With the major phase of free agency and the 2020 draft behind us, it's a good time to revisit every team's roster and see where everybody stands.
When it comes to the linebacker position, the Miami Dolphins made some moves in the offseason that not only strengthened them but weakened the New England Patriots at the same time.
The Dolphins signed free agents Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts as free agents, and both should play key roles in 2020. On the flip side, the Patriots lost not only those two but Jamie Collins as well.
The Bills signed former Saints starter A.J. Klein, but lost veteran Lorenzo Alexander to retirement. The Jets, meanwhile, just want for two key 2019 free agent acquisitions to get healthy.
Let's examine each team's situation before we proceed with our AFC East ranking of the linebacker position.
On the roster: Mike Bell, Tyrel Dodson, Tremaine Edmunds, Vosean Joseph, A.J. Klein, Tyler Matakevich, Matt Milano, Del'Shawn Phillips, Corey Thompson
Key offseason moves: Signed A.J. Klein n as an unrestricted free agent (NO) ... signed Tyler Matakevich as a UFA (PIT) ... Lorenzo Alexander retired
Projected opening-day starters: Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, A.J. Klein
Outlook: The Bills started in a nickel alignment more often than not in 2019 and Edmunds and Milano were the two main starters. Edmunds, the son of former Dolphins tight end Ferrell Edmunds, is a budding star and Milano is among the most underrated defensive players in the AFC. Former Saints starter A.J. Klein was brought over in free agency and will provide quality depth.
On the roster: Jerome Baker, Vince Biegel, James Crawford, Sam Eguavoen, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Trent Harris, Kylan Johnson, Raekwon McMillan, Calvin Munson, Elandon Roberts, Andrew Van Ginkel, Kyle Van Noy
Key offseason moves: Signed Kyle Van Noy as an unrestricted free agent (NE) ... signed DE Elandon Roberts as a UFA (NE) ...signed Kamu Grugier-Hill as a UFA (Philadelphia) ... re-signed Vince Biegel as a restricted free agent
Projected opening-day starters: Kyle Van Noy, Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts
Outlook: Projected opening-day starters at linebacker for the Dolphins is complicated they're line up in 3-4 and 4-3 alignments at different times. We earlier listed Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah as projected starters on the defensive line, but it's entirely that either or both will line up as an edge rusher (technically an OLB) in a 3-4 look. In any event, the addition of Van Noy could be key for the defense in 2020 because he's a versatile defender coming off a really good season for the Patriots and he's got the look of somebody who'll become a leader very quickly on this unit. Andrew Van Ginkel is another player to watch after he closed out last season strong. It's also going to be interesting to see whether Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan can take another step forward.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
On the roster: Ja'Whaun Bentley, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland, Terez Hall, De'Jon Harris, Dont'a Hightower, Anfernee Jennings, Brandon King, Cassh Maluia, Kyahva Tezino, Josh Uche
Key offseason moves: Signed Brandon Copeland as a UFA (NYJ) ... re-signed Shilique Calhoun as a UFA ... lost Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy as unrestricted free agents ... selected Josh Uche in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft ... selected Anfernee Jennings in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft
Projected opening-day starters: Dont'a Hightower, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich
Outlook: When folks talk about a potential decline for the Patriots, it's Tom Brady that's mentioned first and foremost. But don't downplay the impact of losing so much talent at linebacker. Van Noy and Collins clearly were impact players for the Patriots. Dont'a Hightower is the lone starter remaining from the 2019 group, though the Patriots are counting on second-day picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings to make a quick impact.
NEW YORK JETS
On the roster: Tarell Basham, B.J. Bello, James Burgess, Blake Cashman, Ahmad Gooden, Neville Hewitt, Jordan Jenkins, Harvey Langl, Frankie Luvu, C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Avery Williamson
Key offseason moves: Signed Patrick Onwuasor as a UFA (BALT) ... re-signed Neville Hewitt as an unrestricted free agent ... re-signed Jordan Jenkins as a UFA ... lost Brandon Copeland as an unrestricted free agent
Projected opening-day starters: C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson, Jordan Jenkins, Neville Hewitt
Outlook: The Jets were counting on their linebackers to lead the defense last season after signing C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson as free agents, but Williamson tore an ACL in a preseason game and Mosley was limited to two games because of a groin injury. Their ability to bounce back and deliver will determined how effective the Jets linebacking corps can be. There is talent here, particularly after the Jets were able to re-sign Jordan Jenkins, who has 15 sacks over the past two seasons.
As was the case with the defensive line, this isn't totally an apples-to-apples comparison because the Bills use a 4-3 alignment for the most part (or 4-2-5), while the other three teams often use only three linemen.
That said, New England was the standard at linebacker for many years, but they're going to have a hard time replacing the kind of production they got from Van Noy and Collins.
This is starting to read familiar as we go through these AFC East rankings, but the best group just might reside in Buffalo, though the Jets have a lot of potential here if Mosley and Williamson come back to full form.
The call: 1. Buffalo; 2. N.Y. Jets; 3. Miami; 4. New England
Don't agree with the ranking? Feel free to post a comment.
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.