NFL Nation: Ryan Clark


Here's what I know as of Tuesday morning regarding receiver DeSean Jackson and the Redskins:
  • There is not yet a deal, according to multiple sources. But to say it doesn't look promising for the Redskins would be wrong. Very wrong. However, I've seen them close to making other big acquisitions over the years only to lose out at the last minute (Jay Cutler, Eddie Royal). So until a contract is signed, nothing is done. Various reports out of Philadelphia have called it a done deal (97.5's Tim McManus and ABC-6's Jeff Skversky). Skversky caught up with Jackson at Dulles airport. Perhaps that's what Jackson is telling people. Royal told people the same thing a couple of years ago. So did Cutler. Hence the caution.
  • Would I be surprised if it doesn’t happen? At this point, yes. And I think those who have spent time around Jackson in the past few days would say the same thing. One person said he was very confident it would happen.
  • Jackson will visit Redskins Park Tuesday and meet with the coaches and members of the front office. He dined with some of the coaches Monday night.
  • Though I wonder if this is a unanimous decision in the organization, I was told that coach Jay Gruden really wants Jackson. I was also told that Jackson was very, very high on his desire to join the Redskins. When both sides really want something, it's the first, second and third steps toward making that happen. But even the person who said Jackson was that high on the Redskins acknowledged that the money had to be right. So desire won't trump all.
  • There is a great deal of excitement by the players over Jackson's potential arrival and what could be done in this offense. There's a sense by some that Jackson is driven as much by his late father as anything and that he's not as bad as portrayed.
  • And the addition of safety Ryan Clark adds even stronger leadership in the locker room to help diffuse any potential situations. Some things always pop up, but some players need more attention.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have not taken a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft since 1997, often finding players in the middle to late rounds they developed into serviceable to quality starters.

That will change this year for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the Steelers need more help to counter passing attacks that increasingly force teams out of their base defense and demand five or six defensive backs on the field at the same time.

The Steelers addressed safety with their most significant free-agent signing, bringing in Mike Mitchell to replace Ryan Clark at free safety. They also have high hopes for 2013 fourth-round pick Shamarko Thomas on the back end of their defense.

The Steelers showed interest in a handful of cornerbacks prior to the start of the free-agent signing period. But the only move they have made at that position is agreeing to a pay cut with Ike Taylor that will bring the 11th-year veteran back for one more season.

Taylor, who turns 34 in May, will help develop the cornerbacks the Steelers select in the draft -- yes, plural. One of those is likely to be Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard in the first round.

Whether the Steelers have their choice between the two players widely considered the top cornerbacks in the draft remains to be seen.

Fourteen teams pick ahead of the Steelers, and the Lions at No. 10 are among those who could go with a cornerback in the first round. One thing working in favor of the Steelers is enough teams ahead of them have such an acute need at quarterback that three or four of them could be picked early, pushing higher-rated players down in the draft.

On paper, it doesn't seem like the Steelers could go wrong with either Gilbert or Dennard.

Gilbert intercepted seven passes last season while playing in the pass-happy Big 12. He burnished his pro credentials by running an official time of 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.

Dennard ran a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, which isn't great but hardly raised any red flags. And the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner is the more physical corner of the two, something that could give him an edge when the Steelers assign final draft grades, because their cornerbacks also have to provide run support.

Does the fact that the Steelers have only three cornerbacks on their roster with significant NFL experience mean they are locked into the position with their first pick? Hardly, though they will have a strong group to pick from even if Gilbert and Dennard go off the board in the first 14 picks.

Wide receiver will also receive strong consideration from the Steelers, and it would be really easy to pencil in Texas A&M's Mike Evans as their pick. Johnny Manziel's favorite target at A&M is 6-foot-5 and he was incredibly productive in college.

For a team that appears to be all in as far as maximizing Ben Roethlisberger's remaining seasons as a franchise quarterback, adding a tall wide receiver to an offense that has long lacked one would be a no-brainer.

The problem is Evans ran well enough at the combine to allay any concerns about his speed, and even in a draft flush with wide receivers he will likely be gone before the Steelers make their first pick.

They could try and trade down in the draft and address their defensive line, which has a gaping hole at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward. The problem with that, as Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has noted, is a lot of teams could try to do the same thing in an attempt to collect extra picks in a draft that is unusually deep across the board.

Assuming the Steelers stay at No. 15, there doesn't appear to be a defensive lineman worth taking that high. Yes, they have and will do their homework on Pitt's Aaron Donald, one of the top linemen in the draft and one who has been compared to no less a player than the Bengals' Geno Atkins.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, Donald does not fit their 3-4 scheme as he is more of a penetrating lineman, not an immovable, hold-the-point-of-attack one.

There are still more than five weeks before the draft, an eternity for teams to fall in and out of love with prospects, and what the Steelers do with their first pick depends on how the selection process shakes out in front of them.

