- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
Free-agent signings and trades alter the landscape in terms of team needs and draft strategies every spring. Taking value over need is a lot easier when a team fills its most glaring weaknesses before draft weekend. On the other hand, organizations that fail to address their biggest needs are more likely to reach to fill them and have it backfire.
How has offseason movement affected the AFC East so far in 2013? Here's a look at how additions and subtractions could affect the draft plans of each team in the division.
The team put the franchise tag on FS Jairus Byrd and signed WLB Manny Lawson, but those moves are overshadowed by the decisions to cut QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WLB Nick Barnett and SS George Wilson (who has since signed with Tennessee).
The loss of OG Andy Levitre to the Titans via free agency makes matters far worse. A second-round pick in 2009, Levitre started every game the past four seasons and there is no heir apparent on the roster.
Buffalo will have a difficult decision to make if West Virginia QB Geno Smith is still on the board at No. 8 overall. Smith grades out as a fringe first-round pick, thanks in large part to inconsistent decision-making and accuracy. However, he has the tools and work ethic to develop into a starter and he's the best quarterback available. Taking Arkansas' Tyler Wilson or Southern Cal's Matt Barkley is just too much of a reach.
If Smith is gone, the Bills are better off taking NC State's Mike Glennon or Tennessee's Tyler Bray on Day 2. Both have holes in their games, but they have the arm talent to play and play in bad weather as the season progresses.
If the Bills pass on Smith, an offensive tackle makes the most sense, with Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson the two likely candidates. Each could compete for early playing time at left tackle, allowing Cordy Glenn to move into a better fit on the right side.
And if Smith does come into the fold in the first, an offensive tackle like Arkansas Pine-Bluff's Terron Armstead would be a nice follow-up in the second. Armstead isn't as polished as Fisher or Johnson, but there's a lot to like about his potential at left tackle.
Buffalo should also be in the market for an edge rusher on Day 2, and Auburn's Corey Lemonier is a name worth mentioning. Lemonier is coming off a disappointing senior season and there's room for improvement in terms of stopping the run, but he has the burst off the edge to get after the quarterback.
Miami has done a nice job of addressing its passing attack and surrounding 2012 first-round QB Ryan Tannehill with more talent, picking up free agents Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, and re-signing Brian Hartline. The Dolphins also brought in Dustin Keller to work the seam and stretch the field from the tight end spot.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins addressed the linebacker corps by adding MLB Dannell Ellerbe and WLB Philip Wheeler. There have been some notable losses, though. LT Jake Long signed with St. Louis, CB Sean Smith signed with Kansas City and RB Reggie Bush signed with Detroit.
Cornerback looks like the most pressing need on paper, but keeping Tannehill healthy is paramount and there's a chance Johnson could slip to Miami at No. 12 overall. Johnson could play on the right or the left, allowing 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin to settle in on the side he's most comfortable with. However, San Diego is likely to be looking for a tackle at No. 11, so if the Dolphins are set on getting one of the top three they might have to package some of their five picks from the first three rounds to move up.
Still, with Smith leaving, Richard Marshall coming off a season-ending back injury and Nolan Carroll failing to show enough to keep a starting job without competition, Miami has to look for a corner on draft day, even if it adds help there through free agency. Florida State's Xavier Rhodes has the length and speed to excel in the Dolphins' scheme, but his speed-size combination will likely make him a first-round pick.
If Rhodes comes off the board as expected Miami could land Boise State's Jamar Taylor in the second. Taylor isn't as big as Rhodes, but he still has good size for a corner, and is fast and instinctive.
Danny Amendola replacing Wes Welker as the Patriots' slot receiver has been one of the biggest storylines of free agency, and New England has made other big moves, as well. New England capitalized on SS Adrian Wilson and RB/RS Leon Washington becoming cap casualties in Arizona and Seattle, respectively, and made sound moves re-signing CB Aqib Talib, OT Sebastian Vollmer and CB Kyle Arrington.
Receiver is still New England's greatest need, with the team cutting Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman, and Deion Branch on the free-agent market. The signing of Donald Jones could pay dividends if Jones stays healthy, and there are reports the team might make a run at restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders.
The Patriots haven't drafted a receiver in the first round since Terry Glenn in 1996, and while that trend is likely to continue there are interesting options on Day 2. Marshall's Aaron Dobson comes to mind. Dobson is an above-average route-runner who gets off the line and catches the ball well.
And there are still questions at corner despite the return of Talib and Arrington. The biggest concern is who will start opposite Talib. Ras-I Dowling, a second-rounder in 2011, has sustained consecutive season-ending injuries and Alfonzo Dennard's April 11 sentencing for a 2012 arrest is reason for concern.
That uncertainty could put Connecticut's Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the mix for the Patriots at No. 29. Wreh-Wilson didn't record a blazing 40 time at the combine, but the instincts, balance and quickness he's shown on film and at the Senior Bowl are enough to warrant taking him late in the first.
The Jets cut aging veterans ILB Bart Scott, SS Eric Smith, OLB Calvin Pace and NT Sione Pouha, while FS LaRon Landry, SS Yeremiah Bell and DE Mike DeVito all signed elsewhere. On the offensive side of the ball, Keller bolted for Miami, RB Shonn Greene is now in Tennessee and OG Brandon Moore is an unrestricted free agent.
New York has made some acquisitions, and G Willie Colon, OLB Antwan Barnes and DL Antonio Garay could contribute, but Colon and Barnes are coming off season-ending injuries, and Garay appeared in just eight games last year. RB Mike Goodson was brought in to provide depth, but he has 160 carries in four seasons and durability issues of his own.
There is no shortage of pressing needs, and quarterback tops the list. Geno Smith could certainly be a possibility at No. 9 overall, but the team signing David Garrard to back up Mark Sanchez may be an indication that the Jets aren't going to take a quarterback in the first round.
Addressing the offensive line and defensive front makes more sense. One of the better scenarios for the Jets is getting an explosive edge rusher in the first and an offensive tackle capable of taking over on the right side on Day 2.
To that end, LSU DE Barkevious Mingo has the burst, length and athletic ability to be an attractive option with the ninth pick. Mingo's production was not ideal in 2012, but his potential would make him hard to pass up.
New York could find value at offensive tackle in the third. Louisiana Tech's Jordan Mills and Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner have their limitations in pass protection, but they have the potential to develop into effective starters on the right side.
Those two moves would open the door for the Jets to take advantage of a deep safety class thereafter. South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger, Florida's Matt Elam and FIU's John Cyprien are all good values in the second round, and each is capable of pushing for substantial playing time right away.
448dTodd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl