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AFC East free agency: Impact on Patriots of every signing, re-signing, and departure

Posted by Erik Frenz  March 11, 2014 01:00 PM

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The NFL free agent market opened Tuesday, March 11 at 4 p.m. ET, and the New England Patriots aren't the only team in the AFC East making big decisions for the future of their franchise.

Head spinning already? We'll have updates on every free agency signing and departure in the division, all in one spot.

This post will be updated from the beginning of it all until the whirlwind has settled down. In addition to thoughts on the Patriots' signings, we'll have thoughts from a Patriots perspective on each move in and out of the division for Patriots-based readers.


* * *


New England Patriots

Free agents:

LeGarrette Blount, RB
Andre Carter, DE
Austin Collie, WR
Christian Cox, DT (RFA)
Matthew Mulligan, TE
Will Svitek, OT
Ryan Wendell, C

Re-signings:

Michael Hoomanawanui, TE

Terms: two years, $2.4 million, $1.1 million guaranteed

Hoomanawanui started 10 games at tight end in 2013 with Rob Gronkowski out of the lineup. If all goes well for the Patriots this offseason, "Hooman" should be competing for a roster spot in training camp. He has been a reliable backup, but should be the third option in the offense.

Julian Edelman, WR (Patriots analysis)

Terms: unknown

Edelman was identified as the Patriots' No. 1 in-house free-agent on the Going Deep blog nearly two months ago, and the Patriots have have ensured that Brady won't have to get familiar with a new favorite target for two straight seasons. Bringing back Julian Edelman ensures that the Patriots hang onto their top pass-catcher and a player with five years of experience in the Patriots' complicated offense. The Patriots are surely hoping for a second-year jump out of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, and for good health from Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, but if a wrench gets thrown into any of those plans, Brady will still have a reliable security blanket.

Acquisitions:

Darrelle Revis, CB (Patriots analysis)

Terms: one year, $12 million

If you've been following this blog over the past few days, you know this has been a slow build. The Buccaneers failed to trade him prior to Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, and released him shortly before that time. The Patriots swooped in quickly to pick up one of the best cover cornerbacks of this generation.

Brandon Browner, CB (Patriots analysis)

Terms: three years, $17 millioin

The Patriots added one of the best cover corners and one of the biggest cover corners in one offseason. Former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner measures 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds. He is the perfect example of what the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary is all about; he is physical, and highly versatile. He primarily played right cornerback for the Seahawks, but he could play cornerback or safety for the Patriots. New England has been searching for a versatile strong safety who can come down into the box against the run, cover deep, and follow tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Browner brings that level of versatility to the Patriots' secondary.

Brandon LaFell, WR

Terms: three years, $11 million

The Patriots continue to add more slot machines to their offense, hoping to hit the jackpot. Brandon LaFell has the frame of an outside receiver at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, but he ran 63 percent of his routes from the slot in 2013. Perhaps the Patriots envision him playing more on the outside in New England, or possibly backing up Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins as versatile receivers. With guys like Edelman and Amendola running routes from the slot and taking a pounding over the middle, it's wise to get a bigger receiver who can play that role and take a pounding while doing it.

Departures:

Steve Gregory, S — released in February (Patriots analysis)

Savings: $2,850,000

Aqib Talib, CB — signed with the Denver Broncos (six years, $57 million)

The Patriots lose another valuable free agent to their top conference rival. The Broncos scooped up Aqib Talib for their secondary to replace the departing free-agent Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. Talib brings his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame and solid press and man coverage skills to Denver, leaving the Patriots piecing together their secondary. It looks like Logan Ryan could get moved up the depth chart sooner than later, pairing him opposite Alfonzo Dennard as the team's starting cornerbacks in the base defense.

Isaac Sopoaga, DTreleased on Wednesday, March 12

Savings: $3,500,000

The Patriots traded a fifth-round pick for Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick before the trade deadline in November. He played 28.3 percent of the defensive snaps in the five games he was on the roster, and he was inactive for another four games (including the Patriots' two playoff games). The Patriots were desperately trying to fill the hole at defensive tackle, but Sopoaga never panned out, and the Patriots headed in another direction with Sealver Siliga getting more snaps down the stretch.

