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NFL free-agency grades for the AFC East after the first weekend

After enduring a losing season for the first time since 2000, the Patriots attacked free agency with a fervor not recently seen from them during the Bill Belichick era.

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With the 2021 NFL offseason now in full swing, the majority of big-name free agents have found homes for the upcoming season. While more signings, trades, draft picks, and potential holdouts appear in the offing, teams have provided the first solid indications of what they expect to look like in 2021.

To gauge where each team is so far this offseason, we’ll take you through each division to see how each team has done in its quest for a championship.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Free agents added/retained

LB Matt Milano
WR Emmanuel Sanders
QB Mitchell Trubisky

Free agents lost

WR John Brown
DL Quinton Jefferson (cut)

Already considered the foremost opposition to the Kansas City Chiefs’ AFC domination, the Buffalo Bills focused on retaining their top pending free agent and otherwise maintaining the status quo. Re-signing linebacker Matt Milano returns a core piece to an improving defense while the moves at wide receiver open up opportunities for a young contributor (Gabriel Davis) and add depth to the group (Emmanual Sanders).

The Bills could still look to bolster a few spots on their roster. Running back could use another piece, especially if Zack Moss recovers from ankle surgery more slowly than expected. The secondary would also benefit from another capable cornerback. But these needs represent small flaws, not Achilles heels that the team has to address.

Grade: B

New England Patriots

Free agents added/retained

QB Cam Newton
C David Andrews
TE Jonnu Smith
TE Hunter Henry
LB Matt Judon
LB Kyle Van Noy
WR Nelson Agholor
WR Kendrick Bourne
OL Ted Karras
DL Davon Godchaux
OT Trent Brown (trade)

Free agents lost

G Joe Thuney
OL Marcus Cannon (trade)

No team anywhere in the NFL dove into free agency’s first wave with as much fervor as the New England Patriots. Armed with an uncommon amount of cap space, the Patriots added two top-of-the-market tight ends (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith), two new starting wideouts (Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne), and one of the market’s better edge rushers (Matt Judon). Those decisions directly address key flaws in the 2020 iteration of the team.

But the Patriots also managed to restock the offensive line. Trent Brown returned to New England in a trade after a two-year sojourn, David Andrews re-signed, and Ted Karras also made his way back to provide depth and competition along the interior. Now, regardless of whether the re-signed Cam Newton or another quarterback becomes the 2021 starter, the protection should no longer give the offense weekly headaches.

Grade: B

Miami Dolphins

Free agents added/retained

WR Will Fuller
QB Jacoby Brissett
CB Justin Coleman
C Matt Skura

Free agents lost

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
DL Davon Godchaux
LB Kyle Van Noy
OL Ted Karras

The first two seasons under Brian Flores has seen the Miami Dolphins transform from one of the absolute worst teams in the league to one with double-digit wins. On paper, the franchise has acquired its long-term answer at quarterback and has numerous high-caliber pieces on defense to challenge even the top offenses.

Accordingly, the Dolphins’ offseason moves reflect a team that expects to reach the playoffs and contend for a title in 2021. Wideout Will Fuller provides a needed vertical element to the passing game and center Matt Skura can hold down the center position until the staff can identify a more permanent solution. Nothing Miami has done will transform the roster, but it has built on a solid foundation during a difficult offseason.

Grade: C+

New York Jets

Free agents added/retained

DE Carl Lawson
DB Lamarcus Joyner
WR Corey Davis
LB Jarrad Davis
OL Dan Feeney

Free agents lost

WR Breshad Perriman
OL Pat Elflein

As expected, the New York Jets made some splashes in free agency. They landed Carl Lawson, a pass rusher underappreciated in his last stop with the Cincinnati Bengals and one that could break out in new head coach Robert Saleh’s defense. Wide receiver Corey Davis hasn’t developed into a No. 1 receiver, but he should pair well with 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims to provide the Jets offense with an athletic tandem out wide.

The rest of the Jets’ moves fill gaps in the roster without investing huge amounts of money or years. Dan Feeney started a lot of games during his time with the Los Angeles Chargers and can fill in at guard or center depending on need. Linebacker Jarrad Davis struggled with the Detroit Lions, but the move away from Matt Patricia’s scheme could resurrect his career.

The Jets have more work left to do, and deciding whether to continue the Sam Darnold experiment or draft a new quarterback will define their offseason. However, their early moves suggest a cohesive plan from New York for the first time in years.

Grade: C+