Tag:Miami Dolphins
Posted on: March 8, 2012 10:19 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 3:29 pm
 

Up to 12 teams contacted Peyton Manning Wednesday

So ... many ... choices ... (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Wednesday, the Colts released Peyton Manning, a sentence that still seems weird to write.

Also on Wednesday, the Manning-to-Team-X rumor mill got chugging along nicely. It's believed that as many as a dozen NFL teams (12!) have been in contact with Manning's camp, or Manning's agent Tom Condon. However, CBSSports.com's NFL Insider Mike Freeman reported Thursday morning that some folks believe Manning's already narrowed his list. Freeman points to the Dolphins, Redskins and ... Broncos as the short list.

Peyton's Free Agency

But for the sake of really figuring out who's in play, let's break down the teams that could've/should've/might've contacted Manning on Wednesday. Follow the parenthesis for the full count.

49ers (X) general manager Trent Baalke told everyone that the 49ers are not interested in Manning. That doesn't technically preclude any contact on their part, but it does point to a low interest level.

Despite the presence of Tebowmania, the Broncos (1) are absolutely interested in Manning. See: Freeman's report, as well as a report from Mike Klis of The Denver Post Wednesday, in which Klis says the Broncos will check in with Manning but believes they will likely stick with Tebow. That's probably more as a result of striking out on Manning, but as Freeman notes, maybe they're in play after all.  

The Dolphins (2) are quite obviously interested. Our buddy Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post believes the Dolphins are in the pole position to land Manning. And there's good reason to think Volin is right, the least of which is that he's in South Beach right now. (Well, we assume he's still there.) Adding to the pressure of Miami, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat Twitter account are all recruiting/harassing Peyton.

Speaking of the AFC East, the Jets (3) are another divisional team purportedly in hot pursuit of Manning. Or purportedly "split" about whether or not they want to chase Manning. They do. They know it. The problem? They just don't think they can actually get him, so they're trying to play it cool.

The most obvious suitor? The Washington Redskins (4), who essentially feel like they're already drunk-dialing Condon to talk about Manning. What? That counts as an "aggressive" pursuit of a free agent.

Or maybe the Seahawks (5) are the most aggressive team ... only they're going about it quietly. Albert Breer of the NFL Network reported they'd be the first team on the phone with Peyton Wednesday, and Peter King and Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated both believe John Schneider and Pete Carroll would be in hot pursuit of Manning. It's interesting, as Doug Farrar of Shutdown Corner notes, because Schneider said at the combine that he wasn't interested in "passing camp" quarterbacks.

Thursday, Adam Schefter of ESPN named a couple additional teams as well. Most notably, he cited the Chiefs (6) as a suitor for Manning. They make a lot of sense. Schefter also listed the Titans (7) as a team that contacted Manning, but that goes contrary to what they said they'd do. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean also reports that the Titans have not (6) had contact with Manning.

That's six teams, which is a lot. And yes, I'm ignoring the Titans. I'm also ignoring the Texans, who were already ruled out by King. So who are the other six teams?

The Cardinals (7) are a team that we haven't mentioned yet, but they're still my favorite to land Manning. They have a limited window to land Manning because of the Kevin Kolb roster bonus due on March 17, and they can't be too public about their pursuit of Manning (well, Darnell Dockett can). But maybe they don't have to be public about anything: Manning has reportedly put out his own "feelers" to talk with the Cards. It probably has nothing to do with Larry Fitzgerald.

Then there's a slew of cruddy teams that we should add off the bat: the Browns (8), the Bills (9) and the Jaguars (10) are all teams with quarterbacks. But they're also teams with quarterbacks who are not Peyton Manning. And if the respective GMs of those clubs didn't at least call and say "Hey, would he be interested in playing in our city for our team?" then they should be jailed for negligence.

So we need a pair of sleepers now. Let's rule out the rest of the AFC; for one reason or another, everyone has a quarterback. Let's also rule out the NFC East. We've already included the NFC West, sans the Rams. Only one team from the NFC South and the NFC North needs a quarterback.

