We all have our opinions as to which teams or players got or bad deals; Maybe you loved Mark Ingram to the Ravens, Dee Ford to the 49ers or maybe even Geoff Swaim to the Jags (you sick people!).
But lets go one step further than that, which DIVISION won in Free Agency?
For me, one clear winner.
This in my mind is the unquestionable winner from the Free Agency frenzy;
Cast your minds back 12 months, Bills fans were celebrating the arrivals of Jeremy Kerley and AJ McCarron (*pukes*) and Miami fans were shuddering at Brock Osweiler being their long term solution (I kid, of course). Added on to that, current free agent Isiah Crowell was being signed to the Jets on a 3 year, $12m deal (get well soon Isiah).
At time of reporting, I don’t think that there is any doubt that the AFC are now finally in position where the playing field is shaping towards being a tiny bit more even.
Yes, the Patriots are probably going to still win the AFC East, maybe perhaps for the last time as the chasing pack have applied their Fast and Furious NOS systems and pressed the launch button.
Starting off in New York, the acquisitions of LeVeon Bell, Jamison Crowder on offence and CJ Mosley on defence make them the main protagonists to the Patriots in 2019. The kicker here is the 3rd pick in the 2019 draft too. If they manage to trade down and pick up another few picks inside the first few rounds, this team could make a real push at a division title.
Before we all go rushing to the bookmakers and shoving some hard earned on the currently 100/1 available on them to win the Super Bowl (50s for the AFC is tempting though!), there are scenarios where this goes horribly wrong.
Firstly, LeVeon Bell may be rusty. He’s just taken a year out to release a dodgy rap album and become a pro at riding jet skis. There isn’t one person in the world in any sport that can be off the field and still stay in match fitness, not even Cristiano Ronaldo. You’ll get all the cliche “best shape of his life” quotes from coaches in the offseason about Bell, just take it with a pinch of salt.
Secondly, we have Adam Gase running the ship. I’m not his greatest fan despite his love for flying Tacos and the jury is still out on him in my opinion as to whether he is a good coach or even a good offensive mind in the NFL. Apart from his time with Peyton Manning (where he was OC), what has he accomplished? Probably about as much as Theresa May has with Brexit negotiations. Miami are in a mess after his few years there, and Chicago were hardly perennial playoff visitors. As a head coach, I am yet to see why Gase is held in high regards. Always reports of rifts with players, especially in Miami, what’s to say that he doesn’t get on with Sam Darnold or LeVeon Bell or anyone in New York for that matter?
Talking of Darnold, there is also a case to be made that he may not progress in his second year in the NFL. I am a big fan and he showed flashes last year of what he can do. His love for interceptions may be hard to shake off but now with more pieces around him, a stellar guy in the backfield as a security blanket along with Crowder, you may see Darnold flourish. But there is a slightly bigger than small chance that he maybe not quite there yet. Offences can struggle when new HC come in and implement something new, just ask Matt Ryan and Marcus Mariota.
I still see the Jets as the main contenders and a dark horse in the AFC to play a game in January this year (you heard it here first!), but just don’t buy first class tickets on the hype train just yet…it’s expensive in New York after all.
Moving on to a team which i think are in the top 3 of teams that won in Free Agency, the Buffalo Bills.
The exodus on the offensive line is starting to be repaired, with Mitch Morse coming over from Kansas City who is a former 2nd round pick in the 2015 draft and Ty Nsekhe, a solid tackle from Washington.
Buffalo were awful at running the ball last season (taking away Josh Allen’s scrambles) with only Marcus Murphy averaging over 4 yards per carry (on 52 attempts). So the additions in FA, plus whatever they pick up in the Draft, should see Josh Allen have more time to throw deep bombs to newly acquired John “Smokey” Brown.
