NFL Nation: Desmond Bryant

Tough to win when you can't punt

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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CINCINNATI -- It's not common for a team to have a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown.

It's less common that a team has that happen in the same game when it has another punt tipped, holding said punt to 9 yards.

But that's part of the reason the Cleveland Browns fell apart in the 41-20 loss to the Bengals: They couldn't get off a punt. There were other miscues, of course. Jason Campbell's pass from his 20-yard line with the Browns ahead 13-0 was tipped at the line and intercepted by James Harrison. It would have been a touchdown had a Cincinnati player not blocked in the back for a penalty.

No matter, it merely set up Cincinnati's first touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Lanning
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBengals linebacker Jayson DiManche, 51, blocked Spencer Lanning's punt, which Tony Dye returned for a touchdown.
The Bengals forced a punt, which Lanning had tipped and went 9 yards. That set up the Bengals' second touchdown, which put them ahead for good.

Two possessions later, rookie Barkevious Mingo missed a block in protection and Lanning's punt was blocked, except this time the Bengals ran it in for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead.

The barricade was starting to cave.

“It's definitely a game-changer,” Lanning said of the blocks.

Mingo took responsibility for the second blocked punt. Lanning said the snap, step and kick from his point of view were fine.

“I felt the operation was good,” Lanning said. “Credit to them for dialing up good rushes.”

Lanning was amid the scrum for the ball with Tony Dye, but he neglected to touch Dye when he recovered the kick on the ground. That let Dye get up and run.

“I have no idea,” Lanning said when asked if he touched Dye. “I slid and was trying to fight for the ball.”

Lanning said he expected to be rushed kicking into the wind, and he got the pressure he expected. It could be, too, that the Bengals saw something they liked on the first tipped punt and decided to go after the second.

“Unacceptable,” coach Rob Chudzinski said of the poor special-teams protection.

The Browns then compounded their problems. On their ensuing possession, Chris Ogbonnaya fumbled after a short completion and the Bengals returned it for a touchdown and a 28-13 lead.

Then on third-and-13 with 42 seconds left, Jordan Cameron caught a short throw from Campbell and ran out of bounds. That allowed Cincinnati to save a timeout, and when the Browns didn't cover the punt well Cincinnati was able to kick a field goal.

The Browns implosion led the Bengals to score 31 points in the quarter, a franchise record.

“A few plays here and there, it could have been a different outcome to the game,” defensive lineman Desmond Bryant said.

Which, technically, is true.

But when every play goes against the team making the errors, it creates a steamroll effect that is next to impossible to fight.

And when the same team makes mistakes big and less big -- like Armonty Bryant jumping offside on a Cincinnati punt in the third quarter on fourth-and-2 -- it adds up.

Figure that Campbell returned to his pre-last-two-weeks self and threw three interceptions, and it's not hard to grasp why Browns lost a game by 21 when they held the opposing quarterback to 93 yards passing (on 27 attempts) and when they held the opposing star (receiver A.J. Green) to two catches for 7 yards.

“We handed them the game,” said wide receiver Josh Gordon.

“Too many mistakes,” said safety T.J. Ward. “Too many errors. We're not ready … we're not ready.”
A question about the Cleveland Browns confidence in quarterback Brandon Weeden after the play against Detroit was put to defensive lineman Desmond Bryant today.

“Which play?” he asked.

The Browns circled the wagons around their quarterback, with not a hint of criticism or doubt emerging. Teammates said they understood Weeden simply made a mistake with his backward flip.

“He’s a professional in this league,’” Bryant said. “He’s one of my teammates. I believe in his ability and obviously so does the rest of the team. That’s why he’s out there playing.

“Not everybody’s going to have great plays every play. You can’t win them all. I don’t have perfect plays every play. There’s times where I don’t do what I’m supposed to do and I don’t execute like I want to. So I understand that’s going to happen to him as it happens to everybody out there. His are a little more magnified, scrutinized, whatever.

