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AFC North team needs

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Recent posts by Mike Wilkening

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Posted March 02, 2010 @ 11:08 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Third in a series of analyses of team needs, by division.

Baltimore Ravens

Quarterbacks: RFA QB Troy Smith wants to be traded. If the Ravens accommodate him, they likely will add a quarterback to compete with John Beck, who is also a restricted free agent.

Running backs: The Ravens have to decide whether to continue paying Willis McGahee starter's money to play a complementary role to Ray Rice. Even if McGahee is retained, the Ravens might take a flier on a back in the late rounds. FB Le'Ron McClain is a restricted free agent.

Receivers: The Ravens have significantly bolstered their WR corps, trading for Arizona's Anquan Boldin on the first day of free agency and signing ex-Browns WR Donte' Stallworth in February. Also, Derrick Mason, their top receiver a season ago, is back after re-signing with the club. Don't be surprised if the Ravens draft a tight end with starter Todd Heap fighting through injuries in recent seasons and depth at the position a big concern.

Offensive line: This isn't a position of need for Baltimore, but general manager Ozzie Newsome usually sticks to his draftboard, and if a talented young center were to slip in the early rounds, the Ravens would have something to think about, with veteran pivot Matt Birk getting up in age.

Defensive line: The Ravens are likely to add an end and/or a nose guard in the offseason. DT Justin Bannan signed with Denver, and Dwan Edwards is an unrestricted free agent. Moreover, NT Kelly Gregg and DE Trevor Pryce are nearing the end of their careers.

Linebackers: MLB Ray Lewis will be 35 in May, and while he's still playing at a high level, there is no clear-cut replacement for him on the roster. Count on the Ravens to acquire a linebacker or two, if nothing else then to provide depth and special-teams help.

Defensive backs: The Ravens' CB depth is a big concern with CBs Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb coming off of knee injuries. Also, safety could become a major need if Ed Reed elects to retire.

Special teams: PK Billy Cundiff, a restricted free agent, hit 12-of-17 field-goal attempts for Baltimore after replacing Steve Hauschka. If Cundiff is retained, he could face competition from another veteran in training camp. The Ravens are unlikely to go young at kicker again after Hauschka faltered.

Summary: Adding some youth to an aging defense, particularly in the front seven, is a priority. GM Ozzie Newsome has a sterling reputation as an evaluator of young talent and will stick to the Ravens' board in the draft.


Cincinnati Bengals

Quarterbacks: The Bengals could start to think about starting to groom a replacement for Carson Palmer, but it doesn't figure to be this year with other more pressing needs throughout the roster.

Running backs: There isn't a glaring need here, but RB Cedric Benson will be a free agent after this season, so perhaps the Bengals will take a flier on a back in the late rounds. That approach worked well last year, as they found Bernard Scott in Round Six.

Receivers: They made a big splash in free agency, signing ex-Buccaneers WR Antonio Bryant to a four-year, $28 million deal. Bryant should be a significant upgrade over Lavernaues Coles, who was released. Tight end also might be a position to be addressed with reliable blocker Reggie Kelly an unrestricted free agent and coming off an Achilles injury that cost him all of last season.

Offensive line: The Bengals are unlikely to add an offensive lineman early in the draft or in the early, big-spending days of free agency after selecting OT Andre Smith in Round One last year. They may be in the market for a guard later in free agency or in the middle rounds of the draft.

Defensive line: Defensive tackle could be a need if Tank Johnson isn't re-signed, and the Bengals wouldn't mind further bolstering their pass rush. So, though neither tackle nor end is a pressing need, the team may look to add a lineman or two all the same.

Linebackers: The Bengals have drafted a linebacker on the first day of the draft in the past two seasons (Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga). Could they do it again? If an outstanding linebacker slipped, they might have to consider it with MLB Dhani Jones getting up in years.

Defensive backs: Cincy surprised some by working out CB Adam "Pacman" Jones in February, as cornerback is not a glaring need with Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph as the starters. But they could stand to get stronger further down the depth chart. A rangy free safety also would be a good addition.

Special teams: The Bengals likely will let PK Shayne Graham test free agency, and a change of scenery could be best for all sides. Cincinnati signed PK Dave Rayner in February and likely will add another placekicker to push him.

Summary: To advance beyond Round One of the playoffs, the Bengals need to become more explosive on offense. Palmer didn't have enough weapons last season, nor did he play like a passer capable of carrying an average supporting cast. Bolstering the offense must be atop Cincinnati's offseason list.

