AFC East: Free Agency Adjustments

More changes around the AFC East now that free agency is in full swing. The Bills have been active signing a few players including one former Patriot. The Dolphins have had many visitors with one big trade coming down. The Patriots have watched players go out the door at a frenzied pace, while the Jets are still trying to find their way. Get inside for a look around the division.

Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

BUFFALO BILLS

--Let the quarterback competition begin. Even if it's only March.

Unlike Mike Mularkey and Tom Clements, their Bills predecessors, coach Dick Jauron and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild won't be handing the starting quarterback job away in 2006.

Last season, untested 2004 first-round pro J.P. Losman was given the job in February, hastening the release of veteran Drew Bledsoe a year or two too soon.

Losman proved unworthy of the job, was benched after four games, and the season rapidly went south despite the best efforts of veteran Kelly Holcomb.

This season, Jauron and Fairchild are determined to let the best man win.

"We're going to start on even ground and try not to prejudge anybody as this type of player or that type of player," said Fairchild during a meet-and-greet session with the media at Ralph Wilson Stadium. "J.P. has some talent and Kelly has done well when he's been in there. There are positives to both guys. We're going to open the competition up and see where that goes."

That competition could also feature a veteran free agent, although there isn't much left on the market.

Losman has a well of talent and after last season's disappointments should be ready to embrace a fresh start.

While flashing big-league flare at times, he wound up completing just 49.6 percent of his 228 attempts last season with eight interceptions and eight touchdowns. His rating was 64.9.

Holcomb flashed his veteran savvy, completing 67.4 percent of his 230 attempts with 10 TDs and eight interceptions. His rating was 85.6. Still, his record as a starter was 4-4 and his four-interception game in the season-finale at the New York Jets did not inspire much confidence heading into the off-season.

Veteran quarterbacks coach Turk Schonert, who is starting his second tenure with the Bills, has spelled out the game plan to Losman and Holcomb, who are in Buffalo to start off-season workouts.

"We had long conversations with both and they know that they are in competition with each other and we expect both of them to elevate their play and the play of the team," Schonert said.

Schonert is no stranger to QB controversies, weathering the Rob Johnson vs. Doug Flutie saga when he was Wade Phillips' QB coach from 1998-2000.

Schonert has spent a good chunk of time analyzing Losman and said he's convinced he's got the tools to be successful in the NFL.

"He's got some ability. He's got good quick feet," Schonert said. "I always look at a quarterback's pocket mobility and that's where I believe he needs to get better. That's working within the confines of the pocket between the tackles and being able to move in the pocket with eyes up field while keeping your composure and making accurate throws and plays. As far as escape-ability, he has the ability to get outside the pocket and make people miss and make plays with his legs."

Holcomb has a big edge in experience. But Losman's mobility is what may ultimately decide this fight.

NOTES

--Wide receiver Eric Moulds believes the Bills have no intention of keeping him at his current salary and has asked to be released. Moulds, who has two years left on his contract, is scheduled to make $7.1 million next season and count $10.85 million against the salary cap.

--The cap is $16.5 million more than it was last year thanks to player costs now being tied to total football revenues rather than designated gross revenues (tickets and television). Agents, naturally, are partying in the streets. Said Henderson: "The whole process seemed like a puzzle inside an enigma inside a riddle. There's a lot of money out there and a deal needed to be made, and I'm glad they made it."

--New Bills assistant OL coach Larry Zierlein joined the Bills new staff for one reason: the chance to work with coaching guru Jim McNally. The two met 16 years ago when Zierlein, then a college coach, visited McNally, then with the Bengals, to learn about zone run blocking schemes. "From that point on we've stayed in contact and talked football so the opportunity to work with him was the major thing," Zierlein said. "I've always been the head guy and I've never gotten the opportunity to see how somebody else does it, conducts meetings and game preparation, etc. When I was alone, I always felt I was half a day behind."

--DE Aaron Schobel, who has 46.5 sacks and has averaged 60 tackles in his five seasons in the NFL, said he likes playing in Buffalo because the fans really appreciate football. "I just hope in the next few years we can give them something to cheer about," he told NFLPlayers.com. "Personally I feel like I've put up good numbers and consistently gotten better. Every year I seem to learn more about the position and as long as I keep learning and keep my body in the shape it needs to be in, then I'll keep improving."

--Eight players with ties to the Bills have been named to the 2006 Division I-A ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. New Bills coach Dick Jauron is among them. The others are FB Bill Enyart, WR Ahmad Rashad, LBs Lucious Sanford, Chris Spielman and Darryl Talley, DE Bruce Smith and RB Thurman Thomas. The HOF class will be announced in May after voting involving more than 12,000 members of the National Football Foundation.


MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Dolphins used the Plan B scenario to solve their quarterback situation.

Deciding Drew Brees' contract demands were too high for a quarterback recovering from shoulder surgery, the Dolphins traded for Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper on Tuesday.

