NFL Nation: Shaun Ellis

Shaun Ellis on Jets: 'I'm over it'

February, 4, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis spent 11 strong seasons with the New York Jets, registering 72.5 sacks in that span. That is why Ellis was surprised when the Jets basically let him walk last offseason and eventually sign with the New England Patriots.

Ellis was an unrestricted free agent but expected the Jets to make a strong push to bring him back. Instead, New York spent a first-round pick on rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, which signaled the end for Ellis.

The veteran went on to join New York's biggest rival: New England. Now, Ellis has a chance to win his first ring Sunday when the Patriots play the New York Giants in Super XLVI.

Ellis said this week that everything worked out and he no longer holds any grudges against the Jets.

"No, I'm over it," Ellis said. "When things first started happening and they weren't going to bring me back and how that went, it was disappointing. With an organization that you spent so long with and you put all your heart into it to get to this point that I am at now. For them to basically close the door, it was tough, but I forgave them.

"I have put it behind me. I understand that it is a business. I had to go out and find the best situation for me and I found it here as a New England Patriot, and I’m in the Super Bowl."

This will be Ellis' first chance at the Super Bowl. He spent the past two years losing in the AFC Championship Game with the Jets.

Final Word: AFC East

September, 9, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeC.J. Spiller
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesRunning back C.J. Spiller could help Buffalo slow down Kansas City's pass rush.
Handling Hali: Something to watch carefully when Buffalo visits Kansas City is how the Bills handle linebacker Tamba Hali. If left alone, he will torment Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell. If Buffalo designates a tight end next to Bell to assist with Hali or assigns a running back to chip him, that leaves the rest of Buffalo’s protection scheme vulnerable against pass-rushers Justin Houston, Glenn Dorsey and Wallace Gilberry. Kansas City also has a strong secondary. I have a hard time believing that Buffalo will have much success through the air this week. One guy who could really help their cause if used properly is running back C.J. Spiller.

Inexperienced Cowboys: Dallas visits the Jets on Sunday night. This is a terrible matchup for the Cowboys’ offense. Instead of older, heavy-footed road graders up front, the Cowboys' offensive line has an influx of athletic, but very young, starters. This could pay off in time, because they should be much better equipped to pass-block and get out on the screens and draw plays that favor Felix Jones. But for now, I expect huge growing pains. Ultra-talented Cowboys first-round pick Tyron Smith will not play because of a knee injury. I expect Dallas’ protection schemes to have plenty of breakdowns. That is an awful situation against a defense coached by Rex Ryan. Compounding matters for the Cowboys are the matchups on the perimeter. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are as good a pair of starting wideouts as you will find. But Austin isn’t 100 percent healthy, and Darrelle Revis will shut down whichever wide receiver he covers. Antonio Cromartie is a very good man-to-man cover man who thrives against bigger wide receivers like Austin and Bryant. However, it should be noted that New York’s third-down defense last season gave up too many big plays.

Test for New England: New England travels to Miami for the early "Monday Night Football" game. Although it struggled this preseason, particularly against the Lions, I still consider New England’s offensive line one of the very best. But they will be tested in a huge way on the road. In the Miami heat, the fatigue factor will favor the home team. Miami has an extremely physical and deep 3-man defensive line. Led by Cameron Wake, the Dolphins’ edge pass-rushers are a real handful for any protection scheme. New England might be without starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, so we might see first-round pick Nate Solder in his first action.

Pressure from Patriots: When Miami has the ball, I expect Bill Belichick to dial up a lot of front-side pressure. Chad Henne is not very mobile, and he can struggle with pressure right in his face. Jake Long returns, after missing the preseason, to man his left tackle spot. I worry about the right side of the Dolphins’ offensive line, particularly starting right tackle Marc Colombo. He should be out-manned by players such as Shaun Ellis and Jermaine Cunningham, let alone the added front-side pressure. Compounding the problem, right guard Vernon Carey has little experience at guard. Anthony Fasano is an excellent blocking tight end and will have to spend much of his time on the right side, but the Miami running backs are either small and lacking physicality (Reggie Bush) or lacking experience (Daniel Thomas) in protection.

Stopping the run: The Bills' defense was awful against the run last season, but I am betting that it improved with the drafting of Marcell Dareus and some other additions. I expect the run defense to be particularly stout up the middle, where Dareus, Kyle Williams and Nick Barnett play. However, the changes might not pay off big against the Chiefs because Jamaal Charles is such a great runner outside the tackles. I also expect Dexter McCluster’s role as a ball carrier to increase.

Power Rankings: How the voters voted

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
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The New England Patriots have tightened their grip on the No. 2 spot in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings heading into Week 1.

They even secured a No. 1 ranking on one ballot as perceptions hardened that New England, and not so much Philadelphia, posed the greatest threat to the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

"I think the Patriots' additions of Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth, Brian Waters and Shaun Ellis should make them the favorites," panelist James Walker said in explaining why he put New England atop his ballot. "The Packers were the best team in February, but that doesn't automatically make them the best team in September. Super Bowl champions usually do not repeat."

The Patriots were the last team to do it, but their championship victories over Carolina and Philadelphia are fading memories. The NFL has crowned six champions since New England last won a title. But Tom Brady's excellence and the Patriots' offseason maneuvering caught voters' attention.


