Leading Questions: AFC East

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
12:00
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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 2012 season:

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Who is the quarterback?

It won't be Matt Moore. That much is clear entering the offseason. Miami has not been shy to say the team will explore all options to find a franchise quarterback for 2012.

Is it Peyton Manning? Is it Matt Flynn? What about Robert Griffin III? Everything is up for discussion, according to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland. Expect Miami to be in the hunt for every big name at quarterback who becomes available.

Look for Miami to see what happens with Manning first. The Dolphins want to make a splash with a proven quarterback who can put fans back in Sun Life Stadium. Manning obviously fits the bill. The only question is his surgically repaired neck, which reportedly has been operated on four times.

The next option would be Flynn, who played under rookie Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin in Green Bay. Flynn is a bit of an unknown commodity, but he has played very well in limited opportunities.

Griffin would be a third and unlikely option. The Dolphins hold the No. 8 or No. 9 pick and would have to trade up to get the Baylor quarterback. With so many teams interested in Griffin, the Dolphins don't have a strong chance.

But a lot of parts are in place in Miami. The Dolphins are a franchise quarterback away from being a playoff contender. The Dolphins will be a team to watch in 2012 if they fill that void.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

How will they improve the defense?

You know Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn't happy with his 31st-ranked defense. He built a reputation being a defensive guru, and Belichick will do all he can to get that side of the ball fixed.

The good news for New England is the team has plenty of cap room and flexibility. Twenty free agents have cleared up more than $20 million in cap space. Belichick will have the option of trying to re-sign the players he wants to keep -- Wes Welker and Matthew Slater, for example -- while using the rest of the salary cap to upgrade the roster with outside free agents.

In terms of the draft, the Patriots have two first-round picks and two second-round picks. Belichick is always looking to trade down for more picks. But this could be the year he cashes in and gets the most out of his picks. New England can use help at cornerback, safety and another pass-rusher on the edge.

BUFFALO BILLS

Will they really be players in free agency?

Bills general manager Buddy Nix surprised a lot of football observers this offseason when he said the team will spend to the cap and chase the best free agents. Buffalo is infamous for keeping a low payroll, but Nix said the Bills will spend this year.

Buffalo lived up to that early billing by recently going after CB Stanford Routt, who has reached an agreement with Kansas City. Even though Routt didn't choose Buffalo, it was a good sign the Bills are willing to go after top-end talent.

The biggest issue for the Bills is: Can they convince big-name free agents to come to Buffalo? It's not often talked about, but the Bills traditionally struggle to land good free agents when competing against winning teams in more desirable cities. If the money and years are equal, Buffalo often comes up short.

This is a good year to spend money in free agency. There are a lot of very good players available, and Buffalo may have to overpay to get some on the roster.

NEW YORK JETS

Can they fix the offense?

New York's 25th-ranked offense sprung leaks everywhere last season. Sometimes it was the offensive line. Sometimes it was the quarterback and receivers. Poor play calling also was a factor.

This offseason the Jets' biggest priority is getting their offense back on track. The Jets already made steps in that direction by replacing offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, who is responsible for improving chemistry and getting everyone on the same page.

Veterans such as starting receiver Plaxico Burress and future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson are not expected to return. New York won't have much cap space, so the team must get creative while making upgrades.

This is also a huge offseason for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has made only marginal strides in his three seasons. The Jets publicly back the third-year quarterback. The team knows if Sanchez plays well and remains confident, everything else on offense falls into place.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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