Analysis

AFC East roster reset: Patriots, Dolphins gunning for Bills; Jets rebuild

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Nick Shook examines the current makeup of the AFC East below.

Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills
2020 record: 13-3

BIGGEST ADDITION: Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver

Old team: New Orleans Saints


Buffalo is Sanders' third new team in less than two calendar years, but don't let that negatively affect your opinion of him. The vet still packs a punch in the passing game, and while he doesn't bring the top-end speed of John Brown (the wideout he's replacing in Buffalo), Sanders' production remains about as consistent as one could expect of a receiver at 34 years old. Sanders will join yet another contending team and should thrive in an offense that also includes Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs, with Josh Allen frequently firing missiles at them. Sanders isn't a game-breaking talent, but he could be precisely what the Bills need to push them a little closer to the Super Bowl.


BIGGEST LOSS: John Brown, wide receiver

New team: Las Vegas Raiders


This departure doesn't leave a glaring void, thanks to the addition of Sanders, and Beasley proved to be a very reliable slot receiver, but the Bills were still at their best when they had Beasley, Brown and Diggs all available. Brown departs with slightly over 1,500 receiving yards in two seasons with the Bills, but his presence as a speed merchant went beyond the numbers.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Cornerback


While the Bills pursued tight end Rob Gronkowski before his quick decision to stay with the Buccaneers, and while Buffalo will probably keep looking for options at that position in the draft, we're going with corner because the team could use a promising youngster to line up opposite Tre'Davious White. Taking a corner in the first round of a draft that has a pretty solid group at the position would make Buffalo's pass defense stronger, which is crucial if the Bills want to take down Kansas City.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


Dawson Knox has been a pleasant occasional contributor for Buffalo, but tight end still isn't a significant position of impact for the Bills, so I expect they'll try to improve that in the draft, just maybe not in the first round. The rest isn't that complicated: Buffalo is a legitimate Super Bowl contender that went ice cold at the worst time in Kansas City this past January, and will get another chance to make a run at a conference title. The Bills need to be a little better defensively, but with another season of the highly productive combination of Josh Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, their arrow remains firmly pointed upward.

Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
2020 record: 10-6

BIGGEST ADDITION: Will Fuller, wide receiver

Old team: Houston Texans


Miami didn't break the bank but did add Fuller on a one-year prove-it deal. When healthy, Fuller can be a weapon in the right offense, and though he'll first have to finish serving his existing suspension (he'll miss Week 1), Fuller can team with DeVante Parker to form a nice little one-two punch with big-play potential for Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins might not be done at the position yet, but a healthy Fuller makes their receiving corps better than it was a year ago.


BIGGEST LOSS: Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback

New team: Washington Football Team


Quit rolling your eyes. If Fitzpatrick wasn't available to be retrieved from the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency case in 2020, Miami likely wouldn't have been in playoff contention heading into the final week of the season. Fitzpatrick brought a spark off the bench and a veteran presence to help Tagovailoa adjust to the pro game. (Not to mention, an exciting element to Miami's offense and an excellent beard.) Dolphins fans hope they don't miss FitzMagic, but his absence might be felt for a while as Miami moves full steam ahead with Tagovailoa.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Pass catcher


We're using this term because the Dolphins could use the sixth overall pick on one of several SEC stars, with two (Alabama receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith) bringing an established rapport with Tagovailoa, and a third (LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase) who sat out of the 2020 season and is still likely to be a top-10 selection. There's also Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, a walking matchup nightmare who some think is the best overall prospect in the entire class. The deal with Fuller is for one year, meaning it shouldn't preclude the Dolphins from spending that initial pick on a new target for Tagovailoa. And if they don't want to add to their pass-catching corps, Miami will likely have at least one of the top two tackles available to choose from, too. Frankly, if I were general manager Chris Grier, that's an approach I'd strongly consider.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


There are still multiple areas that need addressing (edge defender following the departures of Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy), but the Dolphins have shown this offseason that they have a pretty solid understanding of where they're heading for us to trust they'll make wise decisions. If they're trying to surround Tagovailoa with talent, they'll grab a tackle to protect him, unless they really believe in Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt. And they'll add to their receiving corps, which has Parker atop it as the sole proven commodity, while Fuller, Preston Williams and Lynn Bowden still need to show their worth in Miami. This isn't an overnight turnaround, and after making a significant leap in 2020, the Fins just need to continue on that upward trend, which will heavily depend on the play of Tagovailoa, but can be aided by a few smart pickups in the months ahead.

