AFC East: Mike DeVito

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Remember last year in free agency, when the New York Jets lost LaRon Landry, Dustin Keller, Mike DeVito and Shonn Greene?

General manager John Idzik, who took a lot of criticism for the exodus, admitted Wednesday that the decision to let those players walk was based, in part, on knowing they'd receive compensatory draft picks for the losses.

The Jets ended up receiving the maximum number of compensatory picks (four), giving them a total of 12 picks in next week's draft.

"The compensatory draft-pick system is always in your mind," Idzik said at the team's pre-draft news conference. "It's a factor. It's not the determinant, but it's a factor."

A number of well-respected teams, namely the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, have maximized their compensatory picks. Now the Jets get a chance to cash in. The third day of the draft (rounds four to seven) will be hectic, as the Jets have nine picks over the final four rounds.

Not everyone is a fan of collecting compensatory picks.

"We never went into free agency saying, 'Let's let Bobby and Billy go so we can get a compensatory pick to replace them,'" said ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, a former coach. "We never said, 'Let's not sign a free agent because it will hurt our ability to get a compensatory pick.’"

The Jets' compensatory picks: Fourth round (No. 137 overall), sixth round (No. 209), sixth round (No. 210) and sixth round (No. 213).

Numbers game: A lot of work goes into a draft. It takes almost a full year for the entire scouting process. Former GM Terry Bradway, the senior director of college scouting, provided his annual numbers breakdown, illustrating the point:

Number of schools visited: 263.

Number of school visits: 575.

Number of players written up in scouting reports: 1,372.

Number of player evaluations: 3,500.

Player interviews: 635.

Pro days attended: 115.

College games attended: 120.

The numbers remain fairly steady from year to year, and you can bet every other team is doing the same amount of homework.
It was not a very good year for AFC East defenses in 2012. Three teams in the division finished with rankings in the 20s.

But there have been a lot of changes for the division via free agency and the draft. Let’s take a look at updated defensive rankings for the AFC East entering the regular season.

No. 1: Miami Dolphins

Analysis: The Dolphins ranked 21st in total defense in 2012. But Miami was decent against the run and only allowed 19.8 points per game, good for seventh in the NFL. The Dolphins’ biggest issue was their inconsistent pass defense. Miami gave up too many big passing plays and it cost the Dolphins some games. The Dolphins aggressively attacked their cornerback position by signing former Pro Bowler Brent Grimes and drafting Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the second and third rounds, respectively. The Dolphins also added another pass-rushing threat with No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan. If Miami stops allowing big passing plays, the Dolphins’ defense will be tough to beat.

No. 2: New England Patriots

Analysis: The Patriots were 25th in total defense in 2012. But I project New England to make a sizable jump in 2013. The Patriots made solid strides last year in red-zone defense and points allowed. But New England gave up too many chunk passing plays in between the 20s. The Patriots were 29th in pass defense last season. The return of No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib to the secondary is huge, in addition to starting corner Alfonzo Dennard overcoming his legal issues and the Patriots signing hard-hitting safety Adrian Wilson. New England’s pass rush should also improve, led by a healthy Chandler Jones. There is a lot to like about the Patriots’ defense this season, especially with head coach Bill Belichick calling the shots. I wouldn’t be surprised to see New England move up 10 spots or more from last year’s ranking.

No. 3: New York Jets

Analysis: Here is one thing you can count on with the Jets under head coach Rex Ryan: He will field a very good defense. New York has been in the top 10 in total defense since Ryan took over in 2009. The Jets, despite their ugly 6-10 record, was ranked No. 8 in total defense last season. But look for the unit to take a step back in 2013. New York’s scheme remains strong, but this is the least amount of talent Ryan has had in his five seasons with the Jets. New York traded the best cornerback in the NFL -- Darrelle Revis -- to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and lost Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, linebacker Bart Scott and defensive linemen Sione Po'uha and Mike DeVito. The Jets will try to replace these established veterans with younger players, many of whom are rookies or players with just one year of experience. Defense will still be the Jets' strength, but they won’t be as strong on that side of the ball than in previous years.