“He’s still our quarterback. He’s one of the leaders of this team. I’m always going to ride with him.”

Joe Thomas was more succinct.

His support is “unwavering,” he said.

Ditto with running back Willis McGahee.

“It’s just a fact that everybody is pointing at that interception he threw,” McGahee said. “But that’s part of the game, and we got his back. So no worries over here.”

Quentin Groves agreed, and his support matched what sounds like the very mature approach of his teammates.

“We all make those plays,” Groves said. “It just happens that the plays he makes are amplified a lot because he’s the quarterback. He’s been under so much scrutiny that any little thing that he does wrong everybody wants to jump on his back about it.”

That goes with the territory, of course. A quarterback gets the fame, the adulation and the money when things go well. When a team struggles, he gets the blame.

An NFL adage is that when a team wins the quarterback spreads the credit, but when it loses he takes the blame.

“When your mental toughness is tested your character comes out,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on a conference call. “You learn how to move forward from those things. You have to go through it. We all did. You have to learn from those things, be critical of yourself every week and realize it’s part of the territory that comes with playing quarterback.”

My thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

What it means: New regime, same result. In the first game of the Joe Banner-Rob Chudzinski era, the Browns had a similar look of past teams: a solid defense and a struggling offense, albeit a short-handed one without its No. 1 receiver and a third-string right guard. Cleveland fell to 1-14 in home season openers since rejoining the NFL.

Stock watch: Rising -- Tight end Jordan Cameron. He was the Browns' best offensive weapon with nine catches for 108 yards and the team's only touchdown. He was the only Browns player with a catch longer than 20 yards.

Falling -- CB Buster Skrine. He got burned by Brian Hartline on a double move for the Dolphins' first touchdown, and he was penalized in the end zone, which led to Miami's second touchdown. Undisciplined play has always been a problem for Skrine, who committed nine penalties last year.

Don't blame Weeden: It's easy to point the finger at quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw three interceptions in the first half and finished with 23-of-53 passing (49 percent) for 289 yards. But one interception came off a drop by Greg Little, and the Dolphins converted only three points off those turnovers. Weeden didn't get much help from his receivers, who dropped a handful of passes, and pass protection (five sacks allowed). Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz allowed three sacks, and right guard Oniel Cousins struggled mightily, too. Cousins' holding penalty negated a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Pass defense falters: The Browns got pressure on Ryan Tannehill in the first half, limiting him to 98 yards passing before halftime. But Cleveland gave him too much time in the second half and allowed 174 yards passing. The Browns didn't stop the Dolphins enough on third downs. Free-agent pickup Desmond Bryant was a bright spot, stopping two drives with sacks.

Where was Richardson? Running back Trent Richardson is the Browns' best playmaker, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn't get him involved enough, especially with No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon suspended for the first two games. The Browns abandoned the run too early, and Richardson finished with 47 yards on 13 carries. If Turner didn't think the running game was working, the Browns had to get the ball to Richardson more in the passing game. Richardson had one catch for 18 yards.

What's next: The Browns (0-1) look to end a 10-game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens (0-1) when they visit Baltimore next week.

AFC West checkpoint

May, 4, 2013
5/04/13
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Now that the NFL draft has wrapped, the rosters are essentially set for each AFC West team heading into the 2013 season. Sure, each team will make some tweaks, but the heavy lifting has been done.

Let’s take a look at the offseason and where each AFC West team stands:

Denver Broncos

What was good about the offseason? Denver went 13-3 in 2012 and followed up by adding several terrific pieces in free agency and the draft. There aren’t a ton of glaring holes on this team. The Broncos are strong in all phases of the game. And they upgraded in some big ways. Of course, the big prize was slot-receiving star Wes Welker in free agency. He makes Denver’s passing offense even more dangerous. But Denver also upgraded the roster by adding cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, guard Louis Vasquez and pass-rusher Shaun Phillips in free agency and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and running back Montee Ball via the draft.

