AFC East: 2012 NFL Free Agency

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 1, 2012
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey are not afraid.

Both know this is a huge year in Buffalo. On paper, this is the best Bills team Gailey has coached and the best group Nix has put together. Many are expecting a playoff year from the Bills, who haven't made the postseason in 13 years.

This is new territory for Buffalo. For more than a decade, the Bills have been lovable losers. They finished 6-10 and last in the AFC East in 2011. But a stellar offseason has breathed new life into the franchise and created new expectations.

"We're not backing off from [expectations]. We expect to win and we expect to contend," Nix told the AFC East blog. "I think sometimes when you're afraid to say you expect that is because you're preparing yourself to lose. We're not afraid to say it. We've laid some groundwork for two years, and we're to the point now where we need to take the next step."

The groundwork included landing the top free agent not named Peyton Manning: defensive end Mario Williams. Buffalo also signed 10-sack defensive end Mark Anderson, re-signed No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson and drafted highly touted cornerback Stephon Gilmore and potential starting left tackle Cordy Glenn.

Buffalo did a great job putting a deep and talented roster together. The front office bought quality groceries. Now, it's time for Gailey and his coaching staff to cook a good meal.

"That's exactly right," Gailey said, responding to the metaphor. "That's my job: to get us to a winning program and playoffs and a championship."


[+] EnlargeMario Williams
AP Photo/David DupreyMario Williams, the Bills' largest contract acquisition in franchise history, has some high expectations to live up to in his first year in Buffalo.
1. Will Mario Williams live up to top billing? Williams and Gailey have a lot in common. Both are under pressure to produce in 2012. But Williams is also under the microscope due to the $100 million contract ($50 million guaranteed) he signed in March, the biggest contract in Bills history.

With that comes the expectation of double-digit sacks and game-changing plays. That is what Williams does best, and he said he's "ecstatic" to wreak havoc in Buffalo this year. But Williams, a former Houston Texan, is returning from a season-ending pectoral injury and must stay healthy.

Williams certainly looks the part. He checked in at 292 pounds and is a mountain of muscle. He adds an intimidating presence to the Bills' defense.

In many ways, the Bills have built their defense around Williams. They switched back to a 4-3 scheme, which better suits Williams' strengths. Buffalo will plug Anderson in on the other side to take some of the pressure off Williams.

2. Will Ryan Fitzpatrick be consistent? Fitzpatrick’s career has been marked with inconsistency. He is one of the streakiest quarterbacks in the NFL, one who can get really hot or really cold at any moment. Fitzpatrick led the NFL with 23 interceptions last season.

Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee believes the streakiness is due to inconsistent fundamentals. Lee and Fitzpatrick worked extensively on mechanics this offseason to reduce the number of bad games.

"At this point I feel like it is easy to have better mechanics, but it is when you get into the games that it is really going to be the test for me," Fitzpatrick said. "And not just Week 1 through Week 5. It is going to be the whole season."

Fitzpatrick's streakiness was on display in practice Tuesday. On one play in team drills, he threw a beautiful deep ball to receiver Derek Hagan for a touchdown. Fitzpatrick then threw an interception into coverage on the next play.

By nature, Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger. But reduced turnovers will put the defense in better position and it could produce more wins for the Bills. A lot is riding on Fitzpatrick this season. The Bills recently gave him a $59 million contract, and it's time to prove he can lead a franchise.

3. Can Buffalo win in the AFC East? The biggest thorn in the side of the Bills has been their division rivals. Buffalo is just 2-10 against the AFC East the past two years.

The Bills can't quite put a finger on the reason. Part of it was inconsistency, part was lack of toughness. Another part was missed opportunities.

"They were better than us, but we gotta change that," Nix said candidly. "We hadn’t measured up in the two years we’d been here, even though if we could’ve stayed healthy I thought we could’ve been in contention at the end. I felt all along we could win nine or 10 games if we could keep everybody healthy. But we didn’t have a lot of depth anyway, and the ones we lost were our best leaders."

The gap between the New England Patriots and everyone else in the AFC East appears wide. No team outside of New England finished with a winning record last year. However, the Bills are confident they did enough this offseason to close the gap. Part of that confidence is due to splitting with New England last season.

"We still feel like we should win the division -- every team does," Gailey said. "Miami feels that way. The Jets feel that way. The Patriots feel that way. That's the goal going in."

Reason for optimism

Buffalo's defensive line should be one of the best in the NFL. Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are paired with defensive ends Mario Williams and Anderson. That's a lot of money and high draft picks invested in rushing the quarterback and winning in the trenches.

But the starting defensive linemen aren't the only quality players. Buffalo has a deep bench, led by backup defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman and backup defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. The rotation along the defensive line should wear down many opposing offensive lines.

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
AP Photo/David DupreyStarting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has the position locked up, while Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen fight it out for the No. 2 spot.
"I feel like everybody on our defensive line could be a starter one way or the other, whether it is here or somewhere else," Mario Williams said. "Our competition level is extremely high. Every day we are pushed and we push each other. We hold each other accountable. I think that is the biggest thing."