But cornerback is the most logical position for them to address with the 15th pick. They need both immediate and long-term reinforcements at the position. They also need playmakers there -- Steelers cornerbacks intercepted just three passes last season.

The draft is deep enough that they will find a cornerback later in the draft.

But for a team that needs to draft two cornerbacks this year, it is also time for them to take one with their first-round pick.

Jay Gruden: 'We've made progress'

March, 29, 2014
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The Redskins bypassed the expensive talent, knowing they needed more than one or two players. So they opted to rebuild their 3-13 roster a different way: by adding depth. Naturally, that pleased their coach.

Jay Gruden sees a roster that’s already improved. Yes, he should say that regardless.

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaCoach Jay Gruden said he's pleased with how the Redskins have added depth at inside linebacker.
“We’ve made a lot of progress as far as our team’s concerned with free agency,” he said. “The big thing with free agency was we needed some players to help our depth.

“Obviously, we wanted to get everybody, but you have to have a plan of attack. You have to circle certain guys or a position and really go after it and come out of free agency with something because there’s no guarantee that you can get even the top guy that you have as a priority. So, I think we did a great job and I’m happy where we’re at.”

They obviously added an interior pass-rusher in Jason Hatcher and three inside linebackers (two of whom, Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, will compete for the starting job).

“We attacked very well,” Gruden said of that position. “We answered that [inside linebacker position]. We added some good players and it’s going to be a very competitive position in training camp.”

Those moves provided Washington help on special teams, giving them a key for any good unit: bigger guys who can run. All three have carved out careers because of their work there, even when they’ve started. The Redskins lacked enough players like this a year ago and the results showed. They still need to work on this area at safety. When you have good safety and linebacker depth, special teams benefits.

They’ve also added offensive line depth, with Shawn Lauvao, who will start at left guard, and Mike McGlynn, who gives them an experienced backup.

“Some of the marquee guys just got a lot of money, and good for them,” Gruden said. “We needed more quantity as opposed to just one guy at a huge price. I think we went about it the right way.”

While there were rumblings in some circles that the stain of Washington’s finish, and the drama surrounding it, was an issue for some free agents, Gruden said it wasn’t for those they met.

They’re still awaiting word from receiver Kenny Britt and safety Ryan Clark. Both visited; both remain possibilities. Tight end Owen Daniels also visited, but it does not appear anything is imminent with him. Gruden said he knows how players are eventually lured somewhere.

“This is a heck of a franchise, but when it’s all said and done it’s usually about the money -- usually,” Gruden said. “There are some teams I wouldn’t think would get any players. It wasn’t an issue, really. The type of players we have in place with DeAngelo Hall and [Brian] Orakpo and Robert [Griffin III] and Pierre Garcon, this is an attractive franchise for players.”

Free-agency review: Steelers

March, 18, 2014
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Mitchell
Most significant signing: The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t wait long to get younger and faster in the secondary as they lured Mike Mitchell away from the Carolina Panthers with a five-year, $25 million contract. Mitchell, who turns 27 in June, will replace Ryan Clark at free safety, and the Steelers are hoping they added a playmaker to a defense that intercepted 10 passes last season, tied for the third-fewest in the league. Mitchell, who picked off four passes in 2013, has the speed to cover ground in the secondary and is also a good blitzer. Did everything come together for him last season because he played on a defense that led the NFL with 60 sacks or was the jump he made a natural progression for a player with an impressive skill set? The Steelers are banking on the latter.

Most significant loss: Steelers fans grumbled about Emmanuel Sanders and his lack of consistency, but his signing with the Broncos cost them a starter and left them Kleenex thin at wide receiver. Second-year man Markus Wheaton is the most experienced wide receiver on the roster after Pro Bowler Antonio Brown but he played just 157 snaps last season. Jerricho Cotchery, who led the Steelers with 10 touchdown receptions last season, is no lock to return. The 10-year veteran is visiting Carolina and it could be a good fit for both sides. The Panthers needs wide receivers in the worst way and Cotchery badly wants the chance to play in a Super Bowl.

Biggest surprise: The Steelers probably anticipated losing Ziggy Hood but they couldn’t have predicted that Hood and Al Woods would sign with other teams so early in free agency. The losses of those defensive ends left the Steelers in need of sheet bodies at the position, and yet it didn’t seem like they were any more inclined to bring back 12-year veteran Brett Keisel for one more season. Maybe that changes if they don’t land Alex Carrington, who visited the Steelers last Friday but is also meeting with other teams before signing somewhere.

