AFC East: Ty Warren

Plugging the holes: AFC East

August, 4, 2011
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Sean McCormick of Football Outsiders takes a look at the biggest remaining questions for each team in the AFC East in this ESPN.com Insider piece. Insider Here's a snippet of what he thinks of each team:

Buffalo Bills:

There was simply no way the Bills were going to be able to adequately address all their holes in the space of a single offseason, and to their credit, they haven't thrown lots of money around trying to. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't a long-term solution at quarterback -- he may not even be a short-term solution -- but there were no surefire prospects worth burning a top-five draft pick on, and the free agent pickings were slim, particularly if you didn't want to give away the farm for Kevin Kolb. …

The right tackle spot, however, isn't a hole but a canyon, and it doesn't look like Buffalo has done enough to address it. The Bills were 30th in adjusted line yards on runs off right tackle, but that doesn't begin to tell the tale.

Miami Dolphins:

If you were to simply look at the statistics, quarterback would not necessarily be the biggest hole on the Dolphins. Safety Chris Clemons struggled badly getting to the sidelines to provide help over the top and offenses frequently targeted him in isolation in the deep middle of the field; the interior line could use some more help even after Mike Pouncey is inserted into the starting lineup and of course, the special teams were consistently horrific from beginning to end. …

Of course, there are lots of things that statistics don't cover, and it's those things that turned Henne's season from disappointing to catastrophic. Brandon Marshall publicly allied with backup Tyler Thigpen, and took his grievances with Henne to the airwaves, complaining about Henne's refusal to throw him the ball with sufficient frequency. Henne was benched during the season, reclaimed his starting job only because of injuries, and then was injured himself.

New England Patriots:

The hot story out of Providence is that Bill Belichick seems to be abandoning his traditional 3-4 defense in favor of a 4-3, and that the Patriots have primarily been working with 4-3 Under and Over fronts in the first days of training camp. The release of Ty Warren and the trade for Albert Haynesworth could be viewed as additional evidence of a shift, as Warren is a prototypical five-technique while Haynesworth has done his best work in a 4-3 set. The real issue is finding someone who can rush off the edge, whether standing up or from a three-point stance.

New York Jets:

Aside from his foray into the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes, general manager Mike Tannenbaum has largely been content to re-sign his players or to extend the contracts of younger stars. The big name was obviously Santonio Holmes, but Tannenbaum also locked up Antonio Cromartie and Eric Smith, extended David Harris another four years, and returned Donald Strickland, who had played for the team in 2009, to replace the departed Drew Coleman. Although maintaining continuity isn't always a good thing -- Carolina's decision to spend vast sums to return the young core of their 2-14 team comes immediately to mind -- the Jets fielded one of the most talented teams in the league last season, and the talent was fairly evenly distributed on both offense and defense.

If the Jets are going to take a step forward, they don't necessarily need to sign a bunch of free agents. What they do need is for Mark Sanchez to take another step forward in his development, and preferably a big step. So how best to ensure that your young quarterback has all the weapons he needs? How about signing a 34-year-old receiver who has been in jail for the past two years?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive lineman Ty Warren has been with the Patriots since 2003, and this is the first time he's felt such a dramatic shift. The defense he's known was changing and he didn't see himself fitting.

So, no, he wasn't surprised by the team releasing him Friday. The bigger surprise was the schematic changes that were unfolding in meeting rooms and on the field.

"I think it looks like they're trying to get away from the 3-4," Warren said of the base alignment that has been a Patriots staple since early in coach Bill Belichick's Patriots tenure.

"When I heard about the different defensive deals they're going to be doing, I didn't see me in that big picture of things, or at least not a huge role in that deal. Then there were the acquisitions they made [Albert Haynesworth], which made it even more [likely]."

Such a change, if that truly is Belichick's intention, would signal a major shift in core defensive philosophy. Instead of the base 3-4 alignment, which the Patriots utilized in 40 percent of the defensive snaps in 2010, they could line up in a more traditional four-man front with Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork in the middle. Good luck to the interior offensive line that has to deal with that duo.

