PITTSBURGH -- Arthur Moats wanted stability after dealing with a revolving door at defensive coordinator in Buffalo. The Pittsburgh Steelers needed depth at both inside and outside linebacker, and they also wanted to get younger on defense.

Moats
Hence, the match that looks like it will be a pretty good one for each side.

The Steelers signed Moats to a one-year, $795,000 contract last week and he said on Thursday that playing both inside and outside linebacker won’t be a problem for him after doing the same in Buffalo.

“I’ll definitely have to get adjusted to the terminology,” Moats said on 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. “But I feel like I’m a guy who dedicates himself to the game, dedicates himself mentally as well as physically.”

Moats started 12 of 16 games last season for the Bills, and the Steelers will initially play him at outside linebacker where they badly needed depth prior to his signing. The 6-2, 250-pounder will really add value if he can indeed play outside and inside, and the Steelers are also counting on Moats to contribute on special teams.

Moats, who recorded 54 tackles last season, is only 26 and he said he had an opportunity to stay in Buffalo. But with Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine taking the head coaching job in Cleveland, Moats said the prospect of playing for an organization that is synonymous with stability led to his signing with the Steelers.

“I’ve had three defensive coordinators (in Buffalo) and this would have been my fourth one, two different head coaches and two different general managers,” said Moats, a sixth-round draft pick by the Bills in 2010, “so I was looking for stability and I wanted to go somewhere where they were already proven and had that type of success already.”
CINCINNATI -- Each of the last three offseasons, the Cincinnati Bengals' personnel plans were easily identifiable.

[+] EnlargeDanieal Manning
AP Photo/Denis PoroyDanieal Manning's addition follows the Bengals' plan of adding mentors to the roster.
As they turned the page from a disastrous four-win 2010 season and tried to carve a fresher path under coach Marvin Lewis and his renewed contract, they made a clear and obvious focus on youth. The idea at the time was to spend those drafts selecting the best talent available and to continue molding the other young stars from the 2009 and 2010 classes that were already on the roster. They felt if they could build from the bottom, a playoff team could be created.

Three straight postseason appearances later, it seems they were right.

But now that much of that recently drafted talent has started maturing and entering second contract deals, the Bengals have realized they need to attack this offseason's personnel changes slightly differently. The youth movement is all but over. As their last few free-agency signings will attest, these days the Bengals are riding a new wave of roster additions that are all about age.

Experience, leadership and mentorship are at the forefront of the last two free-agency adds and extensions, in particular.

The latest elder added to the Bengals' ranks was 31-year-old safety Danieal Manning, a nine-year veteran who spent the last three seasons with the Texans. He played a key role in helping stop the Bengals in the 2011 wild-card round playoff game by recording seven stops, and he was part of a Houston team that beat Cincinnati in the 2012 postseason, too.

His playoff experience is just one of the many traits Manning has in common with fellow newly signed or extended Bengals Domata Peko, Marshall Newhouse and Jason Campbell.

Another trait Manning has in common with that trio is familiarity. Not only did Peko recommit to the team on a two-year contract extension that will keep him in Cincinnati through 2016, but Newhouse is coming from Green Bay getting set to play with the quarterback he helped protect for three years in college. Campbell's signing last month meant that he and his former Oakland Raiders head coach and offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, are reunited. Manning will have his own reunion of sorts by reconnecting with Vance Joseph, his former secondary coach who the Bengals hired earlier this offseason to help lead the safeties.

Aside from Newhouse, who is 25, age is another tie that binds the Bengals' latest free-agency signings. Peko will be 30 in November. Campbell will be 33 in December and Manning will turn 32 in training camp.

More than all those common characteristics, though, Manning's addition -- just like Peko's, Newhouse's and Campbell's -- has to do with the Bengals wanting to sign a seasoned veteran who can give quality minutes and help take Cincinnati's youngest stars through the next stage of their development. Now that players like second-year safety George Iloka have played regularly since their rookie seasons, it's time for them to get added guidance they may have missed with so few veterans playing alongside them.

