Mario Williams Signing With Buffalo Bills Could Be Treacherous for Patriots and 19 Other NFL Thoughts

Mario Williams Signing With Buffalo Bills Could Be Treacherous for Patriots and 19 Other NFL ThoughtsFree agency is still only hours old, but it got off to a fun start with a big trade, some high-level courtships and a few ridiculous contracts. Yup, March is when the desperate times shine the brightest.

The funny thing is the quieter teams are typically the ones that succeed on the field. That’s again been the case with the Patriots.

1. The Patriots got off to a quiet start to free agency Tuesday night, but that doesn’t mean they were dormant. Just because there was little news reported doesn’t mean they took a pass on the first day. The Patriots control the news stream better than any team in the league, so it’s tough for information to go public.

2. On one hand, that tactic can be a tough public-relations move when the fan base sees a half-dozen other teams going hard after the most elite free agents.

3. On the other hand, one advantage to concealing this information is the Patriots don’t have to offer any of those “We’re sorry” contract extensions to keep players happy like the Jets did last week with quarterback Mark Sanchez.

4. I got a number of questions Tuesday about Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, but teams can’t negotiate with restricted free agents until Saturday. Someone can trade for Wallace at any point, but if anyone is looking to sign Wallace (and fork over a necessary first-round pick), it’s going to be a few days before Wallace really emerges in the news.

5. With the Redskins going overboard on wide receivers, I’m wondering if Jabar Gaffney will become available, either by trade or an outright release. Since Gaffney is owed a $2.65 million base salary in 2012, which is the final year of his contract, he might simply get cut, particularly if the Redskins need to unload him quickly to appease their salary cap issues.

6. Either way, Gaffney would be a terrific addition for the Patriots. He was a perfect role player in New England from 2006-08, and he’s coming off a career-best 68-catch season in 2011, so Gaffney still has it. If the Patriots need to shift to a Plan B in free agency at the wide receiver position — or if they’re just looking to load up and see what happens in camp — Gaffney deserves a call.

7. In the last week, I’ve heard there’s an expectation around the league that the Patriots will address wide receiver and defensive tackle in the draft.

8. There will be a bunch of defensive tackles, who could also serve as 3-4 defensive ends, available late in the first round and early in the second. Some of the following players could go in the top third of the first round, pending how the pre-draft process plays out, but here’s a list of defensive tackles who could be there when the Patriots are on the clock: LSU’s Michael Brockers, Memphis’ Dontari Poe, Penn State’s Devon Still, Mississippi State’ Fletcher Cox and Michigan State’s Jerel Werthy. Since it’s a blurry group, there’s still no telling who will be off the board first and how far the rest will fall.

9. I thought of something from the playoffs while assessing the Patriots’ chances of signing wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. The Patriots’ squabble with agent Tom Condon is well-documented, but Lloyd obviously wants to reunite with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Anyway, Bill Belichick said McDaniels was able to influence some coaching decisions after his postseason arrival, and Belichick noted how McDaniels has grown since his last stint in New England.

10. What’s that all mean for Lloyd? If McDaniels is convinced Lloyd can help the Patriots, he can probably sell the idea to Belichick. And if Belichick needs that extra kick to end his cold war with Condon, McDaniels might be the one who can deliver it.

11. It’s a tough way for linebacker Gary Guyton to end his career in New England, and I wonder where he winds up. Just a guess, but the Falcons seems like a fit. He’s from Georgia, and the fast track could play to his speed. They also need help at linebacker. Seems to make sense.

12. The Patriots can’t be happy to see the news that defensive end Mario Williams is a serious candidate to sign with the Bills, who already have two outstanding defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus. That’s going to be a difficult front to contain, especially if the Bills decide to beef up with the 10th overall draft pick, too.

13. On another departed member of the Texans, I can’t believe they ousted right tackle Eric Winston, who was a force in that locker room. After Houston made such a breakthrough in 2011 — finally winning the division, getting to the playoffs and claiming a postseason victory — it seems ill-advised to unload such a leader and strong player. Then again, as long as quarterback Peyton Manning stays out of Tennessee, the Texans will have a stranglehold on a very poor AFC South.

14. The Dolphins will be the favorite to land Winston, who played college ball at Miami, and he’ll really beef up their line. They’ve got the best tackle in the game in Jake Long, as well as a very promising young center in Mike Pouncey and a nasty guard in Richie Incognito. If Winston signs with the Dolphins, they’d have done a great job of reshaping their line over the last two years.

15. I am absolutely stunned the Colts re-signed wide receiver Reggie Wayne, mostly because I truly believed he was a package deal with Manning. I wonder if Wayne knew which way Manning was leaning and decided he didn’t want any part of that destination.

16. But really, after owner Jim Irsay gutted the product on the field, soon-to-be Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has to be thrilled that he’ll have a teammate that he’s heard of before. Also, with a pro like Wayne, Luck’s progression will be in good hands.

17. With the insane money doled out Tuesday to wide receivers — aside from Wayne, whose reported six-year, $17.5 million deal was wildly underwhelming — the focus in New England turns to Wes Welker. By the way Tuesday unfolded, the Patriots will have to spend more to sign Welker to an extension, though I don’t believe Welker is the type to rake them over the coals in negotiations.

18. Quarterback Brian Hoyer will explore his options as a restricted free agent and try to find a team that will give him an opportunity to start (more details here). Whether it’s in 2012 or 2013, Hoyer will get his chance to lead a team, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s got.

19. It will be tough for Hoyer to find a home as a restricted free agent, and I think his market might be limited to the Browns and Seahawks, though things could change pending Manning’s destination. Hoyer grew up as a Browns fan, so he would probably love that type of homecoming, but it would be tough for the Browns to justify it with Colt McCoy still in tow. In a related note, Hoyer told me in January he’s never gotten on Belichick for cutting Bernie Kosar.

20. I was scrolling through the Madden 13 cover bracket, and a few things stuck out. Remember how embarrassing it must have been last year when the Seahawks were represented by their fans, and not a single marketable player? Well, the Raiders’ two candidates are kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler. Yup, two specialists. Also, wide receiver Brandon Marshall was one of the Dolphins’ two candidates, so that’s embarrassing after Tuesday’s trade. But hey, the Rams have wide receiver Brandon Lloyd as a candidate, which is rough since he’s a free agent. One of the Colts’ candidates is defensive end Dwight Freeney, and they’re reportedly open to trading him. Finally, the whole Manning situation could impact other teams’ cover candidates like Tim Tebow (Broncos) and Jake Locker (Titans). If the voters come together and play their cards right, the game could have an embarrassing cover photo, similar to the Brett Favre fiasco a few years ago.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

Photo via Facebook/Mario-Williams

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