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Ravens, Steelers reloading to maintain division dominance

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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When the lockout is over, it could be a mad dash for talent all over the NFL. With that in mind, we examine the most important things each team must accomplish with a division-by-division breakdown. This is a look at the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

Improve the pass rush: The Ravens tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks with just 27 in 2010. They need another guy besides Terrell Suggs to come through. Maybe it's Sergio Kindle coming off a head injury, but maybe the Ravens need to look outside the organization. They aren't the only team searching for the same type of player. I wonder if Jason Taylor on a one-year deal would be a decent fit. He did have five sacks last year and 12 over the last two seasons. Ben Roethlisberger has beaten the Ravens five consecutive times, and even though they seem to get to him with a pass rush, he still has nine touchdown passes in those five games.

Re-sign Landry and Yanda: Ed Reed is a future Hall-of-Fame player, but he's missed 10 games over the last two seasons. Dawan Landry holds the secondary together when Reed is out. There will be a rookie corner, Jimmy Smith, starting this year and a veteran safety like Landry will be critical to Smith's success. Landry is usually in on close to 95 tackles a season. Not every defensive back in free agency would be a fit with the Ravens, and understanding how to support Reed is a big part of the job.

Marshal Yanda is a solid guard that really helps the running game go and protect quarterback Joe Flacco. There's no doubt Yanda is on the radar screen of a few clubs, but the Ravens have always had good luck re-signing their own. The guard market is very good this year and teams better get ready to spend some real cash on the top guys.

Look for some veteran backups: Baltimore needs a solid veteran behind Flacco. Last year, the Ravens paid a lot for Marc Bulger to do the job and he might go to a place where he can play. I wonder if they would bring back Troy Smith. A veteran right tackle might be important to avoid putting a rookie like Jah Reid on the field too early. Maybe Damien Woody for a year would be a good idea.

Cincinnati Bengals

Trade Palmer: It's understandable that the Bengals think if Carson Palmer wants to go elsewhere or retire that they will let him sit at home. They retain his rights that way and he could change his mind. Maybe he never changes his mind and the club could get some real compensation for him right now that would help. There might be a club willing to give up a high draft pick and a solid starter to get Palmer. Pick up a veteran backup QB to help Andy Dalton develop and don't look back.

End the Ochocinco era: The Bengals need to turn the page on Chad Ochocinco. They really never won with him, so what's the big issue about releasing him? If someone gives you something in a trade, that's great. Coach Marvin Lewis has bent over backwards to help Ochocinco. I'm not sure the coaches should want Ochocinco around first-round draft pick A.J. Green. There are plenty of good receivers in free agency to fill the void. Go after Lance Moore or Steve Breaston, but say good-bye to No. 85.

Re-sign Joseph and Benson: The challenge for any team is to replace talent with talent. Johnathan Joseph will be hard to replace, as will Cedric Benson. Joseph gives the team a solid cover corner, and if he leaves the Bengals might have to make a move for the Panthers' Richard Marshall or the Jets' Antonio Cromartie. Benson is a workhorse and will generate a 1,000-yard season. I'm not sure Benson's contract should be gigantic, but the Bengals need him unless they sign DeAngelo Williams or Ahmad Bradshaw.

Cleveland Browns

Support the 4-3 switch: Converting defenses means a lot of personnel changes, especially in the front seven. The Browns' 3-4 used a lot of two-gap defensive linemen and now they need one-gap penetrators. Adding at least one tackle for a three-man rotation would be a good idea. The Giants' Barry Coefield would be ideal. The 3-4 defense asked the outside linebackers to pressure the quarterback and the 4-3 wants the defensive ends up the field. The Vikings' Ray Edwards or Panthers' Charles Johnson would be perfect, but will cost a bundle. The Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka or even the Buccaneers' Stylez G. White would really help this defense make the switch.

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Get a veteran wide receiver: The Browns passed on Julio Jones in the draft and should turn to free agency for a veteran wide receiver. Someone who can get in the huddle and help the young QB -- Colt McCoy -- as well as the young receivers. A guy like Santana Moss would be a good fit for this team after grabbing 93 balls last year for the Redskins. I don't believe the Browns would be interested in the "diva" types that will be on the market, or Plaxico Burress. Anyone with a solid West Coast background would be a plus, especially if he has speed and some good yards-after-the-catch ability.

Find a corner opposite Haden: The Browns got it right when they drafted corner Joe Haden in the first round of the 2010 draft, but they need a solid guy on the other side. An upgrade from Eric Wright is the way to go and I could see this team making a run at the Bengals' Johnathan Joseph or even the Steelers' Ike Taylor, both have a history in the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Get a third-down back: The Steelers got good mileage out of Mewelde Moore and he could re-sign, but there are options for a third-down back. Jason Snelling is the kind of player the Steelers would look to put on their roster; a high-character guy with a love of the game. Snelling has 74 receptions in the last two years and can run between the tackles thanks to his 223-pound frame. Rumors about Tiki Barber heading to Pittsburgh are interesting, but Snelling is 27 and can also play fullback.

Sign a third safety: There is no replacing Troy Polamalu, but when he's injured the defense just isn't the same. The team has to figure out how to reduce the falloff during Polamalu's absence. Polamalu has missed 18 games over the last four years. A solid veteran safety like the Browns' Abram Elam, the Packers' Atari Bigby or the Bengals' Chinedum Ndukwe could give some depth to the position.

Don't overpay Taylor The Steelers need to upgrade at cornerback, which was evident in the Super Bowl. Ike Taylor is clearly a Dick LeBeau favorite, but Taylor is looking for a big contract. He just turned 31, and a long-term deal would take him into his mid-30s. The Steelers might need to think about a younger player like the Panthers' Richard Marshall or Bengals' Johnathan Joseph. In a perfect world, the Steelers would bring back Taylor and get one of the two corners mentioned, putting CB Bryant McFadden on the bubble, but that's not how the Steelers operate.

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