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AFC East Offseason Grades: Patriots Progress or Plummet?

Which AFC East team made the biggest waves this offseason? Fan Nation publishers analyze and provide their offseason report card.

FOXBORO — Following their 7-9 finish to the 2020 NFL Season, the New England Patriots entered the 2021 season with a clear intent to return to their winning ways.

With rookie Mac Jones as their starting quarterback, the Patriots began the season 2–4. However, they won eight of their next 11 games and finished with a 10–7 record to secure a wild card berth. In their first wild card appearance under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots were defeated 47-17 by their division-rival Buffalo Bills.

With a re-imagined offensive coaching staff, some key veteran additions via free agency, and a rookie class which features a controversial first round draft choice, the New England Patriots are looking to improve upon their performance in 2021.

However, the Patriots were far from the only team in the AFC East making notable improvements.

With training camps set to begin throughout the league, Fan Nation publishers collaborated to grade the offseason for each team in the division.

Who made the biggest improvements? Who still needs the most help? Find out below:


via Nick Fierro, Bills Central

Key additions: Von Miller, DE (FA); Shaq Lawson, DE (FA); Jordan Phillips, DT (FA); DaQuan Jones, DT (FA); Tim Settle, DT (FA); Ike Boettger, G (re-signed); Greg Mancz, G (FA); Kaiir Elam, CB (draft); Christian Benford, CB (draft); Rodger Saffold, G (FA); Ryan Bates, G (re-signed); Terrel Bernard, LB (draft); Baylon Spector, LB (draft); Matt Araiza, P (draft); Case Keenum, QB (trade); James Cook, RB (draft); Duke Johnson, RB (FA); Taiwan Jones, RB (re-signed); David Quessenberry, T (FA); O.J. Howard, TE (FA); Tavon Austin, WR (FA); Jamison Crowder, WR (FA); Khalil Shakir, WR (draft)

Key losses: Levi Wallace, CB (FA); Star Lotulelei, DT (released); Mario Addison, DE (FA), Jerry Hughes, DE (FA); Emmanuel Sanders, WR (FA); Cole Beasley, WR (released); Daryl Williams, OL (released); Jon Feliciano, G (released); Mitchell Trubisky, QB (FA); Efe Obada, DE (FA); Vernon Butler, DT (FA); Harrison Phillips, DT (FA); A.J. Klein, LB (released)

Offseason grade: B+. For a team that’s advanced in the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, the Bills have had quite a significant amount of roster turnover this year, but almost all of it has been for the better. They added the top pass rusher on the free-agent market in Miller, bolstered both lines with other key free-agent additions such as Saffold, Phillips, Settle and Lawson, replaced backup QB Mitchell Trubisky with someone even more accomplished in Keenum and drafted Elam in the first round. They also drafted Cook, who should help in the passing game and added Crowder and Austin. GM Brandon Beane did this all by staying under the salary cap, too.

Biggest question: What’s happening at cornerback? Tre’Davious White had surgery to fix a ruptured ACL in December, and remains out indefinitely. Their other starter on the outside, Wallace, was allowed to depart in free agency. The Bills responded by drafting two corners in Elam and Benford but not adding any veterans. As long as White is out of the picture, they will need Dane Jackson and probably Elam to step into a defense that was ranked No. 1 in scoring and yards last season and prove they belong. 

Fantasy fact: Allen has finished as the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy points in each of the past two seasons. Can he do it for a third consecutive year? Well, only two other quarterbacks have accomplished the feat in the Super Bowl era. Steve Young finished first in 1992, 1993 and 1994, and Brett Favre finished first in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Can Allen join the list? — Michael Fabiano, Sports Illustrated


— via Richie Whitt, Patriots Country

Key additions: Cole Strange, OL (draft); Tyquan Thornton, WR (draft); James White, RB (re-signed); Mack Wilson, LB (trade); Malcolm Butler, CB (FA); Jakobi Meyers, WR (re-signed); Devin McCourty, S (re-signed); Ty Montgomery, WR (FA); Nick Folk, K (re-signed); Trent Brown, OL (re-signed); DeVante Parker, WR (trade); Jabrill Peppers, S (FA); Lil’Jordan Humphrey, WR (FA).

Key losses: Kyle Van Noy, LB (FA); Shaq Mason, OL (trade); Chase Winovich, DE (trade); J.C. Jackson, CB (FA); Gunner Olszewski, ST (FA); Ted Karras, OL (FA); Don’t’a Hightower, LB (FA)

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Offseason grade: C- Coming off a disappointing season in which a 9-4 start deteriorated into an embarrassing 30-point playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots responded by making no drastic moves in the offseason. Defensively, New England lost a Pro Bowl playmaker in Jackson and moved to replace him with Butler and Texans’ free agent Mitchell. While most thought Bill Belichick would look to improve a sagging linebacker corps, he merely acquired Browns’ castoff Mack Wilson and, surprisingly, didn’t address the position in 10 draft choices. On offense, the Patriots filled the void left by Mason and Karras by reaching in the first round for Strange and then curiously using picks on two of their deepest positions: quarterback and running back. The departure of long-time offensive play caller Josh McDaniels to the Las Vegas Raiders left the immediate future of second-year quarterback Mack Jones in the unproven hands of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia.

