Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rumor Roundup: Free agent chatter around division


It's only been a little more than 24 hours since teams were "officially" allowed to start negotiating with free agents, but the rumor mill has already been running at full capacity.

From potential QB moves for two squads in New York to a team captain possibly on the way out in New England, all four AFC East teams are testing the waters as the official start to free agency approaches.

Here's a quick recap of some of the whispers working their way through the division thus far:

New York Jets

After signing tight end Jeff Cumberland to a three-year deal, Gang Green seems to have shifted focus toward clearing some cap room, which may mean the end for some more prominent names on the roster. Kimberley Martin of Newsday pinpointed three big names -- Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie -- the Jets could part ways with, and news of the team's contact with Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner may further emphasize GM John Idzik's goal of trimming some fat from the roster. (Update: The Jets have released Cromartie, according to multiple media reports and as insinuated on his Twitter account.)

Potential replacements for Sanchez seem to be coming from all corners of the league, and nearly every free agent signal-caller has been tied to the Jets at one point or another. Adam Schefter (via Eric Allen) whittled that list down to two names Sunday, saying he believes Michael Vick or Josh McCown will land in New York and battle Geno Smith for the starting role.

Other deals in the works include talks with right tackle Austin Howard, who has yet to re-sign with the team but reportedly remains high on team's priority list, as well guard Willie Colon, who may be passed up for Jon Asamoah if the price is right.

Miami Dolphins

Miami took care of a top priority well before trade rumors started with the extension of cornerback Brent Grimes, though the most urgent of needs -- the rebuilding of their offensive line -- will likely be the focus of general manager Dennis Hickey starting Tuesday. No. 1 on that list thus far seems to be Baltimore's Eugene Monroe, though his price may force the team to look to someone like Branden Albert instead. A couple other names -- Rodger Saffold and Jared Veldheer --  have also emerged as options if Miami's top choices don't pan out.

Then there's the fate of the defensive line cogs, namely Paul Soliai and Randy Starks. The team has reportedly not contacted either defensive tackle to discuss a new contract, and Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald is one of many who believe their days in South Florida are "over." The team is also taking a hard look at its linebacking crew, namely Dannell Ellerbe, who had a disappointing first year in Miami.

A player who seems poised for a redo is tight end Dustin Keller, who sat all of last season following a knee injury but is apparently good to go for this year. There hasn't been much talk as to whether the Fins will give Keller another shot. If they don't, maybe the Jets do.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick and team officials have kept a low profile up to this point in the process, though there's still plenty of legwork that needs to be done with some key contributors from last season. The Grimes and Sam Shields deals have paved the way for the team's negotiations with top-rated corner Aqib Talib, who said late last week that he was seeking big money for his services.

The 28-year-old has once again garnered interest from the Washington Redskins, who may just get what they're looking for if the Pats decide to go after wide receiver Julian Edelman instead. Based on cap space, the team isn't really in a position to pay both players unless they have some breathing room, which may mean working out a deal with veteran captain Vince Wilfork on his nearly $12 million impending cap hit.

Teammate Brandon Spikes expects the team will do whatever it needs to make sure Wilfork is on the roster in 2014, though he admitted his time with the team is likely over. New England will also be looking to solidify deals with running back LeGarrette Blount, who stepped up late last season and carried the run game, as well as center Ryan Wendell, who could end up in a backup role given his output last season.

Buffalo Bills

Unless you've been vacationing on a remote island for the past few weeks, you already know that the team's ties with Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd are all but cut for good. That was made even more clear just days after the franchise tag deadline passed, when Buffalo signed Aaron Williams to a four-year deal. CEO Russ Brandon said he has plans to continue to be "active" during free agency this year, but that he won't be pursuing any "big splash" players.

Regardless, the team has real needs on their offensive line, as well as at linebacker. Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News broke down some realistic (thrifty) options for those positions Sunday, though budget options at wide receiver look to be more of an interesting topic of late.

Then there's the question of competition for sophomore quarterback E.J. Manuel. Many of the same names that have been brought up as options for the Jets have also circled back to the Bills, particularly Michael Vick and Matt Schaub. Buffalo seems to remain high on Thad Lewis as a fill-in option, which likely leaves Jeff Tuel and Kevin Kolb out in the cold if the team can snag another veteran presence at a discounted rate.

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