So only two teams remain: the Vikings (11) and the Buccaneers (12). OK, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman are both recent first-round picks, but this is Peyton Manning we're talking about. They'd be nuts not to at least inquire through backchannels if there was any possible interest.

If you think I missed someone, leave em in the comments. Or argue why your team deserves Manning.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 5:03 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 8:19 am
 

Manning flies to South Florida after exit in Indy

Don't worry, potential suitors, he has a condo in Florida. (CBS Miami's Facebook page)

By Ryan Wilson

It's been a busy day for Peyton Manning, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts. He and Colts owner Jim Irsay held a joint press conference at noon Wednesday to announce that, after 14 years, the team and its longtime franchise quarterback were parting ways. It was an emotional scene.

But time, as they say, waits for no man. So while Indianapolis continues to remake a franchise that was wildly successful during the Manning era, the franchise's former quarterback contemplates his future. (Even though he said during the press conference that “I haven’t thought about where I’ll play," we're guessing he has.) Which might explain this bit of news: according to CBS Miami, Manning arrived in South Florida via private jet Wednesday afternoon.

"FYI, Peyton Manning is on the ground, he landed at Opa-Locka Airport and just got off his plane just before 4:30 p.m.," CBS Miami posted on its Facebook page. "Not likely to sign today, he owns a condo down here."

The Cardinals organization is collectively having heart palpitations at the news, even if Manning signing with the Dolphins isn't imminent. If nothing else, it gives Manning negotiating leverage when the Cards, Fins, Redskins, Seahawks and other potential suitors queue up to bid for his services (and we still don't know if and when he'll be back to his pre-multiple-neck-surgeries form).

CBS 4 caught up with Manning in a parking lot where he had stopped to speak to reporters. "It was tough for me," he said of leaving the Colts and becoming a free agent. "It was really hard, but now I realize that process has to start. I haven't thought about teams ... It's all new to me."

Inevitably, Manning was asked about his interest in the Dolphins (he's in South Florida, after all).

"The Miami Dolphins have a great organization there," he said before reiterating that he has no idea which teams are interested in him or how this process works. "I truly missed just playing quarterback this year. ... I realize I'm not gonna play forever, and I think I'm gonna know the time to stop playing."

Yes, Wednesday was the end of an era in Indy, but we shouldn't feel sorry for Peyton just yet.


Peyton Manning's run as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts ended Wednesday, when owner Jim Irsay announced the team would release its best player. Manning said his emotional goodbye to the team, the fans and the city of Indianapolis.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 4:27 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 4:31 pm
 

Michael Philbin was intoxicated, had marijuana

PhilbinBy Josh Katzowitz

About two months after the body of Michael Philbin, the son of new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, was positively identified after he drowned in the Fox River in Oshkosh, Wis., toxicology reports show Michael was intoxicated and had marijuana in his system.

According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Philbin’s blood alcohol level was 0.176, more than two times the legal limit, when he fell through the ice and into the freezing river.

His death has been ruled accidental.

"The loss of a child and sibling is absolutely heartbreaking to a family," Joe Philbin said in a statement released in conjunction with the Oshkosh police department. "Ours is no different. We hope that the results of the recent toxicology report serves as a reminder to us all that the mixture of alcohol and marijuana can be extremely dangerous, potentially even fatal.

"Michael was alone when this incident occurred. For us as a family this has been the most difficult thing to deal with. Had he been with someone this would have been avoided. The message is clear: practice moderation in the consumption of alcohol, avoid illegal drugs, and if someone appears to be in need of assistance, help them so that this situation doesn’t occur again."

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:57 pm
 

Dolphins odds-on favorite to get Manning

By Josh Katzowitz

In case you’re a gambling man or woman (and I know you are), here are the latest odds of where Peyton Manning will end up next.