What was bad about the offseason? The lone blemish on Denver’s offseason was the bizarre departure of pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil was set to return before the infamous fax-machine gaffe paved the way for him to go to Baltimore. Denver signed Phillips and drafted Quanterus Smith in the fifth round. Phillips will probably be a situational player and Robert Ayers will probably start in Dumervil’s old spot. Smith was leading the nation in sacks last season for Western Kentucky when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament. He is expected to be ready for training camp. The Broncos will miss Dumervil, but they think they got enough help for Von Miller.

How should they feel moving forward? The Broncos should believe they are ready to make a Super Bowl run. Is Denver flawless? Certainly not, but no NFL team is these days. Denver did enough in the offseason to be considered one of the better teams in the league.

Kansas City Chiefs

What was good about the offseason? A horrible 2-14 mark in 2012 seems like a long time ago. The Chiefs upgraded with the hiring of Andy Reid as coach and John Dorsey as general manager. Then they added quarterback Alex Smith -- the best quarterback available in the offseason, including the draft -- and several other pieces on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs' roster was already solid and it got better; what the Chiefs lacked was coaching and quarterback play. Meanwhile, the signing of cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith could, in combination with holdover Brandon Flowers, give Kansas City the best cornerback group in the NFL.

What was bad about the offseason? The situation with left tackle Branden Albert should be resolved by now. He will probably stay with the team and No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher will play right tackle. The Chiefs tried to trade Albert, who was given and has signed the franchise tag, but a deal fell through with the Dolphins. A swap could still happen but more likely, Albert comes back for a year and then leaves as a free agent. In a clean offseason, this has been the one sticky situation.

How should they feel moving forward? The Chiefs should feel great. There are few holes on this team. How many squads coming off a 2-14 season can say that? I’m not sure the Chiefs are playoff contenders. It depends on how Smith fits with the offense and how quickly the defense comes together. But this team should be much improved. Reid’s program is on the right track.

Oakland Raiders

What was good about the offseason? The Raiders had a good draft. General manager Reggie McKenzie worked the process well, turning seven picks into 10. Because this outfit is being totally rebuilt, I would not be shocked if all 10 draft picks made the 53-man roster. Oakland's first-round pick, cornerback D.J. Hayden, and its third-round pick, linebacker Sio Moore, have a chance to start right away and make an impact. Adding Hayden to free-agent signees Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins is a big upgrade at the cornerback spot. The linebacking crew has a chance to be better too.

What was bad about the offseason? Salary-cap problems made it very difficult for Oakland. It had to cut several players, including defensive back Michael Huff and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey; it traded quarterback Carson Palmer; and it saw solid free agents like Philip Wheeler, Brandon Myers, Shane Lechler and Desmond Bryant go elsewhere. The Raiders did the best they could under the circumstances, but a lot of talent left the team.

How should they feel moving forward? The Raiders should feel like a work in progress. The NFL has become a quick-turnaround league. That is not, however, likely to happen in Oakland this year -- the Raiders are probably a three-year project. McKenzie tore it down and is starting to build it up. The Raiders have made their salary-cap situation right for the future and have some promising players. But if the Raiders made a playoff push this year, it would be a major surprise.

San Diego Chargers

What was good about the offseason? The Chargers had a great draft -- arguably the best in the league. They drafted right tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round, inside linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round and receiver Keenan Allen in the third. All three were considered first-round talents and should start this fall. The franchise is headed in a new direction, and these players will have paved the way. The Chargers also added some nice pieces in free agency in the form of cornerback Derek Cox, running back Danny Woodhead and guard Chad Rinehart.

What was bad about the offseason? Yes, the Chargers did have some success in free agency, but because of salary-cap worries, they didn’t do too much. The Chargers need an infusion of talent, and free agency didn’t solve all the problems. The offensive line in particular is still a work in progress.

