Where Do the Miami Dolphins Stand in the AFC East Now?

Mario Cuadros@@mario_cuadrosContributor IIMarch 28, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 30: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins stands in a huddle with his teammates against the New England Patriots in the second half at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The free agency frenzy has slowly started to simmer down and teams are looking more complete than they did three weeks ago. 

The AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots for over a decade, with little competition from the other three teams. The Miami Dolphins managed to win the division in 2008 but have not presented much of a threat since. 

When free agency began, few teams were more active than Miami. They knew they needed to sign quality players in order to compete against New England.

Miami's offseason began by trying to re-sign their own free agents. Jeff Ireland had plenty of money to go around and didn't wait long to begin using it. He placed the franchise tag on defensive tackle Randy Starks, who has been a big reason Miami's run defense has been one of the league's best in recent years.

Ireland also re-signed Brian Hartline, who was Miami's leading receiver last year. Reaching the 1,000 yards-receiving mark for the first time in his career, Hartline signed a 5-year, $30.7 million contract with the Dolphins.

After bringing their best players back, Ireland was also able to bring back starting free safety Chris Clemons and backup quarterback Matt Moore. Moore gives Miami the satisfaction of having one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league while giving Ryan Tannehill a familiar face to work with as he continues to develop. The Clemons signing was also big because it gives Miami's safety duo of Clemons and Reshad Jones another year to gel, and Clemons gets another year to prove himself.  

Ireland also wanted to give his rookie quarterback some new toys to play with for the next few years. He didn't waste much time, as he was able to sign wide receiver Mike Wallace shortly after the free agency period began. Wallace was signed to a 5-year, $60 million with a cap hit of only $3.2 million during his first year.

Some believe Miami overpaid for him, but Miami needed a wide receiver so badly that they couldn't let him sign somewhere else. Pairing him with Hartline gives Miami an exponentially improved wide receiver group and allows Miami to implement their West Coast offense.

Ireland wasn't done making deals after he signed the biggest fish on the market. He retooled the linebacking corps by bringing in Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler while releasing veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. It was a surprising move considering Dansby and Burnett's solid play last season.

However, Ireland wanted to get younger and more aggressive at the position, and both of these linebackers fit both categories.

After a couple days of being stagnant, Ireland managed to sign Dustin Keller, therefore getting better at tight end while making the New York Jets weaker. Keller brings to the Dolphins something they have been lacking for some years—a seam-threat tight end.

Anthony Fasano had been their best pass-catcher for a few years, but he didn't create many mismatches against opposing defenses. This is yet another weapon for Tannehill. Keller signed a one-year, $4.2 million deal. 

Brandon Gibson didn't sign much later after Keller. He brings to Miami another dynamic pass-catcher who can line up either in the slot or outside the numbers. By bringing him in, Miami can run a four-receiver set, which Philbin ran when he was the offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers. Ireland managed to get more help for Tannehill with Gibson by giving him a 3-year, $9.7 million deal.

So where do these moves rank Miami in the AFC East?

First lets take a look at what other teams were able to do in free agency.

Starting with the biggest news in the division, the Patriots were rejected by Wes Welker, who decided to bolt to the Denver Broncos when the Patriots clearly wanted to keep him. This was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, news during the early stages of free agency.

The loss of Welker makes the Patriots considerably less dangerous on offense, but the addition of Danny Amendola gives them another dynamic receiver who can quickly become Tom Brady's best friend. However, if you ask anyone around the league whom they would rather have, most of them would likely say Welker.

Only a few days ago, the Patriots were able to re-sign right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, which allows them to bring back their complete offensive line from a year ago. This was a big signing for the Patriots, as they need Brady to stay up-right and safe from Cameron Wake.

They were also able to snatch Adrian Wilson to strengthen their secondary. They also managed to keep Kyle Arrington, who is a young player they Patriots are hoping can develop.

Another big loss for New England, however, was the departure of Danny Woodhead, who decided to head west and join the San Diego Chargers.

It's still unclear how Amendola will gel with Brady and the offense, but Welker leaving the division is good news for Miami. New England may look weaker on paper as of now, but they will find a way to prove that they are still the head of the class.

Moving on to the Buffalo Bills, who as opposed to last offseason when they signed Mario Williams to a 6-year, $96 million contract, have been fairly quiet.

Their biggest loss came when Andy Levitre decided to sign with the Tennessee Titans. He was one of their best offensive linemen and one of the most coveted in free agency. He was a big reason why the Bills' running game flourished last season, and C.J. Spiller will surely miss him.

Another big loss was starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick who, like Levitre, decided to sign with the Titans after the Bills released him. They are now left with Tarvaris Jackson and Aaron Corp as their two quarterbacks, so it's safe to say they will be pulling the trigger early on a quarterback, maybe even in the first round. Safety George Wilson rounds out the list of players that decided to sign with the Titans.

The only moves the Bills have made to help their team are re-signing Leodis McKelvin and signing linebacker Manny Lawson after releasing Nick Barnett.  

It's safe to say that with the current roster, the Bills still have a lot of improving to do and will be looking up at the competition in the AFC East. It's been 13 seasons since the Bills made the playoffs, and they don't look to be ending that streak or causing the Dolphins many problems anytime soon.

The other team in the AFC East, the New York Jets, are still trying to figure things out. Is Mark Sanchez the answer? Maybe Tim Tebow? Is David Garrard the answer? What about drafting a quarterback and completely forgetting about the aforementioned players? Will Rex Ryan guarantee another Super Bowl?

This is the roller coaster the Jets have been during the last year. It's so bad, the team is asking fans what they should do in free agency.

To make things worse, the Jets have lost some of their best players. Shonn Green decided to join the Titans (they seem to be making an AFC East team) and give his starting duties to Mike Woodson, Bilal Powell or Joe McKnight. Maybe Tebow can join the competition if he really wants to play.

LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell also bolted to join the Colts and Cardinals, respectively. This leaves a wide-open gap at safety where Eric Smith will be looking to play both safety positions (perhaps at the same time).

They replaced the loss of nose tackle Sione Po'uha by signing Antonio Garay. They were also able to restructure deals with Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie, allowing them to increase their cap space. Another big signing for the Jets was Antwan Barnes, who will be replacing Bart Scott at linebacker, whom I "Can't wait" (please excuse the dull attempt at humor) to see who he signs with.

All these transactions and unanswered questions leave the Jets in a state of oblivion. Nobody knows how their season will play out, but from the looks of it this early, it doesn't seem pretty.

So now that we have all the activity that all four teams have partaken in during these early stages of the offseason, we try to address the question proposed above.

Where does Miami rank in the AFC East now?

Well, Ryan Tannehill appears to be the second-best quarterback in the division. The Dolphins' overall defense ranked third in the division behind the Patriots and Bills, with their passing defense ranking second in the division behind only New England.

The passing attack, which ranked 26th for the Dolphins last season, will be much improved in lieu of the recent signings. Miami's total offense was one of the worst in the league last year, coming in at 27th which was ahead of only the Jets in the division.

With all this in mind, Miami is the most intriguing team in the AFC East. Will their players pan out? Will they regret all the recent signings? Will they compete with the Patriots for an AFC East championship?

They finished second in the division last season. They are currently the second-best team in the division. They will probably finish second next season. The only difference? They will clinch a playoff berth. 


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