NFL Update: News and Club Needs for the other AFC East teams

While we are waiting for free agency to commence, here is a look at what is going on with the other teams in the AFC East.

 

Buffalo Bills

2013 Record: 6-10
Last playoff appearance: 1999
Estimated current cap space: $25,667,482

Key Free Agents

With Jimmy Graham and Greg Hardy having been franchised by their clubs, safety Jairus Byrd is now the top player in the 2014 free agent class. As one of the best players at his position, he will command top dollar. The NFL is a copycat league and teams will attempt to emulate the success of the Seattle defense – beginning with the addition of Byrd. Though the two sides are keeping communication open, it will be very difficult for the Bills to retain him.

Fellow safety Jim Leonhard is also a free agent, so Buffalo would be wise to make a concerted effort to re-sign him. Kicker Dan Carpenter had a good year and the Bills would also like him back, but two other players are probably gone. Tight End Scott Chandler led Buffalo in receptions (53) and receiving yards (655), but the signing of Tony Moeaki makes his departure a strong possibility; he’s a free agent that the Patriots may want to consider bringing in to Foxboro for a look.

Linebacker Arthur Moats saw his playing time diminish, appearing in just 26% of buffalo’s defensive snaps, and is unlikely to return. Alex Carrington began the year as a starting defensive end, but his season ended early due to a quad tear suffered in week three. Buffalo just gave DE Alan Branch a three-year contract extension in December; that deal included a $3.1 million signing bonus. With Mario Williams locked in as the other defensive end, Buffalo will most likely not offer the 26-year old Carrington much – though for now Carrington is saying that the right things and that he is open to return. One-time Patriot Thomas Welch is also available; the seventh round pick from 2010 was Buffalo’s top backup tackle, but was on the field for just eight offensive snaps and 62 special team snaps in 2013.

 

Team Needs – RT, LG, ILB, WR, TE, S

The Bills never adequately replaced the 2013 free agency departure of LG Andre Levitre, and they need to upgrade RT Erik Pears, who was a liability. LB Kiko Alonso had a very good rookie season, but the team needs to support him with a decent player next to him. No Buffalo receiver had more 600 yards or three touchdowns; the team needs someone reliable to go along with Stevie Johnson. If both Byrd and Leonhard leave then there will be a substantial need to replenish the depth at safety, and the club will require somebody like Fred Davis to take Chandler’s spot as the second tight end.

 

Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 9 (9)
Round 2, Pick 9 (41)
Round 3, Pick 9 (73)
Round 4, Pick 9 (105)
Round 5, Pick 9 (137)
Round 6, Pick 9 (169)
Round 7, Pick 9 (201)

Potential first round picks: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M; TE Eric Ebron, UNC; LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo; WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M; WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

 

News

While we speculate what two teams will kickoff the 2014 regular season (how about a Patriots-Broncos rematch to get things going?), we do know what the first game of the preseason will be: the Bills will play the Giants in the 2014 Hall of Fame Game in Canton on August 3rd. One benefit of playing in that game is that it allows for training camp to begin early – teams can commence camp fifteen days prior to their first game – and it also gives coaches a fifth preseason game to evaluate players. So why the Bills and Giants? Former Buffalo WR Andre Reed and former Giant DE Michael Strahan will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame August 2.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine left Buffalo to become the latest head coach in Cleveland; the Bills then hired former Detroit Lion HC Jim Schwartz as their DC. Pettine did a good job of turning Buffalo’s defense around last year, and although the Detroit defenses seemed to underachieve under Schwartz, prior to that he did well as DC in Tennessee.

The Bills also made several other changes to their coaching staff. New additions include former Patriot Pepper Johnson as Defensive Line coach, Fred Pagac as Linebacker coach, Rob Moore (wide receivers), Jim Hostler (senior offensive assistant) and Todd Downing (quarterbacks); gone are Ike Hilliard (wide receivers), Chuck Driesbach (inside linebackers) and Anthony Weaver (defensive line). Downing’s position is a new one, as Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett doubled as the QB coach during the 2013 season; Weaver followed Pettine to Cleveland but was unlikely to be asked to return with Buffalo in 2014.

Head Coach Doug Marrone commented that more and better core special team players were needed, so don’t be surprised if the Bills are active in seeking out quality special team free agents. Marrone specifically pointed out New England special team ace Matthew Slater as a “special teams killer” as an example of what he was referring to. Marrone lauded Marcus Easley but said that he wanted to establish a core of six special team players that perform on three or four ST units at a high level. Some Buffalo fans and writers have been calling for the head of Special Teams coach Danny Crossman, but his job is safe for at least one more season. Football Outsiders ranked the Bills 30th in Special Teams DVOA this past season; there is plenty of room for improvement in this phase of the game.