What’s next: The Steelers are less than $3 million under the salary cap, which means they have to free up more cash since the $8.58 million they saved this year by releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley doesn’t become available to them until after June 1. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons could be on deck as far as a contract restructure. His base salary in 2014 is $6.75 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the Steelers can lower his cap number ($11.82 million) by converting a big chunk of that into a signing bonus. The Steelers could also reduce Jason Worilds’ cap hit of $9.754 million by signing the outside linebacker to a long-term contract.
Mike Mitchell, LaMarr WoodleyGetty ImagesIn safety Mike Mitchell and linebacker LaMarr Woodley the Steelers and Raiders hope to find free-agent steals.
LaMarr Woodley is now a Raider as he signed with Oakland last week following his release from the Steelers. The Steelers, meanwhile, made an uncharacteristic signing on the first day of free agency, bringing in Mike Mitchell to take over for Ryan Clark at free safety. Mitchell played for the Panthers in 2013 but spent his first four seasons with the Raiders.

ESPN.com Steelers writer Scott Brown and ESPN.com Raiders writer Paul Gutierrez take a closer look at Woodley and Mitchell and what their signings mean for their respective teams.

Paul Gutierrez: The Raiders had many needs entering the offseason, perhaps none greater than pass rush. They seemed to address that by signing Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, but I’m sure Raiders fans are wondering just how much Woodley, who turns 30 in November, has left in the tank?

Scott Brown: The Raiders should be getting a player who will be extremely motivated following his release by the Steelers -- and by how his career played out after they had made Woodley the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history. It proved to be a rather stunning fall from grace for Woodley, and ultimately the Steelers picked Jason Worilds, whom they had been widely criticized for drafting in the second round in 2010, over Woodley.

Woodley’s inability to stay on the field led to the Steelers making that choice, and if he can stay healthy he could turn out to be a real bargain for the Raiders. Woodley played well until a calf injury sidelined him in the second half of the last season and ultimately shut him down. What has the reaction been to the Woodley signing, and do you think the Raiders view it as a low-risk, high-reward proposition?

Gutierrez: The reaction has been one of relief from Raiders fans, especially since Tuck had signed earlier in the wake of the Rodger Saffold debacle. Now, I’m not saying it “saved” the Raiders’ free agent-signing season, but it did wash away some of the bad taste because the Raiders had a huge need at pass rush. In Woodley (57 career sacks) and Tuck (60.5 career sacks) they addressed it even if both guys will be on the wrong side of 30 come midseason. Still, Woodley and Tuck, bring a championship mentality (two Super Bowl appearances) to a franchise that has not had a winning record since 2002. And yeah, the money is right (“only” up to $12 million) as is the length of the deal (two years).

Still, there are questions about how his skill set plays into the Raiders’ base 4-3 defense since Woodley was the left outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He says he’ll play with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in a 4-3. Do you see that as a realistic possibility, or is that too much to ask of him at this stage of his career?

Brown: Woodley should be fine moving to defensive end as that is what he played in college when he tormented quarterbacks for Michigan. The move might help him regain some of his pass-rushing mojo as Woodley won’t drop into coverage nearly as often as he did with the Steelers. I like the signing for the Raiders, especially if Woodley prepares and plays as if a fire has been lit under him. Did complacency set in after he signed the six-year, $61.5 million in 2011? It sure seems that way and maybe getting released is what Woodley needed to get his career back on track.

The Steelers normally stay on the sidelines during the first wave of free agency but they made a significant signing when they lured Mike Mitchell away from Carolina with a five-year, $25 million contract. Mitchell spent his first four seasons in Oakland and I’m curious about your impressions of him. Did he simply need a change of scenery or did things click for him last season because he played on a better team?

Gutierrez: Yeah, it’s been a couple of years since I covered Mitchell on a day-to-day basis but he definitely left an impression as one of the best interviews in the Raiders locker room, win, lose or draw. The spotlight was on him from the day Al Davis used a second-round pick on a little-known player from Ohio University. Davis had visions of another undersized, hard-hitting safety from the Buckeye State in Jack Tatum but that was a tough bar to reach. Still, he had some flashes… especially in covering San Diego tight end Antonio Gates a few years back. A change of scenery, and being with a team that had a better pass rush, definitely helped him out in Carolina. Plus, he was able to freelance more with the Panthers as a free safety, rather than on the strong side. And with his outspoken manner, gritty disposition and, yes, rep as a hard hitter, he seems to fit the mold of Raiders and Steelers' DBs of yore, even if he’s not Tatum or even Donnie Shell.

Speaking of old school, Raiders fans still refer to “IT” as the Immaculate DE-ception… so when, if ever, is Frenchy Fuqua going to tell the entire story?

Brown: I just read a tremendous book on the 1970s Steelers, “Their Life’s Work,” and it sounds like he is taking that story to his grave. I’m sure Steelers’ fans would counter that the Immaculate RE-ception is history and in the books no matter how it went down. It certainly is one of the more intriguing chapters of that storied rivalry and remains so after all of these years. What are the chances that the Raiders and Steelers turn back the clock at some point and resume meeting regularly in the playoffs as they did in the 1970s?