New England Patriots
New England Patriots
2020 record: 7-9

BIGGEST ADDITIONS: Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, tight ends

Old teams: Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans


Though it eventually made plenty of sense for a team with a history of succeeding with a standout tight end duo, the addition of these two was initially a stunner. Not known for spending lavishly on an annual basis, New England broke out the wallet in a big way when it signed Smith, then floored the football world by bringing Henry along, too, snagging the top two tight ends on the open market. What better way to help Cam Newton get the passing offense going than by supplying him with two high-end TEs?


BIGGEST LOSS: Joe Thuney, guard

New team: Kansas City Chiefs


New England welcomed back a couple of familiar faces in Trent Brown and Ted Karras but let Thuney walk a year after franchise-tagging him. It's not a huge departure in terms of the void it will leave -- Mike Onwenu was a versatile rookie revelation on the O-line in 2020 -- but on paper, it's still notable, because of the caliber of player Thuney is. Kansas City's gain is New England's loss, but the Patriots won't lose much sleep over it.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Quarterback


Look, Newton is on the roster again for 2021. That's fine, but as Robert Kraft admitted recently, the Patriots need to solidify the quarterback position for the long haul, and no matter how well Newton plays, it won't be him at the center of their plans for the next decade. The Pats initially appeared perfectly positioned to take a signal-caller like Mac Jones with their pick in the middle of the first round, but thanks to the pre-draft process' annual elevation of certain players, Jones might end up being unattainable at No. 15 overall. No matter -- the Patriots still need to address the position, regardless of player. A trade up might be in order. After this busy offseason, we wouldn't put it past them.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


New England spent like its pockets were on fire at the start of free agency in a clear demonstration that Bill Belichick doesn't like losing, and he certainly won't accept mediocrity for a second straight year. After the Patriots were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with opt-outs, Belichick opened the checkbook to address multiple positions of need. New England is essentially stronger in every area, and if Newton can return to the form he displayed in his first month as a Patriot last season, we might not forget this offseason anytime soon -- especially if New England lands itself a quarterback of the future in the process.

New York Jets
New York Jets
2020 record: 2-14

BIGGEST ADDITION: Corey Davis, wide receiver

Old team: Tennessee Titans


The Jets were rather busy in free agency, committing $75 million to new additions in the first week of the new league year, with Davis accounting for a good chunk of that total. It's a shame Sam Darnold never had a receiver like Davis to work with during his time in New York, but after listing in the seas of nothingness for the last two seasons, GM Joe Douglas demonstrated the Jets will no longer accept the cellar. Signing Davis was a good start and will boost a Jets offense that should be better in 2021.


BIGGEST LOSS: Sam Darnold, quarterback

New team: Carolina Panthers


This parting of ways was inevitable, thanks to the Jets' position at No. 2 overall and anticipated selection of a quarterback to start a new era. Darnold came with plenty of fanfare and an initial tongue-in-cheek expression of gratitude to the Cleveland Browns for passing on him to take Baker Mayfield with the first pick of the 2018 draft. But thanks, in large part, to New York's failure to surround Darnold with adequate talent, his time in the Big Apple went from potentially explosive to a conclusion that amounted to a weak fizzle. Darnold gets a fresh start in Carolina, and though the Jets will have his replacement before the first round of the draft is complete, they'll also have the last three years as a reminder of the time and potential wasted by organizational ineptitude.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Quarterback


Well, we'd be mincing words if we tried to do anything other than point directly at the No. 2 pick and the quarterback class. Most everyone expects New York to take BYU passer Zach Wilson with this pick, officially kicking off a new era under center after Darnold, the 2018 third overall pick, didn't end up panning out. We can debate whether he was given a fair shot until we turn blue (or green from an upset stomach after reviewing New York's last two-plus seasons), but that era is finished. The reset button at the position will come with a fresh injection of promise and thousands of new jerseys available for purchase. Jets fans will hope it works out this time around.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


New York is starting over with Robert Saleh as its coach and a new signal-caller. Even after an expensive free agency period, the Jets need to nail this draft, too, especially considering the additional capital acquired thanks to the Jamal Adams trade. These turnarounds don't happen overnight, but they definitely don't happen at all if the first few roster-turnover periods don't produce key players. The clock isn't yet ticking on the Jets at No. 2 overall, but it is on Douglas.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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