How should they feel moving forward? The solid draft gives the Chargers some good vibes heading into the summer. But this is not a complete roster. The offensive line is not great, and there are some concerns in the secondary. Yes, the Chargers are improving. But as with Oakland, the promise may be more long term than immediate.
The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals opened free agency with a lot of salary-cap room, and three weeks later, they still rank among the top-five teams with the most cap space.

According to the NFL Players Association, the Browns have the second-highest amount of cap space with $27.2 million (49 players under contract). Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have more with $28.3 million. Cleveland used $17.3 million of its 2013 cap space when it signed linebacker Paul Kruger ($8.1 million), defensive lineman Desmond Bryant ($8 million) and pass-rusher Quentin Groves ($1.2 million) in free agency.

The Bengals are fourth in the league with $25.9 million in cap room (48 players under contract). Cincinnati used over $30 million of cap space in retaining their own free agents, which included four starters.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Pittsburgh Steelers rank fifth in the smallest amount of cap space with $2.06 million (48 players under contract). The Steelers will receive an additional $5.5 million in two months because guard Willie Colon was designated a June 1 cut.

The Baltimore Ravens are in the middle of the pack with $5.3 million in cap room (42 players under contract). The Ravens are one of 14 teams who have less than $6 million in cap space. Baltimore will get $807,000 in cap room when the release of linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo becomes official (if he's not designated a June 1 cut). The Ravens will also free up an additional $2 million on June 1 for the release of safety Bernard Pollard.

The salary cap is $123 million in 2013 and only takes into account the 51 highest-paid players on the roster.
The Oakland Raiders’ salary-cap troubles have been well documented.

But after paying the price for years of wild spending, the Raiders will be paroled from salary-cap jail. Next year, after shedding several contracts and being unable to build their program by keeping their own coveted free agents, the Raiders will be in better shape.

ESPN’s John Clayton has a strong grasp on the salary cap and figures that Oakland will have about $69 million in cap space for 2014. That number will likely change based on several things, but it is clear that Oakland will have an abundance of cap room next year as it continues to rebuild its roster. For the first time since Reggie McKenzie took over as general manager in 2012, Oakland will not have to cut players to get under the cap.

Before you start fantasizing about a Pro Bowl stable of free agents coming to the East Bay, a surplus of cap room doesn’t automatically mean that team can sign all the best players. Many teams have cap space good enough to do what they wish; some don’t use their surplus just because they have it. Jacksonville, for example, still has more than $25 million remaining in cap room for this season but has completed virtually all its significant spending.

I expect McKenzie to take a measured approach next year with his newfound salary-cap good fortune. He cut his teeth in Green Bay under Ted Thompson -- who built Green Bay into an elite team by not pursuing outside free agents and keeping his best players.

That’s how McKenzie aims to operate.

So there's no reason to think that good homegrown players will leave the Raiders after the 2013 season. They don’t have a ton of core players, but there are some. Defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, offensive lineman Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski and receiver Denarius Moore are among the players who should be in line for long-term contracts as the Raiders build from within. Running back Darren McFadden is entering the final season of his contract and if he can stay healthy, Oakland will likely be interested in keeping him.

Once the Raiders identify these types of players and lock them up, Oakland will complement the roster with some outside purchases. But it starts from within for McKenzie.

Two things have hurt Oakland: past wild spending on veterans and poor first-round drafting. We’ve seen that with the departures of such players as Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Carson Palmer, Darrius Heyward-Bey and the likely release of Rolando McClain. Had those players not crippled Oakland’s cap, the Raiders would have been able to keep solid players such as Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bryant and Brandon Myers in free agency this year.

