AFC North: best match 09

Best Match: AFC North

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Baltimore Ravens

Best Match: LB Ray Lewis

 Lewis

The Ravens don't have to look very far for their best match. Without a doubt, the best pairing of the players still available is Baltimore in-house free agent Ray Lewis.

Negotiations have been ongoing for weeks, despite the fact that it was obvious the veteran linebacker was eager to test the market. It turned out the interest in Lewis, 33, was not as strong as anticipated as teams like the New York Jets (Bart Scott) and Dallas Cowboys (Keith Brooking) targeted other linebackers.

Now the best option Lewis has is the reported three-year deal in the range of $24 million that Baltimore put on the table last week. Unless there is a last-minute suitor that wants to go beyond $8 million a year, the Ravens will secure their longtime leader.

Cincinnati Bengals

  Ward

Best Match: RB Derrick Ward

If the season started today, oft-injured and inconsistent Chris Perry would be the starting running back for the Bengals. The team has waited long enough for the former first-round pick to develop into a featured back and it hasn't panned out.

Now the Bengals need to find a starting tailback this offseason, and former New York Giant Derrick Ward is the best on the market. He visited Cincinnati last weekend and listened to its best pitch before interviewing with other teams.

A fallback option for the Bengals would be to bring back Cedric Benson. But the team's instant courtship of Ward in free agency is a good indication of which player the Bengals prefer.

Cleveland Browns

  Poteat

Best Match: CB Hank Poteat

Of the four AFC North teams, finding the best match for the Browns was the most difficult. Following last week's trade of former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., it's clear this team is starting over. Therefore, Cleveland is more interested in draft picks than big-name acquisitions in free agency.

With that said, eight-year cornerback Hank Poteat would be the ideal fit for Cleveland. He's cheap, experienced and most importantly he is a favorite of new Browns coach Eric Mangini, who coached Poteat with the Jets.

Cleveland needs depth and experience in the secondary. Poteat can come in and compete for a starting job with young corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald. Or, at the very least, Poteat can play the nickel and teach the young pair.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  Barnes

Best Match: OT Khalif Barnes

The Steelers are rarely big players in free agency, so there are no obvious matches for the defending Super Bowl champions. But former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Khalif Barnes would be a nice addition.

In terms of age and production Barnes, 26, is arguably the best tackle remaining on the market. Pittsburgh's offensive line could use help in keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright next season.

Would the Steelers pay top dollar for a free agent like Barnes? It doesn't appear likely. But if they decide to spend this offseason, Barnes would be a good investment. Otherwise, April's NFL draft cannot come soon enough for Pittsburgh.

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