Brandon Spikes, LB — signed with the Buffalo Bills (Bills analysis)

Terms: unknown

Brandon Spikes is bringing the #PoWwWwWw for a new team in the AFC East. This may seem like a classic move by a division rival to grab a key player, but Spikes is actually a great fit for Buffalo. The Bills had trouble stopping the run, and have ranked in the bottom 10 in both rushing yards per game and yards per rush attempt in each of the past seven years. Spikes rejoins former Patriots linebackers/defensive line coach Pepper Johnson in Buffalo. The Patriots were looking to add linebacker Wesley Woodyard to the team for his utility in the sub package, but they will have to look elsewhere after he signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Dane Fletcher, LB — signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Terms: one year, $2 million, $1.2 million guaranteed

Dane Fletcher is not a flashy name, but he has come up through the Patriots' system as an undrafted free-agent out of Montana State. His four years of experience in the defense helped him step in at several different spots in the linebacking corps, and his above average instincts and underrated athleticism helped him make plays. The Patriots will certainly be in the market for added depth at linebacker with both Spikes and Fletcher gone. In fact, Woodyard may have been more of a replacement for Fletcher than he would have been for Spikes, if he had ended up in New England.


* * *


New York Jets

Free agents:

Nick Bellore, ILB (RFA)
Aaron Berry, CB
Joshua Cribbs, WR
Vladimir Ducasse, G
David Garrard, QB
Vidal Hazelton, WR (ERFA)
Lex Hilliard, RB
Santonio Holmes, WR
Josh Mauga, ILB, LB
Garrett McIntyre, OLB (RFA)
Brady Quinn, QB
Ed Reed, S
Konrad Reuland, TE (RFA)
Darius Reynaud, RB
Kellen Winslow, TE

Re-signings:

Jeff Cumberland, TE (Jets analysis)

Terms: three years, $3.7 million

Cumberland's contract is perfectly reflective of what kind of player he is: a solid No. 2 tight end with abilities as both a blocker and a pass-catcher, but not a dynamic game-changing tight end. The Patriots might have been interested in Cumberland in the same role if he had hit the open market.

Nick Folk, K

Terms: four years, $12 million, $2.1 million guaranteed

Folk has been battling for his job each of the past three preseasons, but with the first multi-year deal of his four-year tenure in New York, Folk can finally stop looking over his shoulder. The Patriots never had any chance of landing Folk, as the Jets hit him with the franchise tag to prevent him from getting to the open market.

Leger Douzable, DE

Terms: one year, $1 million, $150,000 guaranteed

At 6-4 and over 300 pounds, Douzable has the size to play all over the line, and plays a mix of defensive end and defensive tackle for the Jets. He played 242 snaps (21.4 percent) in 2013, and figures to remain in that role on one of the best defensive lines in football. He would have made an interesting addition to the Patriots' interior pass rush, but instead, he'll do that as a backup for Gang Green.

Calvin Pace, OLB

Terms: two years, $5 million

Pace has been through the turnstiles in New York several times over the past 12 months. He was a cap casualty last offseason ahead of a $11,573,335 cap hit, and was brought back on a one-year deal. A free agent again in 2014, there was doubt Pace would be back even after logging a career-high 10 sacks in 2013 (most of those sacks coming in "clean-up duty" for the other Jets defensive linemen). Now back on a two-year deal, Pace will continue to be a stop-gap at outside linebacker, where the Jets haven't had a long-term fix ever under Rex Ryan.

Willie Colon, G

Terms: unknown

The Jets signed Colon to a one-year deal last year in hopes that the veteran guard could recover from having multiple knee surgeries over the past few years. He stayed healthy and played all 16 games, and played well enough to be brought back as a tier-two free agent. Colon famously got into fisticuffs with Patriots players on the sideline near the end of New England's 13-10 Week 2 victory. The Patriots could still use some depth on the inside of their offensive line, but Colon will start for the Jets, so this was likely never an option for New England.

Acquisitions:

Breno Giacomini, RT

Terms: four years, $18 million, $7 million guaranteed

The Jets' first order of business for an external free agent was to replace their departed starting right tackle, Austin Howard. John Idzik is familiar with Giacomini from their time together in Seattle. The six-year pro has started 33 games for the Seahawks in the past three seasons. He missed seven games in 2013 with a knee injury, but he was the starting right tackle when healthy on the Super Bowl run. He is a big man at 6-foot-7 and 318 pounds, and will add a lot in running situations. The Patriots are not in the market for offensive tackles this season.