Gutierrez: Well, that would mean the Raiders have to get BACK to the playoffs, a place they have not visited since 2002. Realistically, I can’t see it happening in the next year or two, but in the NFL, things do change quickly. Not sure the rivalry can ever get back to the days of the ’70s, though, when the Steelers and Raiders met in three straight AFC title games, which I wrote about in January.
It was a busy day Thursday and there could be more action Friday. So let's take a look ahead and then look back:

Scheduled visits
CB Walter Thurmond
Note: I have not heard that his visit has been cancelled after the Tracy Porter signing and interest in Brandon Browner. So as of now it looks like he’ll still visit here (originally scheduled for Friday). He also has visited with Jacksonville and tweeted Thursday that he was visiting with San Francisco that afternoon. Lots of frequent-flyer mile potential here.

CB Brandon Browner
Note: The Redskins just signed Tracy Porter, but clearly want to add more corners to go with DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson. They want to upgrade this position, but I also wonder what they have in mind because every one of these corners is capable. I have a tough time believing Thurmond or Browner or Porter, based on their experience, would want to be a fourth corner. The NFL Network reported Thursday night that Browner had agreed to a deal with New England. But Browner’s agent, Peter Schaffer, vehemently denied a deal had taken place to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. But Schefter reported this morning that Browner will visit with New Orleans after his stop in Washington (while also negotiating with New England and Oakland).

TE Owen Daniels
Note: Daniels arrived Thursday night and will leave after a visit Friday. He visited with Green Bay, but the Packers re-signed tight end Andrew Quarless afterward so it’s uncertain if the Packers still have any interest. The Redskins could use another pass-catching tight end to pair with Jordan Reed, coming off a concussion and limited to nine games as a rookie last season. They still like Logan Paulsen, but he’s a blocker. Niles Paul has not developed into that second pass-receiving threat after two years playing the position. Daniels has 365 career receptions, including 62 in 2012. But he was limited to five games and 24 receptions this past season because of a fractured fibula. Houston cut Daniels earlier this offseason. Given his age (31) and some durability concerns (he’s missed a combined 18 games the past four seasons, but only two in 2011 and ’12), he’d probably be best in a role where he’s not the primary pass-catching tight end. If healthy, he'd also provide good insurance in case Reed isn't durable.

Players of interest
OT Donald Penn
Note: The former Tampa Bay tackle’s first stop will be in Oakland. There’s a feeling that Penn’s play dropped off a decent amount at left tackle last season, but that a move to right tackle could be a good one -- and that’s what the Redskins would want him to play.

Waiting on
FS Ryan Clark
Note: He visited Thursday and, according to agent Joel Turner, it was “very good.” Of course, that’s how they’re usually termed; sort of like every surgery an athlete has was successful until we find out later that it wasn’t. Still, it must have been pretty good because both sides were still talking after it was over. Clark has interest from other teams, but his agent declined to say where he was headed next -- or to characterize the negotiations with Washington. Stay tuned on this one.

LB Anthony Spencer
Note: He visited Thursday as well and the Redskins remain in talks with him. If healthy, he's an excellent linebacker (or, at least, he was before 2013). Spencer played just one game last season because of microfracture knee surgery, and he's also 30. But if he can still play, Spencer could be used as a situational pass-rusher and, depending on his deal, provide insurance in case Brian Orakpo leaves after this season. Spencer played mostly on the left side in Dallas, but would occasionally flip to the right.

Done Deals
CB Tracy Porter
Note: Experienced in the slot and coming off his best season, but now playing with his third new team in three years since leaving the New Orleans Saints.

DL Jason Hatcher
Note: He'll turn 32 before the season, but will fit nicely in the Redskins’ defense with his ability to play outside in a base package and inside in their nickel. One Redskins source said Hatcher's ability to disrupt against them last year was the best they had seen in a couple years.

DL Clifton Geathers
Note: He's a big fella at 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds. In a game of leverage, that sort of height can be difficult. Last season with Philadelphia was the first time he had played in all 16 games since entering the league in 2010. He’s worth taking a shot on because the Redskins already have some depth at this position so it's not as if they're in trouble if he can’t play.

LB Daryl Sharpton
Note: Injuries have been an issue throughout his career, which could explain why he signed for just one season. If healthy he could start. He’s considered better against the run, but that’s what the Redskins want first and foremost from this position.

He’s out?
OL Bruce Campbell
Note: For a guy who has done nothing in his career (nine games, zero starts, let go by two teams), he’s sure been mentioned a lot. The contract he agreed to showed up on the NFLPA site, but it was never signed. The Washington Post reported that he underwent shoulder surgery this past fall (he was not on a roster) and that could have led to an issue with his physical. But according to The Baltimore Sun, Campbell will visit with the New York Giants. Yes, it happens where one team has an issue in the physical but another team does not. There's still a chance he ends up back in Washington. But considering the agreed-upon deal was for one year and worth a maximum of $715,000 this season, he's far from a lock to make the roster even if he does eventually sign.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Mitchell made a solid first impression during his introductory news conference on Thursday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping the safety who is counted on to replace Ryan Clark makes an equally impressive impact on the field.

