AFC East: Draft Needs, Player Notes and News

The AFC East top three needs for each team in the division. Includes a look at potential draft selections, and draft strategies for the division on a team-by-team basis. This update includes more personnel notes and news. Also includes a listing of recent player signings and losses by each team.

Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

BUFFALO BILLS

The Bills' current top-three offseason needs:

1. Offensive line: The Bills set a record for fewest yards gained in a 16-game, non-strike season with 4,122, setting the stage for a major overhaul of their front wall. It began with the release of disappointing 2002 fourth overall pick Mike Williams.

2. Defensive line: Buffalo fell from seventh to 31st in the rankings last season in stopping the run and now have two holes to plug after releasing veteran Pro Bowl DT Sam Adams. Signing tackle Larry Tripplett was a start, but more work needs to be done here.

3. Strong safety: After the release of aging veteran Lawyer Milloy, 33, the only SS on the roster is Coy Wire. Bills need a SS who can run and cover in coach Dick Jauron's new system, not play strictly in the box as Milloy did.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY

The Bills need linemen in the worst way to help rebuild offensive and defensive units that ranked 28th and 29th in total yards.

After the Mike Williams letdown, they are more apt to spend the eighth overall pick on a defensive tackle that stands a better chance of being an impact player as a rookie. Williams, the fourth overall pick in 2002, was never a dominant force and was released this offseason.

Were Virginia OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson to fall to them, the Bills would be hard pressed not to take him. But Ferguson will be gone within the first five picks. That leaves Oregon's DT Haloti Ngata as the smart, safe and obvious choice.

Ngata (6-4, 338) is big enough to eat up space but he also has tremendous speed and quickness, the kind of player Buffalo's new coaching staff wants in their defensive system. The Bills also like Florida State's Brodrick Bunkley but he's a reach as a Top 10 pick.

Meanwhile, even though OLB A.J. Hawk, the Lombardi winner from Ohio State, is expected to go in the top five, he's also tantalizing close to where the Bills pick. So why not trade up?

Buffalo's linebacker corps of Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Jeff Posey is very good, but Spikes is coming off Achilles' tendon surgery and Posey is showing his age. Any move or act of fate that drops Hawk into Buffalo's lap would leave the Bills' coaching staff speechless. Hawk has been called the next Mike Singletary.

PERSONNEL

--DT Larry Tripplett signed a five-year, $18 million contract with Buffalo that includes a $5.5 million signing bonus.

--TE Robert Royals signed a five-year deal with Buffalo reportedly worth $10 million with a $2.5 million signing bonus.

--WR Andre Davis signed with Buffalo. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

--OL Greg Jerman re-signed with the Bills. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

--LS Mike Schneck re-signed with Buffalo. Terms were not disclosed.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: CB Nate Clements.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Ryan Denney; DT Ron Edwards; QB Shane Matthews; WR Josh Reed; C Trey Teague; CB Kevin Thomas.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): OG Lawrence Smith.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Sam Aiken; LB Mario Haggan.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: CB Jabari Greer; OT Jason Peters; WR Jonathan Smith; OG Lawrence Smith; RB Shaud Williams.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Greg Jerman; LS Mike Schneck; LB Josh Stamer.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: TE Robert Royal; DT Larry Triplett.
PLAYERS LOST: DT Sam Adams; DT Justin Bannan; TE Mark Campbell; S Lawyer Milloy; OT Mike Williams.


MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Dolphins' current top-three offseason needs:

1. Offensive line: Even with the addition of left tackle L.J. Shelton, this remains one of the team's thinnest positions. Right guard Alonzo Ephraim is hardly a proven commodity and right tackle Vernon Carey is still trying to live up to first-round expectations even after an improved 2005 season.

2. Wide receiver: Marty Booker is a suitable No. 2 option opposite Chris Chambers for the time being, but there is precious little depth behind them.

3. Linebacker: Sedrick Hodge is a nice veteran addition, but he's not a difference-maker. Expect the Dolphins to seek a playmaking athlete for the outside in the draft.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY

The Dolphins may look at going in the "best player available" mode when selecting at No. 16. The only positions the Dolphins probably wouldn't consider drafting in the first round are tailback and tight end because depth across the roster is so shaky stemming from the poor drafts of the Dave Wannstedt era.

Coach Nick Saban likes big cornerbacks, so the team may take a long look at projected early picks like Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams, Penn State's Alan Zemaitis and Ohio State's Ashton Youboty. Michael Huff of Texas would be an intriguing possibility if he were still available, as strong safety Tebucky Jones was recently released and Travares Tillman has yet to prove himself as a long-term answer at the position.

Wide receiver is an interesting possibility, as the Dolphins have limited depth behind starters Chris Chambers and Marty Booker. Selecting a player like Ohio State's Santonio Holmes or Florida's Chad Jackson could pave the way for the ultimate release of Booker, who will be 31 entering the 2007 season with a projected salary of $3.7 million.

PERSONNEL

-- RB Travis Minor has agreed to a one-year deal to return to Miami. Financial terms were not disclosed.