Eric Decker, WR (Jets analysis)

Terms: five years, $36.25 million, $15 million guaranteed

The New York Jets landed arguably the best wide receiver available on the open market. Eric Decker is arguably the best No. 2 receiver in the NFL, but he has the attributes of a No. 1 with his combination of size (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) and speed (4.54-second 40-yard dash). The Jets sorely needed weapons for their offense, after releasing Santonio Holmes before the league year began and with the slower-than-hoped development of Stephen Hill. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was the Broncos' head coach when Decker was drafted, so it didn't take long for people to begin connecting the dots between the Patriots and Decker; unfortunately for New England, he's headed to a division rival.

Departures:

Antonio Cromartie, CB — released on Sunday, March 9 (salary cap implications, Patriots analysis)

Savings: $9,500,000

Cromartie's release cleared up $9.5 million in cap space, but created a hole in the secondary for the Jets. Rookie cornerback Dee Milliner could be asked to step into the No. 1 role if the Jets do not sign a cornerback on the open market. Cromartie could make sense for the Patriots with Talib headed to Denver, and if Cromartie is willing to take a one-year deal to prove his poor play in 2013 was strictly due to injury and not diminishing talent.

Santonio Holmes, WR — released on Monday, March 10 (Jets analysis)

Savings: $8,250,000

The Jets released Holmes in another cost-cutting move, saving $8.25 million on the salary cap this year. Holmes is a veteran with some ability to contribute in the slot, but he has been considered difficult to motivate and divisive in the locker room. Even if the Patriots lose Edelman to free agency, the risk far outweighs the reward on Holmes.

Austin Howard, RT — signed with the Oakland Raiders

Terms: five years, $30 million

The Jets had discovered a bit of a diamond in the rough with Howard. The undrafted free agent came up through the ranks and won the starting job at right tackle from Wayne Hunter in 2012. He started all 32 games over the past two years. The Jets made a comparable offer to Howard, but he chose to go to Oakland instead.

Isaiah Trufant, CB — signed with the Cleveland Browns

Terms: two years, $1.54 million, $150,000 roster bonus

Trufant has been a depth cornerback for the Jets for the past four seasons. He finally participated in all 16 games for the first time in his career, but was not brought back. The Jets will likely call on the services of Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster, who were both signed to two-year contracts last week.


* * *


Buffalo Bills

Free agents:

Alex Carrington, DE
Willie Jefferson, OLB
Jim Leonhard, S
Arthur Moats, ILB
Thomas Welch, RT

Re-signings:

Dan Carpenter, K

Terms: four years, $9.9 million, $2 million guaranteed

Carpenter was bouncing from one team to another last summer and during training camp, but he is coming off a career year (career-high 33 field goals and 91.7 field goal percentage). Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is set to become a free agent next year, so the Patriots may have looked at Carpenter if available, although there was no interest shown in Carpenter from the Patriots last season when he was a free agent.

Mike Caussin, TE (RFA)

Terms: unknown

Not much is known about Caussin, who has caught five passes in his career, all of them in 2011. He suffered a knee injury at the end of the 2012 season, and missed all of 2013 as a result. He went undrafted out of James Madison, and scouting reports hailed his pass-catching abilities after he hauled in 14 touchdowns in his career. He would have been competing for a roster spot in New England.

Aaron Williams, S (Bills analysis)

Terms: four-year, $26 million extension

Williams struggled at cornerback the first two years of career, but switched to safety last season in a move that he says "was the best thing that ever happened to me." He moved around at times in 2013, sliding over to cornerback at times when the Bills were dealing with injuries in the secondary.

Scott Chandler, TE

Terms: unknown

Chandler signed a two-year deal in 2012, and he signed another one this year to stay with the team through the 2015 season. With the signing, the Bills hold onto their best tight end in Chandler, who is also their best red zone threat at 6-foot-7 and 266 pounds. Chandler is a dual-threat for his ability to both block and catch, but although he's a solid threat over the middle, he's not considered overly athletic as a downfield receiver. The Patriots might have shown interest in Chandler as a backup to Gronkowski, but he'll be a much bigger part of the offense in Buffalo.