Four of five panelists ranked the Packers first and Patriots second on their ballots. Walker previously ranked the Eagles first, but he dropped them to third this time. Paul Kuharsky and I dropped Philadelphia one spot apiece.

Kuharsky has been higher than most on the Detroit Lions all along. He had them 18th in the final regular-season balloting from 2010, higher than anyone else had them. He's got them 12th this time, five to six spots higher than most other voters ranked them. And he's got them a full seven spots higher than Chicago.

"I'm just not a huge believer in the way the Bears are doing things," Kuharsky said. "You have to find a way to use Greg Olsen, not give him away for next to nothing. That offensive line isn't fixed. They won't get away with it two years in a row."

Walker was also among those shaking up things within a division. He's got Baltimore beating out defending AFC champion Pittsburgh for the AFC North title. He moved up the Steelers one spot to seventh on his ballot, but he moved up the Ravens one spot as well, to sixth.

"I picked the Ravens to win the AFC North back in July, so I'm staying loyal to my prediction and keeping Baltimore one spot higher," Walker said. "Sunday's game will determine if I made the right call."

The Indianapolis Colts, ranked ninth, could be the most volatile team heading into Week 1. Peyton Manning's shaky status is everything for that team.

"If they look bad with Kerry Collins in Houston, certainly my vote will reflect it in a major way," Kuharsky said.

Voters are already downgrading Seattle. The Seahawks fell six spots from our previous rankings, the biggest drop, as voters realized the team was serious about heading into the 2011 season with Tarvaris Jackson behind an offensive line that has not yet found its bearings.

And now, a closer look at the rankings heading into Week 1 ...

Rising (10): Houston Texans (+6), Minnesota Vikings (+5), Jacksonville Jaguars (+3), Pittsburgh Steelers (+2), Dallas Cowboys (+2), Lions (+2), Baltimore Ravens (+1), Oakland Raiders (+1), Washington Redskins (+1), Buffalo Bills (+1).

Falling (10): Seattle Seahawks (-6), Kansas City Chiefs (-4), New York Giants (-4), Tennessee Titans (-3), St. Louis Rams (-2), Carolina Panthers (-1), Cleveland Browns (-1), Colts (-1), New Orleans Saints (-1), Philadelphia Eagles (-1).

Unchanged (12) Packers, Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals.

Deadlocked: We broke three ties this week. San Diego prevailed over Houston at No. 10, Chicago prevailed over Dallas at No. 13 and Oakland prevailed over Tennessee for No. 22. The tiebreakers are, in order, head-to-head results, overall record, which team one most recently and previous ranking. Since no games have been played in this regular season, we used 2010 records to break ties.

Like minds: Every voter but Walker had the Packers first and the Patriots second. Four of five voters had the Ravens eighth.

Agree to disagree: The Raiders generated the largest disparity between highest and lowest votes. The gap between highest and lowest votes was at least seven spots for five teams:
  • Raiders (14): Ashley Fox ranked them 15th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Walker ranked them 29th, lower than any other voter ranked them.
  • Chargers (12): Sando and John Clayton seventh, Fox 19th.
  • Bears (10): Fox ninth, Kuharsky 19th.
  • Dolphins (7): Clayton 21st, Sando 28th.
  • Giants (7): Fox 11th, Clayton 18th.
Power rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.

Ranking the divisions: Teams from the NFC North ranked highest with a 12.7 average ranking. The chart below shows how each voter ranked each division on average. Highest votes in red. Lowest votes in blue.

For download: An Excel file -- available here -- showing how each voter voted, high and low votes for each team, correlation between voters and divisional rankings. This file will expand in future weeks to include week-to-week comparisons and a "powerflaws" sheet showing potential inconsistencies on voters' ballots.

The rich (Patriots) get richer

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
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Add five-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters to the New England Patriots' all-star list of offseason acquisitions. New England agreed to a deal with the former Kansas City Chiefs guard Sunday morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Waters will immediately fill one of the guard spots on New England's offensive line. He has to be a quick study, as the Patriots prepare for their Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins on "Monday Night Football."

The Patriots, coming off a 14-2 season, continue to stockpile talent via free agency and trades.

In addition to Waters, New England also added receiver Chad Ochocinco, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Shaun Ellis. The four players combined to make 15 Pro Bowls.
Check here for a complete list of the New England Patriots‘ roster moves.

Surprise move: There was plenty of speculation about safety Brandon Meriweather's future after he played into the fourth quarter with the second unit in Thursday’s exhibition finale against the New York Giants, but it was still a surprise when the Patriots outright released the former first-round pick (24th overall in the 2007 draft) on Saturday. After releasing veteran James Sanders as part of the previous cutdowns, the Patriots further turned over that position, waving goodbye to a player who’s been to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.

The team also raised some eyebrows by releasing defensive end Eric Moore, a starter at season’s end last year, but the additions of veterans such as Mark Anderson and Shaun Ellis on the defensive line made him expendable. Wide receiver Brandon Tate, who was the team’s primary kick returner and No. 3 receiver last year, got edged by more versatile bodies, and veteran running back Sammy Morris was a victim of an influx of young talent at running back.

