NFL Nation: Akin Ayodele

IRVING, Texas -- The free-agent shopping starts today at 3 p.m. CT.

If the Dallas Cowboys have learned anything, it’s that they should use coupons.

From 2006-11, the Cowboys signed 12 players in unrestricted free agency. Only two players who signed multi-year deals reached the end of their contracts: Kyle Kosier signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Cowboys in 2006 and was with the team through 2011. Keith Brooking signed a three-year, $6 million deal in 2009 and was a contributor through 2011.

Igor Olshansky (2009), Leonard Davis (2007) and Akin Ayodele (2006) are the only other players who made it more than one season on their original deals, and Olshansky and Ayodele made it only two seasons.

The Cowboys signed seven unrestricted free agents in 2012 and three lasted one season (Dan Connor, Nate Livings and Lawrence Vickers) on multi-year deals. Brodney Pool signed a one-year deal and barely made it to training camp.

Three members of the 2012 free-agent class remain: Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million), Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11.5 million) and Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million). Carr is coming off a disappointing 2013 season, Bernadeau took a pay cut last week and Orton is not sure he wants to play.

Spending money in free agency is hardly ever the answer. The Cowboys will not have a ton of money available to them when the market opens until the DeMarcus Ware situation is resolved, and even then they will have to be wise with how they spend it and who they spend it on.

The needs are obvious: defense, defense and more defense. That’s what happens when a unit finishes last in the NFL in 2013. But the Cowboys could use a veteran presence at wide receiver (Robert Meachem, Jason Avant) and a backup quarterback if Orton walks away (Shaun Hill).

Finding defensive line help is a must, but the Cowboys will have to be budget conscious. They have had on and off talks with Jordan Woy, who represents free agents Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, for most of the offseason. Both players could find better financial opportunities elsewhere.

Hatcher turns 32 in July and is coming off a career-high 11 sacks. He was added to the Pro Bowl. Spencer played in only one game in 2013 because of a knee injury that will not be healed enough for him to be 100 percent ready for training camp.

How much of a commitment can the Cowboys make and feel like they will get their money’s worth?

Ties to new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could help in the pursuit of Henry Melton, but he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Value is often the most overlooked part of free agency. The big-money signings lead to the biggest headlines, but do not correspond enough to wins and losses.

The Cowboys found value in Kosier, Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bernadeau but did not or have not received enough bang for the buck in Carr ($26.5 million guarantee) and Davis ($18.75 million guaranteed).

As the Cowboys look to clear this 8-8 bump that has turned into Mt. Everest, they need to spend wisely, but more importantly they need to choose wisely.

Buffalo continues D upgrade in third

April, 29, 2011
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills drafted a third straight defender, adding Louisiana State inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard with the 68th pick Friday night.

Why the Bills took him: The Bills already have addressed each level of their defense with a lineman (Marcell Dareus), a defensive back (Aaron Williams) and now a linebacker, a position that was thin last year. Sheppard is considered a smart and emotional leader, and he might need that kind of passion to overcome limitations as a sideline-to-sideline tackler.

How it affects the roster: Veteran linebackers Paul Posluszny and Akin Ayodele are free agents. Sheppard could contribute immediately.

Scouts Inc. says: Good communication skills. Quickly reads keys and reacts. Do not see many false steps from him. Has improved his discipline and rarely got fooled by misdirection or play-action in 2010. Flashes ability to sniff out draws and screens. Shows awareness to go for the strip when wrapping up ball carriers. ... Is technically sound with his hands and will almost always take on blocks properly. He is tough and fearless, but he does not have explosive upper body power. He rarely shocks the blocker with initial pop and he has some trouble disengaging from bigger blockers.

Buffalo loses Parrish, Davis for the year

November, 8, 2010
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One player forward, two players back.

Parrish
Parrish
Davis
Davis
The Buffalo Bills made a move last week that should improve their team, claiming Shawne Merriman off waivers. But on Monday they placed two starters on season-ending injured reserve, weakening both sides of the ball.

The Bills lost important receiver Roscoe Parrish to a broken wrist and starting inside linebacker Andra Davis to a nagging shoulder injury.