If you want expert picks, here’s what we at CBSSports.com think. Otherwise, study what Sportsbook.com -- which is making the Dolphins the odds-on favorite to win Manning's services -- has to offer.

Cardinals + 350

Broncos +2000

Field (Any Other Team) +300

Texans +1000

Chiefs +550

Dolphins +250

Jets +600

No Team (Doesn’t throw a pass in 2012/2013 Regular Season) +1500

49ers +1500

Seahawks +800

Titans +2500

Redskins +600

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 8:16 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 8:22 am
 

Manning simply too expensive for Colts to keep

In the end, Irsay would have had to pay Manning $35.5 million without knowing for sure Manning is healthy. (Getty Images)
By Pat Kirwan

In the end it wasn't salary cap space but real cash that ends the Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis.

Latest news at Peyton's place
The $28 million bonus due the last second of the last day of the 2011 league year and the $7.5 million salary in 2012 is a $35.5 million hit without proof positive that Manning can play again. The 2011 portion of the new contract that had a $20 million signing bonus as well as a $3 million roster bonus and $3.4 million salary without a physical was his "legacy" money for a HOF career.

It didn't hurt that the Colts wind up in the spot to draft Andrew Luck and make the transition from Manning a little easier to tolerate.

The Dolphins are still looking for the Dan Marino replacement. The way the Colts structured the contract really indicates that the line in the sand was drawn for March 2012 as to how much more risk the Colts would take. Without playing a down in 2011 and not really ever being able to practice, it is over. I believe Manning will play again and now he hits free agency.

No modern day quarterback in the Hall of Fame that left his original team and joined another club ever took that new team to a Super Bowl. Joe Montana got close with the Chiefs but lost in the conference championship game. Could Peyton be the first to do it? I wouldn't bet against him.

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 7:43 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 11:20 pm
 

Where will Peyton Manning play in 2012?

Where will Peyton play in 2012? And will it feature Wayne? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Peyton Manning, by the end of the week, will no longer be a member of the Colts. It could happen as soon as Wednesday, but it's happening. It's the end of an era, and a new one is going to start soon.


But where? Manning is going to play somewhere and he's going to have his choice of a couple of nice spots. Let's break down where he might end up and why each of the potential landing spots does or does not make sense.

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona's always been my personal favorite landing spot for Manning, mainly because they did this same thing with Kurt Warner many moons ago and had great success. Also, you'd have to think they'd like to get out of having Kevin Kolb, and the Bidwell family isn't shy about grabbing big-name veterans.

Pros: Larry Fitzgerald. Also: Larry Fitzgerald. Did we mention Larry Fitzgerald? Seriously though, Fitz is one of the best receivers in the game and he's put up monster stats with mediocre quarterbacks. Arizona's got a defense that came on strong late last year. They play in a relatively weak division; regardless of San Fran's success in 2011, they would be the favorite to win the NFC West with a healthy Manning. Their running game is decent enough, especially if Ryan Williams can return. Reggie Wayne would make this offense hum too. Perhaps Arizona's biggest advantage? They have a domed stadium with natural grass.

Cons: Their offense line needs work, but that's where free agency and the draft comes in. They have a commitment to Kevin Kolb due on March 17, which means the window to land Manning is incredibly short. They can't risk whiffing on Peyton and coughing up Kolb.
Latest news at Peyton's place

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins also make sense for a number of reasons (see: below), but primarily because they've desperately craved a quarterback since Dan Marino left town. It's the worst-kept secret in the NFL that ownership wants to make the offense a little sexier to bump up ticket sales. Peyton would do that.

Pros: South Beach, where Manning has a condo, is very nice this time of year, provided "this time of year" means "always." The Dolphins have one of the best left tackles in the game in Jake Long to shore up Manning's blindside. Brandon Marshall and Davonne Bess, with the addition of Reggie Wayne and/or Pierre Garcon is a filthy receiving corps. Reggie Bush was a feature back last year, somehow, but would be even more effective playing out of a Peyton-styled offense. They have lots of talent on the defense and could compete right away with Manning. There is no quarterback to worry about replacing. They play the Dolphins in South Beach.