No-brainers: First-year players like offensive lineman Thomas Austin, running back Eric Kettani, and defensive back Ross Ventrone, as well as rookies linebacker Markell Carter, defensive lineman Aaron Lavarias, defensive end Alex Silvestro, tight end Lee Smith and tight end Will Yeatman were longer shots to make the roster. The release of two young tight ends (Smith and Yeatman) is a bit surprising given New England’s love of three tight-end sets and no pure fullback. (Could veteran Alge Crumpler be on the radar?)

What’s next: The Patriots are certainly in the market for safety help, and with backup guard Rich Ohrnberger placed on season-ending injured reserve, the team is thin on the interior line. Remember that this team rarely sits idle after cutdowns. Expect the Patriots to tweak their roster further based on what becomes available from cutdowns across the league.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 18, Patriots 17

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' preseason finale against the Giants, with the Patriots falling 18-17:

Tom Brady and starters play into second quarter. In all, Brady was on the field for 18 snaps (including penalties), as coach Bill Belichick wanted to get his first-unit offense some more work. The Giants were playing second-stringers from the start -- they had a quick turnaround after playing Monday night -- which adds context when considering the Patriots led 10-3 after the first quarter and 17-3 at the half. The Giants made a second-half comeback against the Patriots' second and third units, sparked by a fake punt which was taken 65 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. If Belichick's goal was to generate momentum after Saturday's preseason dud in Detroit while keeping top players healthy, this was a case of "mission accomplished."

Albert Haynesworth's debut. The big defensive lineman played for the first time this preseason, totaling 16 snaps -- seven coming in the first quarter and nine in the second quarter. Haynesworth started and made an immediate impact, delivering a strong interior rush on his first play in which the Patriots forced a fumble and returned it 18 yards to the Giants' 1. But after a stretch of five straight plays in the second quarter, he looked winded. After the second quarter, he spent the rest of the night chatting up his fellow defensive linemen on the sidelines. He was credited with two tackles on the night (1 solo, 1 assist) and it looks like he's still working himself into game condition.

Shaun Ellis gets sack in first game. Veteran defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, the former New York Jet who signed a one-year deal with New England, also made his debut as the Patriots opened with a four-man line of Ellis at left end, Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork at defensive tackle and Andre Carter at right defensive end. Ellis registered a sack of quarterback David Carr at the end of the second quarter, as the Patriots gave him an extended look in sub packages with nickel rusher Mark Anderson not dressed.

Following up on Chad Ochocinco. There has been a lot of chatter about receiver Chad Ochocinco and how he is integrating into the team's offense. He started, played a total of 11 snaps (including penalties), and was targeted twice while finishing with one reception. On the incompletion, Ochocinco couldn't gain separation deep up the left side. His completion was a 9-yarder to open the Patriots' second drive of the night that looked smooth across the middle. After going without a catch Saturday in Detroit, it was the type of performance that Ochocinco could feel good about entering the regular season.

Brandon Meriweather plays with backups. With the Patriots taking an extended look at safety Josh Barrett in the first half, two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather played throughout the second half with many who won't be on the New England roster come Saturday. Looking ahead, Meriweather's standing on the team bears watching. It was unusual to see him playing so deep into the game, and one might say it was a message being sent by the coaching staff.

Wes Welker dresses but does not play. The receiver injured his neck Saturday in Detroit, but in a sign that it isn't serious, he dressed for the game and went through his regular pre-game warmups. Welker didn't play, but it looks like he should be ready to go in the season opener.

Three injuries of note. Cornerback Kyle Arrington (limping while not putting weight on his right leg), linebacker Niko Koutouvides (looked like a concussion) and running back/fullback Sammy Morris (looked like a concussion) were looked at by members of the medical staff and never reutrned to the game.

Focus now turns to roster cuts and season opener Sept. 12. Expect the page to be turned quickly by Belichick and players, with the focus on trimming the roster from 80 to 53 by Saturday, and then preparations intensifying for the season opener, on "Monday Night Football" against the Dolphins (Sept. 12).

Camp Confidential: New York Jets

August, 20, 2011
8/20/11
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan said it his first day on the job, and he’ll keep saying it until it actually happens -- the New York Jets are going to the Super Bowl.

Early on, Ryan’s bravado was a breath of fresh air. Now, after two consecutive losses in the AFC Championship Game, the brash coach will be perceived as a windbag if the Jets don’t get it done in 2011.

One more miss and the honeymoon is over.

“This is the best roster we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Ryan said.

That’s debatable. The Jets are older and slower at wide receiver, depth is a concern at some key spots and they have middle-of-the-field issues in pass coverage. That said, they have a young quarterback on the ascent -- Mark Sanchez -- and improvement in his play could compensate for other deficiencies.

Win or lose, the Jets are a marquee team. HBO’s “Hard Knocks” show isn’t around this summer to record every word and action, but the team still is generating national news -- Sanchez’s GQ cover, Plaxico Burress' return to football, Ryan’s brash quotes, etc.

You’re just not hearing the R-rated language.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Can Mark Sanchez become a four-quarter quarterback? He already has won four playoff games in two seasons -- impressive stuff -- so you know he can win big games. His problem is consistency, playing well from week to week and quarter to quarter in the regular season.