Parrish suffered his injury late in Sunday's 22-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in Toronto. He leaped high to catch a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass along the sideline and came down awkwardly while trying to stay inbounds.

Parrish will be difficult to replace. After getting mothballed by previous coach Dick Jauron, Parrish was having a breakout season as a receiver. Through eight games, he had 33 receptions (two short of his career-high) for 400 yards (most of his career) and two touchdowns (tying his career-high). His catches and yards ranked second on the team behind Steve Johnson.

"You don't just replace guys that have been that productive," Bills coach Chan Gailey said, "but it's an opportunity for somebody else to step up. Donald Jones will jump into the fray and we'll see what he can do."

Jones is an undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State. He has played in every game but didn't make his first catch until Sunday.

Davis was hurt in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins and couldn't recover. He played in six games, starting four. Davis had 42 tackles, including one for a loss and Buffalo's only interception this year.

Akin Ayodele started in Davis' usual spot Sunday.

Dolphins D unable to clamp tight ends

September, 30, 2010
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The Miami Dolphins have a problem defending tight ends.

They struggled throughout 2009 to contain them, and they're off to a rougher start this season.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Paul Spinelli The Dolphins face Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez on Monday night. He's averaging 70.3 receiving yards per game.
Tight ends accumulated a nice stat line against Miami last year: 68 receptions for 993 yards and four touchdowns.

Through three games, even with the Buffalo Bills not throwing a single pass to their tight ends on opening day, that position is on pace to catch 69 passes for 1,099 yards and 11 touchdowns against the Dolphins.

That's an All-Pro campaign.

"We've got to do a little bit better job," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said.

Next up are a pair of rookies who've already established themselves as dangerous targets.

The Dolphins will have difficult matchups Monday night with New England Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Each is capable to doing damage.

Hernandez is more of a pure receiver, averaging 70.3 receiving yards per game. That ranks him fourth among all tight ends behind only Jermichael Finley, Antonio Gates and Dustin Keller and ahead of Dallas Clark.

Gronkowksi is the bigger red-zone threat. He has a pair of touchdowns, tying him for third in the league. On the Patriots, he has one fewer touchdown than Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

"They've done a very good job," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "Both are very young in age. I think one of them is 20 (Hernandez) and one just turned 21 (Gronkowski). So for young players, it's pretty neat to find them playing such a great role on our offense.

"With each week, I think they are gaining a little more confidence in what they're doing through the experience that they're having, and we're relying on them every week to be playmakers for us."

The Patriots were one of the few teams who didn't get in on the tight end passing party last year.

As gaudy as the aforementioned 2009 tight end stats versus the Dolphins looked, the Patriots actually improved the averages. Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker combined for only five receptions and 55 yards in two games against Miami.

Tight ends tearing apart the Dolphins in the middle of the field -- think of Clark's seven-catch, 183-yard night -- were a major reason they made so many offseason defensive changes. The Dolphins fired coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. They released linebackers Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor and safety Gibril Wilson because they were responsible for so many big plays.

Keller exploited the Dolphins on Sunday night. He helped the Jets post a big road victory with six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The Dolphins did shut him out after the intermission, but that wasn't soon enough.

Sparano knows he'll have problems again Monday night.

"It's difficult, no question about it," Sparano said of Hernandez and Gronkowski. "I think you can try a lot of ways, but with the Patriots you've got to kind of pick your poison a little bit. You can go out there and maybe try to double one of those guys, but then you could expose yourself with Randy or with Wes or with any of those people. You've got to be a little bit careful."

