NFL Nation: Rocky Boiman
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.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:
Covering kickoffs: The Steelers finally made moves to boost their fledgling kickoff coverage by signing cornerback Corey Ivy and linebacker Rocky Boiman. Both players could make an impact Sunday on a unit that’s allowed four returns for a touchdown this season and two in the past two weeks. Both players are veterans and have a wealth of special teams' experience. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin also added he will not be afraid to use more starters on his kickoff team as well.
Where is the Suggs package? In the midst of Baltimore's recent struggles in the red zone, perhaps the biggest offensive mystery is the disappearance of the "Suggs package." Baltimore's variation of the Wildcat offense, led by backup Troy Smith, worked very well last year as a changeup to its power running game. It was also used as a form of protection for then-rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. But since Flacco's development in Year 2, the Ravens have virtually moved away from the innovative package and stuck to their conventional offense. Now that Baltimore is struggling to score touchdowns, it may be time for the team to dig back into its bag of tricks.
Quinn tries to do it again: Was last week's performance for Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn the start of something special or merely a farce? We will find out this week when Quinn and the Browns take on the first-place Cincinnati Bengals. Quinn had a career-best performance in a loss to the Detroit Lions, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns. He did a lot of nice things, but it came against a Lions defense that has allowed more than 29 points per game. Cincinnati's defense is a much stiffer test.
Bengals need to make statement: With their long history of losing, it was evident after last week's 20-17 loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders that the Bengals (7-3) are still learning how to be winners. This is the best team Cincinnati has had in a while. Yet, the Bengals are not good enough to completely sleepwalk against an inferior opponent and still pull out a win on the road. Cincinnati needs to make a statement against Cleveland, another inferior opponent, that it will no longer play down to its competition in order to be taken seriously as a title contender. The Browns, who lost in overtime, almost upset the Bengals earlier this season in Cleveland.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Biggest surprise: Chris Henry survives again? It’s hard to think that if they look to add someone in the next couple days it won’t put the running back at risk. But the third-year runner got at least an initial spot as the Titans waived-injured Quinton Ganther, a more valuable and versatile player as the fourth back He suffered a calf injury in the preseason finale. Hardly as big on the list of surprises: the end for veteran linebackers Ryan Fowler, Josh Stamer and Rocky Boiman, leaving the team with very young depth; Patrick Ramsey sticking as a third quarterback; and the survival of cornerback Cary Williams.
No-brainers: The Titans kept nine defensive linemen. The lowest ranking of the bunch is probably second-round pick Sen’Derrick Marks and the Titans certainly intend to give him time to develop. They kept four tight ends, a move never in doubt with Jared Cook in his first year and Craig Stevens in his second. Receiver Paul Williams showed very little in two seasons since the Titans spent a third-rounder on him and it was certainly time to look to someone like rookie Dominique Edison instead.
What's next: Sixth-round draft pick Jason McCourty, looks to have an early chance to be a special teams contributor and should survive ahead of Cary Williams at cornerback if the Titans make a move to upgrade depth. But corner depth and the punt return job remain the two largest concerns.
Tight end Tony Scheffler is a big part of the Broncos' offense.
My take: Scheffler is a key. He gives Denver a special element. The Broncos have a great blocking tight end in Daniel Graham. He is capable of making catches. But Scheffler can move the chains on a regular basis. He and quarterback Jay Cutler are close off the field and they have a special chemistry. Scheffler is a game-changing headache for defensive coordinators who have plenty of other things to worry about when dealing with Denver's offense. Scheffler makes Denver's offense special.
This is an important time for the Chiefs' linebackers.
My take: Things are changing. Derrick Johnson is moving from outside to middle linebacker. Rocky Boiman is taking his spot. The Chiefs are looking to remake their linebacker crew next season. It will likely have two openings and the team would like to see Johnson make the transition to the middle to take care of that spot. The Chiefs will have many positions to address in the offseason. Linebacker will definitely be one of the priority positions along with the offensive and defensive lines. This is just the beginning of the change.
The Raiders are entering a house of doom Thursday night.
My take: The Raiders have lost 10 straight games to San Diego. It is tied for the longest current streak of dominance in the NFL. The Raiders don't have much to play for the rest of the season. But if they can beat the Chargers and erase the streak it will be another step for Oakland as it tries to escape the harsh grip of six seasons of misery.
A.J. Smith said it will be a busy offseason in San Diego.
My take: We didn't expect major changes, but we didn't expect a 4-8 record, either. At this point, expect the changes to revolve around players. Areas where there could be change include the offensive line, linebacker and perhaps at safety. It's early but changes are coming in San Diego -- it has to. Teams that go from the AFC Championship Game to a 4-8 start just can't stand pat.
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