For the full story, click here.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When analyzing news that defensive end Ty Warren, tight end Alge Crumpler and offensive lineman Nick Kaczur have been released, creating salary cap space appears to be one reason.

Warren was due to earn a base salary of $3.1 million, Crumpler $2.4 million and Kaczur $3.4 million.

The cuts help clear room to take on Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth and possibly even Matt Light, should he be re-signed.

The salary cap has been set at $120 million this year, and teams will soon have to be in compliance with that number based on the top 51 players on the roster.

Warren, a longtime starter at left defensive end who had missed the 2010 season with a hip injury, opened training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list. Kaczur was coming off a back injury and Crumpler had offseason shoulder surgery.

So all were dealing with physical ailments.

Crumpler was a captain last season, credited with helping to bring along Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots lose a strong presence in the locker room at a time in which they are bringing two strong personalities into the room (Ochocinco & Haynesworth). The Patriots now have Gronkowski, Hernandez and fifth-round draft choice Lee Smith, who was considered one of the better blocking tight ends in the draft, atop the depth chart.

With Warren no longer in the picture, the Patriots could revisit someone like free-agent Gerard Warren if they plan to keep the 3-4 alignment as a core philosophy. Or perhaps the Patriots will shift their core philosophy to tap Haynesworth's biggest strength, as a penetrating 3-technique defensive tackle, which could alter the picture.

Kaczur's release wasn't a surprise, given his salary and projection as a backup. With Light's possible return, the emergence of Sebastian Vollmer and the drafting of Nate Solder in the first round, Kaczur was going to be deep on the tackle depth chart. The Patriots had extended his contract in 2009, but didn't get much return on that investment after the deal was signed.

Video: Lockout a day in country for Warren

June, 23, 2011
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ESPN reporter Jenn Brown visits with New England Patriots defensive end Ty Warren on his 140-acre farm outside College Station, Texas. Warren takes Brown into the woods on a hunting mission.

Regarding his injured hip, Warren says he's "fresh as a daisy."

Dolphins, Jets highlighted for bum trades

May, 25, 2011
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Football Outsiders senior writer Mike Tanier put together his 10 most disappointing trades of the past quarter century for ESPN Insider.

Forty percent involved AFC East clubs, and in only one case were they not the suckers. In some instances there were no winners on either side of the deal.

The Miami Dolphins were indicted twice. Their succession of quarterback trades from 2005 through 2008 ranked eighth. Tanier called them a "series of ill-conceived trades for backups and has-beens."

The Dolphins' 1992 trade of Sammie Smith to the Denver Broncos for Bobby Humphrey came in at No. 7. It was "a one-for-one, headache-for-headache deal that turned out to be a waste of everyone's time," Tanier wrote.

Fourth on the list was the New York Jets' 2003 draft trade with the Chicago Bears. The Jets moved up to fourth in the order and drafted Dewayne Robertson. The Bears eventually drafted defensive end Michael Haynes (not Ty Warren) and quarterback Rex Grossman in the first round.

The New England Patriots came out ahead in the 2006 deal that ranked 10th. They dealt receiver Deion Branch to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round draft choice that became Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather. Three seasons later, the Patriots got Branch back for a fourth-round pick.

Video: Ty Warren graduates from lockout

May, 24, 2011
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New England Patriots defensive end Ty Warren honored a promise to his late grandparents that he would return to Texas A&M and earn his degree in agricultural leadership and development. Warren appeared on ESPN's "First Take" to talk about his recently completed mission.

Patriots draft could bring championships

March, 30, 2011
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The New England Patriots are the NFL's richest team heading into the draft. They own two picks in each of the first three rounds and three picks in the top 33 slots.

In the latest edition of ESPN's "On the Clock" roundtable series, analysts Trent Dilfer and Mel Kiper, reporter Chris Mortensen and moderator Mike Tirico discussed just how significant this year's draft can be for New England.

"I believe with a strong draft," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said, "Tom Brady may get two more Super Bowl rings -- if this draft is productive."

The Patriots have an incredible degree of flexibility with how they choose to approach the draft.