Halftime thoughts from Jets at Dolphins

September, 26, 2010
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MIAMI -- Some first-half thoughts Sunday night from Sun Life Stadium, where the New York Jets lead the Miami Dolphins 14-10 at the intermission:
  • The Dolphins made major changes to their defense because they couldn't cover players up the seams. They got rid of inside linebacker Akin Ayodele and safety Gibril Wilson because they repeatedly gave up big gains down the middle. Yet they've forgotten to cover Jets tight end Dustin Keller. He's having a huge game with six receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
  • The Dolphins' defense gave up two touchdowns in their first two games. The Jets scored two on their first three possessions.
  • The Dolphins are picking on Jets rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson. On their first play, the Dolphins went deep. Brian Hartline had him beat, but Chad Henne overthrew him. Henne seemed a little extra jacked up in the first quarter. His passes sailed, but he settled down in the second quarter and seemed to find a rhythm.
  • Miami receiver Davone Bess has made some big grabs. He has four catches for a team-high 60 yards.
  • Meet the new Dolphins running back, Brandon Marshall. With about six minutes left in the second quarter, Marshall had two rushing attempts (3 yards) and one reception (10 yards). He finished the half with four catches for 43 yards.
  • Miami's backfield hasn't done much. They have only 39 rushing yards. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have combined for nine carries and 32 yards.
  • Jets owner Woody Johnson, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan voted unanimously to bench receiver Braylon Edwards for the first quarter as punishment for his drunk driving arrest. They did fine without him, taking their opening possession 72 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. Edwards didn't have the ball thrown to him.
  • Jason Taylor elicited boos from the Sun Life Stadium crowd when he sacked Henne and did his bull's-eye celebration in the first quarter.

Dolphins at Bills inactives

September, 12, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here are the inactives for Sunday's game between the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Most notable is Chad Pennington officially assuming the No. 2 role ahead of Tyler Thigpen and the stand-down order to outside linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis, who might have started but woke up sick in the morning.

Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills

Final Word: AFC East

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Dolphins can't be sure what to expect from new Bills coach Chan Gailey.
Game plans will be an exercise in speculation. There's always a healthy dose of mystery heading into opening weekend. Teams withhold much of their playbooks throughout the preseason, creating wonder about how a new player will be utilized or how much coaching philosophies might have changed since the year before. Whoever guesses best likely will win Sunday's matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. New Bills coach Chan Gailey has installed his offense and has switched the defense to a 3-4. The Bills also will show their full backfield for the first time. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch return from injuries sustained in the preseason opener. With them out, rookie lightning bolt C.J. Spiller was limited to tailback duties. Where will Spiller line up now? Could be anywhere. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Gailey has been watching Denver Broncos film and trying to project how Nolan will use the Dolphins' roster.

The New England Patriots defense could be in for a long afternoon. The Patriots better have something up their sleeves for the Cincinnati Bengals. Otherwise, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will have plenty to crow about. How will the Patriots contain the Bengals, who have placed an emphasis on their passing game? They added T.O. and drafted tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round to help quarterback Carson Palmer. The Bengals have a strong enough rushing attack to keep any defense honest. Straight up, the Patriots appear to be at a disadvantage against the pass. The Patriots have the NFL's least experienced cornerbacks in Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty. As for a pass rush, the Patriots haven't had an effective one for a couple of years.

Don't dismiss the possibility of a big game from Darrelle Revis. The All-Pro cornerback had one week of practice to get ready for Monday night's opener against the Baltimore Ravens. He missed training camp and all four preseason games during his contract dispute. But that doesn't mean Revis will be rusty. Remember when the Jets signed cornerback Ty Law off the street in November 2008 for a Thursday night game against the Patriots? Law was 34, and they lined him up against Randy Moss. In the first half, Moss had zero receptions. He finished with three catches for 23 yards, and it took a pinpoint Matt Cassel rollout pass and a sensational sideline grab to beat Law for a 16-yard touchdown. Revis isn't 34 years old, and he wasn't signed off a free-agent scrap heap just before Thanksgiving. Revis kept himself in shape while AWOL, working out with a fellow Aliquippa, Pa., native named Ty Law.

If you have Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams on your fantasy team, start them. Heck, fourth-stringer Lex Hilliard might be a decent option against the Bills' run defense. The Bills' transition to a 3-4 defense hasn't made them noticeably better against the run, and they ranked 30th last year. The Bills were on the smallish side to begin with, and they're dealing with injuries at linebacker. Starting outside linebacker Reggie Torbor and backup inside linebacker Antonio Coleman won't play. Top inside linebacker reserve Kawika Mitchell was placed on season-ending injured reserve Friday. Newly acquired inside linebacker Akin Ayodele will be deactivated until he learns the system. On top of all those circumstances, Buffalo boasts a formidable secondary. Motivation for Miami to throw will be low.