This nasty process has depleted Oakland’s roster. The healing begins next year, when Oakland won't be motivated by pure financial necessity and can start making prudent decisions to build the franchise the right way.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each AFC West team has been a winner or a loser in free agency:

Denver Broncos: Yes, the Elvis Dumervil fax-machine fiasco will long be remembered. The Broncos may be guilty by association, but the ball was in the court of Dumervil's now-fired agent at the deadline, so Denver really was a frustrated bystander when it mattered. That incident shouldn’t sully an otherwise-terrific offseason by Denver. The Broncos had a plan and executed it well. It starts with Wes Welker. The slot receiver is a perfect weapon for Peyton Manning. Welker’s signing was affordable and hurt AFC rival New England -- a strong addition for a team that has Super Bowl designs. Former San Diego guard Louis Vasquez, former Philadelphia cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton were all smart, impact signings. This was a winning offseason.

Kansas City Chiefs: It’s difficult to find anyone who would argue that this wasn’t a winning offseason. In fact, the Chiefs might be among the biggest winners in free agency in the entire league. The Chiefs were aggressive and addressed every big need. First, they traded for quarterback Alex Smith, answering their most glaring hole with the best available player at the position. Then, they kept three key free agents in receiver Dwayne Bowe, punter Dustin Colquitt and left tackle Branden Albert. And after that, the Chiefs jumped aggressively into free agency. The additions of Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith could give Kansas City the best group of cornerbacks in the NFL. The Chiefs added in several other areas, including field-stretching receiver Donnie Avery and run-stuffing defensive lineman Mike DeVito. The new brass is determined to move on from the 2-14 disaster that was 2012.

Oakland Raiders: This is a difficult one. For the second consecutive year, the Raiders have been strapped by lingering salary-cap issues. They were forced to cut some players and saw several others leave as free agents. The exodus of young, talented players included tight end Brandon Myers, defensive linemen Desmond Bryant and Matt Shaughnessy and linebacker Philip Wheeler. The Raiders responded nicely by adding three linebackers and three defensive linemen as they totally reconstruct their defense. Players such as linebacker Nick Roach and defensive linemen Vance Walker and Pat Sims have a chance to help immediately. And yet it is difficult to think that this team, which went 4-12, has improved. Yes, the Raiders got some good players, but many holes remain. Again, it’s just a fact of life for this strapped team, whose reconstruction is very much under way.

San Diego Chargers: It would be difficult to make a case that this team has been neither a winner nor a loser in free agency. The Chargers have just kind of been hanging around. They haven’t lost much, but they haven’t added much, at least in terms signing players sure to fill holes. But new general manager Tom Telesco is known for finding good players at a good rate. The Chargers haven’t had a ton of cap space and have been fairly conservative. They have added some good players, starting with cornerback Derek Cox and guard Chad Rinehart; both are highly respected around the league. Running back Danny Woodhead also will help the offense. Questions remain on the offensive line and in the secondary, but it seems as though Telesco is going to work selectively to build a program his way. It remains to be seen if it will help the Chargers improve immediately.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each AFC North team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Baltimore Ravens: Losers. No debate here. The Super Bowl champions have been among the biggest losers in free agency. The Ravens have parted ways with seven starters (including five on defense), and free agency is only 11 days old. Baltimore also lost a chunk of its history when linebacker Ray Lewis retired and safety Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans in free agency. Both players were past their prime, but their departures create a major leadership void. The losses that will hurt the Ravens the most are wide receiver Anquan Boldin (traded to San Francisco) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (signed with Miami). The Ravens don't have the depth at either position to replace them. The only additions have been defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, both of whom will improve the run defense.

Cincinnati Bengals: Winners. You can't really call the Bengals "losers" because they've only lost one starter from last season's playoff team, and Cincinnati wasn't interested in bringing back outside linebacker Manny Lawson (signed with Buffalo). The biggest criticism is the Bengals haven't been aggressive in free agency. Cincinnati is one of three teams that haven't signed a free agent from another team this offseason. The Bengals have been active in keeping their team intact, re-signing nine of their own free agents. That list includes three starters (linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive ends Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers), kicker Mike Nugent and punter Kevin Huber. The Bengals will feel more like winners if they can retain their top priority, offensive tackle Andre Smith. With about $30 million in salary-cap room remaining, Cincinnati is looking to bring back cornerback Terence Newman and extend the contract of defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The Bengals also need to address voids at strong safety and outside linebacker.

