Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC North

by Stuart Fraser

Baltimore Ravens

Positioned For Greatness

It has been a quiet few weeks up in Baltimore -- which is unsurprising, given that the Ravens had next-to-no cap space at the start of free agency, having used their little available cap room on franchising Terrell Suggs. Since Suggs was also the team's only notable free agent, both defections from and additions to the roster have been minimal.

Suggs refrained from throwing the traditional hissy fit upon being franchised, instead opting to get into a more nuanced argument with his employers. The Ravens tagged Suggs as an outside linebacker; that's how he is listed on their official depth chart, which has their hybrid defense lined up in a 3-4 formation. Not so fast, said the player and his agent, claiming that Suggs had played more than half his snaps last year at defensive end and should be franchised at that position instead. The tag is $8.879 million for an end and $8.065 million for a linebacker; the difference of $814,000 isn't chump change for a player who has only just come to the end of his rookie contract. Moreover, being considered an end will set a higher market price for his services next season, when Suggs finally reaches free agency (assuming the Ravens don't franchise him again or sign a longer deal). The Ravens haven't disputed Suggs' claim about where he most frequently lines up, but instead argued that given his versatility and ability to drop into pass coverage, he ought to be considered a linebacker, and that's how he's regarded in their defensive scheme. Suggs filed a grievance with the NFLPA and the two sides will go to arbitration, though no date appears to have been set as yet.

Observers believe the Chicago Bears will be watching the final ruling with interest, as based on his ability to move the ball a long way down the field and into the arms of a player on the other team, it's probable they could make a significant cap savings by re-tagging Rex Grossman as a punter.

Meanwhile, offensive linemen were dropping left and right, or more accurately left and center. Veteran tackle Jonathan Ogden slowly edged further into retirement. Ogden has instructed the franchise to assume he's not coming back, so the Ravens will be looking for a replacement. They may well decide that they don't have tremendously far to look; between sophomore Marshal Yanda and third-year player Adam Terry, the outside of the offensive line wasn't a liability in the games that Ogden missed last year. The Ravens also said goodbye to center Mike Flynn, who'd been with the team for 11 years only to become a cap casualty this spring. It's rather less clear who Flynn's replacement is –- current left guard Jason Brown was an all-conference center in college, while Chris Chester has been filling in at interior line positions with moderate success for the last two years.

Free Agency Recap

It's difficult to make much of a splash in free agency when you're still trying to clear enough cap room to be able to afford your franchise tender and sign all the draft picks, and Baltimore didn't even try. The Ravens signed two bit-part free agents, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo from the Bears and cornerback Frank Walker from the Packers. Both were known at their previous clubs mostly for contributions on special teams and that isn't likely to change in Baltimore. The Ravens' punt coverage units were well below average in 2007, and both signings will likely help. New coach John Harbaugh has a background in special teams and probably has a greater appreciation of solid blockers and gunners than most.

The players going in free agency weren't much better known than those arriving. Wide receiver Devard Darling caught 18 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns in 2007; will he notice much of a difference between catching passes from Steve McNair and Kyle Boller in Baltimore and catching them from Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle in Kansas City?

Draft Needs

(Baltimore has picks 8, 38, 102, 164 and 197. Their third-round pick was traded to Buffalo and their fifth-rounder was exercised in the supplemental draft)

Depending on whether or not John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome are willing to rest the future of the franchise on Troy Smith (hint: no) the Ravens are probably interested in drafting a quarterback. The other major area of need for Baltimore is cornerback, with both starters the wrong side of 30 and battling injuries. Unfortunately for the Ravens, it's not entirely clear that either of these positions will be sensible ones to address with Baltimore's first-round pick. Top quarterback prospect Matt Ryan could well go third to Atlanta or even first to Miami. If he drops to Baltimore, the Ravens probably will snap him up. The situation is similar at cornerback. Troy's Leodis McKelvin is probably the only corner worthy of a top-ten pick, and New England might well grab him with the pick just prior to Baltimore. It's plausible the Ravens might take a flyer on Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (or even Brian Brohm) in the worst-case scenario when both their likely targets are gone.

Whichever of quarterback and cornerback they don't go for in Round One, the Ravens are likely to address in Round Two. Since Mike Flynn's release, the Ravens have a question mark at center, and might opt to bring in a rookie to compete for the job. It isn't considered a good draft for snappers, with the best available -- Arizona State's Mike Pollack or Bowling Green's Kory Lichtensteiger -- probably likely to go in the third or fourth rounds. The Ravens don't have a third-round pick, so they'll be hoping at least one drops into the fourth. (If the Ravens draft Rodgers-Cromartie and Lichtensteiger, look for the man who fits the names onto the back of the jersey to hold out for a new contract). Other possible second-day picks would be at linebacker, where a team like the Ravens can never have enough depth, and wide receiver, assuming they've got the other end of the passing equation sorted previously.

