|Checking in with rest of AFC East at league meetings||03.26.14 at 6:00 am ET|
ORLANDO — While Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and the Patriots have been making news this week at the NFL annual meetings in Central Florida, the rest of the AFC East was involved in the action as well. Here’s a look at some of the news from New England’s divisional foes over the last few days.
Jets — It wasn’t the old-school bravado we’ve come to know from coach Rex Ryan, but it was still a fairly brash statement for a team that hasn’t finished better than .500 since 2010.
“Watch out for the Jets, man,” Ryan said at Tuesday’s AFC coaches breakfast. “I’m just telling you.”
Ryan and the Jets have made a few moves to this point in the offseason, picking up wide receiver Eric Decker and swapping out Mark Sanchez for Mike Vick at quarterback. (Ryan indicated Tuesday that Geno Smith will remain the starter.) They’ve made some moves that give them some financial flexibility, which means they could be in on the race for DeSean Jackson if the receiver can be pried loose from Philly.
However, beyond an impressive front seven, the Jets still have questions at corner (Ryan has lamented the situation in the secondary), and despite the addition of Decker, still need to add offensive oomph this offseason. Look for them to target skill position players and defensive backs in the draft.
And look for Rex to stay Rex.
“My expectations have never changed: I want to win and I expect to win,” Ryan said. “I’ll say this: It’s time to deliver. It’s time to deliver for this community, for New York, for this entire area. We got to step up and deliver. I’m not running from it. Let’s put it that way — I expect a lot out of this football team.
“Nobody’s really talking about us, and that’s fine and dandy. They’re going to.”
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|Offseason updates on rest of AFC East||02.18.14 at 12:51 pm ET|
While we continue to view the world through a Patriots’ prism, here’s a quick update on what’s been going on in the rest of the AFC East this offseason:
Jets — New York started the offseason with a bang, announcing Rex Ryan landed a multiyear extension. But at the same time, the Jets have some tough calls to make on some veterans, including outside linebacker Calvin Pace. Then, there’s the question as to whether or not to release quarterback Mark Sanchez — per salary cap expert Joel Corry, the Jets will gain more than $8.3 million of cap room if they let him go before his $2 million roster bonus is due on March 25. (They’ll also get some more financial flexibility if they decide to part ways with wide receiver Santonio Holmes in mid-March.) If Sanchez is indeed gone, that will likely clear the decks for Geno Smith, who was involved in an off-field dustup involving a flight attendant on a Virgin America flight. However, GM John Idzik says he anticipates a competition at quarterback this season. On the other side of the ball, while the New York defense is pretty solid as a whole, they’ll almost certainly be the market for offensive skill position players this offseason either in the draft or free agency.
Bills — As is the case at this time of year, the biggest moves for Buffalo to this point in the offseason have come on the coaching staff — following the departure of Mike Pettine, the Bills have added Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator. They’ve also done some more sideline shuffling, including the addition of Rob Moore as receivers coach and Pepper Johnson as linebackers coach. Schwartz favors a 4-3 scheme, which means the Bills will have to tweak their personnel as a result, but on paper, the Buffalo defense is actually pretty well-positioned going into 2014. Led by linebacker Kiko Alonso and pass rushers Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, the Bills led the league with 57 sacks, and were second in the league with 23 picks. They could add some depth in the secondary, particularly if defensive back Jairus Byrd leaves as a free agent. Buffalo also needs some help on the offensive line, as well as some help at tight end if Scott Chandler walks in free agency. The Bills reportedly have roughly $15 million under the cap, and will likely use some of that to put more offensive skill position players around quarterback EJ Manuel, who needs to make a sizable leap going into 2014 if the Bills are able to break through in the AFC East.
Dolphins — Where to start? Miami is a bit of a mess right now, as the franchise continues to deal with the Richie Incognito–Jonathan Martin saga. It remains to be seen if the Dolphins end up making changes on their coaching staff as a result of what’s happened, but they’ve already parted ways with GM Jeff Ireland, going with Dennis Hickey in his place. (They also fired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman after Miami’s offense finished 26th in the league with an average of 19.8 points per game. They hired Eagles quarterback coach Bill Lazor as the new OC.) Hickey will have roughly $17 million in cap space to deal with when free agency opens, and he will almost certainly focus on an offensive line that was struggling, even before the Incognito-Martin situation blew up — quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times in 2013, most in the league. From a big picture perspective, it will be interesting to watch the moves that Hickey, coach Joe Philbin and owner Stephen Ross will make this offseason in hopes of trying to repair the Dolphins rep this offseason.
|Heath Evans on M&M: Monday’s game more important for Panthers than Patriots||11.18.13 at 2:40 pm ET|
Former Patriot Heath Evans joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about New England’s matchup with the Panthers and his take on the bullying scandal in Miami.
