NFL Nation: free agency

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
Charles TillmanGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman and the Bears' defense should benefit from some key additions in 2014.
The Chicago Bears' front office grunted through one of the league's busiest offseason of signings to put the team in position to draft the best player available in May while also minimizing the burden of the potential first-round pick to carry the savior label.

So while the workload won't lighten as the Bears prepare for the NFL draft and the April 22 start of the offseason program, they've unwittingly utilized a core motto of former NFL coach Dennis Green: Plan your work and work your plan. That has led to the Bears signing 30 players since the final week of December, a group that includes 17 returners, 10 unrestricted free agents and three street free agents to drastically improve -- at least on paper -- one of the NFL's worst defenses of 2013.

"I think we'll slow down a tad," Bears general manager Phil Emery said on March 31. "But we have a lot of work to do. We have some positions we want to make more competitive. The draft's around the corner."

Not to diminish the work to be done over the next few weeks, but Chicago's activity up to this point should make things easier moving forward. Headed into the offseason, the Bears needed to address a defensive line that played a major role in 2013 in the defense allowing 5.34 yards per rushing attempt (the league average was 4.10), and did so by signing Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and Israel Idonije, in addition to bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.

The club also re-signed starting corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, while adding to the safety position by acquiring M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy.

So is the defense better now than it was in 2013?

"The obvious answer to that would be we're healthier [than in 2013] because nobody's hurt," Emery said. "Also, I think we've added some guys at key points in their career. Jared adds experience, production, leadership. Somebody like Lamarr and Willie add some youth, speed and [physicality]. Really excited about Jeremiah Ratliff this year. He's excited about playing. He wants to finish here. He added so much the last few weeks [of 2013] in terms of leadership; unbelievably mentally tough player. So yeah, I think the collective group, we've gotten stronger and we're headed in the right direction as far as we want to establish as a defensive football team."

Given the financial commitments to Houston, Allen and Young -- all defensive ends -- it'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Mel Tucker finds ways to get them on the field at the same time. Allen is the bona fide starter at right end, and Houston will play on the left side. But it's likely the Bears will take advantage of Houston's versatility and kick him inside to defensive tackle on passing downs while playing Young opposite Allen at end.

Even without the benefit of the upcoming draft, Chicago's defensive line appears to be a more dynamic group than it was in 2013.

"It's up to our coaches to find ways to get them all on the field at the same time or at different times or different personnel groupings or groupings against personnel," Emery said.

Depending on the direction the Bears take in May in the draft, that task could become more difficult for Tucker. Despite the Bears adding Jennings, McCray and Mundy in free agency, the club could stand to acquire another safety in the draft capable of competing for a starting job; especially with the possibility Chris Conte might miss time at camp after undergoing shoulder surgery.

But the club might see more value in using its first-round pick on one of the talented interior defensive line prospects such as Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, as picking a safety at No. 14 might be a little too high for the team's tastes. Surely, the Bears will address safety in the first three rounds, in addition to adding depth at some point at corner and at linebacker.

Emery declined to say whether the signing of Allen or all the work done to revamp the defensive line will change the club's draft plans -- only that "it's always been about getting the best players possible to continue to build our team towards winning championships. To do that, you have to have high-quality players and players that can make plays. We talked at the end of the season about having more playmakers on our team."

The Bears certainly added some. In the process, they made the possibility of a defensive renaissance similar to what was experienced on the other side of the ball in 2013 a potentially easier undertaking.

They've planned their work and are working their plan.

Four days ago, in light of news that Henry Melton was the subject of a civil suit, we wrote that regardless of what might take place in a courtroom, the potential return of the defensive tackle was uncertain because of Chicago's unwillingness to overspend.

With Melton posting on Twitter on Tuesday that he's signing with the Dallas Cowboys, let's put it out there right now: The Chicago Bears made the right move despite the fact they'll lose a talented player.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012 but played in just three games last season.
Provided Melton makes a successful return from left ACL surgery, he appears destined to return to the Pro Bowl -- possibly on multiple occasions. But in addition to Melton's small body of work regarding consistency on the field, the Bears held some trepidation regarding his inconsistency off it. Bears general manager Phil Emery mentioned on Jan. 2 concern about Melton's “passion” for the game of football.