Cincinnati Bengals

Ocho Cinco has left the building

It's difficult to talk about Cincinnati's off-season without starting with the wide receivers. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh played together at Oregon State, were drafted together by the Bengals, played together in Cincinnati as the cornerstones of the passing offense, went to the Pro Bowl together, and are now squabbling about their contracts together. Neither player is attending "voluntary" workouts, which in Ocho Cinco's case means he's forfeiting a $250,000 workout bonus. Quarterback Carson Palmer says he's concentrating on working with his lesser receivers, a phrase which roughly translates as "Hell no, you're not getting me to take sides on this one".

If we take this alongside events in Arizona, a pattern emerges: it is increasingly difficult for a team to keep two star wideouts happy. Johnson is signed through 2011, but Houshmandzadeh is entering the final year of his contract. If Johnson is given a new contract, Houshmandzadeh's agents will use that as the basis for his extension –- and that will probably be the case even if the team that gives out the new contract isn't the Bengals. It's unlikely that the Bengals can afford to tie up as large a fraction of their cap at wide receiver as would be involved in keeping both Pro Bowl receivers happy. Theoretically Johnson has very little leverage and unless some team sweeps the Bengals off their feet with a trade offer it's hard to see how he could do anything other than return. On the other hand, it's difficult to overstate how much of a distraction such a darling of the national media could cause if he put his mind to it.

If Johnson does leave, the Bengals would be left with Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry as starting receivers. Assuming the latter can stay out of trouble, that's not a worse pairing than much of the rest of the league has. Of course, both have played their entire career as a No. 2 and a No. 3 receiver respectively, and it's hard to be sure how they'd do in expanded roles -– particularly in Henry's case, as he would have to move out of the slot and go up against starting cornerbacks.

Free Agency Recap

Moving now to players who have actually been changing clubs as opposed to merely whining about it, there's been a fair bit of activity in Cincinnati. After 2007 franchise player Justin Smith left for San Francisco, the Bengals made a variety of attempts to upgrade the defensive line, arranging trades for Shaun Rogers and Dewayne Robertson, both of which fell apart, the former for cap reasons and the latter after Cincy were unable to reach terms for a contract extension. To add insult to injury, divisional rivals Cleveland swooped in and signed Rogers; Robertson is still on the trading block. Eventually the Bengals did manage to land a defensive lineman, in former Tennessee end Antwan Odom. Odom had eight sacks last year (compared to the departing Smith's two), but clearly benefited from playing on a line including Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Still, he represented the best free agent available at a position of need and will likely be an upgrade, inability to correctly identify the team's star players notwithstanding.

(Ed. Note: If you can't get enough Odom talk, he will also be the subject of the next FO column on

At linebacker, the Bengals lost Landon Johnson to the Panthers, resigned Dhani Jones, and displayed a strange fascination with Cardinals backups, signing Darryl Blackstock and Brandon Johnson. The former is likely to be useful on special teams and might have a chance to compete for a starting position in training camp, though he is more likely to be a backup and situational rusher; the latter appears to have been signed primarily to maintain the Bengals' league-leading Johnson quotient. Safety Madieu Williams signed with the Vikings and will be missed, but since he was probably the best player at his position in free agency, he would have been difficult to retain.

Offensively, franchise player Stacy Andrews somewhat unsurprisingly signed his tender; No. 4a wide receiver Tab Perry left for Miami (where he ought to be substantially higher on the depth chart), whilst No. 4b and KR Glenn Holt will be back. The Bengals addressed the tight end position by signing Ben Utecht to a three-year, $9 million offer sheet, which Indianapolis declined to match. Utecht is clearly an upgrade over Reggie Kelly as a receiver and will presumably fill a similar role to the one he played in Indianapolis: "guy who is open for good yardage because the defense is busy double covering the more storied pass-catchers." (Of course, this assumes those more storied pass-catchers are still wearing Bengal stripes in September.)

Draft Needs

(Cincinnati has one pick in each round, those being 9, 46, 77, 108, 137, 168, and 199)

As the attempted trades for Rogers and Robertson show, the Bengals have a major need at defensive tackle. Antwan Odom will help the line but he won't be a solution on his own. Cincinnati would love it if Sedrick Ellis or Glenn Dorsey fell to the ninth spot, but they can't count on that happening. Unfortunately, that leaves the Bengals in a bit of a bind. Most of the players who are projected around the ninth pick are either cornerbacks or offensive linemen. The Bengals already have two promising young corners in Leon Hall and Jonathon Joseph, and since franchising Stacy Andrews, Cincinnati have a lot of money invested in the offensive line (all the more so if they give the young tackle a long-term deal) and probably don't want to take a tackle that high. Given this, the Bengals might try to trade out of the ninth spot, if they can find a buyer. If they can't, expect a slight reach; linebacker Keith Rivers or a defensive end like Florida's Derrick Harvey might be the pick.

