AFCN Free Agency wrap-up

With free agency well under way, here is a quick summary of player signings, notes, quotes and team happenings for the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The opening days of free agency proved to be a rollercoaster ride for the Ravens.

Baltimore watched coveted defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu sign with Carolina, running back Chester Taylor leave for Minnesota and defensive end Tony Weaver bolt for Houston, but the Ravens made big splashes of their own by signing free agents defensive end Trevor Pryce and running back Mike Anderson, both formerly of Denver, and re-signing linebacker Bart Scott and running back Jamal Lewis.

Lewis agreed to a three-year, deal worth around $25 million on Monday.

"We are so excited to have Jamal back," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. "If you look at his history, he always rebounds in a big way from adversity. He had a tough 2005 that started with surgery, his incarceration, and then dealing with all of the turmoil during the season with the contract hanging over his head. We expect big things from him."

With Taylor gone, Anderson, who agreed to a four-year deal reportedly worth $8 million, will now share the rushing load with Lewis. Upon re-signing Monday, Lewis said he will be happy to team with the former Broncos star.

"He's one of those multipurpose backs," Lewis said of Anderson. "He can play fullback and he can play tailback. He's a good asset to this team and I will love to play with him."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are not expected to pursue a high-profile quarterback and will instead bring in a second-tier quarterback.

The quarterbacks who would be given the opportunity to battle Boller in training camp probably include Kerry Collins and Brian Griese. Others such as Gus Frerotte and Chris Weinke likely would be backups.

Based on how the quarterback market is projected to shape up, Boller has a solid shot at remaining the starter.

"This (quarterback search) doesn't mean we don't have faith in Kyle," coach Brian Billick said. "It doesn't mean we don't think Kyle is and is going to be a very good quarterback for us. All we're saying is we wouldn't eliminate the potential of who might be in the market to add to this team. Our expectations are very, very high for Kyle."

The Ravens' current top-three offseason needs:

1. Safety: When Will Demps was injured late last season, the Ravens were so thin at safety that they started Deion Sanders. Baltimore did not re-sign Demps because it wants to upgrade the position. Demps signed with the Giants on Wednesday.

2. Defensive line: With nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu gone, the Ravens are in need of a big run stopper to plug the middle. The Ravens did make a strong move by signing former Denver defensive end Trevor Pryce in the first day of free agency to replace Tony Weaver. Signing tackle Justin Bannan away from Buffalo will help, but he can't fill Kemoeatu's shoes on his own.

3. Offensive guard: Left guard Edwin Mulitalo is on his last legs and there isn't a suitable replacement on the roster. Brian Rimpf is a solid backup to Mulitalo and right guard Keydrick Vincent, but there would be a significant blow to the running game if one of the starters were to get injured.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY
With Mike Anderson and Jamal Lewis in the fold, the Ravens no longer have a need for running back. If the Ravens opt for defense, it's expected they'll look for a safety or a penetrating defensive tackle. The best available at those spots should be Texas safety Michael Huff and Florida State defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Running back Chester Taylor, seeking an opportunity to be a clear-cut No. 1 running back, signed a four-year deal with Minnesota.

--Coach Brian Billick denied reports that linebacker Ray Lewis wants to play elsewhere next season.

"Has anyone heard from Ray himself? I've talked to Ray and he is about winning and always has been," Billick said. "I believe that's where his focus is now. I believe he thoroughly understands our situation and his. I have no reason to believe that Ray is going to be anything but what he has been before: a huge part of this team and the consummate professional in practice, in the classroom and on game day."

According to Billick, Lewis' unhappiness with his contract situation has been "blown out of proportion."

"The business side is always a potential distraction. That's not something I'm going to let become a distraction," Billick said. "One of the changes is for me to be very focused on keeping the priorities for this team from a football standpoint to remain in the proper order."

--In addition to offensive tackle Tony Pashos, the Ravens gave a "first-round" tender to one other restricted free agent, defensive end Jarret Johnson. If a team signs either to an offer sheet, the Ravens have the right to either match it or receive a first-round pick as compensation.

The Ravens extended minimum tenders to their other five restricted free agents: kickoff specialist Aaron Elling, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, fullback Ovie Mughelli, running back Musa Smith and quarterback Brian St. Pierre.

--Ravens president Dick Cass and nine other team executives were singled out by commissioner Paul Tagliabue as key figures in achieving a collective bargaining agreement extension through the 2011 season.