Yes, quarter to quarter. The Jets didn’t score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter over their final 15 games (counting playoffs), and a lot of that falls on Sanchez. Part of that could be attributed to inexperience, needing time to adjust to defensive wrinkles, but a lot of it stemmed from his inaccuracy. He completed only 55 percent of his pass attempts, about six or seven points below where the Jets want him to be.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesThe Jets need to see more consistency from quarterback Mark Sanchez.
If Sanchez can eliminate the inconsistencies and settle down -- he led the league in dropped interceptions -- the Jets will have a real chance to do something special. We already know he can make plays in the fourth quarter, but now he has to play the first like the fourth. Problem is, he lost 75 percent of his receiving corps before camp opened, putting the onus on him to familiarize himself with a new group. That takes time.

2. Can the Three Amigos (Egos?) co-exist? On paper, the Jets have one of the best receiving corps in the league: Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. They’ve combined for more than 1,700 receptions and 24,000 yards, not to mention two Super Bowl-winning catches (Holmes and Burress). But now there will be a transition period, especially for Burress and Mason.

Not only are they learning a new system, they’re adjusting to life as secondary options. That’s not always easy for a receiver accustomed to being No. 1. Naturally, they’re all saying the right things, insisting they’re in it for the team, not themselves. We’ll see. Holmes is the No. 1 guy in these parts, and his new teammates will have to deal with that. If not, it will put a lot of pressure on Sanchez, who realizes he has a lot of mouths to feed.

That Burress missed two weeks with a sprained ankle really slowed the process.

3. Do the Jets have a pass rush? This question really bugs Ryan because, as he likes to point out, the Jets finished eighth in sacks (40). Not bad, right? But sacks don’t mean everything, as coaches like to point out when it benefits their agenda. For instance: The Jets led the league in most big plays allowed on third down, and the primary reason was the lack of a consistent pass rush.

The Jets didn’t acquire anyone to help the pass rush, unless you count first-round defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, but he’s really not an edge rusher. He’ll be more of a first- and second-down run defender than a pass-rusher in the sub packages. If anything, the Jets lost some pass rush because they released Jason Taylor and didn’t replace his five sacks.

What to do? Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine are masters of the blitz, designing clever pressure packages that confuse quarterbacks. They manufacture pressure, and sometimes simulate pressure, to rattle quarterbacks. For the most part, it works, but it’s a dangerous way to live, as the Jets discovered last season. They have fantastic cover corners in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, which makes it possible to employ that kind of scheme, but sooner or later the lack of a big-time rusher will catch up to them.

The Jets took a flyer on former Bills No. 1 pick Aaron Maybin, signing him to a minimum contract, but let’s be honest: He’s not the answer. It’ll be an upset if he makes the team.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The Jets parted ways with two of their longest-tenured players, defensive end Shaun Ellis (Patriots) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (Steelers). They were two of the most respected players in the locker room, players you always figured would retire as Jets.

Cotchery, unhappy in his role as the No. 3 receiver, requested his release. The Jets didn’t handle it well, cutting Cotchery before securing Mason, but it worked out in the end. They offered Ellis a one-year deal for the minimum salary, which he found insulting. He wound up signing with the rival Patriots, a PR hit for the Jets.

[+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
AP Photo/Julio CortezA sprained ankle has slowed Plaxico Burress since the start of training camp.
It makes them look cold, but the Jets evidently felt it was time to move on. The Cotchery decision could come back to bite them because he’s 29 and still can be an effective player.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

After a 20-month prison sentence that cost him two seasons, Burress needs practice more than anyone. But he missed the first two weeks of camp and the first preseason game with a sprained ankle, a significant setback as he attempts to regain his form and learn the Jets’ offense.

The Jets hope Burress, who's 6-foot-5, can cure their red zone issues, but he and Sanchez are having trouble connecting in practice. This is going to take time. Don’t be surprised if Burress is a part-time player in the first month of the season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Revis is having the best camp of his career. Yes, it’s true, this is only his third, holdout-free training camp. But know this: He’s locking down receivers with the same determination he did in 2009, when he shut down No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis. This bodes well for the 10 players around him.
  • Burress is making most of the headlines -- Plax this, Plax that -- but the real prize of the offseason shopping spree is Mason. Ryan gets excited about reclamation projects, but let’s be honest: Burress hasn’t played in two seasons because he was in prison, and now he expects to come back to the pre-prison Plaxico. Whoa, let’s hold everything. Burress might turn out to be a good pickup, but it’s going to take time. Give him a few games into the season. In the meantime, they’ll ride Holmes and Mason.
  • You may not know this name -- Rob Turner -- but the Jets will miss him. He backs up at center and guard, plays tight end in the “jumbo” package, lines up on defense in goal line and blocks from the wedge on kickoff returns. In short, he does everything but mop the floors. Unfortunately for the Jets, Turner broke his leg in the preseason opener and will be lost for at least two months. It’s a big loss, even though the average fan might not think so.
  • The Jets are going to be vulnerable in the middle of the field in pass coverage. The safeties have suspect speed and the front seven also is short on the quicks. Opponents with athletic tight ends and crafty slot receivers are going to cause major issues for the Jets.
  • The run defense could be vulnerable up the middle. Dependable nose tackle Sione Pouha is hobbled by a sprained knee (not serious, but a nuisance) and inside linebacker Bart Scott is taking some time off with what’s believed to be a high-ankle sprain. Again, it’s not serious, but when two of your inside guys are hurting, it’s never a good thing.
  • Aside from Sanchez, the key player is running back Shonn Greene, the new feature back. No doubt, Greene has the talent to be the No. 1 tailback -- and he is -- but what about his durability? That always has been a question that dogs Greene. He’ll have to bring his A game every week -- assuming he recovers soon from a skin infection on his right foot. When you’re a ground-and-pound team, you need a workhorse -- and LaDainian Tomlinson, 32, probably is too old to be that guy.
  • Remember this name: Jeremy Kerley. He’s a diminutive receiver/kick returner from TCU, and he will bring a lot of electricity. He’s only 5-foot-9, if that, but he has tremendous acceleration and change of direction. He’ll be an immediate factor on punt returns and, if needed at receiver, he has the ability to make plays from the slot.

