Free Agency Moves Impact The AFC East

Two days into Free Agency there were plenty of moves that directly impacted the AFC East. Here's a quick look at some of the signings around the league and what it means to New England...

Chargers sign LB Jarret Johnson
After nine seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker Jarret Johnson has signed a free agent deal with the San Diego Chargers.  The Chargers posted on Twitter that they had come to terms with Johnson on a four-year contract.

Johnson started every game for the Ravens the past five seasons, averaging 3.5 sacks per season in that span.  He overtook former defensive end Michael McCrary and former linebacker Jamie Sharper as the franchise's all-time leader in consecutive starts with his 74th straight start Nov. 20. By season's end, his streak was up to 82 games.  

Johnson is also the Ravens' leader in consecutive games played with 129. He finished the 2011 regular season with 56 tackles, his fewest since 2006 when he made 35 stops. Johnson's 40 solo tackles were also his fewest since 2006.

Johnson, 30, was the Ravens' fourth-round draft pick in 2003 out of Alabama.
Last week, the Chargers signed linebacker Demorrio Williams after he was released by division rival Kansas City

-- Sports Xchange

Insider's Take: The Patriots may need linebacker help, but Johnson wasn't on their radar, at least not that New England media was able to confirm.   The vastly underrated player should fill an immediate need in the CHargers defense.

Dolphins re-sign NT Soliai
Nose tackle Paul Soliai, thought to be headed out of Miami this year after playing last season with the Dolphins' franchise tag, instead agreed to return to the team.

Soliai received a two-year, $12 million deal, according to the Palm Beach Post and The Palm Beach Post and reported that Soliai was due to travel to Colorado to visit with the Broncos before canceling the trip when he reached the agreement with the Dolphins.

The Dolphins and Broncos are both in the running for a far more high-profile free agent, quarterback Peyton Manning.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Soliai's salary-cap figure for this year will be just above $4 million. However, the newspaper reported that the signing could affect Miami's ability to pursue Manning, as the team would have to restructure existing contracts or release players to clear enough salary-cap space to have enough money for Manning.

Soliai, 28, has spent all five of his pro seasons with the Dolphins since he was the team's fourth-round draft pick in 2007 out of the University of Utah.

He started 14 games in 2010, when he recorded his only two career sacks, and he started 13 games in 2011.  The 6-foot-4, 350-pounder is a large presence in the middle of the line

-- Sports Xchange

Insider's Take:
The Palm Beach Post reported that the Patriots had made contact inquiring about Soliai.  Apparently that was enough motivation for Miami to resign one of their own.  Considered a solid run-plugger, Soliai could have fit right in with Vince Wilfork to help the Patriots interior run defense.  Gerard Warren has been part of the Patriots interior defense the past two seasons, but Warren is headed to free agency without much promise to return. In 12 games last year, Warren managed just a dozen total tackles, the lowest output of his 11 year career.

Dolphins sign cornerback Marshall
The Miami Dolphins picked up cornerback Richard Marshall on Wednesday. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter the deal is for three years and $16 million.  Marshall, 27, made three interceptions last season in nine starts for the Arizona Cardinals. He played his first five years for the Carolina Panthers.  
The 5-foot-11, 198-pound defender made 17 career interceptions and will add depth to the Dolphins' secondary.

-- Sports Xchange

Insider's Take:  
Marshall played at Fresno State, one of the colleges the Patriots scouted heavily when Pat Hill was coaching there.  Hill and Bill Belichick are pals, dating back to the days when Hill was on Belichicki's staff in Cleveland.  Marshall was teammates with Logan Mankins and James Sanders, all three played for Hill.

Jets sign Folk, reportedly eye Cotchery return
The New York Jets re-signed kicker Nick Folk on Wednesday and, as they search for wide receivers, they might be looking to bring back another familiar face.
The Jets are reportedly interested in bringing back Jerricho Cotchery, a source told the New York Daily News.  Cotchery played his first seven seasons for the Jets until he and the team parted ways last year and he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jets could use some help bolstering their thin wide receiver corps, but it's questionable just how much production Cotchery could provide.  Cotchery is coming off his least productive season since his rookie year.  He caught just 16 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games for the Steelers last year.  That was a drop-off from Cotchery's already dwindling production for the Jets in 2010, when he caught 41 passes for 433 yards.

For his career, Cotchery has 374 receptions for 4,751 yards and 20 touchdowns. His best seasons came back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.  He had 82 receptions each year, and gained 961 yards with six touchdowns in 2006, while he produced 1,130 yards the next season with two touchdowns.