Over a lunch meeting, Cass and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Art Rooney devised a revenue-sharing concept called the "Ravens-Steelers plan." It was modified with a competing alternative called the "Jets-Patriots plan," which eventually became the proposal that was adopted.

"I believe the teams stretched financially to get the deal done with the union," said Cass. "Once that deal was done with the union, we then had to agree among ourselves how to make sure we maintained competitive balance in the league. The only way to do that is to give more money to some of the lower-revenue teams."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've been prepared for a while. It's kind of like Disneyland; it's hurry up and wait." -- Pro personnel director George Kokinis on the eight-day delay to the start of free agency.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--S Will Demps signed with the Giants on Wednesday.

--DE Tony Weaver signed with Houston. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Weaver (6-3, 280), returns to the state of Texas. Born in Killeen, Weaver moved to upstate New York as a youth. He attended Notre Dame where he was named the team MVP as a senior in 2001. During his senior season, Weaver totaled 59 tackles and seven sacks.

--DE Trevor Pryce has agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract with Baltimore that includes a $10 million signing bonus.

--LB Bart Scott agreed to a new three-year, $13.5 million contract with Baltimore that includes a $6.5 million signing bonus. He will earn base salaries of $1 million in 2006, $2.6 million in 2007 and $3.4 million in 2008.

--P Dave Zastudil signed a five-year deal to leave Baltimore for division-rival Cleveland. Financial terms were not disclosed. "I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan and it is really exciting for me to be able to play for the team I grew up watching and rooting for," he said. "I can't wait to get to work and be able to do my part to help the team succeed."

--RT Orlando Brown was released by the Ravens, who are planning on starting Tony Pashos in that spot.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Dale Carter; TE Darnell Dinkins; WR Randy Hymes; WR Patrick Johnson; LB Tommy Polley; CB Deion Sanders; RB Jamel White; S Chad Williams; QB Anthony Wright.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): LS Drew Caylor; DT Gary Gibson; CB Cash Mouton.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: PK Aaron Elling; NT Aubrayo Franklin; DE Jarret Johnson; FB Ovie Mughelli; OT Tony Pashos; RB Musa Smith.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Jamal Lewis; LB Bart Scott; TE Daniel Wilcox.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: RB Mike Anderson; DT Justin Bannan; DE Trevor Pryce.
PLAYERS LOST: LB Peter Boulware; RT Orlando Brown; S Will Demps; NT Maake Kemoeatu; RB Chester Taylor; DE Tony Weaver; P Dave Zastudil.


CINCINNATI BENGALS

The Bengals addressed a big need when they signed former Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson to a four-year contract Monday.

In the secondary, the Bengals will also get a boost with the return of starting third-year free safety Madieu Williams, pound-for-pound the best defensive player on the roster. He missed most of 2005 with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Kim Herring also should be back from a season-ending injury but is not getting any younger.

Jackson is an eight-year veteran who is past his prime, so don't be surprised if the Bengals still look to add another player to the position. There are quality safeties available in the draft and in free agency. The Bengals suffered against both the run and pass because of poor safety play through the 2005 season.

The Bengals' other main areas of concern are:

1. Defensive tackle: The draft also could yield defensive tackles who could add size to the Bengals' struggling run defense. Early-entry junior Haloti Ngata of Oregon figures to be off the board by the time the Bengals pick, but Michigan's 340-pound Gabe Watson could be available. The Bengals are improving at tackle but still lack a space eater who can occupy two blockers at the point of attack.

2. Tight end: Two of the Bengals' three tight ends are unrestricted free agents, with Tony Stewart unlikely to re-sign and Matt Schobel off to Philadelphia. Only starter Reggie Kelly would remain. The top tight end prospects are Maryland's Vernon Davis (51 receptions and a good runner after the catch) and UCLA's Mercedes Lewis (58 catches and 2005 winner of the John Mackey award as top collegiate tight end). Kelly is an outstanding blocker and performed well as the H-back in the no-huddle offense. He's not much of a receiving threat; he averaged just 6 yards on 15 receptions.

3. Backup quarterback: Jon Kitna departed for Detroit, and backups Craig Krenzel and Doug Johnson are unlikely to be more than camp arms who will compete for the third quarterback spot.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY
The Bengals are extremely tight-lipped about their plans in free agency and the draft, so the best way to ready their minds is to look at some of the players they interviewed at the combine.