They've been more likely to trade back and accumulate picks in past drafts. But with a rookie wage scale nearly certain to be part of the next collective bargaining agreement, this could be the year the Patriots make a play.

"Seven picks in the first four rounds, do they try to package and move up?" Kiper wondered. "Wide receiver is an issue. Do you go up get A.J. Green from Georgia? Do you go up and get Julio Jones from Alabama?

"Or do you stand pat, figuring you have a need at outside linebacker, you have a need at wide receiver, you could use a running back. This offensive line right now could be in a state of flux. There's no question about that."

If the Patriots do stick with the picks they have, Kiper forecasts their first-round combo could be Purdue defensive end/outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson.

Dilfer's druthers would be to trade up for one or two no-doubt impact players.

"They don't have guys that change the down," Dilfer said. "They have guys that win the down based on doing their jobs, but they don't have that fear factor. They don't have the dynamic playmaker on either side of the ball.

"So, with all these picks, maybe it's an opportunity to move up there and get two dynamic playmakers that can actually change each down."

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.

AFC East labor impact

March, 11, 2011
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NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Buffalo Bills: The Bills are a young team that built momentum toward the end of last season. They went 4-4 in the second half. Over a six-game stretch in October and November, they went 2-4, and each loss was by three points to an eventual playoff team. Three of those losses were in overtime.

A prolonged work stoppage would stunt Buffalo's development. Coach Chan Gailey is entering his second year but his first offseason with Ryan Fitzpatrick as starting quarterback. The Bills also could draft a quarterback next month but they wouldn't be able to sign him or work with him until there's a new collective bargaining agreement.

Inexperienced players with one or two years dot the roster: running back C.J. Spiller, guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, nose tackle Torell Troup, outside linebackers Aaron Maybin and Arthur Moats and safety Jairus Byrd. They would benefit from as much prep time as they can get.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins' offense will have serious difficulty taking shape if there's a long work stoppage. Incumbent quarterback Chad Henne wouldn't be on the securest footing if we were heading into a normal offseason. The Dolphins were frustrated enough to remove him as their starter twice last year. Now he's working with a new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, and new quarterbacks coach, Karl Dorrell, who never has been a quarterbacks coach before.

Henne got a head start on his offseason by meeting with Daboll and Dorrell to try to absorb as much of the playbook as he could. Henne intends to communicate Daboll's philosophies to his teammates with informal workouts in South Florida.

That's where the Dolphins can have an advantage if they remain diligent. A large percentage of their players maintain homes in South Florida, making it easy for them to assemble for group sessions.

All of Henne's work could be rendered moot if the Dolphins want to acquire another quarterback, but then they'll have another problem. Until there's a new CBA, teams cannot sign free agents or make player trades. That means the Dolphins are in limbo if they want to make a play for an intriguing group of candidates that includes Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young.

New England Patriots: If any team can withstand a protracted work stoppage, it's the reigning AFC East champions. The Patriots have a solid roster filled with veterans, particularly on offense. Their coaching staff remained mostly intact. They're flush with draft picks.

The biggest impact probably would be felt on defense, where the Patriots sometimes started four rookies: end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Devin McCourty.

Although a couple of veteran defenders returning from injuries (defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden) should help stabilize them, the Patriots will have difficulty coaching up their youngsters and improving their terrible third-down defense in a compacted offseason.

Another issue could be the way the Patriots flip through interchangeable parts. The Patriots are adept at discovering undrafted free agents and reclaiming other teams' castoffs, while constantly overturning the bottom of their roster. With no CBA, those roster moves cannot happen.

New York Jets: Free agency will be the Jets' biggest issue if a work stoppage drags out. They have the most free agents in the AFC East and declined to re-sign any of them, aside from placing the franchise tag on inside linebacker David Harris. The Jets didn't want to make any decisions until they knew what the next CBA looked like. That created several questions up and down the roster.

Receiver is the biggest question mark. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are without contracts, and quarterback Mark Sanchez needs a strong supporting cast. On defense, safety is a concern with Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo about to be free agents, too.

No CBA means the Jets won't be able to sign incoming free agents either. Polls have shown players around the league would love to play for Rex Ryan more than any other coach. But the Jets can't use that to their advantage until there's a new deal.

