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AFC free agency report card

Image: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (© Ron Chenoy/US Presswire)
The Broncos finish at the top of the class.
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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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Report cards: AFC | NFC

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AFC

Miami

Impact moves: The large segment of Dolphins fans expecting a series of free-agent upgrades was sorely disappointed. The Dolphins struck out in their pursuit of three quarterbacks — Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith — before settling on David Garrard as competition for de facto starter Matt Moore. The lone projected starter Miami added in free agency was Arizona cornerback Richard Marshall.

Significant losses: The Dolphins traded wide receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for two third-round draft picks without having a replacement in line as the No. 1 pass-catching option. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland told safety Yeremiah Bell that he wasn't going to get released only to cut him a week into free agency. The callous treatment of a defensive team captain is another reason why Ireland is so reviled among fans and players.

Top draft need: If the Dolphins don't select Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the heat on Ireland will rise even higher. Miami also must find a pass-rushing end to help the productivity of Cameron Wake, who hasn't appeared for offseason workouts because of a contract dispute that Ireland should have addressed long ago.

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Analysis: The Miami Herald reported the Dolphins are projected to have $50 million in 2013 cap space. Ireland hasn't proved he should be employed to spend it.

Grade: F

Buffalo

Impact moves: The Bills stunned the NFL by winning the bidding for defensive end Mario Williams, who was considered the prize of the league’s free-agent class. Fellow end Mark Anderson also was signed, giving new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt the bookend pass-rushers he wanted in Buffalo’s new 4-3 scheme. The Bills re-signed wide receiver Stevie Johnson, middle linebacker Kirk Morrison and tight end Scott Chandler before the start of free agency.

Significant losses: Left tackle Demetress Bell signed with Philadelphia.

Top draft need: The Bills must decide whether second-year left tackle Chris Hairston is good enough to serve as Bell’s replacement. If not, a top prospect like Iowa’s Riley Reiff would make sense with the No. 10 overall pick. Buffalo also is expected to draft a quarterback in the second or third round.

Analysis: The Bills gave Williams a six-year, $100 million contract that included $50 million in guaranteed money. Buffalo hopes that expenditure sparks a franchise turnaround like when Green Bay — another team considered a free-agent outpost at the time — signed defensive end Reggie White in 1993.

Grade: A

New York Jets

Impact moves: After a relatively quiet start to free agency, the Jets returned to the tabloid back pages by acquiring Tim Tebow in a trade with Denver. New York also made a low-risk/high-reward signing in safety LaRon Landry (Washington).

Significant losses: Wide receiver Plaxico Burress and running back LaDainian Tomlinson are still free agents after not re-signing.

Top draft need: The Jets have entertained virtually all of the projected first-round wide receiver prospects on pre-draft visits. Safety and a pass-rushing outside linebacker should be other priorities.

Analysis: Rather than sign a conventional free-agent quarterback like Chad Henne or Kyle Orton to push Mark Sanchez, the Jets made the curious call of trading for Tebow. In a perfect world, Sanchez will rebound from a disappointing 2011 campaign and Tebow will shine in limited snaps running the Wildcat offense. In reality, the difficulty in running a two-quarterback system may create problems that undermine both players.

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Grade: D

New England

Impact moves: Rather than signing “sure-thing” free agents at a loftier price, the Patriots went the bargain-basement route. Guard Robert Gallery, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and Bobby Carpenter are former first-round picks signed to modest deals. The Patriots spent a little more to add wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (St. Louis) and defensive end Jonathan Fanene (Cincinnati).

Significant losses: Defensive end Mark Anderson, who had a 10-sack season in 2011, shuffled off to Buffalo. The Patriots continue to avoid making a significant financial investment in running backs by letting leading rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis leave to Cincinnati.

Top draft need: Forced to play with a patchwork secondary for most of last season, the Patriots could use a youth infusion at cornerback and safety.

Analysis: Although some Patriots fans would love splashier signings — particularly a pass-rusher — New England’s 27-5 regular-season record and Super Bowl appearance over the past two seasons is proof that Bill Belichick knows what he’s doing.

