- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's take a look at whose stock is up and whose stock is down in the AFC East.
1. New England Patriots’ salary cap: Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady showed why he is a franchise player. Just weeks before free agency, Brady agreed to a below market, three-year contract extension that added millions to New England's salary cap. The Patriots are now expected to be players in free agency. They have in-house players like receiver Wes Welker and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer the Patriots want to retain. The Patriots also have the ability to go after free agents like future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed. Brady reduced his cap number to make sure the Patriots have the best chance to compete.
2. Tavon Austin, West Virginia receiver: Few players helped their stock more at the combine than Austin. The diminutive receiver erased a lot of questions by posting a lightning-fast 4.34 in the 40-yard dash and catching the football well. Austin often gets compared as a hybrid between Wes Welker and Percy Harvin. That’s a makeup of a pretty good football player, and Austin’s stock continues to rise in the first round.
3. Miami Dolphins’ draft capital: Miami is in a very good spot with nine draft picks. It’s becoming more and more evident that this is a deep -- but not top-heavy -- draft. The Dolphins should be able to get a good player with the No. 12 pick in the first round without the pressure of a top-10 pick. Miami also will be busy with five quality picks in the first three rounds. The Dolphins have a chance to have one of the strongest drafts this year. There’s also a chance that Miami could pick up additional compensatory picks to take its total to double digits.
1. Quarterback market for Bills, Jets: The already-thin quarterback market appears to be getting thinner each week. Reports now indicate that the San Francisco 49ers’ Alex Smith, the top quarterback available this offseason, may have a trade in place with a mystery team. Most believe that team is Kansas City. If the reports are accurate, who is left for the Bills and Jets? Will they stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Mark Sanchez? Or would Buffalo and New York go the rookie route with Geno Smith, Mike Glennon or Ryan Nassib? Perhaps Matt Flynn is a possibility for the Jets. However, none of these options appears to get Buffalo or New York any closer to the Patriots in the AFC East.
2. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end: The early start to the “Summer of Gronk” was recently derailed. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Gronkowski had a third surgery on his arm to clean out an infection. It was discovered early, which means his timeline to return remains the same. But Gronkowski’s offseason is already off to a poor start. It began when Gronkowski’s idea of a good time involved wrestling with a friend in Vegas and dangerously landing on his twice-broken arm. In addition, Gronkowski’s had his third arm surgery in several months. Gronkowski’s focus the rest of the offseason should be on getting healthy.
3. Manti Te'o to AFC East: It’s looking more and more like former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is not coming to the AFC East. The Bills and Jets both need linebacker help, but Te’o didn’t help his stock at the NFL combine. Te’o ran a slow 40 time of 4.82, which likely drops him out of the top 15. Scouts were already leery after a poor performance in the National Championship Game and his off-the-field “catfish” controversy. Don’t expect the Bills, Jets or Dolphins to take a flier on Te’o in the top 12.
4dField Yates and Rich Cimini