Each offseason, NFL teams undergo a self-assessment. They identify the areas in which they are strong and weak, and for the most part, they plan their free-agent and draft strategies accordingly.
Filling needs, shoring up weaknesses, and accentuating strengths are all on the agenda, for everyone. But the coaches and players tabbed to fill those needs, shore up those weaknesses, and/or accentuate those strengths carry varying degrees of intrigue.
That’s why we’re here. Over the next several weeks, we are going to identify the most intriguing newcomer on every team in the NFL. For some teams it might be a coach. For others it might be a rookie or a free-agent signing or something else entirely.
We began earlier this week with the NFC East, and will continue below with their counterparts in the AFC.
Last year, the Bills made a few significant additions in order to put Josh Allen in better position to succeed. They signed Mitch Morse and Quinton Spain to upgrade the offensive line. They signed John Brown and Cole Beasley, and drafted Dalton Knox to upgrade their pass-catcher corps. They signed Frank Gore and drafted Devin Singletary to upgrade the running back room. As a result, the Buffalo offense showed some fairly significant improvement: the Bills jumped from 31st in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA up to 21st, with their run game improving from 23rd to 17th and pass game going from 29th to 23rd.
All of those figures are still slightly below average, though, and while Allen did indeed improve from his first year to his second, he was still a below-average quarterback overall. Enter Stefon Diggs, a player better than any the Bills added last year. His addition bumps Brown and Beasley down the depth chart to roles they are better suited for. His skill set as a premier deep threat fits well with Allen’s elite arm strength, and his speed should remove defenders from the box to open things up for Beasley underneath, as well as Singletary, rookie running back Zack Moss, and the rest of the run game. In short, he’s the final piece of the puzzle. It’s just up to Allen to capitalize on his presence.
In the long-term, there is no question that the most significant addition the Miami Dolphins made this offseason is Tua Tagovailoa. The No. 5 overall pick in the draft, Tagovailoa will take over under center at some point in the near future — likely this season, but next season at the latest. Because of the uncertainty regarding when exactly he will step in, though, we find the additions the Dolphins made to their defense to be the most intriguing for the upcoming season.
Miami splashed the pot in free agency, handing $178.5 million worth of contracts to Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, and Emmanuel Ogbah, plus signing Clayton Fejedelem, Elandon Roberts, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Kevon Frazier, and drafting Noah Igbinoghene, Raekwon Davis, Brandon Jones, Curtis Weaver, and Jason Strowbridge. That is a lot of talent to add in one offseason.
In particular, there is reason to feel good about Miami’s secondary, with Jones and Igbinoghene joining Xavien Howard to form what should be one of the league’s best cornerback units. Head coach Brian Flores came to Miami from New England and knows how to utilize a versatile defender like Van Noy, and is used to generating a pass rush without a single dominant edge rusher, and should be able to utilize Lawson and Ogbah in ways to accentuate their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Miami is not nearly the favorite in the AFC East, but if the sheer volume of talent added on defense can coalesce into a unit in or near the top 10, perhaps the Dolphins can surprise and challenge for the new No. 7 seed in the conference.
New England Patriots
Clearly, the most significant additions the Patriots made this offseason are rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Wait. That’s not right. Folks, the Pats signed Cam Newton! We’re likely to see fairly significant changes to the way New England’s offense works. The Pats have been chameleonic on offense for a long time — week-to-week strategic departures are embedded in their DNA. But this is a bit different.
Josh McDaniels and company will be able to get more creative with Newton under center, utilizing heavier formations, different run schemes, option plays, and more downfield passing. The nearly-automatic quick-strike passes from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman or James White that formed the foundation of the offense in recent years likely won’t be as common, though, so the way the team actually moves the ball will change, in addition to the aforementioned stylistic shifts.
New York Jets
Last season, the Jets used eight different offensive linemen for at least 300 snaps: Brandon Shell, Kelvin Beachum, Alex Lewis, Jonathan Harris, Brian Winters, Chuma Edoga, Tom Compton, and Ryan Kalil. Only three of those players (Lewis, Harris, and Edoga) remain on the roster, and only one of them (Lewis) is expected to open the season as a starter. The team’s four new offensive linemen are therefore the most interesting newcomers to the roster.
New York used significant resources on offensive line upgrades this offseason, paying Connor McGovern, George Fant, and Greg Van Roten in free agency, then drafting Mekhi Becton with the No. 11 overall pick. Becton should open the season as the team’s left tackle, with Fant starting opposite him, McGovern playing center, and Van Roten working as the right guard. The Jets ranked 28th in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking grades last season and 30th in run blocking, so it’s safe to say they’re counting on getting play out of this group than they got a year ago. They desperately need it in order to give Sam Darnold a chance to develop, as well as to allow Le’Veon Bell to execute his uber-patient running style.