Elsewhere in the draft, Cincinnati will be looking for a safety to replace Madieu Williams, a defensive tackle if they didn't manage to snag one of the big two in round one, a linebacker or two for depth at what is still a pretty thin rotation, and possibly a wide receiver project should it prove impossible to hang on to both of the current starters.

Cleveland Browns

They were stupid, lying draft picks anyway and we never really liked them

Much has been written about Cleveland's off-season activity, with an almost Snyder-esque disregard for draft picks fueling the acquisition of several veteran performers. Already lacking a first-round pick as a result of last year's trade for Brady Quinn, the Browns traded their second for the Packers' Corey Williams and their third plus highly-rated (by us, anyway) cornerback Leigh Bodden for Detroit's Shaun Rogers.

This isn't entirely unprecedented behavior; several teams have, at some time in the past, taken a dislike to a draft class and divested themselves of that year's picks, commonly to acquire picks in subsequent years but occasionally for established veterans. The problem with such a strategy is that veteran players available by trade are, pretty much by definition, unwanted, which generally means they have something wrong with them. In the case of Rogers, questions persist about his motor and work ethic, though few doubt his ability to be disruptive when on song. Parallels could be drawn to New England's trade for Randy Moss (Detroit, like Oakland, probably qualifies as a soul-sucking pit of despair), and that's probably what Cleveland was thinking when it made the deal. The difference between the two situations, however, is that Moss had previously shown that he could perform at an All-Pro level for an entire season, and New England only gave up a fourth-round pick as opposed to a third plus an above-average starter. Cleveland needed help along the defensive line, and Rogers can provide that help, but it is a substantial risk for a player who is widely regarded as an underperformer. This risk was further amplified when the Browns gave Rogers a six-year, $42 million contract -– which is a good contract for a star defensive tackle in the current climate, but an awful lot of money to give to player who is far from proven.

Corey Williams is a more proven performer and the Packers thought enough of the 27-year old tackle to franchise-tag him –- though, given the offer they accepted from Cleveland, it's probable that Green Bay envisaged a tag-and-trade scenario. Both tackles are clearly starter-quality, though neither have experience of playing in the 3-4 formation that Cleveland operates. Rogers is listed at 340 pounds; Williams, 313. Rogers is large enough to play on the nose and probably will; Williams is a little large for a 3-4 DE so may be asked to lose a little weight and play end at nearer to 300.

Free Agency Recap

In addition to Williams and Rogers, the Browns signed Miami guard/center Rex Hadnot and New England receiver Donte' Stallworth. Hadnot probably isn't crucial to Cleveland's offensive line plans. He wasn't awful in Miami, starting all 16 games and not being any worse than the rest of the team, but he'll have to battle with Ryan Tucker for a starting guard spot in training camp, and it's not as if offensive line was a noted weakness of the Browns. Hadnot can play center as well as guard, which will give Cleveland more depth, and might suggest that the Browns aren't really figuring LeCharles Bentley in their plans any more.

Stallworth has a more clear-cut place in the team. Playing as the third or possibly fourth receiver in New England, he had 46 catches, only four fewer than Cleveland's erstwhile No. 2, Joe Jurevicius. Stallworth will presumably take Jurevicius's starting place whilst the latter moves into the slot –- which, says Cleveland General Manager Phil Savage, is an attempt to extend the 33-year-old's career by limiting the number of snaps he has to play. That sounds suspiciously like the sort of reasoning normally found in company of the phrase "let's just be friends," but it's probable that it will indeed be a side-effect of the demotion.

On the other side of the equation, Cleveland made no attempt to re-sign cornerback Ricardo Colclough, who left for the Panthers. Colclough has never lived up to his potential and won't be missed by Cleveland, as he wasn't missed by Pittsburgh previously. A more worrying defection might be linebacker Chaun Thompson, who is now a member of the Houston Texans. Thompson wasn't a starter but he did see the field as a substitute, and his departure leaves the Browns thin at linebacker. The biggest loss is obviously Leigh Bodden, even if he didn't have the best of seasons last year.