Biggest question: Who is the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver? They traded for Parker, but in an AFC East that boasts Tyreek Hill (Dolphins), Stefon Diggs (Bills) and Garrett Wilson (Jets), can veterans Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry and Nelson Agholor, or rookie speedster Thornton step up? 

Fantasy fact: Damien Harris had 15 touchdowns and finished with 210.1 fantasy points last season. The only Patriots back to score more touchdowns in a single season in the last 20 years is LeGarrette Blount (18 touchdowns in 2016). Only James White (2018), Corey Dillon (2004) and Blount have scored more points than Harris for New England in that time. — Fabiano


via Alain Poupart, All Dolphins

Key additions: WR Tyreek Hill (trade); T Terron Armstead (FA); WR Cedrick Wilson Jr. (FA); C/G Connor Williams (FA); RB Chase Edmonds (FA); RB Raheem Mostert (FA); RB Sony Michel (FA); QB Teddy Bridgewater (FA); DE Emmanuel Ogbah (FA/re-signed); TE Mike Gesicki (FA/re-signed)

Key losses: WR DeVante Parker (trade); RB Duke Johnson (FA); QB Jacoby Brissett (FA); G/T Jesse Davis (released)

Offseason grade: A Considering the Dolphins were able to upgrade practically everywhere on offense and keep intact a pretty good defense, it’s difficult to pick at anything they did in the offseason. The acquisitions of Hill and Armstead were the headline grabbers, for sure, but Bridgewater is a significant upgrade over Brissett as the backup quarterback. The trio of Mostert, Edmonds and Michel is more dynamic than what the Dolphins had last year, and Wilson complements the addition of Hill. On defense, the Dolphins were able to retain a long list of pending free agents headed by Ogbah but also featuring Elandon Roberts, Duke Riley and Brennan Scarlett, among others. It’s hard to find fault with the overall body of work for a team that was one game out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons.

Biggest question: Can Tua Tagovailoa become a franchise quarterback? The fifth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft enters a crossroads season, but has been given all the support he needs to take a major step forward in 2022. It won’t be until the regular season that the Dolphins will get the answer to their most important question, but training camp certainly could help set the stage for Tagovailoa to have a successful third NFL season. 

Fantasy fact: The Dolphins acquired Hill this offseason in a blockbuster deal. In his last three full seasons in Kansas City, he scored at least 296.5 fantasy points and was over 300 points twice. Since 2002, the Dolphins have had just one wideout (Jarvis Landry, 2015) score more than 265 fantasy points in a single season. That’s a pretty bad trend for Hill. — Fabiano


via Max Goodman, Jets Country

Key additions: Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner, CB (draft); Garrett Wilson, WR (draft); C.J. Uzomah, TE (FA); D.J. Reed, CB (FA); Breece Hall, RB (draft); Tyler Conklin, TE (FA); Laken Tomlinson, OG (FA); Jordan Whitehead, S (FA); Jermaine Johnson, EDGE (draft); Braxton Berrios, WR (FA)

Key losses: Marcus Maye, S (FA); Jamison Crowder, WR (FA); Morgan Moses, OT (FA); Folorunso Fatukasi, DT (FA)

Offseason grade: A- The Jets made significant improvements on both sides of the ball this offseason, bolstering position groups that needed to be addressed. Their secondary is much stronger, New York's deep pass rush is even deeper and on offense, second-year quarterback Zach Wilson is surrounded by plenty of weapons. He'll have a real opportunity to show what he's capable of and build on his rookie year, utilizing the playmakers around him. New York might not be ready to end their postseason drought—the longest in the NFL—but they certainly will enter next season with a better team, a club that added a mix of young talent and experienced veterans over the last few months.

Biggest question: With so many new faces playing an important role, will this group put it together between the lines? Even with that spectacular grade, this roster is littered with question marks leading up to the regular season. Specifically, will Mekhi Becton stay healthy and produce at offensive tackle? What will Carl Lawson's first season with New York look like after last year's Achilles injury? And most importantly, can Zach Wilson take a step forward as a sophomore? If he can't, New York is in trouble. 

Fantasy fact: Over the last 20 seasons, NFL tight ends have scored 200-plus fantasy points 65 times. None of those tight ends played for the Jets. In fact, New York has never had a player at the position score more than 174.5 points in a single season. That was Dustin Keller (2011). He and Johnny Mitchell (1994) are the lone Jets tight ends with 150-plus points. — Fabiano