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As of March 27, 2007 the Ravens roster has been trimmed of 6 starters and /or players that contributed significantly to the teamâ€™s successful 2006 campaign. These departed players with their new teams in parentheses are: RB Jamal Lewis (CLE), LB Adalius Thomas (NE), OT Tony Pashos (JAX), FB Ovie Mughelli (ATL), DT Aubrayo Franklin (SF), and G Edwin Mulitalo (DET). (Note: As of this writing Mulitalo has not yet officially signed his deal contrary to other published reports). The Ravens re-signed LB Jarrett Johnson and RB Musa Smith. Ozzie Newsome traded his 3rd round draft picks in 2007 and 2008, as well as a 7th round pick in 2007 with Buffalo for RB Willis McGahee.
The Ravens publicly stated the need to upgrade the running attack as a priority in 2007. The release of Lewis and trade for McGahee is a clear indication that the team wasnâ€™t just talking change, they plan to make changes. The offensive line will have a more youthful look in 2007 as the team figures to add depth to the line via the draft. With the departed Mughelli, the team has a big hole at the FB position and they may convert RB Mike Anderson into that role with Smith re-signed and the return of RB PJ Daniels who the team is very high on. Look for Johnson and Dan Cody to share time in the spot vacated by Thomas and the team will surely look to the draft for LB depth.
The Bengals appear to be content with leaving their offense mostly intact for 2007, but will certainly focus on upgrading an inconsistent defensive unit that has shown sporadic progress. The following players left the Bengals in free agency: S Kevin Kaesviharn (NO), LB Brian Simmons (NO), DT Shaun Smith (CLE), G Eric Steinbach (CLE), and TE Tony Stewart (OAK). The team did re-sign TE Reggie Kelly, P Kyle Larson, and RB Kenny Watson. C Alex Stepanov (ARI) was added to the roster.
As a result of injuries in 2006, Marvin Lewis was forced to change the offensive line throughout the season. The good news is that depth has been established and the loss of Steinbach should not hurt the offense as Andrew Whitworth is ready to step in. Huge questions need answering on the defensive side of the ball particularly at the LB position with the losses of Simmons and Odell Thurman (NFL suspension). The team is hopeful that David Pollack will return from a serious neck injury in 2006. The Bengals will also look to the draft to stabilize their inconsistent secondary.
The Browns foray in the free agency period appears to have designs on stabilizing an inconsistent rushing attack (the Jamal Lewis – BAL signing) combined with shoring up its offensive line (signing of G Eric Steinbach, G Lennie Friedman and C Seth McKinney -MIA).With a promising young and talented receiving corps, it makes the most sense to try to fix the rushing attack to complement that talent. In addition to Lewis, Steinbach, Friedman, and McKinney, the Browns also added TE Ryan Krause (SD) and DE Antwan Peek (HOU). Cleveland lost 4 players from the roster: DT Alvin McKinley (DEN), WR / KR Dennis Northcutt (JAX), S Brian Russell (SEA), and RB Terelle Smith (ARI).
The roster in Cleveland is seemingly always in flux. With successful drafts in 2005 and 2006 the line-up is beginning to take form with a smattering of youthful talent throughout. With 2 more solid drafts, the Browns may yet become a playoff contender.
With the change at Head Coach from Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin, the Steelers decided to lay low and stay the course and were not active in the free agency signings. Prior to free agency they extended the contract of DE Aaron Smith. The teamâ€™s only free agent signing outside the organization was G Sean Mahan (TAM). The Steelers also re-signed S Tyrone Carter, RB Najeh Davenport, and CB Chidi Iwuoma. The big news was the release of LB Joey Porter (MIA). The team also parted ways with WR Sean Morey (ARI) and RB Verron Haynes.
The Steelers struggled rushing the passer in 2006 and will need to replace Porter in that role. Their draft priorities will likely center around the LB and DE positions on defense while also adding depth to the secondary. The team must also locate a power rusher to complement RB Willie Parker.