Mitchell, who represents one of the bigger investments the Steelers have made in free agency, moved seamlessly between confidence and humility while delivering several pointed messages.

Mitchell said his best football is in front of him and that if it doesn't work out in Pittsburgh it won’t be because of a lack of effort.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsMike Mitchell believes his personality and physical style of play will mesh well with the Steelers.
“I work extremely hard,” Mitchell said to an audience that included Steelers president Art Rooney II as well as his parents. “I can say this with the utmost confidence: If you put me in a room with anyone, I think he’s going to die first when it comes to working out. I just have that work ethic and tenacity.”

Mitchell sounded a lot like Clark, and there are notable similarities.

Like Clark, Mitchell is of the belief that hard hits and intimidation are still the essence of football no matter how much NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tries to emphasize safety.

He also uses perceived slights to drive him, and in Mitchell's case they range from getting overlooked by the alpha college programs to the criticism he received during the four seasons he spent with the Raiders.

“I play with a very big chip on my shoulder, and just because you went to LSU and I went to Ohio (University) you’re no better than me, and I look forward to proving that every single Sunday,” Mitchell said.

It is probably just a coincidence that Mitchell invoked Clark’s alma mater when discussing his approach to football. The two could probably have a heck of debate about who was overlooked more, Mitchell coming out of high school outside of Cincinnati, or the undrafted Clark coming out of college.

All that really matters to the Steelers is that Mitchell, 26, can play like a younger Clark and complement Troy Polamalu in the secondary.

All signs point to him doing just that – and at a more than reasonable price considering only $5.25 million of the $25 million contract that Mitchell signed this week is guaranteed.

Mitchell put everything together after leaving Oakland for Carolina, and he thrived when he got a chance to start on a regular basis for the first time in his career.

Mitchell intercepted four passes and forced two fumbles in the one season he played for the Panthers, also recording 3 sacks and 74 tackles.

That stat line suggests a varied skill set that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is sure to put to good use in 2014.

Mitchell chatted up LeBeau at the Steelers’ practice facility before the news conference that general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin could not attend because they were at Oklahoma State’s pro day.

Mitchell could make LeBeau look a lot smarter this fall if his ball skills transfer from Carolina, and if he is indeed correct that he has yet to play his best football.

“Every year I feel like I’m getting smarter, taking care of my body better,” Mitchell said. “I look very much forward to helping (the Steelers) get back to being that dominant defense that they’ve been.”

Steelers fans apparently feel the same way.

Mitchell said he added close to 10,000 Twitter followers after tweeting on Tuesday night that he had signed with the Steelers.

The “warm feeling” he said he received from Steelers fans isn’t the only reason why Mitchell checks his Twitter account on a regular basis.

Mitchell, who was such an unknown that even ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had to scramble for information to discuss after the Raiders made him a surprise second-round pick in 2009, actually embraces the dark side of social media.

The more blistering the criticism the better when it comes to Mitchell, who will apparently find an edge wherever he can and use it to his advantage.

“Those type of things are what motivates me and helps me get out of bed in the morning,” Mitchell said.

The 6-foot, 210-pounder also finds motivation while walking past the library where the Steelers' six Lombardi Trophies are displayed.

“This is definitely a life-changing experience,” Mitchell said. "I know what the franchise is about, and the way that they play football here I really think fits my personality, it’s very hard-nosed. I can't wait to get to work."

Ryan Clark to visit Redskins

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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The Washington Redskins' hole at safety could be filled by a familiar face: Ryan Clark. The former Redskin and Pittsburgh Steeler said on ESPN that he will visit with Washington on Thursday.

Clark
Clark played for the Redskins from 2004-05, but not for the current defensive staff (though inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti was here during that time). But after 24 starts, Clark signed with Pittsburgh in 2006 and formed a strong safety tandem with Troy Polamalu.

Clark was a free safety in Pittsburgh, but played both safety positions in Washington. The Redskins run the same scheme as Pittsburgh, so there wouldn’t be a big transition. Clark has missed only four games in the past six years.

Washington missed out on safety Mike Mitchell, who opted to sign with Pittsburgh -- to replace Clark. The Redskins were not strong bidders for Jairus Byrd, who signed with New Orleans. The question will be: What does Clark, at 35, have left? He obviously would be used to mentor and help groom the young safeties such as Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo and even Trenton Robinson and Jose Gumbs.

The Redskins could always opt to also re-sign safety Brandon Meriweather to a small deal as well. If they re-sign Reed Doughty, it would be as a backup and special teamer. His return is not a lock, though some in the building would like to see him return.

Safety market thins for Redskins

March, 12, 2014
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The Washington Redskins need to find two starting safeties, which could be tougher after the first day of free agency. There is always the draft, but they will still need to add a veteran -- or two -- capable of starting. They could always re-sign Reed Doughty as a backup/special-teamer. Or perhaps bring back Brandon Meriweather on a one-year deal.

