Free-agency grades for Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Patriots
PFF has graded every deal during the 2016 free-agency period as contract terms have become known, and now we are assigning grades to all 32 teams for the work they’ve done — taking into account signings, re-signings, trades and departures.
This version looks at grades for the four AFC East teams:
(Editor’s note: We will adjust grades and analysis as needed based on updated news.)
Key additions: None
Key retentions: G Richie Incognito, T Cordy Glenn
Key losses: DE Mario Williams, CB Leodis McKelvin, LB Nigel Bradham, WR Chris Hogan
The Bills entered free agency without the requisite cap space to really make a splash with any signings, and none of the players that they have lost could really be deemed crucial to the franchise. Keeping the left side of their offensive line together was the most important task facing general manager Doug Whaley, and while it took franchising Cordy Glenn and re-signing Richie Incognito to achieve that, the Bills at least have one side of the line as a strength.
The defensive departures for the Bills are unlikely to be damaging or difficult to replace. Mario Williams was one of the worst edge defenders in the league last season, ranking dead-last in pass-rush grade, and his release freed up the cap space to keep Glenn and Incognito. The one concern for Bills fans is what the Patriots could turn Chris Hogan into, rather than the player he was for the Bills. Hogan never earned a positive grade for the Bills in three seasons and averaged a mere three yards after the catch for Buffalo this season. The Bills’ hands may have been tied in being able to match the Patriots’ offer sheet, but they should be able to replace Hogan within their offense.
Key additions: CB Byron Maxwell, DE Mario Williams, LB Kiko Alonso, OT Jermon Bushrod, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, DE Andre Branch
Key retentions: QB Matt Moore
Key losses: DE Olivier Vernon, CB Brent Grimes, RB Lamar Miller, DE Derrick Shelby, CB Brice McCain, WR Rishard Matthews, DE Quinton Coples
The Dolphins are praying for bounce-back seasons from their new acquisitions this season after bidding farewell to some free agents who went for big bucks elsewhere. Their top three acquisitions (two via trade) all had underwhelming 2015 seasons, with Maxwell a free-agent bust for the Eagles and now three years removed from his best season as a Seahawk. Each of Maxwell, Mario Williams and Kiko Alonso have proven to be excellent contributors in the passing game in the past, but the Dolphins are praying for big rebounds compared to their recent performances to counter their free-agent losses.
Hefty contracts already on the payroll tied the Dolphins hands from being able to seriously compete to retain the likes of Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby at defensive end, while running back Lamar Miller always seemed to be headed for the exit door. Vernon’s late-season explosion pushed his price tag beyond what the Dolphins could afford to retain, but losing an ascending young player like Shelby and replacing him with a declining veteran like Williams is a tough exchange. They did at least swap age for youth at cornerback, but can Maxwell re-discover his form as a Seahawk to make the exchange for Grimes a worthwhile one?
New England Patriots
Key additions: TE Martellus Bennett, WR Chris Hogan, DE Chris Long, LB Shea McClellin, OG Jonathan Cooper, RB Donald Brown, OT LaAdrian Waddle
Key retentions: S/ST Nate Ebner
Key losses: DE Chandler Jones, DT Sealver Siliga, S Tavon Wilson, DT Akiem Hicks, LB Jerod Mayo (Retired)
The decision to trade Jones, one of the team’s best pass-rushers, is a head-scratcher at first, as being able to replace his production is no guarantee. But the Patriots clearly have faith in Jabaal Sheard’s impressive performance from 2015 translating to a more full-time role, as well as the ability of Trey Flowers to contribute in his second season. The Patriots also get compensation two years earlier than they would have if Jones had left as a free agent after this season, as seems likely with Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins impending free agents next year.
On the offensive side it is the acquisition of tight end Martellus Bennett (also by trade) that has the biggest potential to re-define the Patriots this season. From 2010 to 2012 the Patriots ran a lot of two-tight-end sets with the diverse skill sets of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, leading to many matchup problems for opposing defenses. Granted, Bennett’s skill set is not a match for Hernandez’s, but at his best Bennett is one of the league’s top tight ends after the catch (48 missed tackles forced from 2013 to 2014), and pairing him with Gronkowski creates a physical duo that teams will struggle to keep up with.
New York Jets
Key additions: RB Matt Forte, NT Steve McLendon, RB Khiry Robinson, TE, Kellen Davis, DT Jarvis Jenkins
Key retentions: RB Bilal Powell
Key losses: LB Demario Davis, NT Damon Harrison, RB Chris Ivory, S Antonio Allen
The Jets have gotten worse at nose tackle and arguably at running back this offseason, but by choosing not to overpay for two run-game specialists, they may have made smart decisions based on their cap situation. Seeing Damon Harrison move “across” New York to the Giants will sting, but in McLendon they have added a nose tackle who impressed in limited playing time over the last few seasons for the Steelers. Similarly, at running back, none of Matt Forte, Bilal Powell or Khiry Robinson can hold a candle to Chris Ivory’s ability as a runner, but the combination of their skills, particularly Powell’s and Robinson’s, may yet see the Jets in a better position at running back this season without overpaying for a power runner.
Ultimately what will decide the quality of the Jets’ offseason is what they do at the quarterback position. The Jets have stared down Ryan Fitzpatrick and refused to overpay him, just as every other team has done so far. Fitzpatrick’s high points are well worth retaining, and wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been petitioning the Jets to bring Fitzpatrick back; how long can the Jets wait for his price point to drop before the lack of other options (Brandon Weeden? Tarvaris Jackson? Robert Griffin III? Jimmy Clausen? Bryce Petty?) force their hand?
More free-agency grades by division:
– NFC East
– AFC West
– NFC West