The Dolphins won't officially announce the deal until Culpepper, who is coming off major knee surgery, passes a physical. But the Dolphins reportedly sent a second-round pick to Minnesota in exchange for a quarterback who was considered an MVP-caliber player less than 12 months ago.

Gus Frerrote, the team's starter last season, was released shortly after Tuesday's trade. And the attention will turn to Culpepper, who drew the ire of the Vikings' new coaching staff by declining to rehab in Minnesota and corresponding with the local media via email while being hard the team to communicate with.

The Dolphins officially entered the free-agent fray on Monday by signing cornerback Andre Goodman (Detroit), linebacker Sedrick Hodge (New Orleans) and left tackle L.J. Shelton (Cleveland).

"We are pleased that we've been able to sign each of these players to our team," said coach Nick Saban. "Their additions solve some critical needs we wanted to address in the offseason."

Shelton, a free agent from Cleveland, signed a four-year deal with Miami, and will take over for Damion McIntosh.

Shelton, 29, is a veteran of seven NFL seasons, having entered the league as a first-round draft choice (21st overall) of Arizona in 1999. He played with the Cardinals for six seasons before spending 2005 with Cleveland, where he started all 16 games at left tackle. Overall in his career, he has started 93 of the 98 games in which he has appeared, at both left and right tackle.

Hodge, a free agent from New Orleans, signed a two-year deal with Miami reportedly worth $2 million with another $1 million in incentives. He will compete for a starting job now that Junior Seau has been released.

The 27-year old Hodge has started 43 of the 63 games in which he has played with the Saints, who made him a third-round draft choice (70th overall) in 2001. He has collected 208 tackles, a sack, ten passes defensed, two forced fumble and a fumble recovery in his five previous seasons. He had his most productive campaign in 2002 when he started all 16 games and posted 88 tackles, eight passes defensed, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Goodman, a free agent from Detroit, signed a three-year, $5 million with Miami that reportedly includes $2.5 million in incentives. With Sam Madison gone, the Dolphins are seeking a starter opposite Travis Daniels.

Goodman, 27, was a third-round draft choice (68th overall) of the Lions in 2002. In his four seasons with the club, he started 21 of the 43 games in which he has played, including career-high totals of eight starts and 15 appearances in 2005. He produced career-high figures of three interceptions and 13 passes defensed last year. Overall in his four NFL seasons, the 5-10, 185-pound Goodman has amassed 131 tackles, five interceptions, 19 passes defensed, a forced fumble and 10 special teams tackles.

NOTES

Coach Nick Saban has formed what can be called the DBA: Dolphins Basketball Association.

Dolphins staff members have played four-on-four games with their head coach this offseason, with Saban serving to organize the pick-up contests.

"I'm getting too old to run (or) jog," said Saban, 54. "We have fun. It's probably good for the staff that we get together and do something like that. It's good to be the commissioner because you can pick the best team all the time."

At 5-8, it's easy to picture Saban as a perimeter player. But when asked to describe his style, Saban said, "I'm whatever you need me to be. I tell those guys there was no three-point shot when I played, so I don't have one. We just play team ball."

Saban was an all-state selection at guard during the 1960s when playing for Monongah High School in West Virginia. Saban's athletic ability is still evident by the fact he has avoided getting listed on an unofficial "injury report" issued by team trainer Kevin O'Neill.

"All I can say is they don't make them like they used to," Saban said. "I'm the oldest guy in the worst shape. I also pick who guards me, though, so there are advantages."

-- Nine Dolphins players last season earned a combined $9.5 million that now count against the 2006 cap.

The Dolphins have traditionally used NLTBE incentives to give veterans with low base salaries the chance to earn additional cash. The money is then counted toward the next season's salary cap under rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Players who cashed in were quarterback Gus Frerotte ($3 million), tailback Ronnie Brown ($2.9 million), left tackle Damion McIntosh ($1.8 million), right tackle Vernon Carey ($1.36 million), defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday ($450,000), free safety Lance Schulters ($400,000), wide receiver Chris Chambers ($375,000), linebacker Junior Seau ($100,000) and strong safety Travares Tillman ($100,000).

Holliday's incentive also was added to his 2006 base salary, raising it to $1.78 million.


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The Collective Bargaining Agreement extension certainly benefited the entire NFL, both owners and players, but one guy who saw immediate results was former New England wide receiver David Givens.

One of the top free agents available, Givens signed a multi-year deal with Tennessee on Tuesday. The Patriots were thought to have a better chance to re-signed Givens with extra money under the salary cap thanks to the new labor deal, but the Titans made a hard push for him.

"David is a proven winner that will provide experience to a young receiving corps," said Titans General Manager Floyd Reese. "He has a great upside being only 25-years old and he will add another dimension to our receiver group."