Cons: The division is one of the toughest in the NFL. Peyton would have to play Tom Brady twice a year (although that's awesome for the rest of us). Joe Philbin, the new head coach, comes from Green Bay which means he could be in love with Matt Flynn. That could potentially make it awkward for Manning if owner Stephen Ross is set on Manning and Philbin is not. The media is not afraid to swarm on people who move to South Beach -- just ask LeBron James.

Seattle Seahawks

Since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle, it's been assumed that at some point he'd make a play for a franchise quarterback. Thus far, the only plays he'd made are trading for Charlie Whitehurst and signing Tarvaris Jackson. Seattle still a "sleeper" for Manning, but landing him would absolutely represent the final piece in Carroll's "master plan."

Pros: The Seahawks need to improve a little at guard, but they've got a lot invested in an offensive line that played well late last year and could keep Manning on his feet. A Manning-less Cardinals team means the Seahawks would absolutely challenge for the division title. There is only Tarvaris Jackson to unseat. The Seahawks have a better defense than a lot of people want to give them credit for, particularly the secondary. Carroll and GM John Schneider are not afraid to be aggressive. Or enthusiastic. So that's a plus.

Cons: The offense weapons are not great. Sidney Rice is the top receiver. Marshawn Lynch just signed a big deal, although he'd theoretically be more effective with Peyton under center. Obviously Wayne/Garcon would be nice additions. Weather and the outdoors of Seattle are not a plus.

Washington Redskins

Peyton's been attached to the Redskins because Daniel Snyder likes to spend money on shiny things with big names. And he's got at doing it, so regardless of whether or not the marriage makes sense, it's entirely possible.

Pros: Straight cash, homey: if Peyton wants to make the most money without worrying about incentives, I gotta think Washington's his spot. Mike Shanahan is desperate, so he'd probably be willing to cede some control to Peyton. This Skins defense would've been much better if they hadn't had to deal with the anemic offense Washington trotted out last year. The running game is fungible, thanks to Shanahan and would help Peyton.

Cons: The Redskins lack offensive weapons, but could bring in Wayne and Garcon if they wanted to keep playing with Peyton. Does Shanahan's system, which involves rolling out quarterbacks, really fit Manning? I say no. The media scene in Washington, with all due respect to my colleagues, can be a bit of a trainwreck. There is tons of coverage of the tiniest stories there. Peyton will have to play his little brother Eli Manning twice a year. He can't possibly want to do that and/or compete with Eli for a division title annually. What happens if Robert Griffin III blows up and Peyton struggles -- will people question the decision not to trade up? That's a serious question.

New York Jets

Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum refused to kill off the rumors about Manning heading to New York and thusly, these rumors live on.

Pros: The Jets are seen as a contender, even if their defense took steps back last year. There are weapons: Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene are decent enough. Reports indicate the Jets might be willing to dump Holmes to land Wayne. The offensive line has some legit talent on it; center Nick Mangold particularly stands out. The Jets have gone the big-name veteran route before, trading for Brett Favre. The Super Bowl will be in New York in 2014.

Cons: It's New York, which means the scrutiny on Manning is going to be amplified a billion times more than anywhere else. Manning is not a "spotlight" guy. Peyton would have to share the city with his brother; though that might be OK from a "having enough space" perspective, do you really think that either one of them wants to hear a million questions about each other at every press conference. The Jets locker room was a disaster last year and there's no guarantee (none, says Rex Ryan!) that it'll be better this year. The Jets play the Patriots twice a year. The Jets don't have the greatest setup for weather/stadium when it comes to helping Peyton.

Kansas City Chiefs

This is where we go from "sleeper" status to "darkhorse" candidate; the Chiefs actually make a lot of sense from a personnel and situational perspective, but is it really a fit? I'm not so sure.

