Wednesday, March 7, 2012
AFC East: Free-agency primer
By James Walker
Key free agents: TE Scott Chandler, WR Roscoe Parrish, OT Demetrius Bell, OL Kraig Urbik (restricted)
Where they stand: The Bills are in good shape with free agency. After signing leading receiver Steve Johnson on Monday, the Bills don't have any big names hitting the market. Buffalo also has solid cap room, and general manager Buddy Nix said the team plans to use it all. The Bills will do their best to lure big-name free agents to Buffalo, which has been a challenge in previous years.
What to expect: Signing Johnson set the tone and direction for the Bills in free agency. It allows Buffalo to focus on other needs, such as left tackle, cornerback and an outside pass-rusher. I expect the Bills to try to make a splash. But they may have to overpay for top names to get their attention. Top names such as Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams and San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson have been mentioned. But the Bills are not the favorites in either case. Buffalo also plans to work out a contract extension with starting running back Fred Jackson.
Key free agents: DT Paul Soliai, QB Chad Henne, G Vernon Carey, OT Marc Colombo, DE Kendall Langford
Where they stand: The Dolphins are in the thick of the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Miami's cap situation is decent, but not great, and a lot of that will be saved to see if the team can make a strong pitch to recruit Manning to Miami. After Miami hits or misses on Manning, everyone will have a much better idea how aggressive the Dolphins will be in free agency. The Dolphins have needs at right tackle, safety and an outside pass-rusher.
What to expect: Don't expect Miami to sign many of its own free agents. Soliai, Henne and Colombo have little or no chance to return. Carey is a possibility, because of his versatility. The Dolphins have a new head coach in Joe Philbin, and there will be roster turnover to fit the style of offense and defense Philbin wants to run next season. I think Miami has all the chips to make a strong run at Manning, but former Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn wouldn't be a bad Plan B.
New England Patriots
Key free agents: WR Wes Welker (franchise tag), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, WR Deion Branch, DE Mark Anderson, DE Andre Carter
Where they stand: The Patriots are in great shape. They have more cap space than any team in the division and four draft picks in the first two rounds. Welker's franchise tag will eat up a good chunk of their cap space, but the Patriots could make room later by working out a long-term contract. The reigning AFC champions have a lot of free agents, and I expect some roster turnover with this team.
What to expect: Little information gets outside the Patriots' walls, so New England is always hard to gauge. With Welker tagged, I think Anderson and maybe Carter, if healthy, would be targets to return. The Patriots would rather add pass-rushers instead of letting them go. Branch could return in a limited role, but not as a starter. Although I think New England would like to keep the sure-handed Green-Ellis, I doubt the team will overpay for him. New England has the room to make a splash and get at least one stud free agent. Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace are among the names often mentioned.
New York Jets
Key free agents: WR Plaxico Burress, S Jim Leonhard, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, DT Sione Pouha, LB Aaron Maybin (restricted)
Where they stand: The Jets have several needs but not much cap space to fill all of them. New York was a team built to win now and has a lot of guaranteed money tied up in veteran players. The Jets will let many veterans who are unrestricted free agents walk, such as Burress, Leonhard and Tomlinson. The team also restructured left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson's contract and gave permission for starting linebacker Bart Scott ($4.2 million salary) to seek a trade. The Jets are trying to remain in contention without rebuilding their roster too much.
What to expect: Don't expect any top names in free agency for the Jets. The Jets did enough to get under the cap and free some wiggle room to chase a few mid-level players. Baltimore Ravens veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is one example. The team will also try to retain free agents such Pouha and Maybin, who tied for the team lead in sacks and is a restricted free agent. But don't expect the Jets to pay for an expensive and elite player such as Manning.