Left guard, not quarterback, could turn out to be the Jets' weakest link. All eyes will be on Mark Sanchez on Monday night. So they might not see the peripheral blurs attacking him in the pocket. Left guard is among the chief concerns. The Jets featured a mimeograph offensive line over the past two seasons. That's 33 games of continuity for one of the best units in the league. But the Jets cut Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca, and his potential replacements have been shaky. Matt Slauson won the job by default over disappointing rookie Vladimir Ducasse. As head coach Rex Ryan acknowledged in "Hard Knocks," there's not a lot of faith in either of them to keep Sanchez off his back.

AFC West draft odds and ends

April, 24, 2010
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Assuming new quarterback Jason Campbell will start in Oakland, it will mean the team will have a new opening day starting quarterback for the sixth time in seven years. Oakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will be Campbell’s eighth coordinator in 10 years dating back to his college days.

Oakland coach Tom Cable is not ready to make Jason Campbell the starting quarterback yet. He does expect JaMarcus Russell to be at the team’s minicamp next week.

The Broncos are bringing in former Miami linebacker Akin Ayodele for a physical Sunday and will sign him barring any issues. He will provide depth at inside linebacker. Denver did not draft a front-seven defender. Coach Josh McDaniels said Denver has moved Mario Haggan from outside to inside linebacker.

McDaniels said the team will not add any veteran receivers. The team drafted receivers Demaryius Thomas in the first round and Eric Decker in the third round.

The only team in the division I see making a run at guard Alan Faneca is Oakland, but I’d say that is a long shot at best.

Defensive tackle Gerard Warren, cut by Oakland this offseason, has signed with New England.

Denver sent a fifth-round pick next year to Tampa Bay for two seventh-round picks this year.

What could flip Taylor's Jets hate to love?

April, 7, 2010
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Throughout his career with the Miami Dolphins, star pass-rusher Jason Taylor didn't conceal his contempt for the New York Jets.

In a collection of comments posted earlier, Taylor calls Jets fans "ignorant," their stadium a "hellhole" and their famous "J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!" chant "dumb-ass."

"Some Jets fans take the 'c-l' out of class," is another Taylor quote.

[+] EnlargeJason Taylor
Doug Murray/Icon SMIJason Taylor would be a nice fit as a pass-rush specialist in the Jets' 3-4 schemes.
So what could possibly change Taylor's mind enough to swallow those words and sign a contract with the Jets?

He's not desperate. It's early April. The Dolphins reportedly have talked to him about re-signing. The Jets are bound by the "final eight" plan and can't throw fistfuls of money at him.

But there are reasons Taylor could be swayed, and much of it has to do with the dynamic culture the Jets have fostered.

Jets head coach Rex Ryan: Not even Dolphins inside linebacker Channing Crowder could remain upset with Ryan.

They publicly feuded last summer, but Crowder developed a genuine respect for Ryan as a defensive master and fun-loving dude.

"It's hard for me to say this, but I'm honest. I like Rex now," Crowder told me the week before the Super Bowl. "He's a funny guy. He first became a head coach, [their feud] was one of the first things that happened. I was like 'Who's this guy?' That's when everything kind of manifested.

"Now that I see what kind of guy he is, he seems like a funny guy, a funny coach. I'm starting to lean towards ol' Rex. I might give him a hug when I see him."

Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery made a similar point with me last week while talking about Ryan's role in making the Jets a team opposing fans love to hate. Cotchery noted players around the league are envious of the atmosphere Ryan has cultivated.

"A lot of players don't experience that fun," Cotchery said. "There are some people on the other sidelines who are jealous."

A new stadium and headquarters: The Jets' training facility isn't two years old yet, and they're moving into a dazzling new Meadowlands stadium this year. Those who have toured the $1.6 billion structure have been amazed.

"I was blown away," Ryan said of his first tour. "The stadium is massive. It's just a great place to watch a game, and I can't wait to play a game in that stadium with our fans rocking. If our fans come out the way they did for the last Cincinnati game and the first New England game, whoo, are we going to be tough to beat."