Here are six safeties of note still on the market:

Clemons
Chris Clemons: Miami is letting him walk and signed bad-kneed Louis Delmas. Part of the problem is that Clemons wasn’t viewed as a free safety, and it sounds as if that is what the Dolphins wanted. The Redskins could use him more in the box. He’d be an upgrade.

Thomas DeCoud: Atlanta, which needs secondary help, cut DeCoud after a rough 2013 season. He’s also probably best in the box.

Mike Adams: Again, Denver struggled in the secondary and decided to let him leave, signing T.J. Ward instead. Adams is rather average.

Nate Allen: Philadelphia selected him with the second-round pick obtained in the Donovan McNabb trade with Washington. The Eagles let Allen walk and signed Malcolm Jenkins. I can’t imagine Allen is the answer. He’s better against the run.

Roman Harper: He’s 31 and coming off a knee injury that cost him nearly half the season. That is a tough combination. But he’s a two-time Pro Bowler best used in the box. Here is what ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett had to say about him in a recent article: “I think Harper still has some gas left in the tank and should land somewhere as either a starter or a rotational guy. He’ll fit best as a true strong safety who plays closer to the box in run support, occasionally blitzing and covering tight ends in short space. If used the right way, I still see Harper as an asset. And his experience and leadership will only enhance his value.”

Ryan Clark: If the Redskins had a young free safety worthy of grooming, I’d consider Clark as a mentor. But he’s 35 and the Redskins don’t have that player (I don’t view Bacarri Rambo as that guy).
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers made an earlier-than-usual foray into free agency.

In the process they got younger and faster in the secondary and found a new running mate for Troy Polamalu on the back end of their defense.

The signing of Mike Mitchell -- the former Panthers safety agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter -- confirms that the Steelers weren’t just willing to address their defensive backfield through the draft.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMike Mitchell will replace Ryan Clark in Pittsburgh's secondary.
Mitchell, who turns 27 in June, fits the profile of the defensive backs that the Steelers had inquired about prior to the start of free agency. He is young but has starting experience and will help the Steelers immediately, something they are loathe to expect out of rookies.

Mitchell spent his first four seasons with the Raiders but came into his own after signing a one-year deal with the Panthers last year. Starting on a regular basis for the first time in his career, Mitchell recorded 66 tackles while intercepting four passes and forcing a pair of fumbles in 15 games.

The 6-foot, 215-pounder will take over at free safety for Ryan Clark, and the Steelers hope they get a return from Mitchell similar to what they received from Clark after signing him to a four-year, $7 million contract in 2006.

Clark started eight seasons after signing with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent, and he and Polamalu became close friends and played as well off one another as any safety tandem in the NFL before age starting catching up with the duo.

The Mitchell signing drops the curtain on Clark’s Steelers career though he said on ESPN’s "NFL Live" on Tuesday that he intends to keep playing.

It is also the latest move that will shape the Steelers’ secondary in 2014 and the first one that should provide stability beyond next season.

The Steelers had previously re-signed Polamalu to a three-year contract and restructured cornerback Ike Taylor's contact with the 11th-year veteran accepting a $4.5 million pay cut.

Taylor’s new deal put the Steelers around $7 million under the salary cap, allowing them to sign the biggest free agent from a financial standpoint since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007.

The Steelers generally wait until after the frenzied first wave of free agency before going shopping.

They have made exceptions as far as pursuing higher-profile free agents, and the Steelers hit pay dirt in the early 2000s when they signed center Jeff Hartings and linebacker James Farrior in back-to-back years.

Hartings, who signed with the Steelers in 2001, continued the line of excellence that the Steelers have enjoyed at center. Farrior, who signed with the Steelers the year after Hartings, blossomed into one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL and became one of the driving forces behind a run in which the Steelers won a pair of Super Bowls and played in three of them from 2005-10.

The Steelers didn’t do nearly as well in 2007 when they signed former Buccaneers center Sean Mahan to a five-year, $17 million contract. Mahan lasted just one season in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers traded him to the Buccaneers in 2008 after he lost his starting job to Justin Hartwig.
As free agency begins Tuesday and the Detroit Lions figure out exactly how to fill their holes, certain players will stand out.

And over the past three days, the Lions have spent time in the beginnings of talks with free agents as they try to maximize about $11 million in salary-cap space.

It might sound like a lot -- and it will be enough to get a couple of deals done -- but the total is in the lower half of the NFL and could keep the Lions from being major movers in the market, at least until a new contract is worked out with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

If that happens.

As everyone settles in for the insanity of free agency, here is a look at players the Lions could target on defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Why: This could be predicated on what happens with defensive end Willie Young. If the team is able to bring Young back, the Lions might be done at the position in the near term. If not, they might look for a replacement. At defensive tackle, the team already signed Corvey Irvin and has depth.

