We are getting closer to the offseason and many of us are already wondering how our teams can improve their rosters. Here we will take a look based of need and cap space who each team should go for. We start with the AFC East.
New England Patriots
Needs: Edge Rusher, Linebacker, Cornerback
Notable Free Agents: Danny Shelton, Malcolm Brown, Tre Flowers, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones
Cap Space: $25,263,910 (22nd most)
The Patriots are in a position of weakness almost this offseason. Their Defense has some glaring holes that need to be addressed and little cap space to do it with. They will likely have to go into the offseason with a mindset all too familiar to them. Who can we get cheap to fill the holes on our team?
With multiple key contributors entering free agency, and the odd turmoil this season in the front office, things have the chance to start the decline the Patriots dynasty. But the Patriots always seem to find a way to win with whoever they have. They also do a good job at resurrecting cast away talent. Let’s take a look.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Shane Ray DE/OLB
The Patriots this season had a limited pass rush as it was. They rank 31st overall in sacks per game at 1.7 and have a total of 26 on the season as of Week 16. Trey Flowers alone has accounted for 25% of the Patriots sack total with 6.5. He has also contributed 50 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles in what is somewhat of a breakout year for him. Unfortunately for the Patriots this came in a contract year and made have played him into a larger contract.
— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) December 14, 2018
Since the Patriots only have $25 million in cap space they may not be able to retain Flowers, Here is where they go for edge rusher Shane Ray. Ray was a high level first round talent that dropped down draft boards in 2015 due to character concerns. How fitting for the Patriots to take on a guy with character issues and resurrect his career. Randy Moss or Corey Dillon anybody?
Shane Ray is being pushed out of Denver with the draft of Bradley Chubb, and kudos to them for that. Since Ray has not had much production in his career, its only due to limited opportunity. Ray is very athletic and when played a full 16 games in 2016 he did have 8 sacks.
I mean, I love everything Shane Ray pic.twitter.com/8RyEBm4U6f
— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) April 4, 2017
Ray was a healthy scratch in Week 15 and himself said he felt disrespected. Don’t be surprised if he leaves on a cheap one or two year contract to a team who needs edge help, the Patriots, to get his career back on track.
2) Deone Bucannon ILB
The Patriots employ one of the weakest Linebacker corps in the NFL. Kyle Van Noy is the only note worthy player and he lines up at the SAM Linebacker position. They play Dont’a Hightower at WILL Linebacker and Elandon Roberts at MIKE Linebacker. They could easily use an upgrade at the position and luckily there are some options.
Deone Bucannon is one of the pioneers of Safeties moving to the Linebacker position. In doing this he has played remarkably well. In his 5 years in the NFL he has 399 tackles (309 solo), 26 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 12 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, and 1 Touchdown. Bucannon has shown that his size does not limit him at all and with the Patriots utilizing the Nickel Defense often, he could line up in multiple spots.
Deone Bucannon with a surreal hit. You'll see this a million times in highlights. Wait til you see the slo-mo replay pic.twitter.com/wwJka7t3mN
— fantasyfootballmetrics (@FFMetrics) August 20, 2016
Bucannon is another candidate for a possible one or two year prove it deal. He is only 26 years old and is a seamless fit for the Patriots defense. They would be stupid not to try for him.
3) Jason Verrett CB
The Patriots have three contributing cornerbacks heading to free agency. Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, and Jonathan Jones are all free agents for 2019. Eric Rowe started the season as the number two cornerback but underwhelmed. Jason McCourty has bounced back and forth between safety and cornerback. Jonathan Jones has played well as the third cornerback and may have played his way out of New England with plays like this:
“That’s my football now”, Jonathan Jones my oh my 😱 pic.twitter.com/DI0TtyJZif
— Intermission Sports (@Intermission__) October 21, 2018
Here is where Jason Verrett comes into play. When Jason Verrett came into the league he was a shut down corner. He has only played in 25 games in his career but in those games he has 80 tackles, 5 interceptions and 19 passes defensed. Verrett unfortunately has played over 6 games in a season once in his 4 year career (14 in 2015). In that season though he had 50 tackles and 3 interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Watch this amazing pic from 2016, ripped right from the receivers arms:
Verrett’s injury history is pretty extensive. In 2014 he had a rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder that limited him to just 6 games. In 2016 he had a partial tear in his ACL which limited him the 4 games. In 2017 he had a flare up in the same knee and was thrown straight on IR after the first game of the season. This year he tore his Achilles and missed the entire season. Now those seem like super red flags but with such little cap room for the Pats and the need to add corner depth, why not take a flyer on a former shut down corner for cheap.