Among the players the Bengals met with were Miami's (Fla.) wide receiver/cornerback/kick return man Devin Hester, Georgia Tech linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, Oklahoma defensive back Chijioke Onyenegecha, Georgia safety Greg Blue, Michigan defensive tackle Gabe Watson, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis and Texas tight end David Thomas.
The Bengals talked with Hester about playing both ways in the NFL, and he was receptive to the idea. The Bengals have struggled to find a punt returner, though Keiwan Ratliff is sure-handed.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wants players who can run and is not overly concerned about traditional weights at positions such as linebacker. Lewis is a believer in speed over bulk at linebacker and strong safety.

Though the Bengals have spend five of 27 picks in the past three drafts on linebackers, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan did not rule out another linebacker in 2006. Four remain, and two (Odell Thurman and David Pollack) start.

Only one inside linebacker in the 2006 draft, Maryland's D'Qwell Jackson, is projected as a first-round pick. An outside linebacker who could be available in the first or second rounds, Alabama's DeMeco Ryans, could be a good fit as a smart, instinctive player.

NOTES, QUOTES
-- The Bengals tendered one-year tender contracts to their four restricted free agents: wide receivers Kelley Washington and Kevin Walter, offensive lineman Scott Kooistra and fullback Jeremi Johnson. The Bengals offered "draft-status" deals, meaning if another team signs the player to an offer sheet and the Bengals choose not to match it, the Bengals would receive a draft pick equal to where the player was selected as compensation. The "draft-status" amount is $712,000, the lowest of the four levels of tender.

Washington was a third-round selection, Johnson a fourth and Kooistra and Walter sevenths. The Texans are believed to be interested in signing Walter to an offer sheet.

-- Bengals president Mike Brown and Buffalo Bills owner cast the only no votes for the CBA extension proposed by the players' union.

"It is a very good deal for players. It's good for high-revenue teams," Brown said. "It's a challenge for low-revenue teams. That's not to say it's a bad deal for the NFL or the fans. It provides us with uninterrupted play for a minimum of four more years, possibly six. We're going to be competitive under the system no differently than we have been in recent years. From the fans' perspective, they should be pleased with the result."

-- The Bengals are not in the bottom five of league revenue earners but are among the 17 that will receive local revenue sharing from the top 15 in total revenue.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are strong enough to continue on. We will be able to maintain our ability to pay the cap. We will do it in the fashion as we have in the past. We will be up and running under the cap system through the duration of this deal." -- Bengals president Mike Brown, discussing the ramifications of the CBA extension on the club.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

-- LB Nate Webster, a free agent from Cincinnati has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with Denver worth around $1.5 million.

-- QB Jon Kitna has agreed to a contract with Detroit.

-- TE Matt Schobel, a free agent, signed with Philadelphia.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Rashad Bauman; FB Nick Luchey; LB Hannibal Navies; S Ifeanyi Ohalete; DL Carl Powell; TE Tony Stewart; RB Kenny Watson; LB Marcus Wilkins.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FB Jeremi Johnson; OL Scott Kooistra; WR Kevin Walter; WR Kelley Washington.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: P Kyle Larson; S Anthony Mitchell.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: S Dexter Jackson; QB Doug Johnson; TE Matt Schobel.
PLAYERS LOST: DE Duane Clemons; QB Jon Kitna; LB Nate Webster.


CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Browns struck quickly in the opening days of free agency, signing a host of players led Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and linebacker Willie McGinest.

Bentley signed a six-year deal that is reported to be worth $36 million with $12.5 million in guaranteed money.
Bentley will be joined on the Browns' line by left tackle Kevin Shaffer, who was signed away from Atlanta. Shaffer started 16 games for the Falcons last season, and will replace left tackle L.J. Shelton. Shelton signed with Miami on Monday.

Jurevicius signed a four-year deal to leave Seattle and join Cleveland. He will help soften the loss of Antonio Bryant in free agency.

"This is where it all started for me," said Jurevicius. "I had opportunities to go to a couple different places. First and foremost, I wanted to become a Cleveland Brown, put on the orange helmet, play in front of Lake Erie and enjoy the feelings. This is going to add years to my career because of excitement that comes along with it."

The third big addition came Wednesday with McGinest, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract that includes $6 million in guarantees and bonuses. He will join another newcomer, nose tackle Ted Washington.

--The Browns' current top-three offseason needs:

1. Linebacker: Signing Willie McGinest was a good first step, but he's 34 and on the backside of his career. The Browns were last in the league in 2005 with 23 sacks. Finding a player along with McGinest to put pressure on the quarterback is essential. The Browns would love to get A.J. Hawk from Ohio State, but he will be long gone before the Browns pick 12th.