Reason for pessimism

Buffalo is a team still learning how to win and is fighting plenty of bad history. As noted, it's been 13 years since Buffalo qualified for the postseason, a playoff run that was ended by the Music City Miracle.

It takes a lot of focus, maturity and consistency to win throughout a 16-game season. Past Bills teams lacked those traits. Once things went downhill, it was too easy for Buffalo to fall back into the "same old Bills" mentality.

Buffalo had a little taste of success last year. The Bills started 5-2 and were in first place in the AFC East. But things turned sour quickly and the losing snowballed. Buffalo lost eight of its last nine games and finished last in the division.

The Bills were the unexpected media darlings of the NFL for a couple weeks before things fell apart.

"You learn how to take that with a grain of salt, because it’s what you do on Sundays that count," Gailey said. "I hope we learned that lesson. I hope we learned not to let that affect our play and our thought processes in any way."


  • The Bills said they have a better plan for tailback C.J. Spiller this season. He was mostly ignored as a running back until starter Fred Jackson was put on injured reserve with a broken leg. But Spiller, a former first-round pick, is getting more carries in practice and looks sharp heading into his third season. He broke a couple of big runs in Tuesday's practice. Expect Spiller to get more carries this season, but it's still going to be a major challenge taking Jackson off the field.
  • The early reviews are in, and Gilmore looks legit. He's fluid and a good athlete. But perhaps the best thing about Gilmore, the No. 10 overall pick in the draft, is his competitiveness. Gilmore has lined up against Johnson, Buffalo's No. 1 receiver, at every chance in practice. The rookie wants to go against the best the team has to offer, and at times things have gotten physical between the two. Gilmore might already be Buffalo's best cornerback.
  • Speaking of cornerbacks, I would be surprised if longtime Bills corner Terrence McGee makes this team. McGee has been a leader and a consummate professional in Buffalo for nine years. But a youth movement at cornerback and many injuries could mean McGee's days are numbered. He's missed at least five games in each of the past three seasons. A season-ending knee injury forced McGee to miss 10 games in 2011 and he's still not 100 percent. He could bring leadership and depth to the secondary when healthy, but he may not get enough time on the field in camp or the preseason to show he's worthy of making the 53-man roster.
  • The Bills are definitely a bigger team. They have 23 players on their roster who weigh 300 pounds or more; at 292 pounds, just misses making the 300-pound club. Not all are going to make the team, but Buffalo has made it a point to get quality depth in the trenches.
  • I didn’t really see much separation between the backup quarterbacks. Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen are battling for the No. 2 spot, and the loser of this battle may not make the team because Brad Smith also is getting a lot of work at quarterback. Young and Thigpen made some good and bad throws Tuesday. This duel likely will be decided in the preseason.
DAVIE, Fla. – During Tuesday's minicamp, Chad Ochocinco sprinted up the right sideline as fast as he could.

After the Miami Dolphins' newest receiver gained a step on cornerback Sean Smith, quarterback David Garrard threw a back-shoulder pass deep that forced Ochocinco to make a quick adjustment. Ochocinco spotted the ball, stopped on a dime and leaped over Smith while keeping his feet in bounds to make an acrobatic catch. It was one of several great plays the 34-year-old receiver made in Miami's first day of minicamp.

"He definitely has 'it,'" Smith said of Ochocinco. "I know a lot of people wrote him off. If you look at his numbers last year, they weren't productive. But he's out here, his routes are crisp and he's coming out of his breaks. He looks good. He's definitely going to be one of those guys who turns heads this year."

Although it's just one practice, Ochocinco was the best receiver on the field for Miami on Tuesday. It's been awhile since that was the case.

[+] EnlargeChad Ochocinco
AP Photo/J Pat Carter"He definitely has 'it'," new teammate Sean Smith said after getting beaten by Chad Ochocinco.
The six-time Pro Bowler spent most of his 2011 season on the bench with the New England Patriots. Ochocinco recorded a career-low 15 receptions for 276 yards. He fell as low as fourth or fifth on New England’s depth chart before finally being released June 7. It was the first time in the NFL that Ochocinco was ever cut.

Now, for the first time in a long time, Ochocinco has something to prove. Ochocinco was very business-like in his approach this week, and he looks determined to show his critics he still has something left in the tank.

"I'm getting back to what we're all used to seeing, the basic fundamentals of how I came to what I am," Ochocinco said. "I think I kind of lost that. Now, I'm looking to go back to Chad Johnson, just making it live again."

Sometimes it takes going back home to get back to your roots. Ochocinco grew up in Miami and went to Miami Beach High School. As soon as he was cut by the Patriots, he came back to South Florida to work out with his friend and fellow free agent Terrell Owens.

The receiver-deprived Dolphins worked Ochocinco out a few days later and signed him to a modest one-year contract. It’s a team he always rooted for growing up. Ochocinco cited “The Marks,” as in Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, and quarterback Dan Marino as some of his favorite players.