Draft Needs

(Cleveland has picks 118, 147, 181 and 213. Their first-rounder went to Dallas, the second-round pick to Green Bay and the third to Detroit)

With no picks until the fourth round, it's unlikely the Browns will be looking for anybody to come in and start straight away. If they're looking to draft for depth, then tight end (where the Browns have practically nobody behind Kellen Winslow) and linebacker (with the Browns being a 3-4 team, a defensive end-to-outside linebacker conversion project would be a possibility) could do with some attention; as could safety or even running back. Whomever they do pick, though, it's clear that the Browns won't be counting on them to save the 2008 season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

A Roethlisberger to stay, please

It's been an unusually active free agency period in the Steel City, which is to say a quiet one by the rest of the league's standards, but the lights are clearly still on in the Steelers' South Side facility this year. The biggest splash Pittsburgh made was in re-signing one of their own -– Ben Roethlisberger's 8-year, $102 million deal will keep the Steelers' first franchise-quality quarterback since Terry Bradshaw around until he turns 34. I've gone into detail elsewhere about Roethlisberger's ability to succeed despite his pass protection and what it means for Pittsburgh, but this deal was quite simple. When you have a top-tier quarterback, you re-sign him.

Putting money into re-signing your own players is a good idea when they're exciting young quarterbacks who've just broken the franchise record for passing touchdowns, but less so when they're barely-serviceable backups whose inadequacies were readily apparent in an injury-hit second half of the season. So the team's decision to re-sign end Nick Eason, primarily notable for not being anywhere near as good as Aaron Smith after the latter was injured, was rather more puzzling. Similar opinions might be expressed about linebacker Andre Frazier and tackle Trai Essex, both of whom are bit-part players on horrible units (kick coverage and pass protection). Pittsburgh's traditions as a franchise emphasize gradual change and continuity, but sometimes, especially in the case of the Steelers' perennially awful special teams, it's time to clean house.

One decision the Steelers clearly got right was the puzzling-at-the-time call to slap the transition tag on tackle Max Starks. Despite being a free agent in all but name, Starks has apparently received no offers of substance from other teams during the initial free agency period, which significantly strengthens Pittsburgh's negotiating position when it comes to talking about a longer-term contract. The lack of demand for Starks is probably caused by either a mixture of an unusually deep draft at offensive tackle or a realization on behalf of the league's general managers that a player who doesn't manage to get a starting place on the Steelers' offensive line might not be worth pursuing.

Free Agency Recap

The departure of Alan Faneca (to the Jets) was the first and probably most inevitable act involving the Steelers' offensive line in free agency, but it wasn't the last. Looking to bolster the interior line, Pittsburgh looked at Miami's Rex Hadnot only to see him sign with division rival Cleveland (the fact that Hadnot would have had a much better chance of starting in Pittsburgh implies that the Steelers "Hadnot" made much of an offer anyway). Eventually they signed former Carolina and Tennessee center Justin Hartwig. Hartwig will join the training competition for the guard and center slots, which is set to include Chris Kemoeatu, Kendall Simmons, Sean Mahan, Darnell Stapleton and any interior line draft picks. Hartwig, Simmons and Kemoeatu probably have the edge for the starting jobs at the moment, but it's a long time until opening day.

The Steelers other signings were mostly aimed at fixing their subpar special teams. Mewelde Moore's primary use will be as a kick and punt returner. The Steelers fans will be happy if Moore can simply gain yardage without fumbling, a goal that has eluded Willie Reid, Allen Rossum, Santonio Holmes, Najeh Davenport and anybody else Pittsburgh has put on the return team over the last two seasons. (As an aside, the Steelers cut Rossum and he signed in San Francisco.) Moore also has a chance to compete with Davenport for third-down duties and the chance to spell Willie Parker –- hopefully a role which will involve more action this year, if Tomlin and his staff have learned anything from last year's overuse of their feature back. Linebacker Keyaron Fox was signed for his special teams play, but with Clark Haggans signing with the Cardinals he'll also have a chance to back up LaMar Woodley at outside linebacker. Also heading for Arizona is tight end Jerame Tuman, but given that Tuman had lost the No. 2 tight end role to Matt Spaeth, odds are that Pittsburgh will survive the loss. Tuman will compete with Jerheme Urban for the role of "Arizona's most improperly-spelled Jeremy."

Draft Needs

(Pittsburgh has picks 23, 53, 88, 119, 148, and 179. The seventh-round pick went to Atlanta for Allen Rossum)

The offensive line is obviously Pittsburgh's major weakness and the area they're most likely to target with early picks. Most mock drafts have linked the Steelers with Virginia guard Branden Albert, but Albert's stock is rising and he may well be gone by the 23rd pick. The Steelers under Kevin Colbert have shown they're happy to trade up in the first to get their guy (sending third- and fourth-round picks to the Giants to move from 32nd to 25th for Santonio Holmes, and third- and seventh-rounders to the Chiefs to move from 27th to 16th for Troy Polamalu), but with only six picks and several holes to fill, they may not be so willing this time. It's a deep draft for offensive linemen, but there's also a lot of teams that need line help.

If the Steelers don't go with an offensive lineman, it's possible they might select a cornerback to replace the aging DeShea Townsend (it's been speculated that Townsend might move inside to free safety, possibly depending on the recovery of Ryan Clark, but either way the 32-year-old can't have many good seasons left). Aqib Talib out of Kansas is probably their most likely target at corner. Auburn's Quentin Groves is slated to go in the late first round and might make an excellent rush linebacker, but given that the Steelers picked 'backers with first- and second-round picks last year, they probably wouldn't go back to the position again.

