AFC game plans (cont.)
BALTIMORE: The Ravens are going to need linebacker help if they lose Ray Lewis and Bart Scott to free agency. The likelihood is one of them will be re-signed, although it's uncertain which one. In the meantime, Baltimore must address its offensive line. It's hoping to re-sign highly prized center Jason Brown, but if that fails Minnesota's Matt Birk or Indianapolis' Jeff Saturday could be a less-expensive replacement.
The Ravens also need help at wide receiver. It's a shallow pool of candidates after Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, whose asking price figures to be too steep for Baltimore's liking. Someone like Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway would be a nice stretch-the-field threat, as would Pittsburgh's Nate Washington. Buffalo's Jabari Greer also could fill a need for an established, steady cornerback.
CINCINNATI: Coach Marvin Lewis says the Bengals won't use free agency to address concerns on defense, which is curious considering their lack of pass rush consistently compromised a unit that has first-rounders at both cornerback spots and at outside linebacker. More likely the Bengals will look to fill that void in the draft.
On offense Cincinnati has to find a running back, fullback, wide receiver and some linemen after surrendering 51 sacks last year. The team is hoping to re-sign running back Cedric Benson, who ran for more than 100 yards in three of their four wins, and would like to bring back tackle Stacy Andrews, who is coming off major knee surgery. The Bengals also have their eyes on centers Matt Birk, Jeff Saturday and Jake Grove.
At wide receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh is expected to leave as a free agent. The Bengals used two first-day draft picks on receivers in last year's draft, but neither distinguished himself. A veteran such as Bryant Johnson, Nate Washington or Devery Henderson could be signed to take some pressure off Chad Johnson.
CLEVELAND: The Browns need help at running back, cornerback, linebacker and pass rush (they tied with the Bengals for the second-fewest sacks). And if nose tackle Shaun Rogers is serious about wanting out, the team could be in need of an anchor for the defensive line.
The Browns spent a lot of money in free agency under former GM Phil Savage, so they don't figure to be major players this year. They would like to re-sign safety Sean Jones, who will command a lot of attention on the open market, and add a solid cornerback. Perhaps Leigh Bodden will return. Bottom line: The Browns figure to rely on the draft more than free agency this year.
PITTSBURGH: The defending Super Bowl champions rarely are big players in free agency, and this year should be no exception. Their preference is to re-sign at least two of their own free agents, notably cornerback Bryant McFadden and No. 3 receiver Nate Washington. They're expected to lose two offensive linemen to free agency -- tackle Marvel Smith and guard Chris Kemoeatu -- but Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday already has expressed an interest in signing with them, even saying through his agent that he would line up at guard. The team would like to keep McFadden, but it's thought that he will find a more lucrative offer on the open market.
HOUSTON: The Texans have ample playmakers on offense, but not on defense. They need a pass rusher who can complement end Mario Williams, who accounted for 12 of the team's 25 sacks. They also need help in the secondary. Safety Will Demps was released this week, creating a possible opening for a ballhawk like Darren Sharper.
Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye hasn't given them the push in the middle that they expected after taking him with the 10th pick of the 2007 draft, so it's possible they will look for help there. Former Cowboy Tank Johnson can play over the center or guard, versatility that could make him an attractive candidate. Houston also needs to add a veteran backup QB after agreeing to trade Sage Rosenfels to the Vikings.
INDIANAPOLIS: The Colts released wide receiver Marvin Harrison at his request, but there is no pressing need at the position. Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez are seasoned vets and tight end Dallas Clark is also a threat in the passing game. Still, Indianapolis may seek to add a third receiver, and a player like Devery Henderson would be a nice complement.
The Colts say they won't be major spenders in free agency after signing cornerback Kelvin Hayden to a big-money deal, but they could stand to add depth on the defensive line and at linebacker. Outside linebacker Derrick Brooks would be a nice addition after being released by Tampa Bay, and Cato June might want to return after cashing in with the Bucs. Otherwise, the Colts figure to build through the draft.
JACKSONVILLE: The Jaguars got burned in free agency last year, ostensibly allocating $23.5 million in guarantees to wide receiver Jerry Porter, cornerback Drayton Florence and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy -- who were all released after only one season. The team doesn't figure to be big-spenders this year, although it will shop for second- and third-tier (read: less expensive) free agents.
The leading areas of concern for Jacksonville are the offensive and defensive lines. On offense, tackle Khalif Barnes and center Brad Meester are expected to leave as free agents, as could guard Chris Naeole, who finished the year on injured reserve. The Jaguars also would like to add depth on the interior of the defensive line, as well as find a safety. There won't be any big-name signings, which is the cost for previous failures.
TENNESSEE: The Titans' focus has been on re-signing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, the No. 1 free agent this year. One Titans source said the organization is evenly split as to whether it's prudent to invest an average of at least $11 million a year on Haynesworth. Regardless, there arguably is no more dominant interior defensive player than Haynesworth when he wants to bring it.
The Titans also would like to re-sign quarterback Kerry Collins, who seems to be more concerned with receiving assurances that he will remain the starter than he is with receiving an eye-popping contract. The Titans have salary cap space to sign both Collins and Haynesworth; the question is whether they are willing to match what another team will offer, at least in the case of Haynesworth.
Tennessee doesn't have many holes after earning the AFC's top seed last year in the playoffs, but wide receiver is a position that could use upgrading. The Titans likely will look to add a second-tier player who can stretch the field and take advantage of one-on-one coverage when teams stack the box to stop the run. Pittsburgh's Nate Washington and Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway have that type of downfield speed. Still, all eyes will be on Haynesworth and whether the Titans get a deal done.
Jim Trotter can be reached at email@example.com.