More importantly, the Dolphins are more accepting than the Patriots to let "Ocho be Ocho." He is charismatic and has a unique personality. At any moment, Ochocinco can say something funny, something from way out in left field. It's a big part of who he is, and the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick took that away from him. Ochocinco had the muzzle on his mouth from the day he arrived until the conclusion of the Super Bowl. It was an uncomfortable year to say the least.

But Ochocinco is back to having fun again in Miami. He's already chirping to the defense and his quarterbacks, which is something he was scared to do in New England. Ochocinco was that way earlier in his career, and that's when he was confident and played his best football.

"Chad thinks he's open on every play," said Garrard. "Even when it's the punt team [on the field], he's open. So it's been great. He will remind you that whoever he's got on him, he's open."

Smith said he wants Ochocinco to let his personality show this season, because that will help the receiver be more comfortable as a player.

"As a player and a teammate, I would like for him to go out and be him," Smith said. "Let it loose, and give it everything you got. If you have to talk when you play, talk when you play, as long as you back it up."

Ochocinco is winning over his new teammates and coaches in Miami. That's a great first step. No one has ever questioned Ochocinco's work ethic. He's always been a hard worker and showed up for Dolphins camp in great shape.

Miami rookie head coach Joe Philbin told a story this week displaying Ochocinco's dedication to getting back to his old form.

"Last Wednesday we had a team meeting and we called off practice to go and perform some community service," Philbin said. "This is my 10th year in the NFL and I have been around practices that have been canceled and I've never been around a player that wanted to practice, but Chad wanted to practice, so he’s been good. So far it seems that he is fitting in well."

At the end of Ochocinco's meeting with the media Tuesday, he said "enjoy the show."

Perhaps Ochocinco has something in store for 2012 that will surprise a lot of people.
The New York Jets were one of several AFC East teams still searching for answers at wide receiver. But it appears free agent and former Jet Braylon Edwards will not be in their plans.

According to the New York Post, the Jets are satisfied with what they've seen at receiver in organized team activities and minicamps. The paper reports they have ruled out Edwards, because they feel comfortable with receivers Santonio Holmes, rookie Stephen Hill and backups Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens.

Edwards had a solid stint with the Jets in 2009 and 2010. He was a key part of New York's run to back-to-back AFC Championship Games. But injuries derailed Edwards in 2011 with the San Francisco 49ers and now he's looking to catch on with another team.

I watched New York's receivers in minicamp last week and thought Schilens and Kerley performed well in practice. Holmes and Hill, the projected starters, were nursing hamstring injuries. The Jets are tight against the cap and hope their receivers continue their momentum in training camp and the preseason.
Sometimes you can gauge a player's standing with a team based on his contract. Vince Young signed a one-year, $1,987,500 contract with the Bills this offseason.

Here are the particulars and what it means for Young and Buffalo:
  • Young received a $350,000 signing bonus. That is the only guaranteed money in the contract.
  • Young's 2012 salary is $1.25 million if he makes the team. That's about average for a backup quarterback. The Bills are getting good value for a former No. 3 overall pick and a player with a 31-19 record as a starter. Young actually has many more wins than Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is 17-31 in his career.
  • The Bills put an interesting wrinkle in the contract. Young can earn incentives of just over $24,000 a game for being on the active, 46-man roster this fall. The third, emergency quarterback rules no longer apply after the new collective bargaining agreement in 2011. Therefore, Young has a good chance to earn this weekly bonus if he stays healthy. The Bills also have the option to make Fitzpatrick and the versatile Brad Smith active on game days, and potentially use Young's roster spot for another position and not pay Young the bonus.

Overall, signing Young to a modest contract was a smart play for Buffalo. It looks like Fitzpatrick and Smith will take up two quarterback slots this year, while Young and Tyler Thigpen battle it out for the final roster spot.

If Young doesn't make the team and is beat out by Thigpen for the backup job this summer, Buffalo is only on the hook for Young's $350,000 signing bonus because his salary isn't guaranteed. That is not a steep price for the chance to see what Young can do.
The first workout is booked for free-agent receiver Chad Ochocinco. According to Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports, the former New England Patriot will work out with the Miami Dolphins next week.