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

Leading Questions: AFC East

February, 16, 2011
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With the offseason in full swing, let's take a look at one major question facing each AFC East team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:

BUFFALO BILLS

Can the defense become a difference-maker?

That abysmal 0-8 start and a record meager enough to lock down the third overall pick in the draft suggest the Bills were an utter mess in 2010. Statistically, they were on both sides of the ball.

Yet there's an unquestionably different vibe about the Bills' offense despite ranking 28th in points, 25th in yards, 18th in rushing offense and 24th in passing offense. Bills fans debate whether Ryan Fitzpatrick is an adequate starter. Running back Fred Jackson and wide receiver Steve Johnson are fan favorites.

There's a general belief head coach Chan Gailey has his young offense trending upward.

Buffalo's defense generates no such sentiment despite similar rankings: 28th in points, 24th in yards, 32nd in run defense and a misleading third in pass defense -- because opponents didn't need to throw. Opposing quarterbacks still recorded the league's fifth-highest passer rating against the Bills.

Buffalo needs an overhaul on defense, and they appear willing to try. Gailey brought in old pal Dave Wannstedt as assistant head coach and linebackers assistant. Wannstedt's influence is uncertain at the moment, but he has better credentials than defensive coordinator George Edwards, who oversaw a switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and, in the end, mashed them together.

The Bills also re-signed outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. He's a reclamation project. But who knows? At least they're trying.

Much more must be done. The Bills have a foundation player in defensive tackle Kyle Williams, but he's surrounded by flotsam. Inside linebacker and leading tackler Paul Posluszny is a free agent. Merriman was worth the gamble because the Bills are desperate for pass-rushers with 2009 first-round pick Aaron Maybin looking like a bust and a half.

The draft won't solve all their problems, and general manager Buddy Nix is averse to patching holes with free agents. Unless the Bills strike big in the draft and Merriman turns out to be worth the risk, expect the defense to cost them more games in 2011.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Will Chad Henne be their long-term quarterback?

The Dolphins revealed a lack of faith in Henne in 2010. They benched him twice.

The first time was an out-and-out demotion. In Week 10 -- with Tom Brady performing like an MVP, Mark Sanchez well on his way to the playoffs again and Fitzpatrick giving Bills fans something to cheer about -- the desperate Dolphins replaced Henne with Chad Pennington. There's no telling how long Henne would have remained on the sideline if Pennington didn't reinjure his throwing shoulder shortly after kickoff.

The next time Tony Sparano pulled Henne was in the season finale, a blowout loss to a Patriots squad that rested some of its best players and had nothing to play for. Henne completed six of his 16 passes, threw an interception and had a 25.8 passer rating. Not the way any quarterback wants to enter the offseason.

Henne was the Dolphins' supposed quarterback of the future. They drafted him in the second round in 2008, the year they took his Michigan teammate Jake Long first overall. Henne hasn't worked out yet. He studied under Pennington for a season and then took over in 2009, when Pennington got hurt two games into the season.

In his two nearly full seasons, Henne, at best, has looked decent. Great games have been rare. He has frustrated Dolfans more often than not. Henne has a career 75.3 passer rating. He has thrown six more interceptions than touchdown passes.

There are no guarantees Henne will remain Miami's starter, although the prediction here is that he will be in 2011. A new infrastructure is in place, and whenever a young quarterback has new idea men around, there's a tendency to extend opportunities -- especially when owner Stephen Ross, a Michigan man himself, has promoted Henne as a future Dolphins legend.

The Dolphins said goodbye to offensive coordinator Dan Henning and hired Brian Daboll, formerly of the Cleveland Browns. Henne's position coach, David Lee, left to be offensive coordinator at Mississippi. Receivers coach Karl Dorrell was switched to quarterbacks.

Will new voices be enough to inspire Henne to another level? I'm skeptical. While it's easy to scapegoat Henning -- and to an extent Lee -- for the offense's struggles, it should be noted Henning and Lee were considered geniuses when Pennington ran the offense and the Wildcat became an NFL trend. I doubt Henning and Lee turned vapid when Henne became quarterback.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Will the defense remain a weakness?