Grade: B

Jacksonville

Impact moves: Upgrading an anemic passing attack was a high priority with wide receivers Laurent Robinson (Dallas) and Lee Evans (Baltimore). The Jaguars also brought in competition for quarterback Blaine Gabbert after his underwhelming rookie season by signing Chad Henne (Miami). Defensively, cornerback Aaron Ross (New York Giants) should improve the secondary provided he can stay healthy.

Significant losses: None.

Top draft need: After whiffing on pass-rushers Derek Harvey and Quentin Groves with its first two picks in the 2008 draft, Jacksonville will likely try to fill that need again in the early rounds.

Analysis: Jaguars general manager Gene Smith is taking a significant gamble that Robinson and Ross — both of whom have injury histories — weren’t one-year wonders in 2011. The Jags also must hope Henne is a viable starting option if Gabbert can’t quickly develop under new head coach Mike Mularkey.

Grade: D

Indianapolis

Impact moves: Quarterback Peyton Manning leads a lengthy list of veterans who were purged. New head coach Chuck Pagano brought three defensive free agents with him from Baltimore —  safety Tom Zbikowski and linemen Cory Redding and Brandon McKinney — as he looks to install a 3-4 scheme.

Significant losses: While the Colts did retain three stalwarts in wide receiver Reggie Wayne and outside linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, a slew of other mainstays are now gone. Among them are center Jeff Saturday (Green Bay), tight end Dallas Clark (unsigned), wide receiver Pierre Garcon (Washington) and middle linebacker Gary Brackett (unsigned).

Top draft need: Manning’s heir apparent is set to arrive when the Colts select Stanford’s Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. Expect new general manager Ryan Grigson to focus on surrounding him with young offensive talent through the draft, especially at tight end and running back.

Analysis: The Colts have adopted the phrase “Building a Monster” as their 2012 mantra. Unfortunately for Pagano, Indianapolis needs more parts to create the type of beast that the Colts once fielded.

Grade: C-

Houston

Impact moves: The Texans avoided a potentially messy holdout by signing running back Arian Foster to a long-term contract extension. Center Chris Myers also was re-signed.

Significant losses: No team was hit harder than the Texans. Salary-cap problems led to the departure of veterans like outside linebacker Mario Williams, right tackle Eric Winston, cornerback Jason Allen and right guard Mike Brisiel. DeMeco Ryans, who was a bad fit at inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, was traded to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick.

Top draft need: The Texans may use their first-round pick on a wide receiver who can help draw some of the defensive attention away from Andre Johnson.

Analysis: The Texans didn’t just lose talent this offseason. They also must replace the veteran leadership that players like Ryans and Winston provided.

Grade: D

Tennessee

Impact moves: Once eliminated in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, the Titans struck quickly to augment their pass rush by signing Oakland’s Kamerion Wimbley to a five-year, $35 million contract. Tennessee also added seven-time All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson to bolster a weak interior offensive line.

Significant losses: The Titans surprisingly didn’t use their franchise tag on cornerback Cortland Finnegan, paving the way for his departure to St. Louis.

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Top draft need: Cornerback, center and defensive end.

Analysis: The Titans (9-7) were an under-the-radar surprise last year in Mike Munchak’s first season as head coach. Whether the team can take the next step into the playoffs could depend largely on who wins the upcoming quarterback duel between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker.

Grade: C+

Cleveland

Impact moves: The Browns augmented their defensive line with the signing of Juqua Parker (Philadelphia) and Frostee Rucker (Cincinnati).

Significant losses: Cleveland will need a new workhorse running back with Peyton Hillis leaving for Kansas City.

Top draft need: If the Browns don’t believe Colt McCoy is a franchise quarterback, Ryan Tannehill may be too tempting to shun with the No. 4 overall pick. The Browns need more play-makers on offense and a right tackle.