-- S Yeremiah Bell, an exclusive rights free agent, signed a qualifying offer to stay with Miami.

-- TE Alex Holmes, an exclusive rights free agent, signed a qualifying offer to stay with Miami.

-- CB Eddie Jackson, an exclusive rights free agent, signed a qualifying offer to stay with Miami.

--OT Stockar McDougle, a free agent from Miami, has signed with Jacksonville. The deal is reported for two years and a little more than $1.5 million. He will receive a $100,000 signing bonus.

-- QB Sage Rosenfels signed with Houston. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Rosenfels, (6-4, 225), has played in 13 games with two starts in five professional seasons. He saw action in four games with one start in 2005, completing 34 of 61 passes for 462 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

-- CB Sam Madison didn't have to wait until the start of the free-agent signing period to find a new home, with agent Drew Rosenhaus saying Friday that the former Dolphins cornerback has agreed to terms on a four-year, $7.4 million contract with the New York Giants. Madison, who reached the Pro Bowl four times in his nine seasons with Miami, was released last week by the Dolphins.

-- A domestic violence charge was dropped against former Dolphins left tackle Damion McIntosh on March 10 because of a lack of evidence. McIntosh was arrested last month after being charged with striking his wife Precious in their South Florida home.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR David Boston; LB Jason Glenn; C Seth McKinney; RB Sammy Morris; LB Nick Rogers; FS Lance Schulters; CB Kiwaukee Thomas; LB Lester Towns.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): C Alonzo Ephraim; WR Kendall Newson; DT Eric Wilson.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: S Yeremiah Bell; TE Alex Holmes; CB Eddie Jackson
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Travis Minor.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: QB Daunte Culpepper; CB Andre Goodman; LB Sedrick Hodge, LT L.J. Shelton.
PLAYERS LOST: QB Gus Frerrote; WR Bryan Gilmore; CB Reggie Howard; S Tebucky Jones; CB Sam Madison; OT Stockar McDougle; OT Damion McIntosh; QB Sage Rosenfels; LB Junior Seau.


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The Patriots' current top-three offseason needs:

1. Linebacker: The Patriots finished 2005 with four of the most productive veteran linebackers in football with Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Rosevelt Colvin playing key roles in the team's late-season defensive turnaround. But after his recent release, McGinest signed with Cleveland and there isn't much beyond the starting four on the depth chart. All of the players except Colvin are getting up in years and the team needs badly to add a developing young body either inside or out at a position that is considered to be the heart of any good 3-4 defense. There are a number of versatile players in the draft with the ability to play inside and outside in a 3-4, including Ohio State first-round prospect Bobby Carpenter, who could add youthful playmaking ability to Bill Belichick's scheme.

2. Wide receiver: Former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and return man Bethel Johnson are the only legitimate wideouts currently under contract in New England for 2006. No. 2 target David Givens departed through free agency, while veteran Troy Brown is expected to re-sign, but that doesn't exactly fill out the depth chart. The draft doesn't have a lot of top-end talent at wide receiver, but there is some decent mid-round depth that the Patriots could once again tap into on draft weekend to try and solidify Tom Brady's arsenal.

3. Running back: No high-profile player on the New England roster had a more disappointing 2005 season than Corey Dillon. After setting a franchise record with 1,635 yards in his first season with the Patriots in 2004, Dillon missed nearly a third of last season battling ankle and calf injuries, finishing the year with just 733 yards on 209 carries (3.5 avg.). New England hasn't had a true backup running back on the roster for years and Kevin Faulk has been proven to be best suited as a third-down and change of pace specialist. The draft offers at least four prospects who could go in the first round, with the possibility of one slipping to the Patriots at 21. If New England chooses to wait to add some youth and depth to the position in the later rounds there are a slew of mid and later round candidates to pick from, many of whom interviewed with the team at the Combine in late February.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY

New England could go a number of ways to kick off draft weekend, with as many as five needs that could warrant a first-round selection including linebacker, running back, wide receiver, defensive back and possibly even offensive line for the second straight year. But projecting the draft strategy of Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli has proven to be a significant challenge over the years.

For example, after often saying in the past that "you can always get a guard," Belichick went with Fresno State's Logan Mankins with the top selection a year ago. Mankins started all 16 games as a rookie at left guard and may be a building block on the line for years. But as a guy projected by most to be a second to third round selection at a position Belichick hadn't placed huge value on in the past, he certainly wasn't on the pre-draft radar of most Patriots observers.

That said, Mankins did follow one trend in Belichick drafts that's worth noting. He played college football for a coach that worked in the NFL under Belichick, former Browns offensive line coach Pat Hill. As he'd done in the past with players from Nick Saban at LSU, Belichick takes recommendations from trusted former assistants very seriously. So places like Fresno State, Iowa (Kirk Ferentz) and Virginia (Al Groh) are always likely talent pools for the Patriots on draft weekend. Even leftover Saban talent at LSU is worth the look.

