Free Agency Difference Makers: AFC

It has been an eventful Free Agency period to start the new NFL year, and there have been some big money deals handed out (not always to players you would expect, either!) and some bargain pick-ups.

Over the course of this and my next post, I’ll single out the one addition I think will have the biggest impact for each team as we head in to the 2017 season. I’ll discount those free agents that re-signed with their current team, as it’s obvious keeping key personnel on your roster can be a difference maker.

Of course, there is still scope for further moves ahead of the Draft, and then the draft itself, but this is how I see it as it stands right now.

Let’s start with the AFC.

East

Buffalo Bills

Micah Hyde CB

Having lost Stephon Gilmore to their division rival New England Patriots, an already thin secondary was weakened further. The addition of Micah Hyde not only goes a long way to addressing that, it also adds some flexibility to their secondary.

Hyde can play either S or CB and will be key for a team that has to face Tom Brady twice a year!

 

Miami Dolphins

Anthony Fasano TE

The Miami offensive line was poor on more than one occasion last season due to injuries to key starters and the addition of one of the best blocking Tight Ends in football will go some way to help if that happens again in ’17. “London born” Jay Ajayi will reap the benefits, which in turn should make like easier for Ryan Tannehill.

In isolation Fasano may not appear to be a big impact, but I think he could be a pivotal piece in getting the Dolphins offense moving next season.

 

New England Patriots

Kony Ealy DE

For too long the Patriots defense has probably failed to receive the recognition it has deserved (no surprise when you consider the offense!) but the addition of Ealy on the other end of the line to Trey Flowers gives Matt Patricia a legitimate pass rush attack that he will no doubt utilize to maximum effect.

When you consider Ealy’s cap hit for this year doesn’t even reach the $1M mark, he’s a veritable steal that could have a big impact this year.

 

New York Jets

Kelvin Beachum OT

It’s very hard to find any positives from the Jets’ free agency moves so far to be honest, but the addition of a much-needed LT is the best of a poor bunch in my opinion. He had a disappointing year in Jacksonville after his concussion but if he can regain some of the form from his time in Pittsburgh, he will at least be an upgrade for the Jets.

 

North

Baltimore Ravens

Tony Jefferson S

Not much thinking needed here. Jefferson joins the Ravens off the back of a career season and, in partnering with his friend (and chief Ravens negotiator it seems!) Eric Weddle, gives the Ravens probably the second best Safety tandem in the NFL at present.

The former undrafted free agent is capable both deep and up at the line, and I think will take the Ravens secondary to the next level in 2017.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Andre Smith OT

Spoilt for choice here! At time of writing, this was the only outside signing the Bengals had made, and it is to bring back a player who was with the team up until last year. Smith spent 2016 with the Vikings although missed a large part of the season with an arm injury.

On an offensive line that has lost some key pieces, the Bengals will need him to stay healthy AND play better.

 

Cleveland Browns

Brock Osweiler QB

No, I’m not suggesting Brock is the answer at QB for the Browns! The trade from nowhere with the Texans wasn’t about finding their franchise starter, but more about securing additional draft stock using money they had to spend anyway.

It’s a gutsy move from Sashi Brown, but it signals an intent from Cleveland that could have an impact far beyond the end of free agency.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Justin Hunter WR

Another team who have been quiet in free agency to date, the Steelers added another deep threat for Big Ben in the form of Justin Hunter. Coming off the back of an indifferent season in Buffalo, he’ll add some depth to the receiving corps and some insurance with Martavis Bryant’s off field issues.

I don’t think he’s going to set the AFC North alight, but for a team who historically don’t tend to dabble with free agency, he’s a solid enough addition to the depth chart.

 

South

Houston Texans

Nothing to see here, move along please! The Texans remain the only team yet to sign an outside free agent. Rumours abound that Houston is a possible landing spot for Tony Romo but, as yet, the Texans’ cheque book remains firmly shut.

 

Indianapolis Colts

John Simon OLB

There have been three big additions to the defensive front so far from the Colts, but I really like the pick up of John Simon from Houston. I think the Colts will play him as the SAM and, as he proved in his time in Houston, he’s more than capable.

In turn I think Simon brings a huge upside to the Colts’ run defense and will be the perfect foil to Jabaal Sheard on the other side.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Barry Church S

There are plenty of big signings to consider when looking at the Jaguars this year but, for me at least, I think the addition of Church in the middle of that secondary has both direct and residual benefits.

His career stats are solid in themselves, but I think he becomes the fulcrum to that secondary that will see the whole unit improve, particularly with the addition of Bouye on the outside.

 

Tennessee Titans

Logan Ryan CB

Not many to choose from here again, but the addition of Logan Ryan from New England not only addresses a key need for the Titans’ defense, it also brings some big game experience to the locker room for a team on an upward trajectory.

He’s a flexible corner who can work either on the outside or from the slot and he will give Dick LeBeau plenty of options to work with, especially if they add further talent through the Draft.

 

West

Denver Broncos

Ronald Leary G

It’s no secret that the Broncos offensive line was a big area of need coming out of 2016 and the addition of Leary goes a long way to shoring up the interior of the line. He’ll be key to improving the often farcical run blocking as well as an upgrade in pass protection.

He has had his health concerns but, if he stays healthy, expect a significant improvement in the Denver line for 2017.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Bennie Logan DT

Without much cap space to play with the Chiefs were never going to be big movers in free agency this year. The loos of Dontari Poe seemed almost inevitable so the Chiefs moved to address that with the pick up of Logan.

He’ll probably see more game time on rushing downs, but I think he’s vital to ensuring the loss of Poe doesn’t have a massive impact on that defensive front.

 

Oakland Raiders

Jared Cook TE

On an offense that is already potent, I still think Jared Cook has the ability to be a difference maker. With Cooper, Crabtree and newly acquired Patterson taking care of the deep field, Cook’s sizeable frame will be a key target for Derek Carr in much the same way as he was for Aaron Rodgers down the stretch last year.

The Raiders came close last year but for an untimely injury to Carr, and I think Cook gives them a key piece to take the next step.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

Russell Okung OT

It came with a hefty price tag (perhaps a little too high in my opinion) but the Chargers finally have the upgrade at LT they needed to try and stop Phillip Rivers getting killed. Okung will bring veteran experience to the line and will no doubt be charged with bringing on his successor.

He’s another player that needs to stay healthy, but has a great upside if he does.

 

So that’s my take on the best signings for each of the AFC teams to date. Agree? Disagree? Hit us up on Twitter and let me know what you think.

Up next, it’s the NFC’s turn…