AFC East: extension

On Monday, the AFC East blog reported the Buffalo Bills and guard Kraig Urbik were in the process of hammering out a four-year extension.

It turns out that both sides worked into the night and finalized an agreement. A source tells ESPN.com's AFC East blog that Urbik and the Bills agreed to a four-year, $15 million extension.

Urbik is a two-year starter for Buffalo who has the versatility to play both guard spots and center. He is one of the anchors of an offensive line behind which Bills tailback C.J. Spiller recorded his first 1,000-yard season.

The Bills are getting an early start on their 2013 free-agent class. Other Buffalo players who are set to become free agents include starting safety Jairus Byrd and guard Andy Levitre.
The deadline for New England Patriots Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker to get a contract extension is about 24 hours away -- and things still look bleak.

A source told ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss this weekend Welker and the Patriots are not expected to reach an agreement before Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. That means Welker will play 2012 on the one-year franchise tag of $9.5 million and become an unrestricted free agent in 2013.

Not much has changed between Welker and the Patriots in the past few weeks. Both sides are talking but progress is slow. The Patriots appear comfortable keeping Welker, 31, on the one-year franchise tag, while Welker wants long-term security.

Either way, Welker said he would not let his contract situation impact his performance. Welker had at least 100 receptions in four of the past five seasons. He is an important part of the offense and that will continue in 2012.

But what happens in 2013 between Welker and the Patriots does not look good. The franchise price tag will increase next year to the point where the Patriots wouldn't pay it. It also appears less likely New England would provide a long-term extension to Welker at 32, when the team isn't expected to do the same a year earlier.

If things play out Monday as expected, this could be Welker's final season as a Patriot. Is this the right call for the defending AFC champions?

Here are the most interesting stories Saturday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: The Jets feel the same way. However, the sides are at odds on whether a new contract should be worked out this year. If they can get past this, things would be looking up.
Morning take: The bonuses are key, and Gronk will get $8 million up front this year for signing the contract. A $10 million option bonus also is coming in 2015 when Gronkowski, now 23, is entering his prime.
Morning take: Gates has the speed to be a deep threat for Miami. With a huge need at the position, Gates will get plenty of reps to show what he can do.
Morning take: The additions of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson should instantly help the secondary. The Bills should be able to play more man defenses and be aggressive.
The salary cap is an issue for all 32 NFL teams. Therefore, the New England Patriots had to set a hierarchy between Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker in considering long-term deals for the pass-catchers.

Gronkowski

Gronkowski


On Friday, New England made its choice, and it was a wise one. The Patriots agreed to a six-year contract extension first with Gronkowski, their Pro Bowl tight end. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the extension is worth $54 million.

Gronkowski is 23 and coming off a record-setting season in which he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. He is the most valuable player of the three, and his rookie contract was set to expire in 2014.

Hernandez, 22, also is coming off a career year. His rookie contract runs out in 2014. Welker, 31, signed a one-year franchise tag tender for $9.5 million and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013.

The chances of New England keeping this dynamic trio together beyond 2013 are slim. Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker are among the best at their respective positions, and paying them all market value would tie up too much of the salary cap in three players who have similar roles.

Welker pushed for long-term security this offseason. But the Patriots wisely balked because Gronkowski was the primary target.

With "Gronk" in the fold for the long haul, New England's next step is to choose between Hernandez and Welker. The Patriots have a shot to sign one of the two players to a long-term extension, especially if they wait another year. That will be an interesting decision, considering the Patriots already have a tight end in front of Hernandez, but he's nearly a decade younger than Welker.

But signing Gronkowski first was a no-brainer. He has yet to enter his prime and is arguably the best tight end in the NFL. But 2012 might be the last time you see Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker together on the same team, depending on what the Patriots decide to do next.
Everyday this week, the AFC East blog will highlight a player who has a lot to prove in 2012. We start Sunday by taking a look at Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick:

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills

2011 stats: 3,832 yards, 24 TDs, 23 INTs, 79.1 passer rating

What he must prove: Fitzpatrick must prove that he is a franchise quarterback. The Bills certainly are paying him like one. Fitzpatrick received a $59 million contract extension during the 2011 season. But he struggled down the stretch, got injured and lost eight of his last nine starts. He has a reputation of being streaky, and things went downhill fast for "Fitz." The big contract brings big expectations. Fitzpatrick can no longer lean on being the cute story from Harvard, who made it in the NFL as a seventh-round pick. The time is now to produce.

Walker's 2o12 outlook: I covered a lot of Bills games last season and saw the best of Fitzpatrick and the worst of Fitzpatrick. At his best, he can beat anyone. Fitzpatrick and the Bills were the only AFC East team to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last season. At his worst, one interception can snowball into three or four, and you want to pull him from the game. But I think better health will certainly help Fitzpatrick. I don't know if he will ever lose the streakiness. But as long as Fitzpatrick has more good games than bad next season, the Bills should be in position to compete for second place in the AFC East.

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