Cleveland Browns

Quarterbacks: The Browns are starting over at quarterback. They traded Brady Quinn to Denver, released Derek Anderson and signed ex-Panthers QB Jake Delhomme to be their starter. Former Seahawks QB Seneca Wallace is likely to be the top backup.

Running backs: Jerome Harrison's unexpected late-season surge gives him a chance to be a major player for carries in 2010. The release of Jamal Lewis creates a need for a bruising back.

Receivers: The Browns don't have a No. 1 receiver, and there are some who might suggest they don't have a No. 2 receiver, either. Cleveland probably won't draft a young receiver early after selecting Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie in Round Two in 2009 but likely will try to sign a wideout or two in free agency. The Browns addressed a need at tight end with the signing of TE Ben Watson, formerly of New England.

Offensive line: The Browns signed veteran OL Tony Pashos; he could start at right tackle or slide inside to guard. They are set at left tackle with Joe Thomas and they liked what they saw from Alex Mack at center in his first pro season in '09.

Defensive line: The D-line was struck by a wave of injuries last season, and younger reinforcements are needed at end. Cleveland faces the same problem other teams employing the 3-4 defense are facing: there's more and more competition for the rugged ends and stout nose tackles needed to make the defense effective. DE Corey Williams was dealt to Detroit in early March.

Linebackers: Quietly, the Browns have built some good depth at outside linebacker, with the signing of ex-Dolphins OLB Matt Roth looking to be a steal. They dealt OLB Kamerion Wimbley to Oakland on March 14. Finding a young playmaking inside linebacker to pair with D'Qwell Jackson is a need, although not a pressing one.

Defensive backs: The team lacks playmakers in the secondary and has to strongly consider adding starter-caliber performers at cornerback and safety. Many are focusing on CB help as perhaps Cleveland's top need, but the Browns desperately need to get stronger in the middle of the field, too.

Special teams: The Browns are in very good shape here, with RS Joshua Cribbs (signed to a new three-year deal March 5) the NFL's best and PK Phil Dawson and P Dave Zastudil reliable performers with considerable experience kicking in cold weather.

Summary: The Browns have no shortage of needs on both sides of the ball. They have an owner (Randy Lerner) with deep pockets and a new braintrust (president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert) with the ability to spend freely. In short, look for the Browns to be active in free agency, and with 11 draft picks, they will be busy on draft weekend, too.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterbacks: The Steelers reportedly would like to retain UFA QB Charlie Batch; if they don't, they likely will add a veteran as insurance for third-year backup Dennis Dixon. 

Running backs: There's likely to be a new face or two at this position, particularly if UFA Willie Parker isn't re-signed. Parker might be able to compete for a starting job elsewhere. Rashard Mendenhall is secure as the starter in Pittsburgh.

Receivers: The Steelers bolstered their WR depth with the additions of Arnaz Battle and Antwaan Randle El. Pittsburgh might look to add another blocking tight end.

Offensive line: It's unfair to pin all of the sacks QB Ben Roethlisberger has taken over the years on this group alone, for Roethlisberger holds on to the ball as long as any quarterback in the NFL. That said, the Steelers must make strides in pass protection and in run blocking, and changes could be coming to the O-line. Right guard and center appear to be particular areas of concern. The Steelers would like to retain ORT Willie Colon, a restricted free agent in an uncapped year, for the long term.

Defensive line: The Steelers re-signed NT Casey Hampton, but they could still draft a nose tackle, as Hampton and reserve Chris Hoke are getting up in age. The Steelers are also getting a little old at defensive end but used their first-round pick on DE Ziggy Hood last season.

Linebackers: The Steelers could draft or sign a young inside linebacker to groom behind 35-year-old James Farrior. Also, star ROLB James Harrison will be 32 in May. In short, a little more youth at linebacker might be in the cards.

Defensive backs: The Steelers need more playmakers and improved depth on the back end of the defense. They re-signed FS Ryan Clark and added Will Allen (formerly of the Buccaneers) as depth. Cornerback is a big need after starters Ike Taylor and William Gay struggled last season. 

Special teams: The Steelers placed the franchise tag on PK Jeff Reed and will work to sign him long term. The Steelers have set out to address their coverage teams in the offseason and could continue to do so in the draft.

Summary: The Steelers' blocking and pass coverage loom as the biggest issues to fix in the offseason. The Steelers aren't known for making big splashes in free agency and accomplished two major goals by re-signing Hampton and giving Reed the franchise tag.


NFC West team needs | AFC East team needs


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