Many people will forget how electric John Brown was in Baltimore last season when Joe “Statue” Flacco was quarterbacking for them in the early weeks of the season. Prior to the week 10 bye, Brown had 601 yards on 34 receptions. Compare that to Lamar Jackson time, Brown had 114 yards on 8 receptions. John Brown showed us last season that he can play a full season after seemingly overcoming his sickle cell trait that he had over in Arizona. I think Brown and Allen are a match made in heaven and could help fire this Buffalo offence into scoring points where they were 3rd worst in the league last season (I’ll also happily take John Brown at a discount in draft come August).
Cole Beasley and Tyler Kroft are good supporting cast members too and will slot in nicely to provide a veteran presence alongside Buffalo’s younger pieces of Zay Jones (23), Isiah McKenzie (23) and Robert Foster (24). You would expect at least one of those to step forward to complete this wide receiving core. Whilst collectively they are as old as Countdown viewers average age in the backfield (especially with the addition of Gore), I would expect this to be addressed in the draft this year, if not next.
We move on to Miami finally, and this one could take a little bit longer to boil.
They’ve just said their goodbyes to Ryan Tannehill and shoved him in a suitcase and up Route 75 to Tennessee, leaving 2 schmucks at Quarterback (interesting stat, Rams Punter Johnny Hecker has thrown an NFL ball more times than Luke Faulk and Jake Ruddock. I smell a trade rumour! Just kidding).
The outlook though is not so bleak;
They have a projected $120m in rolled over cap for the 2020 season (pending any subsequent trade moves, which, by the way, I am predicting Colin Kaepernick starts week 1!) and at this moment at LEAST 10 picks in the 2020 draft. The one that apparently has millions of HOF Quarterbacks as we keep hearing over and over (do over with it, already). Chris Grier is putting the work in to fully rebuild this franchise which needs to take a step back before it can take a step forward. Whilst this season may not be pretty for new HC Brian Flores and the Dolphins, the future certainly is looking bright and finally, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for the fans in the South East of America. Kenyan Drake may finally be seen in a positive light (still only 25) and Kalen Ballage/Mike Gesicki are also entering their 2nd seasons. Pair that with 26yr olds Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker (OK, maybe clutching here a bit), it wont actually take much to make this offence watchable when the new QB is installed.
Add all of this together, and all of a sudden, Buffalo and New York don’t seem too far away from a Patriots team that is going to come back to the pack at some point. Miami should be casually late to the party, like the cool kids at school except the part about being cool. Miami are not cool.
Last, but by no means least the Patriots. Whilst they may not have done anything in Free Agency of note, especially with regards to the “IN” door, they are the masters at staying on top and the intrigue of how the other 3 teams have approached this Free Agency automatically means that the Patriots are a winner in Free Agency. Letting go of Trent Brown, Trey Flowers, et al. means they get compensatory picks in next year’s Draft. We all know at how good New England are with getting the most out of their picks and turning them in to seemingly big stars when it’s the system. Whilst they will return to the pack when Brady/Gronk etc retire, they will always be the ones setting the bar in the division and as each year passes, the fascination increases as to whether the moves made by the other teams finally give them the chance to leapfrog New England. The same applies to this year.
When the Patriots do come back to the field a little bit and we say that every year (and we saw signs last regular season that the time is nigh, however), there is more than just one team ready to pounce and one could argue that the next few years, the AFC East could be the most intriguing and that the division as a whole at the very least is now competitive where over the last few years, it’s been the laughing stock of the NFL (even with the Patriots winning it all multiple times over that time period). This Free Agency has done that for the AFC East and therefore, the AFC East is the winner.
Let me know your thoughts and whether or not there is another division that won the Free Agency. Maybe you think the AFC North with the Cleveland stuff? Or perhaps the NFC north with Green Bay strengthen that defence? Would love to hear your thoughts so get in touch with us on THE TWITTER @full10yards or @Tim_Monk85.
We’ll be covering Free agency on our podcast on the 26th March. Don’t miss it!
In the great words of late great Mr Buffalo Bill himself Kevin Cadle, Bye Bye for now… Bye Bye.
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