2. Wide receiver: The addition of Joe Jurevicius will add more than just his numbers. Jurevicius landed in Seattle last season and his professional approach helped lift the play of the entire Seahawks receiver group. But he's a nice possession receiver. With Antonio Bryant gone and Braylon Edwards' status uncertain following knee surgery, the Browns still have to be concerned about this position.

3. Cornerback: Gary Baxter is coming off an injury and Daylon McCutcheon could be on the downside of a decent career. Leigh Bodden was a pleasant surprise last season, but Michael Lehan left in free agency, leaving the depth chart a bit thin.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY
Holding the 12th slot in the draft means the Browns improved from 2004 when they picked third, but it also means they will have to sit and watch as the players that can help them the most go off the board one by one.

Even after a bit of a free-agent spending spree, the Browns are not close enough to the Steelers that getting one player would mean overtaking them, so it is very unlikely they would bundle draft picks to move up far in the draft to take Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk or North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. General Manager Phil Savage wants to hold onto all eight picks (he has an extra fifth-rounder after trading wide receiver Andre Davis to New England last year) and if anything would like to pick up more picks.

He would not be their first choice if the Browns could have their pick of any defensive player, but they do like Chad Greenway, the outside linebacker from Iowa, assuming Hawk, Williams and nose tackle Haloti Ngata are off the board. The Browns did not interview Greenway at the Combine in Indianapolis, but Savage says not to read anything into that; they did not interview Braylon Edwards or Charlie Frye last year and ended up picking those players in the first and third rounds.

The closer the draft gets, the more the Browns are likely to look at Brodrick Bunkley from Florida State. He weighs 300 pounds and would play right end, a move that would relegate Alvin McKinley to a backup role. Though the Browns were last in the league in points scored in 2005 (232), Savage and Coach Romeo Crennel believe the defense has to be fixed first.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Signing running back Reuben Droughns to a three-year extension through 2009 means the Browns won't be going after a running back in the first round. They still want to find a change of pace back, though, to take some of the burden from Droughns and to keep opponents off balance. Droughns insists he could be a fulltime back for 16 games and vows to be in better shape in 2006 expecting to carry the ball 300 times again.

--Kicker Jeff Chandler signed a one-year contract with the Browns. Out of football last season, he is 19 of 27 on field goal tries over three seasons and 35 of 36 on PATs while playing for San Francisco, Carolina and Washington. The highlight of his career was the season opener against the Bears in 2003 when he was five of five on field goal tries and four of five on PATs while kicking for the 49ers. Browns incumbent kicker Phil Dawson has made 30 of his last 32 field goal tries and is 135 of 161 for his career on field goal attempts.

--For the first time, the Browns have decided not to announce free agent visits. They do not want to like losers if the player they were interested in signs with another team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's like expecting Christmas to be Dec. 25 and then finding out it won't happen until Jan. 3." -- Browns general manager Phil Savage on the delay to the start of free agency.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--LB Willie McGinest signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Browns that includes $6 million in guarantees and bonuses.

--NT Ted Washington signed a two-year contract with the Browns, who hope the 6-foot-5, 365-pound run stopper can help solidify the middle of their 3-4 defense. Miami, Baltimore, Carolina and the Jets also reportedly expressed an interest in Washington, who chose Cleveland because of his past relationship with coach Romeo Crennel. The two were together in New England. "I wanted to be somewhere I felt comfortable. I know what it takes to run a defensive front and I know where he's going with this. Cleveland was No. 1. I was pushing my agent to make sure to give the Browns the first dibs on me coming there before I took a trip anywhere else."

--P Dave Zastudil signed a five-year deal to leave Baltimore for division-rival Cleveland. Financial terms were not disclosed. "I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan and it is really exciting for me to be able to play for the team I grew up watching and rooting for," he said. "I can't wait to get to work and be able to do my part to help the team succeed."

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DB Antwan Harris; TE Keith Heinrich; DB Ray Mickens; OL Mike Pucillo; P Kyle Richardson; LB Orlando Ruff; TE Aaron Shea; LB Ben Taylor.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: NT Ethan Kelly; DE Orpheus Roye.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: C LeCharles Bentley; PK Jeff Chandler; OG Bob Hallen; WR Joe Jurevicius; LB Willie McGinest; OT Kevin Shaffer; NT Ted Washington; P Dave Zastudil.
PLAYERS LOST: WR Antonio Bryant; DT Jason Fisk; LB Kenard Lang; C Dwayne Ledford; DB Michael Lehan; LT L.J. Shelton.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The Steelers didn't waste much time locking up an insurance policy after defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen skipped town to sign with the Jets on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh re-signed free agent defensive end Brett Keisel to a four-year, $13.1 million deal that includes a $3.29 million signing bonus.