In Campbell, Andy Dalton now has a quarterback who he can truly learn from and talk to off the field. In Newhouse, the offensive line might have a new voice in the huddle, but it's one who knows how to handle Dalton. In Peko, the entire team just got back a leader whose words and actions helped inspire the organization through its three-year transition.

It's a transition that appears to have come to as much of an end as a youth movement in the NFL can. When the draft comes next month, the Bengals won't focus on adding must-start rookies like they had been. They'll instead look for players who will add to their depth and who can be groomed into their system.

For now, that's a good thing for the Bengals. It means they feel so good about the on-field side of their team that the focus is on creating additional off-field influences. When a team's personnel moves are dictated in part by the mental and psychological nurturing of its core, that's a clear sign it feels more than confident in the everyday talent it already has.

It's all part of a new wave of age that is on its way to Cincinnati.
The Baltimore Ravens' two biggest needs are offensive tackle and free safety. So, what happens if Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin and Louisville safety Calvin Pryor are both sitting there when the Ravens pick at No. 17?

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Martin gets "the slight nod" at No. 17. Kiper has Martin rated as his 20th-best player in the draft and ranks Pryor two spots behind him.

What really stands out for Kiper is Martin's versatility.

"He can play left tackle if [Eugene] Monroe got hurt," Kiper said. "You can immediately pencil him in as a starter at right tackle. He can play guard, too."

Martin solidified himself as a mid-first-round talent with his consistency at Notre Dame and a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. Pryor, however, hurt his stock after the season.

"Pryor didn't test that well but he played very, very well at Louisville," Kiper said. "He was one of [coach] Charlie Strong's favorite players. On performance, he'd be a top-15 pick. His workouts weren't impressive as a first-rounder. But you put it all together, he'll probably be a late one."

The Ravens may face this same scenario when the first round takes place May 8.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 15th overall pick in the NFL draft after finishing 8-8 last season. A cornerback, wide receiver or defensive lineman would make sense for the Steelers.

Mel Kiper Jr.’s Grade A 2014 mock draftInsider is out on ESPN NFL Insider today, and his choice is a position that has been linked to the Steelers, though not necessarily a player they have been presumed to be targeting.


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An unforgettable TV moment took place during the 1985 NBA draft when the San Antonio Spurs took a player named Alfredrick Hughes in the first round.

“Somebody spiked their tacos,” said venerable Boston Globe scribe Bob Ryan, illustrating his feelings about the pick.


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The Baltimore Ravens have the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft after finishing 8-8 last season. Their biggest needs are offensive tackle, free safety, running back, tight end and cornerback.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft Insider is out on ESPN Insider on Thursday, and his first-round choice for the Ravens makes a lot of sense.


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After winning the AFC North for a third time and going 11-5, the Cincinnati Bengals have the 24th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. A cornerback, interior offensive lineman or linebacker would make sense for that first-round pick. In the rounds that follow, quarterbacks, defensive linemen, safeties and running backs could be drafted by Cincinnati.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft hit ESPN's Insider page Thursday. His first-round choice for the Bengals is a player with rather local ties.

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The Cleveland Browns ramped up their evaluation of the top quarterbacks in the draft with a private workout with Central Florida's Blake Bortles, ESPN's Adam Caplan confirmed. This comes two days after the Browns brought in Derek Carr.

What's the difference between Bortles and Carr? Bortles is worthy of the No. 4 overall pick, and Carr is not.

Bortles has the size, arm strength and athleticism to become a franchise quarterback. The risk in taking him this high is the fact that it's all based on perceived potential.

Any team that takes Bortles will probably have to wait one or two years for him to develop. Patience hasn't been a strong suit of the Browns, who change quarterbacks quicker than most fantasy football league owners do.

Still, no one knows whether Bortles will be there when the Browns are on the clock or whether the Browns will take him if he's still available. ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon selected Bortles in the NFL Nation mock draft of the top five picks.

