Bills FS Jairus Byrd (31) was a Pro Bowl talent in 2012. / Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports
A snapshot of each team's roster and considerations heading into free agency, which officially begins March 12 at 4 p.m. ET:
Prominent free agents: LB Nick Barnett (released), FS Jairus Byrd, RB Tashard Choice, DT Spencer Johnson, WR Donald Jones, LG Andy Levitre, CB Terrence McGee (released), FB Corey McIntyre, CB/KR Leodis McKelvin, DE/OLB Shawne Merriman, DE Kyle Moore, ILB Kirk Morrison, WR David Nelson, OL Chad Rinehart, LB Bryan Scott, QB Tyler Thigpen.
Issues: Under newly hired coach Doug Marrone, the Bills have wasted little time sweeping out older players like Barnett, McGee and safety George Wilson, who already signed on with the Tennessee Titans. Defensive end Chris Kelsay announced his retirement Wednesday. Those moves provide added maneuverability for a team that has the makings of a decent nucleus but clearly needs more. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine would surely welcome some help, especially at linebacker, for a defense that's been run over for the better part of a decade. Buffalo might enjoy more consistency at quarterback if there was a reliable alternative to Stevie Johnson at wideout.
Our advice: Given their cap space (close to $30 million), there's no reason Byrd and Levitre shouldn't be retained, though one may have to swallow the franchise tag, at least initially. (UPDATE: Byrd was tagged March 1.) Speedy wideout Mike Wallace would be a perfect complement to Johnson, though a burner like Devery Henderson or Donnie Avery might be a more realistic (and cost efficient) option who could open things up for Johnson and C.J. Spiller underneath. Regardless, receiver depth must be replenished. A combination run stuffer/pass rusher such as linebacker Anthony Spencer would form a perfect tandem with Mario Williams on the edges of the 3-4 scheme Pettine favors; someone of Manny Lawson's caliber would come more cheaply. Presuming Byrd remains, strong safety will likely be open to competition, but there's no need to throw money at one. With inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick still under contract but now competing with re-signed Tarvaris Jackson, the Bills are better off drafting a project at quarterback - Ryan Nassib following Marrone from Syracuse to Buffalo is the hot rumor - rather than courting another average veteran.
Prominent free agents: RB Reggie Bush, S Chris Clemons, TE Anthony Fasano, OL Nate Garner, WR Brian Hartline, LT Jake Long, DL Tony McDaniel, QB Matt Moore, CB Sean Smith, DL Randy Starks.
Issues: Miami needs to put more talent around second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, especially at wideout. Though largely underrated, the defense lacks playmakers outside of pass rusher Cameron Wake and could stand to get younger up front.
Our advice: Let's start on offense, where the proposed reunion of receiver Greg Jennings with head coach Joe Philbin, his former offensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers, makes perfect sense. Mike Wallace or Dwayne Bowe would also be perfectly suitable upgrades, though Wallace would better supplement the possession receivers already on Miami's roster. Given the Dolphins' cap room (more than $40 million), we'd also consider bringing Bush back on a two- or three-year deal unless the team really trusts unproven Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. But Bush has shown he can handle 250 touches a year and provides the leadership of a man used to competing for championships. As good as he is, Long probably isn't worth what he's seeking, especially given the season-ending arm injuries he's suffered the past two seasons; the Dolphins have enough O-line talent to get by without him, and second-year tackle Jonathan Martin could move to the left side. Depending on what the Dolphins want to spend, defensive end Cliff Avril would be both a nice building block as well as a guy who could take opponents' focus off Wake. Getting a hunter like Avril (29 sacks since 2010) would allow GM Jeff Ireland to get help up the middle in the draft, a priority especially if Starks is allowed to go. If the team doesn't recruit another pass rusher, a disruptive safety - perhaps Dashon Goldson - would definitely help. Attempting to keep 6-3, 214-pound Smith seems logical given the ever-growing figurative and literal profile of the league's top wideouts.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Prominent free agents: CB Kyle Arrington, WR Deion Branch, S Patrick Chung, WR Julian Edelman, DE Trevor Scott, WR Donte' Stallworth, CB Aqib Talib, G Donald Thomas, RT Sebastian Vollmer, WR Wes Welker, RB Danny Woodhead.
