Patriots Report: Changes for AFC Contenders

<P>The New England Patriots have had the edge over their competitors in the AFC by the slimmest of margins recently. In the win-loss column they're tops, but on the field, their victories are usually close calls. In spite of the Patriots holding a distinct advantage in building a perennial contender, that hasn't deterred teams like the Steelers, Colts or the Jets from trying something different.</P><P>Patriots Insider take a look around the AFC to see who's keeping up with the Champs.</P>

PHOTO: Pittsburgh Steelers Plaxico Burress attempts to break up an interception by a New England Patriots defender in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 41-27 to advance to play the Philadelphia Eagles in Superbowl XXXIX (AP Photo)

Patriots Report: Changes for AFC Contenders
AFC leaders making changes for 2005
By Chris Goodhue, Patriots Insider

With less than two weeks until draft day, now is a good time to see what the Patriots main competition in the AFC have been doing to keep up with the champs. The Jets, Steelers, and Colts certainly have their work cut out for them, as the Pats are armed with 9 draft picks this year, and continue to add players who they hope will give them the most for their dollar.

The Jets have been one of the busiest teams in the AFC this offseason. Their biggest deal and one of the more odd transactions of the offseason occurred when Gang Green dealt WR Santana Moss to reacquire former Jet WR Laveranues Coles, and his hefty contract from the Washington Redskins. Washington signed Coles as a restricted free agent in 2003, forfeiting their first round pick to the Jets in the process. The Jets selected LB Jonathan Vilma with that pick, so in essence New York traded Moss straight up for Vilma and managed to re-sign Coles two years posthumously…make sense?

Jay Fiedler was brought in to replace Quincy Carter as the backup to Chad Pennington, and former Chiefs RB Derrick Blaylock will take LaMont Jordan’s place as a change-of-pace back behind Curtis Martin. Jordan signed with Oakland to become their featured back. The Jets got younger at middle linebacker by signing former Cleveland Brown Barry Gardner. He will replace Sam Cowart, who was peddled to Minnesota for a 7th round pick.

Despite these moves, the Jets still have some voids to fill. Defensive tackle Jason Ferguson left to sign a big contract with the Dallas Cowboys, so unless Josh Evans can come back from back surgery, they will need to find someone in what is expected to be a weak draft class of DT’s. Offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie will change teams, but not stadiums as he left for the Giants. On top of that, it is still up in the air if franchised DE John Abraham will suit up for the Jets. He’s holding out for a long-term deal, which the Jets are reluctant to give him considering he’s played in only 18 games the past two seasons.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made the news more so this offseason for whom they have lost as opposed to whom they have signed. The biggest name to go was WR Plaxico Burress, who signed a multi-year deal with the Giants. ILB Kendrell Bell, who was made expendable by the emergence of Larry Foote, signed with Kansas City after another injury-plagued season. DT Kendrick Clancy will join Burress on the new-look Giants. Guard Keydrick Vincent signed with AFC North rival Baltimore and CB Chad Scott was released outright.

The only new acquisition so far has been free agent WR Cedrick Wilson, formerly of the 49ers. Wilson is not expected the fill the void left by Burress, but rather to add depth to the receiving corps and to push Antwaan Randle-El, who is slated to start opposite Hines Ward. The Steelers spent most of their cash keeping their own key free agents like Foote and CB Willie Williams. The consensus is that Pittsburgh will address their needs in the secondary on Draft Day.

The Indianapolis Colts, despite their defensive deficiencies, have been extremely quiet this offseason. Safety Idrees Bashir left to join the Carolina Panthers. Two starters, MLB Rob Morris, and CB Nick Harper remain unrestricted free agents. Rick DeMulling, a main cog in Indy’s stellar offensive line, signed with the Detroit Lions. TE Marcus Pollard was released and also signed with the Lions. The only signing thus far has been former Cleveland Brown OT Joaquin Gonzalez.

The Colts have seemingly been frozen by large contracts such as the ones given to Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Brandon Stokley. Also contributing is the status of Edgerrin James, who was franchised by the team, and signed for the tender amount of roughly $8 million. James and his agent have made it no secret that they want a long-term deal along the lines of what Manning and Harrison received, but are also open to trade talks. The Colts are willing to take a second-round pick in return, but there doesn’t seem to be any takers due to the plethora of talented backs in the draft, and James’ lofty contract demands.


Related Links: Indianapolis Colts News :: Pittsburgh Steelers News :: New York Jets News

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