Week by week, the Patriots' defense evolved into a commendable unit. In four of their last five regular-season games, they allowed 20 combined points. Two of those opponents were playoff teams.

They sent four defensive players to the Pro Bowl: nose tackle Vince Wilfork, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, cornerback Devin McCourty and safety Brandon Meriweather. Three of them were starters.

Not bad.

The numbers tell a different story. The Patriots ranked eighth in points allowed, but 25th in yards allowed, 11th in run defense and 30th in pass defense. The Patriots were dead last in third-down efficiency. They let opponents move the chains 47 percent of the time. They improved over the final few games, but in December they were on track to record the fifth-worst defense on third down since the NFL-AFL merger.

The Patriots gave up 34 points to the Browns, 30 points to the Bills and 24 points each to the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals.

Bill Belichick's defense can improve simply with another year of experience and the return of a couple of key contributors who missed 2010 with injuries.

The Patriots were young on defense. They started four rookies a couple of times. Their top secondary -- cornerbacks McCourty and Kyle Arrington, safeties Meriweather and Patrick Chung -- went into the season with four combined NFL seasons.

Not only will the defense improve by being another year older and wiser, but they'll also be reinforced when defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden come back.

Hip surgery wiped out Warren's season. Warren was a fixture at left end and forced the Patriots to juggle their line continually. A shoulder injury sidelined Bodden, and while McCourty emerged as a Pro Bowler, Bodden's presence over undrafted sophomore Arrington would have given the Patriots a much more formidable secondary.

New England's obvious need is a pass-rusher. With two draft choices in each of the first two rounds and the wherewithal to lure a free agent, there are plenty of reasons to expect New England's defense to upgrade in 2011.

NEW YORK JETS

Can the Jets retain their loaded receiving corps?

The Jets are in a bad spot when it comes to free agency in general, but particularly in regard to their wide receivers.

Contracts are up for Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. They accounted for 17 of the club's 39 touchdowns.

Holmes spent the first four games on suspension, but he and Edwards combined for 105 receptions, 1,591 yards and 12 touchdowns. Smith was less of a threat in the receiving game, but he lined up as an option quarterback. He threw a touchdown pass and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum declared his intentions to re-sign them all, but he added the plan was in pencil and expressed considerable doubt he would hammer out any deals before March 3, when the collective bargaining agreement is expected to expire.

Until there's a new CBA, nobody knows what free agency will look like. When will the signing period commence? How many seasons of NFL experience will determine restricted or unrestricted free agency? What will salary-cap parameters be?

That's why bringing back all three receivers will be unlikely. Once they hit the open market, the Jets will have to compete with the rest of the league for three players who will be coveted.

The Jets acquired Holmes and Edwards because they had baggage, but they have enhanced their reputations immensely. Holmes served his suspension and was on his best behavior. Edwards defied his rap as a habitual ball-dropper.

The always-respected Smith once again proved to be a versatile weapon at a time when such players are in high demand.

The Jets must keep at least two of them. They can't afford to give Sanchez less to work with. The young quarterback has many admirable traits, but he has shown little capacity to carry the offense himself. Sanchez requires a strong support staff.

The Jets might be able to get away with losing one of these receivers. Tight end Dustin Keller was sensational while Holmes was suspended. Through the first four games, Keller had 19 receptions for 234 yards and five touchdowns. Then Keller got lost in the offense and didn't score another TD.

AFC East draft season: Who needs what?

February, 9, 2011
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Gabbert, Ingram & Ayers US PresswireBlaine Gabbert (Bills), Mark Ingram (Miami), and Akeem Ayers (Patriots) could all fit in the AFC East.
Nobody can say for sure when the 2011 NFL season will begin or what the free-agency period will resemble.

But we do know there will be a draft in April.

Rather than depress everybody with labor musings, let's focus on the only player personnel activities we can count on.

To set the stage for draft season and the NFL scouting combine in two weeks, I canvassed four evaluators I respect to compile a list of positional needs for the AFC East.