Jets: Three things we learned Monday

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
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1. Jets and Patriots disagree. Obviously, the two organizations have a difference of opinion on defensive end Shaun Ellis. The Jets offered him $910,000 for one year, basically a Joe Torre-esque contract: We want you, but only at a ridiculously low price. The Patriots agreed to pay him $4 million. At that salary, they apparently believe he can be a full-time player. We're talking about two smart organizations that really know how to evaluate players. Someone is going to be wrong on this one.

2. Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress have a long way to go. Mason, 37, participated in his first practice as a Jet, receiving a bulk of the reps -- and admitted afterward that his legs felt like jelly about halfway through the practice. Burress, 33, coming off his ankle injury, took only three team reps. This isn't going to be an overnight process, breaking in two old receivers -- one of whom spent 20 months in jail. But, remember, the goal isn't to be ready for the Texans on Aug. 15; the goal is Sept. 11 and the Cowboys.

3. Sleepers. A few off-the-radar players already have jumped out in camp -- PK Nick Novak, LB Nick Bellore (Central Michigan), WR Michael Campbell (Temple), LB Garrett McIntyre and DE Ropati Pitoitua. Rex Ryan identified Bellore as the most pleasant surprise on defense. He has an excellent chance to make the team because the depth at inside 'backer is suspect.

For more on the Jets, click here.

Longtime Jet Shaun Ellis to join Patriots

August, 7, 2011
8/07/11
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The AFC East rivalry between New England and New York is getting an added jolt as longtime Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis will join the Patriots, pending a physical that is expected to be completed Sunday.

Ellis and the Patriots reached agreement on a one-year deal, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. New England has been looking to upgrade its pass rush and it believes it will do so with the 34-year-old Ellis, who has played 11 seasons with the Jets after New York picked him with the 12th overall pick of the 2000 draft.

The Jets had made a one-year offer for the veterans' minimum of $910,000, according to Ellis' agent, Mitch Frankel.

NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each AFC East team:

Buffalo Bills

1. Add new blood: For the most part, most of the Bills’ free-agents-to-be would not be big losses. Buffalo should have plenty of money to spend once free agency does finally open. Obviously, this has been a losing franchise for some time now, and transforming the roster and changing the culture of the organization should be a very good thing. The Bills did take a fine step in the right direction in the 2011 draft, taking several prospects from big-college programs with winning histories.

2. Keep Paul Posluszny: Although inside linebackers generally are not difficult to find, Posluszny is the type of guy Buffalo needs to keep within the organization. He is productive, tough and able to lead the defense on every down. Last season wasn’t his best, but Posluszny was fantastic in 2009, and I fully expect him to get back to that form, especially playing behind what should be a vastly improved young interior defensive line.

3. Eliminate needs: I list the Bills’ three greatest needs as left tackle, outside linebacker and tight end. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if Buffalo could knock out one or two of these needs in free agency, it would go a very long way in its rebuilding process. Jared Gaither or Doug Free could potentially fill Buffalo’s left tackle position for years to come, while Matt Light could hold down the fort and provide leadership until Chris Hairston or a future draft pick is ready. An outside linebacker such as Manny Lawson, Matt Roth or Mathias Kiwanuka could also be money very well spent to pose an edge presence opposite Arthur Moats, whom I featured in my Soon to be Stars series. Zach Miller is really the only free-agent tight end who would qualify.

Top free agents: Posluszny, Donte Whitner, Drayton Florence

Miami Dolphins

1. Add running back help: Miami used the 62nd overall pick in 2011 to select Daniel Thomas, a big, bruising runner with a lot of ability. But of course, Thomas is going to be a rookie this season, and fully counting on him to carry the load and learn the pass protections would be foolish. Miami needs a backup plan. Bringing back Ronnie Brown, or more likely, Ricky Williams, wouldn’t be a terrible situation. But just adding Brown or Williams wouldn’t be enough. Snatching up Ahmad Bradshaw or DeAngelo Williams would obviously be a huge addition and would push Thomas to backup status. Even bringing in a reliable back like Joseph Addai or Jason Snelling might do the trick as Thomas develops. Another option is to add a specialty player like Darren Sproles.