Folk has spent the past two years with the Jets after playing for the Dallas Cowboys his first three seasons.  He was 19 of 25 on field goals last year and 44 of 44 on extra points, for 101 total points on the season. He also got the Jets' eventually disappointing season off to a good start with a 50-yard, game-winning field goal in the final minute of the opener against the Cowboys.  Folk was 30 of 39 on field goals and 37 of 37 on PATs his first season with the Jets, for 127 points
-- Sports Xchange

Insider's Take:
The Jets need help in the receiving corps and Cotchery could be used for depth, but he isn't going to scare defenses -- at least not at this poing in his career.   Cotchery had the second worst outing in his career in 2011 playing for the Steelers.  He caught just 16 passes for 237 yards and 2 TDs.  His rookie season (2004) Cotchery managed just six catches for 60 yards.

Jaguars, DT Mosley agree to 3-year deal
The Jacksonsville Jaguars reached a three-year, $7.5 million deal with defensive tackle C.J. Mosley on Wednesday, according to  Mosley's deal has $2 million guaranteed. Scout reports the deal could be worth up to $10 million if incentives are reached.  Mosley made 24 tackles last season in 15 games for the Jaguars. He had one sack and one forced fumble. Mosley has played for four teams in seven seasons.
-- Sports Xchange

Insider's Take:
The good news is that Mosley didn't make it to the AFC East, where teams were looking at him to add depth to their defensive line rotation. In 2011 Mosley started three of the 15 games he appeared in for a resurgent Jacksonville defense.  He had arguably the best season of his 7-year career last season.

Jaguars sign QB Henne
Quarterback Chad Henne has agreed to a two-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Henne was assumed to be a consideration in Seattle, where the Seattle Times reported he had a visit scheduled this week. But, he went to Jacksonville first and signed. He will not be visiting the Seahawks.

Henne entered last season as the starter for the Miami Dolphins. He was eventually replaced by Matt Moore after totaling four touchdowns and four interceptions in his first four starts.  Jacksonville also signed Laurent Robinson earlier in the day to be the team's No. 1 receiver.
-- Sports Xchange

Insider's Take:
Though Henne will no longer be the top dog in Miami, he may still affect games in the AFC.  Blaine Gabbert was the top pick of Jacksonville in 2011, but he clearly has plenty to learn.  Henne could compete with Gabbert to make the Jaguars more competitive in 2012.  Jacksonville finished 5-11 last season and may have trouble improving upon that without better play at the quarterback position. Henne will give them that.  The Jaguars play all four teams in the AFC East, New England and New York at Jacksonville, Buffalo and Miami on the road.

Chiefs sign Hillis, lose McClain

Jamaal Charles has a new running mate, as the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to a contract with free agent running back Peyton Hillis.  The team confirmed the deal but did not disclose financial details. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Hillis landed a one-year, $3 million contract.

The Chiefs backfield will be missing a part, however, as fullback Le'Ron McClain agreed to a three-year deal with the San Diego Chargers, Schefter reported. Hillis, who is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, could wind up seeing time in the fullback role.

If the Chiefs can get 2010-level production from both Charles and Hillis in 2012, they'd have a potent running attack.
Two years ago with the Cleveland Browns, Hillis had 270 carries for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hillis, 26, saw his production drop precipitously in 2011, when he had 161 carries for 587 yards and three touchdowns. He missed  five games with a hamstring injury.
It was a disappointing season for Hillis, who was voted by the fans to be on the cover of EA Sports' "Madden NFL 12" video game. He denied reports that he considered retiring and pursuing a career with the CIA.

Prior to becoming a free agent, Hillis told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I've always loved this city, and I still do love it, and I still want to play for the Cleveland Browns. I'm not sure who wants me there and who doesn't want me there. It's out of my hands at this point. They've said they might want to re-sign me. If I was this horrible person, if I wasn't tough and if I was that big of a mental case, why would they still want to sign me?"

Charles, 25, also had a big 2010 season, running 230 times for 1,467 yards and five touchdowns. Last year was a near total loss, though, as he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the second game. He underwent season-ending surgery after compiling just 12 carries for 83 yards and no touchdowns.
McClain, 28, spent one year in Kansas City after three four years with the Baltimore Ravens. He had 15 carries for 51 yards and one touchdown during his stint with the Chiefs
-- Sports Xchange

Insider's Take:
Hillis could have landed in any number of places, but playing for Romeo Crennel in Kansas City will help rehabilitate his career after the letdown in 2011.  Some rumblings connected HIllis to the AFC East, possibly even New England -- a team which could lose BenJarvus Green-Elllis.  Hilis could have given New England an added dimension in the ground game that has been missing for since Corey Dillon came to Foxboro.  Kansas City also plays Buffalo, the entire AFC North (including Cleveland his former team) and Denver twice.  Winning any (or all) of those games would have helped the Patriots in 2011, and could be a factor in 2012's playoff race.

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Material from the Sports Xchange was used in this report.

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