For that reason one name that has flown up the draft boards and could be a possibility at No. 21 for New England is another Fresno product, cornerback Richard Marshall. Marshall is a physical, aggressive cornerback who would fit nicely in Belichick's pass defense and with an impressive 4.4 40 at the Combine may have earned a first-round selection.

Another very real possibility at 21 is Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter, assuming he's still on the board. While Carpenter doesn't come from a school with a former Belichick assistant as head coach, current Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel is a regular at his alma mater and has a strong relationship with his fellow Buckeye 'baker. Belichick has the utmost respect for Vrabel as both a player and football mind, if he gives Carpenter the thumbs up that could earn him a shot in New England. Carpenter has the size, speed and athletic ability to play both inside and out in a 3-4, although he's probably best suited for the edge. He's a playmaking athlete who's been lost a bit in A.J. Hawks' shadow, but could be a high level playmaker at the next level.

Beyond players with previous ties to New England earning draft picks, one definite on draft weekend is that Belichick and Pioli will trade. With nine picks already, including five in the top 105, and the likelihood of getting at least two more compensatory picks in the next month due to free agent losses from last spring, the duo has the ammunition to be rather active in the trade market. As they've done often in that past, that means placing a pretty exact value on a player and then moving around in trades to try to get their guy in that draft area.

Moving up. Moving down. In and out of rounds. And adding players that, while not necessarily household names, top projections or the best athletes, fit well in the New England system. That's the typical draft strategy for Belichick and Co. And it will once again be on display on draft weekend.

PERSONNEL

--LB Chad Brown was released by New England. He played in 15 games last season.
--OG Ryan Krug was released by New England. The former undrafted free agent has not played in an NFL game.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Tom Ashworth; WR Troy Brown; WR Andre' Davis; WR Tim Dwight; FB Heath Evans; QB Doug Flutie; OG Stephen Neal; CB Chad Scott; S Michael Stone; K Adam Vinatieri.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: WR Bam Childress; CB Randall Gay; WR Michael McGrew; OL Gene Mruczkowski; S Gus Scott; DL Santonio Thomas; OL Billy Yates.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LB Don Davis; DB Artrell Hawkins; CB Hank Poteat; OL Ross Tucker.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: WR Reche Caldwell
PLAYERS LOST: LB Chad Brown; LB Matt Chatham; WR Cedric James; WR David Givens; OG Ryan Krug; LB Willie McGinest; CB Duane Starks; TE Christian Fauria.


NEW YORK JETS

Here are the most pressing of many needs:

1. Offensive line: The Jets were bruised and battered at these spots last season. Tackle Jason Fabini and center Kevin Mawae both were released. The Jets extended the contract of guard/center Pete Kendall, perhaps viewing him as at least a one-season solution to the vacancy at center. It appears the Jets are not all that interested in Virginia OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson with the fourth overall pick, and may look to fill that position with a veteran.

2. Quarterback: The Jets need a veteran who could be a capable backup or push Chad Pennington for the starting job, should the latter not be healthy enough to start the season. In hindsight, it's easy to see he probably wasn't ready physically to start the 2005 season.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY

At first it appeared that the Jets were quite interested in taking Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson with their first pick, the fourth selection overall. But the team's interest in him seems to have cooled, as they apparently were quite impressed with Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler at both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine.

Cutler is projected to go around No. 10, so that would likely require the Jets to trade down. Also, it's been rumored that they could trade up with Houston and select USC's Matt Leinart with the No. 1 overall pick. All of this speculation seems to indicate that the Jets, who just got done restructuring Chad Pennington's contract, believe they need to find their quarterback of the future right now, because it isn't Pennington anymore.

Ferguson is an inviting option at No. 4, because part of the reason the Jets are in this QB predicament is the fact that they haven't been able to protect their huge investment in Pennington. Ferguson could be the blind-side protector of Jets' signalcallers for a long time to come, and already has played under a Bill Parcells disciple in Virginia coach Al Groh.

If they do opt to go for a quarterback, it would be better to trade down and get an extra pick, considering all the holes this team must fill. Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley could be a late first-round option at DE. Louisville DE Elvis Dumervil, the NCAA's all-time sack leader, is an intriguing prospect and his quickness could enable him to flourish in a 3-4 scheme.

PERSONNEL

-- DE Kimo von Oelhoffen signed a three-year, $9.2 million deal with the Jets. Von Oelhoffen spent the past six years with the Steelers.

-- LB Matt Chatham signed a three-year contract with the Jets. No financial terms of the deal were disclosed, but the contract was structured so Chatham will make more money should he win a starting job.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: DE John Abraham.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Chris Baker; OG Jonathan Goodwin; OT Scott Gragg; DT James Reed; QB Vinny Testaverde; LB Kenyatta Wright.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): LB Mark Brown.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: P Ben Graham.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Matt Chatham; DE Kimo von Oelhoffen.
PLAYERS LOST: S Oliver Celestin; OT Jason Fabini; QB Jay Fiedler; LB Barry Gardner; CB Ty Law; DT Lance Legree; C Kevin Mawae; FB Jerald Sowell.


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

 


Patriots Insider Top Stories