The Jets' defense is in much better shape: The Jets boasted the NFL's top-rated total defense, scoring defense and passing defense in 2009. Their defense was the backbone of a team that reached the AFC Championship Game, and there's no reason to think it won't be great again this year.

Taylor would be a great fit as a pass-rush specialist in Ryan's aggressive 3-4 schemes.

"That would be an excellent acquisition," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson wrote to me in an e-mail. "My worry is that Taylor would wear down, but they have enough bodies at the position to keep him fresh. Plus, he would have to be a good influence on Vernon Gholston -- you would think, at least.

"Taylor isn't as explosive as he once was, for sure. But he does understand how to set up blockers and is a pretty cerebral player overall. He keeps containment well, feels blocking schemes and can be pretty stout versus the run.

"He would make an excellent defense even better."

The Dolphins' defense, meanwhile, is in a state of flux. It could turn out to be formidable under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, but the unit has been overhauled. Gone are defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, outside linebackers coach Jim Reid and inside linebackers coach George Edwards.

Also gone from the front seven are outside linebacker Joey Porter, a captain, and inside linebacker Akin Ayodele. Another defensive captain, nose tackle Jason Ferguson, will be suspended the first eight games of the season.

It's the Big Apple: Taylor doesn't plan to retire into anonymity when his playing days are over. The reason he accepted an invitation to compete on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2008 was to help lay a foundation for a career in the entertainment industry.

The Jets recently were selected to be the featured club for this year's edition of "Hard Knocks" on HBO. Taylor, with his striking looks and on-field résumé, would be one of the leading characters.

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The Big Question: Are Fins doing enough?

March, 30, 2010
3/30/10
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» NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Have the Miami Dolphins done enough since the free-agency period began?


Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIREThe Dolphins started free agency by signing Karlos Dansby, but they have done little since.
Miami got off to a rousing start in free agency by pouncing on Karlos Dansby like a 43-year-old bachelorette on the bride's bouquet. Bill Parcells whipped out owner Stephen Ross' checkbook to make Dansby the NFL's highest-paid inside linebacker, one of top two or three most-significant moves at the start of free agency.

That was nearly a month ago.

The Dolphins haven't done much else since then. They courted safety Ryan Clark, but he re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They haven't gotten involved with any wide receivers, much to their fans' chagrin.

The Dolphins brought back Chad Pennington to be their third-string quarterback and nose tackle Jason Ferguson, who won't be able to play until he serves an eight-game suspension. They added freak-on-a-short-leash guard Richie Incognito with a low-risk contract, making him one misstep away from being cut.

Upgrades, however, don't always occur through acquisitions. The Dolphins made some classic addition-by-subtraction moves, cutting outside linebacker Joey Porter, inside linebacker Akin Ayodele and safety Gibril Wilson. Porter signed with the Arizona Cardinals and was arrested for DUI. Ayodele and Wilson haven't found work.

Dolfans should be relieved those guys are gone, but only Ayodele has been replaced. They still need to establish a new pass-rushing presence on the edge (especially if they don't want Jason Taylor back) and locate a safety in addition to help at receiver and nose tackle.

Dansby will be a force on Miami's defense, and Incognito will be a nice pickup if he can keep his temper under control.

But the Dolphins, who went 7-9 last year, need to find more veterans to keep pace with the AFC runner-up New York Jets and defending AFC East champion New England Patriots.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:03
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» NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Arizona Cardinals

Losing Karlos Dansby in free agency and not signing Larry Foote left the Cardinals with a need at inside linebacker even though Paris Lenon's addition helped some.

Safety could have been another concern, but the Cardinals acted quickly to replace Antrel Rolle with Kerry Rhodes. The Cardinals also protected themselves on the offensive line by adding guard Rex Hadnot and re-signing tackle Jeremy Bridges. Those moves bought some flexibility in the draft.

The Cardinals aren't picking early enough to seriously consider landing a franchise quarterback, although that could be a position of need even after the team signs a veteran to push Matt Leinart. Leinart's contract balloons in value in 2011.

