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|03-09-2006, 12:06 AM||#1|
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Westerville, Ohio now but from Mount Lebanon, PA
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AFC North : Team Report's
As promised, even with the delay in the start of the league year to allow more collective bargaining negotiations, the Bengals tiptoed into free agency with their own players.
The Bengals have 12 unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents, all four of whom will be tendered, coach Marvin Lewis said.
An estimated $9.5 million under the existing $94.5 million salary cap, the Bengals were still going ahead cautiously.
The Bengals aren't talking about their plans or needs in free agency or the draft, but the agent for one on their top unrestricted free agents was told what the Bengals have planned.
"Cincinnati would like to have him back, but they said they don't have the room," Jeff Nalley, agent for tight end Matt Schobel, said. "They said their priorities in free agency are a backup quarterback and defense."
Backup quarterback is a need because of the serious knee injury to Carson Palmer, which might prevent him from opening the season. The Bengals, who might lose free agent backup quarterback Jon Kitna to another team, already have signed former Falcon Doug Johnson and are looking for another healthy quarterback for spring and summer work. Craig Krenzel will be the only other healthy quarterback under contract if Kitna signs with another team.
Despite Palmer's injury, the Bengals have a potent offense that finished fourth in scoring and sixth in yards. The defense, however, slumped in the second half of the season when its ability to force turnovers slowed. The Bengals were 22nd in points allowed and 28th in yards given up.
One of the weaknesses is at defensive tackle, but there might be help on the horizon. One of the players let go Wednesday was Buffalo defensive tackle Sam Adams, who played for Lewis when Lewis was Baltimore's defensive coordinator. The Bengals had not contacted agent Angelo Wright as of Thursday, March 2, but Wright said some Bengals players called Adams and told him he would be a good fit in Cincinnati.
"As a veteran, you want to know who you're playing for," Wright said in reference to Adams' relationship with Lewis. Adams made a prior free agent visit to Cincinnati in 2002 when **** LeBeau was coach.
If nothing else, playing in the same division as the Super Bowl champions makes it easy for Browns general manager Phil Savage to set his goals. Accomplishing them is another matter.
"We talk about Pittsburgh a lot," Savage said. "I've made it a point every time we've had a personnel meeting, be it pro or college, to say 'let's not worry about covering ourselves and making sure we know about 489 college players. Let's make sure we know the ones we think can beat Pittsburgh and help us beat Baltimore and Cincinnati.'
"The Steelers and the Bengals set a standard for us. If we can compete with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Baltimore, then we can compete with the rest of the league."
To get from here to there won't be easy. The Browns were 6-10 in 2005. The Steelers and Bengals were each 11-5. Pittsburgh knocked Cincinnati out in the first round of the playoffs and went on to win Super Bowl XL. The Steelers won 26 regular season games over the past two seasons. The Browns won 10.
Savage plans to be active early in free agency, as the Browns were last year when they beefed up the offensive line over the first four days by signing Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman. The Browns have more money than most teams to spend - roughly $25 million based on a $95 million salary cap.
"We'll be fairly aggressive right off the top," Savage said. "Those who wait, lose. Last year, before we could get the paper in the fax machine for Pat Williams, he was gone. Hopefully we'll be the team that will make the other teams late."
The top priority is fixing the defense. Savage talks about finding a pass rusher. Coach Romeo Crennel talks about stopping the run. It isn't that they disagree which is a higher priority. It is more a matter of which hole each is speaking about at the time.
"If pass rush is one, then (run defense) would be No. 2," Savage said. "...You might see us do something in free agency then double back and do the same thing in the draft. We're not good enough to say, 'Okay, we have this guy. We're solidified at that spot. Let's stop there.' We have to upgrade every time we have an opportunity. Obviously (nose tackle) is an area we'd like to address."
The Browns have their eye on Ravens defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu. They were also impressed by University of Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
The Ravens' top priority in free agency is to re-sign nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu.
Although he's not a prominent name on the team, Kemoeatu is considered an irreplaceable fixture in the middle of the NFL's fifth-ranked defense.
Despite the Ravens' aggressive attempts to keep Kemoeatu from being a free agent, agent Ken Vierra said the burly 6-foot-5, 350-pound nose tackle is basically forced to test the market.
"I think (Ravens general manager) Ozzie Newsome and (chief negotiator) Pat Moriarty have been extremely forthcoming and fair; they're doing everything right," Vierra said. "This is really about Maake and what makes sense from a business standpoint. A guy does not get to free agency very often in the course of his career. I believe he has earned the right to find out what he might be worth. That's our intention."
Vierra, however, did not rule out Kemoeatu returning to the Ravens.
"We're going to continue to talk," Vierra said. "I know they want to tie him up and get him under contract. I think he has to find out what his market value is."
The Ravens will also keep close contact with linebacker Bart Scott and defensive end Tony Weaver, two other defensive starters who will become free agents.
The hope is Scott and Weaver will follow a similar path to linebacker Adalius Thomas, who returned to the Ravens as a free agent in 2004 after gauging his worth with other teams.
If the Ravens can't retain Scott, they can look to bring back Tommy Polley to fill the starting inside linebacker role. If the Ravens can't re-sign Weaver, they have players on the roster such as Jarret Johnson, Dan Cody or Roderick Green who can plug that starting spot.
There are no such contingencies with Kemoeatu, a no-frills cog in the middle of that defensive front.
The Ravens' backup nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin, isn't considered ready to handle the 40-plus snap workload. The other alternative in free agency is the Dallas Cowboys' La'Roi Glover, who should draw considerable interest after his release.
"Kemo has gotten better each year," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He has proven that he can be a viable player in front of the defense on first and second down."
Kemoeatu, 27, recorded a career-high 70 tackles last season for the NFL's ninth-ranked run defense. Team officials have compared his ability to jam up the middle to that of former Raven Tony Siragusa.
Kemoeatu joined the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Utah in 2002 before working himself into the starting lineup last season.
"He went out for four years and busted his butt," Vierra said. "Now, fortunately, market forces are such that he can do well for himself."
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