Cleveland Browns: Winners. This is a close call. The Browns improved their front seven by signing linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant and added to the pass rush by bringing in linebacker Quentin Groves. Cleveland overpaid for Kruger ($20 million guaranteed for someone who has 15.5 career sacks), but the Browns get the sacks leader from the Super Bowl champions who is entering the prime of his career. The best signing was Bryant, an under-the-radar free agent who can become a game-changer up front in the Browns' new 3-4 defense. The excitement over these additions is tempered by the fact that the Browns said goodbye to two longtime franchise fixtures in kicker Phil Dawson (signed with San Francisco) and receiver-returner Josh Cribbs (expected to sign with Arizona). The Browns can come out of free agency looking much better if they can land Falcons free agent Brent Grimes, the top cornerback remaining on the market.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Losers. This is no surprise. The Steelers' salary-cap restraints have meant a significant amount of losses and few additions in free agency over recent years. This offseason, the Steelers cut their top pass-rusher (aging James Harrison) after he refused to take a pay cut, watched their best deep threat (Mike Wallace) get $30 million guaranteed from the Miami Dolphins, chose not to outbid the New Orleans Saints for their young rising cornerback (Keenan Lewis) and declined to re-sign a former first-round pick (running back Rashard Mendenhall). There will also be changes along the offensive and defensive lines. Pittsburgh released guard Willie Colon and aren't expected to re-sign offensive tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton. The Steelers added depth with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, cornerback William Gay and wide receiver Plaxico Burress. But Pittsburgh has to cross its fingers that New England won't sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet.
Sure, we're still about six months from the start of the regular season. There's also this thing called the NFL draft that will take place next month. But our Power Rankings voters at ESPN.com, which includes me for a second year, weighed in to see where the teams stand after the first week of free agency.

Here's an AFC North recap of the March edition of the pre-draft NFL Power Rankings, where the Seahawks sit at No. 1:

BALTIMORE RAVENS

ESPN Power Ranking: No. 8

My ranking: No. 11

2012 record: 10-6

Comment: The Ravens have already lost six starters from their Super Bowl team and could say goodbye to another if safety Ed Reed signs elsewhere. General manager Ozzie Newsome will sign a few players over the next month and will find a couple of starters in the draft. But right now, the Ravens have major question marks at inside linebacker, left tackle and both safety spots.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

ESPN Power Ranking: No. 10

My ranking: No. 10

2012 record: 10-6

Comment: There's always a feeling that the Bengals could really take over the division if they were more aggressive in free agency. The priority has been to keep their own free agents, and the Bengals have been successful doing so. Cincinnati still has holes at right tackle, strong safety and outside linebacker.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

ESPN Power Ranking: No. 16

My ranking: No. 15

2012 record: 8-8

Comment: The Steelers parted ways with their best pass rusher over the past six years (James Harrison) and their most promising cornerback (Keenan Lewis). Pittsburgh's salary-cap problems have once again limited the team from improving in free agency. The Steelers need to find a running back and a pass-rusher in the draft because there is little confidence in the likes of Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Jason Worilds.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

ESPN Power Ranking: No. 25

My ranking: No. 26

2012 record: 5-11

Comment: The Browns' free-agent focus was improving their front seven. Cleveland gave $35 million in guaranteed money to linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant. Not sure how that helps a Browns offense that averaged 18.9 points per game.
Here are some details for free-agent contracts involving AFC North teams ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Chris Canty, defensive lineman: Three years for a maximum total of $8 million. It includes a $2 million signing bonus and a $500,000 roster bonus if he's on the team on the fourth day of the 2014 league year.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Robert Geathers, defensive end: Three years for max value of $9 million. This includes a $1.25 million bonus. He can gain up to $150,000 in incentives each year.