It's also why the organization, after gifting Melton $8.45 million last season in the form of the franchise tag, made the conscious decision to not risk wasting money again. Melton was certainly deserving of a major payday considering he was coming off a 2012 season in which he posted six sacks on the way to making his first Pro Bowl. But the Bears got just three games worth of production the last time they invested heavily in Melton, and those three outings likely won't go down as the defensive tackle's strongest performances.

Make no mistake about it: The Bears wanted to bring back Melton, because in Chicago's defensive system, he's the player who makes it all go. But the Bears stuck to their plan of bringing back Melton only at their own price, which is part of the reason he's headed to Dallas.

"Henry, in particular, he has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important," Emery said back on Jan. 2. "And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him [last season]. There was a reason for that investment. The under-tackle position in the scheme that we're in is the engine that drives the defense. When he was in the game, even though from a statistical standpoint he wasn't off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was a very important part of the defense. So he knows, and that has been related to him that we signed you for a reason. Now let's focus in on getting healthy, and obviously he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."

The Bears made it clear from the beginning that they would not spend frivolously to bring back Melton, with Emery saying he “pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that [Melton] was gonna go through [the free-agent] process, and when he got through it, and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time.”

But that time never came because Melton hit the market without the Bears ever making a contract offer, according to an NFL source who said “if you want to sign someone badly enough, you make offers and don't wait.”

Apparently, the Cowboys jumped in quickly with a suitable deal for Melton, who is originally from Grapevine, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, after the defensive tackle also visited with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams. In Dallas, Melton will be reunited with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who served in the same capacity with the Bears from 2010-12, and has called the defensive tackle one of the most natural pass-rushers he's ever coached.

Will Marinelli again coax the best out of Melton in Dallas? That's certainly likely.

But the question marks concerning Melton in Chicago were too significant for the cap-strapped Bears to comfortably make a significant investment in him.
The Chicago Bears talked after a disastrous 2013 season about wanting to revamp the defense and infuse it with youth, but the club's brass would've been failed miserably at the rebuilding effort had it elected to let cornerback Charles Tillman bolt via free agency.

In laying out the team's vision for the offense moving forward, multiple sources talked about the Bears not necessarily wanting to pursue big names in free agency because the club wanted to gain toughness, and put a defensive unit full of athletic, physical players out on the field; dogs so to speak.

So although Tillman is a big name in Chicago, he certainly fits the above description. That's why the Bears benefitted greatly Friday by agreeing to terms with Tillman, who embodies all the traits Chicago’s front office constantly raves about.

“Charles is one of the NFL’s great players and a true leader on and off the field, and we’re happy he will be staying in Chicago,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “He remains the best in our game at forcing turnovers, and always has brought a tough, physical presence to our secondary. Charles also has a special connection to the people and community across Chicago and we’re excited for that to continue.”

A two-time Pro Bowler and the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman ranks No. 3 in team history with 36 interceptions and leads the franchise in defensive return touchdowns (nine), INT return TDs (eight) and interception return yards (675).

Since Tillman came into the league in 2003, he’s tied for fifth in INTs, fifth in INT return yardage, and he’s tied for second in INT return TDs, all accomplished while starting in 150 of 154 games.

Tillman’s 42 forced fumbles rank as second in the league since 2003, and is the most among active cornerbacks. Tillman ranks as the only player since 2003 to pick off 30 or more passes and force 30-plus fumbles. In six of the last nine seasons, Tillman has ranked in the top 10 in forced fumbles.

Tillman currently ranks No. 5 in franchise history in tackles, and he’s broken up 132 passes which is good for fifth in the NFL since 2003.

At the NFL combine back in February, Emery said that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told him a team’s cornerbacks are usually indicative of a defense’s toughness. Emery agreed, and with Tillman now in the fold paired with Tim Jennings, the stage is set for the Bears to build the defense exactly the way the front office envisioned.