No. 4: Buffalo Bills

Analysis: I had a hard time ranking the Bills’ defense. This group has talent on paper, but Buffalo never came close to putting it all together last season. The Bills ranked No. 22 in total defense in 2012, 31st against the run. It will be the job of new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to get the most out of his talent. Buffalo has some quality players on defense. Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, defensive end Mario Williams and former first-round picks Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore are all talented. But collectively, the Bills’ defense grossly underachieved. The linebacker play must improve dramatically. I’m also concerned about two major holes at cornerback and safety.

I'm sure there will be plenty of debate about these rankings -- and really, the AFC East is wide open on defense this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these teams lead the division defensively; all four have a chance to be competitive. It most likely will come down to which team can consistently execute defensively and stay healthy over a 16-game season.
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The Miami Dolphins continue to spend money to improve the roster around second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Just three days after signing dynamic receiver Mike Wallace, the Dolphins signed former New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller Friday to a one-year, $4.5 million contact, according to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton.

This is a nice get for Miami, which simultaneously fills a big need and takes a good player away from the rival Jets.

Keller was Mark Sanchez's safety value in New York for years. Now, Keller has a chance to do the same for Tannehill in Miami. Keller has had two seasons of at least 55 receptions in the past three years.

Keller had a lengthy visit with Miami this week but left without an agreement. Reportedly, he wanted a multiyear contract. But Miami held its ground, and Keller eventually took the Dolphins' offer.

Signing Keller short-term is a bargain for Miami. Had Keller not gotten injured last season, he would have received a longer contract. He now has a “prove it” contract and can enter free agency again in 2014 with better production and better circumstances. It also allows the Dolphins another year to see if 2012 third-round pick Michael Egnew can develop into a contributor. It’s a win-win situation for Miami.

Meanwhile, the purge in New York continues. The Jets have now lost starters Keller, Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, 1,000-yard tailback Shonn Greene, safety Yeremiah Bell and valuable backup defensive lineman Mike DeVito. The Jets have a lot of talent to replace and very limited resources.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC East: Morning take: The Jets' talent purge continues in free agency. They lost Landry, tailback Shonn Greene, safety Yeremiah Bell and defensive lineman Mike DeVito. New York doesn’t have enough money to replace its lost talent.
Morning take: The bar is high for Amendola. He has to surpass Welker’s 118 catches last season. I don’t see that happening.
Morning take: The Dolphins have yet to fill their tight end position. Second-year tight end Michael Egnew is not the answer. Keller would be a nice addition.
Morning take: I’m not a fan of this year’s quarterback class. But if Geno Smith is there at No. 8, the Bills must at least consider it. The release of Ryan Fitzpatrick leaves Buffalo desperate for a starter.
The salary-cap strapped New York Jets lost another defensive player to free agency on Tuesday. The Kansas City Chiefs signed veteran defensive lineman Mike DeVito to a three-year, $12.6 million contract, according to USA Today.

Both the Jets and Buffalo Bills reportedly also had interest in DeVito. He was a quiet leader in New York’s locker room that head coach Rex Ryan wanted to retain. But the Jets have little wiggle room to spend in free agency and DeVito’s new salary was too rich. Buffalo also made a push for DeVito but failed. New Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was a former coach of DeVito’s in New York.

Earlier Tuesday the Jets cut fellow defensive lineman Sione Po'uha to save money on their salary cap. New York also cut safety Eric Smith and linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott earlier this offseason.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was limited in practice for the second straight day with a chest injury. He took a big hit in last week's win over the Washington Redskins but finished the game.

Fitzpatrick will play Sunday in a huge AFC East matchup against the New York Jets. But his limited participation two days in a row should be a little concerning. It shows Fitzpatrick is not 100-percent recovered from the big blow he received after throwing a screen pass to running back Fred Jackson.

Fitzpatrick joked about the hit after last Sunday's game.

"I thought, 'Boy, Toronto really doesn't like me,'" Fitzpatrick said of the crowd's cheers during the screen play. "I didn't know [Jackson] broke the tackle and ran down the sideline. So I said, 'That's a lot of excitement for a quarterback getting hit.'"

The Jets bring heavy pressure. So keep an eye on Fitzpatrick's chest injury.