Analysis: Browns fans are getting restless after the first two seasons of the Mike Holmgren-led regime produced a 9-23 record. The lack of free-agent movement this offseason has added to the discontent.

Grade: D

Cincinnati

Impact moves: Even with a ton of salary cap space, the Bengals were prudent with their free-agent signings. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England), cornerback Jason Allen (Houston) and guard Jacob Bell (St. Louis) top the list.

Significant losses: Two members of the defensive line rotation — Frostee Rucker (Cleveland) and Jonathan Fanene (New England) — departed, but the Bengals lined up veteran replacements by signing former top 10 picks Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey.

Top draft need: The Bengals haven’t drafted a safety in the first round since Daryl Williams in 1992. Alabama’s Mark Barron could end that streak. Wide receiver is also high on the priority list for a team with two first-round draft choices thanks to the trade that sent quarterback Carson Palmer to Oakland.

Analysis: The Bengals upgraded their roster while also maintaining enough cap space to extend the contracts of their best young players.

Grade: B+

Pittsburgh

Impact moves: Placing a first-round tender on restricted free agent Mike Wallace is proving genius for the Steelers. His inability to sign an offer sheet elsewhere means the Steelers will keep the standout wide receiver for 2012 at a $2.7 million salary.

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Significant losses: Like with Indianapolis, the Steelers purged some of their long-time veterans. Linebacker James Farrior and wide receiver Hines Ward were both cut. Defensive linemen Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke are also headed toward retirement.

Top draft need: The Steelers need a big-bodied defensive lineman to groom as a potential replacement for 34-year-old nose tackle Casey Hampton. Inside linebacker might be targeted with Farrior now gone (Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw took a pre-draft visit). Running back could become an early priority with Rashard Mendenhall having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in early January.

Analysis: Pittsburgh entered the offseason with enough salary-cap trouble that several player contracts were restructured to create room. The Steelers have most of their top talent back, but the offense could look much different under new coordinator Todd Haley than pass-heavy predecessor Bruce Arians.

Grade: C

Baltimore

Impact moves: The Ravens kept cornerback Lardarius Webb, a restricted free agent, in the fold with a six-year, $53 million contract extension. Chicago cornerback Corey Graham was signed as a defensive reserve and special teams contributor.

Significant losses: Six defensive players, led by linebacker Jarret Johnson (San Diego) and defensive end Cory Redding (Indianapolis), signed elsewhere.

Top draft need: The Ravens should focus on restocking their defensive front seven.

Analysis: The Ravens have reached the playoffs for four straight years but fallen short of the Super Bowl. The window of opportunity may be closing quickly as linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed wind down their Hall of Fame careers. Baltimore also must still deal with the unsettled contract situations of quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.

Grade: C-

San Diego

Impact moves: For the first time since becoming general manager in 2003, A.J. Smith dipped heavily into the free-agent market for roster upgrades. The Chargers were especially active at wide receiver, signing veterans Robert Meachem (New Orleans), Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo) and Eddie Royal (Denver). San Diego also re-signed two starting offensive linemen in left tackle Jared Gaither and center Nick Hardwick. Linebacker Jarret Johnson (Baltimore) should boost San Diego’s anemic pass rush.


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Significant losses: Meachem was a lower-priced replacement for Vincent Jackson, who signed a five-year, $55.6 million contract with Tampa Bay. Running back Mike Tolbert bolted for Carolina, which makes it even more imperative that Ryan Mathews carry the team’s rushing load in 2012. Left guard Kris Dielman retired following a concussion and seizure suffered last season.

Top draft need: With 2009 first-round pick Larry English never developing into the pass-rushing force they had hoped, the Chargers will likely seek an outside linebacker in the early rounds. Cornerback should also be addressed, with starters Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason set to become unrestricted free agents in 2013.

Analysis: Because he missed on too many picks in recent drafts, Smith was forced to turn toward free agency to address needs. While not ideal for Smith, doing so at least gives him and head coach Norv Turner a fighting chance of getting off the hot seat.

