Free Agency 2011 – Two Views on the AFC North

| July 18, 2011

It’s Day 1 of our free agency preview, and we’re going to keep firing the articles at you.
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Up next it’s the AFC North, home to two playoff teams and two teams that have a lot of questions that need answering. For one team, holding onto their players seems a priority, for another there are so many holes that they’d struggle not to upgrade their roster.
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That’s the AFC North, one of the NFL’s most bitterly competitive divisions that is also currently home to the haves and have-nots.
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Two of our chief analysts, Sam Monson and Khaled Elsayed sit down to share their thoughts on the directions each team could go in free agency.

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Baltimore Ravens
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: I’ve given up trying to understand the Ravens’ lukewarm-at-best treatment of Jared Gaither, so instead I’m saying they’ve got to lock up their best cornerback, Josh Wilson.

Khaled: He’s so talented and versatile to boot, Marshal Yanda is almost irreplaceable. Wilson is a good player, but will cost money and they just drafted a cornerback in the first round (plus Webb will be a year further removed from injury).
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: I’m actually quite a fan of the Ravens’ roster overall, and I think they made a lot of the right moves in the draft, but they wouldn’t turn down another legitimate defensive end to take some of the focus off Suggs.

Khaled: You know what they could do with? A guy who comes on the field for their nickel package and just rushes the passer. Jarret Johnson is a great player, but he’s just not good enough at generating pressure.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: If they want to spend money, Ray Edwards has the kind of nasty attitude the Ravens would love, and he plays on the correct side of the line for them. There are other, potentially cheaper options available though, and Jacob Ford makes some sense as more of a pass-rush specialist.

Khaled: It wouldn’t hurt to bring back Antwan Barnes and actually give him some snaps. I doubt that, so I also like what Jacob Ford could do for this defense.
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Cincinnati Bengals
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: They’d be a better team if Johnathan Joseph went nowhere. The cornerback wasn’t healthy last year, but if he (and Leon Hall) can recapture their 2009 form, they are one of the best CB tandems in the league.

Sam: Well I would say Evan Mathis, since he makes them a better O-line, but they waste him even when they have him on the roster, so I’ll look elsewhere. I was about to say Cedric Benson, before he got himself arrested again, so I’m left agreeing that Jonathan Joseph would be their smartest investment.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: Pick your poison. I think Carlos Dunlap could have a pretty big future, but opposite him? There’s very little. They have got nothing out of Robert Geathers since handing him a big deal, and Antwan Odom is living off that game against Green Bay when they couldn’t field a proper left tackle.

Sam: I agree their D-line could stand to be upgraded, but there is some youth there. I’m not sure they have a real viable safety on the back end though, and this is a great year to be on that particular search.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: Would the Bengals pay big money for Ray Edwards or Charles Johnson, and would they want to go there? No, though everyone associates him as a five-technique, Cullen Jenkins was an extremely good end in a 4-3 scheme before the Packers changed it up. He’s more stout there and can kick inside in sub packages.

Sam: Take your pick. Quintin Mikell, Eric Weddle are both complete safeties and would be massive upgrades on anybody on the Cincy roster at the moment.
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Cleveland Browns
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: Such are the changes afoot in Cleveland it’s tough to get a handle on who fits in the new regime. I think Eric Wright still has enough potential to keep around if they can coach him up.

Khaled: Matt Roth is the most talented guy, but given the change in schemes and some less than flattering comments the front office aimed at him, I doubt he comes back. I’ll go with Wright as well, but he needs to get better.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: Spoiled for choice here. The Browns could stand to upgrade more or less everywhere. Let’s try and give Colt McCoy a fighting chance though and give him somebody to throw to.

Khaled: Just who exactly are the Browns using to rush the passer? Marcus Benard looks like a situational player and Roth seems destined to leave. You can’t solely rely on rookies, you need to find someone who can come in and contribute straight away. Especially if you’re going to have big cloggers in the middle.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: Sidney Rice has already shown that he can be a quarterback’s best friend when healthy. He gives passers the ability to throw the ball to him even when he’s covered down the field. Not necessarily a good thing to be teaching them, but it’ll make them look a lot better.

Khaled: It would be easy to look at Ray Edwards and Charles Johnson as the answers, but it would pay to be a bit more conservative. Andre Carter isn’t a long term signing, but he’ll be cheaper than he should be given how the Skins used him last year. As a defensive end, he’ll beat offensive tackles.
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Pittsburgh Steelers
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: I won’t say I’m the biggest Ike Taylor fan, but he’s better than anything they have at cornerback, or likely anything they’d be willing to pay for. Keeping him a Steeler preserves a status quo that has worked pretty well for them. I’d lean heavily towards Willie Colon but for uncertainty over his injury.

Sam: I can’t argue with Khaled here. As much as Colon is top player when healthy, they got to the Super Bowl without him, but they’re in real trouble if they lose their best cornerback (even if he’s no superstar). I think they need to try and keep him on board.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: It’s the offensive line and it’s not even close. You could stand to upgrade every spot (but center and maybe left tackle depending on how healthy Max Starks is). Chris Kemoeatu had a shocker of a year and you can’t really say with any certainty who will play at right guard. They need to find some quality guards (and a right tackle).

Sam: Another case where we’re in agreement. They got to the Super Bowl with the patchwork line (playing at times with four guards and a center), but there’s no denying it hurt them, and no quarterback plays better for long under pressure. Help Big Ben out and improve his protection.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: They probably won’t, instead relying on Pouncey improving, Starks returning and Big Ben being Big Ben. But if they were to do so, I’d really consider ravaging their divisional rivals. Make yourself stronger and make your enemies weaker. With that in mind I’d throw good money at Marshal Yanda in the hopes that his talk of wanting to stay a Raven, will wane when he’s sees a lot of zeros on a contract offer. Failing that, Tyson Clabo is pretty handy in pass protection if they want to keep Roethlisberger healthy.

Sam: I’m going to run with the same idea, but a different divisional foe. Sign Bengals cast-off Evan Mathis and you’ll have a major upgrade at left guard without breaking the bank to do it, leaving you some extra cash to spend elsewhere.
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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled, and for Sam, it’s: @SamMonson … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • tim tellean

    One player that was left out of the discussion was Carson Palmer in Cincy. I know he’s not a FA, but will his lack of desire make the Bengals pursue a QB in FA?

  • FoRM

    Jared Gaither has well-known back issues which the Ravens have struggled to work through and which other teams want to stay away from. Back problems seldom go away, so it’s unlikely he’ll ever show off that potential.