Free Agency Primer: AFC East
New England Patriots
• Key free agents: RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Austin Collie, WR Julian Edelman, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, TE D.J. Williams, DE Andre Carter, LB Dane Fletcher, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib
• Players New England needs back: Blount, Edelman, Fletcher, Spikes, Talib
Blount was one of the NFL’s most pleasant surprises in 2013, and one of the best examples of the player who thrives in Foxboro after iffy stops elsewhere. Given Bill Belichick’s frequent praise, Blount should be considered to be a virtual lock to return as long as the price is right. Edelman had his best season for a Patriots offense dearly lacking in targets for all sorts of reasons. With better players around him, Edelman is a compelling slot target with enough speed to move outside in certain packages. Fletcher proved to be valuable as a depth player after missing the 2012 season. Spikes should be a centerpiece of New England’s defense over the next few seasons. Talib is a more complicated question. He will unquestionably want elite cornerback money, and deserves it when healthy, but a hip injury limited his effectiveness down the stretch.
• Players New England should let walk: Collie, Hoomanawanui, Williams, Carter
Collie is a decent possession guy, but nothing about his skill set suggests he couldn’t be replaced with a younger player or draft pick. Hoomanawanui did his best as a primary replacement for Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but he struggles to gain separation in coverage and he’s not really the kind of tight end this offense is ideally built around. Neither Williams nor Carter did much to impress in limited time.
• Outlook: The Pats will be butting up against the 2014 cap with a current $123.8 million number, and that’s a problem for a team in clear need of offensive playmakers. The three primary cap numbers belong to Tom Brady ($14.8 million), Vince Wilfork ($11.5 million) and Logan Mankins ($10.6 million), so there really isn’t an obvious restructure guy. However, it would seem that Wilfork, who lost 12 games to a torn Achilles tendon last season, could be in line for a new contract that would ease his cap concerns — ditto for Mankins, who had a fine season in 2013.
New York Jets
• Key free agents: WR Josh Cribbs, TE Jeff Cumberland, TE Kellen Winslow, OT Austin Howard, OG Vlad Ducasse, DT Leger Douzable, DE/LB Calvin Pace, S Ed Reed, K Nick Folk
• Players New York needs back: Cumberland, Howard, Cribbs, Douzable, Pace, Reed, Folk
That Cumberland led the Jets with four touchdown catches is just as much an indictment of the weapons the team has on offense, but there’s no question he’s a valuable player, and someone the Jets should focus on re-signing. Cumberland also averaged 15.6 yards per catch, which is sufficiently impressive. Howard is a quality run-blocker who’s still getting the hang of pass protection. Cribbs could be a valuable reserve receiver and return man. Douzable is a good backup on a defensive line that is currently the Jets’ best asset. Pace was re-structured last season and really brought it in a situational role, amassing a career-high 10 sacks. Reed is just about done — he may have one season left with the Jets as a Rex Ryan favorite, but don’t expect too much.
• Players New York should let walk: Winslow, Ducasse
Between his lack of consistent productivity and off-field headaches, Winslow is a player the Jets are unlikely to risk any further time with. Ducasse never really lived up to the promise of his second-round pick in 2010, and will likely be allowed to bail.
• Outlook: Second-year general manager John Idzik has a lot to do, but the good news is the longtime salary cap maven has some room with which to work. The Jets come into the new season with $110.2 million taken in cap room, and one very obvious chip to remove — quarterback Mark Sanchez has a $13.1 million cap number for 2014, and he’ll almost certainly be cut before he’s due a $2 million roster bonus in March. Freed from the constraints of the most ridiculous of former GM Mike Tannenbaum’s contract decisions, the Jets can move on to their more obvious issues — a receiver corps that won’t scare anyone, an offensive line in need of assistance, and a defensive back seven with holes still to fill.