Arizona still could stand to bolster its defensive line in the draft, particularly at nose tackle.

San Francisco 49ers

The opening weeks of free agency have only confirmed the 49ers' needs on the offensive line. It's important for the team to find a starting right tackle. A starter or at least quality depth at guard would also help.

Offensive tackle was a draft need even before Tony Pashos signed with Cleveland and Barry Sims scheduled a visit with the Redskins. Sims has had value as a swing tackle. Pashos provided more depth even though he was one-dimensional as a right tackle only

Cornerback remains an obvious position for the 49ers to target in the draft. They've relied on older veterans at the position in recent seasons. Nate Clements' long-term future with the team is in some question. The 49ers haven't addressed the position in free agency. The draft awaits.

Finally, the 49ers have been visiting with free-agent linebacker Akin Ayodele. Signing Ayodele would give the team welcome veteran depth at inside linebacker behind Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes. That type of signing would address a potential draft need.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' needs have become more obvious since the free-agent signing period opened. Deon Grant's release left Jordan Babineaux and Jamar Adams as the only safeties under contract. That's a position the Seahawks need to address, probably in the draft.

Existing needs included offensive tackle, guard, quarterback, defensive end and cornerback.

Seattle could sensibly address the need at guard by signing a veteran free agent such as Ben Hamilton, who has experience in line coach Alex Gibbs' system. The Seahawks' interest in Chargers backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst could lead to a trade that would address another need.

The team is different but not necessarily better at defensive end after sending Darryl Tapp to the Eagles for Chris Clemons and a 2010 fourth-round choice. Defensive end remains a need as Seattle tries to improve its pass rush.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams' draft scenarios came into clearer focus when the team signed A.J. Feeley as its No. 2 quarterback before adding defensive tackle Fred Robbins.

The moves set up the Rams to select a quarterback first overall if Sam Bradford appeals to them. Feeley could mentor Bradford while Robbins provided needed muscle on defense (the Rams would be bypassing defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy under this scenario).

The Rams haven't upgraded their front-line talent in free agency. Their core draft needs remain. Losing pass-rushers Leonard Little and/or James Hall in free agency would accentuate the immediate need for help in that area. The Saints might have interest in one or both.

Placing the lowest tender on restricted free agent Oshiomogho Atogwe showed the Rams could be willing to part with him. Losing him would create another need along with linebacker. The Rams have shown interest in veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs, but they need more young talent at the position and the draft could help.

Will Dansby's impact match the dollars?

March, 6, 2010
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For those Dolfans celebrating their team's signing of inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the cops just showed up at the front door to tell everybody to simmer down.

ESPN Insider analyst KC Joyner is the killjoy.

He takes this view of the Dolphins giving Dansby a blockbuster five-year, $43 million contract with $22 million in guarantees:
There is very little to indicate that Dansby will be a significant upgrade over the recently released Akin Ayodele. Dansby is somewhat better at stopping the run (he has historically graded out around 5 percentage points higher than Ayodele in "point of attack" win percentage), but that really doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Inside linebackers usually see around 100 to 150 POA blocks a year, so a 5 percent increase here means that Dansby will stop somewhere between five to eight runs that Ayodele wouldn't have.

But Joyner does note Dansby is two years younger than Ayodele and a much safer bet than drafting an unproven linebacker such as Rolando McClain with the 12th overall pick.

Fins drop Porter, Ayodele, Wilson

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
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If you weren't convinced the Miami Dolphins were going to overhaul their defense before, then you should realize it now.

The Dolphins fired their defensive coordinator in January and released three starters on Friday: outside linebacker Joey Porter, inside linebacker Akin Ayodele and safety Gibril Wilson. All three started at least 14 games last year, but they won't play for new coordinator Mike Nolan.

Porter's discharge was expected. The Dolphins dumped Porter three weeks ago, but the NFL reversed the move because the Dolphins would have been in violation of the salary cap. The salary cap disappeared on Friday because of the peculiar rules related to the league entering the final year of its collective bargaining agreement.

Wilson and Ayodele ranked second and third on the team in tackles, but as former Dolphins linebacker Kim Bokamper told me recently, they repeatedly gave up big plays because of breakdowns at inside linebacker and safety.

