PITTSBURGH (AFC North champion/AFC Champion/NFL Champion, 12-4)
The Steelers have their way of doing things and that means little or no activity in signing players from other teams. As of March 20, Pittsburgh was one of four teams that has not signed a UFA. In fact, you can use the fingers of one hand to count the free agents that have come in for a visit. The most noteworthy was CB-Returner Chris Carr, who ended up signing in Baltimore. The Steelers interest in him probably had the Ravens overpaying for Carr.
They have lost one starter: CB Bryant McFadden, a former second-round pick. They made no attempt to re-sign him. They also lost backup safety Anthony Smith (Green Bay) and backup WR Nate Washington (Tennessee). Washington provided their offense with a speed element, but he has shown very inconsistent hands over his career.
Pittsburgh has been able to hold together its offensive line, such as it is. If there was one area where they were expected to be active among UFAs it would have been the blockers. They slapped a franchise player tag on LT Max Starks and they re-signed starting LG Chris Kemoeatu and backup tackle Trai Essex. They also got RT Willie Colon to sign his RFA tender offer, so he will be back.
This is how the black and gold roll and it’s hard to argue with their success.
BALTIMORE (Second place in NFC North, wildcard team advanced to AFC final, 11-5)
The Ravens are a team in transition right now. The Baltimore front-office has done a very good job over the years keeping the team in contender status, but that was always built on the defense. Now, the focus must shift to finding more weapons for quarterback Joe Flacco.
They lost center-guard Jason Brown (St. Louis), but replaced him with a better, if older player in Matt Birk (Minnesota). They added tight end L.J. Smith (Philadelphia), which should help the offense since it seems starting TE Todd Heap is always injured in some fashion.
On defense, they’ve got adjustments to make. Losing Bart Scott at one of the inside linebacker spot hurts not only now, but in the future. Ray Lewis is going to have to step up his play. The secondary has really been shuffled as CBs Chris McAlister (released), Samari Rolle (released) and Corey Ivy (Cleveland) are gone, as is safety Jim Leonhard (NY Jets).
Between now and the start of the season, they need to find some cornerbacks.
SAN DIEGO (First place team in AFC West, 8-8)
The Chargers have not reacted to their struggles last year by changing their approach. They have signed a single UFA in LB Kevin Burnett (Dallas). They lost one starter in DE Igor Olshansky, who the Chargers did not press to re-sign.
The biggest move they made was keeping LaDainian Tomlinson for at least another year. He’s at the end of his great career, but even 80 percent of L.T. is better than most of the backs in the league.
Healthy is what the Chargers need to do in the months before the season.
TENNESSEE (First-place team in the AFC South, 13-3)
The Titans have a big hole in the middle of their defense now, with DT Albert Haynesworth getting the giant UFA deal with Washington. They did sign Jovan Haye (Tampa Bay) to pick up some of the slack from losing Haynesworth. Last year, Haye started 15 games for the Bucs, providing 40 tackles and no sacks. Haynesworth had 75 total tackles and 8.5 sacks, along with four forced fumbles.
Otherwise, Tennessee has reacted in free agency. They lost WR Brandon Jones (San Francisco), they signed Nate Washington (Pittsburgh). They lost return man Chris Carr (Baltimore), they signed Carolina returner Mark Jones. At wide receiver, Washington is an upgrade as he caught more passes, for more yards and touchdowns last year than Jones. The return swap turns out pretty much even based on ’08 numbers.
MIAMI (First-place team in the AFC East, 11-5)
Offensive line was obviously a priority for the Dolphins, as they went out and added guard Joe Berger (Dallas) and center Jake Grove (Oakland). They lost a pair of secondary starters in Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill (Denver). They added safety Gibrill Wilson (Oakland), to take Hill’s spot. Depth on the corner is now a concern.
INDIANAPOLIS (Second-place team in the AFC South, 12-4)
When needed in the past, the Colts have dipped into free agency. But that hasn’t happened this year, with the exception of re-signing center Jeff Saturday. Keeping the veteran snapper should be very good for the Indy offense.
Right now, they’ve lost only DT Darrel Reid (Denver), who contributed largely on special teams. …Read More!