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AFC East roundup: Who will be Bills’ starting QB? 08.21.15 at 11:55 am ET
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Will Matt Cassell by the Bills' starting quarterback? (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Will Matt Cassel be the Bills’ starting quarterback? (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

With the regular-season officially less then three weeks away, it’s a good time to check in with the rest of the AFC East and see what’s happening with the Bills, Jets and Dolphins.

It would appear the division will be more competitive than in year’s past, but the Patriots still are the clear-cut favorite — although Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake did come out and say the team will “definitely” make the playoffs this season.

Here’s how the AFC East is looking at this point:

Buffalo Bills
Preseason Game 1: L, 25-24 vs. Panthers
Preseason Game 2: W, 11-10 vs. Browns

— The biggest thing with the Bills remains their quarterback situation, and new coach Rex Ryan isn’t giving any hints on who that might be. Matt Cassel started the preseason opener last week and Tyrod Taylor started the second preseason contest Thursday night. Meanwhile, EJ Manuel reportedly is still in the mix. While none of the three are going to have performances that distinguish them as real difference makers, the key will be managing games and eliminating mistakes.

— The Bills are in contract discussions with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and it doesn’t seem like they are going as planned. “And it’s just really making me unhappy,” Dareus told the Buffalo News. “I feel like they don’t really want me here.” It’s reported the Bills have offered him a deal worth “more than $90 million over six years,” but he’s looking for Ndamukong Suh-type money. Suh signed a six-year, $114 deal with the Dolphins this past offseason.

— Like the Patriots, the Bills are banged up at the wide receiver position. Sammy Watkins (glute), Robert Woods (undisclosed) and Percy Harvin (hip) all didn’t play Thursday against the Browns and Chris Hogan was carted to the locker room during the game with an ankle injury. Wide out isn’t the only position dealing with a few injuries, as running backs LeSean McCoy (hamstring), Fred Jackson (hamstring), Bryce Brown (hamstring) and Karlos Williams (undisclosed procedure) also didn’t dress.

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, AFC East roundup, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins
Why Jonathan Freeny is a player to watch in preseason 08.13.15 at 5:37 pm ET
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Jonathan Freeny

Jonathan Freeny

FOXBORO — It’s no secret that Bill Belichick values his special teams.

So much so that if a player shines on special teams, he can ensure his spot on the roster.

Linebacker Jonathan Freeny was signed in the March by the Patriots for one year and $1 million ($150,000 guaranteed). But his real value could be on special teams, much in the same way another Jonathan [Casillas] was last year.

“He brings a good level of experience to the team both in the kicking game and on defense,” Belichick said. “[He’€™s a] smart player, picks up things well, tall, rangy, runs well, is a good athlete, has got good size, has got some experience. I think he has an opportunity to contribute on all four downs ‘€“ defensively and in the kicking game. We’€™ll see how it goes. He’€™s got a lot to work with. He’€™s been a good addition to our team. He works hard ‘€“ he’€™s been dependable and tough.”

There’s something else working in Freeny’s favor: He went to Rutgers and was signed by Miami as an undrafted free agent in July 2011.

The 6-foot-2, 242-pound linebacker played 16 games in both 2012 and ’13 for the Dolphins. He played just 12 games last season. In his three seasons of action, he served primarily on special teams, a role he’s served with the Patriots throughout camp so far.

Making the team as a linebacker with names like Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins on the roster might be a long shot. But in the preseason, that’s a different story. This is when Freeny can shine and show his true versatility.

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, Jonathan Freeny, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
AFC East roundup: What has rest of division done to this point in training camp? 08.03.15 at 11:57 pm ET
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Rex Ryan is a big fan of what his team has done this offseason. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Rex Ryan and the Bills still have no idea who their starting quarterback will be. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

With NFL training camps roughly a week in the books, now is a good chance to catch up with the rest of the AFC East to see what they are up to as preseason openers for all teams are just over a week away.

Buffalo Bills

— The Bills still don’t have a starting quarterback as neither EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor or Matt Cassel have done anything to separate themselves from the other two.

— Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will avoid legal punishment for the incident last month when he allegedly punched a boy in the face and threatened to kill his family following a dispute over beach chairs, but the team announced he will be suspended six games.