I asked National Football Post scouting guru Wes Bunting, Scouts Inc. draft analyst Steve Muench, Pro Football Weekly senior editor Nolan Nawrocki, and CBSSports.com senior analyst Rob Rang to share their rundown of shortcomings for each club.

I merged their insights to come up with a consensus. From there, I targeted some candidates who fit the profile of need combined with draft position.

The new collective bargaining agreement can impact these projections significantly. If a CBA can be hammered out before the draft, then perhaps teams will be able to address some needs via free agency. Otherwise, front offices will have more roster uncertainties than usual when they're on the clock in Radio City Music Hall.

Buffalo Bills

Pick: Third.

Consensus needs: Offensive line, quarterback, defensive tackle, outside linebacker.

Analysis: An asterisk should be affixed to any Bills forecast. Few experts would have rated running back as a target area last year, but they selected C.J. Spiller ninth overall out of Clemson. So who knows what they're thinking?

All four analysts rated offensive line either first or second among the Bills' most needful areas. Nawrocki and Muench were specific about tackles -- a position the Bills haven't drafted earlier than the fifth round since 2002. Nawrocki called tackle the No. 1 priority.

Muench and Bunting rated quarterback as the most important position.

The good news for the Bills is that they likely will be able to take the first quarterback or tackle off the board if they choose.

But none of the analysts projected the Bills to take an offensive lineman third overall. The best prospects simply aren't considered worth that high of a slot.

"Ryan Fitzpatrick is an excellent backup and stopgap, but he's an adequate at best starter," Muench said. "If the Bills can get Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert at No. 3, then I think they pull the trigger."

Rang labeled defensive line Buffalo's biggest concern, noting opponents averaged a gaudy 169.6 rushing yards last season, and this year's draft class is deep along the defensive front.

Who could be there: Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers are top candidates. Gabbert should be on the board when the Bills pick. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton almost certainly will be available. The two teams drafting ahead of the Bills, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, aren't expected to take a quarterback.

Miami Dolphins

Pick: 15th.

Consensus needs: Running back, interior offensive line, quarterback.

Analysis: Of the four AFC East teams, the Dolphins presented the most straightforward consensus among the panel. Three of four rated running back as the chief concern. Three of four listed guard second.

Two experts listed quarterback, with Bunting deeming it the greatest deficiency. Even so, Bunting added Alabama running back Mark Ingram is an attractive possibility in the first round.

Free agency mysteries could put the Dolphins in a backfield bind. Contracts for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are about to expire.

"Running back is an obvious concern," Rang said. "Lex Hilliard could surprise if given a real opportunity, but many believe the Dolphins will be tempted by Ingram in the first round."

Muench found quarterback to be an interesting position for Miami in the draft.

"The argument could be made that quarterback is the Dolphins' top need," Muench said, "but not from a draft perspective. Miami won't find a better quarterback than Chad Henne at pick 15, and trading up will prove difficult.

"If the Dolphins have decided to move on from Henne, then signing a free agent or trading for a quarterback makes the most sense. Regardless, they should take a chance on a developmental prospect in the middle rounds."

Who could be there: The Bills' slot is the only one in the AFC East that comes with some clarity. The middle of the first round is dicey to predict. Will Ingram still be on the board? The Dolphins also could be tempted to grab Newton if he's still waiting by his phone or Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, although multiple reports suggest Mallett's stock is plummeting. As for interior linemen, the 15th slot seems way too soon for anybody in this year's class. The top candidate is Florida guard Mike Pouncey, younger brother of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.

New England Patriots

Pick: 17th and 28th.

Consensus needs: Outside linebacker, offensive line, running back, defensive end.

Analysis: The Patriots have a pair of first-round choices to address their needs. They also have two picks each in the second and third rounds. With so much inventory to wheel and deal, it's hard to speculate what Bill Belichick will do or where he will end up picking within the first couple rounds.

None of the four analysts prioritized the same top position for New England, but all of them ranked outside linebacker among their top three needs.

Nawrocki was specific in stating the Patriots need a five-technique defensive end, although veteran Ty Warren is returning from a hip injury that sidelined him for 2010.