"Forced fumbles, interceptions, fumble recoveries, they just don’t give you any productivity," Bokamper said, "and they got exposed from a coverage standpoint, whether it was a running back out of the backfield or a tight end running down the middle of the field. The blame has to be shared between the linebackers and the safeties."

The Dolphins also could lose free-agent outside linebacker Jason Taylor, a starter for 12 games last year. They reportedly aren't interested in re-signing free-agent nickel back Nate Jones, who started five games.

Dansby to visit Dolphins on Friday

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
12:32
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Dansby
Dansby
The Miami Dolphins will have the first shot to sign free-agent inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

On a telephone call with "NFL Live" host Trey Wingo shortly after the midnight dawn of the free-agency signing period, Dansby announced his first visit will be with the Dolphins on Friday.

Dansby was the Arizona Cardinals' leading tackler last year with 109. He recorded one sack, five tackles for losses and one forced fumble.

The Dolphins have identified inside linebacker as a high priority to address this offseason. They have been disappointed with the play of Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele, who combined for one sack, one interception and zero forced fumbles in 2009.

Draft Watch: AFC East

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills had craters to fill on both sides of scrimmage before new coach Chan Gailey came aboard and decided to switch to a 3-4 defense. That has created more positional needs. Critical to pulling off that defensive transformation is identifying a classic, run-stopping, multiple-blocker-occupying nose tackle. One doesn't exist on their roster.

But where the Bills really need to upgrade is at offensive tackle and quarterback for an offense that has rated 30th, 25th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 25th and 30th the past seven seasons. They neglected left tackle after trading Pro Bowler Jason Peters before last year's draft. They passed on budding star Michael Oher. Without that piece, can the Bills afford to draft a quarterback ninth overall, pay him the type of money he would command and expect him to develop behind a feeble line?

Miami Dolphins

For the third offseason in a row, receiver is Miami's sexiest offseason need. Dolfans have been begging for downfield help, and the necessity has been augmented now that Chad Henne is the quarterback. The Dolphins got by with a collection of possession receivers because of Chad Pennington's pinpoint, midrange arm. A reliable deep threat would benefit Henne.

The Dolphins have a decision to make at nose tackle. Incumbent Jason Ferguson is coming off a season-ending leg injury and will turn 36 next season. If the Dolphins look elsewhere, then that's a big hole.

No matter what, they must improve at inside linebacker and free safety, the positions most responsible for surrendering big play after big play throughout the season. Last year's free safety, Gibril Wilson, was paid well and gave up costly plays. Inside linebackers Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele simply aren't playmakers. They combined last year for one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two recoveries.

New England Patriots

Crucial to the Patriots' offseason is finding pass-rushers, either through free agency or the draft. They're rice-paper thin at outside linebacker, where unrestricted free agents Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess were first (9.5) and tied for second (five) on the team in sacks. It's hard to imagine Adalius Thomas remaining on the roster. Defensive end is another area of concern. Bill Belichick dealt Richard Seymour in training camp. Jarvis Green is unrestricted.

On offense, it would sound laughable to say this a year ago, but the Patriots need receiver help. They never located a legitimate third option last season. Randy Moss showed his volatile side for the first time as a Patriot. Wes Welker has a long recovery from knee surgery ahead. Tight end is another unsettled spot. Benjamin Watson is unrestricted, and even if he comes back, the Patriots never seem comfortable there.

New York Jets

A year ago, the Jets embarked on what appeared to be massive renovations. Now they're tweaking. On offense, receiver is an area to concentrate on. Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are a nice start, but the Jets couldn't find trustworthy help beyond that. Whether they add a wideout or a slot target, Mark Sanchez could use help as the Jets develop into a more balanced offense.

Offensive line and defensive end are places where the Jets are getting older. The Jets are not compelled to find starters in either area, but they're in desperate need of depth players they can groom for the future. General manager Mike Tannenbaum isn't afraid to barter draft picks, and the result has been just 13 selections over the past three Aprils, including three last year. When you're constantly filling out the back end of your roster with undrafted rookies and castoffs, depth can suffer a long time.

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