AFC East Notes: Patriots, Collins, Jets, McCain

The Patriots have seven defensive starters hitting the free agent market at once, but coach Bill Belichick claims he isn’t worried, as Doug Kyed of writes.Bill Belichick (Vertical)

In general, there’s some team planning, you do what you can do,” Belichick said. “Sometimes if you can work out a contract, which we’ve done that during the season with various players — if you can work that out, you work that out. If you can’t, there’s been a number of players we’ve signed — our players that we’ve signed once free agency has started. Devin McCourty, to pick a name.

I don’t think you can be afraid of free agency. It’s not if a guy gets to free agency, you can’t resign him. You’re in a competitive market, but you’re in a competitive market anyway. These guys know that they have other options, depending on who the player is and what their situation is. They have other options. We know there’s only so much money to go around. If you can work it out, then you have the security, if you can’t then you have your options. They have their options, we have our options. That’s professional sports.”

Linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, cornerback Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon, and defensive tackle Alan Branch will all be unrestricted free agents while cornerback Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent . Meanwhile, offensive starters Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, and James Develin also will be UFAs.

As the Patriots gear up for an interesting offseason, here’s more from the AFC East:

  • On Monday, the Patriots are expected to activate quarterback Tom Brady and defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald expects tight end A.J. Derby and LaAdrian Waddle to be on the chopping block, though placing Eric Rowe on IR is also an option. Derby has been passed by Clay Harbor on the depth chart and likely could pass waivers and be placed on the practice squad. Waddle, meanwhile, is the fourth tackle on the depth chart and has been leapfrogged by Cameron Fleming.
  • The Jets auditioned free agent defensive end Chris McCain today, reports Rich Cimini of (Twitter link). McCain, 24, is entering his third season in the NFL, but hasn’t contributed much during his first two years in the league. He’s appeared in 19 games, but he’s been more of a special teams player than a defensive stalwart. McCain picked up a sack and a forced fumble in 2015, but only played on 113 total snaps (43 on defense) before being traded to the Saints this offseason.
  • The Bills placed wide receiver Sammy Watkins on injured reserve today, and replaced him by claiming fellow pass-catcher Justin Hunter off waivers. Watkins will be out for a minimum of eight weeks as he recovers from a foot injury.
  • In case you missed it, the Patriots worked out former Raiders fullback Marcel Reece today.
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