Here are some other injury notes on the Bills and Jets:
  • Buffalo offensive tackle Demetrius Bell (shoulder) missed his second straight practice and probably will miss Sunday's game. Fellow offensive tackle Chris Hairston (ankle) is practicing on a limited basis and has a better shot of returning.
  • The Jets are much healthier coming off the bye. Everyone practiced Thursday. But receiver Plaxico Burress (back) and defensive linemen Mike Devito (knee) and Kendrick Ellis (ankle) were limited.

Three things: Jets at Texans

August, 15, 2011
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Three things to watch for when the New York Jets face the Houston Texans in the preseason opener for both teams (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

1. The Jets’ passing game: The Texans were historically poor defending the pass last season, but they are attempting an overhaul in that department with Wade Phillips implementing his attacking 3-4 scheme in 2011. Houston certainly looks improved on paper, but there will surely be growing pains as the Texans attempt to integrate new faces into a new scheme, and then translate it all to the field very quickly. Can Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and his group of pass-catchers take advantage of the miscues likely to present themselves?

2. Decipher the Blitz: Given the changes in Houston, I’m interested to see how well Sanchez reads the Texans’ blitz package prior to the snap, and how well he adjusts to what he sees. Even though Houston’s 3-4 is in its infancy, Phillips will still bring pressure from all over. Making the proper calls to pick up extra rushers will be crucial. Specifically, accounting for Mario Williams, who will be playing his first game at outside linebacker, should be the top priority in terms of keeping Sanchez protected.

3. Strength vs. Strength: The Texans’ offensive line is rarely mentioned as one of the best in the NFL, but Houston is superb up front. There is not one particular lineman who stands out, but it is a cohesive unit that is especially strong in the running game. With the exception of fullback Vonta Leach, who is now in Baltimore, Houston’s run blocking returns intact from last season. The Jets led by Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito and their exceptional inside linebackers, are a very difficult team to run on. It will be interesting to see how this matchup plays out.
To keep in line with the other AFC East blog posts I have written this week, let’s discuss the status of the Jets’ defensive line.

New York used two early draft picks on defensive big men and Shaun Ellis is now with the rival Patriots. Trevor Pryce didn’t play a lot of snaps for the Jets last year, but he was effective when he saw the field. He is currently a free agent without a team. So there will be significant changes.

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Jets are hoping first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson can fill the spot vacated by Shaun Ellis.
Let’s discuss the draft picks and how they fit in. New York used its first-round pick on Muhammad Wilkerson and a third-rounder on Kenrick Ellis. Wilkerson is an excellent physical specimen who looks custom made for defensive end in Rex Ryan’s version of the 3-4. A bigger body than Wilkerson but not as quick or explosive, Ellis is also dripping with potential. Ellis could be a king-sized end, or, if he can prove to consistently play with leverage and keep his pads down, a force in the middle at nose tackle. If not for off-the-field issues, Ellis would have been drafted much higher.

But like all rookies currently getting acclimated to the league, the learning curve for these two is especially steep this season due to the lockout. Compounding matters, Wilkerson is transitioning from Temple and Ellis from Hampton -- which are not exactly NCAA powerhouses. But even if Wilkerson struggles to read blocks and hold the point of attack on early downs as a starting defensive end, he should be quite effective as a rookie rushing the passer in the Jets’ sub packages.

Because of the emergence of Sione Pouha as an upper-echelon nose tackle, New York should be able to bring along Ellis slowly at that position -- maybe just rotating him in from time to time to give the massive Pouha a breather. Pouha offers nothing as a pass-rusher, but he knows how to use his big body very well versus the run. It generally takes two interior offensive linemen to move him backward. And his presence allows the Jets’ exceptional set of inside linebackers to shine.

Although one starting end spot is vacant with Shaun Ellis elsewhere (New York surely would like Wilkerson to grab that job by the throat this preseason), Mike DeVito is among the most underrated players in the league. He is a rock at his end spot. Much like Pouha, DeVito is a simply exceptional player versus the run. But as a pass-rusher, DeVito leaves something to be desired. That being said, you can win an awful lot of games with Pouha and DeVito anchoring the defensive front.

