The 2010 free-agent shopping season didn’t resemble the usual hustle and bustle of free agency of years past. Teams approached free agency with caution, and shockingly that includes the Washington Redskins. This year, the Chicago Bears did their best Washington impression, signing Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna. The Ravens made quarterback Joe Flacco a happy man when they acquired receiver Anquan Boldin in a trade with Arizona. And how about those Detroit Lions getting in on the mix by landing Nate Burleson and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
The AFC East teams weren’t left out of the free agent mix. And while the landscapes in the AFC & NFC North have changed, how much has the pecking order changed in the AFC East? Are the Jets now the team their other three divisional counterparts are chasing? Is New England still the bully on the block? Let’s get a handle on who did what and who has work left to do following free agency.
Buffalo Bills. New GM Buddy Nix came into free agency with a plan that was designed on improving through the draft rather than free agency. Nix was a man of his word. The Bills didn’t generate much noise early on in free agency, barely making a whisper. Buffalo was largely inactive for the longest time, with their lone free agent signee being offensive tackle Cornell Green. Green could be penciled in as the starting right tackle, but he’ll have competition for the job from Demetrius Bell, Jamon Meredith and Kirk Chambers. The Bills had two free agents, OT Wade Smith and DT Jimmy Kennedy, visit but both signed elsewhere. Last week, the Bills added a physical prescence at linebacker signing ILB Andra Davis, and defensive end Dwan Edwards, who has experience playing end in a 3-4 defense.
Work left to do: QB, LT, NT, WR, OLB. The Bills had far too many problems to correct in one offseason. The nose tackle free agent pool doesn’t exist; the Bills brought in Jimmy Kennedy but he re-signed with Minnesota and they didn’t show interest in 34 year old Jamal Williams, who landed in Denver. Now the Bills must look to next month’s draft to find a dominant nose tackle as they transition to the 3-4 defense. They are also in need of a bookend, dominant left tackle. And we can’t forget their never ending quest to find a franchise quarterback.
Miami Dolphins. Miami landed a big fish (no pun intended), signing free agent inside linebacker Karlos Dansby from Arizona. Dansby, however, didn’t come at a discount. The Dolphins gave Dansby a five-year deal worth $43 million with $22 million guranteed. His signing fills a huge need for the Dolphins on defense, and at 28, Dansby is arguably the best inside linebacker not named Patrick Willis. Bill Parcells loves his linebackers and with Dansby, he’s found the leader of the defense in South Beach for years to come. Miami also re-signed quarterback Chad Pennington to serve as both mentor and backup to Chad Henne. Pennington’s 2009 campaign was short lived as a result of a shoulder injury, but if he’s fully recovered in 2010, he gives Miami a reliable insurance policy behind Henne. Offensive lineman Richie Incognito was added to the mix to provide depth.
Work left to do: NT, WR, S, OLB. NT Jason Ferguson was slapped with an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performing enhancing drug policy. Despite not having his services for half a season, Miami decided a half season was better than nothing and re-signed the key run stuffer in Miami’s 3-4 defense. Ferguson, however, will turn 36 in November and is coming off a torn right quadriceps injury that required surgery and forced Ferguson to miss most of 2009. In the meantime, Miami will need to find a replacement for Ferguson, along with safety help also. Outside linebacker is an area of concern following the release of Joey Porter and the age of Jason Taylor, who turns 36 in September. Miami has a gluttony of No.2 and slot receivers with the likes of Ted Ginn, Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo. The Dolphins would make Henne a happy human if they were to land a dominant, No.1 wide receiver.
New England Patriots. New England spent free agency taking care of their own, as the majority of their work was done to lock up their free agents. Perhaps no other move was bigger than keeping NT Vince Wilfork. Wisely, the Patriots first franchised Wilfork then signed him to five-year contract for $40 million with $25 million guranteed. New England also re-signed OLB Tully Banta-Cain, who is their best pass rusher on their roster. Last season, Banta-Cain recorded 9.5 sacks. The Patriots also kept cornerback Leigh Bodden with a five-year deal worth $28.5 million. Bodden is considered one of the best press corners in the NFL. In his first seasonn with the Patriots in 2009, Bodden had five interceptions, one short of his career high. Looking to add more juice to their pass rush, New England signed DE/OLB Derrick Burgess after failing to keep defensive end Jarvis Green, who signed with Denver.
Work left to do: DE, OLB, WR, RB, G. New England’s top objective this offseason was finding weapons who can get to the quarterback and create havoc. So far, the Patriots have failed to achieve their goal. In 2009, the Patriots had just 31 sacks and Tully Banta-Cain was the only player to have recorded five or more sacks. Trading Richard Seymour to Oakland last season could prove to be a great move in the long run when they get Oakland’s first-round pick in 2011, but in the short term New England is still searching for his replacement. They were in on the Julius Peppers sweepstakes but ultimately lost out to Chicago. Another area of concern is at wide receiver. Randy Moss is still a dynamic threat, but with Wes Welker coming off a knee injury in the season finale in 2009, it’s unknown if he’ll be ready when the 2010 season begins. Aside from Moss and Welker it’s not pretty: Julian Edelman, David Patten returns for his second tour of duty, Isaac Stanback, and Sam Aiken. Aiken is the No.2 receiver opposite Moss. That can’t happen. Look for the Patriots to add receiver help in the early rounds of the draft, as well as depth at right guard behind Stephen Neal. Neal is a strong offensive lineman for New England but his durability is a question mark having missed 17 games over the past three seasons.
New York Jets. The lights on Broadway are getting brighter and brighter as we speak. Last year, the Jets made two bold decisions: trading up in the draft to get quarterback Mark Sanchez and hiring Rex Ryan as the head coach. Perhaps the Jets are now ahead of schedule, having reached the AFC Championship game preceded by winning two road playoff games in Cincinnati and San Diego with a rookie signal caller. Now the Jets are thinking big in 2010. The Jets entered the offseason looking for a solid compliment across from Darrelle Revis and it seems they’ve found their perfect fit. New York traded for Antonio Cromartie and didn’t have to break the bank to acquire the corner. The Jets sent a third-round pick in 2011 to San Diego that could eventually become a second-round pick. Since taking the league by storm in 2007 when he had 10 interceptions, Cromartie’s numbers have declined; he has just five interceptions over the past two seasons. A physically gifted, ball-hawking corner, Cromartie comes with question marks. His lazy play and inconsistencies helped him wear out his welcome in San Diego. He’s also been hit with five paternity suits in the past three years. But the Jets have shown before they’re not afraid to risks on risky players (see last year’s trade for receiver Braylon Edwards). It could pay dividens for Cromartie who might be rejuvenated playing under the passionate Ryan while in a contract year. The Jets also made some cost cutting moves, trading safety Kerry Rhodes to Arizona and releasing running back Thomas Jones saving over $10 million combined in both moves. As the Jets turn the reigns over to second year back Shonn Greene, they signed LaDainian Tomlinson to a two-year deal for $5.2 million.
Work left to do: OLB, DE, FS, LB & WR depth. Like most teams around the league, the Jets’ biggest area of need is upgrading the pass rush. It’s all about getting to the quarterback, but for the Jets it must be about getting to the quarterback without relying on a flurry of blitzes. Both defensive ends, Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas are 33 years old, with Ellis entering a contract year. With Rhodes traded, the Jets added Brodney Poole at free safety but New York will look to further address their safety needs in the draft. The Jets have Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery at wide out, but they could use a threat at the slot receiver spot. Look for the Jets to add linebacker depth as well. Behind David Harris and Bart Scott, New York doesn’t have much.