AFC North: Shaun Smith
Here are some notes at halftime.
- There was a lot of jawing between these teams. The Ravens are known to talk trash, and tailback Ray Rice and receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh got into it several times with Chiefs defenders. Kansas City defensive linemen Shaun Smith, who played against Baltimore most of his career in Cincinnati and Cleveland, also has been getting into it.
- One of the big storylines entering the game was whether Baltimore's fifth-rated run defense could slow down Chiefs Pro Bowl tailback Jamaal Charles. So far, Kansas City is getting the best of that battle as Charles has rushed for 87 yards on seven carries, including a 41-yard touchdown run in the first half.
- The crossing routes have been open for Baltimore and might be something the team wants to continue exploit in the second half. Ravens tight end Todd Heap has been very successful getting open on those routes, which have moved the chains. Heap has seven catches for 81 yards in the first half.
- Baltimore's pass protection in the past month has been shoddy and the Ravens struggled in this area in the first half. Kansas City registered three sacks of quarterback Joe Flacco. But Flacco has also done a good job of scrambling out of trouble for additional yards.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DL Justin Bannan, DL Dwan Edwards, CB Corey Ivy, WR Derrick Mason, TE L.J. Smith, WR David Tyree, CB Frank Walker, WR Kelley Washington
Potential restricted free agents: OT Jared Gaither, K Billy Cundiff, S Dawan Landry, CB Fabian Washington, P Sam Koch, OG Chris Chester, QB John Beck, QB Troy Smith, OT Tony Moll, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Prescott Burgess, WR Mark Clayton, WR Demetrius Williams
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Ravens have a ton of quality free agents. It will be interesting because Baltimore is the only division team which has to abide by the "Final Eight Plan" for making the divisional playoffs. This will restrict Baltimore from making a lot of moves. Therefore, expect the team to keep most of its key restricted free agents while trying to explore the trade market. On the unrestricted side, the Ravens are negotiating with receiver Derrick Mason and are expected to keep him. But two players who could get some interest in the open market are defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan. Baltimore likes both players but could lose at least one.
Potential unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams, TE J.P. Foschi
Potential restricted free agents: LB Brandon Johnson, LB Rashad Jeanty, OL Evan Mathis, C Kyle Cook, DE Frostee Rucker, CB David Jones, LB Abdul Hodge, QB Jordan Palmer, TE Daniel Coats, DT Shaun Smith
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Bengals have yet to announce their tenders, so this list could change by Thursday evening. But traditionally they are not big spenders in free agency and will stay true to that even with an uncapped year. Cincinnati could make one or two decent outside signings that may help the team. Finding a receiver would be the most likely target. The most interesting in-house name is offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who likely will test the market. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also would like to keep veteran Roy Williams and Tank Johnson. But the team hasn't made a major push for either player before they're let loose Friday.
Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates
Potential restricted free agents: RB Jerome Harrison, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers, S Brodney Pool, S Abram Elam, DE Matt Roth
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: Cleveland has the money to spend and the biggest talent deficit. So look for the Browns to attempt to make up ground in free agency. Major names like defensive end Julius Peppers and tailback Thomas Jones have been mentioned as possibilities for Cleveland, but that remains to be seen. Internally, the Browns should be interested in keeping Harrison and Vickers in their backfield. Jackson also has value. None of their unrestricted players are priorities for the team and will be allowed to hit free agency.
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, CB Deshea Townsend , FB Carey Davis, OG Darnell Stapleton
Potential restricted free agents: OT Willie Colon, CB William Gay, P Daniel Sepulveda, TE Matt Spaeth
Franchise tag: K Jeff Reed
What to expect: The Steelers are pretty predictable. Pittsburgh intends to keep all of its restricted free agents, get a long-term deal complete with Reed, who has the franchise tag, and let nearly all of their unrestricted free agents test the market. The exception is Clark, who the Steelers targeted as a priority but has yet to reach a long-term extension before Friday's deadline. Negotiations have been ongoing and should go to the final hour to decide whether both sides can come to an agreement or allow Clark to test the market.
