ESPN.com’s Matt Williamson caused a stir in the AFC East blog earlier this week with his thoughts on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He may cause another stir Wednesday with his offseason report card on teams in the division.
Let’s take a look at Williamson’s grades for draft and free agency in the AFC East:
Williamson’s grade: C-plus
Quotable: “The Bills have made a concerted effort this offseason to improve at the most important position on the field -- quarterback. I feel that [Kevin] Kolb. ... is an upgrade over [Ryan] Fitzpatrick, while [EJ] Manuel has all the ability in the world to develop into a Cam Newton-like signal-caller.”
Analysis: After spending tons of money in free agency in 2012, the Bills took the safe approach this year. Buffalo made low-profile signings such as Kolb, defensive lineman Alan Branch and outside linebacker Manny Lawson who can make an impact. It’s very different from the $100 million signing of Mario Williams last season. The Bills really attacked the offense in the draft, which was a wise move. The Bills are counting on Manuel to develop into a franchise quarterback, and receivers Robert Wood, Marquise Goodwin and Da’Rick Rogers are all young and explosive. The Bills have talent at a lot of positions but must figure out the quarterback position.
Williamson’s grade: C-plus
Quotable: “Everyone is talking about all the great additions that Miami made to its roster this offseason, but the Dolphins' departures are significant as well.”
Analysis: Williamson was not impressed with the Dolphins’ offseason moves. The Dolphins spent more than $100 million in guaranteed money to upgrade their roster, and some feel they positioned themselves to make a push for the playoffs. But Williamson handed out a mediocre grade for Miami. He mentioned questions on the offensive line and potential holes in the secondary. I think this grade is low for Miami. Time will tell if the Dolphins’ spending and draft picks were worth it.
New England Patriots
Williamson’s grade: C
Quotable: “The biggest turnover here is at WR, as [Wes] Welker, who has been a rock of consistent production, is now in Denver. [Danny] Amendola is younger and appears to be a suitable replacement, but true slot receivers take a beating and Amendola hasn't been able to stay on the field.”
Analysis: I think this grade was spot on for New England. In my opinion, the Patriots should get a poor grade for what they’ve done on offense this offseason and a good grade for getting better on defense. The result is an average grade overall. The Patriots remain the favorites in the AFC East. But they may have taken a step back, especially in the passing game.
New York Jets
Williamson’s grade: B-minus
Quotable: “Many criticize the Jets and what seems like a circus-like environment around this organization, but I think this front office has done a solid job this offseason. The Jets did lose a lot, but many of these players needed to go.”
Analysis: I thought this grade was high for the Jets, but I understand Williamson's thinking. New York was in such a bad spot when new general manager John Idzik arrived that you almost have to grade on a curve. Idzik immediately got younger and under the salary cap. He made a shrewd decision to trade star cornerback Darrelle Revis, but that was the right decision. Idzik also made a couple of gaffes with the signing of quarterback David Garrard, who couldn’t make it through the spring, and tailback Mike Goodson, who already has off-the-field issues. The Jets are in full rebuilding mode and it will be a while before this team is a contender again.
We went team-by-team through the NFC East last week with Matt Williamson's offseason grades, but the one team we didn't get to was the Philadelphia Eagles, to whom Matt gave an "A."
Matt says he's expecting "big things from the Eagles," since he expects fewer mental mistakes in the overhauled secondary, likes that they used their first-round pick on an athletic tackle to help with Chip Kelly's planned up-tempo offense and expects an interesting rotation of skill-position players on offense that could help newcomers like Arrelious Benn and James Casey make more impact than some might expect:
I also expect Kelly to rotate a lot of bodies in at the skill positions to constantly have fresh personnel on the field, which could make Benn's role more substantial. The Eagles appear to be overloaded with quality tight ends, but Kelly has a plan and guys like Casey and Zach Ertz can align all over the formation and create mismatches in the passing game. This staff did re-sign Michael Vick, but Matt Barkley was just too good to pass up in Round 4. He isn't a great runner, but Barkley is a very quick decision-maker who has the football intelligence to operate this offense.
On defense, Matt thinks the personnel still fits a 4-3 front better than a 3-4 one. I agree, and along with the quarterback situation it's part of the reason I'm not overly optimistic for the Eagles from this far out. I think they're going to need a year to evaluate what kind of players they have on defense and how they fit into the defense they want to build. And I think the quarterback situation with Vick, Barkley and Nick Foles remains a muddle of insufficient options and they'll still be working on that next offseason. I agree with the consensus opinion that Kelly's offense will be fascinating to watch, but until he has his long-term answer at the most important position, I don't know how much success he can expect his schemes to have.
Continuing our team-by-team look at Matt Williamson's offseason grades for NFC East teams, let's look at his review of the New York Giants, who got a "B-minus." Matt has looked at the Giants' activity in free agency and the draft and concluded, as we have discussed here a few times, that it's been a typical Giants offseason in many ways. They've focused on the defensive line, ignored linebacker, and stuck to their usual plan about the value they assign to certain players and positions.
The one out-of-character move was taking an offensive lineman, Justin Pugh, in the first round. But Matt believes he's a good system fit and "should be a Week 1 starter at either right tackle or guard."
Matt believes the drafting of Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore, along with the signings of Eagles castoffs Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins, will serve the Giants well in terms of critical depth on the defensive line, and he has understandable concerns about the blocking downgrade at tight end from Martellus Bennett to Brandon Myers.
In the end, I think Matt has reached the same conclusion I have about the Giants' offseason: Not much about it has been unusual, splashy or surprising, and it's hard to say whether they've improved the team, but their track record means we should wait and see and probably trust them.