Deeper into the draft Pittsburgh might look for a long-term solution at center, which Hartwig, who will be 30 during the 2008 season and who missed almost the entire 2006 campaign due to injury, probably isn't. Bowling Green's Kory Lichtensteiger would give Pittsburgh a center/quarterback combination with a combined surname length of 28 letters, which surely would be a league record. Other needs include defensive end (where the team might consider a project who could be used in rotation with starters Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith before being given an expanded role in later years) and wide receiver (where the 32-year old Hines Ward is aging well, but aging nonetheless).


46 comments, Last at 05 Apr 2008, 1:01pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"but instead argued that given his versatility and ability to drop into pass coverage, he ought to be considered a linebacker, and that’s how he’s regarded in their defensive scheme."

He's versatile, so we should be able to pay him less, regardless of where he actually plays.

Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

As much as it pains me to say it- the outlook does not look good for the AFC North. Pittsburgh will continue to either beat down on, or play down to, their competition but never give any of the elite teams much of a run. Cleveland is exciting but I can't see their roster winning a playoff game in the AFC (being compared to the redskins is not a good sign). Baltimore is becoming one of the worst teams in the league and Cincinatti missed their chance. Another 10-6 division winner (Cleveland or Pittsburgh) and out in the first round.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC North


Any thoughts on the Browns QB situation with the re-signing of Derek Anderson?

I don't know if you saw but there was a story today in the Plain Dealer, and reported on PFT, that Savage was concerned the Cowboys were going to flip DA and a 1st rounder for a top pick in the draft.

Doesn't that explanation seem to make it more likely Savage still wants to trade DA? If he trades him and gets good value (at least a first rounder), does that change your generally pessimistic view of the Browns off-season thus far?

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

In a next episode of "What the hell where the parents thinking?"
Isn't it Jer-aim Tuman and Jer-eem Urban?

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

what team has the longest combined surname length? is this possibly any indicator of success?

i think having the most johnsons is not a guarantee of success. i doubt having the most misspelled jeremys helps either.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

After reading the Baltimore section I think it would make a lot of sense for the Broncos to trade up with the Ravens if Sedric Ellis is still on the board. It would make a lot of sense for them too. They would get better value for CB an extra pick and keep a DT away from their division rivals.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Wow, a lot of interesting things going on in this division.

I'm especially fascinated by what happens with the Suggs decision. I've always thought the the conservatism displayed by most front offices, combined with the creativity displayed by a number of coaching staffs, has created a very inefficient market that is not really paying players what they're worth at some positions, and overpaying others at other positions. An elite pass-rushing DE is game changing, but if we're just talking an above-average DE versus an above average OLB, I would rather have (and pay more for) the OLB because of his versatility making him presumably rarer.

I've often thought that they shouldn't do the franchise tag by "position", but by something more general that characterizes how the player is actually used.

For example, on defense, I would have just four possible "positions" for franchise purposes:

-Player lines up on LOS and rushes the passer more than 50% of the time (D-linemen)

-Player lines up on the LOS and drops into coverage more than 50% of the time (man-coverage CB or pure "coverage" OLB)

-Player lines up behind but within about 6 yards of the LOS more than 50% of the time (traditional LB, "46" safety of the sort that Rodney Harrison has been empolyed the last couple of years, "zone-coverage" style corner)

-Player lines up more than 7 yards off the LOS more than 50% of the time (safety, nickelback)

In other words: regular pass rusher; man-coverage player; versatile player that has to cover off the line, run support, and sometimes blitz; zone-coverage player.

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Observers believe the Chicago Bears will be watching the final ruling with interest, as based on his ability to move the ball a long way down the field and into the arms of a player on the other team, it’s probable they could make a significant cap savings by re-tagging Rex Grossman as a punter."

I'll finish reading the article now, but Jesus, that might be the funniest thing I've read on here. It still hurts.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Seems unfair to describe Rogers, a guy with two Pro Bowl appearances and an alternate this past year as 'far from proven'. He's not got Randy Moss's track record, but he's clearly proven he can do it. Still I've seen the guy make enough stupid mistakes watching the Lions to think Cleveland made a mistake in trading for him. I hope I'm wrong but I don't see him suddenly turning it on for every play just because he's in Cleveland now.

In fairness to Savage, the comparison to the Moss trade is misleading. Moss's contract made dealing him much tougher for the Raiders. Moss could veto any deal by refusing to redo his contract. It severely restricted potential trading partners. No such issue with Rogers. Criticism of the Browns signing him to a new deal seems dead on though. That's a real mystery.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Indeed, there were some quality jokes in there. Good work.

