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2011 NFL Free Agency Primer: AFC North Release Candidates

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Happy 4th of July Niners Nation, I hope you all have a safe and fun holiday. Today, I am going to focus on the NFC North as it relates to possible salary cap casualties. In general, the division is pretty well off when it comes to the salary cap. However, both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati find themselves in a little bit of a bind. 

There promises to be some decent talent added to the free agent pool from the NFC North when all is said and done. After the jump I am going to focus on those four teams from that division. 

Baltimore Ravens

RB- Willis McGahee With the emergence of Ray Rice as one of the best all-around backs in the AFC, Willis McGahee's days are numbered in Baltimore. He is set to make about 7.5 million in 2011 when all is said and done. Additionally, the Ravens drafted Anthony Allen in April's draft, and he can take over as Rice's primary backup. It goes without saying McGahee will hit the open market when free agency begins. 

Will he find a starting job? Most likely not. McGahee had career low numbers across the board in 2010 and will be 30 in October. Some team will make a play for him as a solid back up contributor, but not as a starter at this point in his career. 

WR- Derrick Mason It seems as though Mason is redefining the aging process. At 37 years old, he is still a solid NFL receiver as evidenced by his solid 61 catch performance in 2010. That said, Mason is set to make nearly 5 million dollars in 2011 and the Ravens have multiple young receivers they are looking to get into the fold behind Bolden. Torrey Smith and James Hardy come to mind first. It is unlikely the Ravens part ways with their long time receiver, but the possibility still remains. 

TE- Todd Heap The Ravens have younger cheaper options in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta at the TE position. Heap is no longer a top tier TE and is set to make 4.5 million this season. I think that if Baltimore is looking to cut cap room in order to upgrade at other positions, Heap may be the first casualty. 

DL- Kevin Gregg  With Terrence Cody, Haloti Ngata and Cory Redding in the mix, Kevin Gregg may be the odd man out. He will be entering his 12th season and is set to make 3.5 million in 2010. As much as Baltimore fans would like to see Gregg finish his career in a Raven, it is unlikely that happens. Some team running a 3-4 defense will take a shot with him this off-season.


Cincinnati Bengals

DE- Antwan Odom  With the emergence of Carlos Dunlap, Odom has become expendable. This probably doesn't come as a huge surprise for Bengal fans considering his injury history and inability to stay on the field. Odom is owed nearly 4 million in 2011 and will be let go by Cincinnati once the league year begins. He will find a home somewhere because teams are desperate for a pass rush specialist, but they are going to have to be careful because of his age and injury history. 


Cleveland Browns

QB- Jake Delhomme The Browns are set with Colt McCoy as their starting QB and have Seneca Wallace as a backup (if he re-signs). So, there really isn't any room for the enigma that is Jake Delhomme. He is set to make 5.4 million in 2011 and will be a salary cap casualty. Some team, looking for a backup, will make a play for Delhomme. Could it be the 49ers?

RB/WR- Joshua Cribbs The all everything special teams player just signed a 20 million dollar, three year contract last March. However, with the new kickoff rule Cribbs importance to the Browns will be limited moving forward. Additionally, the project of moving him to wide receiver didn't work out too well. Look for Cleveland to field offers for Cribbs, but a release is possible, however, unlikely at this point. 

TE- Ben Watson The Browns selected Jordan Cameron in April, and have a few other options outside of Watson. He was their leading receiver in 2011 and isn't making a whole lot in 2011 (2.5 million). However, the Browns may want to give the young players a chance to perform with Colt. It is more likely that the Browns will want Watson to return and be a safety valve for Colt, but the possibility remains that he will be a roster casualty. If so, some team (Rams) are going to make a play for the solid tight end. 


Pittsburgh Steelers

DE- Aaron Smith Recovering from a torn biceps injury, there is no telling if Smith will be 100 percent by training camp. He has been a mainstay for the Steelers over the course of the last half decade or so. However, with a 4.5 million dollar salary, Smith will probably be released. If healthy, Smith will be productive in a 3-4 defense somewhere.

OT- Flozell Adams The 5 time Pro-Bowl performer is set to make 5 million dollars in 2011. The Stellers have ample options to replace him, but do they trust youngster to protect Ben's weak side? I would say yes. Adams play have suffered a bit recently and the Steelers need to cut room somewhere. Look for him to be one of the casualties once free agency starts.

LB- James Farrior Due about 6.5 million dollars total in 2011, but it seems the Steelers don't have anyone to replace Farrior unless they believe Keyaron Fox is the man at the ILB position. That said, it is an incredible amount of money to pay for a player that will be 36 before opening day. For the purpose of full disclosure, I don't see this happening because Farrior still produces at an extremely high level as evidenced by his 2010 season.


Analysis: There is a lot of talent on this list and teams are going to be drooling over some of them. Do the 49ers make a play at a need position here?  I would be interested in Kevin Gregg if the 49ers do not retain Demetric Evans or Ray McDonald. He is a solid professional that fits great in a 3-4 defense. Another option would be a personal favorite of mine, Aaron Smith. He would come relatively cheap and has a history of getting to the quarterback. Pairing him with Justin Smith would make quite a defensive end tandem, this if he can stay healthy. 

Other than that I really don't see anyone that would fit into what the 49ers are building right now. Most of the players are not at need positions, or not a good fit. Jake Delhomme anyone? I seriously doubt the 49ers would have much interest in the washed up veteran. But, I could be wrong.

So, tell me who interests you on this list.