Acquisitions:

Chris Williams, G

Terms: four years, $13.5 million, $5.5 million guaranteed

The Bills had a bit of a mess at guard last season, after letting former starting left guard Andy LeVitre head to the Tennessee Titans last year in free agency. Williams has been ranked among the worst guards in the league by Pro Football Focus, via Evan Silva of Rotoworld. Still, at roughly $3,375,000 per year, the Bills didn't have to pay a hefty price to fill the position of need with a player that has plenty of starting experience (54 career starts). Williams may have been an option for the Patriots if they moved on from Wendell and moved Connolly back to center.

Corey Graham, CB (Bills analysis)

Terms: four years, $16 million

The Bills have been investing heavily into their secondary over the past few years, and Graham is the latest investment. He will contribute on special teams as a gunner for the Bills, in addition to his role on defense. Of course, his role on defense will be in much closer focus. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham played 705 defensive snaps for the Ravens (64 percent) in 2013. Of the 473 snaps he played in coverage, 219 (46.3 percent) were played in the slot.

Keith Rivers, LB

Terms: two years, $5 million, $2.5 million guaranteed

Once again, the Bills are changing defensive schemes, so they must once again find the personnel to fit their new defense. Keith Rivers was the ninth overall pick in the 2008 draft. He has played all over in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 front, but he will be a strongside linebacker in the Jim Schwartz's 4-3 defense. Linebacker was one of the Bills' two biggest needs, and the Bills took a measure to add some depth at the position, with a low-risk contract. The Patriots may have considered a player like Rivers to help provide some depth to their thinning linebacking corps, and Rivers was actually taken with the pick directly before the Patriots' pick in the 2008 draft. The Patriots picked Jerod Mayo instead.

Anthony Dixon, RB

Terms: unknown

The Bills already have running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who provide a blend of veteran leadership and savvy, versatility to contribute in the passing game, and explosive ability to make big plays. Adding Anthony Dixon to the group gives the Bills a level of physicality. At 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, Dixon is exactly the bruising kind of back the Bills need to round out the group. Dixon would have been an intriguing option for the Patriots if they want to replace the potential departure of LeGarrette Blount.

Brandon Spikes, LB (Bills analysis)

Terms: unknown

As mentioned earlier, Spikes is exactly the kind of linebacker the Bills need. They will love his heavy hitting style of play and his ability to diagnose runs and get into the backfield. Now, after adding Rivers and Spikes to the team, they have built that group with ideal personnel for a 4-3 defense, which is what they will run under new coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Departures:

Kevin Kolb, QB — released on Tuesday, March 11

Savings: $3,000,000

The Bills signed Kolb to be part of a competition for the backup quarterback job last year, but the veteran journeyman suffered a concussion during a preseason game and was shelved for the year. Backups Jeff Tuel and Thad Lewis did not do very well when subbing in for injured rookie starter EJ Manuel. The Bills will have to add to the backup battle this offseason. Kolb becomes an intriguing option for the Patriots if they opt to trade Ryan Mallett and need a veteran signal-caller this season.

Jairus Byrd, S — signed with the New Orleans Saints

Terms: six years, $54 million, $28 million guaranteed

The Bills already made it pretty clear that Byrd was gone when they re-signed safety Aaron Williams to an extension before free agency began. Byrd is a rare class of free safety with the range to play from sideline-to-sideline in Cover 1, and the ball skills to make plays all over the field. The Bills say they do not value safeties as much as cornerbacks or defensive ends, but there's no denying their defense will not be the same without Byrd.


* * *


Miami Dolphins

Free agents:

David Arkin, G
Tyson Clabo, RT
Chris Clemons, S
Richie Incognito, G
John Jerry, G
Dustin Keller, TE
Bryant McKinnie, LT
Marlon Moore, WR
Christopher Owens, CB
Austin Spitler, ILB
R.J. Stanford, CB
Randy Thomas, G
Danny Watkins, G (RFA)
Will Yeatman, LT (RFA)

Re-signings:

Randy Starks, DT (Dolphins analysis)

Terms: two years, $12 million

The Dolphins did well to retain both of their key free agents in Randy Starks and Brent Grimes. Starks was listed among my Patriots free agent wish list, but the Dolphins made sure he wasn't on the open market for too long. The 6-foot-3, 312-pound defensive tackle would have been a great fit for the Patriots' 4-3 front, exactly what they need as a disrupting presence to plug next to Vince Wilfork. In 2013, he was tied with Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus as the 10th-most productive pass-rushing defensive tackle on a per-snap basis (counting pressures, hits and sacks).