The AFC East blog brought up the topic of Ochocinco being a possible target for Miami last week. Here are some additional thoughts on the reported workout:
  • I think the workout is a solid idea. I've been saying that talent and depth at wide receiver have been major issues for the Dolphins since they traded Brandon Marshall this offseason. The Dolphins haven’t found anyone to replace Marshall’s production (81 catches, 1,214 yards in 2011) and surprisingly skipped over receiver after receiver in the draft. There is no harm in a workout. Considering Miami’s need, the Dolphins rightfully should be one of the first teams to see what Ochocinco has in the tank.
  • On the flip side, you wonder if this reported interest in Ochocinco sends mixed messages from the organization. All we've heard from new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland is that you don’t need big-name receivers in a West Coast offense and they are fine with the group they have. Going after Ochocinco seems to contradict both. Sure, Ochocinco is not the star receiver he was a few years ago, but he is a big name, and he carries star power in the locker room. The Dolphins seemed to be going against that when they traded Marshall. In fact, if they wanted to keep a high-maintenance receiver, at least Marshall is still a productive Pro Bowler. Looking to replace Marshall with Ochocinco would seem like a weird exchange in terms of both talent and message.
  • Finally, I have questions of whether Ochocinco could fit into a West Coast offense. The scheme requires timing, precision passing and crisp routes. Ochocinco has never been a disciplined receiver. That is what got him cut by the Patriots after one season. Ochocinco is at his best when he’s allowed to freelance and use his athleticism, which was often the case with the Cincinnati Bengals. Freelancing in the West Coast offense doesn’t work and often leads to turnovers, because quarterbacks are taught to throw to spots and receivers are expected to be there. Overall, I like the idea of Miami working out Ochocinco because there is certainly a need there. But I think other teams are a better fit.

The one position the AFC East has question marks nearly across the board is at wide receiver. The Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets all have issues there on offense.

Therefore, with free agency all but over, I still think there's one player worth keeping an eye on: former Pro Bowl receiver Braylon Edwards. He's working his way back from a knee injury and has experience in the AFC East following a successful stint with the Jets from 2009-10.

Edwards will be looking for a new home this summer. Why not the AFC East?
Williams NFL columnist Ashley Fox wrote an interesting piece Wednesday on new Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams. According to Fox, Williams' $100 million contract (with $50 million guaranteed) can create inflated expectations that Williams has to manage this season.
"The money makes it look easy, but it is not. Sometimes, as in the case of Julius Peppers, it works. Other times, as in the case of Albert Haynesworth, it doesn't. Sometimes, [Nnamdi] Asomugha hopes, it can take more than a year for the transition to be complete before you know. Having expectation and reality meet is harder than it looks. Williams is about to find out."

I agree with Fox that this comes with the territory. Williams received the richest contract ever for a defensive player. The money is in the bank and now it's time to produce. That is especially the case in Buffalo, which is not a team known to pay for high-priced free agents.

The Bills swung for the fences this offseason and need to hit a home run with Williams. In my opinion, Williams will be much closer to Peppers than to Haynesworth.
Here are four important players to keep an eye on who are returning from injuries suffered last season:

Buffalo Bills: Defensive end Mario Williams

Injury: Pectoral

Thoughts: Williams was on his way to a dominant 2011 after he recorded five sacks in his first five games. Then he tore his pectoral muscle and was sidelined for the rest of the season. That didn't scare Buffalo away from making Williams the richest player in franchise history. The Bills gave Williams a $100 million contract in free agency to improve their pass rush. Williams will join teammates Mark Anderson, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams to make up one of the NFL's most formidable defensive lines. There's no reason to think Williams won't be successful with this group as long as he avoids injuries.

Miami Dolphins: Left tackle Jake Long

Injury: Bicep

Thoughts: Long missed two of the final three games last season and was placed on injured reserve last December with a torn bicep. The perennial Pro Bowl left tackle went four straight years without missing a start but played hurt much of last season. Long is entering the final year of his contract, and the rebuilding Dolphins need a healthy season from their best player. Miami general manager Jeff Ireland says he wants to keep Long in a Dolphins uniform for a long time. The team may not extend Long's contract happen this summer, but look for the Dolphins to offer Long a huge extension by next year -- especially if he shows his durability in 2012.

New England Patriots: Tight end Rob Gronkowski

Injury: Ankle

Thoughts: Gronkowski didn't miss any games last season. But he suffered a major ankle injury in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens that hindered his effectiveness in New England's Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. Gronkowski opted for surgery after the Super Bowl and is in the recovery phase. There is no reason to believe he won't be the same dominant player who set an NFL record for tight ends with 17 touchdown receptions in 2011. Gronkowski is 23 years old. But sometimes with youth comes the propensity to rush back on the field. It will be up to the Patriots' medical staff to make sure "Gronk" takes his time getting back to 100 percent.

New York Jets: Safety LaRon Landry

Injury: Achilles

Thoughts: The Jets signed Landry to a one-year, $3.5 million contract despite knowing he wasn't 100 percent. Landry has already missed organized team activities. The Jets hope his Achilles can be fully healthy by training camp. Landry, when healthy, is a big and physical safety who can blow people up. That would fit in well with New York's defense. But Landry can't help the Jets unless he's on the field. The former first-round pick missed 16 games the past two seasons with the Washington Redskins.

Bills: Dream/nightmare scenarios

May, 24, 2012
» AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Buffalo Bills in 2012.