While Givens' departure fills a need for Tennessee, it also creates one for the Patriots.

Notes

--Not surprisingly, 12-year veteran linebacker Willie McGinest was released March 9 when the owners and players finally came to an agreement on the CBA extension and the new league year was set to begin. Less than a week later, he signed a three-year deal to reunite with Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. The 34-year-old McGinest had six sacks in 16 starts in 2005 and added a postseason single game record 4.5 sacks against Jacksonville in the playoffs, and would have counted for more than $8 million against New England's cap in 2006. Even at the expanded $102 million ceiling put in place by the CBA extension, McGinest knew he wouldn't play 2006 in New England under his current deal.

--Another attractive Patriot free agent set to hit the open market at 12:01 a.m. on March 11 was kicker Adam Vinatieri. After playing 2005 under New England's franchise tag, the sides couldn't reach a long-term deal this offseason. Like McGinest, Vinatieri has played his entire 10-year NFL career with the Patriots. But he, too, is going to be a tempting option to endless teams in the market for arguably the most clutch kicker in recent NFL history.

While New England could have tied up the man who won two of the team's three Super Bowls on last second field goals, that didn't happen and new the 31 other teams will have a chance to make a run at the New England icon.

"I think Adam wants to go out and test the market," Patriots Vice Chairman and President Jonathan Kraft said on a recent ESPN Radio Boston appearance. "He's entitled to do that and has every opportunity to do it. I think when he does we have the opportunity ... to determine if the value is the right value."

Even on the eve of free agency his long-time teammate McGinest saw Vinatieri, like himself, as a Patriot first.

"As far as I'm concerned, Adam is a Patriot too," McGinest said. "He's been here his whole career. He's a big part of our success. I'm pretty sure they are going to do everything in their power to keep him here as a Patriot."

--Defensive back Artrell Hawkins wasn't exactly a glamour free agent to be. After all, the Patriots signed the veteran cornerback off the streets last November only because the team was mired in a rash of injuries in the secondary. But by the time the end of the season rolled around the eight-year veteran was heralded by his teammates and coaches as a solidifying force as New England's starting strong safety, a spot that had been in turmoil since Rodney Harrison's Week 3 injury. The position switch and production impressed Bill Belichick and Co. enough to re-sign Hawkins March 9, not allowing the veteran to hit free agency, just one of four players New England re-signed prior to the open season for veterans. Hawkins will have to compete for a roster spot in training camp, but based his late season performance he may be the favorite at strong safety if Harrison can't return from his severe injury. Not bad for a former cornerback who was out of football for more than half of last season and only has seven career games under his belt at safety.


NEW YORK JETS

The Jets had an incredible number of injuries last season, and while some of that can be attributed to bad luck, some of it occurred because the team grew old in a hurry, and because coach Herm Edwards let the strength and conditioning program go downhill.

So the team must get younger (and less expensive) in a hurry as the Jets enter a rebuilding mode. Upgrades are needed on most of the position units, including secondary, offensive line, wide receivers and running backs, and also the defensive line, with the assumption that franchise-tagged John Abraham won't be back.

 

NOTES

--Quarterback Chad Pennington had to accept a $6 million pay cut for 2006 in his contract restructuring. He forfeited a $3 million roster bonus and had his base salary cut in half to $3 million.

However, Pennington, who has begun throwing with his surgically-repaired shoulder, was upbeat on a conference call.

"Coach (Eric Mangini) wants me to lead this team, if at all possible," said Pennington. "He knows I can get the job done. It's just a matter of getting healthy and getting back to the form that I know I can play at. I want to be on the field, and the Jets give me the best chance to be on the field."

If they had released Pennington, the Jets would have taken a $12 million salary-cap hit. But the quarterback wouldn't exactly have been an attractive commodity on the open market with his shoulder situation, so it was in his best interest to get a deal done.

--The Jets only saved $1.1 million in salary-cap space by releasing veteran center Kevin Mawae. So why did they do it?

It could be that Mawae was one of the more outspoken players on the team, and that new coach Eric Mangini wanted someone else to set the tone in the locker room. Also, they likely didn't want to have two undersized offensive linemen in Mawae and G/C Pete Kendall, whose contract was extended.

Mawae agreed to a contract with Tennessee on Tuesday.

--While Mawae was let go, G/C Pete Kendall was not. The reworking and extending of Kendall's contract saved the Jets $2.6 million in cap space while also saving them from making more changes in their offensive line. Veteran T Jason Fabini already had been let go.

Kendall's "leadership skills and high level of play provide us flexibility along the interior of the offensive line," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said in a statement. Kendall, who could stay at center after the release of Mawae, also is the Jets' representative to the NFL Players Association, and it would have been interesting had the Jets cut their union rep as well as the outspoken Mawae.


Related: Bills Report | Jets Confidential | Dolphin Digest | Patriots Insider | More News

 


Patriots Insider Top Stories