Pros: The Chiefs are a bounceback candidate in 2012, thanks to guys like Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles returning from injury. Charles, Moeaki, Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston create a formidable set of offensive weapons. They play the Colts in Arrowhead. Matt Cassel is the primary competition, but he's not a tremendous salary-cap burden in 2012.

Cons: Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel are Patriots guys. Is that considered the dark side? That's serious: could Peyton play for Patriots midwest or whatever you want to call the Chiefs? It really seems like a long shot. Crennel might actually have tampering charges filed against him.

San Francisco 49ers

If any team is "one guy away," it's the 49ers. And that's why you can't count them out. Plus, Peyton Manning replaced Jim Harbaugh in Indy, and Peyton Manning's getting replaced by Andrew Luck, who was coached by ... Jim Harbaugh. Stew on that one for a minute.

Pros: The 49ers are a stacked team, outside of quarterback and wide receiver. Vernon Davis is a freakshow target and this team has room for Wayne/Garcon. Their defense is one of the best in the NFL. They were a Kyle Williams fumble away from making the Super Bowl. They have no quarterback: Alex Smith is going to be a free agent too.

Cons: Harbaugh's gotten behind Smith the whole way and he seems genuinely convinced that Smith can be his guy long term. The 49ers would be throwing a lot of progress away if they went after Manning and he wasn't healthy, so there is a lot of risk here.

Houston Texans

Yeah, we're getting nuts. The Texans are a real long shot, especially with Matt Schaub under center. But Schaub's closing in on the end of his deal

Pros: This offense is loaded obviously. Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, one of the best offensive lines in the league, Owen Daniels, Ben Tate -- a lot of talent here. They get to play the Colts twice a year and this would be the ultimate spite move.

Cons: There's so much risk involved in doing this for the Texans, it's just too hard to fathom. They have T.J. Yates if Manning doesn't pan out, but they definitely thought they could win the Super Bowl had Schaub stayed healthy last year. No cap room.

Denver Broncos

Again, we are deep here people. Don't judge me. You know John Elway wants a "real" quarterback. And there are probably only one or two that could actually take the wind out of Tim Tebow's sails. Peyton is one of them.

Pros: See above; the Broncos want an under-center QB and Peyton would trump Tebowmania. (I think.) They have a talented defense. They play in a weak division.

Cons: The Broncos have an OK offense, with Willis McGahee, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:41 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency Preview: AFC East

New England has to be the early favorite, but could Buffalo or Miami supplant New York for No. 2 in the East? (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Buffalo Bills

The season got off to such a promising start in Buffalo -- five wins in the first seven games … and then the Bills suffered seven consecutive losses to finish tied for last in the division with the Dolphins. A lot went right over the first six weeks of the season, but a ton went wrong over the final two and a half months. Some of that can be blamed on injuries, but every team can say that. Bigger issues ill-timed mistakes (like, say, Stevie Johnson drops), poor decisions (Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions come to mind), and a porous defense all conspired to sink the season. But for the first time in a long time, the Bills have hope. And we don't mean the "Hey, maybe we'll win eight games!" type hope, either. We mean a team that could have the offensive firepower to keep up with anybody. More generally, Buffalo's fate will come down to two things: offensive consistency and a much-improved defense.

Free agents of note
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson signed a five-year deal Friday, but the team is expected to let WR Roscoe Parrish and running back Tashard Chocie hit free agency. The same holds for tight end Scott Chandler. Meanwhile, left tackle Demetrius Bell and linebacker Kirk Morrison have been negotiating with the team for a possible return in 2012.

Needs
Buffalo was 5-2 to start the season and then the wheels fell off. The offense dried up about the time that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signed that huge extension (we later found out that he was suffering from a rib injury for the second half of the season), and the defense -- the run defense in particular -- was abysmal. Now Fitzpatrick's healthy, the Bills re-signed Johnson, and Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller give the team two explosive backs.