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I agree with 6, and I would add I was thinking the Bengals might be a strong candidate to trade up to take one of the top two DTs in the draft. If "everybody in the top 5 wants out" like I've heard, doing this ought to be relatively easy.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

This whole Division is in for a world of hurt in the 2008 season. They play against the AFC South and the NFC East. Both of those Divisions had 3 out of 4 teams in the playoffs this year and the last place teams (Philly and Houston) aren't exactly slouches. I see 9-7 winning the AFC North this year.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

#5 writes "i think having the most johnsons is not a guarantee of success"

Oh, boy, there's a joke in here somewhere but I don't think I'm going to be the guy to make it.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Concerning Cleveland's draft (such as it is), I think they are pretty satisfied with Heiden as Winslow's back-up. Not to say they wouldn't take a TE if they think he's the best player on the board, just that it won't be a priority. In fact, I don't think position will factor in much into any of their drafting this year. Part of that is not drafting until round 4, part of it is a much improved roster vs. a few years ago.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: 14

It's a matter of quality, not quantity.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that someone could come out of the division with 10-6 or 11-5, but it seems highly unlikely that you'll get a Wildcard from the AFC North. One scenario I could see, however, is for the Steelers to sweep the division games but still lose the division if they lose to the Pats and Chargers.

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Not the first article to suggest that Houshmandzadeh is unhappy with his contract. I haven't heard anything out of TJ, though, and his absence from voluntary workouts suggests nothing since he wasn't there last year either. He's a West coast guy who prefers to hang out there unless contractally obliged to be some place else. I'm sure he's perfectly happy to play out this year and take big money from whoever next year.

Also, Chris Henry has always played outside in 3-WR formations with TJ in the slot. Henry has never been a slot guy.

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: 17. Yeah, that division winner schedule Pittsburgh has against Pats and Chargers is especially brutal. Not sure how the Outsiders will rank strength of schedule this year but Pittsburgh has to be the worst.

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: 3

Hard to believe the Browns would trade Anderson at this point. Given Savage's public comments on the matter and the money already paid Anderson under his new deal, it's just not reasonable.

Not sure if the Dallas story really holds water, but Savage was right to assume that anyone signing Anderson would have used some team at the bottom of the draft as a intermediary. For example, The Giants could have signed Anderson for Atlanta/KC/Baltimore then traded him to the interested team for their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks. Giants net an extra (early) 4th, a big move up in the 3rd, and move a few spots back at the end of the first/beginning of the second. Atlanta/KC/Baltimore would keep their early first plus get Anderson. Browns would get late first and late third.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

5/14/16 Woody Hayes would probably have an opinion on that.

#8 James, agreed. Bears to NFLPA: "He's an arm-punter. Ball goes 40 yards and the other team catches it. What's the diff it's 1st down or 3rd, if he uses his hand or his foot...?"

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

2 - I don't agree. Pittsburgh fell apart over the second half of last season and were still a holding call away from beating a really good Jacksonville team in the playoffs; Cleveland are on the up and have a young core, Baltimore are better than they showed last year, they draft well and are nowhere near as old as widely believed, and Cincinnati had pretty much everything go wrong last year and still went 7-9. This is a good division, maybe third in the league. Pity they're playing the first and second best this year, of course.

3- Please don't abbreviate my given name.

I didn't talk about the QB situation because I don't think Anderson's contract changes all that much. My reading is that DA basically has the job until he screws up badly enough to get benched (or he gets hurt).

The PD article makes my head hurt. But it seems to be saying that Savage upped his offer to Anderson because of Dallas' alleged interest, so I don't think he's interested in trading (unless he somehow gets a better offer than a first and a third).

I'm sorry I came off as pessimistic about Cleveland's off-season. I don't think what Cleveland have done is bad per se, (except for the Rogers contract, that was strange), but it seemed to me that with most of the key players being pretty young there wasn't any real need to go away from the draft. The Browns are probably favorites for the AFCN next year; but they seem to be shortening the total length of their window, which I think is a mistake.

#14 - I was busily not making that joke.

18 - Um. Yes. Henry does indeed line up outside, which makes sense since he tends to run deeper routes whereas Houshmandzadeh does the short stuff across the middle which is more normally thought of as "slot" work. I think I was trying too hard to avoid saying #3 again whilst making my point about rarely being covered by top-tier DBs.

I think Housh is more unhappy he hasn't recieved an extension yet rather than unhappy with his deal as it is. I do think he wants to stay in Cincinnati, whereas I think Johnson wants to leave.

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The Steelers' worst 2008 opponent, according to DVOA, is Baltimore, ranked 22nd. Then Houston, ranked 17th, and after that it's the Superbowl champs (ranked 16th). That doesn't augur well.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Yes, it seems that the Steelers get to play half of their games this season vs. playoff teams from last season. Ouch!

