The AFC East saw a seismic shift of power occur in 2020. After a two-decade reign with Tom Brady under center, the Patriots endured their worst season in recent memory after their franchise icon left last offseason for the Buccaneers. That opened the window for the rest of the division to grab ahold of this opportunity and run with it, which both the Bills and Dolphins did with varying degrees of success. Miami pushed for the postseason and showed that the Dolphins were a team on the rise while Buffalo showed the Bills are ready to contend in the here and now, winning the AFC East for the first time since 1995 and reaching the AFC title game.
That now sets the stage for what could end up being a rather significant offseason as it relates to the future of the division. While the Bills and Dolphins seem to be trending in the positive direction and simply looking to continue building toward what they hope is Super Bowl contention, both the Jets and Patriots are in for a pivotal next few months. New York has the third-most cap space in the NFL and a ton of draft capital -- including the No. 2 overall pick -- to put a rebuild into hyperspeed. Meanwhile, the Patriots have the No. 15 pick and the fourth-most cap space, giving Bill Belichick plenty of options to avoid another 7-9 season in 2021.
This is a fascinating time in the AFC East's history and each team will have tremendous pressure heading into the offseason to either rebuild its roster from the ground up or keep adding to what is already a promising group. Below, we're going to highlight the needs for each of these four teams along with other key notes as they begin this offseason.
Needs: EDGE, CB, OL, TE
Buffalo is on the doorstep of a Super Bowl run and, in turn, doesn't have a tremendous amount of pressing needs on the roster. Josh Allen is solidified as an MVP-caliber quarterback, Stefon Diggs is one of the best receivers in the NFL and Tre'Davious White is an elite corner. Another year of growth should do this group a world of good. That said, the Bills should look to add to their defensive front this offseason. If they are able to clear cap space, Yannick Ngakoue, Kawann Short, or even J.J. Watt are options to focus on in the open market. Linebacker Matt Milano may also be a free agent worth retaining. As for the offense, the O-line should take some focus with tackle Daryl Williams and guards Jon Feliciano and Brian Winters all looking at free agency.
Draft position: No. 30 overall. In our latest mock drafts, Ryan Wilson has the Bills taking Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Chris Trapasso has them selecting Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth, and Josh Edwards sees them targeting Penn State edge rusher Jayson Oweh.
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $3,869,343 (20th in the NFL)
Needs: RB, OT, LB, WR
There is a ton of intrigue as to what the Dolphins may do at the quarterback position. They already have Tua Tagovailoa in-house after selecting him No. 5 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. That said, he didn't exactly impress over his rookie season and, with the likes of Deshaun Watson possibly to be had, they could be in for a major splash. Outside of the quarterback position, the Dolphins should look to build a more stable skill position group. While they have DeVante Parker and Preston Williams at receiver, they should look for someone who can stretch the field more. In the backfield, they are in desperate need of a legit back after averaging just 3.9 yards per carry as a team in 2020. The offensive line improved marginally from 2019 but is still an area worth addressing both in the draft and in free agency.
Draft position: No. 3 overall, No. 18 overall. In our latest mock drafts, Ryan Wilson has the Dolphins taking Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell at No. 3 and Purdue receiver Rondale Moore at No. 18. As for Chris Trapasso, he mocks Miami trading for Deshaun Watson by shipping the No. 3 pick, Tua Tagovailoa and a couple of 2022 selections to Houston. At No. 18, he has them taking Virginia Tech offensive lineman Christian Darrisaw. Meanwhile, Josh Edwards has the Dolphins sliding back to No. 6 to select LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase and then select Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at No. 18.
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $35,628,922 (eighth-most in the NFL)
New England Patriots
Needs: QB, WR, LB, DT, OL, TE
First and foremost, New England needs to zero in on a quarterback. Whether it's trading for Jimmy Garoppolo or Marcus Mariota, drafting a young signal-caller at No. 15 or a combination of both, that needs to be the first shoe to drop. From there, Bill Belichick needs to use his tremendous amount of cap space and address what could be the worst collection of skill position players in the league. Julian Edelman is on his last leg and N'Keal Harry hasn't lived up to his first-round bill, which points to an entire rebuild at the receiver position. The Patriots could be in the market for one of the higher-profile receivers in free agency and could also be looking at tight ends with Hunter Henry -- a favorite of Belichick's -- hitting the open market. The Patriots will also have to make some major decisions along the offensive line with both Joe Thuney and David Andrews looking at free agency. Defensively, the front seven needs a boost even if the club gets Dont'a Hightower and other opt-outs back for 2021.
Draft position: No. 15 overall. In our latest mock drafts, Ryan Wilson has the Patriots landing Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, while Chris Trapasso projects them taking Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Josh Edwards points to them taking Alabama corner Patrick Surtain II.
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $68,667,937 (fourth-most in the NFL)
New York Jets
Needs: CB, S, WR, QB, RB, EDGE
While the Jets were the worst club in this division, they do have the most flexibility this offseason. Under new head coach Robert Saleh, the club has a tremendous amount of both draft capital and cap space. However, because New York was so poor in 2020, there are a lot of holes to fill. The No. 1 priority is figuring out the quarterback situation. If they elect to keep Sam Darnold, that opens the door to use all of those other assets to build a winner around him. If they are looking towards a reset, you move on from Darnold, acquire assets via trade and then possibly use the No. 2 pick on BYU's Zach Wilson or trade for Deshaun Watson.
After the quarterback, the Jets need to replenish the skill positions, specifically wide receiver and running back. They could get a player for any of these top-flight pass-catching options while looking for a solid back who doesn't break the bank like Le'Veon Bell did a few years ago. On the defensive side, it'll be curious to see if Saleh's reputation can lure some notable names (Richard Sherman, Shaq Barrett, etc.).
Draft position: No. 2 overall, No. 23 overall. In our latest mock drafts, Ryan Wilson has New York going with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at No. 2 and then Penn State edge rusher Jayson Oweh at No. 23. Chris Trapasso also has the Jets picking Wilson at No. 2, but adding Clemson running back Travis Etienne at No. 23. In a similar fashion to Trapasso, Edwards has the Jets going with Wilson at No. 2 and Etienne at No. 23.
Projected cap space (via Spotrac): $75,532,774 (third-most in the NFL)