Outside of the four mentioned above, the Jets are a little light on the defensive line, which is a bit concerning considering where Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis are in their development right now. One name to keep in mind is Jarron Gilbert, who was a failure in Chicago’s upfield 4-3 scheme. He really didn’t fit the mold of the Bears’ defensive ends or interior linemen. But Gilbert is only 24, is built like a 3-4 end and has rare athletic ability for such a big man. Gilbert could be exactly the type of guy whom Rex Ryan cultivates and turns into a productive player.

One other wild card at defensive end in this equation is Ropati Pitoitua. We haven’t seen much of Pitoitua, but he has rare size for the position and has reportedly been quite impressive thus far in camp.

The Jets still have one of the better defensive lines in football. But it isn’t without some uncertainty.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.
Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson looks at AFC East players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

Picking a budding star wasn’t easy with this team. The Jets have a very top-heavy roster that features some truly exceptional players who clearly already qualify as stars. But I don’t see a ton of young emerging talent. The 2011 draft could net two very valuable rookies in defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, New York’s first-round pick, and Kenrick Ellis, another big body with a lot of ability who could project to nose tackle or defensive end in New York’s odd front. In time, coach Rex Ryan might makes stars of both players. He already has gotten a ton of production from the unheralded Mike DeVito at end.

But my choice for this story is starting nose tackle Sione Pouha, who really already established himself on the inside after Kris Jenkins once again was lost to injury early last season. But Pouha needs to be recognized as one of the better nose tackles in all of football. And slowly incorporating Ellis as Pouha’s backup could help the veteran maintain his stamina.

Pouha has the perfect build for the position and is extremely powerful with the ability to handle the double team and allow inside backers Bart Scott and David Harris to run more freely to the ball carrier. Pouha has only 2.5 career sacks, and that will never be his forte, but he now consistently makes everyone around him much better and is an extremely key cog in the Jets’ exceptional defense.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Rex Ryan fortifies D-line in third round

April, 29, 2011
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The New York Jets didn't have a second-round draft choice, giving them a looooong wait between their first-round announcement Thursday night and their next selection Friday night. With the 94th pick in the draft, they took Hampton defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis.

Why the Jets took him: Jets head coach Rex Ryan sees a potential gem in Ellis, a 6-foot-5, 346-pound lineman with a checkered history. Ellis ended up at Hampton after South Carolina suspended him three games and then kicked him off the team for reported drug usage. The Jets need depth up front, especially if they don't re-sign nose tackle Kris Jenkins.

How it affects the roster: Last year's starters at defensive tackle, Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito, will be back. Ellis will push them for snaps.

Scouts Inc. says: Plays a little too high but rarely gives ground in one-on-one situations and can clog up the middle by occupying multiple blockers when plays with sound technique. Also shows ability to hold ground working against double team if maintaining proper pad level. Thick, powerful arms. Can reach out and latch onto ball carrier with one hand when teams run at him. Plays with too narrow of a base and lacks adequate balance redirecting. Does not possess elite instincts and can be a quarter-count finding and reacting to the ball. Also can bite on misdirection.

Players waste time by showing up

April, 26, 2011
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New York Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson thought he had 750,000 reasons to show up to the team facility Tuesday.

In reality, he had none.

Ferguson, who will earn a $750,000 workout bonus for attending 85 percent of the Jets' offseason workouts, popped up in Florham Park, N.J., because the NFL lockout was lifted Monday. Ferguson found no workouts to be had. He told ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini he should be credited for his effort when it came time to calculate the bonus.

Ferguson was one of several players around the league who showed up at team facilities. Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery, guard Brandon Moore, defensive lineman Mike DeVito and linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris also appeared. Buffalo Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin dropped by One Bills Drive to find there was no reason to be there. Miami Dolphins cornerback Will Allen did the same in Davie, Fla.

Those players who showed up Tuesday came off looking naive or like they're seeking attention with a publicity stunt.

Prudent agents and NFL Players Association team representatives have advised their clients and teammates to stay away from facilities because there's no legitimate point.

Workout clauses are predicated on a percentage of sessions the team has scheduled. Conditioning programs haven't commenced. Therefore, players can't get credit for a workout attended or marked down for a workout missed.