 

 

Miami Dolphins

2013 Record: 8-8
Last playoff appearance: 2008
Estimated current cap space: $35,181,273

Key Free Agents

A year ago the Dolphins made a splash in free agency and many nominated them as winners of the April Super Bowl, but now they are paying for that short range planning. Both defensive tackles, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, are free agents, as are S Chris Clemons, CB Nolan Carroll and TE Dustin Keller. On the offensive line LG Richie Incognito, RG John Jerry, LT Bryant McKinnie, and RT Tyson Clabo are all free agents – and T Jonathan Martin won’t be back. CB Brent Grimes figured to be a relatively big name in free agency, but he was just re-signed to a four-year, $32 million deal that includes $16 million guaranteed.

 

Team Needs – LT, RT, G, DT, CB, S, TE, RB

The entire offensive line needs to be rebuilt, so I would expect the Dolphins to focus on this area early in free agency; Ryan Tannehill led the league with 58 sacks and that much of a beating was showing by the end of the season. Kansas City’s LT Brandon Albert will likely be Miami’s top free agent target, and they should go with another tackle with their first round pick.

 

Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 19
Round 2, Pick 18 (50)
Round 3, Pick 17 (81)
Round 4, Pick 16 (112)
Round 5, Pick 15 (143)
Round 6, Pick 14 (174)
Round 7, Pick 19 (211)

Potential first round picks: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame; OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan; OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

 

News

Rumors are floating that Miami is open to trading many of their starters, including WR Mike Wallace, DE Cameron Wake, and DL Dion Jordan. This could be real, given the large number of holes that need to be filled – or it could just be a smokescreen sending a message to the players in wake of the Incognito-Martin scandal?

Ravens South? The Dolphins are also rumored to be interested in FB Vonta Leach and LT Eugene Monroe, both of whom played for Baltimore last year; Monroe will be a free agent when the new league year begins, and Leach is available now after being released in a cap-saving move on February 27.

The Dolphins could also have positions to fill at cornerback, despite the extension of Grimes. Dmitri Patterson is slated to make $5.4 million in 2014, but he is not worth anything close to that much money. Nolan Carroll is an unrestricted free agent; that would leave second-year players Jamar Taylor and Will Davis at the position. Second round pick Taylor was on the field for just 45 defensive snaps (in part due to falling behind while recovering from hernia surgery last May), while Davis rode the bench reportedly due to failure to learn the playbook and understand his assignments. Considering their situation at corner, it’s no surprise that Miami opened up the bank vault to retain Grimes. Taylor and Davis both had medical red flags coming out of college; with Head Coach Joe Philbin (and most everyone else) an a short leash this year, new General Manager Dennis Hickey is unlikely to go after any similar players early in this draft.

Aside from Taylor and Davis, their are a few other recent draft picks that need to step up. Miami traded up to select DE Dion Jordan third overall last year, but for now he is stuck on the depth chart behind Olivier Vernon opposite Cameron Wake. Supposedly the defensive staff is saying (anonymously, of course) that Jordan needs to bulk up and shore up his pass-rush moves, and are concerned that he is a ‘tweener with no home in their defensive scheme. TE Dion Sims (4th round, 2013) earned a fair amount of playing time (265 offensive snaps), but accumulated just six receptions for 32 yards on the season. OL Dallas Thomas (3rd round, 2013) could not get on the field at all (just two snaps) despite all the opportunity to do so with the turnover on the offensive line.

The Fins ran for just 90 yards a game (26th in the NFL), although they did average 4.1 yards per carry. While some are calling for the club to go after a running back to upgrade the tandem of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, I can’t help but believe that the primary issue was the constant turnover of the offensive line. While neither will ever ba an All Pro, they’re not horrible – and their are more glaring needs. To me their biggest deficiency is not their ability to gain yards – it’s their liability in pass protection.

Owner Stephen Ross was very impressed by the presentation given by the Nick Caserio for that GM position six weeks ago, but the Patriots’ director of player personnel wanted to be given the authority to overhaul the organization from the ground up, including the coach. Ross not only did not want to hand over that decision to Caserio, he also reportedly likes Philbin’s intelligence and how he handled the Incognito-Martin locker room fallout. While some around the country blame Philbin for not having closer tabs on the situation, Ross has remained loyal to his coach. Still, after last year’s expectations, I have to think that if Miami does not make the playoffs this year – or at least equal last year’s record – then Philbin will be let go after the season.

