AFC North offseason breakdown
The Ravens have 23 players who are scheduled to become free agents. They also have various needs to be filled on both sides of the ball.
For the Ravens to take a big step on offense, they must add speed at the wide receiver position via the draft or free agency. Baltimore’s passing game has become very predictable.
Key free agents
Marc Bulger/QB – Bulger almost certainly won’t be back next season because it’s believed he will have some opportunities to start elsewhere.
Le’Ron McClain/FB – McClain has become an larger part of their running game from a blocking standpoint over the past few years, but he’s certainly capable of handling more of a role carrying the football. The team really doesn’t have much of a choice at this point but to re-sign him because there are no realistic options on their 80-man roster to replace him.
Marshal Yanda/G-OT – He did a nice job filling in for injured right tackle Jared Gaither last season. Yanda’s versatility could help boost his stock in free agency.
Jared Gaither/OT – He missed the entire 2010 season because of back problems, so Gaither can’t really be counted on to be the answer at right or left tackle at this point. One thing the Ravens do know is that Michael Oher will start at either position.
Jameel McClain/ILB – He wound up being one of the bigger surprises for the team last season and started 15 games. McClain would be a restricted free agent if the new CBA reverts back to the old rules.
Chris Carr/CB – When the Ravens signed him two years ago, it was believed Carr would be a dime cornerback and kickoff returner. As it turned out, he wound up starting all 16 regular-season games last season and 20 over the past two seasons.
Josh Wilson/CB – His career seemed to be on a downward spiral when the Ravens acquired him in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks last year, but Wilson revived himself a bit. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens decide to deal with the cornerback position.
Dawan Landry/SS – Backup safety Tom Zbikowski, who is scheduled to become a free agent, likely restricted, could replace Landry, who is unsigned.
WR, OT, G, DE, OLB, CB, S
Out of Cincinnati’s 19 free agents, seven could be classified as key starters. But depth and talent at several positions on both sides of the ball continue to be an issue.
It will be interesting to see what kind of scheme new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will run next season. While the indication is that he still will use Cincinnati’s power-rushing philosophy, it remains to be seen which system he’ll use — a true West Coast offense like his older brother Jon uses or something else.
Key free agents
Cedric Benson/RB – Benson, who turns 29 in December, played in his first full season as a starter in 2010. Running back Bernard Scott, while talented, doesn’t appear to have the body type to be a starter. He’s best used in a change-of-pace role.
Terrell Owens/WR – Based on his critical comments about the coaching staff, look for Owens to be playing elsewhere next season. It should be noted that Owens played fairly well before he suffered a knee injury late last season.
Nate Livings/G – Livings is coming off of his first season as a full-time starter. 2010 fifth-round pick Otis Hudson could get a chance to start if Livings isn’t re-signed.
Kyle Cook/C – It remains to be seen if Reggie Stephens is ready to replace Cook, who has started 32 straight games for the Bengals.
Dhani Jones/MLB – The team drafted Rey Maualuga to move eventually inside to middle linebacker, so it’s not out of the question that the team decides to make that move for the 2011 season.
Johnathan Joseph/CB – Should the Bengals decide against re-signing Joseph, the likely choices to replace him would be Brandon Ghee or Morgan Trent. Those two players, however, have just one NFL start between them.
Roy Williams/SS – Williams, who turns 31 in August, has missed 29 games over the past three seasons, so it’s hard to see the Bengals re-signing him.
RB, G, C, SS, CB
General manager Tom Heckert has quite a job on his hands to turn things around in just his second season with the team.
Not only did the Browns make a coaching change, hiring Pat Shurmur as head coach, they will be changing offensive and defensive schemes this coming season.
Key free agents
Robaire Smith/DT – The veteran defensive lineman turns 34 in November and missed 11 games last season. Considering the current Browns front-office regime didn’t sign him, Smith could be playing elsewhere next season.
Matt Roth/DE-OLB – While he played defensive end in college, Roth has played mostly outside linebacker at the NFL level. It will be interesting to see what kind of interest there is for him in free agency.
D’Qwell Jackson/MLB – The talented inside linebacker missed all of last season because of a torn pectoral muscle and has played only six games in the past two seasons.
Abram Elam/FS – A favorite of former head coach Eric Mangini, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Elam receives interest from the Dallas Cowboys, who recently hired former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Eric Wright/CB – Joe Haden, a 2010 first-round pick, has taken over Wright’s starting job, so look for Wright to be playing elsewhere next season.
WR, ORT, G, DE, MLB, CB, FS
The Steelers are coming off another solid season, but they came up just short in the Super Bowl. Because of how they have drafted over the years, they won’t go into free agency with a lot of needs.
One area in need of improvement is in the secondary, where two out of the top three cornerbacks are unsigned. The biggest area of need is on the offensive line.
Key free agents
Willie Colon/ORT – The veteran offensive lineman missed all of last season because of a torn Achilles’ tendon. However, Colon started running in November and should be ready to go for next season. The feeling is that he’ll receive a lot of interest in free agency should the Steelers not re-sign him.
Trai Essex/G-OT – Essex is essentially their top backup offensive lineman, but there has been no indication that they intend to re-sign him.
Ike Taylor/CB – Taylor, who turns 31 in May, might not be an elite cornerback, but he certainly is in the upper half of players at his position in the NFL. If Taylor isn’t re-signed, 2009 third-round pick Keenan Lewis figures to get a chance to replace him.
William Gay/CB – He’s had an up-and-down career since being selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, but Gay should get interest as a nickel back.
RT, G, OLB, CB