An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC North.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Key figures: Derrick Mason is contemplating retirement. But if he wants to play, the Ravens have every intention of keeping their leading receiver. Look for Baltimore also to make a push for another significant addition at receiver to assist the development of budding quarterback Joe Flacco. Sleeper players on this list include the two defensive linemen: Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards. The Ravens like both players and will probably make a push to keep at least one on the roster. Baltimore also lacks cornerback depth and might elect to bring back Frank Walker, despite his penchant for giving up big plays and committing penalties.
Unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, DT Shaun Smith, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams
Key figures: Bobbie Williams is an interesting name. He’s one of Cincinnati’s most consistent offensive linemen over the last several years, but he turns 34 in September. Kicker Shayne Graham, who was franchised last season, had a solid career in Cincinnati. But he missed kicks in big spots, potentially ending his run with the Bengals. Running back Larry Johnson was third string in Cincinnati and should get more playing time elsewhere in 2010.
Unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates
Key figures: This is not an impressive list as most of Cleveland's key free agents -- such as Jerome Harrison, Lawrence Vickers and D'Qwell Jackson -- are restricted. Mike Furrey is a high-character player that coach Eric Mangini likes on his football team, and he might be retained. The remaining players on this list likely will hit the open market. The Browns have an interesting decision to make with Harrison, who led the team in rushing after a tremendous second half of the 2009 season. Harrison could garner some interest as a restricted free agent if the Browns do not offer a high enough tender.
Unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, NT Casey Hampton, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, K Jeff Reed, CB Deshea Townsend
Key figures: The Steelers are aiming to keep most of their key veterans, while infusing some youth through the draft. All indications are the team will offer extensions to safety Ryan Clark and kicker Jeff Reed. Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton is the biggest name on this list. But he's a strong candidate for the franchise tag, because there is no full-time replacement on the roster. This offseason probably will mark the end of tailback Willie Parker's tenure in Pittsburgh. Parker, 29, helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl wins during his career. But various ailments since initially breaking his leg in 2007 hampered his production.
- Quarterback Brady Quinn, who grew up a Cleveland Browns fan, is eager to play the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh defended offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's play calling.
- Free-agent defensive lineman Shaun Smith is expected to return to the Cincinnati Bengals Wednesday.
- Steelers receiver Hines Ward (hamstring) and cornerback William Gay (concussion) could be game-time decisions Thursday.
Smith played three seasons with the Bengals before joining the Cleveland Browns as a free agent from 2007-08. He was released by Cleveland earlier this year.
Peko recently had knee surgery and is expected to miss the next few weeks for the first-place Bengals (9-3). Cincinnati will travel to play the Minnesota Vikings (10-2) Sunday in a huge game with playoff implications for both teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The move represents the first significant cut of training camp under new coach Eric Mangini, as Smith has been a solid contributor in the defensive line rotation in Cleveland for the past two seasons.
Smith signed a four-year deal with the Browns in 2007. He had his best year in Cleveland two years ago, when he recorded 62 tackles and two sacks while helping the Browns to a 10-6 record. Last season Smith recorded 36 tackles for the Browns.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
As the NFL draft nears, AFC North teams are narrowing their list of prospects to take with the first-round pick. This week we look at those select players and how each would fit with their respective division teams in 2009.
On Monday we start with potential prospects for the Cleveland Browns, who own the No. 5 overall pick:
1. Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas
Assuming Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the best-case scenario, is taken off the board, Texas hybrid Brian Orakpo could be the next best option on Cleveland's radar. He has a mean streak and the ability to rush the passer from the defensive end or outside linebacker position. The Browns desperately need those assets added to their defense. If Orakpo fulfills his projection to become a No. 1 pass rusher, he would take a lot of pressure off outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who would get fewer double teams and develop into a better player in his own right. The pair of Orakpo and an energized Wimbley in 2009 would be a significant upgrade from last season.
2. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
Although a lot of NFL people are against taking a wide receiver in the top five, the Browns just might do it. The recent release of Joe Jurevicius and serious legal trouble for starter Donte Stallworth have suddenly added to the urgency to getting another playmaker at the position. Crabtree would give Cleveland a big-time playmaker opposite starter Braylon Edwards, which would help the quarterback to be named later and open up the running game. Plus Edwards set to become a free agent in 2010 and, barring a franchise tag, he likely will not return. Crabtree could step into the top receiver role in Cleveland for years to come.
3. B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
Cleveland has very little depth on the defensive line and needs to add players to the rotation. The Browns haven't stopped the run in a very long time and could use Raji's ability to do so. But Raji has to prove he could play defensive end in a 3-4 defense, because there is very little playing time available behind Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers. Pairing Rogers with Raji and a third d-lineman (Shaun or Robaire Smith?) would be a significant upgrade and a very physical unit, which is necessary in the AFC North. There was a report last week of Raji failing a drug test which, if confirmed, would likely take him out of the running.
Next up Tuesday: A look at the Cincinnati Bengals
|The Browns need Derek Anderson (3) and Braylon Edwards (17) to step things up if Cleveland is going to be successful in 2008.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- This week was a classic, gloomy Monday in Browns Town.
Coming off a 10th consecutive loss to their biggest rival, the first player Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel singled out for praise was the punter.
The statement pretty much summed up the first two weeks for the 0-2 Browns. There aren't many kudos to go around for a group that hasn't resembled the 10-6 team of a year ago.
In fact, name five of the NFL's most disappointing teams so far, and Cleveland is likely on everyone's list. Just a month ago the Browns were the trendy pick to wreak havoc in the AFC.
Now Cleveland is wreaking havoc only on itself.
Here is a snapshot of what's gone wrong:
- Star players have underperformed, particularly on offense. Pro Bowlers Braylon Edwards and quarterback Derek Anderson are well below their projected numbers. Anderson's 57.1 passer rating isn't getting it done, and Edwards has as many drops (five at least) as catches (five for 46 yards) through two games. It also appears Edwards has lost some confidence.
"I think Braylon is trying pretty hard when a ball comes his way because last game he dropped some," Crennel said. "Sometimes when you try hard, you tighten up a little bit and you don't relax. I think he's got to get to the point where he can relax and look the ball in and let it come to him the way it used to."
- The offensive line has struggled. The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers had their way with the right side of Cleveland's line, which has failed to dominate the way it did a year ago. The unit was widely considered one of the best entering the 2008 season.
"It's a lack of execution," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. "One or two guys on each play are not getting on the right guy and that's what happens when drives are stalling."
- The coaching staff also deserves some of the blame. It's been well publicized this week that Crennel has struggled with his decision-making and clock management in the first two games. Also, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski strategically is failing to stay one step ahead of the defense. For example, having 5-foot-9 receiver Syndric Steptoe attempt to block the Steelers' front seven was a disadvantage for Cleveland every time. Steptoe, playing the role that the larger Joe Jurevicius normally plays, was unable to execute several seal blocks on running plays. That's an important part of the Browns' offense. And continuing to call plays for Edwards when he doesn't have it going only complicated matters. It's vital for Chudzinski to find his rhythm as well.
- Health was a big reason they won 10 games last year and it's a big reason the Browns aren't producing right now. Defensive lineman Robaire Smith (Achilles) and linebacker Antwan Peek (knee) are lost for the season, and tackle Ryan Tucker (hip) and receivers Donte' Stallworth (quad) and Joe Jurevicius (knee) have yet to play. Starting tailback Jamal Lewis (hamstring) and return specialist Joshua Cribbs (ankle) also are playing hurt.
But the positive news for the Browns is it's extremely early.