Dave Wannstedt is the new defensive coordinator and he'll reinstitute the 4-3 after the 3-4 experiment didn't work. This will allow defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to be on the field at the same time, which should immediately upgrade the run D. Buffalo lacks depth at most positions but especially at linebacker. Kelvin Sheppard will likely play in the middle and Nick Barnett will move to the weak side (the team doesn't expect defensive end Shawne Merriman to be anything more than a situational pass rusher), but expect this need to be addressed in free agency and the draft.

Targets
Former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton is headed for the open market and he makes sense. As CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco points out, Lofton is better against the run than the pass, and that was one of the Bills' biggest weaknesses a year ago. There's also a report that Buffalo could be interested in Vincent Jackson -- even after signing Johnson to a long-term contract.

Miami Dolphins

When Tony Sparano arrived in Miami in 2008, the Dolphins surprised everyone by going 11-5 and winning the conference. Unfortunately, once the shine was off the Wildcat offense, Miami faded too. They went 7-9 in back-to-back seasons before an 0-7 start doomed Sparano in 2011. The Dolphins finished strong -- a 6-3 record with backup QB Matt Moore -- but the team will look completely different heading into training camp, starting with new head coach Joe Philbin.

Free agents of note
Chad Henne is gone. He was open to returning but the Dolphins had seen enough. In the right system, Henne could be successful, just not in Miami… Paul Soliai was our top-rated free-agent defensive tackle and the organization is content to let him test the waters… Tackle Vernon Carey struggled as a pass blocker and isn't likely to be re-signed, and the same holds for defensive lineman Kendall Langford… Running back Steve Slaton, the former Texans' third-round pick, also isn't expected back, and neither is right tackle Marc Colombo.

Needs
Quarterback is the glaring need. We've mentioned it before but we might as well reiterate it here for effect -- the starters since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season: Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard, A.J. Feeley, Gus Frerotte, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green, John Beck, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen and Matt Moore.

Which is why owner Stephen Ross was reportedly "infatuated" with Peyton Manning and why Philbin might end up with Matt Flynn, who he coached in Green Bay. Whatever happens, as long as the Dolphins don't have a legit quarterback, they'll always be playing for draft position. Miami also needs to upgrade the offensive line, specifically right tackle. Colombo was among the worst tackles in the league according to ProFootballFocus.com's numbers, and Football Outsiders ranked the entire unit 30th in their sacks-allowed metric.

Targets
Manning seems like a long shot because of lingering health issues, potential cap-busting contract demands and the possibility that Manning will want to run the offense. Flynn makes much more sense because he's familiar with Philbin and Philbin's offense, and in the right system he can be effective. The QB free-agency drop-off after Flynn is precipitous. Jason Campbell and Kyle Orton would be fine as one-year stopgaps until the next franchise quarterback arrives in South Beach, but using that logic it makes just as much sense to keep Henne around.

The free-agent market for tackles is even thinner. Jared Gaither might be the best mix of athleticism, upside and affordability, but the Chargers are reportedly interested in keeping him.

New England Patriots

The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl in February for the first time since 2007 (which is also the last time they won a postseason game). But their loss to the Giants in Indianapolis means that New England's last Lombardi Trophy came following the 2005 season. There are worse fates, of course, and as long as Tom Brady is under center the Pats are a playoff team and likely favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Still, Brady needs help. Given New England's cache of draft picks, we expect they'll address each of them in the coming weeks and months.

Free agents of note
Wide receiver Wes Welker was franchised Monday but the hope is that the two sides can come to an agreement on a long-term deal… Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried much of the workload last season but the Pats used two high draft picks on RBs. If Green-Ellis leaves via free agency second-year player Stevan Ridley could be next in line… Left tackle Matt Light is rumored to be contemplating retirement and even if he comes back for another season New England might move on without him (they drafted tackle Nate Solder in the first round last April). The Patriots may also let free agent center Dan Koppen walk… Veterans WR Deion Branch and DE Andre Carter could be back in New England if they're willing to sign for cheap, while longtime Patriot Kevin Faulk has retired but hinted that he'd love to return to the sidelines as an assistant coach…

Needs
Defense and wide receiver top the offseason to-do list. As for the former, the Patriots desperately need depth in the secondary; the team cut former first-round pick safety Brandon Meriweather in preseason and then played much of 2011 with other teams' castoffs at cornerback. CB Devin McCourty regressed in Year 2 after a fantastic rookie campaign, but he could rebound with the right players around him. Second-rounder Ras-I Dowling missed his rookie season with injuries but will be available to begin 2012.