Monday’s game is a surprisingly good matchup as quarterback Cam Newton has led his team a 6-3 start to the season. With the Saints winning on Sunday, Carolina moved to 1½ games behind New Orleans in the NFC South.
Newton has played well this season, but the reason for the turnaround from a 7-9 record in 2012 revolves around the strong play of the Panthers defense. Second-year pro and Boston College product Luke Kuechly leads the team from his middle linebacker position. Evans compared Kuechly to former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
‘Luke Kuechly, and I think Tedy would probably agree with me, is more physically gifted than Tedy,’ Evans said. ‘This kid just gets it. ‘¦ There’s literally not a weak point to this kid’s game, and it’s just going to get a lot better.’
New England ran the ball during its last game against the Steelers, but achieving the same level of success against Kuechly and the Panthers’ impressive defensive line will be a daunting task.
‘You’ve got a lot of pieces here where, if you can run the ball, this offense can grow into a Patriots offense that we’ve never even seen before that could maybe even be more spectacular than what we’ve seen in the past,’ Evans said.
Evans, a member of the Dolphins in 2005, took on the issue of the Jonathan Martin–Richie Incognito bullying saga.
‘Jonathan Martin, if you’re having mental issues, and you have to step away from the team, what are you doing at a Stanford game the other night, on national TV in front of hundreds of thousands of people?’ Evans said. ‘When everything that will be exposed is exposed, I’m sure we’re probably going to see Jonathan Martin in a different light, we’ll probably see Richie Incognito in a different light, so to speak.’
ESPN’s Adam Schefter joined Dennis & Callahan Monday to discuss the Patriots’ matchup with the Panthers and news from around the NFL.
New England and Carolina square off on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers, backed by a stellar defense, enter the bout with a surprising 6-3 record. At the helm of that defense is middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the former Boston College standout.
‘I think if Luke Kuechly were to be in the draft again today, I think he’d be a top-three pick, not a top-nine pick,’ Schefter said. ‘The way he’s played and his upside has exceeded what some people thought he might do, to the point now where you could easily make the argument, I believe, that he’s the best inside linebacker in the game.’
Kuechly, the 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, leads the team with 75 tackles, and he has three interceptions.
‘Everyone in the Boston area knows how great he was at Boston College, and he’s just picked up right where he left off in the NFL and taken it to another level,’ Schefter said. ‘And the Patriots are going to taste that tonight.’
The Panthers sit 1 1/2 games behind behind the Saints in the NFC South and hold the first wild card spot.
‘I haven’t seen it enough to feel confident where I say, ‘Yes, Super Bowl contender, legitimate,’ ‘ Schefter said. ‘Now if they go and beat the Patriots tonight, my answer 24 hours from now might be a little different than today, but I can say they’re a legitimate playoff team, a strong team, a team I’m very impressed by, but I don’t know if I can group them with the rest of those other teams right now.’
After the Patriots face Carolina, they will begin to prepare for one of the most anticipated regular-season games of the season, a matchup with the Broncos. The game features a number of intriguing storylines: arguably the best two teams in the AFC; Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady; and Wes Welker possibly facing the team he departed this offseason.
|Dan Marino on M&M: ‘It’s tough for anyone to make judgment’ on Dolphins situation||11.12.13 at 3:07 pm ET|
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Jonathan Martin–Richie Incognito drama surrounding the Dolphins, as well as the performance of Tom Brady this season.
The accusations of hazing and bullying of Martin by Incognito is one of the biggest stories of this NFL season and has put a cloud over the entire Miami organization.
“I think it’s just frustrating for a lot of fans and everything, the way everything came about,” said Marino, who was named by the team to an advisory panel to help deal with the matter. “When I look at it, in some ways, I know as much as you guys do about it, because … there’s been a lot of speculation. Hopefully the one thing that I think is important is I saw [Dolphins owner Stephen] Ross on TV, and he’s committed to getting to the bottom of it and committed to fixing it and making things right. That’s the most important thing.
“If you’re not a player in that locker room, it’s tough for anyone to make judgment on it. Until they really get to the bottom of it — the NFL is investigating — it’s hard to make a legitimate comment on it, it really is.”
Not only has the story been a horrible PR scenario for the Dolphins, but it has also negatively impacted the team on the field, as the absence of Martin and Incognito, who was suspended on Nov. 4, have weakened an already faulty offensive line. In their first game since the issue was made public, the Dolphins lost to the previously winless Buccaneers on Monday night.