"Just because we have a decision rendered in our favor, my mindset hasn't changed," Bills player rep George Wilson told Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan. "I'm still set on working out on my own. We knew that whoever didn't get the ruling in their favor was going to file an appeal. At the end of the day this is what I expected, and what we told all our guys."

New England Patriots rep Matt Light held a charity breakfast Tuesday morning and was in no rush to report to Gillette Stadium. Light advised his teammates to relax for now.

"What I've been telling the guys is 'Give it a little time,' " Light said. "Guys are wondering, 'Do I need to get on a plane today? How do I proceed?' I can't give them answers to all those things, but hopefully later on tonight I will have more of them."

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork added: "I won't head to Foxborough until everything is over with. I don't think that is the right way [to do things] in this situation."

Lockout jeopardizes big workout bonuses

March, 17, 2011
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A lot of money will go bye-bye if the NFL work stoppage eliminates offseason workouts.

That's a legitimate possibility if owners and players can't hammer out a deal well before training camps normally would begin.

ESPN's Adam Schefter has compiled a list of the NFL's richest workout bonuses and the attendance percentages required to earn them.

New York Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson has the biggest incentive in the league at $750,000. He must attend 85 percent of the workouts to collect.

Other big AFC East bonuses:
Brady, however, is covered if there aren't any 2011 offseason workouts. His 2012 bonus will inflate to $500,000 in that case.

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
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Mark SanchezRichard A. Brightly/Icon SMIMark Sanchez is set to earn $14.75 million in base salary next season, the most in the AFC East.
Sports labor squabbles often are described as billionaires arguing with millionaires over money.

While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.

Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.

Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.

You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.

That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.

Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.

The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.

Buffalo Bills
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 19

Players under contract: 54

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2

Miami Dolphins
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 15

Players under contract: 55

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3

New England Patriots
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 60

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3

New York Jets
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6

Undrafted rookies may be stuck on sidelines

January, 31, 2011
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In the event of a prolonged labor dispute, another potential problem that hadn't occurred to me would impact players like Wes Welker, Davone Bess and Danny Woodhead.

There will be an NFL draft in April, but there won't be free agency until a new collective bargaining agreement has been hammered out. NFL.com senior writer Steve Wyche points out that would prevent undrafted rookies from signing with teams.

Rosters are loaded with undrafted contributors, and that's plainly evident in the AFC East.

The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots were led in rushing by undrafted backs Fred Jackson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Woodhead.

Rookie free agents are necessary to building a roster and maintaining a personnel budget. The Patriots have masterfully collected players nobody pegged worthy of a pick. In addition to the Patriots' top two running backs and wide receiver, right guard Stephen Neal, defensive end Mike Wright, linebacker Gary Guyton and cornerback Kyle Arrington fall in this category.

Even the New York Jets, who readily turn over their roster and pursue star veterans, have a few undrafted starters: right guard Brandon Moore, defensive lineman Mike DeVito, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard.

Wyche astutely points out how important it is for these long-shot gems to get into a team's offseason conditioning program as quickly as possible, and that they generally make their way through special teams. With that in mind, Wyche writes, special-teams play "could actually be worse if those type of players can't get signed in time for a fairly lengthy offseason of work."

Troy Probable-malu against the Jets

January, 21, 2011
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets fans shouldn't be concerned with all the names on the AFC Championship Game injury report. Jets head coach Rex Ryan announced Friday everybody will play Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers list four names on their report. The two biggest are safety Troy Polamalu (probable, Achilles) and defensive end Aaron Smith (doubtful, triceps). Polamalu missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but participated fully Friday.

Cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdomen) and safety Will Allen (knee) are questionable.

For the Jets, receiver Brad Smith (groin), defensive end Shaun Ellis (knee), cornerback Drew Coleman (knee) and safety James Ihedigbo (knee, ankle) are questionable.

"They're questionable. They're playing. OK," Ryan said after rattling off the injury report at the start of Friday's news conference. "That's pretty much it."

Listed as probable are quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), receiver Santonio Holmes (quadriceps), center Nick Mangold (shoulder), defensive tackle Mike DeVito (neck), defensive tackle Sione Pouha (back), outside linebacker Jason Taylor (concussion), cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (groin).

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