Dream scenario (11-5): It would be a dream for Bills fans to see their team back in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. The last time we saw Buffalo make the postseason, the Bills were the victim of the “Music City Miracle” in 1999. It has been a long line of disappointments and underachieving since that historic play. (Many Bills fans still contend that was a forward pass, by the way.) This year’s team looks poised to break the streak. This is the best team, on paper, that Buffalo has had in a long time. The offense will be dangerous if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick improves his consistency in the passing game and Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and the running game stay consistent. Buffalo also made improvements to the defense, including drafting corner Stephon Gilmore in the first round and adding stud defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Chances are, everything won’t fall into place for Buffalo. But this is a sleeper team that does have a chance to make a jump and contend for the playoffs.

Nightmare scenario (5-11): Despite all the additions, there is no guarantee the Bills and their coaching staff can bring it all together in one year. What if Fitzpatrick continues to play like the second half of 2011 and is not the long-term solution? What if the defense struggles to make the transition to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt? What if big injuries again decimate this team? A lot can go wrong for the Bills, especially in a division where the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots are expected to dominate. The Bills are trying to catch up and cannot afford to make many mistakes in the AFC East. They were 1-5 against division foes last year. Bills head coach Chan Gailey is only 10-22 in his first two years in Buffalo. He has more talent than he has ever had with the Bills. There are no excuses for Gailey this year. It’s still somewhat of a mystery whether Gailey can coach. But we will find out in 2012.

Pressure point: Bills

May, 18, 2012
» NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
» AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Bills and why.

Things are looking up for the Buffalo Bills. A team that finished 6-10 and in last place in the AFC East in 2011 had arguably the league's best offseason. The Bills acquired defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency, drafted first-round cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and gave contract extensions to in-house stars Fred Jackson and Steve Johnson.

But each move adds more pressure to third-year Bills coach Chan Gailey, who is 10-22 in his first two seasons in Buffalo.

Is Gailey a good NFL head coach? It's hard to say. He was 18-14 in two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before he was abruptly fired. Gailey still carries that sting after being relieved of his position without ever posting a losing season in Dallas. He has struggled in Buffalo, but hasn't had nearly the same talent that he had with the Cowboys.

Talent is no longer a question this year in Buffalo. The Bills spent to the cap to nab top free agents, and many in-house players are coming into their own. Buffalo now has enough talent to make a playoff push. The question is, can Gailey and his staff put it all together?

This is a no-excuses year for Gailey. It's time to finally show what he can do in Buffalo with a bevy of talent at his disposal.

AFC East links: Revis sings Tebow's praises

May, 17, 2012
Buffalo Bills

Bills general manager Buddy Nix assured Ryan Fitzpatrick that he would be the team's starter ahead of the signing of Vince Young, the quarterback told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday.

Fourth-round draft selection Nigel Bradham relishes his role on special teams.

Miami Dolphins

Ovie Mughelli, a two-time Pro Bowl fullback who was a salary-cap casualty in Atlanta this offseason, is in South Florida for a Thursday workout with the Dolphins. It might be a signal, Brian Biggane writes, that the team is worried about Jerome Messam, who underwent his second knee surgery in five months this week.

Former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams shared his views on concussions with ESPN's Dan Le Batard.

New England Patriots

The Patriots signed receiver Jeremy Ebert, their seventh-round draft pick from Northwestern.

According to a Forbes report, Bill Belichick is the highest-paid coach in sports.

New York Jets

Darrelle Revis led a chorus of Jets praising new addition Tim Tebow, the New York Daily News reports. "He's a born leader," Revis said. "... It's the passion within ... of him wanting to be a leader, wanting to win. You see it in him all the time... eating lunch. Walking down the hallway you see it. He's just one of those guys."

Offensive tackle Wayne Hunter, coming off a tough 2011, received praise from new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. "This guy is the starting right tackle," DeGuglielmo told "Until they tell me otherwise, until they ship him out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that sonofagun is going to be the starting right tackle."
We have another interesting poll this weekend in the AFC East blog. The Buffalo Bills made an interesting quarterback addition Friday by singing former first-round pick Vince Young. It adds depth to Buffalo’s duo of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen.


Who has the second-best QB situation in the AFC East?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,050)

With that said, who has the second-best quarterback situation in the AFC East? Tom Brady and the New England Patriots obviously lead the way, so we are (again) taking the reigning AFC champs out of the equation.

Do you like the Bills’ trio of Fitzpatrick, Thigpen and now Young? Fitzpatrick is the unquestioned starter, and Thigpen and Young will battle for the No. 2 role. Both can move well in the pocket and have starting experience.

What about the New York Jets? They have starter Mark Sanchez and popular backup Tim Tebow. Both have won in the playoffs. Greg McElroy is the developmental No. 3 quarterback.

Finally, the Miami Dolphins have an interesting trio of Matt Moore, David Garrard and Ryan Tannehill. Moore and Garrard are expected to battle for the starting job this year, while Tannehill, a first-round pick, is the quarterback of the future. Is this the most talented trio?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the second-best quarterback group in the division. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Walker's weekend mailbag

May, 6, 2012
Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

Mike from Ireland writes: James, what are your thoughts on the New England Patriots' cornerbacks?

