AFC North: Richard Marshall

Steelers back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Steelers should be fine. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, they are well-rested and running the same offense and defense as in recent seasons. For years the Steelers have thrived on continuity, and that should come in handy this fall. Pittsburgh will not be a major player in free agency, so that's not an issue. Like the Ravens, if the Steelers had to line up and play a game next week, they could.

Biggest challenge: The Steelers were fine up until recently, when receiver Hines Ward and linebacker James Harrison both made headlines in separate incidents. Ward was arrested for driving under the influence in Georgia, and Harrison made controversial remarks about many people, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh, which has been a model organization for years, has had its share of controversies the past three seasons. This is another example of the team having to band together and handle its issues internally before they get worse.

Who's the kicker? Pittsburgh will need to find a kicker for the 2011 season. Shaun Suisham is a free agent after filling in last season for Jeff Reed, who was cut. Reed was one of the few kickers who did well in Heinz Field, which is one of the hardest stadiums to kick in. The Steelers didn't draft a kicker, which means they have a short time to search for a solution in free agency.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Starting cornerback Ike Taylor is the only big name for the Steelers. He is an unrestricted free agent and is looking for market value, which could price him out of Pittsburgh. The Steelers have several younger and cheaper alternatives at cornerback, such as Carlos Rogers and Richard Marshall. Offensive lineman Willie Colon is another interesting name. He's been a versatile starter for Pittsburgh at guard and tackle. Tailback Mewelde Moore will probably test the market as the Steelers look to get more carries for backup Isaac Redman this season.

Hope and Concern: Steelers

June, 17, 2011
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In our final "Hope and Concern" segment, we take a look at the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Biggest reason for hope: Veteran talent and experience

The Steelers are built to win now. They have been to two Super Bowls in the past three years and should be a contender once again in 2011. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is distraction-free this year, the Steelers don't have many big-name free agents and Pittsburgh's extended offseason may actually keep this team healthy and well rested. Continuity is extremely important during this unique year and Pittsburgh has it perhaps more than any NFL team. The Steelers should be able to hit the ground running and contend for another division title whenever the season starts.

Biggest reason for concern: Cornerback

Pittsburgh doesn't have many big-name free agents, but the situation involving cornerback Ike Taylor could be problematic. The team's No. 1 corner is seeking market value, which could price Taylor out of Pittsburgh. Solid starting cornerbacks are getting paid $8-$10 million per season. Taylor, 31, may be able to get that number (or close to it) elsewhere, but it doesn't appear to be a price tag the Steelers are willing to match. Losing Taylor would leave a big hole in the defense. The Steelers drafted a pair of rookie corners in Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, but signing a veteran starter is the safest bet. Free agents such as Richard Marshall and Carlos Rogers could be viable options to replace Taylor.

For a recap, check out our "Hope and Concern" blogs for the Ravens, Bengals and Browns.
Earlier this week, the AFC North blog broke down a list of top free-agent cornerbacks. Two players we identified were Richard Marshall and Carlos Rogers, who could be intriguing options for the Pittsburgh Steelers if they do not re-sign veteran Ike Taylor.

Rogers
Marshall
On Thursday we caught up with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to get his take Marshall and Rogers.

Matt, let's start by getting your general thoughts on both corners and whether they fit in Pittsburgh.

Matt Williamson: Rogers and Marshall are probably the best two guys out there who would be cheaper corners. They're Steelers type of signings. They came into the league as high picks and Pittsburgh didn't end up getting them. But now they're coming off their first contract and still have a good pedigree. You can see why they were high picks. They're not busts at this level. The problem with both of those guys is neither had a very good year. I think both are better players than they showed last year. I'm sure some of that was playing on a bad team, especially with Carolina. Their offense always went three-and-out and Marshall was on the field a ton.

Could down years by Marshall and Rogers play to the Steelers' advantage in negotiations?

Williamson: Yes. The Steelers probably liked both guys coming out of college, they're not far removed and coming off down years. But all of a sudden they come to Pittsburgh and have LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison coming off the edge and their job gets a lot easier. So I think that could play very much to Pittsburgh's advantage and something they could be strongly considering.

What are some of the differences between the two corners?

Williamson: Rogers drops a lot of interceptions, which would fit right in with how the Steelers have been with Taylor. I would say Rogers is probably a little bit better in terms of man coverage, where Marshall is a little bit better off as a zone guy, which the Steelers are going to do more of. But there's not a ton of huge differences. I think they're both in the same boat. Rogers had the better year of the two. Marshall struggled and he took a lot of penalties, too, and Rogers is better in that regard.

There is Williamson's take. Now we want yours. Would Marshall and/or Rogers be viable replacements if Taylor leaves Pittsburgh in free agency? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Assessing free-agent cornerbacks

June, 7, 2011
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CB'sGetty ImagesBrent Grimes, Nnamdi Asomugha and Johnathan Joseph would be the cream of this year's free-agent crop of corners.
To some degree, every team in the AFC North could be looking at free-agent cornerbacks. The glamour position has several solid players who could hit the open market this summer.

