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AFC East winners and losers in free agency

Posted by Erik Frenz  March 18, 2013 07:00 AM

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Did you blink?

If so, you probably missed something in what's been a crazy week of free agency moves in the AFC East.

Every team's moves have a different flavor.

The Dolphins have taken a page out of the New York Yankees' offseason playbook of throwing money at their problems.

The Patriots made waves for obvious reasons with the move from Wes Welker to Danny Amendola, moving on from Brandon Lloyd and myriad other moves.

The Jets have been pillaged of many of their starters, and their salary cap constraints have left them without many options to fill the holes.

The Bills have been nearly silent throughout free agency, as was expected after a big-time spending spree last year.

Who were the biggest winners and losers of the first week of free agency?

4. Buffalo Bills

Signed: LB Manny Lawson

Re-Signed: CB Leodis McKelvin, TE Mike Caussin, TE Dorin Dickerson, OLB Bryan Scott, FS Jairus Byrd (franchise tag)

Departed: G Chad Rinehart (Chargers), QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (released), G Andy Levitre (Titans), OLB Shawne Merriman (retired), LB Nick Barnett (released), S George Wilson (Titans), CB Terrence McGee (released), WR Donald Jones (Patriots)

Still on the market: RB Tashard Choice, DT Spencer Johnson, WR Ruvell Martin, RB Corey McIntyre, DE Kyle Moore, LB Kirk Morrison, WR David Nelson, QB Tyler Thigpen

Remaining needs: QB, WR, OG, LB, CB

Grade: C-

The Bills' lone addition, Manny Lawson, addresses a need at linebacker that opened up when the team released Nick Barnett earlier this offseason. Although Lawson is a 3-4 linebacker at heart, the Bills' base defense will be the sub package, so Lawson's experience between the two schemes will come in handy.

The Bills' defense, which was a base 4-3 last year, will be multiple with their fronts now that former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is in Buffalo.

Leodis McKelvin $5 million per year price tag was met with skepticism, but with no guaranteed money in the final two years of the deal, it's essentially a two-year, $4.5 million contract. His 18.3 average yards per punt return and two punt return touchdowns both led the league in 2012, and his 28.3 yards per kickoff return ranked fourth.

The Bills are hoping he will step up as the team's starting outside cornerback to go opposite Stephon Gilmore, but he's had five years to do it with no luck so far.

Their biggest move was not a signing or a re-signing, though. It was the release of 2010-2012 starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (did you know he went to Harvard?)

fitz before after extension.pngAfter a red-hot start to the 2011 season, the Bills signed him to a six-year, $59 million extension mid-season. He walked dove off the cliff and took the Bills with him; after starting 5-2 in 2011, Fitzpatrick and the Bills have gone 7-19 since.

Losing Andy Levitre and Chad Rinehart means the Bills must find a starting left guard and a suitable backup.

3. New York Jets

Signed: DT Antonio Garay, G Willie Colon, RB Mike Goodson, QB David Garrard

Re-Signed: K Nick Folk, RT Austin Howard, FB Lex Hilliard, LB Josh Mauga, TE Jeff Cumberland

Departed: TE Dustin Keller (Dolphins), FS LaRon Landry (Colts), SS Yeremiah Bell (Cardinals), RB Shonn Greene (Titans), DE Mike DeVito (Chiefs), DT Sione Po'uha (released), LB Calvin Pace (released), LB Bart Scott (released), LB Bryan Thomas (released), S Eric Smith (released), OT Jason Smith (released)

Still on the market: TE Josh Baker, LG Matt Slauson, RG Brandon Moore, WR Braylon Edwards, TE Dedrick Epps, CB Tanner Purdum, WR Chaz Schilens, CB Isaiah Trufant, WR Jordan White

Remaining needs: QB, TE, OG, LB, FS, SS

Grade: C

Thus far this offseason, the Jets have lost a total of 10 starters from the 2012 season with two more still on the market. Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Eric Smith and Jason Smith were all part of a salary purge by the Jets in February, which relieved around $32 million off the salary cap (they were reportedly $19.4 million over the cap before that).

That gave the Jets enough room to make a few piecemeal short-term additions—all of the Jets' signings except Mike Goodson were on one-year deals. All of them, including Goodson, come with health concerns. Goodson, Antonio Garay, Willie Colon and David Garrard combine to suit up for 53 of a possible 128 games over the past two years.

That being said, all of them fill major needs. Colon fills the void which could potentially be left by either Brandon Moore or Matt Slauson finding a new home in free agency.

garrard vs afc east.pngGarrard, a five-year starter with Jacksonville, will compete with Sanchez to be the team's starting quarterback.

There simply wasn't enough cap space to justify re-signing Mike DeVito, who got $4.2 million per season to be the Chiefs starter. The Jets have used a first round pick on a defensive end in back-to-back seasons. Last year's first round pick, Quinton Coples was the fifth-best pass-rushing 3-4 defensive end on a per-snap basis according to Pro Football Focus. He started just two games, and should be in line to increase his work load from the 47.5 percent of snaps he received.

Bringing in Garay gives the Jets another option to fill what would have been DeVito's role next year as a backup in a rotation. Garay is a bit better of a pass-rusher, having ranked first in pass-rushing productivity at defensive tackle in 2009 and second in 2010. Again, with Garay, the concern is health; he played just 151 snaps in 2012.

The loss of tight end Keller could sting a little, especially if Mark Sanchez is the starting quarterback in 2013. The 2008 first-round pick of the Jets was targeted 333 times over the past four years.