Concerning the latter: Chad Ochocinco was an unmitigated disaster. He had 15 catches in the regular season and a lone touchdown. He was supposed to provide Brady with a deep threat. Didn't happen. In fact, Ochocinco routinely found himself on the sidelines when the Pats went to the no-huddle offense because he was still learning the playbook. There's a chance he returns in 2012 but it will be at a reduced rate. With Welker back for at least another year and Branch also likely to return, New England has to find a legitimate down-the-field target to stretch defenses and open things up for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Which brings us to...

Targets
The Patriots have the 31st pick in April's draft. The Steelers chose not to franchise Mike Wallace Monday. New England should be working up a contract offer for Wallace right now because if they're able to prying him away from Pittsburgh it'll be worth much more than a low first-round selection. New England could also look to free agency to fill their needs in the secondary and along the defensive line.

New York Jets

The Jets' offseason began with a Rex Ryan press conference explaining why team captain Santonio Holmes quit on his teammates during an embarrassing Week 17 loss to the Dolphins with the playoffs on the line. Ryan promised to fix his locker room, proclaimed that Mark Sanchez was his quarterback, and indicated that despite the whole quitting thing, Holmes was staying put. On the other side of the ball, New York struggled to generate a pass rush and wasn't nearly as effective against the run. And that, almost as much as Sanchez' inconsistency, was responsible for the 8-8 season.

Free agents of note
We listed Sione Pouha as one of the best free-agent defensive tackles and while the Jets didn't franchise him, they'll reportedly sign him to a long-term deal before he hits the open market… Plaxico Burress' one-year stint with Gang Green is over; he along with Holmes didn't always see eye to eye with Sanchez and he said recently he'd love to play for the Eagles… Safety Jim Leonhard came to the Jets from Baltimore but he along with Brodney Pool could be allowed to test free agency… Another former Raven, linebacker Bart Scott, has been given permission to seek a trade… Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is expected to retire… The Jets saved former Bills first-rounder Aaron Maybin from the scrap heap and the team will reportedly tender him at the highest level.

Needs
Sanchez took a beating -- both mentally and physically -- last year. With Holmes set to return, the former probably won't change no matter what Ryan says. But the team can certainly do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback, particularly if that quarterback ends up being Peyton Manning. (We think that's a longshot at this point but still not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Either way, the fact remains: if New York doesn't protect any of their quarterbacks, they can expect another long season in 2012.) Unfortunately, the Jets have committed to Wayne Hunter as their right tackle, the very same Wayne Hunter who was summarily beaten time after time in 2011. According to ESPNNewYork.com, Hunter was charged with 8.5 sacks and 11 penalties last season.

New York also needs to bolster the secondary, especially if neither Leonhard or Pool is expected to re-sign. It also didn't help that Eric Smith struggled is passing situations (not to mention losing contain on the Thursday Night get-together against the Broncos that led to Tebow's game-winning touchdown run.)

Targets
Ryan, like most coaches, favors his own guys. It explains why he brought Leonhard and Scott with him from Baltimore where he was previously the defensive coordinator. It also explains why he may pursue Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson, who's headed for free agency. Also expect the Jets to address the position -- or safety -- early in April's draft.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:33 pm
 

2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers

Jackson's a big winner Monday, as he escaped the franchise tag like it was a defensive back. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

A record 21 players received a franchise tag in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, including six kicker-types. You can see everyone that got tagged at our 2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker. Let's break down the winners and losers below.