Something tells me Brian Hoyer would like that selection.
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PITTSBURGH -- The signing of Darrius Heyward-Bey, once the fastest wide receiver in a draft class that included Mike Wallace, does not make the position any less of a priority for the Steelers in this year’s draft.

The Steelers will still take a wide receiver with one of their first three picks as the addition of Heyward-Bey should be taken as what it is at face value: a flier on a player who should provide depth at wide receiver in 2014 but is probably not part of the team’s long-term plans.

Maybe Heyward-Bey will prove to be otherwise.

Maybe his blend of size and speed will prove to be more than the fool’s gold the Raiders concluded it was when they cut the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft after just four seasons.

But five years into a career in which he has only once come close to a 1,000-yard season, it is not realistic to think that Heyward-Bey will suddenly put everything together for the Steelers, who are now his third team by the age of 27.

And that’s fine considering the Steelers likely signed the 6-foot-2, 219-pounder to a veteran’s minimum contract or at least a one-year deal laden with incentives.

With almost no room under the salary cap the Steelers were looking for depth at wide receiver, not a starter.

If Heyward-Bey somehow emerges as the latter it means that second-year man Markus Wheaton faltered or the former first-round pick started catching the ball with the consistency that eluded him in Oakland and Indianapolis.

Heyward-Bey, along with Lance Moore, gives the Steelers another veteran wide receiver to offset the losses of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. His signing does not mean the Steelers will wait until later in the draft to add another wide receiver to their roster.

A deep draft is brimming with talent at wide receiver, and the Steelers still have a long-term need at the position even though they have fortified their depth there.

They were likely to use their first-round pick on a cornerback before Heyward-Bey joined the Steelers. His addition simply makes it easier for the Steelers to address their biggest need and wait until the second or third round to draft a wide receiver.
The biggest misconception about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is his contract and how it impacts the team's ability to sign free agents.

Flacco, who signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract last year, actually has manageable salary cap numbers for this year and 2015. His $14.8 million cap number isn't the highest on the team. It ranks behind defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's $16 million cap number.

Flacco's cap number doesn't even rank in the top 10 among quarterbacks. It's tied for 11th with the Patriots' Tom Brady.

Half of the quarterbacks who have a higher cap number than Flacco in 2014 haven't won a Super Bowl. Eli Manning, who has the highest cap number among quarterbacks this season at $20.4 million, threw an NFL-worst 27 interceptions last season.

Flacco is making $6 million this year in salary, which also doesn't top the Ravens. Ngata ($8 million) and cornerback Lardarius Webb ($7.5 million) are earning more than Flacco in 2014.

Here are the 14 quarterbacks whose 2014 cap number is over $10 million:

 
ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay talked in-depth about the Steelers' draft earlier this week, and the two agree that cornerback is probably the team's biggest need.

But McShay isn't as enthused as Kiper is about the Steelers taking one with the 15th overall pick of the draft.

McShay said he is not sure there is a cornerback worth taking that high even if players such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard are available.

“I think I would probably go wide receiver or offensive line in the first round depending on what's available and then maybe coming back cornerback in Round 2,” McShay said on ESPN's First Draft podcast.

Kiper and McShay agree that the Steelers have to focus on defense in this draft with the former saying that defensive line joins cornerback as the team's most pressing need. McShay offered more pointed comments about what the Steelers are facing as they re-tool their defense.

“They've had to get younger fast,” McShay said. “I thought for awhile they were doing that effectively but it hasn't worked out. I do think they are getting younger. I think they have to continue to get faster and more athletic in the back end and I think they know that.”

One of the biggest keys for the Steelers' defense this season is outside linebacker Jarvis Jones taking a huge step after he struggled as a rookie.

Jones, the Steelers' first-round pick last year, started eight games in 2013 but managed just one sack. The former Georgia star played better later in the season as he started thinking less on the field, but Jones needs to add strength as well as more pass-rushing moves during the offseason.

The development of secomd-year players such as Jones, safety Shamarko Thomas and inside linebacker Vince Williams is critical since the Steelers don't like to rely too much on rookies -- something they had to do at a couple of positions last season out of necessity.

