ITEM: Ravens' patience begins to pay dividends
The Baltimore Ravens had spent most of this free agency period losing players, but on Friday, March 23, they signed four of them in moves they hope will upgrade their depth at linebacker and in the secondary while also fortifying some kick coverage units that struggled last season.
The marquee move was finalizing a three-year deal with Jameel McClain, a starter next to Ray Lewis for the past two seasons. They also got a three-year deal done to keep Brendon Ayanbadejo, a backup linebacker but one of their core special teams players, and they agreed to terms with defensive backs Corey Graham and Sean Considine.
Graham, 26, went to the Pro Bowl after leading the Bears last season with 22 special teams tackles. He has 104 special teams tackles in his career. The Ravens signed Considine, a safety who has played seven NFL seasons, for one year. Considine, 30, played four games with the Carolina Panthers last season and eight games with the Arizona Cardinals.
"Obviously, we've been very patient and we've been working, trying to do things that will put us in position to make our team better," Coach John Harbaugh told The Baltimore Sun. "I think we're kind of methodical in our approach. We want to make smart decisions. We want to make wise decisions. And no one is better at that than [General Manager] Ozzie Newsome. In announcing these four moves, we're giving the indication that we're shoring up our team in certain areas, areas we think we need to improve, in some cases by just keeping the guys we got, which is not easy to do as we all know."
Before Friday, the Ravens' scorecard had them re-signing center Matt Birk and linebacker Chavis Williams, while losing Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs, linebacker Jarret Johnson, defensive end Cory Redding, and safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura.
Harbaugh also said that "further moves are possible," but claimed he would be comfortable with Jah Reid replacing Grubbs at left guard.
ITEM: Bengals re-stock their defensive line
One of the strengths of a 2011 Cincinnati Bengals team that qualified for the playoffs was a deep and talented defensive line. In the opening days of free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals lost Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker, but Cincinnati.com reported that over the past several days the team made moves to re-stock the unit by re-signing Pat Sims and adding Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson.
Sims was limited to 14 games last season because of an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve, and he finished with 28 tackles and one sack.
Anderson is a sixth-year player who was an Atlanta Falcons' first-round draft choice in 2007, when Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer held the same job there. He spent his first four seasons with Atlanta and made 46 starts before moving to Indianapolis for 2011. He played in 15 games for the Colts last season, with one start, and had 24 tackles and three sacks.
Harvey, 25, was drafted eighth overall in 2008 (one spot ahead of Keith Rivers) by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he has eight sacks in 92 career NFL games. He started 16 games in 2009, seven in 2010, and none in 2011 when he was with the Denver Broncos.
This is how Cincinnati.com sees the Bengals depth chart along the defensive line: LDE – Robert Geathers, Carlos Dunlap, Jamaal Anderson; NT – Domata Peko, Pat Sims; DT – Geno Atkins, Nick Hayden; RDE – Michael Johnson, Derrick Harvey.
ITEM: Cases made for Browns to pick Blackmon, Claiborne
The Cleveland Browns have the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and since they will be unable to pick either of the two top quarterbacks – Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III – there has been speculation over which player they might choose.
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland .com recently made the case for Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, and Jeff Schudel of The News-Herald advocated LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
"If they stay at No. 4 – and Browns President Mike Holmgren has said he'll discourage a trade down – they're likely to draft one of the following players: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
"Holmgren also said last week that he's leaning toward sticking with Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace, and adding weapons to help them. If you can believe him during this lying season, that would seem to eliminate Tannehill, who has started only 19 games at quarterback after beginning as a receiver and leading the Aggies in receptions his first two years.
"The Browns have also made it clear their priority is to score more points, which would seem to scratch Claiborne. That brings us to Blackmon and Richardson, and as NFL Network analyst Charlie Casserly observed on Friday, "it depends on if you want to be a pass-oriented team or a run-oriented team."
"So by process of elimination, we're going to keep it simple and take Blackmon at No. 4 …"
And this was Schudel's argument:
"Desperate isn't a strong enough word to describe how badly the Browns need to draft Trent Richardson or Justin Blackmon, yet one look at the list of quarterbacks they face in 2012 makes a strong case for selecting cornerback Morris Claiborne with the fourth overall pick. The Browns have to see Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Joe Flacco (Ravens) and Andy Dalton (Bengals) twice each. The Browns were 0-6 against their division rivals last year.
"The Browns also must deal with Matt Cassel (Chiefs), Michael Vick (Eagles), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bills), Philip Rivers (Chargers) and presumptive draft pick Robert Griffin III from the Redskins in games at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The road schedule is more brutal. They face Eli Manning (Giants), Peyton Manning (Broncos), Andrew Luck (Colts), Tony Romo (Cowboys) and Carson Palmer (Raiders).
"Claiborne is clearly the best defensive player in the draft. Surgery was performed on his left wrist Friday to repair a torn ligament, so of course whichever team is thinking about using a high draft pick on him would have to know the wrist won't be a problem, but scouts at his pro day Thursday were more impressed by his 4.39 time in the 40-yard dash than concerned about his wrist injury.
"Joe Haden at left cornerback and Claiborne on the right side, coupled with what should be an improved pass rush as Jabaal Sheard enters his second year and safety T.J. Ward returns from his foot injury, could be more impactful than any single offensive star in this draft."