AFC North: Antoine Cason

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Houston Texans aren't revealing who is starting at quarterback, and the Baltimore Ravens are remaining silent on who is starting at cornerback.

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said the team hasn't decided on who is going to replace starting cornerback Asa Jackson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday.

Jackson
"We're still evaluating it," Pees said. "We've got a few candidates out there, and we'll kind of see how it goes. In different packages, it may be different guys."

Here are the candidates:
  • Rashaan Melvin: He's the least-experienced option. Melvin has played in one NFL game, and he was surprisingly good in his debut. In four passes thrown his way, Melvin allowed one catch and broke up another. The Ravens signed him off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad last month.
  • Anthony Levine: The converted safety started three games this season. Levine began strong after making the position switch, but soon struggled. Quarterbacks have completed 75 percent of their passes against him and have thrown two touchdowns.
  • Antoine Cason: A four-year starter in the NFL, he's the most experienced choice. Cason was released by the Carolina Panthers this season after giving up six touchdowns in 12 games. Unlike some of the other Ravens cornerbacks, he does make plays on passes, picking off 16 throws in his seven-year career.

Cornerback has been undergoing change on a weekly basis. The Ravens have started six cornerbacks this season and have had 12 on their 53-man roster this season.

"After a while, you kind of get numb to it," Pees said.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo a game ball after Sunday's 20-12 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens' defensive backs broke up six passes and sealed the win with safety Jeromy Miles' interception.

"It just seems like in this business -- probably like any other business -- there are just going to be challenges," Harbaugh said. "There are going to be tough things that are going to come up. It’s not a matter of 'if,' it’s a matter of 'what' they’re going to be specifically. This year, it’s the corners."

Harbaugh added, "No, we’ve never lost this many corners before, but it’s always something every year, and different teams have different amounts of injuries. We’ve been hit especially hard this year, but that’s just the way it goes. We just have to deal with it. So, it’s been challenging."
The cornerback market began to dry up over the past couple of days when the likes of Sean Smith (Kansas City), Chris Houston (Detroit), Keenan Lewis (New Orleans), Cary Williams (Philadelphia) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Denver) all signed.

This should catch the attention of the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, the two AFC North teams that are most likely to add a cornerback in free agency. The Browns need someone to start opposite Joe Haden, because they're not expected to re-sign Sheldon Brown. The Bengals are looking to bolster their depth at the position, especially if Terence Newman and Adam Jones go elsewhere in free agency.

The top cornerbacks available are the Falcons' Brent Grimes, the Patriots' Aqib Talib, the Eagles' Nnamdi Asomugha and the Vikings' Antoine Winfield. But it doesn't look as if these cornerbacks will be around long. Grimes could go to the Buccaneers (if they can't trade for Darrelle Revis) or return to the Falcons. Talib is expected to go back to New England. Asomugha is in serious talks with the 49ers. And Winfield has drawn some interest from the Redskins.

Where does this leave the Browns and Bengals? Cleveland's best bet will be either San Diego's Antoine Cason or Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn. Cason is a three-year starter who made eight interceptions and broke up 45 passes during that span. Munnerlyn, who started the past two seasons for the Panthers, has a familiarity with Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, the former offensive coordinator in Carolina.

The Bengals, whose focus has been to keep their own free agents, want to retain Newman, but he has decided to test the market, making a visit to Oakland on Thursday. He is considered the Bengals' second-highest priority behind right tackle Andre Smith. If Newman signs with the Raiders, that would shift Cincinnati's focus to Jones.

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