“Dick LeBeau's defense takes time to understand it and apply what you know to the field,” Kiper said.
PITTSBURGH -- A day after adding depth at cornerback with the signing of Brice McCain the Steelers could do the same at wide receiver.

Heyward-Bey
Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft, will visit the Steelers on Wednesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to the NFL Players Association, the Steelers are only $171,934 under the cap, but hovering near the spending ceiling hasn’t stopped them from filling holes on their roster, and Heyward-Bey has emerged as their latest target.

Heyward-Bey never lived up to enormous expectations in Oakland after the Raiders fell in love with his speed and made him the first wide receiver drafted in 2009. The 6-2, 219-pounder spent four seasons in Oakland before signing with Indianapolis.

Heyward-Bey played in all 16 games last season for the Colts -- he started 11 of them -- and caught 29 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown. In five NFL seasons Heyward-Bey has 169 catches for 2,380 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Steelers are expected to take a wide receiver early in the draft but they apparently are interested in adding another veteran to the position as well.

Markus Wheaton is expected to get the first crack at replacing Emmanuel Sanders opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown, but he played just 153 snaps his rookie season and caught six passes for 64 yards.

The Steelers signed Lance Moore to take over as their No. 3 wide receiver following the loss of Jerricho Cotchery to the Panthers and the only other wide receiver on the roster with any NFL experience is Derek Moye.

The 6-5 Moye played 52 snaps last season and caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.
CINCINNATI -- Orson Charles is not a Cincinnati Bengals superstar.

He isn't a starter, either. His position of H-back, while one Bengals coaches said they were committed to this offseason, is not the most important on the team.

They could easily move on without him.

Charles
It is for that reason the little-used player has to realize the timing of his Monday night arrest for wanton endangerment couldn't have been worse. If the facts of the incident alleging gun-waving and threatening road rage behavior by Charles are true, he has suddenly found himself to be more expendable than before.

No player's time on a roster is guaranteed. They are all expendable, particularly when situations arise in which the league's conduct policy could be used as the basis of a release or suspension. But when you're a player who is down on the depth chart, you don't want to give the front office any added reason reconsider your roster spot.

It should be emphasized that as of now there is no reason to believe such actions will be taken by the Bengals against Charles. As it typically does in instances involving arrests, the team is sticking to its policy of letting the legal process take its course before it comments or acts.

Still, the ice the tight-end-turned-H-back is standing on has worn thin. He already was having issues getting on the field. Now the Bengals might have good reason to refuse him access to it ever again.

Charles has been a respected member of the Bengals' locker room. Aside from a pre-draft DUI in Athens, Ga., in 2012, off-field trouble hadn't previously found him during his two-year NFL career. His behavior had mirrored that of his teammates.

And after several off-field incidents earned them a reputation last decade for having players who often ran afoul of the law, the Bengals have undergone a bad-boy purge the past three seasons.

It's because of that recent image-cleaning the Bengals could make Charles an example. It would be their opportunity to reassert how seriously they take off-field problems, and demonstrate the value they place on signing and retaining high-character players. The events of Charles' incident, as outlined by the incident report obtained Tuesday by ESPN.com, don't reflect those traits.

That Charles barely played on offense last season, appearing on just 62 snaps as an H-back, is another reason for the Bengals to cut him. He caught one pass last season, and it came in the regular-season finale.

This offseason, running backs coach Kyle Caskey said the Bengals were committed to keeping Charles as an H-back instead of considering a true blocking fullback. They switched Charles from tight end last preseason in a move that surprised many. Not only was he drafted as a tight end, but he starred at the position in college at Georgia, catching passes from quarterback Aaron Murray (a player the Bengals could target in May's draft).

At the time of Charles' switch, the Bengals were trying to teach him to be a run blocker out of the backfield, even though fourth-year fullback and fan favorite John Conner was on the roster. Conner's August release caught many off guard.

