- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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With training camp about five weeks away, let’s take a look at whose stock is up and whose stock is down in the AFC East.
1. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots tight end: For the past three seasons, it's been injury issues that bothered Hernandez. Now, New England’s star tight end has two off-the-field issues that came up this week. Hernandez recently had his home and rental vehicle searched by Massachusetts police during a homicide investigation. Hernandez is reportedly not a suspect in the case. But Hernandez was cited in a lawsuit Wednesday that claims he allegedly shot Alexander S. Bradley in the arm in February after an argument in Miami. The bullet allegedly traveled from Bradley’s arm to his head and injured his eye, according to the lawsuit. Both legal issues combined is not good for Hernandez with training camp right around the corner.
2. Buffalo Bills, Jairus Byrd talks: Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com reported this week that there hasn’t been much movement in talks between the Bills and Byrd, a Pro Bowl safety. Both deserve some of the blame. The Bills have plenty of cap room remaining and can afford to pay arguably their best defensive playmaker. On the other hand, Byrd probably could have gone about things better and not skipped all of mandatory minicamp and organized team activities. The longer this situation goes, the more contentious it will become. Byrd has yet to even sign his franchise tag.
3. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: Although you have to appreciate Christie's honesty, it’s also easy to question his fandom. Christie, the leader of the state of New Jersey, admitted this week that his favorite NFL team is not the New York Jets or New York Giants -- it’s the Dallas Cowboys. “I was a big fan of Roger Staubach, who was the quarterback for the Cowboys back then,” Christie said during a public appearance this week. “The Giants and the Jets pretty much stunk when I was a kid and my father was a Giants fan.” Ouch!
1. Jake Ballard, Patriots tight end: Considering the various issues with New England tight ends, it’s looking more like Ballard could get extensive playing time, particularly early in the season. Ballard played well for the Giants’ Super Bowl team in 2011, but sat out all of last year with a knee injury. Patriots coach Bill Belichick claimed Ballard off waivers a year ago when he was still injured. Now that move is looking very wise. Ballard has starting experience and should be able to step in if Patriots starter Rob Gronkowski can’t make it back from back surgery or Hernandez still needs to sort through his legal issues.
2. Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins defensive end: Vernon capped off a solid offseason with Miami during mandatory minicamp. After moving 2012 starting defensive end Jared Odrick inside to defensive tackle, Vernon is now the early favorite to start at defensive end heading into training camp. The 2012 third-round pick received an additional boost up the depth chart due to 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan's absence. Jordan could not participate with the Dolphins this offseason due to the quarter system at the University of Oregon. He also is recovering from shoulder surgery in February. Therefore, Vernon got a lot of valuable reps with the first-team defense and showed many of the flashes he displayed his rookie year. It’s no secret that Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick last April, will eventually supplant Vernon in the starting lineup. But Vernon did all he could to hold his spot and may be in the starting lineup for Miami in Week 1.
3. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets quarterback: Sanchez doesn’t get a lot of good publicity in the AFC East blog. It’s expected when you lead the NFL in turnovers the past two years. However, Sanchez does deserve a pat on the back for holding off Jets rookie Geno Smith thus far in offseason workouts. Sanchez came out the early winner in New York’s quarterback competition after OTAs and minicamp. There is still training camp remaining. But Sanchez is now the early favorite to be under center when the Jets host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the regular-season opener. Sanchez is definitely not the best long-term option for the Jets. But Sanchez may get the call this season until Smith is ready. Jets coaches say Smith still has things to learn about adjusting to the NFL game.