Oh, and Grossman as a punter -- funniest thing I've read today. Well done, sir.

25 Re: Four Downs: AFC North


Sorry about the name thing. It happens to me also and I hate it so I had good reason to know not to do it. I apologize.

On the possible trade of DA, the only reason I could see to sign the extension and then still shop him for a trade is that you're in full control of the players rights and it would be nearly impossible for a team like the Cowboys to deal directly with Savage because it would be obvious what they were planning and he could turn down the trade. I think Savage's thought in February was that he didn't want another team (the Cowboys) paying the tender and then using DA to strengthen their team further by re-trading to a top-10 team. Maybe that still doesn't make any sense but it seems like they're in a better position to negotiate a trade if he's under a three year contract rather than having him accept someone else's tender leaving them without any control.

As far as the quality of the offseason, I agree that they've likely traded one or two years off of their window for a chance to be competitive now. Without drifting completely into the unquantifiable, I would argue (as a life-long Browns fan) that the Browns have been so bad since they came back that what the organization, from top to bottom, needs more than anything else right now is a chance to be competitive for a few years, starting in 2008.

I think the morale boost and image boost that comes from being in the playoffs or close several years running will do them more favors for player attitudes, fan attitudes, coach attitudes, etc. than any long-term drafting strategy. If you go back to the day L. Bentley tore his patellar tendon, the entire organization and region had the same thought, "Again?" It's a psychological weakness that has, in previous seasons, had a perceptible impact on the way the team plays and the way the organization works.

Therefore, making the playoffs next year sends a message that the Browns are not the Cardinals, Lions or Bengals, organizations that have been mired in mediocrity for multiple decades. This is a message that will help them attract talent, retain players, maximize on-field effort and galvanize fan support.

Finally, as regards the long-term extension for Rogers, I think the front office is showing a pattern of being perfectly willing to reward players in advance of their performance. The same PD reporter who wrote the article today about the DA situation, Tony Grossi, reported earlier this week that the Browns are close to re-upping with Winslow. I assume that a lot of the same people who think it's a mistake to give a questionably motivated, mostly overweight d-lineman a big contract before he proves it would think it's a mistake to give a chronically injured, sometimes malcontent tight end a long-term contract. I would be inclined to agree. However, I would point out that it seems to be a trend and I would therefore speculate, given my general impression of Phil Savage as not being a dumb guy, that he thinks there is a systematic advantage to identifying your players, guaranteeing them a sizable paycheck and then letting your veterans and well-respected coach motivate them, as opposed to relying on hungry, underpaid players to work for an eventual deal. Just a thought there.

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Compensatory picks were announced yesterday, so the draft picks listed are obviously incomplete. Especially the Ravens and Cincy, Baltimore has an extra 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th rd. pick.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

It's incredible to me that Dhancin' Dhani is still employed. Hole in Zone would be an upgrade at this point.

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I think the Ravens will either shift Chester or Brown to C, move Yanda in to G, start Terry on the left and Gaither on the right. I can't imagine brining in a young center when both Brown and Chester are familiar with the position and have proven themselves to be good blockers. If the interior OL consists of Brown, Chester, Yanda, Grubbs, and the OTs are Terry and Gaither, you'd expect the Ravens to look at OT ahead of C. Yanda and Brown are both beasts and versatile, Grubbs is just a beast and Chester is just versatile.

My guess is that if Ryan is off the board at 8 the Ravens will end up drafting the defensive guy they are highest on regardless of what position he plays, and whoever he is will most likely evolve into a star player.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Elsewhere in the draft, Cincinnati will be looking for a safety to replace Madieu Williams"

I remember reading several times on bengals sites about how impressed they are with the draft pick from last year, Marvin White as well as Chinedum Ndukwe.

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

nobody from this division winning superbowl in 2008 season (2009 february)

move along

winner going to be Raiders, Colts, Cowboys or maybe Panthers

31 Re: Four Downs: AFC North


Are you saying there is a chance that possibly the Raiders won't win the Super Bowl????

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

there is chance Raiders wont win sperbowl but will be close to it.

Raiders have best secondary in NFL with M Huff, DeAngelo Hall, Guibril Wilson, and N Asomugha.
Linebackers good. T Howard one of most valuable Lbs in league. Offense good too.

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: 31

A year ago, the Raiders chances for the 2008 Superbowl were 100%. Now they're 25%. I think there's a trend developing.

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: 22

Not sure why you would say everything went wrong for the Bengals last year. They had some injuries (especially at LB) but I'm not sure they had more than everybody else. And it wasn't like the LBs that were hurt were real stars/playmakers. You should be able to replace replacement level players without a big dropoff in performance.