“We need tough, physical players,” Emery said at the combine. “That’s what we want: tough, physical athletes. Mel [Tucker] has said it several times to me and I believe it. I know our players believe it: that, generally, the toughness of the team shows up at corner.”

Well, they don’t get much tougher than Tillman.
Perhaps the body bite allegedly made by Chicago Bears free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton truly did inflict psychological damage on Donald Payne, owner of Chill Sports Bar & Grill in Grapevine, Texas, as his attorney Darren Wolf says in a lawsuit filed seeking "a sum greater than $1 million," according to WFAA-TV in Dallas.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears aren't as interested about Henry Melton's off-the-field issues as they are about his price tag, but the former does give an idea over how much the team is willing to pay to keep him.
But rest assured, Chicago's brass is thinking clearly regarding the possibility of the defensive tackle re-signing with the club. And what's quite apparent at this point is the Bears do want to bring back Melton for the 2014 season regardless of this civil suit, viewed as frivolous from this vantage point. But that's only going to take place if it's at the right price (translation: cheap) for the organization.

Why else would the Bears let Melton take multiple visits to other teams -- including one to the division rival Minnesota Vikings -- when they could've snatched him up before the start of free agency?

If you remember, Grapevine police arrested Melton in December with the club on the road preparing to face the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was charged with assault and public intoxication stemming from an altercation with a bartender. Payne, the owner of that establishment, is suing Melton, which is interesting considering the defensive tackle's legal representation was also planning to file a lawsuit.

Asked about the civil suit Thursday filed in Texas against Melton, Bears general manager Phil Emery admitted he was just hearing for the first time about the latest development.

"If that's related to the situation down in Texas, I think that's been an ongoing issue in terms of that issue coming to conclusion and that's all I can talk about it," Emery said. "In terms of evaluating Henry the player, that's separate from that. His on-the-field is one thing in terms of evaluation. The off-the-field is the other. It is a part of it, but that's a legal issue, and that's all I need to say about that."

Will that affect the club's desire to re-sign Melton? Absolutely not, but it does give the Bears ammunition when forming a position about the level of compensation at which they'd feel comfortable paying Melton, not to mention the fact he's coming off a torn ACL. That's not a surprise.

Emery had already been planting the seeds for what's transpiring this very minute back on Jan. 2, and rightfully so, given the cap situation.

"Henry, in particular, he has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important," Emery said then. "And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him [last season]. There was a reason for that investment. The under-tackle position in the scheme that we're in is the engine that drives the defense. When he was in the game, even though from a statistical standpoint he wasn't off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was a very important part of the defense. So he knows, and that has been related to him that we signed you for a reason. Now let's focus in on getting healthy, and obviously he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."

Emery makes several valid points. But let's keep it real here: If the Bears wanted to sign Melton badly enough, they would've made a concrete offer (they haven't, by the way) instead of waiting for his agent, Jordan Woy, to first find the defensive tackle's value on the open market. You can't fault the team for taking that position, though. At the same time, the fact is the Bears want to bring back Melton as cheaply as possible.

It's not happenstance that Emery on Wednesday mentioned that teams are "very interested in [Melton's] medical status."

Starting with the Minnesota Vikings, Melton is taking several free-agent trips according to a source.

"We pretty much left it with Jordan that he was going to go through this process, and when he got through it and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time," Emery said. "Of course, the clock is ticking. So our resources or what we have at the time may have changed. But we'll see where we're at when that's all finished."

If somehow it all gets 'finished' as Emery says with Melton winding up in Chicago, you can bet the defensive tackle won't receive anything remotely close to the $8.45 million the club paid in 2013, when it tagged the defensive tackle as its franchise player.

But given the club's recent signings of defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, in addition to Jeremiah Ratliff, the truth is Melton could prove to be the missing piece that completes the puzzle.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As free agency moves along, more and more teams will continue to release starting-caliber players, which is why the Chicago Bears are keeping a close eye on what is transpiring for the precise moment at which they could pounce.

General manager Phil Emery believes the Bears could still find another starter in the coming days. Entering free agency, the belief among many was that several bargains could be found if teams were willing to wait. That scenario now seems to be playing out around the league.