— It didn’t take long for Richie Incognito to make an impact on coach Rex Ryan as he already named the troubled offensive lineman the team’s starting left guard.

— Off the field, new running back LeSean McCoy made headlines with a party he posted on Instagram for woman 21-and-over. “I felt like it was like a thing I do every year with teammates. It’s something I bring together with teammates, but I didn’t do it this year,” McCoy said to clarify what happened. “It got too wild. I should never have posted it, and I take blame for it.”

New York Jets

— In their first season without Rex Ryan, things have been much more calm with the Jets during camp with Todd Bowles leading the way. Quarterback Geno Smith has seen the majority of snaps with the first team, so it would seem he’s on track to the starting job over Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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Read More: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets,
What to make of: Miami Dolphins 07.22.15 at 1:05 pm ET
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Ndamukong Suh is now a big part of the Miami defense. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Ndamukong Suh is now a big part of the Miami defense. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With Patriots camp opening up on July 30 at Gillette Stadium, WEEI.com takes a quick look at each of the Patriots’ rivals in the AFC East, their additions, losses and what each team needs to accomplish in camp.

Miami Dolphins

2014 finish: 8-8, 3rd in AFC East

Key additions: DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Kenny Stills, WR DeVante Parker (R), TE Jordan Cameron, DT CJ Mosley

Key losses: DL Jared Odrick, LB Dannell Ellberbe, LB Jonathan Freeny, S Jimmy Wilson, TE Charles Clay, RB Daniel Thomas

Camp goals: Keep Suh fresh, healthy and happy, find reps for new wide receivers who will have to find rhythm with franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill, develop some type of killer instinct and focus to close out games.

What to make of the Dolphins: While the Dolphins made a huge splash in the offseason by signing the biggest name defensive tackle on the market, it will be fascinating to see if the sum of the parts equals the whole when it comes to pad-crunching time.

There’s no doubt the Dolphins are getting one of the best in the game in Ndamukong Suh along the defensive line. He became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, when Miami signed him to a six-year deal worth roughly $114 million, with nearly $60 million fully guaranteed.

Like the Bills and Jets, the Dolphins have stacked up on defensive linemen and edge rushers, with the hope of getting to Tom Brady atop the division. Suh joins a crew that already includes C.J. Mosley, rookie Jordan Phillips, Derrick Shelby, Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake.

But they lost defensive lineman Jared Odrick (Jaguars), linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (Saints) and Jonathan Freeny (Patriots) and safety Jimmy Wilson (Chargers). To shore up their receiving corps, the Dolphins traded their third-round selection (No. 78 overall) and Ellerbe to the Saints in exchange for wide receiver Kenny Stills.

The other huge financial commitment the Dolphins made this offseason was to their quarterback. On May 18, 2015, Ryan Tannehill signed a four-year contract extension with the Dolphins through the 2020 season worth $77 million. It includes a $11.5 million signing bonus, $45 million guaranteed, and an average annual salary of just over $19 million.

They also brought back veteran backup Matt Moore behind Tannehill, so the Dolphins have that going for them.

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Read More: Miami Dolphins, Ndamukong Suh, New England Patriots, nfl
Don Shula: ‘We didn’t deflate any balls’ 05.10.15 at 11:09 am ET
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Don Shula. (Getty Images)

Don Shula. (Getty Images)

Yet another shot from hall of fame coach Don Shula has been fired across the bow of Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Speaking as a guest of honor at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Miami Dolphins, Shula said his Dolphins of the early 1970s that went to three straight Super Bowls, won two back-to-back Super Bowls (1972, ’73) and posted the only perfect season NFL history did things the right way.

In his speech, he took a clear shot at the Patriots, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“Our record in those 50 years was always done with a lot of class, a lot of dignity, a lot of doing it the right way. We didn’t deflate any balls,” Shula said.

Afterward, he was asked by local reporters to expand upon his comments.

“I coached for 33 years and I’ve never once in that 33-year period of time ever even talked or heard anyone talk about the air in the football,” Shula said. “So I’m not going to start talking about the air in the football.”

