What a rocky road it was in AFC East. The 2013 season had highs, lows and all the drama fans love to eat up.
The New England Patriots continued their dominance, winning yet another division title. In upstate New York, the Buffalo Bills showed a lot of moxie while sporting a first time head coach and rookie quarterback. The Dolphins seemed poised to take the reins from a seemingly weaker Patriots team, only to be enshroud in controversy. And of course the bombastic New York Jets were, well, bombastic.
With the Scouting Combine wrapping here is a breakdown of each team heading into the offseason.
1.) New England Patriots: 12-4
- Salary Cap Space: $12.6 million
The Pats were tops in the division again with a lackluster roster to say the least. This offseason key players LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman, Ryan Wendell, Brandon Spikes, and Aqib Talib are all set to become free agents.
The Pats have limited cap space and they’re still on the books for Aaron Hernandez’s contract despite his imprisonment. Last year’s “big” addition of Danny Ammendola could work against the team as well. He signed a five-year, $31 million contract and managed only 54 receptions for 633 yards and two touchdowns compared to Edelman’s 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six scores on a one-year deal.
“Playing for New England is a dream,” Edelman said during Super Bowl week to WBZ-FM in Boston. “But like you said there’s a short window in this sport. I don’t know yet. There’s a lot of things that can happen going forward that could sway that one way or another. Hopefully, it all works out in favor for both.”
2.) New York Jets: 8-8
- Salary Cap Space: $26.7 million
Believe it or not the Jets were actually second in the division last season. Rex Ryan, should have been NFL Coach of the Year considering the pressure from a new front office, an injury and talent depleted offense, and the pressure of past success and New York City media on him. Ryan managed the team true to his colors: run the ball and stop the run. They were sixth and third overall, respectively.
Heading into the offseason, they seem to be in good position. The only players to worry about amongst their own free agents are Willie Colon, Nick Folk, Ed Reed, and Calvin Pace their top priorities.
Gang Green enters 2014 armed with four picks in the first three rounds of this year’s draft and are still developing last year’s top picks Dee Milliner, first-round, and Geno Smith, second-round. Fellow 2013 first-round pick Sheldon Richardson was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
3.) Miami Dolphins: 8-8
- Salary Cap Space: $39.1 million
For everything the team went through in the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal, the record isn’t too bad. A result of the scandal was the firing of GM Jeff Ireland, elating Dolphins fans everywhere. New in charge is Dennis Hickey, who had worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers front office the past 18 years. Together with coach Joe Philbin the two will work toward continuing their revolt against New England atop the division.
The ‘Phins are in one of the best financial positions heading into the offseason and much like last year, owner Stephen Ross is ready to spend. Firstly, they’ll need to take care of their own players chiefly Pro Bowler Brent Grimes, Chris Clemons, and Paul Soliai.
A hard place to fix will be the offensive line. Incognito has been gone since the scandal broke last season, he won’t be back. If Martin will or not, is another question. NFL Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Martin’s agent, Kenny Zuckerman, said his client will meet with Dolphins’ brass at the Combine this week.
Adding, “Jon called me on Wednesday, said he ‘can’t wait to play again. I’ll play anywhere for anyone’”.
Also up for free agency is guard John Jerry, who was noted in The Ted Wells report as one of Martin’s teammates who added to the locker room combustion. Tackles Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo could walk too. Worst case scenario: Miami sports one offensive line starter from last season, center Mike Pouncey.
4.) Buffalo Bills: 6-10
- 2014 Salary Cap: $25.6 million
Head coach Doug Marrone made good strides in 2013 and proved to have a roster who believed in him and the ability to win. Youngsters EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Kiko Alonso showed great ability and could develop to have breakout sophomore seasons.
A plus for the Bills is they have only a few players who are set to hit the market. However, most of them are either starters are pivotal role players — Scott Chandler, Arthur Moats, Jairus Byrd, and Jim Leonhard.
So far this offseason, they’ve already lost defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who left to take the Cleveland Browns head coaching job. Yet they added former-Lions coach and Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to run their defense.
“This league is all about what you put on tape and those guys have all put some pretty good things on tape,” Schwartz said of the defense in his introduction press conference. “I am excited about the corners also. (Stephon) Gilmore, (Leodis) McKelvin, and Aaron Williams at safety. There are a lot of guys that I thought an awful lot of when they came out of college. I was very disappointed when we did not have the opportunity to coach them, but now I do.”
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