“We may [sign a starter],” Emery said. “It depends on how the market settles out. We could have a signing today. We could have a signing three weeks from now that we would consider a starter. It continues to be fluid.

Why? Because the landscape continues to change daily as teams decide to release players in order to create cap room to bring aboard other players. As the first wave of free agency wanes, the high dollars commanded by some of the players hitting the market will gradually decrease.

“This thing goes in waves,” Emery explained. “There is a first wave; that goes with signing your own players, which we did. Now comes the next wave where players maybe felt they were going to get a higher amount, then just found out that maybe their market wasn’t there and they’re a little more willing to listen.”

That could take place with players such as cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Henry Melton. Tillman is visiting with Tampa Bay, but the Bears remain committed to re-signing him, as Emery on Wednesday said that “with Charles, it’s an ongoing conversation.” Melton, meanwhile, is to visit to the Minnesota Vikings, according to a source, which added the defensive tackle is set to take numerous other undisclosed visits.

If their free-agent trips fail to yield anything fruitful, the Bears could re-sign them to cap-friendly deals.

Should the Bears wait out free agency even a little longer, they could still possibly find potential starters like they did last offseason with linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson. Williams signed last season near the end of March, and the team signed Anderson just two days later.

“There’s a third wave [of free agency] where players know they’re either going for the veteran minimum or a little bit above that and they’re just looking for an opportunity,” Emery said. “It’s kind of what happens after the college draft [of undrafted players], where players are just looking for the right opportunity.”

Could recently the released Julius Peppers return to Chicago in such a fashion? It’s a hypothetical question, but Emery won’t rule it out if it could take place at the right price.

“That could occur for a number of players in terms of coming to the Bears depending on what their market is once that’s been determined,” Emery said. “So we’re open. We’re always open to getting better at every level of our team and our roster. So any player, including Julius, if they want to have an opportunity to come back, and we can provide that opportunity -- meaning we have the cap space -- we're always open to it.”
The Chicago Bears agreed to terms Tuesday with middle linebacker D.J. Williams on a one year deal.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but it's likely it's similar to the deal Williams signed last offseason.

Williams signed a one-year deal last March that paid a base salary of $900,000 with a maximum value of $1.75 million. After suffering a calf injury at training camp Williams missed the entire preseason but played six games before tearing a pectoral muscle Oct. 10 against the New York Giants.

Williams contributed 27 tackles, including two for lost yardage, in addition to a quarterback pressure, two sacks and one forced fumble.

The club brought in Williams as the replacement at middle linebacker for future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, and he projected to be a potential steal in free agency because of his speed and athleticism.

Prior to joining the Bears, Williams had racked up 90 tackles or more in five of the previous six seasons, and despite playing only briefly in 2013 he displayed enough upside in terms of ability and leadership that general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman considered the linebacker a priority in free agency.

The sides tried to work out a deal prior to the start of free agency, and they negotiated throughout the weekend and finished up Monday close to coming to an agreement.

Although Emery mentioned he'd like to infuse youth on the defense through free agency and the draft, Williams remains an ideal fit despite the fact he'll be 32 at the start of the 2014 season.

It bodes well for Williams that Emery has said at some point the club wants to utilize rising second year man Jonathan Bostic's run-and-hit skillset by moving him to an outside linebacker spot. That would leave open a spot in the middle for Williams.

Emery has said Bostic and former defensive end Shea McClellin will compete for the starting job at Sam linebacker, but Trestman also said that both would see time in the middle.

Williams spent a good portion of his time after the regular season rehabilitating at Halas Hall.

Williams believes he's still capable of producing as a starter.

"I know I still have a good amount of years left in me," he said after the season. "I still have talent."

Free-agency primer: Bears

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Corey Wootton, Josh McCown.

Where they stand: The club informed Hester it won't be re-signing him for 2014, but the Bears are making a concerted effort to try to bring back Tillman. Still, there's a chance the economics won't work out, as Tillman could have other suitors willing to pay more than Chicago. The Bears did some work in re-signing free agents, such as defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Kelvin Hayden along with center Roberto Garza, to cap-friendly deals. Negotiations to re-sign McCown have moved along slowly, which means there's a chance the Bears could lose him if another team gives the backup an opportunity to win a starting job. There's interest from both sides in re-signing Williams, and talks are expected to continue over the weekend.