Two candidates:
  • Young: Last season was his first consistent extended action, and he was effective. He had 47 tackles and three sacks, but his size and speed make him an attractive free agent for teams. At 28, he is in his prime.
  • Brett Keisel: He is a 3-4 defensive end who can play defensive tackle in the 4-3. Though 35 years old, he had 29 tackles and four sacks in 12 games last season. He could be a cheap alternative if the team feels there is a need for another veteran on the line.
LINEBACKER:

Why not: Sure, there could be a deal made with someone for cheap or a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, but with DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch returning and the team playing more nickel than ever, it could be tough for them to lure a big-name player.

Two options:
  • LaMarr Woodley: Expected to be released by the Steelers later Tuesday, he has connections to the state and can play both linebacker and defensive end, making him a potentially cheap, versatile piece.
  • Larry Foote: Like Woodley, this is more about someone who has connections to Michigan. If Foote is planning on being a starter, he isn’t going to come to Detroit -- and his price tag would likely be too much anyway.
CORNERBACK:

Why: Despite the team having money wrapped up in Chris Houston and a bunch of younger cornerbacks ready to seek out playing time, the Lions might be wise to invest in another veteran, much like they did with Rashean Mathis a season ago.

Four candidates:
  • Mathis: He showed he can still play after becoming the team’s top cornerback last season and was a steadying influence in the Detroit locker room for those younger cornerbacks. He would probably still come cheap.
  • Corey Graham: He played last season under new Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and has familiarity with Austin's schemes. At 6 feet, Graham has the height Austin wants, made 68 tackles and intercepted four passes a season ago. He could be a strong fit.
  • Alterraun Verner: The Lions reportedly reached out to the former Tennessee cornerback, but he is expected to be pursued heavily in free agency. Though the Lions could be a fit, Verner might end up being too expensive.
  • Charles Tillman: He told reporters during Super Bowl week that he wouldn’t rule out playing for the Lions, and he could be an interesting cornerback/safety hybrid. He also has familiarity with the division, having played for Chicago, and has the respect of receiver Calvin Johnson.
SAFETY

Why: Other than receiver, this might be the biggest need of all for Detroit after the team released starter Louis Delmas. Though the Lions could address this spot in the draft, they likely would like to put someone experienced opposite Glover Quin.

Some candidates:
  • T.J. Ward: The Cleveland safety has been the name most tied to the Lions during the four-day lead up to the beginning of free agency. He had 112 tackles and two interceptions last season and could be a good complement to Quin. He is going to be highly sought after, so if Detroit lands him, he might be the team’s big free agency move.
  • Chris Clemons: His former team, the Dolphins, signed Delmas on Monday, meaning Clemons is likely headed elsewhere. He has been productive the past two seasons with 90-plus tackles in each. If the Lions don’t land Ward, Clemons could be a strong second option for Detroit. Insider Matt Williamson considers Clemons one of the best bargains of this free agent class.
  • James Ihedigbo: He doesn’t have the name recognition of Ward or Clemons, but like Corey Graham, he is someone Austin is familiar with from Baltimore. Ihedigbo, 30, had a career year in 2013, making 99 tackles and intercepting the first three passes of his career.
  • Ryan Clark: The Steelers safety could be a cheap, valuable addition and an instant locker room leader like Delmas and Nate Burleson were. At age 34, Clark has had three straight seasons of 100 tackles or more.
  • Charles Woodson: This would almost scream cheap, one-year deal for an aging veteran with ties to the state. He made 97 tackles last season and still seems in shape to play. He could provide good tutoring and a high level of play for Detroit, and told the Detroit News “never say never” when asked about playing for the Lions. He has also been around the state the past few days, but that likely means nothing in terms of free agency.

Free-agency primer: Steelers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

 
Key free agents: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Al Woods, DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, RB Jonathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, OT Guy Whimper, C/G Cody Wallace, TE David Johnson, LB Stevenson Sylvester.

Where they stand: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers may be more active in free agency than in recent years, but don’t expect their philosophy to fundamentally change. The Steelers will focus on their own players and are likely to sit out the first wave of free agency and target midlevel free agents after the marquee names have signed with other teams. Colbert hinted that the Steelers could try to land a potential starter via free agency, and they could use immediate help as well as depth at just about any position on defense. Nothing would help the Steelers more than if they could sign a free agent who will make an impact like Ryan Clark (2006) or James Farrior (2002) did, though they would have to splurge to get a free agent the caliber of Farrior.

What to expect: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team's top free agent, is going to command more money than the Steelers are willing to pay. He will almost certainly sign elsewhere, though look for veteran Jerricho Cotchery to re-sign with the team after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is likely to sign elsewhere, making it imperative that the Steelers bring back Al Woods. They could also re-sign Brett Keisel for one more season if the two sides can find common ground on compensation. The Steelers have a good chance of signing most of their free agents with the exceptions of Sanders and Hood, and that is how they will add depth to their offensive line. Free agents they could target include former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. The Steelers met with former Lions safety Louis Delmas last month, but his knee issues may be too much of a red flag for them, and they have since re-signed veteran Will Allen.
Troy Polamalu has long been a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeTroy Polamalu
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanTroy Polamalu may have lost a step, but it was a no-brainer for the Steelers to bring him back.
However, it is anything but unanimous among Steelers fans that the team made the right move in signing the strong safety to a three-year contract, according to an ESPN Sports Nation poll.

