Offseason GM: AFC East
Need to pick up the pace here as teams are already starting to make some moves; the Eagles have already resigned both of Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, franchise tags have been used on Greg Hardy and Jimmy Graham, and Jordan Gross has retired. In other news, the official cap ceiling has been released, and it’s all the way at $133M, much higher than the initially projected $120M.
Next up in the Offseason GM series will be the AFC East. The AFC may be a bit weaker than the NFC, but this division is likely to improve quite a bit the next few years. The entire division is in a very sound financial position, and stands to be pretty competitive in 2014.
Before I start I’d just like to note that cap numbers are somewhat inaccurate at this time, and its easy to see conflicting numbers everywhere. Just for reference, the numbers I’m using are from overthecap.com, who have the estimated salaries of every teams entire roster. You can find them under the tab “Team Salary Cap.”
Free agent starters: RT Austin Howard, TE Jeff Cumberland, G Willie Colon, OLB Calvin Pace, S Ed Reed
Current needs: WR, S, CB, OL, QB
Cap Situation: After franchising K Nick Folk, the Jets start at a $110M payroll with a lot of non-guaranteed money about to come off; cutting Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes will free up $16.5M at the cost of only 7.3M dead. Antonio Cromartie can also be expected to be cut as he would free up $9.5M, but odds are decent that he will return to the team for 2014, so don’t rule out a restructure. Accounting for this the Jets could wind up with a payroll of just $81M, $52M under the cap. This seems to make extensions likely for players like Muhammad Wilkerson, who is getting woefully underpaid. The Jets may very well try to sign him to a friendly long term deal that front-loads most of his salary. Other candidates for extensions are Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
Free Agency: With so much cap space, it seems quite likely that the Jets will be active in free agency. They seem quite likely to start by re-signing Austin Howard and Jeff Cumberland, neither of whom should be too expensive. Which part of the market they choose to attack is harder to predict; they have many draft picks, but none of them high enough to depend on getting one of the best players in this year’s draft. WR and Cromartie or a free agent CB will be the most likely expenditures. They are rumored to be interested in Josh McCown and Michael Vick, both of whom would give the Jets their first true veteran QB presence since Brett Favre (feels like a long time ago doesn’t it?). Other than that, don’t be surprised to see the Jets try to save some cap space to carry over into 2015.
Outlook: This is the best financial situation the Jets have been in for as long as I can remember. They have a lot of draft picks, a ton of cap space, and most importantly, financial freedom. Bad contracts can cause more damage to a team than anything else in the game, not only taking away money but demanding playing time for the player in which so much has been invested; you have no choice but to give the guy a chance to realize his potential. That time is over for the Jets, and GM John Idzik now has the opportunity to shape the team in virtually any way he desires. Until their QB play improves dramatically they will never be a juggernaut, but the competitive future of the Jets looks very bright.
Free agent starters: WR Julian Edelman, CB Aqib Talib, RB LeGarrette Blount
Current needs: WR, CB
Cap Situation: The Pats start with a healthy payroll of $118M with a little bit of maneuvering room. Vince Wilfork counts for $8M non guaranteed this year, and is almost certain to restructure following a season ending injury. $10.5M could be freed up right away by cutting Tommy Kelly, Isaac Sopoaga, Steve Gregory, and Dan Connolly. (ed. note: yesterday, Gregory’s agent stated the Patriots were planning to release his client.) Throw in $4M in carry over space and the Pats are likely to have $20-30M in cap room.
Free Agency: The situation doesn’t seem too bad with so few needs, but the Pats have two costly free agents in Talib and Edelman. Re-signing both of them will cost at least half of their expected cap space and probably a lot more. Its questionable as to whether they will even try to resign both players, but its clear that a good chunk of the Pats money will go towards WR and CB this offseason. Beyond that is tough to say; they had a rash of injuries to key players last year (Wilfork, Gronk, Mayo, Vollmer, Amendola) and it’s unknown how much faith they have in those players to return to form. Unfortunately their cap space and current needs will limit their ability to bring in quality insurance players.
Outlook: As long as they have Brady, the Pats are going to be an AFC front runner. The team has a lot of talent in the right places but has had some bad luck with injuries. They’ll likely continue a non-aggressive free agency approach, trying to hit on their draft picks. If their hurt players can return to form, this will be a Super Bowl contender once again.
Free agent starters: S Jairus Byrd, TE Scott Chandler
Current needs: TE, WR, S
Cap Situation: There is some but not a lot of fat that can be trimmed; Kevin Kolb will almost certainly be cut for a cap gain of $3M at a cost of just $500k dead. Overthecap.com currently has the Bills cap number at $113M, while Spotrac has them at $124M. (They do both agree on the carry over space of $17M.) Either way, the Bills should have a good $30M+ to chase at least 1-2 free agents.
Free Agency: The Bills are currently talking with Jairus Byrd about a new contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try to test the free agent market. Tight end is currently the biggest need right now, and while they could resign Scott Chandler, there are some interesting free agent opportunities. Jermichael Finley, Dustin Keller, Brandon Pettigrew, Fred Davis, and Garrett Graham all come with some intrigue. While they are definitely gambles, each of them has a chance to shine in a new spot such as the Bills who are looking for a feature TE. Receiver is also a need but the draft is deep there, and the pickings are somewhat slim in free agency. Making a depth signing there seems more likely than a splash.
Outlook: Financially the Bills look solid. Decent cap space, not too many needs, and an above average draft slot. However Mike Pettine getting the Browns head coaching job left a huge void at defensive coordinator. He had done an incredible job taking the Bills defense from near bottom of the league to one of the best, getting a lot more production out of many previously underperforming players. Coaching aside, the future of this team rests on the shoulders of EJ Manuel. Can he step up his game and make the offense better? Does the team believe in him enough to avoid drafting a QB in a deep QB draft?
Free agent starters: DT Randy Starks, S Chris Clemons, CB Brent Grimes, DT Paul Soliai, OT Tyson Clabo, G Richie Incognito
Current needs: OT, CB, S, DT, G
Cap Situation: Carry over space of $18M is a nice boost to an already fairly low payroll of $106M. Additionally, Dmitri Patterson, Matt Moore, Brandon Gibson, and Brandon Fields could all be cut for a potential gain of $13.5M. All in all, the Dolphins will have the cap space to make some very big moves.
Free Agency: It’s a good thing they have a ton of cap space, because the free agent market lines up with the Dolphins’ needs. Left tackle is by far the biggest need, and there are quite a few good ones available. Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert are very likely targets as potential lynchpin starters, and I would be shocked if the Dolphins didn’t get one of them. They were very close to trading for Albert last offseason, but were unwilling to let go of a 2nd-round pick. If not them, Jared Veldheer, Roger Saffold, and Michael Oher could be cheaper, albeit not as attractive, options. Beyond OT, resigning Brent Grimes, Randy Starks, and Chris Clemons are likely moves that will cost a majority of the Fins remaining money. That said, I wouldn’t rule them out from chasing another position besides LT.
Outlook: Moving on from GM Jeff Ireland can only be a good thing, but it’s strange to do that while leaving his coach in place. Joe Philbin will get one more year to prove that he’s the man for the job in Miami. While he’s on the hot seat, it’s not the worst one, and it’s far better than the situation Rex Ryan was in last year, which ended with an improbable extension for him. Philbin will have lots of cap room to work with, and an already talented roster with the 2nd best QB in the division.