“When you look at it, you want to be balanced offensively as much as you can, and they’ve been struggling running the football, which makes it hard, especially on a young quarterback,” Marino said. “The fact that they have lost two of their linemen and now are replacing them with two other linemen that weren’t starters — but they were in the game, they did have a chance to win it, but at the same time, you got to make plays when you have to make them, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning as the team returns from its bye week to prepare for a Monday night matchup against the Panthers.
The Patriots are coming off a 55-point outburst against the Steelers, leading to widespread optimism following a slow offensive start to the season.
“Our expectations have never changed with the way that we perform offensively,” Brady said. “The reason why you score a lot of points is because you execute well. You hit the plays that are there. When you get defenses that you may expect to get and you have a great play call vs that defense, you’ve got to really take advantage of that opportunity.
“Football is about matchups and it’s about execution. When both those things come together, you can have pretty good nights offensively. And if you execute really well offensively, it’s hard for good defenses to stop you. But if you execute poorly, you could call the best play vs. the defense that you’re looking for, and if I make a bad throw, then we’re unproductive.
“We’re trying to be productive on a consistent basis. We talk about it at practice, we talk about it before the games. You always go into the games thinking that you have a really good plan of attack, and then it comes down to how well the players can go out and execute that. The last game, we scored 55 points, that was our best night of execution. We played really well.
“How we fare against Carolina, we’ve got to put the work in in practice, we’ve got to be prepared so that we can go out there and play with anticipation. You can play to 100 percent of your aggressiveness if you’re really confident in what you’re doing. There’s definitely games where you gain confidence in what we’re doing, and you think, ‘OK, man, this is what we’re capable of if it all goes well.’ That’s what we’re going to go try to do this next week.. This week we’re playing one of the best defenses in the league. So, our margin of error will be even less. But we still expect to go out there and play really well. That’s the expectation for the offense.”
The big news in football over the past week is the situation in Miami, where Jonathan Martin left the team after allegedly being harassed by Richie Incognito and other Dolphins teammates. Brady distanced himself from the controversy by noting the Patriots have avoided such issues.
“I’ve been a part of one locker room — or two, really, being in Michigan and being in the Patriot locker room,” Brady said. “We’ve got a great group of guys, we have great respect for one another. It starts with coach [Bill] Belichick and Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Jonathan [Kraft] and the leadership that they bring.
“We don’t want to do anything to misrepresent what’s going on in our locker room, we want to be good role models, we want to win football games. And I think that’s what it comes down to. We show up every day trying to do our job and really not let anything else get in the way of that. Because if there’s issues in your locker room, if there’s issues that are outside of the realm of your own opponent that you’re dealing with, it just takes away from what you’re trying to accomplish. Coach Belichick has always done a great job of keeping the players focused on our opponent, and that’s where our energy needs to go.
“It’s an unfortunate thing. There’s been a lot of awareness brought to the situation, based on what’s happened down in Miami. But that’s their issue to deal with. It’s certainly not an issue that any of us Patriots want to deal with. We’re not really concerned with that, to tell you the truth. We’re concerned with how we’re going to do our best to prepare to prepare for the biggest challenge of our year this week.”
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Dolphins scandal ‘unfortunate’||11.11.13 at 3:01 pm ET|
Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss New England’s bye week and the Jonathan Martin bullying saga.
Ninkovich and the Pats were out of action this week, as 7-2 New England enjoyed its bye week. The Patriots travel to Carolina next Monday night to take on the surprising 6-3 Panthers.
‘I just wanted to get a little break here, and definitely clear my mind a little bit and focus on the family,’ Ninkovich said, adding that he’d advise other to ‘take the time and use it wisely to try and get your body back to feeling pretty good, because there’s not much time like this to have a break and get your body going in the right direction.’
Ninkovich, a Patriots team captain, declined to elaborate on the Dolphins’ bullying fiasco.
‘I really don’t want to get into the whole subject, issue of it,’ Ninkovich said. ‘It’s something I have no idea about’¦ [I’m] just trying to focus on our team and moving forward in the season here.’
ESPN’s Lisa Salters reported that Martin’s days as a Dolphin are likely done. It’s speculated that teammate Richie Incognito, who’s currently serving a suspension for an indefinite amount of time for bullying Martin, is also on the way out.
‘I just think it’s unfortunate what happened down there,’ Ninkovich said. ‘Eventually, they’re going to have to figure out what’s going to happen with him, and I just don’t want to get involved with it.’