Wallace Gilberry, defensive end: Three years for max value of $6.3 million. This includes a $1.25 million bonus.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Paul Kruger, linebacker: Five years for max value of $40.5 million. This includes a $6 million signing bonus. His 2014 base salary ($7 million) is guaranteed.

Desmond Bryant, defensive line: Five years for a max value of $34 million. This includes a $5 million signing bonus. His 2014 base salary ($3 million) is guaranteed for injury.

Quentin Groves, linebacker: Two years for max value of $2.4 million. This included a $500,000 bonus. He can gain up to $500,000 in incentives each year.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Larry Foote, linebacker: Three years for max value of $5.5 million. This included a $1 million signing bonus.
The Oakland Raiders need starters and overall depth on defense and on Wednesday they acted to help fill that void.

The team signed defensive end Jason Hunter (Denver), linebacker Kaluka Maiava (Cleveland) and defensive tackle Pat Sims (Cincinnati).

“We’re excited to add three veterans through free agency,” Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a statement. “(They help) to create depth and competition on defense. We’ll continue to add free agents as the opportunity surfaces.”

The team has also visited with Chicago linebacker Nick Roach. Oakland cut safety Michael Huff and lost linebackers Philip Wheeler (Miami) and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (Cleveland) on Tuesday. They ended the day with just three sure starters in the form of defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, linebacker Miles Burris and safety Tyvon Branch.

The three new additions will help Oakland. I think Sims and Maiava could be starters and Hunter is a decent rotational player.

Scouts like Sims, who started one game last season and who is injury prone. But he has talent. Maiava started most of last season in Cleveland. Hunter played in Denver under Oakland head coach Dennis Allen.

I’m not sure if these are upgrades. But they are NFL-quality players who should make contributions in Oakland. I expect the Raiders to continue to add these types of younger, fairly inexpensive players to the roster in this time of flux.
When you heard about the free-agent interior defensive linemen, the list included popular names such as Richard Seymour and Cullen Jenkins. But Desmond Bryant -- not to be confused with Dez Bryant -- will make more of an impact than both of them this season.

Bryant
Bryant agreed to a five-year, $34 million contract with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday, according to The Plain Dealer. While the Browns' first move of free agency can be debated, the team's second one is shrewd.

At 27 years old, Bryant is one of those under-the-radar players who has the chance to be a game-changer on the Browns' new 3-4 defense. He spent four seasons on an underachieving Oakland Raiders defense, but he always showed great tenacity and a high motor.

The red flag on Bryant was his arrest last month in Miami on a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief. The positives with the 6-foot-6, 311-pound lineman out of Harvard outweigh this incident.

Bryant's reputation is being a run-stuffer, but he can get collapse the middle of the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, his 35 total pressures ranked him fourth among all qualifying defensive tackles.

It's uncertain what effect this signing has on the future of Browns interior lineman Ahtyba Rubin. All that is known now is the Browns added two pieces to the new defense's front seven with Bryant and outside linebacker Paul Kruger, and it's only the first day of free agency.
There is no doubt the Oakland Raiders are in a tough spot.

For the second straight year the Raiders are facing a tough salary-cap situation because of wild, irresponsible spending by the previous regime. The result is a second year of tough decisions.

As the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs worked to improve Tuesday, the Raiders had to hit the refresh button again.

Oakland cut safety Michael Huff, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and defensive end Dave Tollefson. The Heyward-Bey (Oakland has other young receivers) and Tollefson cuts were not surprising. But the Huff cut was. He played well at cornerback in an emergency last year and the team was moving him back to safety. He didn’t want to take a pay cut.

