AFC East: Buffalo Bills earn B grade from Barnwell to equal New England Patriots
By Matty Simo
It’s a long shot for any AFC East team besides the New England Patriots to win the division in 2017. But one expert thinks the Buffalo Bills deserve an equal grade this offseason.
The New England Patriots may be overwhelming favorites to win their ninth straight division title this year. However, the Patriots got just a B on their offseason report card from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. And another AFC East team earned the same grade as them.
That’s right New England fans, the Buffalo Bills also received a B from Barnwell, who likes that they cleaned house. More specifically, the Bills fired head coach Rex Ryan after going 15-16 in just less than two seasons. Here’s what Barnwell had to say about Ryan:
"This probably wasn’t a time for half-measures. Rex Ryan’s status within the organization seemed to turn toxic as the 2016 season went along, as his grandstand firing of Greg Roman after an 0-2 start seemed to either mask or ignore the difficulties Ryan had in crafting an effective defense. After inheriting a unit that ranked second in DVOA under Jim Schwartz in 2014, Ryan’s defenses ranked 24th and 26th during his two years at the helm."
Ryan has always talked a good game. But he rarely backed it up following his first two years with the New York Jets. Buffalo did hand the Patriots their first loss last season at home with third-string rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett starting. However, Ryan did not have a winning record in his last six seasons between Buffalo and New York.
One of the mistakes the Bills made was letting running back Mike Gillislee and cornerback Stephon Gilmore go to New England. According to Barnwell, they “continued to shed talent to the Patriots” after allowing wide receiver Chris Hogan to sign there last year.
"New England continued to pick pieces off the Buffalo roster this offseason. The Patriots made a low-cost addition in adding hyper-efficient big back Mike Gillislee, but the big move was to acquire free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore in a deal in which the Bills simply misread the market."
So what about the Jets and Miami Dolphins? Both got lower marks from Barnwell, with New York drawing a C+ on its report card and Miami a D+.
The Dolphins are viewed by many as the main competition, but did not properly address their offensive line issues. From Barnwell:
"Part of the opportunity cost in spending so much on guys who profile as third wideouts or two-down linebackers is that the Dolphins weren’t able to commit resources to the interior of their offensive line. It made sense for Miami to ship out the disgruntled Branden Albert and move Laremy Tunsil to his natural position at left tackle, and the team is set on the right side with Ja’Wuan James, but the interior is … spotty."
New York Jets
As for the Jets, they probably could not have done much better in rebuilding. Barnwell believes that New York opting not to re-sign veteran free agents was the team’s best move.
"The worst thing the Jets could have done would have been to half-commit to a plan and keep players around for old time’s sake. That didn’t happen. Among others, the Jets dumped Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis, moves that might have seemed unthinkable as recently as this time last year. With Matt Forte’s contract mostly guaranteed, the only high-priced veteran additions left standing are Eric Decker and Buster Skrine."
Time will tell if Barnwell was right on the money or out in left field with his offseason report cards. Regardless, New England should feel pretty good about it chances of at least winning the AFC East again this season.
Next: Barnwell gives Patriots B grade on offseason report card