2. Find competition for Chad Henne: Personally, I am not ready to write off Henne. I believe in the approach that Miami has taken this offseason. The Dolphins have surrounded him with pieces to make his life much easier. But still, adding a veteran signal-caller seems like a must at this point. Suitable options include Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb or even Vince Young, who is soon to be released by Tennessee. If quarterback remains a problem after this year, then Miami needs to sell the farm to draft its next franchise quarterback. But in the meantime, this would be my approach.

3. Make a splash on D: To me, the Dolphins’ three biggest needs are quarterback, running back and then free safety. Even if Miami didn’t add a defender of any sort in free agency, I would rank its 2011 defense among the best in the NFL. I am that high on this group. But what if the Dolphins could land a real talent at free safety? Imagine the possibilities. This is a deep free-agent class of safeties. I would love to see the Dolphins sign someone like Michael Huff or especially Eric Weddle. Even adding a solid player with upside like Brodney Pool would be helpful here.

Top free agents: Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Tony McDaniel, Richie Incognito, Tyler Thigpen

New England Patriots

1. Lock up Logan Mankins: Because the Patriots designated Mankins their franchise player, I didn’t include him among their top free agents. But New England does have to get him locked up. Mankins might just be the best guard in all of football. With Matt Light potentially leaving town, the Patriots cannot afford additional unrest along their offensive line. Mankins would be the ideal player to line up next to Nate Solder to help the rookie’s transition to the NFL.

2. Find a pass-rusher: I see outside linebacker as New England’s greatest need, followed distantly by wide receiver and defensive end. Although I expect Jermaine Cunningham to develop quickly into a solid starter, adding one more edge player who can be disruptive on throwing downs is something that still needs to be addressed after the team curiously ignored it in the draft. The name I like best for the Patriots here is Mathias Kiwanuka, if his health checks out. He is smart, versatile and has some experience at linebacker. Two other players who fit the bill are Matt Roth and Manny Lawson.

3. Acquire a deep threat: I am not as sold as most that New England must add a wide receiver who can stretch the field. But this is a tremendous organization, and the Pats just don’t have many needs, so picking up such a luxury player could be the difference between a Super Bowl championship or another early exit in the postseason. My favorite fit for the Patriots is Braylon Edwards. Edwards is immensely talented, and if submersed in this environment with Tom Brady throwing him the ball, he could quickly rank among the top wideouts in all of football.

Top free agents: Matt Light, Gerard Warren

New York Jets

1. Make critical decisions on their own players: The Jets have a lot of free agents, and they are one of the teams in the league with the least amount of money to spend as it stands today. New York has come very close to its goal the past couple of seasons, but this free-agency period is absolutely critical to staying among the best teams in the NFL.

2. Address wide receiver: Considering who is up for free agency, wide receiver has to be the biggest worry for the Jets right now. I greatly respect Braylon Edwards’ abilities, but Santonio Holmes is just the better player right now. In fact, I see Holmes as a top-10 wide receiver. He is incredible in the clutch. Mark Sanchez needs quality options to throw to at this point of his young career. If the Jets brought back Holmes, increased TE Dustin Keller's role and also found a bargain at wide receiver late in free agency (maybe Randy Moss or Chad Ochocinco), then I think they would be OK.

3. Don’t forget about the trenches: The Jets are a physical team that is strong on both lines of scrimmage. Two of their starting offensive line spots are uncertain at this point. And although they drafted Muhammad Wilkerson and Kendrick Ellis, rookie defensive linemen rarely make a major impact -- especially in a 3-4. Shaun Ellis is probably going to be playing elsewhere, and New York doesn’t have a high-end outside linebacker. So there are concerns up front. The Jets will have to sign some cheaper veteran options -- probably to one-year contracts -- to shore things up.

Top free agents: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Shaun Ellis, Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool, Brad Smith

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.

Jets back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Jets' coaching staff and much of the roster will remain intact, which reduces the learning curve. But the Jets won't have training-camp bonding time at SUNY Cortland, an enhancement Rex Ryan and his players prized the past two seasons. They already pulled the plug on their upstate training camp and will convene at team headquarters in Florham Park, N.J.

Biggest challenge: All their free agents. The Jets have some biggies, most notably at wide receiver. They must keep young quarterback Mark Sanchez's support staff stocked with weapons, and receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are about to hit the market. So are cornerback Antonio Cromartie and safeties Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo.

What a rush: The Jets quietly tied for eighth in the NFL in sacks last season but didn't have a fearsome presence in an overall defense designed to create mayhem. Of the 40 sacks they recorded last season, more than a quarter of them belonged to defensive backs and almost half were rung up by players who aren't under contract. The Jets released outside linebacker Jason Taylor (5 sacks). Defensive end Shaun Ellis (4.5 sacks) also has an expired contract.

Key players without contracts for 2011: In addition to the above, fullback Tony Richardson, cornerback Drew Coleman, top special-teams tackler Lance Laury, kicker Nick Folk, punter Steve Weatherford.

Jets tab Muhammad Wilkerson at No. 30

April, 28, 2011
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Wilkerson
Wilkerson
The New York Jets drafted defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson with the 30th pick Thursday night.

Why the Jets took him: The Jets have needed to get younger and better on the defensive line for a couple years. They had only 8.5 sacks from their defensive linemen last season, ranking 29th in the league. Veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis had 4.5 of them, but he is a free agent and will turn 34 in June.

