Insider: AFC East Offseason Primer
The New York Giants won the Super Bowl and everyone else is desperately trying to figure out how to get to where New York is. We will begin a brief rundown of each team in the NFL and examine where they need to improve. We begin in the AFC East.
New England Patriots
2011 record: 15-4, Lost in Super Bowl XLVI
The Patriots were less than two minutes from winning their fourth Super Bowl in 10 years, but alas they fell short to the Giants yet again. The AFC Champs seem to have more team needs than most Super Bowl participants, but when Tom Brady is your quarterback there’s no team you can’t beat (maybe just the Giants).
Team needs: Deep threat wide receiver, pass rusher, secondary
How do they address these needs? With the age of quarterback Tom Brady (35), immediate fixes are more necessary than longer-term solutions. The Pats window is open but we don’t know for how much longer.
In free agency, the first order of business will be to re-sign Wes Welker. Vincent Jackson makes some sense as he’s a deep ball target as well as Brandon Lloyd and Laurent Robinson. If the Pats are going to stick with a 4-3, Mario Williams will be a target as well as Robert Mathis. Don’t discount a potential trade for Dwight Freeney. Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr could be potential targets as well.
New York Jets
2011 record: 8-8
Considering Rex Ryan’s offseason Super Bowl proclamations, the Jets were more bark than bite in 2011. Mark Sanchez regressed, the locker room was fractured and the Jets were nothing more than a mediocre team with one spectacular cornerback.
Team needs: Chemistry, offensive playmakers, safety, interior line, pass rusher
If the Jets are going to be anything more than mediocre quarterback Mark Sanchez needs to play better. Sanchez isn’t their only issue as the offensive line hasn’t been as good as in the past two seasons, the running back position has been subpar and they gave up too many big plays in the passing game.
How do they address these needs? There likely isn’t enough available fixes in free agency to make the Jets an elite team if Sanchez doesn’t improve considerably. They will likely try to get younger at running back and they’ll likely try to find a starting safety in free agency. Dashon Goldson, Michael Griffin and Dwight Lowery could all be targets.
2011 record: 6-10
The Dolphins 2011 season was seemingly over before it began as they flirted with replacing head coach Tony Sparano and quarterback Chad Henne prior to the season and the distractions led to an 0-7 record. Although Miami went 6-3 down the stretch, they were still missing the key playmakers most playoff teams possess.
Team needs: Quarterback, between the tackles running back, number two wide receiver, tight end.
The Dolphins have to decide where they want to go at quarterback, whether it be trading up for Robert Griffin, III, selecting another signal caller or exploring the possibility of Peyton Manning. With solid quarterback play, this is a roster than can contend in the AFC with a few tweaks.
How do they address these needs? Miami becomes immediately relevant in the AFC with Peyton Manning on the roster. Although he’s not a long-term fix they can win back part of a lost fanbase with some immediate success that Manning will bring.
Aside from Peyton Manning, the Dolphins will need to improve at wide receiver, whether it be through the draft or free agency. Possible free agent targets such as Vincent Jackson, Steve Johnson and Reggie Wayne are in play, as well as Jermichael Finley and Scott Chandler.
If running back Trent Richardson falls to Miami in the draft, the Dolphins might find their playmaking back.
2011 record: 6-10
Buffalo was the toast of the town in September and early October, but when the cold weather hit the Bills went frigid. Buffalo lost eight of their last nine games as they were terrorized by injuries and poor play.
Team needs: Pass rusher, offensive line, secondary
The Bills finished 30th in the NFL in scoring defense and that needs to be rectified. Buffalo is way too mediocre on the defensive side of the ball and there are only a few pieces that can be considered legitimate building blocks.
How do they address these needs? The Bills are more than one or two players away so they’d likely be better off building through the draft. If they dabble in free agency, standout defensive ends such as Mario Williams and Cliff Avril could be targets assuming the money doesn’t get outrageous. Look for Buffalo to take the best available offensive lineman or defensive player early and often in the draft.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlieInsider: AFC East Offseason Primer by Sports Talk Florida