Grade: B

Denver

Impact moves: There was no bigger move this offseason than the signing of quarterback Peyton Manning to a five-year, $96 million contract. Modest upgrades were made to Manning’s new supporting cast with the signing of tight ends Jacob Tamme (Indianapolis) and Joel Dreessen (Houston) as well as wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati).

Significant losses: "Tebow Time" expired in Denver when the Colts acquired Manning. The Broncos acquired a fourth-round pick as part of the trade that sent Tim Tebow to the New York Jets. Denver couldn’t retain defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with New Orleans.

Top draft need: Defensive tackle must be addressed early, but the Broncos also may be looking to draft a cornerback. Andre Goodman was released last week and Champ Bailey will be 34 years old this season.

Analysis: The Broncos brilliantly courted the most attractive quarterback ever to hit the free-agent market while also finding a way out of the Tebow quagmire. Denver now must hope that Manning isn’t damaged goods from four neck procedures within a two-year span.

Grade: A+

Oakland

Impact moves: The Raiders were hamstrung by salary cap restraints but new general manager Reggie McKenzie still found a way to improve his pass rush (ex-New York Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson) and offensive line (ex-Houston right guard Mike Brisiel). Four veteran cornerbacks were added to the secondary following the release of Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson.

Significant losses: The size of Kamerion Wimbley’s contract forced McKenzie to cut ties with his team’s best pass rusher. Running back Michael Bush (Cincinnati), tight end Kevin Boss (Kansas City) and quarterback Jason Campbell (Chicago) now have new homes. To replace Bush as Darren McFadden’s backup, Oakland acquired Mike Goodson from Carolina for reserve offensive lineman Bruce Campbell.

Top draft need: The Raiders could use help at tight end, safety, and along the offensive and defensive lines but McKenzie isn’t dealing with a full selection of picks. Oakland won’t have its original first-, second-, third-, fourth- or seventh-round choices because of prior transactions.

Analysis: McKenzie knew he was inheriting a mess when hired so the offseason difficulties in upgrading the roster are understandable.

Grade: C+

Kansas City

Impact moves: The Chiefs signed the best right tackle on the free-agent market following Eric Winston’s surprising release by Houston. Running back Peyton Hillis (Cleveland) and tight end Kevin Boss (Oakland) will play complementary roles on offense.

Significant losses: The Chiefs didn’t come close to re-signing Brandon Carr, who inked a five-year, $50.1 million contract with Dallas. Kansas City hopes that Stanford Routt (Oakland) fares well as a lesser-priced replacement.

Top draft need: Cornerback, defensive line and interior offensive line. The Chiefs also will consider a developmental quarterback to groom behind embattled starter Matt Cassel.

Analysis: Scott Pioli has made great strides rebuilding the roster since becoming Kansas City’s general manager in 2009. The Chiefs also will be buoyed by the return of three of their top young players (safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki) who spent last season on injured reserve.

Grade: B+

Report cards: AFC | NFC
 

Tagged: Bills, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Broncos, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, Matt Hasselbeck, Ed Reed, Chris Hoke, Cory Redding, Andre Johnson, Dallas Clark, Chris Johnson, Yeremiah Bell, Robert Mathis, Brandon Lloyd, Jarret Johnson, Robert Gallery, Jacob Bell, Jason Campbell, Stanford Routt, Vincent Jackson, Alex Smith, Chris Myers, Matt Cassel, Jonathan Fanene, Eric Winston, Frostee Rucker, Mario Williams, Kamerion Wimbley, Jason Allen, Mark Anderson, Brandon Marshall, Mike Brisiel, Brandon McKinney, Kevin Boss, Jamaal Anderson, Aaron Ross, Robert Meachem, Matt Moore, Ray Rice, Chad Henne, Matt Flynn, Stevie Johnson, Peyton Hillis, Brandon Carr, Andre Caldwell, Mike Tolbert, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Wallace, Mike Goodson, Mark Sanchez, Eric Berry, Bruce Campbell, Ryan Mathews, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Chris Hairston

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