New York Jets
Needs: Cornerback, Edge Rusher, Defensive Line
Notable Free Agents: Brandon Copeland, Neville Hewitt, Buster Skrine, Darryl Roberts, Morris Claiborne, and Henry Anderson
Cap Space: $106,832,351 (2nd most)
The Jets are in an interesting position. They have the 2nd most cap space available for 2019 as of right now. The Jets also have a promising young QB in Sam Darnold, a solid Receiver in Robby Anderson, and a trio of solid running backs. The defensive side looks even better. Their Linebacker corps is solid with Avery Williamson and Darron Lee and also have great safeties in Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams who is probably their best palyer.
Unfortunately for the Jets they are still sitting at 4-11 and are possibly going to see another coaching change likely forcing some of their free agents to leave. The challenge for the Jets is going to be convincing top talent that the Jets can be win now with some key additions. Just because you have a lot of cap space does not always mean you will be able to spend it.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Bashaud Breeland CB
Cornerback needs to be a top target for the New York Jets. They have three starting cornerbacks entering unrestricted free agency. Most notably is Morris Claiborne who has had a terrific year. Its plays like this that have him on watch by other teams:
📺: ESPN pic.twitter.com/Gc9TwUiWVE
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2018
With the Jets lack of winning direction, Claiborne may want to go somewhere else where there is a better chance to win. His talent and performance this year should leave him with plenty of suitors. And plenty of suitors have cash.
With Claiborne most likely leaving the Jets will have to dive into the free agency pool to see what they can scrounge up to line up across from Trumaine Johnson. One name they should really push for is Bashaud Breeland. He was left off all teams rosters until midway through the season when he finally signed with the Packers. Breeland is a playmaker as is shown here on his pick 6 off Matt Ryan:
Bashaud Breeland: Reservation for 6
— IKE Packers Podcast (@IKE_Packers) December 9, 2018
Breeland is still only 26 and has been rather productive in his career. In 66 games he has totaled 288 tackles (229 solo), 64 passes defensed, 10 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles and 2 Touchdowns. Breeland’s aggressiveness would be a nice addition across from Trumaine Johnson keeping the Jets secondary a strong unit.
2) Trey Flowers DE
Leonard Williams has already noted that he does not want to play for a new coach on the Jets. If their is a coaching change than he would rather start new on a different team. This now leaves a huge hole on the Defensive Line for the Jets. Williams is probably one of the top 3 defensive players on the team and will be hard to replace. Luckily the Jets have one year to convince Williams to stay as he does not hit free agency until 2020.
Although Williams played a lot of snaps inside, the Jets would love the addition of edge rusher Trey Flowers. As mentioned above Flowers is having himself a breakout season and has put himself in the talks for a large contract.
The Jets run a 3-4 base scheme which means that there is a good chance Flowers will have to play some OLB. He does not have the traditional length of a 3-4 DE so he may have to learn a new position. What he does do well is set the edge and plays the run solid as shown with his 50 tackles with 8 going for a loss. If Flowers can shed a little weight I think he has the motor and tools to play OLB in the Jets 3-4.
3) Bradley Roby CB
As said earlier the Jets could possibly have three starting corners leave the team via free agency. Why not use some of that cap space to upgrade the position. Bradley Roby has had a solid start to his career with he Broncos. What I think we have seen this season though is that he has been exposed against higher level talent.
The Broncos traded Aqib Talib in the last offseason in hopes Roby could slide into his role. Although he has played admirably, he has also been beaten a lot. Not to say he isn’t talented, in his five year career he has 7 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, 60 passes defensed, 3 sacks, and 2 Touchdowns. Roby plays much better covering the second or third option on the team. Here he shows that covering Chad Williams of the Cardinals with beautiful red zone coverage:
Good stuff by Bradley Roby. Receiver is already outside the numbers and takes a speed release.. ppssh.. go ahead and ride him down the sideline.. good job looking THROUGH the receiver and making a play on the ball.. pic.twitter.com/8ClpZ9LNy2
— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) October 19, 2018
With Trumaine Johnson already signed to be the number one corner and if they go get Breeland to be their number two, Roby could join this group and make it fierce. Talk about an opportunistic secondary.
