Updated March 1, 2011 @ 8:31 p.m. ET
Third of an eight-part series
With the absence of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement threatening to delay the start of the 2011 free-agent signing period, PFW identifies the players whose contracts expire March 3 and analyzes the likely free-agent game plan for each of the AFC East teams.
The number of accrued seasons of service is shown in parentheses following each prospective free agent's name. The new CBA will dictate how many accrued seasons are required to qualify as an unrestricted free agent.
Unsigned players: LB Akin Ayodele (9), QB Brian Brohm (3), TE Scott Chandler (3), OLB Keith Ellison (5), CB Drayton Florence (8), RB Quinton Ganther (3), WR Felton Huggins (1), DT John McCargo (5), ILB Paul Posluszny (4), OL Garrison Sanborn (2), TE Jonathan Stupar (2), S Donte Whitner (5), CB Ashton Youboty (5).
Analysis: With the exception of Florence, Posluszny and Whitner, the Bills don't have any impact free agents. Florence and Posluszny are going to be GM Buddy Nix's top targets to re-sign, and Whitner could be brought back based on his cost on the open market. Depending on what their focus is in the draft — they have the third overall pick — a variety of positions could be targets for Nix in free agency: quarterback, offensive tackle, tight end, defensive end and outside linebacker are all considered needs. The Bills are generally not big spenders in free agency, so don't expect any flashy signings, although the team will scour the market looking for players who fit its scheme on both sides of the ball. Acquiring more depth at nearly every position on the depth chart, however, is going to be vital for the team to improve on its 4-12 record last season.
Unsigned players: TE Jared Bronson (1), RB Ronnie Brown (6), RB Patrick Cobbs (5), OL Nate Garner (3), TE Joey Haynos (3), RB Lex Hilliard (2), DT Tony McDaniel (5), OL Pat McQuistan (5), DE Quentin Moses (4), OL Lydon Murtha (2), QB Chad Pennington (11), OL Cory Procter (5), RB Kory Sheets (2), DT Paul Soliai (4, franchised), QB Tyler Thigpen (4), RB Ricky Williams (10).
Analysis: With it looking more and more like both Brown and Williams will be elsewhere in 2011, Soliai became the team's highest priority. He had a career year at one of the most important positions in the 3-4 defense and would have had his fair share of suitors had he hit the market. The team prevented that from happening, however, by applying the franchise tag to him, which he signed. Now, the Dolphins must work out a long-term deal or else be on the hook to pay a player who made less than $500,000 in 2010 an eye-popping $12.5 million in ’11. The team has lots of depth on the defensive line with Jared Odrick and Phillip Merling returning from injury, and McDaniel might want to start somewhere else. When it comes to the two veteran backs, Williams' postseason rant against Tony Sparano seemed to spell his end in South Florida. Although Brown could be a possibility to return, his lackluster 2010 season might not get him the type of money he wants. Some project the team to draft a back with its first pick at No. 15. Cobbs, Hilliard and Sheets should all return and could compete for the starting tailback job with a rookie or free-agent acquisition, assuming Brown and Williams go elsewhere.
New England Patriots
Unsigned players: CB Kyle Arrington (2), S Josh Barrett (3), RB Kevin Faulk (12), PK Shayne Graham (10), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), OT Matt Light (10), OG Logan Mankins (6, franchised) S Brandon McGowan (6), RB Sammy Morris (11), OL Quinn Ojinnaka (5), S Jarrad Page (5), RB Fred Taylor (13), DE Gerard Warren (10), LB Tracy White (8).
Analysis: The Patriots' most important order of business for free agency was completed by placing the franchise tag on Mankins, likely keeping the team's starting left guard and three-time Pro Bowler in New England for 2011. While he did not want the tag since he is looking for a long-term deal, this gives the team more time to work on one. The two highest priorities left are Green-Ellis and Arrington. Both are expected to be re-signed, and Arrington should get a one-year deal similar to the one LB Gary Guyton got before last season. Arrington, though, will have to battle for a starting job with Leigh Bodden next season. Meanwhile, Green-Ellis should still be the top back after his breakout season. Faulk, Taylor and Morris are all candidates to retire, and New England is also expected to draft a running back. The Pats could bring back Faulk for one season, assuming he is recovered from a torn ACL. Light, the starting left tackle, struggled early in the season but came on strong, earning a Pro Bowl nod, and also could get a one-year deal. The team might make a choice between Brandon McGowan and Jarrad Page as the team's No. 3 safety. Veteran DE Gerard Warren has said he wants to stay in New England and could get a one-year contract.
New York Jets
Unsigned players: OLB Cody Brown (2), QB Kellen Clemens (5), CB Drew Coleman (5), OLB Shawn Crable (3), CB Antonio Cromartie (5), WR Braylon Edwards (6), DE Shaun Ellis (11), OL Robby Felix (1), PK Nick Folk (4), CB Ben Hannula (1), ILB David Harris (4, franchised), WR Santonio Holmes (5), OT Wayne Hunter (6), S James Ihedigbo (4), DT Matt Kroul (1), OL Dennis Landolt (1), LB Lance Laury (5), WR Logan Payne (2), S Brodney Pool (6), DE Trevor Pryce (14), RB Tony Richardson (16), LB Brashton Satele (1), WR Brad Smith (5), S Eric Smith (5), DT Martin Tevaseu (1), OL Robert Turner (3), P Steve Weatherford (5).
Analysis: Instead of deciding between Holmes or Edwards, the Jets are hoping to keep both top-flight wide receivers. Depending on what the salary cap is and what type of deal the two players are looking for, both playmakers could be back in New York in 2011, which would be a major plus for QB Mark Sanchez. A third receiver, Brad Smith, also should get a new contract, as the team wants to hold on to the versatile special-teams ace. Defensively, the big question will be what to do with Cromartie. His talents fit in perfectly with the team's defensive scheme, as he and Darrelle Revis made up one of the NFL's top CB duos in 2010. The team would like it if Cromartie agreed to take less money to stay in a Jets uniform. Ellis, the longest-tenured Jet, is also likely to return, although his salary and playing time are likely to decrease.
Later Tuesday: NFC South