New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes (55) reacts during the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Free Agency AFC East Grades

The free agent period has died down, and it’s time to take a look back at which teams won and loss during the free agent frenzy. It’s too easy to separate teams into winners and losers, and I decided to break things down into grades. This isn’t an exact science, but it’s better than trying to sit there and say who “won” and “lost” instead of grading each team on a curve against themselves. What do I mean by that last part? You shouldn’t compare one team’s grade to another team’s grade in a vacuum, because it’s not necessarily about who signed who and who kept who; it’s about what each team did to help themselves based on their opportunities. For instance, the Baltimore Ravens signed just one free agent this offseason, but that was Steve Smith to a ridiculously cheap deal. Moreover, they kept several key free agents, including three players who would have been arguably the best players at their position in free agency.

New England Patriots A+

The Patriots had a fairly decent go-around in free agency last year, and Bill Belichick made this March one to remember for NFL fans. Aqib Talib signed a huge deal with the Denver Broncos, but the Patriots found an even better No. 1 corner in Darrelle Revis. It’s a dream addition for the Patriots secondary, because it allows Belichick to accomplish his No. 1 goal going into games with ease. Belichick always wants to take away the opposition’s best playmaker, and it’s why the Pats are usually the best in the NFL at stopping opposing WR1s but also a bit vulnerable against WR2s. Now they have one player who can shutdown just about anyone single-handedly, and other players must watch out as well with the underrated Devin McCourty at safety and another excellent offseason addition in CB2 Brandon Browner. Revis, Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, and Logan Ryan form one of the best CB groups in the NFL right now, and that alone would deserve an “A”.

However, the Patriots did more than just stack up at the cornerback position, as they were also able to keep Julian Edelman around. This was a critical signing, as Edelman is a great fit on the Patriots with his versatility, punt returns, and the fact that he caught over 100 passes last season. If the Patriots lost Edelman an offseason after losing Wes Welker, then Tom Brady would have even more serious continuity issues. The Pats also signed Brandon LaFell to add depth at WR, and there’s still a chance they could hold onto LeGarrette Blount.

New York Jets C-

Replacing Austin Howard with Breno Giacomini won’t help the Jets out at offensive tackle, but Howard was just too expensive after the Oakland Raiders decided to throw a boatload of money at him. The Jets came into the offseason with a massive need to add pass-catchers, and they aren’t done filling that need yet. But Geno Smith finally has a top-notch wideout to throw it to next season, and I think Eric Decker was well worth the money for the Jets organization. He might not be a true WR1, but he’s an excellent WR2 and presents a huge upgrade for the Jets.

The Jets also did well to retain some solid pieces in Jeff Cumberland, Willie Colon, Nick Folk, and Calvin Pace. All four of those guys were productive last season, and they were all affordable options. John Idzik made three obvious cuts in Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes, and Antonio Cromartie to save some major cap space, but I wish the Jets were more aggressive at cornerback this offseason. Signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the same deal the New York Giants gave him is risky, but they could have pulled Captain Munnerlyn or another solid CB. Rex Ryan is unsurprisingly upset that he only has Dee Milliner as a legit corner right now, but I’m sure the Jets are eyeing a top CB in the draft. I think they’ll still go WR or TE in round one, but a guy like Bradley Roby would be a dream pick for them.

All told, the Jets offseason wasn’t bad, but I wish Idzik were more aggressive. He’s a very thrifty GM, but that’s a good thing for the Jets. He’s a cap guy and through-and-through, and he won’t drag the team into financial doom like his predecessor Mike Tannenbaum. If the Jets don’t have a strong draft like they did last year, though, then the Jets won’t be as good as they were last year. As for the Michael Vick signing, it’s a pretty average move despite all the talking points that emerge.

Buffalo Bills C+

The Bills weren’t as active as the New York Jets in free agency, but, as I said, I grade teams against themselves and their own situations. This team didn’t really need to make any big signings in free agency, though I think they could have tried to snag a quality wideout. It was a decent offseason for the Bills organization overall, and it’s difficult not to love their decision to sign Brandon Spikes, who will be excellent in tandem with rising star Kiko Alonso. Spikes can’t cover, but the Bills know that and will fully harness his elite run defense and explosive blitzing.

Re-signing Scott Chandler was a solid move, and Corey Graham will be a quality slot corner in between the underrated starting duo of Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. The Chris Williams signing made absolutely no sense, but that’s why I knocked them down from a “B-“.

Miami Dolphins B

The Cortland Finnegan deal was a real head-scratcher and the Dolphins should have went for a different, top-notch offensive tackle on the open market due to Branden Albert‘s very high price, but the Dolphins generally had themselves a good free-agent period without Jeff Ireland at the helm. It was another active March for the Dolphins organization, and the fact that they were able to re-sign Randy Starks was huge. Starks is one of the league’s most consistent players, and he is strong in run defense and in coverage. Throughout 2013, the belief was that the Dolphins would be able to re-sign only one of Paul Soliai or Starks, but that shifted to reports that both players would be out the door in free agency. Thankfully, the Dolphins were able to keep one of their standout defensive tackles, and Starks is the better of the two due to his pass rushing.

I wish the Dolphins kept Chris Clemons, but Louis Delmas is an upgrade at free safety despite his injuries. He covers better than Clemons, and I’m sure the Dolphins like the fact that he has better ball skills. Re-signing Brent Grimes was huge and adding Shelley Smith as another upgrade to the offensive line was a key move, and Earl Mitchell is a wild card who could either be a great signing or a massive flop in Miami. I have a feeling we could have all sorts of different reactions when we look back at their moves in free agency, but I also feel that the Dolphins did a pretty good job this year.

Tags: Buffalo Bills Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets

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