Needs: Cornerback, Edge Rusher, Defensive Tackle
Notable Free Agents: Cameron Waker, William Hayes, Sylvester Williams, and Stephone Anthony
Cap Space: $19,973,542 (26th most)
The Dolphins enter free agency with one of the league’s highest salary situations. Luckily for them they do not have many pending free agents. The core of this team for the most part will stick together. They have a solid LB trio of Kiko Alonso, Jerome Baker, and Raekwon McMillan. They also have a shut down corner in Xavien Howard, a budding corner in Bobby McCain, a safety tandem of Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald. They also have 2nd year run stuffing specialist Davon Godchaux and rookie phenom defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. With a solid defensive core, a few good moves good vault this defense.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Darqueze Dennard CB
One spot on defense that the Dolphins could upgrade is their cornerback position. Cordea Tankersly tore his ACL and was done for the season. He was supposed to come in and play the opposite corner position. Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick have split the duty since. Fitzpatrick should be used like Tyrann Mathieu and play a 3rd safety on the field. With Tankersly still a question mark and McCain moving to the outside, they should look into free agency to fill their slot corner postion.
Darqueze Dennard is having a good season although his numbers may not show it. He has missed three games due to injury. When on the field though he has rated out as an above average coverage man per Pro Football Focus. He would be going into a Division in the AFC East that does not have high quality receivers but does play the likes of Gronk twice a year. Dennard thrives playing in the slot as he plays with great physicality. He can read slant routes and intermediate routes great.
This is a great show from Darqueze Dennard in the slot. Creates contact on the underneath man, drops into the slant range, gets the interception. Subtle move but important pic.twitter.com/fsAxqlgs4f
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 16, 2017
With McCain’s improvement on the outside, Howard’s ability to lock down, and Fitzpatrick able to wander the defensive backfield and read the offense, the Dolphins could have a top notch secondary. Dennard in the slot just makes that group, that much stronger.
2) Lorenzo Alexander OLB/DE
The Dolphins aren’t the youngest when it comes to rushing off the edge. Cameron Wake is 36 years old and Robert Quinn will be 29 next season. Wake himself is a free agent this year and his age started to show in his production. Wake’s sack total dropped by 5 sacks this from 2017. Wake may come cheap at his age but there are better options.
Lorenzo Alexander is no spring chicken himself. He is in his age 35 season, though has still been quite productive. There are people who may win their fantasy championships this season, including our editor @natecheat, because of his week 16 performance. Against the Patriots week 16 he ended with 15 tackles, 1 pass defensed and interception. Watch his relentless motor here as he gets to Tom Brady:
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) October 30, 2018
A backup and depth player for most of his career, he became a starter mainstay when he got to the Bills. In his 9 seasons prior to the Bills he had 311 tackles,12 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 passes defensed. In 3 seasons with Buffalo he has 351 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks, 16 passes defensed, 7 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. Alexander finally got a starting gig and ran with it. He may be 35 but only has 3 year starter legs. That 35 years of age though should help him drop within the Dolphins price range.
3) Cameron Wake DE
As I mentioned above Cameron Wake’s play has dropped off significantly. That’s not to say he still can’t be a situational pass rusher. With Wake and Hayes both free agents, the depth of the DE position becomes a little thin. If the Dolphins can go ahead and add Lorenzo Alexander, wake can be used as a situational threat as opposed to an almost every down role. Thus keeping his legs fresh to do things like this:
Jesse James in isolated pass protection against Cameron Wake: pic.twitter.com/Ogq1FADfcH
— Ethan Young (@EthanYoungFB) October 18, 2016
Retaining Wake would be a win for the Dolphins. His age is a problem only if he is an every down starter. He is still in good enough shape to get at the QB. Let’s see these two old timers get it done for the Dolphins.
