Well that was a fun 2011 NFL season, wasn't it? Now that we make a transition to the 2012 off-season it just makes sense to start looking at players who could be switching teams.
This is going to be my fourth installment of an eight part series that focuses on players that could find themselves being released from each division. I had previously focused on the AFC West, AFC North and AFC South. Today's article is going to take a look at the AFC East.
It goes without saying that the New England Patriots are the class of that division with the rest of the teams vying for second-best. With that said, their window appears to be gradually closing. Expect the defending AFC Champions and every other team in this division to make some significant moves to rebuild and reload.
So, lets take a look.
New England Patriots
OT- Matt Light: $6.5 million cap hit
The Patriots are actually projected to be about $23 million under the cap when free agency starts, so they don't have to make any roster decisions based solely on finances. Instead, they can look at upgrading the roster. With Nate Solder entering his second season, it makes sense for New England to let the veteran Matt Light go in order to use that $6.5 million elsewhere.
Light has made three Pro Bowl appearances throughout his career and has been a lynchpin for their offensive line. But, there comes a time when all good things must come to an end. It appears his days in Foxboro are numbered.
WR- Chad Ochocinco: $6.2 million cap hit
No. 85 has seen his best days and isn't much better than a #3 wide receiver on a good team, if that. He has lost the speed that made him dangerous and is unable to make the break at the line that is necessary to gain separation. Many people expected the experiment in New England to work out, but I had my reservations. It appears that experiment is over after one disappointing season.
DL- Ron Brace: $1.4 million cap hit
The New England Patriots selected Ron Brace in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft to be the eventual replacement for Vince Wilfork. All he has done in three seasons is acquire a total of 35 tackles in seven starts, not what you want from a high pick. We all know that Belichick and Co. have a short leash when it comes to under performing players, this will be the case with Brace during the 2012 off-season.
New York Jets
LB- Bart Scott: $6.0 million cap hit
The Jets already find themselves roughly $5 million over the cap and without an opportunity to upgrade a team that performed at a disastrous level in 2011. In short, they are going to have to cut money somewhere from the 53. Bart Scott is a prime candidate to get released if he refuses to restructure that contract. The Jets really need to get younger at the linebacker position. This coupled with the fact that Scott is set to make $6 million in 2012 and regressed last season, leads me to believe he is on his way out of Jersey.
LB- Calvin Pace: $7.4 million cap hit
The veteran linebacker has seen his sack total drop over the course of the last few seasons as his tackle total has gone up. It seems that Pace translates better to a 4-3 scheme at this point in his career. With the added onus of getting pass rushers to play OLB in a 3-4, he could be on the way out. Aaron Maybin, who led the Jets in sacks last season, is a free agent and could be the heir-apparent to Pace at the ROLB position.
DE- Chris Kelsay: $5.8 million cap hit
The Bills are definitely going to look for an upgrade over Chris Kelsay at the outside linebacker position. I fully expect them to jump on Courtney Upshaw should he fall to them. Just one year after signing a four year, $28 million contract, the veteran linebacker regressed along one of the weakest units in the entire NFL. Kelsay is currently the Bills third highest paid player and I expect them to cut their losses this off-season.
CB- Terrence McGee: $6.3 million cap hit
Injuries are what have cost McGee over his career. This is an extremely talented corner who was playing elite football back in 2004. He hasn't been able to stay healthy. We are looking at a corner that has missed 22 games over the course of the last three seasons.
You also have to realize that he is set to make $13 million in 2012 and 2013. Buffalo has two young corners in Justin Rogers and Aaron Williams fully prepared to take his spot. There is no doubt that McGee will be looking for another home this off-season. Lets just hope he can stay healthy enough to salvage what was once a promising career.
LB- Shawne Merriman: $5.8 million cap hit
As much as it sounds like pure conjecture, Shawne Merriman is nowhere near the player he was during his Steroid days. The linebacker absolutely dominating opposing AFC offenses from 2005-to-2007, recording a total of 40 sacks. Since, he has compiled a grand total of 4.5. Needless to say, Buffalo isn't going to pay him nearly $6 million per sack in 2012. He is as good as gone.
S- Yeremiah Bell: $5.8 million cap hit
There have been various reports indicating that the Miami Dolphins are incredibly interested in signing Reggie Nelson this off-season. If that is true Bell better be packing his bags. He struggled a great deal in 2011 and was one of the primary reasons that the Dolphins secondary didn't live up to expectations. With that said, he is just two years removed from a Pro bowl season and will get interest from multiple teams in March.
TE- Anthony Fasano: $4.5 million cap hit
The Dolphins don't have a ton of cap room to work with this off-season. With the reports that they are interested in both Payton Manning and Matt Flynn comes the idea that they are going to have to do a mini "salary cap purge." If that is the case, Fasano is likely to be gone. He hasn't been nearly what Miami had hoped when the traded for him with Dallas following the 2007 season. I fully expect them to let him go and look for a replacement in the NFL Draft, Dwayne Allen comes to mind first.