Keisel has seen increased playing time as a reserve the past two season, but has never started an NFL game. The position is one the Steelers still might look to address in free agency or the draft, but Keisel has shown the ability to produce with three sacks and a forced fumble in the regular season in 2005.

"I'm sad my boy Kimo is not going to be here," Keisel said. "He's one of my mentors. I'm excited about the opportunity, to show what I can do and to stay in Pittsburgh."

The Steelers' current top-three offseason needs:

1. Wide receiver: The Steelers have Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson and lost Antwaan Randle El to free agency. Nate Washington could become a factor if he develops quickly in his second season. Quincy Morgan is a UFA they will try to re-sign as a No. 4 receiver, something UFA Lee Mays also could fill if he returns.

2. Running back: Willie Parker led them in rushing and showed in the Super Bowl that he can break a long one at any time, but he's not a bruiser inside. They are worried about Duce Staley's ability to stay healthy and they need that second big back. Verron Haynes, their third-down back, is a UFA.

3. Defensive end: Depending on the potential the team sees in Brett Keisel, this may or may not be a big concern to the Steelers. He has never started an NFL game and plays a position that is critical in the team's 3-4 scheme. But he did produce nicely in a backup role last year and could be ready to step up.

DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY

Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter can play on the outside in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense and they're always looking for outside linebackers. Usually, though, they get them as defensive ends in the later rounds and convert them.

They'd love to get someone like Santonio Holmes to play split end but not at No. 32. They've not been bashful about trading up to get someone they want since Kevin Colbert became their football boss in 2000. Chad Jackson is another player who could fill the bill for them, especially with his size and speed.

The Steelers might be interested in moving up, but how far they can go is another matter. Depth is their biggest problem and they may well just settle and draft the best players on their board. They can use defensive backs, defensive linemen, linebackers, offensive tackles and a running back or two.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Before Antwaan Randle El signed with Washington, Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney said the extra $7.5 million in salary cap room each team received for 2006 under the CBA extension likely wouldn't help the Steelers re-sign a high-priced player.

"In some regards, we would have been better off (the old way) because the other people wouldn't be able to go after our players because they wouldn't have any money," Rooney said.

Rooney said the Steelers would not proceed any differently than years past in free agency.

"The amount of the revenue difference was $7-8 million, you'll have to use that correctly," Rooney said. "We're going to operate the way we always do, that's try to take care of our own. The team that took us to the Super Bowl and won are the guys we're looking for. We think it's to their advantage, it's to our advantage to do it that way."

--The Steelers likely will raise the price of their club seats next season but no others in response to the new CBA. Like most teams, they will step up their marketing efforts to bring in more revenue.

"Every team has to look to maximize their revenue," Rooney said.

--The Steelers will have to contribute $1 million this year to the pool available to lower-revenue teams because they are in the lower third of the top 15 revenue teams from last year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's like Forrest Gump. A new thing keeps happening. I don't know how it keeps happening but it's happening. That's just kind of how I'm living my life, something new just keeps going on every day." - Hines Ward on his activities since his Super Bowl MVP award.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

-- DE Kimo von Oelhoffen signed a three-year, $9.2 million deal with the Jets. Von Oelhoffen spent the past six years with the Steelers.

-- S Ryan Clark signed with Pittsburgh. He received a four-year deal. Clark, who will enter his fifth season in the NFL in 2006, finished this past season with 72 tackles for the Washington Redskins, which was fourth on the team. He also posted his first two career interceptions and added his first career forced fumble. In 2004, Clark tallied a career-high 91 tackles, including 65 solo.

-- LB Clint Kriewaldt re-signed with the Steelers. Terms of the deal were not immediately known.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Barrett Brooks; RB Verron Haynes; WR Lee Mays; WR Quincy Morgan; CB Deshea Townsend; TE Jerame Tuman.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Sean Morey; CB Ike Taylor.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: LB James Harrison; DE Shaun Nua; RB Willie Parker.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: QB Charlie Batch; DE Brett Keisel; LB Clint Kriewaldt.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: None.
PLAYERS LOST: RB Jerome Bettis; S Chris Hope; S Mike Logan; QB Tommy Maddox; WR Antwaan Randle El; DE Kimo von Oelhoffen; CB Willie Williams.
 


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