Bunting's emphasis was on a do-it-all running back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a nice campaign as the AFC East's lone 1,000-yard rusher, but he's not a threat in the passing game. Danny Woodhead is a top-notch complementary player, but he doesn't have the size to be a workhorse.

[+] EnlargeLogan Mankins
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaThe contract status of guard Logan Mankins could impact New England's draft needs this year.
Three of the four analysts viewed New England's offensive line as an issue dependent upon the ability to re-sign Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and ambiguity over the futures of veteran left tackle Matt Light and right guard Stephen Neal.

"Light has been a solid bookend for the past 10 years, but he turns 33 this offseason, and explosive edge rushers gave him problems last year," Muench said. "It's also worth pointing out that New England wants its young tight ends making plays downfield and not helping in pass protection."

Who could be there: Pass-rushers always are a hot commodity, and this year is no different. Defensive ends and outside linebackers can be difficult to sort because teams will project them into different roles. UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and Missouri outside linebacker Aldon Smith are strong possibilities. It's foreseeable New England will be considering the fifth or sixth best defensive end on its board at No. 17 -- if you believe the Patriots will keep that pick, of course. Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt project in that range. Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure is considered second in this year's class behind Ingram.

New York Jets

Pick: 30th.

Consensus needs: Outside linebacker, wide receiver, defensive line, safety.

Analysis: Analysts were fragmented on the Jets, and a major reason for that is their volume of free agents and the degree of difficulty general manager Mike Tannenbaum will have in re-signing the most important ones.

"Collectively, their roster is one of the strongest in the league, but they do have some questions to answer," Nawrocki said.

For instance, receiver either could be a huge offseason weakness or a major strength. Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are free agents, but Tannenbaum stated he intends to re-sign them all. The likelihood of that happening is dubious, as illustrated by three of the four panelists rating wide receiver either second or third for the Jets.

Nawrocki and Rang each listed outside linebacker first.

"The Jets must account for the failure of Vernon Gholston, who likely will be released soon, and get younger at outside linebacker," Nawrocki said.

Gholston was the sixth overall selection in the 2008 draft and has failed to record an NFL sack. Jason Taylor had five sacks last season, but he'll turn 37 at the start of next season and might not be back.

"The Jets need a pass-rusher to take the next step," Rang said. "If there is a 3-4 outside linebacker prospect they like on the board at No. 30, he's the favorite."

Muench rated free safety as the Jets' biggest need. Not only could the Jets stand to upgrade that position, but also Brodney Pool and Eric Smith are free agents.

"As good as this defense is," Muench said, "imagine if Rex Ryan had a safety that can match up with receivers and play a center-field role like he had with Ed Reed in Baltimore."

Who could be there: Draft boards are highly unreliable by the end of the first round. Prospects you thought would go in the top 15 drop into the 20s. A player expected to be available early in the second round is long gone. Nawrocki's mock draft has Ayers slipping to the Jets. Bunting and Rang each have Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor slotted 30th.

Bruschi: Patriots' preseason was awful

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
9:58
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Gotta love Tedy Bruschi.

Even if you despised him as a New England Patriots linebacker because you rooted for another team, you can't resent his work as an ESPN analyst. The guy doesn't shy away from delivering a sharp opinion -- even if it means criticizing his former club.

"Bruschi's Breakdown," one of my favorite features out there, is back. ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss poses the probing questions (and adds his own insight in the process) to induce compelling commentary.

In this week's installment, Bruschi gives his take on the Patriots' preseason, the 53-man roster and myriad uncertainties heading into the season.

A snippet from Bruschi:
"In my opinion, this preseason couldn't have gone any worse for the New England Patriots. It started off on the wrong foot with Logan Mankins not reporting to camp, and he is still AWOL. The Nick Kaczur experiment at left guard failed miserably with a severe back injury. You lose cornerback Leigh Bodden and defensive end Ty Warren [both put on injured reserve]. That's three legitimate starters and then you make it four with Mankins. One of the main goals in the preseason is to stay healthy and keep your team intact going into the season opener. The Patriots don't have that now."