As offensive coordinator Hue Jackson attempts to implement more of a physical, run-based scheme, having additional backfield blockers like Charles could be beneficial. It could be of particular help when those blockers have the pass-catching experience Charles does, adding to the difficulty of preparing for the scheme.

That is all to say that Cincinnati has a few reasons to keep Charles, but his arrest did little to illuminate them. If he makes it through all of this, for his sake, you have to hope he's able to restore his formerly clean image.
Derek Carr's workout for the Cleveland Browns showed why the Browns are skipping players' pro days.

The Browns were able to send their coaches to or near Fresno State and have Carr make throws they wanted to see, not the ones he wanted to do. GM Ray Farmer, coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan got to watch Carr up close and personal.

Carr said on SiriusXM NFL Radio after the workout that it was definitely driven by the Browns.

Carr
"Everyone was standing there, talking, of course, giving their input, things they wanted to see," Carr said on "Late Hits," hosted by Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt. "We do their drills. They really want to tire you out. When you do individual drills, they want to tire you out, see how you're feeling, really grind you a little bit. And then you throw routes when you're really tired, like a football game. Then some bootlegs, they want to see how you move on the run when you're tired. Then we do some reads that they have."

The Browns also had dinner with Carr the night before.

Lo and behold, in two days they got a longer, more in-depth and more personal interview than the 15 minutes they'd have had at the combine, and a longer, more focused workout than they would have seen at the pro day.

Johnny Manziel's pro day may have set new standards. His turned into more of a sideshow than a revealing workout. The apparel that Manziel wore for his workout were soon put on sale by Nike after the pro day -- and here we thought he wore football stuff to simulate football conditions -- and Manziel made a show to thank all the scouts and team officials for finding their way to Texas A&M, a place he called hard to find. Never mind all in attendance had probably been to College Station several times before.

Rest assured, though, Johnny Football has gone away. #sarcasmfont

Carr told SiriusXM that the workout went exactly as he hoped, which is to be expected, but he also said doing it for just the Browns was "a great experience."

There's nothing wrong with the way the Browns are going about this scouting process.

The only thing that would be wrong would be getting the pick wrong.
The Baltimore Ravens will find out in nine months if they've done enough in free agency to return to the playoffs. As for right now, all anybody knows is the Ravens haven't played it cheap.

The Ravens have given out $53 million in guaranteed money in free agency so far, which easily tops the AFC North. The Cleveland Browns are the only team that's close at $43 million (if you include center Alex Mack's $10 million transition tag).

The Pittsburgh Steelers have given $18.2 million in guaranteed money (if you include linebacker Jason Worilds' $9.75 million transition tag). The Cincinnati Bengals rank a distant last at $6.1 million.

To put it in perspective, the Ravens gave offensive tackle Eugene Monroe more guaranteed money ($19 million) than what the Steelers have spent on all of their free agents. The most guaranteed money given by the Bengals this offseason is $4.4 million to defensive tackle Domata Peko. The Ravens have given more guaranteed money to four players.

The Steelers have been limited in what they can spend because of very little salary cap space. They currently only have $1.5 million in cap room.

The Bengals, though, still have the third-most cap room in the league at $27 million.

Here's a breakdown on the guaranteed money given out by the Ravens in free agency:

OT Eugene Monroe (re-signed): Five years, $37.5 million ($19 million guaranteed)

TE Dennis Pitta (re-signed): Five years, $32 million ($16 million guaranteed)

C Jeremy Zuttah (Buccaneers): Five years, $18 million ($6.5 million guaranteed)

WR Jacoby Jones (re-signed): Four years, $12 million ($4.5 million guaranteed)

MLB Daryl Smith (re-signed): Four years, $13.6 million ($3.5 million signing bonus)

WR Steve Smith (Panthers): Three years, $11.5 million ($3.5 million guaranteed)

SS Darian Stewart (Rams): One year, $1.3 million ($300,000 guaranteed)

S Jeromy Miles (re-signed): One year, $795,000 ($35,000 guaranteed)

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