Free-agency outlook

Pro Football

February 27, 2003|By Ken Murray

AFC North

Ravens: They need to move quickly to re-sign Jeff Blake or go after Kordell Stewart to resolve the quarterback issue. With ample cap space, they have the money to land wide receiver David Boston and one of the better defensive linemen (Tennessee's John Thornton?). That might allow them to pick an offensive tackle high in the draft.

Cincinnati: With more than $9 million in cap space, the Bengals can match any offer to retain linebacker and transition player Takeo Spikes, a vital cog in Marvin Lewis' reshaped defense. Getting free agents to move to Cincinnati has long been a problem, but Lewis at least has their attention now. Washington's Daryl Gardener might be his first target.

Cleveland: The Browns are more than $22 million over the cap limit and several roster bonuses are due tomorrow. Few of those will be met, starting with linebacker Jamir Miller's $14 million bonus. Other potential casualties include defensive linemen Orpheus Roye, linebacker Earl Holmes and cornerback Corey Fuller.

Pittsburgh: Although the Steelers have been re-signing their best players before they reach free agency, left tackle Wayne Gandy is about to test the market. He would be a big loss. Cutting Stewart recoups his $6.3 million salary, but losing Charlie Batch would mean the Steelers have to find another quarterback behind Tommy Maddox.

AFC East

Buffalo: Whether the Bills keep wide receiver Peerless Price or not, defense is their top priority this offseason. They need to get better up front and they'd like to keep linebacker Keith Newman, who should get some decent offers. Without a first-round pick, Buffalo needs to be productive in free agency.

Miami: Even though Ricky Williams led the league in rushing last season, the Dolphins will retool their offensive line, starting at left tackle. If tackle Mark Dixon returns, it'll be at guard. Center Tim Ruddy and guard Todd Perry must restructure their deals or be cut. The Dolphins also need to sign a veteran receiver with the impending loss of Oronde Gadsden.

New England: Some $6 million over the cap, the Patriots must get restructured contracts from linebackers Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson and defensive end Anthony Pleasant, or they're gone. The franchising of safety Tebucky Jones may not necessarily mean he's coming back. While getting younger on defense, the Patriots also need an upgrade at running back. They may be in the market for Washington's Stephen Davis.

New York Jets: They revamped their defense a year ago and now face the loss of right guard Randy Thomas and kicker John Hall. If Thomas leaves, the Jets likely will pursue Oakland's Mo Collins. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles is a restricted free agent who would be very attractive on the open market.

AFC South

Houston: The Texans have a ton of free agents and a longer list of needs. Right tackle Ryan Young, inside linebacker Jay Foreman and safety Eric Brown will probably attract the most attention. With left tackle Tony Boselli still an unknown, the beleaguered offensive line remains a trouble spot. The Texans must shore up to protect quarterback David Carr. They also want a running back badly.

Indianapolis: Letting outside linebacker Mike Peterson get to free agency was a bold - or reckless - move for a team that needs to upgrade its defense. Peterson is one of the best free agents available at any position, but there are a lot of linebackers available this year. Defensive end Brad Scioli and center Jeff Saturday are other possible key defections.

Jacksonville: The Jaguars are beginning to see the light at the end of their salary cap tunnel. They will have at least $7 million to spend on free agents and have franchised safety Donovin Darius. They'll probably lose running back Stacey Mack and will probably cut defensive end Tony Brackens after June 1. They also would like to redo quarterback Mark Brunell's contract. New coach Jack Del Rio has his work cut out.

Tennessee: Restructuring quarterback Steve McNair's contract helped chip away at a $14 million cap deficit, but the Titans will have to do more pruning. They probably can't keep Thornton, one of the top defensive linemen in free agency. And they'll let wide receiver Kevin Dyson go. But they kept punter Craig Hentrich with the transition tag.

AFC West

Denver: Thanks to several bad free-agent decisions, the Broncos were $15 million over the cap before cutting three starters this week, including cornerback Denard Walker and defensive tackle Chester McGlockton. They're ready to move quarterback Brian Griese, too. Altogether, the Broncos need to clear some $20 million of cap space, ostensibly to bring in quarterback Jake Plummer.

Kansas City: After fielding the worst defense in the league, the Chiefs are eyeing major changes. They'd like to replace defensive end Duane Clemons with Philadelphia's Hugh Douglas, and they like Eagles linebacker Shawn Barber, too. They can use help in the secondary, as well.

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