Although a new collective bargaining agreement could change who's restricted and unrestricted, here is the AFC North blog's ranking of top available corners:

1. Nnamdi Asomugha

Skinny: Asomugha is far and away the top cornerback on the market. Quarterbacks stopped throwing his way years ago. Therefore, Asomugha will immediately cut off half the field for whichever teams signs him. But it will come at a very steep cost.

2. Brent Grimes

Skinny: Grimes worked very hard as an undrafted free agent to become a Pro Bowler in 2010. He's recorded 11 picks in the past two years. Expect the Falcons to do all they can to make sure Grimes remains in Atlanta.

3. Johnathan Joseph

Skinny: Joseph is 27 and entering his prime. He is one of the best young coverage corners in the league and has good hands to create turnovers. It's doubtful the Bengals would be willing to pay $8-$10 million per year to keep Joseph.

4. Ike Taylor

Skinny: Taylor has been consistent in Pittsburgh and now wants market value. He may price himself out of Pittsburgh this summer by chasing a big-money deal. At 31, this is probably Taylor's last chance to get a big contract. So you can't blame him if he doesn’t accept a hometown discount.

5. Antonio Cromartie

Skinny: Cromartie is long, good in coverage and very athletic. He could thrive in the right system but may struggle in others. Poor tackling prevents Cromartie from being one of the NFL's best at his position.

6. Richard Marshall

Skinny: Marshall has playmaking ability, and I think in the right system he could be a great under-the-radar signing. He's a solid tackler (88 in 2009 and 2010) and good with the ball in his hands. I think Marshall could be a potential fit in Pittsburgh if Taylor leaves the Steelers.

7. Carlos Rogers

Skinny: Rogers is a solid player who has never been able to put it all together and become a great corner. Rogers, 29, is comparable to Taylor in that both corners have poor hands. Rogers has just six interceptions the past five seasons.

8. Josh Wilson

Skinny: Wilson was solid for the Ravens last year after taking over for Fabian Washington. Baltimore drafted Jimmy Smith in the first round, increasing the chances that Wilson will be allowed to test the open market. He could be a decent No. 2 corner.

AFC North evening links: Steelers fined

September, 23, 2010
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Here are the latest happenings Thursday evening in the AFC North:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, receiver Hines Ward and offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu were each fined $5,000 for actions last week against the Tennessee Titans.
  • The Baltimore Ravens reached an agreement with rookie linebacker Sergio Kindle, who fractured his skull this summer and will not play this season.
  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, via Twitter, says he's impressed with Carolina Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall.
  • Will a new quarterback fix the Cleveland Browns' problems?

RFAs and the AFC North

March, 6, 2010
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Sure, this is an AFC North blog. But to get a full scope of NFL free agency, you have to look in-depth at the other seven divisions to see who's available.

So after scanning through players with help from my colleagues at ESPN.com's blog network, here are five restricted free agents that could garner interest in the AFC North:

Morrison

Morrison

LB Kirk Morrison

Team/tender: Oakland Raiders, third round

2009 stats: 133 tackles, two sacks

Analysis: The past several years I've watched Oakland in person against the AFC North about a half-dozen times, and Morrison usually stands out. He led the Raiders in tackles the past five seasons. So I'm baffled why he has just a third-round tender. Morrison would be a good pickup for a team like the Cleveland Browns, who needs help at linebacker. Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan also coached in Oakland and knows Morrison well.

Sims

Sims

OG Rob Sims

Team/tender: Seattle Seahawks, fourth round

2009 stats: 14 starts

Analysis: Seattle's offensive line wasn't very good, but Sims is a starting NFL guard who is available for just a fourth-round pick. Keep in mind, Sims is a Macedonia, Ohio native who once played under Mike Holmgren in Seattle. The Browns' president has 11 draft picks at his disposal. So losing a fourth rounder for a starting guard may be worth the risk. Keep an eye on this one.

Marshall

Marshall

CB Richard Marshall

Teams/tender: Carolina Panthers, second round

2009 stats: 88 tackles, four interceptions

Analysis: At least three teams -- Cleveland, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers -- need help in the secondary. Marshall could be a solid No. 2 cornerback and an upgrade for either of those teams. According to NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, Carolina is being frugal and could let Marshall walk if he receives a decent offer. But second-round picks are valuable, so teams will have to weigh that, as well.

Scheffler

Scheffler

TE Tony Scheffler

Team/tender: Denver Broncos, second round

2009 stats: 31 receptions, 416 yards, two TDs

Analysis: Three AFC North teams are looking for help at tight end. The Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are looking for starters, while the Ravens need depth to pair with veteran Todd Heap. Scheffler has the skills and athleticism to help, but as I mentioned with Marshall, teams covet second-round picks. AFC West blogger Bill Williamson believes the Broncos may be willing to deal Scheffler for less, which could increase interest.

Bigby

Bigby

S Atari Bigby

Team/tender: Green Bay Packers, second round

2009 stats: 49 tackles, four interceptions

Analysis: Bigby is prone to injuries, but most hard-hitting safeties get banged up from time to time. The Bengals are reportedly interested in bringing veteran safety Roy Williams back. Williams' style is fairly similar to Bigby's, so that could rule out the Bengals. The Browns also are interested in safeties but remain a strong target for Tennessee prospect Eric Berry with the No. 7 overall pick.

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