Issues: It's no surprise that a team this well run should be able to keep most of its top free agents (and perhaps get a few more to boot) if it wants. That's what happens when you manage your payroll wisely ... and have a superstar like Tom Brady who's willing to agree to a cap-friendly contract extension. Still, the Patriots didn't become perennial contenders by overpaying in free agency, so don't expect Bill Belichick and Co. to break from their long-held precepts. But pass defense - both in coverage and generating pressure - remains a problem as illustrated by Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game and Eli Manning and the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. New England's has ranked in the NFL's bottom four for the three consecutive seasons. It doesn't help that starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is now facing jail time in Nebraska.
Our advice: Protecting Brady, who will be 36 next season, should always be the first priority for the league's No. 1 offense, so holding onto Vollmer would be a wise move. The O-line has weathered plenty of turnover the past few seasons, but no reason to risk losing an athletic 28-year-old tackle unless he asks for the moon and Old Ironsides. Playing a game of financial chicken with Welker, who probably won't be tagged again, makes more sense given he's unlikely to enjoy the same production with any other team. We're guessing he'll be back, especially since New England can re-up Edelman as a fallback or pursue a younger Welker, namely Danny Amendola. It will be fascinating to watch what kind of direction the secondary takes. Talib certainly helped as a midseason rental. But is he worth big money, especially with 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling presumably coming back healthy in 2013 and/or Arrington likely available at a discount? The market also seems likely to be heavy at cornerback. And remember, Belichick has a soft spot for safety Ed Reed, who's still as gifted cerebrally as he used to be physically and would certainly make an impact on this team. And why not go after Reed when you can weaken the Ravens in the process? We would.
NEW YORK JETS
Prominent free agents: S Yeremiah Bell, DE Mike DeVito, WR Braylon Edwards, K Nick Folk, RB Shonn Greene, RT Austin Howard (restricted), TE Dustin Keller, S LaRon Landry, RG Brandon Moore, OLB Calvin Pace (released), WR Chaz Schilens, ILB Bart Scott (released), LG Matt Slauson, S Eric Smith (released), OL Jason Smith (released), OLB Bryan Thomas.
Issues: The Jets began the offseason in salary cap jail, presumably the main reason former GM Mike Tannenbaum lost his job. Even if Tannenbaum's replacement, John Idzik, had cap room to work with - he created some relief by cutting Pace and Scott, among others - he probably couldn't hand out many lucrative contracts given the need to replenish the roster's depth. And given the likely free agent departures, Idzik will have plenty of work to do at the offensive skill positions, O-line, safety and linebacker. Doesn't leave much opportunity to address the shaky quarterback situation.
Our advice: Tannenbaum operated as if the team was just a player or two away from a Lombardi Trophy, which it might have been in 2009 and 2010. But Idzik has already entered tear-down-and-rebuild mode. Given the Jets' weakness on third downs (and the need to breed confidence in whomever is under center), attempting to re-sign underrated Keller would seem to be a smart move while DeVito, Greene, Landry and Moore should be welcomed back, but only at the right price. The situation of cornerback Darrelle Revis is intriguing given he contractually can't receive the franchise tag next offseason. Idzik will be forced to decide soon whether to make a push to re-sign Revis, who's coming back from a torn ACL, or trade him if striking a deal will be too difficult. We'd try to keep Revis, arguably the NFL's No. 1 defender and a man who enables a lot of the scheming coach Rex Ryan uses. Finally, the Jets need to find someone to push or supplant Mark Sanchez under center. Idzik should have a good read on Matt Flynn as a potential target given their time together with the Seattle Seahawks.
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Read the original story: AFC East free agency preview: Dolphins stars may be on move