AFC East free-agency primer
Cap Status: The Bills do not have a ton of cap space compared to last year. But they have some flexibility and can still make a run at several players. Buffalo recently re-signed cornerback Leodis McKelvin and placed the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd, and those contracts will somewhat limit what the team can do this week. The Bills were among the biggest players in free agency in 2012 and spent a large chunk of their cap on $100 million defensive end Mario Williams.
Strategy: The Bills are very much a team in transition. They have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and potentially a new quarterback. Buffalo most likely will not look to free agency to find another quarterback. The Bills already have two veterans on the roster, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding a drafted rookie to the group makes more sense. Expect Buffalo to use its free-agent dollars at linebacker and wide receiver. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is installing a 3-4 scheme in Buffalo that relies heavily on solid, tough linebacker play. The Bills were 31st in run defense last year and the linebackers were pushed around too often. Buffalo also needs a No. 2 receiver to pair with Steve Johnson. The Bills let receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones walk in free agency and lack depth at the position. Buffalo continues to negotiate with starting guard Andy Levitre, but he could get interest from several teams in free agency and create a bidding war.
Cap Status: The Dolphins have the most cap room in the AFC East. They began the offseason with more than $40 million available. However, recent signings of three in-house players -- receiver Brian Hartline, quarterback Matt Moore and defensive tackle Randy Starks -- have reduced that number.
Strategy: Miami still has plenty of room to make a splash this week. The Dolphins are the favorite to land former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who could command about $12 million per season. The speedy Wallace could be the missing piece to a Dolphins passing game ranked 26th in the NFL last season. Miami also needs to address its situation at cornerback, tight end, safety and left tackle. The Dolphins are not expected to re-sign former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long. That leaves a big hole to fill at left tackle. The Dolphins could play 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin on the left side if they cannot find a better option in free agency. No. 1 cornerback and free agent Sean Smith also could leave Miami, which would create another major hole. Keep in mind the Dolphins also have nine draft picks, including five in the first three rounds. Whatever holes they cannot plug in free agency will be addressed in April's draft.
Cap Status: The Patriots are in decent shape. Quarterback Tom Brady recently provided a big assist by signing a three-year, $27 million contract extension. The move reportedly freed up an additional $15 million in cap room over the next two years to keep New England in position to contend.
Strategy: The Patriots will not be the biggest players in free agency, but they have enough room to go after a few desired targets. Definitely keep an eye on New England's secondary. The Patriots need help at both cornerback and safety. They have already been linked to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, who has a desire to stay with a contender. Belichick has an immense respect for Reed and the way he plays the game. New England also must address its in-house free agents, such as receiver Wes Welker, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and corner Aqib Talib. The Patriots do not get sentimental with their own players and are not afraid to let them test the market. New England runs the risk of losing all three players. But the Patriots refuse to overpay and are prepared to go to Plan B and Plan C for each scenario.* The Patriots do not have a general manager by title, but Belichick has the final say on all personnel matters in New England. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio shares some of the GM duties with Belichick.
Cap Status: The Jets have a very tight cap. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum significantly mismanaged the roster the past couple of seasons by overpaying veterans and poorly restructuring contracts. This is the year the Jets pay for those mistakes.
Strategy: The Jets have a lot of needs but few resources to work with. The team already cut veterans Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Eric Smith just to get under the cap. New York is not expected to re-sign Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, 1,000-yard tailback Shonn Greene and starting tight end Dustin Keller because they will be too expensive. Idzik says he will field a competitive team in his first year, but that's an extremely tough task. The Jets have no choice but to look for bargain-bin options in free agency. New York's biggest needs are on offense. The Jets need help at quarterback but can afford only cheap options like David Garrard. They also need to add talented skill players at wide receiver, tight end and running back to support the quarterback. Don't expect the Jets to make much noise in free agency. New York's best option to improve this year is through the draft.