It occurred to me that we are about halfway through the NFL off-season and the lull between the major period of free agent signings and the draft is upon us. Perhaps this is a good time to take stock of the off-season comings and goings in the AFC East and try to make some sense out of it all.
Let’s start with the Buffalo Bills. By most accounts, General Manager Tom Donahoe has had one of the most productive off-seasons of any GM in the League. The Bills have, on paper at least, made a number of strides to improve their terrible defense of a year ago. The signing of Sam Adams (Oakland) to swallow up the middle should help free up newly-signed linebackers Takeo Spikes (Cincinnati) and Jeff Posey (Houston) to make some big plays. They also traded their number two receiver, Peerless Price, to Atlanta for a first round pick. Essentially, what the Bills did with this pick was trade Drew Bledsoe for Peerless Price. However, things aren’t all roses in Orchard Park. To make room for these signings, they released fullback Larry Centers (in my view, the best receiving back in the League) and veteran tight end Jay Riemersma. These two players provided steady outlets for Bledsoe last year and will be missed. The Bills also upgraded their coaching staff by bringing in well-respected, former Bengals head coach, Dick LeBeau. Perhaps LeBeau’s presence will help guide the sometimes questionable decision making of Bills head coach Gregg Williams. The new look Bills have a good test right off the bat when the New England Patriots come to town for an opening day matchup.
The Miami Dolphins have done the least wheeling and dealing of all the AFC teams. Apparently Dolphins management is convinced that the current lineup will not pull yet another late season collapse. Nonetheless, if you’re keeping score at home, they have signed Patriots defensive back Terrell Buckley, Rams defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina and let wide receiver Dedric Ward and tight end Jed Weaver go. As a footnote, the Dolphins beat out the Patriots for Zgonina’s services so this could be seen as a minor coup within the AFC east. If published reports are correct, the Dolphins are also close to singing former San Diego all-world linebacker Junior Seau to add some depth on defense. Who knows how much Seau has left in the tank? But he will certainly help keep the intensity level up on a Dolphin team that could use some, especially in December.
That brings us to the bruised and battered New York Jets. If you were a fan of the Patriots, Bills, or Dolphins, proper manners would dictate that you send a nice note to Washington Redskins management thanking them for their work this off-season.
In short, the Redskins have decimated the Jets with the signing of three (maybe four, depending on the outcome of a nasty hearing between the teams) big Jet playmakers. The Skins started the raid of GangGreen by signing all-pro guard Randy Thomas and kicker John Hall away from the Jets.
Then the fun began. The Skins signed the dangerous kick returner Chad Morton to an offer sheet. This offer sheet was matched by the Jets but not before costing them a ton of money for a guy that just returns kicks. But wait, the fun doesn’t end there. Thanks to a confusing appeal by the Redskins, Morton’s future employment is currently in the hands of an arbiter.
Had enough yet? Apparently, the Redskins didn’t because they then went out, shocked everybody, and made an offer to the coveted, restricted free agent wide receiver Laveranues Coles. Chad Pennington’s number one target was soon gone to the Beltway and the Jets were forced to sign aging veteran Curtis Conway as Cole’s replacement. Oh, and then old friend Bill Parcells pulled a fast one on both the Jets and the Patriots and convinced fullback Richie Anderson to join him in Dallas (Editor’s note: See the past article on the subject, “The Border War is Back”). Phew…………….
That brings us to your New England Patriots. Since free agency began in earnest ten years ago, the Patriots have been accused (rightly or wrongly) of never spending big money during free agency for an impact player. After all, they won the Super Bowl a year ago on the cheap. Well, this perception changed in a hurry with the stunning early March signing of the number one free agent on the market, Chicago linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. Twenty-four hours later, the Patriots somehow outbid Denver and Oakland for the services of playmaking safety Rodney Harrison. It could be argued that Harrison was also the best available player at his position during this off-season. These two signings instantly improve an average defense and give the Patriots their best pass rusher since Andre Tippett. Theoretically, the signing of Colvin will also free up a healthy Willie McGinest to make plays in the opponent’s backfield.
The Patriots, true to their old roots, also signed some Filene’s Bargain Basement veterans that should help fill some holes. Cornerback Tyrone Poole had an excellent season last year in Denver and will compete with the ageless Otis Smith at the cornerback spot opposite Ty Law. The team also replaced fullback Marc Edwards with former San Diego fullback Fred McCrary. McCrary is, by many accounts, a terrific blocker and should help open up holes for the running game.
So, how do all of these coming and goings affect the order in the AFC East. Frankly, it makes the most competitive division in the NFL even more competitive and balanced. In fact, don’t be surprised if there is a four-way tie for first place next year with all teams beating each other up and finishing 8-8. Given this parity, the upcoming NFL draft will probably decide who wins the AFC East this year.
A few Zingers for you…..
I cannot believe that Denver spent all that money for the unproven and inconsistent Jake Plummer at quarterback. Now we are going to find out if Mike Shanahan really is a great coach or if it was John Elway winning those two Super Bowls.
My guess is that Tebucky Jones’ remaining days in New England are about the same as the average tenure of a coach in the National Hockey League.
CNNSI’s Peter King reports that the Patriots are in discussions to play an exhibition game in SHANGHAI, CHINA for 2005! I understand the marketing angle behind doing this, but from a football perspective, what possible good can come out of this? You send your team to the other side of the world in the middle of training camp, basically waste a week, and have to catch up to the rest of the NFL when you get back home from this safari.
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