How it affects the roster: The Jets' depth chart is wide open at defensive end if they don't bring Ellis back in 2011. Ellis' backup, Vernon Gholston, was previously released.

Scouts Inc. says: Consistently fires off the ball and gets into the pads of OL. Strong at point of attack. Can stack and shed as well as any 5-technique in this class. Has great size with good lower-body strength and excellent upper-body power. Can anchor versus the run but is also very adept at finding the ball, disengaging, pursuing and making the play.

Rex Ryan revisits Vernon Gholston failure

April, 8, 2011
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When Rex Ryan took over as New York Jets head coach, his general attitude toward pass-rusher Vernon Gholston was bullish.

Ryan thought if he couldn't develop Gholston, then nobody could.

After three NFL seasons and two under Ryan, the Jets released Gholston in March. The sixth overall draft choice in 2008 never got it. He started five games, was a healthy scratch three times and recorded zero sacks.

[+] EnlargeVernon Gholston
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireVernon Gholston was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.
At the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans a couple weeks ago, I had a chance to speak to Ryan for the first time since the Jets cut Gholston.

Ryan was little defensive about not being able to mold Gholston into an effective player.

Ryan claimed circumstances got in the way. Gholston went from 4-3 defensive end at Ohio State to 3-4 outside linebacker with the Jets under previous head coach Eric Mangini to 3-4 defensive end last year under Ryan.

The Jets also added Trevor Pryce during the season, an acquisition Ryan said hurt Gholston's snap count.

"I think Vernon improved," Ryan said. "Last year, I thought he gained strides. Unfortunately, I never knew this when we picked up Trevor and he played well for us, but that took a little away from Vernon. We had Shaun Ellis, so it was kind of hard to get [Gholston] more reps.

"But the guy is an excellent teammate. He did what was asked and he got better."

Even so, the Jets dumped him. Ryan spent a lot of time talking up Gholston to reporters and expressing optimism he would become a productive defender. Given that, I asked Ryan if he failed when it came to Gholston.

"Well, then I failed as far as the numbers go," Ryan said. "But I thought he got better, though. We'll see what happens to him. He's not done playing.

"I think I've had a long list of guys I've developed in my coaching career. Some guys develop faster than others. But I'll put how I coach up against anybody in this league when it comes to defense and technique."

Gholston will go down as one of the biggest draft busts in Jets history and a rare miss in recent years. The pick hurts even more because pass rushing is one of the Jets' biggest weaknesses.

Mangini was head coach and had influence when the Jets drafted Gholston. He's gone now, but general manager Mike Tannenbaum and vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales remain in place.

"I think Vernon still has the chance to have a productive NFL career," Tannenbaum said in New Orleans. "Obviously, he didn't play to the level of the sixth pick in the draft, but he's a great kid. His career is far from over.

"We'll have to look at our scouting process and have to see what we can learn from that experience."

Your 2010 All-AFC East team revealed

January, 26, 2011
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Vince Wilfork and Kyle WilliamsGetty Images, US PresswireThere was enough room on the All-AFC East team for nose tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle Williams.
Reader input didn't make compiling the 2010 All-AFC East team a simple process.

Despite your tremendous response to help me assemble the quintessential roster, I had to make an executive decision, break a deadlock, defend one of my no-brainer selections and throw out some ballots because of shenanigans.

In the end, we have an All-AFC East squad everybody should be satisfied with.

We began the process a week ago, when I chose 10 players I believed were automatic. The other 17 positions were for you to vote upon. You didn't disappoint.

There were some great races, most notably at left tackle and nose tackle.

As with any voting process on the AFC East blog, I always can be convinced to move from a stance. My instructions were to vote for one nose tackle for a 3-4 scheme with emphasis that New England Patriots keystone Vince Wilfork and Buffalo Bills standout Kyle Williams must be considered nose tackles because that's how each team identifies him.

But enough readers made the case that Wilfork and Williams played elsewhere along the line so frequently that they should be eligible for some quasi position. I do appreciate the point.

The Patriots' official game-by-game player participation record says Wilfork started eight games at defensive end. Williams started every game at nose tackle (12) or defensive tackle (four).

I decided to add Wilfork and Williams as "defensive tackles" on a defensive front with New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis, who received an avalanche of votes. But I didn't want to slight the No. 2 defensive end, Kendall Langford of the Miami Dolphins. Langford received a healthy number of votes. Too many to dismiss.

That left me with a dilemma: How can I honor four defensive linemen and still maintain a 3-4 alignment? I took the easy way out. I added a 12th defender. I'm not thrilled with my final decision, but it's an appropriate way to give proper credit where it's due.

On the other side of scrimmage, Dolphins left tackle Jake Long and Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson finished in a tie, forcing me to make the call. Each was selected to be a Pro Bowl starter. Long was voted All-Pro.

I chose Long. He played hurt for much of the season. He slipped on plays here or there, but he mostly remained dominant.

A few readers took me to task for my coronation of Dolphins punter Brandon Fields without allowing a vote because Jets punter Steve Weatherford had a great season. Weatherford tied an NFL record with 42 punts inside the 20-yard line. He was impressive.