What to expect: At this point, it's unknown where Chicago's pro personnel department has rated its own unsigned free agents against what else is available on the market. So count on the Bears waiting to see what the market value for their own players is before moving to re-sign them, which is actually a smart move that will keep them from overpaying. The Bears aren't expected to overspend on big names in free agency, but general manager Phil Emery has been known in recent years to make a couple of surprise moves. The Bears would like to infuse youth on defense, but that could prove to be a pricey proposition in free agency for a team with limited cap space. They do have the flexibility to free up cash by cutting players such as Julius Peppers, or restructuring Jay Cutler's deal, which includes a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can’t be executed until March 11 at 3 p.m. CT when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the third part of our series we’ll post all week.

2014 free agent: D.J. Williams

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 6 games (four starts); 39 tackles (21 solo), 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 tackles for lost yardage, 1 quarterback pressure.

2013 salary: $900,000 base salary, $750,000 roster bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,281,250 cash value

Outlook: The Bears mentioned Williams' strong play prior to a season-ending pectoral injury on multiple occasions shortly after the season, and all indications are the club wants the veteran to return for 2014. Williams has spent time rehabbing at Halas Hall and says he would like to remain a part of Chicago’s defense in 2014. Given the mutual interest between the sides, it should be only a matter of time before the Bears sign Williams to a deal similar to what he received to join the club last spring. With Williams in the middle flanked outside by Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic (provided he wins the starting job at Sam), the Bears could field a solid linebacking corps next season provided the group stays healthy.

2014 free agent: Craig Steltz

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 16 games (one start); 14 tackles, one pass breakup and 14 special teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and $50,000 workout bonus -- $765,000 cash value

Outlook: Steltz is a solid reserve safety and special teams contributor. He's spent his entire NFL career in Chicago and would no doubt prefer to stay with the Bears. League minimum contracts for NFL veterans are a sensitive subject. Minimum deals basically represent an invitation to try out for the team. Veterans that fall into the league minimum category will fight hard for signing bonus money. Steltz could possibly find himself in that situation. Steltz has always been a good soldier, hard worker and positive voice in the locker room. Whether the Bears reward Steltz with a signing bonus (he received a $125,000 signing bonus two years) remains to be seen. But he fits the mold of the type of player the Bears are looking to bring back.

2014 free agent: Nate Collins

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: Five games (two starts); 13 tackles, three quarterback pressures and one sack.

2013 salary: $630,000 base salary and $5,250 workout bonus - $635,250 cash value

Outlook: Collins had a strong preseason and appeared poised to have a breakout year until he landed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. Collins is a pass-rusher. Players that can pressure the quarterback are not easy to find. The Bears decided not to tender Collins at the restricted free agent amount last season, and instead released him and signed him back to a minimum deal. Because of the knee injury, Collins is probably looking at the same kind of deal this time around. Collins, who has potential, seems like a decent candidate to return in the later waves of free agency unless the Bears feel confident enough in his health to extend him an offer in the coming week.

2014 free agent: James Anderson

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 16 games (16 starts); 129.5 tackles (76 solo), 7.5 tackles for lost yardage, 10 quarterback pressures, 4 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $950,000 base salary, $200,000 signing bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,250,000 cash value

Outlook: Anderson led the team in tackles, and tied with Shea McClellin for second in sacks. But the Bears haven’t shown much interest in bringing back Anderson so far this offseason. As of Wednesday afternoon, the team still hadn’t approached the veteran about a possible return. Anderson doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the tough, hardnosed athletes the Bears are looking to add to the defense. So once the negotiation window opens, Anderson will likely be speaking with other teams before the Bears make a move. Anderson will likely leave, but it's still too early to rule out a return to Chicago.

According to New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, his wide receivers could barely catch a cold in this week’s minicamp.

Is anyone surprised by this revelation?

