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AFC East free agency breakdown

After a month of free agency, the Patriots and Bills appear to be the early leaders in the AFC East. Miami is holding strong while the Jets are trying to recover.

The Patriots have enjoyed a successful beginning to the free agency period, but their competitors in the AFC East haven't exactly been sitting on their hands. The Bills, Dolphins and Jets have all been active, although not all in the same manner.


In Buffalo, GM Tom Donahoe has been a busy man. With a defense badly in need of an upgrade, Donahoe set his sights on the linebacker position. He found a couple of starters in former Cincinnati standout Takeo Spikes and former Houston Texan Jeff Posey, although one of last year's starters, Keith Newman, was lost.

Spikes was considered the crown jewel (along with the Patriots Rosevelt Colvin) in the free agent sweepstakes. He was named the Bengals transition player, meaning Cincinnati reserved the right to match any offer he received.

But new head coach Marvin Lewis opted to let Spikes go despite his considerable skills. His reasoning was he wanted to surround himself with players who wanted to be in Cincinnati and Spikes was outspoken in his desire to go elsewhere after years of futility.

Spikes signed a six-year, $32 million deal that included a $9 million signing bonus. That's more than the Patriots gave Colvin but Spikes is considered a more well rounded linebacker. He'll immediately become the centerpiece of what should be a vastly improved front seven.

The Bills have entertained huge defensive tackle Sam Adams but it appears the former Raven and Raider will look elsewhere. That's good news for the Patriots. With Adams joining Pat Williams inside protecting Spikes and middle linebacker London Fletcher, the Bills defense could suddenly become formidable. Former Packer defensive end Keith McKenzie also will help. Look for Buffalo to continue its search for help up front, perhaps with an eye toward the position in next month's draft.

Offensively, it was a good news/bad news situation for the Bills. Wideout Peerless Price is gone and his 90-plus catches and nine touchdowns are now in Atlanta. Buffalo named him its franchise player with the hopes of trading him and that exactly what transpired. He was dealt to the Falcons for a first-round pick (No. 23), which is particularly important since the Bills dealt their pick (No. 14) to New England last year in exchange for Drew Bledsoe.

While the Patriots are happy with that swap, after another Pro Bowl season for Bledsoe and now a first rounder recouped, Donahoe was thrilled with those events as well. Replacing Price won't be easy, but last year's second-round pick Josh Reed showed promise from the slot and veteran Bobby Shaw recently signed to provide receiver depth.

Overall, the Bills have to be happy with their offseason thus far.


The Dolphins have been quite successful thus far as well, but in a much different manner. While the Patriots and Bills have added quality personnel, Miami has retained some keys players.

Defensive lineman David Bowens re-signed, as did offensive lineman Mark Dixon, fullback Rob Konrad and punter Mark Royals. Miami is glad to have all back, particularly Dixon, whose presence was sorely missed at times last year when he suffered through some injuries.

Former Redskins wideout Derrius Thompson was a quality free agent signing. He came for the right price and will more than fill the shoes of Oronde Gadsden, who is expected to sign elsewhere. The Dolphins lost tight end Jed Weaver to San Francisco, but the emergence of rookie Randy McMichael made him expendable.

Former Patriots cornerback Terrell Buckley is back for a second tour with the Dolphins and he should accentuate a strong secondary that included Pro Bowlers Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.

As has been the case since Dan Marino retired, the Dolphins hopes will rest with the play of its quarterback. If Jay Fiedler stays healthy, Miami should have enough offense with Ricky Williams to compete for the division title. They haven't added any big name free agents, but retaining some key personnel may prove to be more important in the long run.

New York

Don't expect Jets GM Terry Bradway to be sending Washington owner Daniel Snyder any Christmas cards anytime soon. Bradway must have gotten the feeling that the Redskins were invading his team's Long Island headquarters the way Washington was raiding his personnel.

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles signed an offer sheet as a restricted free agent and will enjoy the $13 million signing bonus the Redskins gave him because the Jets simply couldn't afford to make such a ludicrous contract. Return specialist Chad Morton also signed an offer sheet with the 'Skins but the Jets were able to match that one.

In addition, Washington signed guard Randy Thomas and kicker John Hall away from New York, while fullback Richie Anderson is off to Dallas. That's a lot of lost personnel and the Jets will feel the effects immediately.

Backup guard Tom Nutten (former of St. Louis) could replace Thomas but they'll need more additions than that to overcome the losses. But don't expect New York roll over and die. The Jets will get the 13th pick from Washington in exchange for Coles, and also have their own at No. 22. Bradway will need to deliver a pair of contributors.

The signing of veteran Curtis Conway could diminish Coles' loss. The oft-injured former Bear and Charger is talented and still has the wheels to get deep occasionally. He'll team with Wayne Chrebet and Santana Moss to comprise Chad Pennington's receiving corps. And Curtis Martin is still in New York, meaning the Jets are still a team to be reckoned with.

The draft is still about a month away and many singings between now and then can change the outlook in a hurry. But almost a full month into the free agency period, the Bills and Patriots appear to be the big winners, with Miami holding steady and the Jets taking some early hits. Stay tuned.

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