Acquisitions:

Louis Delmas, S (Dolphins analysis)

Terms: one-year, $3.5 million

The Dolphins signed Delmas on a short-term deal that gives them an upgrade over former starter Chris Clemons. Delmas has a degenerative knee condition, and has missed 13 games over the past three years. Still, he has upside for his versatility, willingness to come downhill against the run and his range on the back end. The Patriots were not reported to have shown any interest in Delmas while the eight-year veteran was a free agent.

Branden Albert, T (Dolphins analysis)

Terms: five years, $46 million, $25 million guaranteed

The Dolphins didn't land the top left tackle on the free agent market, but they landed one of them. Miami's offensive line was one of the league's worst last year, and allowed 58 sacks of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The left tackle spot was a particular mess. The Dolphins let Jake Long leave in free agency last year, replacing him with Jonathan Martin, who was replaced (before leaving the team) by Bryant McKinnie, acquired via trade. The Patriots were not expected to be in the market for a left tackle, but defensive end Chandler Jones' matchups with Miami (10 tackles, one sack in the past two seasons) figure to get a little tougher.

Earl Mitchell, DT

Terms: four years, $16 million, $9 million guaranteed

The Dolphins are willing to let both Randy Starks and Paul Soliai hit the open market, but they'll still need to add depth to the defensive tackle spot. Mitchell was considered a free-agent sleeper, as a talented pass-rushing presence up the middle (four sacks in 2013). He played nose tackle for the Houston Texans, but was somewhat miscast in that role. He is truly more of a one-gap 4-3 defensive tackle. The Patriots may have considered him an option if they were planning on moving on from Isaac Sopoaga.

Cortland Finnegan, CB (Dolphins analysis)

Terms: two years, $11 million

So much for reshaping the Dolphins' image. Given his reputation, Finnegan is an interesting choice for a free-agent signing by a team trying to clean up its image after the incident with Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. Much like Incognito, Finnegan has been recognized around the league as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL, and ranked sixth in a Sports Illustrated player poll. He has also regressed in recent years; he was voted a first-team All-Pro in 2008, but was one of the league's worst cornerbacks last year, allowing a passer rating of 136 on throws into his coverage. Perhaps he can achieve those heights again now that he's not being asked to cover a team's best receiver, but he will have to beat out Jamar Taylor and Will Davis for the starting job first.

Shelley Smith, OG

Terms: two years, $5.5 million

The Dolphins' rebuild on the offensive line continues with Shelley Smith, who has played 24 games and started eight and left and right guard for the St. Louis Rams from 2012-2013. At 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds, Smith packs a punch on the inside and is known best as a road-grading guard. He played under new Dolphins offensive line coach John Benton his rookie year with the Houston Texans. The Patriots had expressed interest in Smith, and had him in for a visit on Wednesday, but he left without a contract and visited Miami shortly thereafter.

Departures:

Dimitri Patterson, CB — released on Monday, March 10

Savings: $5,000,000

The Dolphins released Patterson on Monday in a move that created $5 million in cap space. Patterson played just six games in 2013, missing most of the season with a groin injury. He also missed seven games in 2012 with an ankle injury. His track record of poor health is a red flag, but he could still be brought back at a cheaper deal.

Paul Soliai, DT — signed with Atlanta Falcons

Terms: five years, $33 million

Soliai is a traditional 0-technique nose tackle, one of the few left in the league, and he has been a gap-plugging force for the Dolphins for years, regardless of their scheme. He was set to hit the open market in 2011, before the Dolphins hit him with the franchise tag and paid him $12.476 for the season. They went back to the negotiating table the next year, and Soliai signed a two-year, $12 million contract. Soliai's agent, David Canter, has repeatedly aired his disappointment with the Dolphins' negotiating tactics, but it appears his client has now gotten paid. At that price tag, Soliai would never have been an option for the Patriots.

Nolan Carroll, CB — signed with the Philadelphia Eagles

Terms: unknown

The Dolphins already forked over a big contract to Brent Grimes, and the Eagles swooped in to snap up Carroll. Carroll was poised to assume a starting role following the release of Dimitri Patterson, but now, that role is going to second-year corner Jamar Taylor. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, Carroll has the size to play on the outside, but he is versatile to play the slot and even some safety. He has also contributed on special teams. Carroll may have been an option for the Patriots as depth, but he will probably get an opportunity to start in Philadelphia.



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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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