James Walker: I'm not high on them, Mike. It's not a bad group on paper. But when you see them on the field, it doesn't add up. It's a lot of missed assignments, failing to stick to receivers, etc. The corners on the Patriots simply don’t cover well. Bill Belichick is almost forced to play zone to even have a chance to stop the good quarterbacks and passing game. We saw that in the Super Bowl.

Ari S from Boston writes: With BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone, should the Patriots pursue free-agent running back Cedric Benson?

Walker: Nope. Bad fit and has character concerns, Ari. The Patriots are better off sticking with their young running backs. There is enough potential there where New England doesn't have to force it and take on a risk.

Ben from New York writes: If New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow doesn't end up starting this year, what sort of stat line can we expect from him?

Walker: Interesting question, Ben. A lot of people are expecting Tebow to start at some point, either through injury or performance. But if everything goes well for New York's offense, I think it's realistic to expect 300-400 yards rushing from Tebow, and maybe about 200 yards passing. The sum of 500-700 total yards is very solid from a backup quarterback, who usually contributes next to nothing on most teams.

Jason from Brooklyn, NY, wants to know if recently release corner Drew Coleman could be a target for the Jets.

Walker: Yes, Jason, I do see this as a potential match for several reasons. First, Coleman obviously played well for the Jets and knows the system. Second, he's versatile and can play in the nickel spot. Third, Darrelle Revis is in a contract dispute and you just never know how far this is going to go. Coleman can add more depth behind Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson just in case.

BUM from Chesapeake, VA, writes: James, any chance the Miami Dolphins try to upgrade the receiver corps with anyone still on the market?

Walker: Yes, Bum, the Dolphins are one of several teams who could make a late addition at receiver. But right now Miami wants to see what it has in mini-camps and offseason workouts before making that decision. There are some interesting names out there. Jacoby Jones and Braylon Edwards are two of the top receivers looking for jobs. I also mentioned Donald Driver as a possibility for Miami if Green Bay cuts him, because of Driver's history with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. But Miami doesn't have much cap space left and still has to get the Cameron Wake situation resolved. That could force the Dolphins to stay put for now.

Hernán from Argentina writes: Do you think the Dolphins are rebuilding? How many games do you think they can win this season?

Walker: Absolutely, Hernan, the Dolphins are in rebuild mode. They are setting up the team for the long-term, which is what the Dolphins must do. They're not catching the Patriots anytime soon. I think Miami is under a 2-3 year plan, with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill's development being the key.

Brandon from New Windsor, NY, writes: Who do you see as the best potential receiver to step up and be a solid No. 2 receiver for the Buffalo Bills? T.J. Graham? Donald Jones? Marcus Easley?

Walker: We examined this question on Friday, Brandon. Buffalo drafted Graham with hopes that he can produce right away. He has the speed, but you never know with a third-round pick. Jones is coming off an injury and has to prove he can bounce back, and Easley is unproven. I would peg Jones and Graham as the favorites. If that doesn’t work outm moving David Nelson from the slot again would be an alternative.

Pat from Erie, Pa., writes: With the Bills having a pretty solid offseason so far, do you think they are closing the gap between them and the other AFC East teams?

Walker: Absolutely, Pat. It's no secret now that Buffalo is my sleeper pick for 2012. Although I'm not ready to make predictions in terms of record, I think the Bills are in position to definitely improve on their 6-10 record this year. A big component will be winning in the division. The Bills have to beat the Jets and Dolphins to turn things around. That is the key. Buffalo split with New England last year, but that's more of a luxury.

DieHard III from Houston, TX, writes: Can you come up with your best definition of what an elite QB is?

Walker: Everyone has their own definition of "elite," DieHard. So I wouldn't say my interpretation is the general consensus. But I view an elite quarterback as one of the top five or seven players at their position. Guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and you can throw Eli Manning in, as well. It's a combination of being a prolific passer and winning. Some can do one but not the other. But the elite quarterbacks can do both.

Comment and complaint department

Lawrence Miller from Wallingford, VT, writes: How many Super Bowl rings do you have? Bill Belichick has a few.

Walker: Lawrence, I assume this has something to do with criticizing New England's second-round pick of little-known safety Tavon Wilson. Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time. You will rarely see any criticism of Belichick's coaching in the AFC East blog, because he makes nearly all the right moves. However, that doesn't mean his personnel decisions are perfect. Belichick makes personnel mistakes like everyone else, especially in the second round. So it's fair to question the Wilson pick. He wasn't invited to the combine and most didn't think he had a second-round grade. At the very least, New England could've waited a couple rounds before taking this kind of reach.