But I found Fields more remarkable this year. He ranked fourth with a 46.2-yard average (3.6 yards longer than Weatherford). Fields' net average of 37.8 yards was only 0.3 yards shorter than Weatherford's, but the Dolphins were atrocious on special-teams protection and coverage. They fired their special-teams coordinator after Week 4. Fields had two punts blocked and one returned for a touchdown.

The Jets have venerable special-teams coach Mike Westhoff and sensational coverage men, as illustrated by four Jets receiving at least two votes for the special-teams position on the All-AFC East team.

And it's not often a punter is MVP of a game, but Fields certainly was against the Jets in Week 14.

There were some surprises in the balloting.

Bills receiver Steve Johnson ran away with one of the two available spots, but I didn't expect Santonio Holmes to take the other one so handily over teammate Braylon Edwards or Patriots star Wes Welker.

I assumed Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would win, but in a close race, especially with the possibility of splitting votes with teammate Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski crushed everyone else. He had four times as many votes as his closest competition, Dustin Keller of the Jets.

Bills linebacker Arthur Moats finished a distant second to Calvin Pace. But I found it amusing that almost every time a vote came in for him, the reader stipulated it was because Moats injured Brett Favre.

Patriots rookie Devin McCourty had six times as many votes as Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis for the position opposite Jets star Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie wasn't remotely in the race.

The most balanced voting happened at the safety positions. Patriots strong safety Brandon Meriweather edged out Jim Leonhard of the Jets, with Donte Whitner of the Bills closely behind in third.

Bills free safety Jairus Byrd, a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2009, accumulated just 14 more votes than Patrick Chung of the Patriots.

The special-teams race was fun to track. Thirteen players received at least one vote, with Jets hitter Eric Smith barely beating teammate James Ihedigbo and Bills fullback Corey McIntyre.

Jason Taylor ponders his possible finale

January, 24, 2011
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PITTSBURGH -- When he needed a moment to compose himself, Jason Taylor reached down and adjusted the twin microphones on the lectern although they didn't need to be moved at all.

[+] EnlargeJason Taylor and James Farrior
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Jets' Jason Taylor, who has 132.5 career sacks, will turn 37 before the next season begins.
Taylor's eyes were glassy. If he hadn't been crying before he took his turn at the New York Jets' postgame news conference, then he was on the verge. Taylor came close to tears a few more times when answering questions about his future an hour after falling five points short of his first Super Bowl.

"So close," Taylor said, his voice barely above a whisper. "So close you could see it."

The Jets' enthralling season ended Sunday night in Taylor's hometown. The Pittsburgh Steelers jumped out to a 24-0 first-half lead and then held on for a 24-19 victory at Heinz Field.

Taylor always will be remembered as a Miami Dolphin, spending 12 of his 14 seasons with the aqua and orange. But the Jets presented his best opportunity to be a champion.

Taylor's career is in the gloaming. He knows he might have played his last down, whether it's up to him or not.

"There's so many emotions going through me right now," Taylor said. "Getting to this point and then losing ..."

Taylor paused and looked downward. His left hand jiggled the microphones.

"We'll cross that bridge."

Plane rides home after a season-ending loss provide some of the most poignant times for teammates. They're like wakes at 30,000 feet. You're not supposed to look forward to them.

But Taylor, expressing a need to soak in every last moment of what could be his final breaths as an NFL player, lamented that flying from Pittsburgh to New Jersey takes only an hour.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I know one thing," Taylor said. "This team as you see it tonight will never be together again regardless of whether Jason Taylor is back or anybody else is back. It will not be the same football team. That's sad in its own right."

Taylor will turn 37 before the next season begins. He said his return would be up to Jets head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Taylor signed a two-year contract with the Jets last April, but a clause tied to his sack output voided the second year.

With a slew of tough roster decisions to make, Taylor's not a priority. The Jets have several important free agents to address, including receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, defensive end Shaun Ellis, linebacker David Harris and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

Taylor's five sacks were a modest output, but only one behind team leader Bryan Thomas. Taylor will lead all active players with 132.5 career sacks if he were to play a 15th season.

"I pride myself on being a play-maker and a game-changer," Taylor said. "While I might not be the same as I was a few years ago, I still need to do more."

His career will be debated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was selected for six Pro Bowls. He was a first-team All-Pro three times. But postseason success eluded him until this year.

He hadn't been to the playoffs since the 2001 season and hadn't won a game since 2000. He'd never before won playoff games and never advanced to the conference championship round.

"I've had some really, really good teammates throughout my career, played on some good teams and fun teams," Taylor said. "But I can't think of another experience I've had that was as fun as this.

"I've seen a lot in this league and, obviously, saw this game for the first time."

Taylor must now sort out the emotions of reaching the precipice of his career dream and the reality that the odds of returning to the final four are against any player -- even Tom Brady.

There's a healthy chance Taylor won't play again. And even if he does, there's an even greater chance he won't match this season's success.

ESPN.com senior writer Tom Friend shared the story of Taylor and his ailing agent, Gary Wichard, and how Taylor had devoted his 2010 season to Wichard.

"It wasn't meant to be, you know?" Taylor said. "Sometimes God has a different direction for you. You don't always understand it, but it is what it is."

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