Bruschi also was concerned with a toothless run game, inexperienced offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer protecting Tom Brady and the "unproven youth" on defense.

That said, Bruschi still predicted the Patriots will find a way to have a successful season.

Randy Moss takes displeasure public

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
12:54
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Just what the New England Patriots needed. More volatility.

The summer has been anything but a breeze for the defending AFC East champs.

[+] EnlargeRandy Moss
Stew Milne/US PresswireRandy Moss doesn't think he'll be back with the Patriots after this season.
Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins remains unsigned and has demanded a trade. Defensive end Ty Warren suffered a season-ending hip injury. Top cornerback Leigh Bodden is done for the year because of a torn rotator cuff. Safety Brandon McGowan is gone with a torn chest muscle. Leading man Tom Brady wants a contract extension but hasn't gotten one.

Then there's Randy Moss. On Labor Day, the star receiver spoke to a reporter for the first time this summer, expressing his displeasure with how the Patriots are treating him.

Moss wants a new deal, too, and he feels snubbed without one. Moss is entering the final year of a deal that will pay him a base salary of $6.4 million this season.

"When you have done so much and put so much work in, it kind of feels like I am not wanted," Moss told William Bendetson of CBSSports.com. "I am taking that in stride and playing my final year out, and whatever the future holds is what it holds, but it is kind of a bad feeling -- feeling not wanted.

"It is not like my production has gone down. I am speaking from an individual standpoint. I don't know about Tom or whoever else's contract."

But the Patriots are in a tough spot. Moss is 33 years old. Few receivers remain elite at such an age, but he is coming off a sublime season.

He had 83 receptions for 1,264 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns despite playing much of the season with a separated shoulder.

"I am a little older and understand the nature of the business," Moss said. "The older you get, the more your skills supposedly diminish. But I think I am getting wiser in how to use my physical skills. That's the frustrating part, when you put so much heart and desire into things and feel like you are not wanted."

Moss told Boston Globe reporter Christopher L. Gasper in February he was pessimistic about remaining with the Patriots beyond 2010.

"You know the Patriots don't really pay," Moss told Gasper. "So when I got my second contract from them that was a blessing in disguise. I understand the business. I don't think they're going to re-sign me back. I'm not mad. I'm not bitter. It's just the way things are in this NFL, so like I said after this year I'll be looking for a new team. I think so."

Whether or not you think the Patriots should pay Moss, his timing is impeccably poor. Moss has remained silent for months. He has avoided interviews. And six days before the Patriots will open their season against the Cincinnati Bengals, he decides to publicly declare he's unhappy.

The Patriots could have done without this.

New England Patriots cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
7:28
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Check here for a full list of roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Outside linebacker Derrick Burgess kept the Patriots waiting while he contemplated retirement at the start of training camp. The Patriots probably helped push him back toward a pensive mood when they dropped the two-time Pro Bowler. The Patriots have pass-rush concerns, and Burgess tied for second with five sacks last year. The development of second-round draft choice Jermaine Cunningham certainly played a role in New England's decision. Also notable that second-year offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger was dropped despite the Patriots' interior issues and the fact they aggressively drafted him from Penn State in the fourth round last year. The Patriots traded cornerback Ellis Hobbs for a pair of fifth-round picks and then turned those assets into the fourth-round pick they used on Ohrnberger. He dressed for only three games last year.

No-brainers: The Patriots chose to keep five running backs, which is what they did last year. Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With safety Brandon McGowan placed on injured reserve with a chest injury, they made a nice trade with the Kansas City Chiefs and old friend Scott Pioli for safety Jarrad Page.

What's next: Bill Belichick never stops tweaking, particularly at the bottom of the roster. So this list of 53 probably will change before opening day. The Patriots, in need of support at defensive end, could bring back Jarvis Green, cut by the Denver Broncos on Saturday. Green played all eight of his NFL seasons with the Patriots and started 13 games at left end before signing with the Broncos as a free agent. Right defensive end Ty Warren is out for the year with a hip injury. The Patriots also released veteran defensive end Damione Lewis on Friday.

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