Among the more than 23,000 people who voted earlier this week on whether the Steelers should release Polamalu or retain the eight-time Pro Bowler, 39 percent opted for the team cutting ties with him. More telling is 76 percent of more than 31,000 voters in a different poll think that Polamalu will play at an elite level for one more season at most with half of those saying Polamalu is no longer a premier player.

Steelers president Art Rooney II made no secret of his desire for Polamalu to play his entire career in Pittsburgh, and that surely contributed to the new contract that will likely make that happen.

But much more than nostalgia drove the deal between the Steelers and one of the most iconic players in their illustrious history.

Polamalu signed a cap-friendly contract that allowed the Steelers to lower his cap number by $4.5 million in 2014, according to ESPN roster management, without saddling them with much onus should they part ways with him after next season.

The Steelers are only on the hook for $4.5 million in salary-cap money -- Polamalu's signing bonus of $6.75 million is spread out over the life of the three-year contract -- if he doesn't play in Pittsburgh beyond 2014.

Aside from the financial ramifications of the deal, the Steelers had to bring Polamalu back for at least one more season. With the team unlikely to re-sign Ryan Clark, there is no way that the Steelers could into next season with two new starting safeties, especially if one of them is second-year man Shamarko Thomas.

And yes, Polamalu turns 33 next month, but he has tapped into something with a training regimen that allowed him to hold up remarkably well last season.

Polamalu played every snap in 2013 after missing nine games the previous season because of a recurring calf injury. A significant number of those snaps came at inside linebacker, which Polamalu played when the Steelers used six defensive backs.

Polamalu may have lost a step and is susceptible in coverage, particularly against good quarterbacks who exploit his propensity to gamble. But he has never been an Ed Reed-type safety anyway.

Polamalu remains what he has always been at his core: a playmaker who always seems to be around the ball.

He recorded 85 tackles last season, and his five forced fumbles were only two less than what he produced in his first 10 NFL seasons. Polamalu also intercepted a pair of passes, returning one of them for a touchdown.

Given his willingness to accept a contract that helps the team now and doesn't hamstring it in future years as well as his value to a defense that needs all of the playmakers it can get, it turned out to be a no-brainer for the Steelers to re-sign Polamalu.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made a smart though hardly a splash move on Wednesday when they re-signed veteran safety Will Allen, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

Allen resuscitated his career in Pittsburgh last season after Dallas released him, and he provides a bit of a safety net in the secondary with the Steelers unlikely to re-sign Ryan Clark.

Allen worked his way into the role of third safety after returning to the Steelers, and he played extensively in the quarter package. His signing follows a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the Steelers won't consider releasing Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu as they work to get in compliance with the salary cap.

Allen recorded 42 tackles in 12 games last season, and his interception in a November game against the Lions helped preserve Pittsburgh’s 37-27 win over Detroit.

The 10th-year veteran is also a core special teams players providing the Steelers value on another front.

Shamarko Thomas, whom Allen supplanted in the quarter package last season, could get the first crack at replacing Clark, who has started at free safety since 2006. He and Allen could share time at the position, and the Steelers are expected to draft at least one safety they can develop.

Allen is the second impending free agent to re-sign with Pittsburgh.

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds signed a one-year, $9.54 million contract on Tuesday, one day after the Steelers placed the transition tag on the fourth-year veteran.

Louis Delmas visits Steelers

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
4:35
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are not expected to be major players in free agency.

But they are taking an early look at one of the top safeties on the open market.

Delmas
Former Detroit Lions free safety Louis Delmas visited the Steelers’ practice facility on Monday, a source confirmed to ESPN.com, and the fifth-year veteran is free to sign with any team since he was released last week.

The Lions parted ways with Delmas, 26, after he started all 16 games last season and intercepted three passes while recording a pair of sacks. Detroit released Delmas and wide receiver Nate Burleson last Thursday in moves that created flexibility under the salary cap.

Delmas, known as a big hitter, had signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract prior to last season.

The biggest question the Steelers probably have with Delmas is how he checks out medically. The 2009 second-round draft pick has battled knee problems, and health issues last season precluded Delmas from practicing much during the season.

The Steelers need to get younger in the secondary, and they are not likely to re-sign 12th-year veteran Ryan Clark, who has started the last eight seasons at free safety.

The Steelers took Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft but he projects as a strong safety and is likely the eventual successor to eight-time Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu.

Players who have been released are free to sign with a new team at any time. Players who will be unrestricted free agents at the start of the NFL’s new year have to wait until March 11 to sign with a new team.

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