Winners

Vincent Jackson: Jackson held out most of 2010 because he wanted to get paid. He then signed his franchise-tag tender in 2011 because he wanted to get guaranteed money. Now that the Bolts declined to tag him, he's going to get filthy rich as one of the top two wide receivers to hit the free-agent market on March 13. Jackson and Marques Colston are the two top talents on a market that features several teams -- the Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, and Seahawks, to name a few -- in need of a wideout.

Carl Nicks: Nicks reportedly hasn't heard anything on a new deal from the Saints and with New Orleans not reaching a deal with quarterback Drew Brees before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, Nicks is going to hit the open market on March 13. He's 26, a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in

Matt Flynn: Flynn wasn't expected to receive a tag from the Packers, but it's official now, and that means he'll hit the free-agent market. This is critical for Flynn given the number of quarterback-needy teams out there. It's also critical because the Packers won't control his next destination; if they tagged Flynn for the price of $14.4 million guaranteed (which he would sprint to sign), then they'd almost certainly end up trading him. Now Flynn gets to land a bigger contract on the open market.

Brandon Carr: The Chiefs decided to use their franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe. That's a smart move, considering they signed cornerback Stanford Routt recently. But it also means that Carr, a 25-year-old defensive back coming off his best season in 2011, will have the chance to hit the open market. Young free-agent cornerbacks are a coveted commodity, and Carr should expect to get paid handsomely.

Stevie Johnson: The leverage of the guaranteed money involved with using the franchise tag on a wide receiver ($9.4 million) coupled with the deadline on Monday really escalated the talks with the Bills and Johnson, and he ended up netting a deal worth $7.25 million per year. That's not exactly on par with the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, but

Losers

Wes Welker: The Pats could very well end up getting Wes Welker signed to a long-term deal, but he can't be happy about being put in a situation that could have him not reaching full free agency until he turns 32 (he'll turn 31 in May of this offseason) if the Patriots simply want him to play another year on the franchise-tag value. Welker would've hit a market that paid him handsomely and it might be difficult for the Patriots to pay him the money he wants over longer period of time. We could see a holdout here.

New Orleans Saints: As if things weren't bad enough for the Saints -- see here, here, here, here, here and, whew, here -- they're likely going to lose their top wide receiver (Marques Colston) and one of their top offensive linemen (Nicks) to free agency. Their quarterback (Drew Brees) is not happy with his contract situation, and losing two weapons like that won't do much to improve his mood. So once they get done with BountyGate, there should be plenty of more fun to deal with.

Cliff Avril
: Detroit should be thrilled that they bring Avril back, but that doesn't mean the defensive end has to be happy. He's not, because he knows he'd kill on the open market this season. He'll get more than $10 million guaranteed next year and that's why it seemed possible that the Lions could let him walk -- they've got more than half their salary cap tied up in Avril, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson next year. So there's some good news: the Lions very much would like to lock up Avril to a long deal.

Houston Texans
: The Texans locked up Arian Foster to a five-year deal that takes him through his 30-year-old season, which is perfect timing for a running back. But it's also giving a lot of money to a running back. (Foster is a tremendously talented guy, a perfect fit for what the Texans do, a great pass-blocker, a great pass-catcher and many other things. But he is still a running back.) On that same day, they were unable to secure Mario Williams, who was their No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Super Mario will become a free agent, and unless he's willing to take a serious discount to stay with the Texans, it's hard to fathom how they keep him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seemed like the Steelers decision to go on a cutting spree and get below the salary-cap line would result in them using the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, who's a restricted free agent. They didn't and because of a confluence of events, they could be in trouble. One, Stevie got $7.2 million a year just now. Two, Jackson and Colston will get big money in free agency. And three, various tags on other high-profile wide receivers will draw more interest for teams that could consider giving Wallace an offer sheet. He may very well end up staying with the Steelers, but there's at least reason to be concerned.

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