Filling needs: Bengals and Ravens
We're used to the NFL staying in the news with a free-agent spending bonanza in March preceding the April draft. Due to the lockout that didn't happen this year, meaning lots of guys are not only locked out but technically unemployed, and lots of teams are left plenty of time to stare at depth charts that look a little bare.
With that in mind let's take some guesses -- three for each AFC North team -- about which players might be targeted whenever business resumes and the NFL gets back to work.
All of these scenarios are strictly hypothetical; we don't know which players will even hit the open market, and with the old collective bargaining agreement expired we can't yet classify which players will garner full unrestricted free agency. None of these scenarios will include players who will eventually re-sign with their current teams. We'll explore all the re-signing possibilities in this space once we know which players are unrestricted and which ones can be signed to matchable offer sheets.
Til then, we guess.
Today, we look at the Bengals and Ravens. The Browns and Steelers were outlined earlier this week.
The Bengals had a nightmarish year and haven't had the greatest offseason, either -- especially considering there hasn't even been a real offseason due to the lockout. Carson Palmer has told the team he plans to retire, Chad Ochocinco has done everything except stand in front of the stadium holding a "cut me" sign and several players trying to return from injury haven't been able to work with the team medical staff. Add the fact that cornerback Johnathan Joseph is eligible for free agency whenever business resumes, and the headaches continue. On to the targets...
1. Atari Bigby, S - Bigby has been a playmaker in Green Bay but hasn't been able to stay healthy. The Packers have other players at the position and money to spend elsewhere, so he'll likely be allowed to walk. The Bengals need to get younger and better at the safety position and figure to be one of the first teams to call and see if Bigby can get healthy and get his once promising career back on track.
2. Ray Edwards, DE - Cincinnati native has 16.5 sacks over the last two years and is probably going to make a lot of money from some team when business resumes. Expect the Bengals to at least call and make a pitch, though, as Antwan Odom just hasn't been able to stay healthy and having anothe dangerous rusher on the other side would make young Carlos Dunlap even better.
3. Marc Bulger, QB - Assuming Palmer does follow through with his plan to retire, the Bengals will hand the ball to rookie Andy Dalton and let him learn. But they'll still need insurance and leadership, and Bulger is a guy with AFC North roots (Pittsburgh native, Ravens last year) who can help Dalton learn and step up to win a game in a pinch. There's just no way the Bengals could go into the season with a rookie starter and Jordan Palmer as the backup.
The Ravens have one goal for 2011: Super Bowl. An aging defense is looking to make a last stand, and a developing quarterback should have the best supporting cast he's had. It's possible that fullback LeRon McClain and running back Willis McGahee will depart, but the Ravens have the blueprint, the talent and the core leadership.
1. Manny Lawson, LB - Lawson hasn't had great injury luck, but he's an athletic and versatile guy who, even as a part-time player, could help the Ravens fill their need for a dangerous pass-rusher to play opposite Terrell Suggs. The Ravens need to get younger and more athletic in their linebacking corps and could find Lawson a gamble worth taking.
2. Raheem Brock, DE - At this stage of his career, Brock is just a pass-rushing specialist. But the Ravens know they need to get to Ben Roethlisberger and must improve greatly on their franchise-low 27 sacks last season if they want to be playing at home in January. They're in position to spend money on situational players and might find Brock to be the right fit.
3. Nmadi Asomugha, CB - The NFL's top free agent will be courted by lots of teams and will get very rich (again) in the process. His landing in Baltimore is a longshot, but Asomugha the Ravens have a structure that could help him get to the Super Bowl and still have a need at corner, even after drafting Jimmy Smith in the first round. It's very possible Asomugha already has a list and a destination in mind, but expect Baltimore to at least discuss it.