Posted by: mdegeorge | August 11, 2011

NFL Free Agency Diagnosis: AFC East

The 2011 NFL season has come courtesy of an unprecedented time in the league’s history. Essentially two offseasons worth of transactions have been jammed into around two weeks to completely reshape the entire league in the blink of an offseason eye. Most of what you thought you knew about a team can be thrown out, with some teams having close to 40 percent of their rosters overhauled instantly.

Let’s try and bring some order to this mess, since the pressure is going to ratchet up starting Thursday when the first round of preseason games kicks off and the hot stove might cool a bit. Below are the lists of departures and arrivals for each of the 32 NFL teams and just what they mean for teams.

We’ll starting looking at the AFC in the East.

Plaxico Burress will be walking to the other side of the Meadowlands with the Jets this year. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Buffalo Bills

Signed: LB Nick Barnett, TE Scott Chandler, CB Drayton Florence, WR Brad Smith, QB Taylor Thigpen

Lost: LB Paul Posluszny, S Donte Whitner

Diagnosis: It was a quiet – some might say frozen – summer in Buffalo. They replace one injury-prone linebacker in Posluszny with another in Barnett. They travel within the division to pick up Thigpen as a backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Smith as an offensive weapon. The league’s third-best pass defense last season (shocking, I know) loses Whitner but retains Florence to form a dynamic corner duo with Terrence McGee. The plan in Buffalo is to take baby steps, especially offensively, where only one draft pick – fifth-round running back Johnny White – was used on a skill position. They bolstered the defense with young talent like Marcell Dareus, but it’s a multi-year process in Orchard Park that will include another season of struggles in 2011.

Miami Dolphins

Signed: LB Kevin Burnett, OT Marc Colombo, DT Ronald Fields, OT Nate Garner, DE Tony McDaniel, QB Matt Moore, LB Jason Taylor, DT Craig Terrill, LB Jason Trusnik, G Ray Willis, QB Kevin O’Connell, RB Reggie Bush

Lost: RB Ronnie Brown, QB Taylor Thigpen, RB Ricky Williams, LB Channing Crowder

Diagnosis: The Dolphins are taking a gamble offensively by replacing their two top rushers of a year ago, Brown and Williams, with Bush, who’s never carried the ball more than 160 times in any of his five pro seasons, and rookie second-rounder Daniel Thomas. The bar is set pretty low – Williams and Brown barely combined for 100 yards a game last season – but with game manager Chad Henne unlikely to carry the Dolphins through the air very often, the running game takes on a greater significance in. At least Miami has a revamped offensive line, with rookie center Mike Pouncey and new tackle Colombo. The release and subsequent retirement of Crowder changes things at linebacker for Tony Sparano’s 3-4 defense. Burnett will likely be expected to captain things, while Taylor returns for a third stint in teal to provide depth and pass rush on the outside.

New England Patriots

Signed: DE Mark Anderson, RB Kevin Faulk, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, OT Matt Light, G Logan Mankins, S Brandon McGowan, RB Sammy Morris, C Chris Morris, LB Tracy White, DE Shaun Ellis, DE Andre Carter, WR Chad Ochocinco, DT Albert Haynesworth

Lost: K Shayne Graham, S Jarrad Page, DT Ty Warren, TE Alge Crumpler, OT Nick Kaczur, LB Tully Banta-Cain, DT Marcus Stroud

Diagnosis: The fact that the Patriots allowed the third-most passing yards last season – especially in a division not known for its ability to stretch the field – was a sign a house-cleaning was on the way. Out go newly-acquired Stroud with Banta-Cain and Warren. They add pass-rushing depth with long-time Jet Ellis, Carter and Anderson, while gambling on the troubled yet talented Haynesworth to fill the middle in Warren’s stead. Offensively, Kaczur is the casualty on the line, while Light and Mankins remain and first-rounder Nate Solder appears to be the long-term solution at tackle. They strengthen the passing game by bringing in Ochocinco essentially to replace the deep threat posed by Randy Moss before last season. And the name of the running game is bodies, with Morris, Green-Ellis and Faulk joining Danny Woodhead, second-rounder Shane Vereen and third-rounder Stevan Ridley.

New York Jets

Signed: WR Plaxico Burress, CB Antonio Cromartie , K Nick Folk, WR Santonio Holmes, OT Wayne Hunter, WR Derrick Mason, S Brodney Pool, S Eric Smith, CB Donald Strickland, OT Robert Turner

Lost: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, WR Brad Smith, LB Jason Taylor, P Steve Weatherford, DE Shaun Ellis, WR Jerricho Cotchery, LB David Harris

Diagnosis: It’s like the Jets have become the home for wayward wideouts. In that vein, they roll the dice on Burress, perhaps more as a shot at that team they share a stadium with, and opt for the troubled Holmes over the troubled Edwards. The overhaul is completed with the release of Cotchery and decision to let Smith walk to Buffalo, replaced by Mason, who doesn’t have character issues oddly enough. The moves give quarterback Mark Sanchez plenty of weapons and few excuses. The Jets weather a gut-punch with Ellis’ defection to New England, but one of the league’s top five defenses last season will rely on its draft-day investments in first-round end Muhammad Wilkerson and third-round tackle Kenrick Ellis. While they missed out on Nnamdi Asomugha, they retain Cromartie and Strickland in a very formidable secondary. It’s concerning that they elect to turn over the punting duties in the swirling winds of the Meadowlands to rookie T.J. Conley after Weatherford’s jump to that other New York team.

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