AFC North Free Agent Grades and Draft Needs
Free Agency: I didn’t think that Baltimore would get to keep two of their brutal linebackers but, Terrell Suggs was franchised and Ray Lewis re-signed leaving Bart Scott the only casualty. Good job on that one then. Matt Birk at centre was damage limitation once they lost Jason Brown to the Rams, and whilst you can’t expect the all-pro centre of the mid-2000s Birk will get the job done in place of the young and highly talented Brown. The only failing in that Baltimore defence last year was the occasional weakness when facing the deep ball and when Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle are 32 and 33 respectively it’s hardly surprising. Whilst Rolle was re-signed after feeling the cold winds of the free market, Domonique Foxworth is a serious upgrade opposite him. I still think a corner in the draft is a must grab; since the development of corners is relatively slow they need one now, not when Rolle can’t even get up in the morning anymore let alone cover Santonio Holmes. If Baltimore want to continue that conservative offense then they really need to re-sign Lorenzo Neal before he gets snapped up elsewhere. Also, why did you sign LJ Smith? You don’t want to use Todd Heap, so you go out and sign a receiver type TE who can’t catch. That makes perfect sense Baltimore.
Draft Needs: Receiver or corner. A track guy like Jeremy Maclin or Darius Heywood-Bey would compliment Joe Flacco’s cannon arm nicely, and I think at least one will be sitting there at 26. Persistent off field misdemeanours since high school have Percy Harvin falling off some boards all together, and I fancy my chances of being drafted ahead of him at the moment. That being said, if Baltimore take a punt on him and sit him in a locker room with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to straighten him out, then they’ll have a serious steal. The same could be said if they tame the entourage-boasting Vontae ‘big time’ Davis at corner.
Free Agency: The Bengals are known for criminal activities, so I’m not sure whether they signed Tank Johnson to play defensive tackle or to arm the team. Seriously, how many guns did this guy get caught with again? The idea of him having land-to-air missiles still cracks me up. They boasted the best free agent wideout available, so TJ Houshmandzadeh’s departure to Seattle was inevitable. If you ask anyone but Bengal management Chad Ocho Cinco (do I have to call him that now?) wants out as well, and despite the haters I still believe that 85 is just too damn talented to not bounce back. The Giants are circling for him or Braylon, and Philadelphia, Chicago and Tennessee are still looking for targets. Ocho was worth two firsts a year ago, but potential suitors might be able to steal him for a third.
Draft Needs: The Bengals managed just 17 sacks last year so a defensive end needs to be secured, but there may not be an option at 6 so I think Eugene Monroe will be a Bengal come 2009. Stacey Andrews is gone from right tackle and Levi Jones surrendered 5.5 sacks in 10 games last year, so the Bengals can’t pass on what many consider the number one player in the draft. I mentioned Brian Robiskie as a target for the Browns in the second because of that Ohio connection, and the same applies here; especially if Ocho leaves.
Free Agency: Eric Mangini didn’t take long to start messing things up; if it wasn’t for Josh McDaniels he’d be top candidate for Worst Coach Appointment 2009. How can you alienate franchise signal caller Brady Quinn, the only man on earth who catches with one hand better than two Braylon Edwards, and one of the few defensive players who put up any sort of resistance in 2008 Shaun Rogers and lose rough house safety Sean Jones and top 3 TE Kellen Winslow? I mean how do you even have the time to do that? A lot of noise about players leaving Cleveland, but very little on who’s coming in. Mangini made a play to reclaim the locker room by bringing in ‘his guys’; Eric Barton at linebacker, defensive tackle CJ Mosley and corner Hank Poteat, but if you think those guys are anything more than Mangini’s personal therapists consider how well Mosley will cope at the head of that 3-4 at just 300lbs. When it all shakes out I think Quinn starts opening day with Rogers at defensive tackle, but Braylon Edwards looks set to follow Winslow straight out of Cleveland.
Draft Needs: There are a few scenarios that could play out; if they stay with the personnel and picks they have now, a dominant pass rusher is a lock at 5. Aaron Maybin has been getting buzz as a possible shock selection, but assuming Aaron Curry is gone I think Brian Orakpo’s explosiveness off the line is too much to resist. Whether Orakpo makes the leap to a 3-4 DE/OLB conversion guy like he is projected to do, is a different conversation entirely. If they trade Quinn then I don’t think they jump on Sanchez like everyone expects, instead sticking with Anderson and drafting a receiver or corner with the first round pick they’ll receive. If Edwards leaves, the pick will be a little later in the first round – likely in lieu of the Giants at 29 – so I wouldn’t be shocked if a running back is pounced on to replace the ageing battle torn Jamaal Lewis. A lack of need at running back could let Moreno and Wells slide – especially since the Eagles traded away their second first round pick – and given the choice between the two I think Moreno offers the dynamism that Jamaal Lewis sorely lacks; Moreno also offers another option in the passing game. They’d also settle for Ohio State alum Chris Wells, making back to back selections of Ohio State products a possibility since the football intellect of receiver Brian Robiskie is an interesting proposition in the second. A safety will be selected with two second rounders; Patrick Chung brings the physicality that Cleveland fans are used to.
Free Agency: Super Bowl champs so why change a winning formula? Players like James Harrison cashed in on that success by scoring fat contracts from Pittsburgh management, with the only departures being Nate Washington, a deep threat at best, and corner Bryant McFadden. The Steelers won’t have liked losing McFadden, as he was very impressive pre-broken arm.
Grade: C+ – They managed to keep that Super Bowl team mostly intact
Draft Needs: Offensive line, offensive line, and offensive line. The Steelers couldn’t keep Big Ben off his back, so no wonder he was playing with a busted arm, shattered shoulder, broken hands and obliterated ankles every game. They will literally go best offensive lineman available assuming their marginally improved playoff run doesn’t blind them. Eben Britton, Alex Mack, Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson are all names that they’ll consider. A decent slot guy would also be a welcome addition in later rounds.