Thursday, April 16, 2009
Inside the AFC North
By James Walker
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are some more notes and observations this week in the AFC North:
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| ||Joe Robbins/Getty Images |
| ||James Harrison's new contract with the Steelers sets the market for other top-flight linebackers. |
- This week's signing of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison could be just the start for the team's 2010 free-agent class. Pittsburgh could now shift its focus to extending starting tight end Heath Miller, who also is in the final year of his deal. The Steelers have a star-studded free-agent class next year that includes Miller, receiver Hines Ward, nose tackle Casey Hampton and safety Ryan Clark. Harrison was also on that list, but the Steelers made it a priority to get a deal complete. Expect the team to attempt to scratch at least one or two more players from this list before the start of next season.
- Harrison's contract also could impact two other big-name linebackers: Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens and DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys. Both players are looking for huge contracts, and because they are younger than Harrison, Suggs and Ware probably will surpass the $51.175 million over six years Pittsburgh coughed up for Harrison -- last year's NFL defensive MVP.
- We are hearing that the Cleveland Browns are intrigued by USC's linebacker trio of Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews Jr. and Brian Cushing. Of the three, Matthews may be the player who's caught their eye the most. Matthews has the type of versatility needed in a 3-4 defense and was in Cleveland for a visit earlier this week. The irony is none of the USC linebackers is in consideration for Cleveland's No. 5 overall pick, which means the Browns could attempt to trade down in the first round or trade up with their two second-round picks. Cleveland could also stay put and hope one of these three players falls to the top of the second round, where the Browns own the No. 36 overall pick.
- New Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Tank Johnson seems ecstatic to once again play in a 4-3 defense, which is where he thrived the most as a member of the Chicago Bears. Johnson described to ESPN.com's John Clayton in a recent radio interview how difficult it was to transition to a 3-4 nose with the Dallas Cowboys. Johnson feels he will be much more productive in Cincinnati's traditional 4-3 scheme, and the Bengals could certainly use an impact player at that position.