The offseason is underway and the NFL combine will begin later this week.
Let’s take a look at whose stock is up and whose stock is down in the AFC East.
1. Bills quarterback situation: Ryan Fitzpatrick versus Tarvaris Jackson in training camp? That is not the quarterback competition many Buffalo Bills fans expected under new head coach Doug Marrone. But Buffalo signed Jackson to a one-year contract despite not playing one game for the Bills last season. That kind of money is nothing to sniff at. It appears the Bills are serious about giving Jackson a legitimate chance to win the starting job. That signing essentially rules out any chance of Buffalo going after Alex Smith or another significant veteran quarterback this offseason. It’s still possible the Bills will cut Fitzpatrick before his $3 million roster bonus is due next month. However, that has not been the indication. Buffalo could have Jackson, Fitzpatrick and a drafted rookie on board next season like Ryan Nassib of Syracuse. With these quarterback options, Buffalo won’t be in position to challenge the New England Patriots in 2013.
2. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end: It’s perfectly fine for Gronkowski to have a good time. I've never been critical of Gronkowski’s adventures before. But Gronkowski’s wrestling and dangerously landing on his twice surgically-repaired arm while in Las Vegas was silly and unnecessary. Gronkowski recently sent a shot back to critics by wearing a “Sorry for partying” T-shirt. But Gronkowski should be sorry for reckless partying and putting his health at risk. That is the difference Gronkowski needs to understand.
3. Reggie Bush, Dolphins tailback: Bush is finding out that the NFL is a tough business. Bush really wants to return to Miami. He’s done everything right the past two years, such as being as leader in the locker room and rushing for more than 2,000 yards in that span. But the Dolphins aren’t as fond to Bush returning. They have two running backs who are cheaper and younger in Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins feel they can handle the load. Miami may offer Bush a team-friendly contract. But unless Bush is willing to take something below market value, he may have to find a new team.
1. Greg Jennings to Dolphins: If I had to predict a safe free-agent pairing, Jennings to Miami would be my first choice. The Dolphins have all the resources to acquire Jennings, including more than $40 million in cap room and a familiar face in head coach Joe Philbin. Jennings played under Philbin in Green Bay. Jennings also has made public statements about his desire to play in Miami. The Dolphins have rightfully stayed quiet to avoid tampering charges, but they appear primed to make a move for Jennings next March. Jennings would fill the No. 1 receiver role Miami is desperately looking for.
2. Mark Sanchez, Jets quarterback: Perhaps no AFC East player had a tougher 2012 season than Sanchez. First, there was the Tim Tebow pressure. Then, Sanchez underperformed and regressed as a player. But things are surprisingly looking up for Sanchez. The rookie quarterback class is getting awful reviews and the veteran market for quarterbacks continues to shrink. The Jets also lack the cap room to acquire a big name like Alex Smith. The best chance New York has of adding respectable veteran competition is trading for Matt Flynn of the Seattle Seahawks. But Sanchez probably likes his chances against Flynn or any rookie in 2013 to keep his job.
3. Jairus Byrd, Bills safety: Byrd is at a good point in his career. He just finished his rookie contract and enters free agency in his prime. Byrd and Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens are the two best safeties in free agency. Many teams would prefer Byrd, because he’s much younger and more affordable. The Bills will look to lock up Byrd for the long term. But if not, the franchise tag is a strong possibility. Either way, Byrd will be paid like a top safety in 2013.