JR from Tampa Bay writes: I think the Tannehill pick was horrid as a Phin-fan. A head coach has a 3-4 year shelf life and putting a first round pick into a guy who's probably 2-3 years off from a quality starter isn't good. If he fails to develop, that means in a few years we'll be looking for a new head coach and a new QB. The Phins turned it around in the last half of the previous season so as a fan, this back to square one rebuilding is going to be painful. IMO they should have just bite the bullet and brought Chad Henne back for one more year to compete with Moore and then traded whatever it took to draft Matt Barkley next year.

Walker: JR, you lost me with bringing Henne back and trying to get Barkley. That just wasn’t going to happen. Henne had four seasons to prove he was the guy and clearly wasn't. How many chances should Henne get? Barkley is a projection. The Dolphins probably would have to win two or three games next season to have a shot at Barkley, a projected top three pick. You can't count on that. Other than that, I understand you're point about Tannehill. The Dolphins have put their reputation on the line with him. But listening to the team's brass over the weekend, the Dolphins are convinced he’s the guy. We probably won’t know for a couple years.

Clint Buckland from Webster, TX, writes: I'm predicting Ryan Tannahill will win the QB job by Week 10. In your opinion, what's the odds?

Walker: I view that as the starting point, Clint. Week 10 is probably the earliest to expect Tannehill in the lineup, barring injury. Miami thinks it can be competitive with a veteran quarterback, while mentoring Tannehill. I don't expect the Dolphins to win many games. So I think there's a chance Tannehill can play late in the year just to get his feet wet before eventually taking over in 2013.

Nick from Buffalo writes: How in the world did Buffalo -- one of the up and coming teams in the league -- only get one prime time game? And it's a Thursday night game? C'mon man!!!!

Walker: Buffalo fans and your AFC East blogger are the only people who think the Bills have potential this year, Nick. That's why they are called a "sleeper" pick. All I ask is Buffalo fans remember who called it before anyone else.

Jesse from Long Island writes: Hey James, what do you think the Jets' record next year will be and where will they rank in the AFC East? I think they can go 12-4 honestly, with loses to New England once, San Diego, Houston, and San Francisco. Looking at the rest of their schedule, it seems pretty easy. If not 12-4, do you at least see them getting at least 10 wins?

Walker: Jesse, I think 12 wins are too ambitious for this year's Jets. But 10 wins are possible if a lot of things fall their way. Will quarterback Mark Sanchez have a career year? Will the sniping and in-fighting stop? Will the safety play and pass-rush improve? Can right tackle Wayne Hunter block consistently this year? These are some of the questions that have to be answered for New York to get back to the playoffs.

AFC East Homer of the week

Ferko from Denver, Colorado, writes: I don't understand why everyone is giving the Jets so much grief. This will go down as the best Jets draft in history without a doubt. It'll take 2 years before Quinton Coples is constantly winning DPOY awards, and I can promise that Stephen Hill will most likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer after he breaks all of Jerry Rice's records.

Walker: Sloooow down, Ferko. Nothing screams homer more than putting rookie draft picks in the Hall of Fame before they play their first snap. Despite some questions, I like the potential of both Coples and Hill. Their ceilings are high and I think New York has a chance to hit a home run with both picks. But let's not make Coples the best defensive player in the NFL or make Hill the greatest receiver of all time. That's way too much. Congrats, Ferko, on being our AFC East "Homer of the Week."
The most prized free-agent acquisition not named Peyton Manning will not get the jersey number he wants in Buffalo.

New Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who signed a $100 million contract this offseason, will have to find a new jersey to wear in 2012. The No. 90 jersey Williams wore with the Houston Texans is occupied by Bills veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay, who is not giving it up.

"I've worn it my entire career here," Kelsay told the Buffalo News. "A lot of times in a situation like this, the guy will buy it from you. But I'm not really interested in that."

Kelsay, a nine-year veteran, is one of the longest-tenured Bills. He says he's attached to the number. In fact, every jersey from No. 90-99 is occupied in Buffalo.

Williams will have to pay one of his teammates who are more willing to make the switch soon.

Walker's weekend mailbag

April, 21, 2012
The NFL draft is just a few days away. Let’s check to see what’s in our AFC East inbox this week.

Mike Mercer from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: The Bills were devastated by injuries last year. Have they ever come up with a reason that they are one of the most injured teams in the NFL every year? Have they taken any steps to try an prevent that this year?

James Walker: Good question, Mike. This is something that is tough to address, because injuries happen to every team -- some more than others. I remember my time in the AFC North covering the Cincinnati Bengals, and every year they were among the league leaders on putting players on Injured Reserve. There really is no set answer for injuries. That is going to happen to every team, every year. But I do think some teams treat injuries better than others. I haven’t covered the Bills long enough to get a feel for their medical staff.

Tom Z from Northern PA writes: What do you see as a bigger need for defense on the bills team, LB or CB?

Walker: Probably cornerback, Tom. Buffalo is pretty thin at linebacker, but I think the new-look defensive line is going to make that group look a lot better. Corners are on an island and Buffalo couldn’t guard anyone consistently last season. The Bills need play-makers more at corner.