Shula’s comments comes days after the release of the Ted Wells report, detailing the investigation into alleged illegal tampering with game footballs before and during Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Colts in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.

Punishment of Tom Brady is expected to be announced this week by the NFL.

Read More: Deflategate, Don Shula, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
Report: Patriots in on Brian Hartline, possibly to replace Danny Amendola 03.05.15 at 3:55 pm ET
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Brian Hartline could be on the Patriots' radar in free agency. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Brian Hartline could be on the Patriots’ radar in free agency. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Patriots are considering all of their options when it comes to their wide receivers, and one of them may be veteran Brian Hartline.

According to Cleveland.com, the Patriots are among a group of four teams seriously considering making a bid for the 28-year-old veteran of five NFL seasons and may have already made a preliminary offer. Hartline hit the market after playing just two of the five seasons in his contract he signed with the Dolphins in March 2013. Miami signed him for five years and $30 million, with $12.5 million guaranteed and a $7 million signing bonus.

Amendola, 29, signed a similar contract at the same time, inking for five years and $28.5 million with $10 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus. Amendola’s production picked up in the second half of this season and he played a key role as a kick returner. He had five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the Seahawks. He also had two touchdown receptions in the playoff win over the Ravens.

Still, Amendola’s targets and catches were down drastically in 2014, his second season in New England, catching just 27 passes for 200 yards and only one touchdown on 42 targets. He caught 54 passes for 633 yards on 83 targets in 2013. His biggest impact came on kickoff returns, returning 20 kicks for an average of 24.1 yards.

Cleveland.com reports that the Patriots could be willing to cut Amendola and replace him with Hartline if it clears cap space and gives them more flexibility.

The Patriots are reportedly in the mix with the Texans, Browns (Hartline went to Ohio State and is from nearby Canton, OH), Bears and possibly the Colts. The Dolphins have already not ruled out making a run again at the receiver, who was a fourth-round pick of Miami in 2009 and has played his entire six-year career in South Florida. Hartline caught 298 passes for 4,243 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2012 and 2013, he became just the fifth receiver in Dolphins history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Last season, Hartline was relegated to a back-up, grabbing only 39 passes for 474 yards and two touchdowns.

If he chose his hometown Browns, he could help fill the void left by Josh Gordon, who’s serving a minimum one-year ban for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Read More: Brian Hartline, Cleveland Browns, Danny Amendola, Miami Dolphins
Free Agent Snapshot: Charles Clay 02.13.15 at 11:59 am ET
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Charles Clay (42) has been a big-play maker against the Patriots in recent years. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Charles Clay (42) has been a big-play maker against the Patriots in recent years. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee. Here is a look at tight end Charles Clay:

Charles Clay
Position: Tight end/Fullback
Age: 26 (Feb. 13, 1989)
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 250 pounds

The skinny: In the words of Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, Clay “has size and can run.” The versatile Clay is also one of the best receiving “H-backs” in the game, proving to be a very reliable catching tight end and an effective blocking fullback when he is kept in to for extra pass protection. Clay, who has transitioned to more of a traditional tight end role, is regarded so highly around the NFL that he earned a spot at No. 89 among the NFL’s best players on a recent NFL.com poll. Two years ago he had a career year with 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns. That was when Clay’€™s value was at his highest. However, Clay battled through knee and hamstring injuries last season. In addition, under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Clay’s numbers dropped as he wasn’€™t featured as much in the play-calling. If the Dolphins go with the cheaper in-house option of backup Dion Sims, Clay could hit the open market.

By the numbers: Clay’s best season came in 2013 when he had career highs in receptions (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (6). This past season, he had one game where he showed that kind of explosiveness and production, grabbing six catches for 114 yards in a Week 16 37-35 win over the Vikings.

Why it would work: If the Patriots feel they could make a significant upgrade over James Develin and/or Michael Hoomanawanui. Hooman is signed through 2015 and is due to make $800,000 with a $1.58 million cap hit for next season. Clay is coming off a down year where he fought through a season-long knee injury. It should help lower his price on the open market if the Dolphins let him get there. Clay is one of the more versatile tight ends in the league with the ability to line up in the backfield.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
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