AFC North: Derrick Ward

Inside the AFC North

March, 9, 2009
3/09/09
1:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

With so much going on in the AFC North, here are several notes and observations inside the division:

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  Derek Anderson is due a guaranteed $5 million roster bonus on March 13.
  • The Cleveland Browns have less than four days to trade quarterback Derek Anderson or he most likely will return next season. Anderson is due a guaranteed $5 million roster bonus on March 13. The Browns would be willing to entertain trade offers but the phone lines have been quiet because teams are unwilling to pay the huge bounty. Cleveland can still trade Anderson after March 13, but the Browns would take an accelerated cap hit of $9.666 million post-bonus. That wouldn't be good business.
  • In the midst of signing and losing high-profile free agents, most forget the Baltimore Ravens are still searching for a place kicker. The Ravens are shopping for someone other than longtime kicker Matt Stover, who is a free agent, but haven't made a move so far. It will be interesting to see if Baltimore drafts a kicker, finds one in free agency or comes back to the dependable Stover, who has lost distance over time but remains accurate.
  • Here is some food for thought: Receiver Nate Washington could play his first game as a member of the Tennessee Titans in Heinz Field. As the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers will open the 2009 season at home with a primetime Thursday night game in Week 1, and the Titans are one of their marquee home opponents. The Steelers likely will have a pre-game celebration of their Super Bowl win at that time and Washington, who is popular in Pittsburgh, could be there for the celebration.
  • There is a very good chance that the $28 million the Cincinnati Bengals invested in receiver Laveranues Coles last week was at or around the same money the team offered new Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Derrick Ward. The Bengals are usually not major players in free agency but made a push to sign Ward before anyone else. When Ward declined, followed by the loss of receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati still had that money available to spend and offered Coles an average of $7 million per season.

Benson stays with Bengals

March, 3, 2009
3/03/09
4:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

  Benson

The Cincinnati Bengals retained their starting tailback from last season, agreeing to terms with Cedric Benson for a two-year, $7 million contract according to ESPN.com's John Clayton.

Cincinnati went after free agent running back Derrick Ward initially. But once Ward agreed to go to Tampa Bay, the Bengals shifted their focus back to Benson, who finished the year strong for Cincinnati.

Benson has come a long way from being out of football at the beginning of 2008 to having the Bengals pay him an average of $3.5 million per year to be their starter. He rushed for 740 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games last season.

In other news for the Bengals, free agent receiver Laveranues Coles left his visit in Cincinnati Tuesday without a deal. The Bengals are searching for veteran help at receiver following the loss of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the Seattle Seahawks.

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC North:

Morning take: This is good news for a team that already lost two of its top in-house free agents in Bart Scott and Jason Brown. Lewis' return to the Ravens would bring back a lot of continuity to the defense.

Morning take: A lot of big names were moved in the first 48 hours of free agency. So it might be in Houshmandzadeh's best interest to decide soon before all of the big money is dried up.

Morning take: It's not the Giants player most Browns fans wanted (tailback Derrick Ward, cough, cough). But Cleveland does need a replacement for free agent safety Sean Jones.

Morning take: This could be a good landing spot for McFadden. Not only would he play for a winner--the reigning NFC champs--but he will get the type of big-money contract he can't get in Pittsburgh.

Inside the AFC North

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
11:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
 
  Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
  James Harrison and the Steelers are still negotiating a new deal.

Here is an insider's look at what's going on within the division:

  • Our AFC North inbox is getting letters of early concern with contract situation involving Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison. Two weeks ago, we reported that both sides were in serious negotiations in an effort to get a deal done. Since then nothing has been finalized, which has caused readers to wonder if there is a problem. We recently checked back in and talks are still going well. James' reps would like to get a deal done sooner than later, but there is no real deadline involved because Harrison is not a free agent until 2010.
  • The Ray Lewis situation with the Baltimore Ravens is not similar to Albert Haynesworth of the Tennessee Titans. Lewis appears to be primed to test the market by week's end, but we're told he is open to signing with Baltimore early if he received the right deal before Feb. 27. Haynesworth has his mind made up that he wants to see what else is out there before negotiating with Tennessee. Lewis is keeping both options open.
  • Baylor prospect Jason Smith has no problem telling the Cincinnati Bengals or any other team that he's the best offensive tackle in the draft. "Put on my film from Baylor and you'll see that I'm the best," Smith said during an impressive combine interview session. Smith also appears to have a mean streak desperately needed in Cincinnati. But with Smith, the Bengals likely will have to trade up from the No. 6 pick to get quarterback Carson Palmer the best protection available.
  • There has been some conversation in Cleveland recently about the Browns and whether they should release tailback Jamal Lewis, but don't expect it to happen. The AFC North blog is being told Lewis has too much guaranteed money to consider the thought. He signed a three-year deal worth $17 million last year and much of it is owed in the first two seasons. But that may not stop the Browns from pursuing free-agent tailback Derrick Ward.

Browns could go after Ward

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
  Free agent Derrick Ward will have a number of suitors. Will the Browns be one of them?

According to new Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini, the team might be interested in New York Giants tailback and pending free agent Derrick Ward.

"He's a guy we'd look at," Mangini said Friday in a meeting with Cleveland reporters at the NFL combine. Here is the full story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

But there are many questions with the Browns potentially pursuing Ward, who gained 1,025 yards primarily as a backup to Brandon Jacobs in New York.

Could the Browns afford Ward? He will be the most sought after free agent tailback and Cleveland has other needs to spend money on such as linebacker and safety.

Also, what does this mean for current starter Jamal Lewis? He just signed a three-year extension last offseason.

These questions won't be answered until free agency. But it should be an interesting offseason as usual with the Browns.

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