The team also saw linebacker Philip Wheeler (Miami) and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (Cleveland) sign lucrative five-year deals. Huff and Wheeler were among the best players on a porous defense in 2012 and Bryant is expected to have a strong future.

Oakland will likely either get a pay reduction from quarterback Carson Palmer or cut him. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and linebacker Rolando McClain are expected to be cut.

The Raiders are reportedly about $23 million under the cap now. They will be able to do some things. But the problem is that they have many holes. They have to restock this roster.

I understand all of these moves. But the truth is, this team can’t afford to lose good players. Wheeler and Huff were good players.

I expect Huff to attract interest on the open market. Heyward-Bey -- a big disappointment after being the No. 7 overall pick in 2009 -- will likely get some mild interest on the open market because of his speed.

The part of these moves that has to be a tad worrisome is the new regime is still dealing with decisions it made last year. Safety Tyvon Branch and guard Mike Brisiel did big restructures and Tollefson was cut. During a time of flux like this, the moves that are being made must work or the trouble will continue.

Top 10 AFC West UFAs

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
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NFL free agency starts March 12. The list of the top 10 unrestricted free agents in the AFC West has changed dramatically recently. Here is the list I compiled a month ago before re-signings and franchise tag decisions. The group is nowhere near as deep as it was.

1. Brandon Myers, Oakland, TE: Myers had a breakout receiving season in 2012 and he will draw interest on the open market. The Raiders will try to keep him, but it may not be easy. It could help Oakland that it is a strong tight end free agent class.

2. Louis Vasquez, San Diego, OG: Scouts love this player. He is the Chargers’ best offensive lineman and will be sought.

3. Antoine Cason, San Diego, CB: The word around the league is Cason will get interest. He could price himself out of San Diego as free agency is always kind to cornerbacks.

4. Philip Wheeler, Oakland, LB: Wheeler is a solid starter who the Raiders will want to keep.

5. Desmond Bryant, Oakland, DL: He is a rotational player, but he has ability and I can see him getting a good offer elsewhere.

6. Quentin Jammer, San Diego, CB: He may move to safety at the age of 33, but Jammer can still play.

7. Shaun Phillips, San Diego, LB: Phillips is streaky, but he can still rush the passer and plenty teams will pay for that skill.

8. Shane Lechler, Oakland, P: Lechler is one of the great all-time punters, but he is 36 and coming off an injury. It will be interesting to see his market develop.

9. Aubrayo Franklin, San Diego, DT: He is a tough, hard-nosed plugger that teams seek.

10. Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City, DL: The former No. 5 overall draft pick may get interest from 4-3 teams. Denver and Oakland could be interested.
Thursday, in Insider pieces, Todd McShay Insider and Mel Kiper Jr. Insider offered updated mock drafts. Friday, the two discussed some of the reasons for their picks Insider.

It was interesting to read Kiper Jr.’s thoughts on the Chiefs avoiding a quarterback with the No.1 pick. It is the same tack I have taken: I don’t think the Chiefs should take a quarterback at No. 1 if no player is worthy of the pick.

Here is what Kiper Jr. had to say on the subject: “I disagree that the No. 1 pick could be a QB. At this point, it's just hard for me to see Geno Smith, Matt Barkley or a guy like Mike Glennon being considered enough of a guarantee at that spot. I think where you see Kansas City think about QB is either at No. (34) overall, or if they trade up into the 20's and get a better value. And you're right, Todd, free agency or a trade could still solve that problem.”

If one of these quarterbacks somehow shows he is worthy of being the No. 1 pick in the next couple of months, then that’s a different story. If not, the Chiefs should find their next starting quarterback on the veteran market and address another need with the top pick. That is maximizing the overall talent of the roster.

In other AFC West news:

In an Insider piece, ESPN.com thinks Insider Oakland defensive tackle Desmond Bryant could be a steal in free agency. I agree. Bryant is a fine player who some teams might throw some money at. As far as NFC West fits for Bryant, I can potentially see Denver showing some interest.

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