Ollie Banton and Ryan Pavlicek-
With Free Agency starting a week from today, March 12, it’s time for teams to start thinking about who and what they need to pursue. Every season GM’s around the league are forced to make the critical decision of letting a key player test the market, bring a guy back for more money than he’s worth, or bring in a new guy who may or may not fit in. Each team needs to fill voids at different positions, but it’s Free Agency and you just never know what your team might surprise you with. We as fans only can sit by the computer and constantly check for updates on new signings, while front offices around the league stay busy.
Over the next week we will be breaking down one division a day, giving our take on what each team should be looking to get this offseason. Today we start with the AFC East, with the Patriots, and three teams still trying to catch up to their elite level.
Needs: QB, WR, ILB
The Bills are coming off yet another terrible season, but this one being more disappointing than ever coming in with somewhat high expectations. This led to a coaching change, and they decided to bring in former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. His offensive philosophy is something Bills fans will love, so they must add more dynamite to the offensive depth chart. They must give the defense another chance under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and a healthy Mario Williams. With that, it comes down to quarterback play. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a totally different quarterback ever since signing a big extension two years ago when he had the Bills atop the AFC East for a short period of time. Marrone has weapons like Stevie Johnson and a dynamic duo of running backs to his disposal, so the quarterback position needs an upgrade.
Look for the Bills to make a play for a receiving option to go along with Johnson during free agency, while going for Geno Smith in the first round of the draft. If Smith isn’t available, you’ll see the Bills take linebacker Manti Te’o but with a new offensive minded head coach, a player like Smith can’t be passed up on. Adding another receiving weapon and getting a dynamic quarterback will give Marrone a chance to improve the Bills.
Brandon Marshall left a huge hole at the wide receiver position for the Dolphins when he departed for the Chicago Bears last offseason. QB Ryan Tannehill showed signs of life in his rookie season, and is now the centerpiece for this Miami team moving forward. If they want to improve their passing attack in the near future they are going to need to add a weapon or two at wide out, especially with the potential departure of Brian Hartline, their leading receiver in 2012.
Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace would be excellent fits in Miami. Both Jennings and Wallace weren’t themselves in 2012, experiencing a lack of production from years past. Jennings spent significant time sidelined with an injury, and Wallace looked unhappy and unmotivated, as he wasn’t able to ink the long-term deal he was looking for in 2011. However, both men are able to stretch the field and pose as dangerous vertical threats, which should be intriguing for Tannehill who has shown he can throw the deep ball.
New York Jets
Needs: QB, WR, OLB
After an embarrassing 2012 campaign finishing 6-10, the New York Jets brought in new general manager John Idzik from Seattle. That was a solid move, but he has his work cut out for him. The team will be in rebuild mode, although with just a few key moves things won’t look so bad in Jets land after all. Fixing the quarterback position first and foremost will fast forward the process. Whether it be surrounding Sanchez with better weapons in the draft at the RB and WR positions or just bringing in a new starting QB altogether, something must get done. Idzik should look to trade with his former team and get Matt Flynn, but if not than it appears Sanchez will play his last season in New York before he’s cut. Tim Tebow won’t be beating out Sanchez, and neither will David Garrard, Brady Quinn, or any other competition they scrap up. Although Matt Moore could be serviceable for at least one rebuilding season.
With that being said, the Jets must spend wisely with huge cap restrictions in free agency and focus on depth while retooling their starting positions in the upcoming April draft. In a defensive heavy draft, the Jets must address their outside linebacker situation and focus on offense in the second round where Idzik takes his chance on a quarterback to groom for the future.
New England Patriots
Needs: WR, CB, S
The Patriots have been one of the best and most consistent teams over the past 10 years. Each season is filled with optimism as New England fans are spoiled and fortunate enough to experience a “Super Bowl or bust” mentality, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have improvements to make. The Patriots addressing woes in their secondary have become a theme in recent offseasons, and don’t expect this one to be any different. The Pats should address the cornerback/safety positions, as the unit let up the fourth most pass yards and the most 20-plus yard pass plays in the NFL. A new wide receiver is also important as New England has been looking for a vertical threat to fill the void left by Randy Moss three years ago. Brandon Lloyd simply couldn’t get it done in 2012.
WR Mike Wallace and S Dashon Goldson would both improve the Pats immediately upon arrival in New England. While Wallace to the Patriots is a stretch, there is no denying it would be a great fit. Wallace has the big-play ability the Patriots so desperately missed in 2012. Wallace will likely ink a big deal from someone, but with Wes Welker also a free agent, expect him to be a top priority if New England is willing to dole out big money to a WR. Dashon Goldson has been playing excellent football for the San Francisco 49ers over the past few years. He’s established himself as a true leader in one of the better defensive backfields in football. While Goldson would make an immediate impact on a bad secondary in New England, I would like to see Bob Kraft and the Pat’s front office go after free agent Aqib Talib. Talib only played in a few games for the Patriots but showed he can be the lock-down corner they so desperately need. Kraft has shown reluctance over the years to spend big on defensive players, which makes me think they will once again turn to the draft in search of young talent at CB/S.