Mark writes: Any chance LaDainian Tomlinson or Yeremiah Bell come to Foxboro?

Walker: No on Tomlinson with the New England Patriots, Mark. He is all but retired and the Patriots already have a stable of running backs. Bell is a possibility. The Patriots need help at safety. But New England is going to see if it can get a safety in the draft first.

Conor Murray from Ireland writes: What are the chances that the Pats use both first round picks this year or will that only be decided as the draft unfolds?

Walker: We did a poll on this in the AFC East blog and a majority voted New England would trade back, Conor. That’s been the trend. But every year is a new year. I have a feeling New England will use the picks this year. This team is not far away.

Daniel from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I am originally from Miami and am an avid Dolphin fan. Even though all the talk there is on Stephen Ross and Jeff Ireland, no one talks about Joe Philbin, what do you think of him as a head-coach?

Walker: Well, I have to see him coach a game first, Daniel. All kidding aside, Philbin seems to have a good grasp and mentality of a head coach. But none of that really matters in the offseason. Philbin can only be graded once the bullets start flying. A jump from a coordinator to head coach is probably the toughest in the NFL. A lot more things come across your desk, and Philbin has to prove he can handle it.

Nick from Westerville, Ohio, writes: Is Cameron Wake going to be traded before draft day because of his holdout?

Walker: That’s not in the cards, Nick. Wake is Miami’s best pass-rusher and the team can’t afford to lose him. I think something eventually gets worked out. But it won’t be easy considering the Dolphins’ cap situation.

Neal from Queens, N.Y., writes: Could you see Asante Samuel as a safety for the Jets? And why is it taking Burress so long to find a new team? No interest? If so, do you see a return to the Jets?

Walker: No way. Samuel is not a strong enough tackler to play safety. His tackling is a shade better than Jets corner Antonio Cromartie. That wouldn’t work.

Comment and complaint department

We have several comments and complaints this week in the AFC East blog.

Christian Moody from Lafayette, Fla., writes: OK, I have two questions. One is when you write a blog about a team, especially when that team is where you live, aren't you supposed to brag on them instead of bagging on them? That's stupid. Number two, you say the Dolphins don't look that good this year? Well, seeing that they have one of the best running backs in the NFL, a veteran quarterback that they just signed this year, a possible chance at Ryan Tannehill, and then they can get a receiver and lineman in the draft I think their in pretty good shape.

Walker: Christian, a lot of people misinterpret my job as a blogger for the AFC East. I provide news, analysis and opinions on all four teams. This is a zero homerism blog. There is plenty of places for "rah rah" coverage on the internet. My opinions and analysis are going to be honest, based on how I think all four teams are currently doing. For example, when the Bills stunk it up in the second half of last season, I ripped them. When Buffalo had a great offseason, I praised them. It's pretty simple from my perspective, but I'm surprised how many readers don't see it this clearly. I don't "brag" for the home team. I live in Miami, but I'm not a fan of the Dolphins or any NFL team.

Diana from Pennsylvania writes: Why should Darrelle Revis step up to the leadership role when the coach doesn't even have control? What is going to build from? There is no unity and we see that clear as day. So why would you put it on one player? Everyone is accountable for their behavior as professionals.

Walker: This is in relation to a Jets/lack of leadership column that I wrote this offseason. Good comments, Diana, but I mostly disagree. The first point I want to make is I listed Revis with two other high-profile Jets (Mark Sanchez and Nick Mangold) who need to step up with leadership. I never put it on one player. But I did write Revis is, by far, the team’s best player, and he needs to become a more assertive leader. Ray Lewis would not let what happened in New York’s locker room happen in Baltimore. Tom Brady would not allow the Jets’ shenanigans to persists in New England. Players would listen to the soft-spoken Revis in the same way, but he must speak up. Leading by example is not good enough for a veteran player of Revis’ caliber. Revis -- along with Sanchez and Mangold -- should be more responsible for keeping everyone in line next season.

Chuck Shepherd from Cincinnati, Ohio, writes: Just wanted to say I enjoyed the irony of seeing the second post about a player who isn't even in the top 20 players in the division titled "Is Tim Tebow's celebrity out of control?" Well played, sir.

Walker: Sometimes you have to poke fun at yourself. I figured that was a clever way to do it.

AFC East Homer of the Week

This week's selected homer from our AFC inbox is a Bills fan. Enjoy.

Sawyer from New York, N.Y., writes: Close your eyes for a moment and imagine what the World would look like if the Buffalo Bills won the Super Bowl. So glorious, so beautiful! I know the Cubs technically have the longest drought, and I may be bias, but in terms of sheer bliss per person - don't you think a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl victory tops all?

Walker: Sawyer, sorry to ruin your blissful moment. But the Bills are not winning a Super Bowl this upcoming season. They are my sleeper pick to do some damage, and perhaps that got you excited with potentially seeing Buffalo in New Orleans next February. But congrats on being our latest AFC East Homer of the Week.