide receiver restricted to the draft.
The Patriots seem to have finally found where Devin McCourty belongs in their defense, and now the goal will be to find who will play along side him. The Patriots are lacking a hard hitting safety to roam the secondary, and having a physical presence like that would greatly improve the defense.
It's a search that has gone on for awhile in New England. But somehow, even with the likes of Brandon Merriweather, Patrick Chung, and Steve Gregory, they still haven't found a player that they're satisfied with. Look for the Patriots to continue that search in 2013.
Right Tackle or Cornerback
The Patriots will likely be franchising either Sebastian Vollmer or Aqib Talib, but due to some cap constraints they may not be able to keep both guys. The subtraction of either one would create a big void.
New York Jets
Where exactly does one begin in discussing the Jets' roster? Not far removed from a pair of deep runs in the playoffs, awful roster management has set this team back to nearly square one. Where should the Jets begin as they attempt to rebuild their roster?
The Jets have a laundry list of issues, but they all start with the quarterback. The organization made a huge mistake in extending Mark Sanchez's contract, then made another blunder when they acquired the controversial Tim Tebow. The position group as a whole is a wreck and it's caused a chain reaction through the rest of the roster.
Jets fans are clamoring for a big name free agent signing that could immediately start over Sanchez. However, his big contract is going to make it difficult to just release Sanchez outright, meaning he'll likely still be a Jet in 2013.
While that's not the news that New York probably wants to hear, it does give the Jets some wiggle room. As opposed to the plan last year of finding a strong back up, the goal for 2013 needs to be to find the starter of the future. If they elect to do that through free agency they certainly could, but the presence of Sanchez gives them a stop gap in the event they look for their future quarterback in the draft.
The good news for the Jets: they have a pretty decent third down back in Bilal Powell. The bad news: yet another draft pick, Shonne Greene, just isn't panning out as a starter. The overall ineffectiveness of Sanchez led to Greene carrying the ball more in 2012 than any other time in his career. Even with all those touches, however, he made little to no impact on a game to game basis. He'll be a free agent and there's not much incentive for the Jets to re-sign him.
There's no reason that Powell should see a drop in playing time. He's a plodder, but surprisingly he's a very good pass blocker and is effective in the passing game overall. But there's no reason to expect that Powell is an every down sort of player.
New York needs to add some explosion and play making ability to the backfield, and the best way to do that is via the draft. Oregon's Kenjon Barner would be a dramatic departure from what the Jets have done recently at running back, but that’s be a good thing.
New York's main focus during the offseason should probably be rebuilding the offense, but the defense still could use some work as well. In particular, outside linebacker is a position that could use an injection of talent.
Neither Calvin Pace nor Bryan Thomas had any production rushing the passer, leaving the young Quinton Coples to shoulder most of that load on his own. The Jets' defense is only going to be as effective as their pass rush is, and they desperately need to bolster that in 2013.
Free agent Dustin Keller has made it pretty clear he won't be returning as a Jet in 2013, and who can blame him? There's not much to speak off behind Keller on the depth chart, and whoever is taking snaps for the Jets next season is going to need someone to throw to.
The Jets do have some pieces in place here, primarily at left tackle and center with D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Weak spots and left guard and right tackle caused problems at bad times last year, and that should be addressed this Summer.