AFC game plans for free agency
Patriots will be looking for help in the secondary
With new regime, Chiefs figure to be major players
Burned last season, Jags will avoid splashy signings
The 2009 NFL season officially begins Friday at 12:01 a.m. when free agency opens. What follows is a rundown of the game plans for every AFC team heading into free agency and the draft. For NFC teams, click here.
BUFFALO: Running back Marshawn Lynch's second run-in with the law in less than a year may have the Bills rethinking their offseason priorities. It wasn't a coincidence Buffalo was among the first teams to call Fred Taylor after the running back was released by Jacksonville. Publicly the Bills are being supportive of Lynch, but his missteps have added to their to-do list.
Other priorities include finding a complement for Lee Evans, who was the only Buffalo wideout to catch more than two TD passes last year. Possible candidates include New Orleans' Devery Henderson and Pittsburgh's Nate Washington, as well as Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway. QB Trent Edwards needs options if he is going to take that next step.
Defensively the Bills have to improve their pass rush, which tied for 28th in sacks with 24. DE Aaron Schobel can be a force when healthy, but he needs help. Buffalo could use the 11th pick in the draft on an edge rusher, or it could seek to upgrade with veteran ends like Antonio Smith and Bertrand Berry of Arizona. The Bills also could seek to add a solid outside linebacker such as Atlanta's Michael Boley to replace Angelo Crowell, who is leaving as a free agent after missing last year with an injury.
The Bills' expected release of guard Derrick Dockery means they will be in the market for an interior offensive lineman. Ravens center Jason Brown is a possibility, although his cost could be too steep. Indianapolis' Jeff Saturday is a more reasonable option. He's older but should come cheaper. And he has the versatility to play both center and guard, areas of need for the Bills.
MIAMI: Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is a former offensive line coach, so it should come as no surprise that he has zeroed in on that position for improvement. Miami is solid at the tackle spots with Jake Long and Vernon Carey, but Sparano will look to upgrade at center. Baltimore's Jason Brown is reportedly at the top of the wish list if he doesn't re-sign with the Ravens. Minnesota's Matt Birk is another possibility.
The Dolphins also must address their defensive line at end and nose tackle. Chris Canty, who played for the Dolphins' current brass in Dallas, is a possibility at end, and Tank Johnson, who also played for the Cowboys when Sparano, Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland were there, is a capable backup for nose tackle Jason Ferguson. Miami desperately needs a wide receiver after getting only five touchdown catches at that position last year, and the recent release of Jets veteran Laveranues Coles could set up a reunion with QB Chad Pennington in South Florida.
The Dolphins should have one of the league's better safety tandems with the re-signing of Yeremiah Bell and signing of ex-Giant Gibril Wilson in the past 24 hours. Miami will need help at cornerback if Andre Goodman leaves via free agency, as expected. The question becomes what type of value will the Dolphins place on the position. They aren't likely to spend lavishly, but could take a look at Buffalo's Jabari Greer or Pittsburgh's Bryant McFadden.
NEW ENGLAND: The offense returns virtually intact, although coach Bill Belichick could seek to add a running back. Laurence Maroney has been a disappointment since being drafted in the first round in 2006, which might explain why the team is expected to bring in Fred Taylor for a visit.
The biggest areas of need are on defense, where the Patriots could use help at linebacker and cornerback. OLB Mike Vrabel is 33 and in the final year of his contract, and Adalius Thomas finished the year on injured reserve. Inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi also is well past his prime.
Cornerback is a greater concern. The Pats surrendered 27 TD passes, second-most in the league. Ellis Hobbs is serviceable, but there is little after him. Rams free-agent Ronald Bartell could be a fit, as could Buffalo's Jabari Greer. And Bears safety Mike Brown could be a perfect replacement if strong safety Rodney Harrison retires.
NEW YORK: Through releases, retirement and restructures, the Jets added almost $37 million in salary cap space. Their new coach, Rex Ryan, is defensive-minded, so look for the Jets to supplement the unit. They have needs at linebacker and are expected to pursue Ravens free agents Ray Lewis and/or Bart Scott, as well as Baltimore safety Jim Leonhard. They also need an edge rusher because 2008 first-round pick Vernon Gholston showed no flashes of promise as a rookie. Arizona free agents Antonio Smith or Bertrand Berry could help the pass rush.
The Jets also have a need at QB following the retirement of Brett Favre, but none of the available signal-callers are worth getting excited about. If they do decide to go in that direction, Byron Leftwich is the best of the bunch and has the arm strength that could play well in the winter months.
DENVER: With running back being their only real need on offense, the Broncos are expected to focus on upgrading the defense after allowing more points last season than all but two teams. New coach Josh McDaniels jettisoned nearly half of the defensive starters and needs replacements along the line, at cornerback and at safety. The Broncos have only one proven pass rusher, Elvis Dumervil, and one established cornerback, Champ Bailey.
They have money to spend after clearing $30 million in salary cap space, and Buffalo cornerback Jabari Greer could be one of the players they pursue. McDaniels saw him twice a year while calling plays for New England and knows his strengths and weaknesses. Rams cornerback Ronald Bartell is another candidate, as is Pittsburgh's Bryant McFadden. At safety, Baltimore free-agent Jim Leonhard, Tampa Bay's Jermaine Phillips and Minnesota veteran Darren Sharper are attractive names.
KANSAS CITY: The Chiefs won only two games last season, so there is no shortage of needs. Most notably they have to find an edge rusher, a playmaker at linebacker, help on the offensive line, a complement to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and a starting running back if Larry Johnson gets his wish and is traded or released, a definite possibility.
New coach Todd Haley probably would like to add an established QB to compete with Tyler Thigpen, who showed flashes last year in his first season as a starter, but the market isn't good. The Giants' Derrick Ward would be an excellent fit at running back -- and the Chiefs have the salary cap space to sign him -- but at this point we don't know if new GM Scott Pioli will go that route or continue to build through the draft, which is how owner Clark Hunt wants to build the team.
Haley is familiar with Arizona defensive ends Antonio Smith and Bertrand Berry, which could make them attractive pass-rush candidates; but Washington's Demetric Evans also has skills in that area. At receiver Pittsburgh's Nate Washington or New Orleans' Devery Henderson would be nice complements to Bowe.
OAKLAND: The Raiders don't figure to be overly active in free agency after committing nearly $30 million in guarantees to re-sign CB Nnamdi Asomugha and P Shane Lechler. Plus they will be drafting in the top 10 for the third consecutive year, which will be costly. Oakland needs help on the offensive line and at wide receiver, and figures to address one of those areas with the seventh pick in the draft.
SAN DIEGO: General manager A.J. Smith has never been a major player in free agency and won't start this year. The Chargers would like to add depth on the offensive line and maybe at running back, but the pickings could be slim on the second and third go-round. Their biggest needs are at running back (if LaDainian Tomlinson is released or traded) and safety, where a thumper is needed to complement the smaller and more athletic Eric Weddle.