This is the fifth in a series of free agency and predraft reports Real Football Services is filing for newyorkjets.com.
The opening wave of free agency came and went in a flash, and now things have slowed to trot as teams have already been bargain-shopping. Most of the contracts being signed now are for one-year deals at the veteran minimum, which means that most teams have turned their full attention to the draft.
By this time, teams would like to have addressed their most pressing needs so they can enter the draft with a plan to select the best available athlete. The truth is, building a football team is like owning a house — the work is never finished. There's always a position to be upgraded, an injury to deal with, a contract fire to put out.
Another truth is that there's always a need somewhere on the roster, and while personnel people will tell you that they look for the best player, no matter his position, that's not completely true.
That's because in the "win now" NFL, there is no time to take a great athlete and let him develop, and at the money the top draft picks command, you'd better have a plan for how that player is going to contribute to your team and how quickly. The top of the draft has very much become a need-based entity.
With that in mind, we have put together a list of needs among the teams in the AFC East. Here's what we have come up with today for the Bills and Dolphins. (Jets and Patriots needs on Friday.)
1. Defensive End — The return of Aaron Schobel from injury will help an anemic Bills pass rush, but Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney have been unproductive. They need a pass rush threat from the left side to take pressure off Schobel.
2. Guard — Derrick Dockery was let go in a cost-cutting move, and though Brad Butler returns, the team would like to upgrade. Brandon Rodd is the only backup on the roster right now, though newly signed C Geoff Hangartner and recently re-signed Kirk Chambers can both fill in.
3. Tight End — Derek Schouman is in more of a FB/H-back role now, and the disappointing Robert Royal was a cap casualty. Derek Fine is the top TE on the roster, but he's not the downfield receiving threat the team needs to help QB Trent Edwards.
4. Running Back — Marshawn Lynch seems to have ducked serious legal trouble this time around, but his second brush with the law in a year could bring an NFL suspension, and unless the Bills can come to terms on an extension, the much improved Fred Jackson will be a UFA next off-season.
5. Wide Receiver — This was a big need heading into the off-season, and the team addressed it in a big way with the signing of Terrell Owens. Lee Evans is a proven playmaker, but Josh Reed is a limited possession receiver and James Hardy is coming off major ACL surgery. The Bills WRs combined for just nine TDs last season, so the addition of TO should improve their red zone offense and help Edwards take the next step.
6. Defensive Tackle — John McCargo, a former first-round pick, has been a huge disappointment, Spencer Johnson is a bit undersized, and Marcus Stroud, as well as he played in '08, is about to turn 30. Buffalo could consider drafting a young, aggressive, gap-shooting DT who could work into a rotation.
7. Outside Linebacker — Angelo Crowell was extremely productive before a knee injury stole his season. He's valuable in his ability to play all three LB positions, but he is best suited to the Sam spot. He recently signed a deal with Tampa Bay, so he will need to be replaced, and the team has to be thinking about upgrading on the weak side over Keith Ellison.
8. Offensive Tackle — The Bills have begun talking to LT Jason Peters about an extension despite coming off a poor showing in 2008. Langston Walker is only adequate on the right side, and the backups on both sides need serious improvement.
9. Inside Linebacker — John DiGiorgio was recently re-signed as Paul Posluszny's backup in the middle, but with Crowell out of the mix, the team may need to address depth here.
1. Cornerback — Despite the recent signing of FA Eric Green, their best corner, Will Allen, is turning 31, and there's no depth behind them. In a division that now features the likes of Randy Moss and TO, this team is in need of a shutdown corner.
2. Defensive Tackle — Bill Parcells follower Jason Ferguson is 34 years old and has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. The key to the 3-4 is having a big-bodied two-gapper who can hold his ground at the nose, and the jury is still out on backup Paul Soliai, a fourth-rounder in '07.
3. Wide Receiver — Davone Bess was a nice story last season, and Ted Ginn is beginning to emerge as a playmaker. Greg Camarillo and Brandon London are worthy complementary receivers, but the Dolphins still lack a big-time threat who can dictate coverage.
4. Defensive End/Outside Linebacker — Joey Porter had a huge comeback year with 18 sacks, but no one else on the roster even approached double digits (Matt Roth was second with five). Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford, 2008 draft picks, may improve as pass rushers, but Porter isn't getting any younger, and Miami needs a hybrid DE/OLB who can get to the QB and do it from different spots on the field.
5. Guard — The off-season signings of Jake Grove and Joe Berger will help solidify the interior of the O-line, but Samson Satele seems to have fallen out of favor, Justin Smiley is coming off multiple surgeries, and Donald Thomas is an unproven sixth-round pick in just his second season.
6. Offensive Tackle — Certainly, Jake Long is a cornerstone player, and Vernon Carey is a strong run blocker who was re-signed to man the right side. But Miami could use a swing tackle to provide some depth, and we don't believe Parcells and company would be against upgrading Carey's position. There are several strong RT prospects in this draft.
7. Inside Linebacker — Channing Crowder is a productive tackler inside, but he has bad knees, has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons, and hasn't proven to be a three-down player. Akin Ayodele is another reliable player, but he'll turn 30 this year. It wouldn't be a bad idea to get a younger player in place that Tony Sparano can groom.
Friday: Jets and Patriots