Ryan is coming to the realization of what most people outside the Jets already knew: the offense is a train wreck.

There are too many holes on that side of the football. The quarterback competition has been lukewarm at best, there are off-the-field issues with Mike Goodson at running back, and the wide receivers are either banged up (Santonio Holmes) or experiencing butter fingers in practice (Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley).

Let's be frank: New York's offense desperately lacks playmakers. The Jets better fix it ASAP if they want to score enough points to be competitive this season. Two ideas I can think of off the top of the my head would be to add former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow, who had a terrific tryout this week, as well as former Jets receiver Braylon Edwards. These are two proven playmakers who will make life easier for quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.

Ryan is in a must-win situation in 2013. Waiting on Holmes (foot) to get healthy or for Hill to come around are dangerous propositions for New York’s head coach. Hill, in particular, is a raw prospect with a lot of measurables. Yet he struggled with drops, injuries and adjusting to the NFL last season. It’s fair to give a rookie a pass, but so far it’s been more of the same for Hill in Year 2.

New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is a solid coach. His schemes have worked in the past, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the proper personnel. Right now, the Jets are running thin on offensive talent in what amounts to a rebuilding year. However, New York can do a little more this offseason to at least avoid a weekly embarrassment on offense in the fall.

Are the Patriots too uptight?

June, 10, 2013
For a team as consistently successful as the New England Patriots, you would think most players would leave the organization with glowing reviews. But that's often not the case in New England.

Many notable former Patriots are disgruntled for one reason or another. You can go as far back as Lawyer Milloy and Willie McGinest during the dynasty years. Recently, starting defensive tackle Kyle Love was furious for being released after he was diagnosed with diabetes. Now, Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker told Yahoo! Sports this week about New England's stuffy football culture and the differences after joining the Denver Broncos.

"I feel like I can be myself a little more for sure,” Welker said candidly. “All [the Broncos] told me was 'Just be yourself.’”

Are the Patriots too uptight?

Welker certainly is describing New England as a place where it’s hard for players to be themselves. As a media member, I can vouch that New England’s locker room usually doesn’t offer much insight or personality. Players appear reluctant, and almost afraid, to say anything worthwhile about an opponent, injury or an upcoming game. It comes from the top with head coach Bill Belichick, who simply wants to coach football and views anything else as a distraction.

You cannot argue with the Patriots’ success the past 13 years under Belichick. His record includes three Super Bowl titles and five appearances total. However, New England has also become infamous for expecting players to act like robots when they’re on the team and later treating them all like replaceable parts when it’s time to kick them to the curb. That combination has rubbed some people, like Welker, the wrong way.

Welker also admits that Patriots quarterback and good friend Tom Brady was not happy with New England letting Welker go in free agency. Brady, partly due to New England's tip-lipped culture, essentially avoided the topic this offseason and said he is moving forward with replacement receiver Danny Amendola. It’s permissible for Welker to speak the truth now that he’s in Denver.

“He was upset about it, and part of me was a little upset about it too,” Welker said. “But things happen for a reason, and I'm excited about the opportunities here and the type of team we have and things that we can do.”

Football is meant to be fun, and perhaps the Patriots only define fun by winning, which happens a lot in New England. But it seems like a higher percentage of players than usual leave Foxborough with some kind of complaint.

I completely believe New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick when he says he doesn't "hate" Tim Tebow. Hate is a strong word to use about anybody, especially with a person as nice and grounded as the former New York Jets and Denver Broncos quarterback.

Belichick was stern this week in his rebuttal of a Yahoo! Sports report. He rarely takes the time to refute anything, true or not. So it’s notable when the tight-lipped Patriots coach publicly decries an article about the popular free-agent quarterback.

"I wouldn't get into the probability of us pursuing any free agent. Every single player has strengths and weaknesses, but regardless of that, for anyone to have represented that is the way I feel about Tim Tebow is completely untrue, baseless and irresponsible," Belichick told "It is unfortunate that something so inaccurate was reported."

But I think Belichick slyly avoided the million-dollar question: While Belichick may not hate Tebow, does Belichick like Tebow as a player?