 

 

New York Jets

 

2013 Record: 8-8
Last playoff appearance: 2010
Estimated current cap space: $23,608,558

Key Free Agents

The Jets don’t have a lot of free agents to be concerned with re-signing other than right tackle Austin Howard. Beyond that the most notable are guards Willie Colon and Vladimir Ducasse, tight end Kellen Winslow, and linebacker Calvin Pace, who will turn 34 this season; all should be be able to be easily replaced in terms of productivity at this point in their careers. The club used the franchise tag on kicker Nick Folk.

 

Team Needs – WR1, WR2, RG, CB, OLB, TE

Santonio Holmes just turned 30 and has missed more games than he has played over the last two years; he won’t see the $1,000,000 roster bonus that is due March 13. Holmes represents a $10,750,000 cap number and his imminent release will result in a cap savings of $8,250,000 for the Jets. Stephen Hill had just 11 catches for 109 yards, with no touchdowns after week three. One New York paper reported recently that the Jets were skeptical that Hill – who had six drops with just 24 receptions in 2013 – would ever become a reliable piece of the puzzle.

At running back the Jets currently have Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, so at minimum the addition of another RB for depth purposes is in order. The problem is that they have more vital needs elsewhere, making this a lower priority. TE Kellen Winslow didn’t produce much on the field, and after finding his name in the news for the wrong reasons twice already in 2014, his NFL career is probably finished; there’s not much demand for a guy with bum knees facing charges for synthetic marijuana and also for pleasuring himself in public, who is on the wrong side of 30.

 

Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 18
Round 2, Pick 17 (49)
Round 3, Pick 5 (69) – from Tampa Bay in Darrelle Revis trade
Round 3, Pick 16 (80)
Round 4, Pick 15 (111)
Round 5, Pick 14 (142)
Round 6, Pick 19 (179)
Round 7, Pick 18 (210)

Potential first round picks: WR Marquise Lee, WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M; WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State; OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA; TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

 

News

The Jets met with representatives of Mark Sanchez during the combine, though I have no idea why either side bothered to do so. Sanchez is due a $2 million bonus if he is still on the roster March 25, and has a $9 million base salary this year – and a $13.1 million cap figure. It’s a foregone conclusion that he will be released once the new league year gets under way, much to the chagrin of Patriot fans who were looking forward to Butt Fumble: The Sequel this autumn… While rumors abound that Darrelle Revis may be traded, one place Jet fans certainly don’t want to see him go to is to the Patriots. Watching him face the anemic Jet offense twice a year would be cruel punishment, and a weekly reminder of how their team was unable to get over the hump – while their arch rivals continue to remain competitive year in and year out.

With Sanchez not returning, the Jets will be in need of a veteran quarterback to be ready to take over if or when Geno Smith falters. The name most often mentioned is Michael Vick, and that would make sense given Woody Johnson‘s perpetual desire to keep the team in the local headlines. Josh McCown would make more sense, but being a steady and consistent player could upset the team chemistry.

Another player that could be let go in a salary dump is Antonio Cromartie. The cornerback has a $14,980,000 cap figure in 2014, and his release would save the Jets $9,500,000 in cap space. Although the club is in a decent cap situation right now – they have in excess of $23 million available – they do have major holes to fill, and as mentioned above, an owner who loves to see his team mentioned above the fold in the local tabloids. That makes re-signing Austin Howard a relatively easy task, with plenty of money left over to pursue wide receiver(s) such as Eric Decker, James Jones, Emmanuel Sanders and Hakeem Nicks. Don’t be surprised if they have their eyes on free agents from Foxboro; that type of signing strengthens their team, weakens a division opponent – and for old times sake, sticks it to their hated rival. Specifically, WR Julian Edelman could be targeted, as well as CB Aqib Talib – especially if Cromartie is released.

One last piece of news to note; this from Rich Cimini in regards to former Jet Bart Scott being hired as an analyst for the CBS pregame show on Sundays, NFL Today.

Scott is smart, opinionated and loves to yap, so he has all the qualifications for the job. He was an interesting guy to cover. He was entertaining, no doubt, filling our notebooks with terrific quotes, but there were times when he wasn’t pleasant to be around. He was condescending to some reporters, combative at times. He was fined $10,000 by the team for flipping off a news photographer in the locker room, tried to organize an anti-media boycott among teammates (most of whom didn’t listen) and nearly came to blows with a blogger.

After antagonizing the media at times, Scott is one of them. Ironic, huh?

 

 

 

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