I would think this is a critical year for Lewis and the Bengals. If they can't improve on last year's record, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lewis get canned. Johnson's offseason antics and Lewis's tough talk suggest fireworks are in the offing. They could end up strengthening Lewis's position and catapulting the Bengals back into the playoffs. Or they could end up weakening him to the point where the team just mails it in and the Bengals are back to drafting in the top five in 2009.

Very entertaining, so long as you don't have a rooting interst in the Bengals.

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Can probably scratch off Chris Henry as a Bengal in 2008.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

re 29: Ndukwe certainly looked very promising last year. White only got some playing time towards the end of the season. It's fair to say both are young and unproven though, although if Ndukwe can play an entire season like he did in spots last year that will be a great use of a 7th round pick.

re 34: by the end of week 4 the Bengals had 4 LBs out with season ending injuries, and Jeanty started the season injured and didn't make a start until game 9. And I haven't even mentioned former 1st round pick David Pollack who was on PUP the whole year and may never play again. The LB ranks suffered carnage on an unprecendented scale. Were any of them stars/playmakers? Well, we don't know because they never got on the field!

37 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Bengals are one of biggest jokes in league right up there with Falcons and Broncos.

38 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Henry got picked up AGAIN!!! I know this comes as no big surprise but wow, this guy really does not have a clue.

39 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

According to ESPN, the Bengals have released Henry.

40 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: 36

Most of those guys that got hurt have been around for awhile so their performance was pretty well established. In addition, since most of them aren't even with the Bengals anymore, I think it's unlikely the team will improve in 2008 based on their return to health. Net, while I could see the LB play getting better in 2008, I don't think it will be dramatically better (barring a really outstanding draft). Further, the improved LB play may well be offset by declining play in different area that avoided injuries in 2007 but may not in 2008.

Really, I'm not trying to rain on the Bengals parade (I have a daughter that's a big fan). I just think that to dismiss their 2007 performance as largely resulting from 'bad breaks' is wishful thinking.

By the way is also reporting Henry as cut. Guess the Bengals have had enough. Expect them to draft another WR this month.

41 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

re 40: I agree, I'm not trying to dismiss the Bengals record as bad luck. I'm of the opinion that the D-line was bad enough that even good, healthy LBs wouldn't have gotten the D into the top half of the league. I agree that the Bengals probably have more holes than one offseason can fix.

Even so, there was a lot of young, talented LB talent in the training room in 2007 including Pollack, Henderson, Jeanty and Brooks, the starting MLB. Obviously Thurman also continued to have personal issues and didn't get re-instated.

So, I can't agree that the guys who were missing were guys who've been around a while and had well-established performance levels. All of the guys I mentioned above are unknown quantities at this point, with Thurman having had the most playing time and having played at a borderline Pro Bowl level in his only season. All of them are still with the Bengals, so if they make it back from injury/suspension that's where they'll be.

44 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Re: 41

I guess we weren't talking about the same guys (with the exception of Brooks). Thurman obviously wasn't injured so I didn't factor him into the discussion. Pollock was injured in 2006 (early) and seems unlikely to ever play again so I didn't include him either.

Jeanty and Henderson (both UFAs) have been around for two years. Jeanty played most of last year and the previous year as well. Henderson hasn't played, but that's not a great sign that the Bengals think he's difference maker (I tried to check on whether his wrist injury was really season ending or whether the Bengals just put him on IR because they didn't want to save a spot for him on the roster but wasn't able to verify either way). I guess it just didn't seem to me like either of these guys was really someone the Bengals thought could be key contributors for them. It's fair to sy they're largely unknown at this point. But it's also fair to say that their prospects aren't that good.

I was thinking of Brooks along with Marshall and Miller (both gone).

45 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I don't like the Ravens going in to this season because their QB position is still a gaping void. It's true they were obliterated by key injuries last year and generally underperformed their talent, but I can't see better than 8-8 or 9-7, with something as bad as 6-10 an outside possibility. Because they don't have to play either New England or San Diego, and because there will probably be some increased motiviation playing for a new coach, I think they will be better than last year, but to me it's almost inconceivable they could make the playoffs.

The biggest question for me is whether the new coaching staff will succeed in fielding an NFL-level offense, or whether we'll be stuck watching the hideous ineptitude to which fans of the purple and black have grown accustomed.

In terms of need and likelihood of success, I hope the Ravens draft a CB in Round 1 if a worthy one is still on the board.

As an aside, the Bengals being forced to part ways with Chris Henry is a benefit to the Ravens. The Ravens have never been able to cover him. With the bad karma coming from Chad Johnson's tantrums, I think there's a decent chance Cincinnati will get the booby prize this year, with the Ravens in 3rd, and the Browns and Steelers fighting it out. Edge to the Browns, especially considering the bad trend displayed by the Steelers in the second half last year.

46 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Validation for FO! Not that its really needed.