That is the void Belichick left unfulfilled in his response to the Yahoo! report. It's one thing not to hate Tebow. But there's plenty of evidence that Belichick isn't high on Tebow or in a rush to add Tebow to New England's roster.

For starters, Tebow has been on the market for weeks and there is zero interest from New England or any other team. Money certainly isn’t an issue, because Tebow is looking for work and would play for a low wage. There also would be zero quarterback controversy in New England because of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

One of Tebow’s biggest NFL supporters is also New England’s offensive coordinator: Josh McDaniels. He drafted Tebow three years ago in the first round. It’s a safe assumption that McDaniels wouldn’t mind getting his creative hands on Tebow again. But the person in charge of all personnel moves in New England is Belichick, and everything must first go by his desk. Tebow doesn't pass the Belichick test.

Forget about hating Tebow. Belichick set the record straight there. But if Belichick truly likes Tebow, the Patriots' coach can prove it at any time by signing Tebow to a contract for next to nothing.
Interest in free-agent linebacker Karlos Dansby is heating up.

It turns out the Buffalo Bills are not the only AFC East team pursuing the former Miami Dolphins' starter. According to Dansby, the New York Jets are also a team interested in his services.

Dansby, in an interview with Arizona sports radio station 620 this week, mentioned the Jets, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans as three new teams in the Dansby sweepstakes. The Bills, Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals were three previously-mentioned teams who met with Dansby.

Reportedly, Dansby is looking for a multi-year commitment, and that is probably what's keeping him from signing with a new team. Salary-cap space is not plentiful this time of the year. But if Dansby continues to have this many teams interested, that increases his chances of getting a multi-year contract.

Dansby, who led the Dolphins with 134 tackles last season, would be a good fit with the Jets or Bills. Both AFC East teams look to rebuild their linebacking corps this upcoming season.

The New England Patriots made one of the most interesting and controversial player swaps in recent memory. The reigning AFC East champions let Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker walk in free agency Wednesday but quickly replaced him with former St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola.

After Wednesday's events, it is clear the Patriots valued Amendola over Welker. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports New England signed Amendola to a five-year, $31 million contract. The Patriots reportedly low-balled Welker with a two-year, $10 million offer. Welker signed with the Denver Broncos instead for two years and $12 million.

Based strictly on money, the Patriots made it clear they believe Amendola is a better fit for New England than Welker. But this is a rare miscalculation for the Patriots. Amendola is not an upgrade over Welker, no matter how the team spins it.

Welker’s numbers are far superior, and Welker is significantly more durable than the injury-plagued Amendola. In addition, it will take years for Amendola to develop anything close to the same chemistry Welker had with quarterback Tom Brady.

Ironically, New England’s franchise quarterback is probably the biggest loser from today’s events. Brady recently signed an extension and created cap room in part to keep Welker, his good friend and most reliable weapon, on the roster. Instead the Patriots spent it on a less-proven, less-durable slot receiver in Amendola.

The only thing New England gained in this swap is youth. Amendola (27) is four years younger than Welker (31). That explains the long-term contract. But it doesn’t mean Amendola will be more productive than Welker over the next two or three seasons.

The Patriots are often right about personnel decisions. But Wednesday's Welker-for-Amendola swap feels like a mistake for a variety of reasons.
Who knew the Miami Dolphins disliked their linebackers so much?

Despite a solid 2012 by the front seven, Miami continues to be extremely aggressive making over its linebacker corps on the first day of free agency. reports that the Dolphins agreed to a five-year, $26 million contract with former Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler. The 28-year-old recorded 109 tackles and three sacks for Oakland last season.

This move might also signal the end for Dolphins starting linebacker Kevin Burnett. Miami did a similar youth swap Tuesday evening in adding Dannell Ellerbe (27) and releasing Karlos Dansby (31). Burnett, 30, may not be far behind.

Miami has plenty of other issues to address in free agency such as cornerback, tight end and safety. Linebacker certainly was not at the top of the list. But Miami's front office has made it a priority anyway, signing Ellerbe and Wheeler for a combined total of $61 million on the first day of free agency.