That leaves Keller's understudy, Jeff Cumberland, as the next in line. He started 12 games in 2012, and finished with 29 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns. Keller fell just short of those totals (28 catches, 317 yards, two touchdowns) in just five starts.

The Jets lost a lot of starters, and whether they were solid options or not, that doesn't change the fact that there are a lot of question marks around the team headed into the 2013 season.

2. New England Patriots

Signed: OT Will Svitek, S Adrian Wilson, WR Donald Jones, RB/KR/PR Leon Washington, WR Danny Amendola

Re-Signed: CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, LB/ST Niko Koutouvides

Departed: RB Danny Woodhead (Chargers), WR Wes Welker (Broncos), S Patrick Chung (Eagles), OL Donald Thomas (Colts)

Still on the market: CB Will Allen, S Josh Barrett, WR Deion Branch, CB Marquice Cole, WR Julian Edelman, FB Tony Fiammetta, CB Derrick Martin, OL Colin Miller, S Cyhl Quarles, OL Jamey Richard, DE Trevor Scott, WR Donte Stallworth, RT Sebastian Vollmer, LB Tracy White

Grade: C+

Welkermania has taken the northeast by storm since the signing shook the NFL on Wednesday. This topic is already dead-horse territory, but the main takeaways are obvious:

  • Amendola has a similar skill set to Welker, but the big questions are
  • can he stay healthy, and
  • can he get on the same page with Tom Brady?

The Patriots clearly feel it is time to evolve the offense. That comes with the risk of moving on from the known commodities, but with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski already doing a majority of their damage over the middle of the field, getting better on the perimeter will make them more difficult to defend.

So, what about that?

lloyd's receptions by direction.pngReleasing Brandon Lloyd certainly doesn't help them in that search, but colleague Greg Bedard saw this as a possibility in late February, reporting an inconsistent personality in the locker room and on the practice field.

Lloyd could still be back on a reduced salary, though his agent Tom Condon doesn't have a flowery relationship with the Patriots front office. Last year, he wasn't exactly the type of boundary threat the Patriots need, nor was he nearly the same player he was in the two years prior. Would another year with Brady help open things up for him? Tough to tell, but we may never find out.

Amendola did a majority of his work in the slot, but he could also line up on the outside. Signing him and Donald Jones gives the Patriots two threats that can line up in various places, they hope can be more active on the perimeter.

After playing just three total snaps in two playoff games, the writing was on the wall for Patrick Chung. He had also been supplanted by Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson by midseason.

with and without you.pngBringing back both Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington is a move the Patriots hope will allow for the continued improvement of their pass defense; after allowing a defensive passer rating of 97.3 in the first nine games, they allowed just 73.8 in the final seven games once things settled down in the secondary.

Talib is on a "show-me" deal for one year, which allows the Patriots to get a better read on his character issues and health concerns that have followed him throughout his career. The Patriots were big winners on this one, as the market for Talib's services was bare.

Unfortunately for them, most people will probably evaluate the overall success of their offseason based on Welker and Amendola alone. Get ready for storyline overload this season on that front.

1. Miami Dolphins

Signed: WR Brandon Gibson, TE Dustin Keller, LB Philip Wheeler, LB Dannell Ellerbe, WR Mike Wallace

Re-Signed: SS Chris Clemons, DT Randy Starks (franchise tag), WR Brian Hartline, QB Matt Moore, QB Pat Devlin, CB RJ Stanford, LB Austin Spitler

Departed: LT Jake Long (Rams), CB Sean Smith (Chiefs), RB Reggie Bush (Lions), LB Kevin Burnett (released), LB Karlos Dansby (released), TE Anthony Fasano (Chiefs)

Still on the market: WR Julius Pruitt, OT Lydon Murtha, WR Marlon Moore, DT Tony McDaniel, CB Bryan McCann, TE Jeron Mastrud, K Nate Kaeding, OG Artis Hicks, OT Nate Garner, S Tyrone Culver, OT Patrick Brown, CB Jonatahn Amaya

Grade: B-

The Dolphins definitely made the most headlines during free agency, but that's not what this grade is about.

Adding Mike Wallace provides the Dolphins a deep threat they desperately lacked last year, and gives Ryan Tannehill a good reason to throw the ball deep a bit more frequently (10.5 percent of his attempts traveled 20 yards or more in the air, tied for seventh-lowest in the NFL). Wallace's speed could also help open things up for Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and newly acquired tight end Dustin Keller, who all do a bulk of their best work underneath and over the middle.

The Dolphins have also initiated a renaissance at linebacker, turning over two-thirds of their starting unit. Wheeler is much faster and more athletic than anyone the Dolphins had at the second level last year, and although Ellerbe may not be up to Dansby's level right now, the switch at middle linebacker prevents against decline.

Speaking of decline, losing left tackle Jake Long may seem like a big blow, but he has not been the same player from 2011-2012 as he was from 2008-2010. Injuries have also cost him six games, and a torn triceps ended his season in '12. If he can get healthy, he's still a top-15 left tackle, but he's no longer the dominant player he was in the early stage of his career.

dustin keller.pngSigning Dustin Keller was a smart move to give Tannehill a reliable weapon at tight end, but he's not going to help much as a blocker.

They did leave some issues unaddressed, too. They lost starting cornerback Sean Smith, and the money he got (three years, $16.5 million) was right in line with market value. The Dolphins have turned over both their starting cornerbacks from the 2011 season in a 12-month span. They're probably not too comfortable with Richard Marshall and Nolan Carroll as their starters, which is why they brought in a top free agent cornerback Brent Grimes for a visit.

Big spending in March doesn't always equal big success in the fall and winter. In this case, though, the Dolphins have made many of the necessary moves toward improving their roster.


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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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