Needs: Defensive Tackle, Cornerback, Safety
Notable Free Agents: Lorenzo Alexander, Kyle Williams (retiring), Jordan Phillips
Cap Space: $88, 761,374 (3rd most)
The Bills are in the same boat as the Jets. They are a strong defensive team with a young QB with some promise. Obviously they spend some cash on WR since they literally have none, but this is for defensive and IDP purposes. Luckily the Bills do not have many pending free agents. They could try to retain Alexander but somebody will likely pay a little extra for the 35 year old. The Bills can overpay for better younger talent. Kyle Williams retiring puts a hole in the middle of the defense but their are options to replace him.
With good young linebackers in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano they shouldn’t need to hit on LB. They have a solid starting safety duo in Michah Hyde and Jordan Poyer but did run some 3 safety sets, the third safety should be upgraded. Shaq Lawson should fill the role left by Alexander as he made some strides this season. The other spot is lining up across Tre’Davious White.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Tre Boston Safety
The Bills dabbled a bit this year playing three safeties. Unfortunately for them their third safety was Rafeal Bush. He isn’t a jump out of your seat talent if you know what I mean. Michah Hyde is a ball hawk and Jordan Poyer does it all, adding a third playmaking safety to this group would resemble the 3 headed monster in Houston. I would be talking of Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Reid, and Kareem Jackson.
Tre Boston could be that third safety. He has played very well after taking forever to sign with a team this offseason. Boston now has consecutive seasons of 3 interceptions or more and has shown off some great tackling this season as well.
Tre Boston popped Brandin Cooks. You can hear it. https://t.co/IcSKhjPXuj
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 23, 2018
Boston never shies away from contact and can be that safety that can play in the box, drop in coverage…do it all. He would play that Tyrann Mathieu role and make this Bills defense that much better. Since the Bills have so much cap room they can overspend on a guy like Tre Boston who is still only 26 years old.
2) E.J. Gaines CB
The Bills have a glaring hole across from lockdown corner Tre’Davious White. Taron Johnson is a nice addition to the secondary but he is best suited for the slot. Last year the Bills traded Sammy Watkins and a 6th Round pick to the Rams for E.J. Gaines and a 2nd Round pick at the deadline. Then let Gaines walk the offseason and sign with the browns. Gaines has had the injury bug his entire career but when on the field he is a great cover corner as shown here:
Minkah Fitzpatrick has allowed the lowest NFL passer rating among cornerbacks to see at least 100 snaps in coverage so far this season. pic.twitter.com/AGXWQKqdYJ
— PFF (@PFF) October 29, 2018
E.J. Gaines would not even break the bank for the Bills because he comes with injury concerns. With cap space to spare it is worth a risk trying to nab one of the better coverage corners in free agency. A tandem of Gaines and White, to go along with the strong safety group would make this secondary top notch.
3) Ndamukong Suh DT
The Bills will likely lose two DT’s this offseason. Kyle Williams is retiring and Jordan Phillips has not shown enough to attempt to retain. The Bills will probably use some of their cap to sign a high priority DT. Why not go try Ndamukong Suh.
Suh signed with the Rams in search for a championship caliber team. There is a legitimate possibility that the Rams are that team. If Suh does get a ring, I do not expect him to sign anywhere again for a bargain. I expect him to get paid big in what is likely his last contract. You may no have heard Suh’s name as much this season but he is still producing.
Unfortunately for Suh he plays next to Aaron Donald who actually has a chance to break the single season sack record this season. It is a long shot but possible. Donald has always been a great defender but Suh has made things easier for him. In any season prior to Suh’s arrival Donald never eclipsed 11 sacks (he hit 11 twice). With Suh next to him this year he has 19.5 in 15 games to go along with 24 tackles for a loss.
I don’t think Donald has gotten that much better, he has already won DPOY before, but Suh soaks up so much offensive line attention. Suh himself has 56 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Suh still has life left in him and if on another team he should still have a chance for double digit sack numbers.
There is the rundown of possible free agent targets and needs for each team in the AFC East. Though these are only predictions they do meet the needs of each team and reflect possibility based off cap situation. Next week we will dive into the next division on the list. That would be the AFC South. Tune in again to see where we go from here.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @josephhaggan and @IDPGuys. Also tune into the IDPGuys weekly podcast for info to help you win your leagues. Be ready for this next season as @FFstompy, @Hbogart27 and I start the “No BS Content IDP Podcast”. Remember…the Tooth has the taste for IDP.