The Baltimore Ravens have a meeting scheduled with quarterback Matt Schaub, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Yes, he's the quarterback known more for throwing scoring passes to the defense than to his own receivers over the last two seasons. Schaub set an NFL record in 2013 with an interception returned for a touchdown in four straight games while with Houston, and he threw another pick-six last season in a backup role in Oakland.

So why would the Ravens be interested in him? The Ravens want an experienced but inexpensive quarterback who is willing to accept one of the least glamorous backup roles in football. It's a job that won't pay much given the Ravens' limited salary cap space. The Ravens can't offer much as far as playing time because Joe Flacco has never missed a start in seven NFL seasons. The primary backup quarterback in Baltimore has been a mere spectator since 2008, from Todd Bouman to Troy Smith to Marc Bulger to Tyrod Taylor.

The list of quarterbacks who would be lining up for this type of a job is not going to be a long one. Some quarterbacks will want more money, and others will seek a better chance of playing.

The news that five teams have reportedly shown interest in Schaub -- the Falcons, Titans, Jets and Cowboys are the others -- is an indication of how few options there are at quarterback right now.

Tarvaris Jackson looks like he'll head back to Seattle. Michael Vick comes with baggage and an uninspired 2014 season. And Matt Flynn has flamed out everywhere except Green Bay.

The best fit for the Ravens is Jason Campbell. He has the arm strength needed for Marc Trestman's offense and has a knowledge of the division after playing in Cleveland and Cincinnati. It's unknown whether Campbell would be interested in the Ravens' backup job.

That brings the conversation back to Schaub, who has the best track record of the remaining free-agent quarterbacks. He won 40 games in a five-year stretch (2008-12) with the Texans, throwing for over 4,000 yards three times. Schaub went to the Pro Bowl in 2012.

It's the last two seasons that are so unsettling. Schaub got benched in Houston in 2013 and got beat out by a rookie for the starting job in Oakland last season. In meeting with Schaub, the Ravens need to get a handle on where Schaub is mentally more than anything else.

The Ravens' backup spot is a need after Taylor signed with the Buffalo Bills in free agency. Coach John Harbaugh can't hand over the No. 2 role to Keith Wenning, who spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. But Flacco's durability lessens the priority of finding a backup QB. That's why Schaub could fit what the Ravens are looking for at that position.


CLEVELAND -- Crowd noise doesn't hurt feelings. Text messages do.

The NFL's investigation into the Browns' game day smartphone communication was never about a suspension or even a loss of a draft pick.

Not entirely, anyway.

That the league had to discuss the general manager's inbox over something that seems so trivial has implications beyond league guidelines.

Ray Farmer had done damage in his own building, without the long-term track record to mask the problem. Farmer has done some good things -- particularly by filling several needs in last year's free agency and in parts of the draft -- but he's known for two struggling first-round picks and this investigation until proven otherwise.

Regaining the trust of other Browns' officials has been and should be a crucial component for the second-year general manager's job performance evaluation. Whether Farmer sent one text or 200 won't change the league-wide assumptions, fair or not, that he questioned jobs, embarrassed counterparts and exacerbated the well-worn dysfunction storyline in Cleveland.

For good measure, Farmer might even issue a "So ... we're cool, right?" to his staffers before disappearing on a four-game suspension.

This is a chance for the Browns to follow through on their word, to show over time this isn't as messy as it seems.

Farmer must get out of his own way.

Maybe things are all good now. Browns officials have stood by Farmer, who was contrite at the NFL combine. Coach Mike Pettine says he's "very comfortable" in his relationship with Farmer, sees football in the same way as him and both parties moved on from the mistake. Owner Jimmy Haslam calls Farmer an "exceptional human being" who is remorseful for his error.

But Pettine, in particular, had reason to fume when he first found out. Many successful NFL teams have a common thread -- a GM and head coach who respect each other.

Without that, Farmer and Pettine have no chance. Both say the respect is healthy. Whether they keep a united front during potential rough stretches of the season will determine just how healthy.

Advice for Farmer: Don't sit in the owner's box during games in 2015. It undermines your coach.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s latest mock draftInsider is sure to generate a lot of discussion among Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

McShay has the Steelers taking Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead No. 22 overall even though cornerback and outside linebacker are easily their biggest needs.

McShay has the Steelers picking Armstead in the first round even though outside linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerbacks Kevin Johnson, Marcus Peters and Jalen Collins are available at No. 22 overall in McShay’s fourth mock draft.

McShay writes that Armstead -- his seventh-best overall player in the draft -- is too good of a prospect for the Steelers to pass on with their first pick.

General manager Kevin Colbert has always been adamant that the Steelers draft for “want” instead of need. That is his way of saying the Steelers aren’t going to draft a player simply because it helps plug a hole on the team.

What is interesting about McShay’s pick, which at a position where the Steelers already have Cameron Heyward and the rising Stephon Tuitt, is Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin made it clear at the NFL owners meetings that they will add reinforcements at cornerback and outside linebacker through the draft.

They can probably wait until the second round to draft a pass rusher given the depth of those players but it is hard to see them passing on a cornerback if one they really like is available at No. 22 overall.

Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is probably not going to fall to the Steelers in the first round. And they don’t have the ammunition (i.e. extra draft picks) to move up to get him.

But if the Steelers have their pick of any other cornerback, as is the case with McShay’s latest mock draft, I see them using a first-round selection on the position for the first time since 1997.

Injury concerns have seemingly put the Baltimore Ravens' tight end position in limbo.

The Ravens are still unsure whether Dennis Pitta plans to return for the 2015 season after hip surgeries in consecutive years, and they don't know when two potential free-agent targets (Jermaine Gresham and Zach Miller) will get on the field this offseason. All that's certain is the Ravens need to add experience at tight end after Owen Daniels left for the Denver Broncos in free agency.

Miller could be this year's version of Daniels, a veteran who comes on a one-year deal after injuries forced him to miss most of the previous season. A cap casualty of the Seattle Seahawks, Miller is four months removed from his second ankle surgery in less than a year. There's a chance he could ready for training camp at the end of July. Miller, 29, caught 33 passes and scored five touchdowns in 2013.

Gresham, 26, is the top available free-agent tight end, but he had surgery for a herniated disc in his back in the middle of March. This could sideline him until the start of training camp. In five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Gresham averaged 56 catches and nearly five touchdowns per season while going to two Pro Bowls (2011 and 2012). If he is signed after June 1, he wouldn't count against the Ravens' compensatory pick formula.

The other notable free-agent tight ends include Rob Housler and James Casey.

The only healthy tight ends returning from last year's team for the Ravens are Crockett Gillmore and Phillip Supernaw, who have a combined one start in the NFL. Gillmore had a solid rookie season, but he doesn't have the quickness or suddenness to get separation on a consistent basis.

The Ravens have been linked to Minnesota's Maxx Williams, the consensus top tight end in this year's NFL draft. But the Ravens might be more inclined to address wide receiver or cornerback in the first round, and Williams probably won't drop to the Ravens at the bottom of the second round. The lack of impact tight ends in the draft has placed more of an emphasis on signing a veteran free agent.

The tight end position wasn't supposed to have this void. It was only a year ago when the Ravens signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed. But Pitta's 2015 season and career are in doubt after hip surgeries in consecutive years.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh couldn't provide any update on the status of Pitta.

"I think we’ll know more in the summer, hopefully," Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings last week. "In the end, it’s going to be up to Dennis."

There is no urgency because Pitta's $4 million salary in 2015 is guaranteed, so the Ravens aren't going to cut him. He'll either be placed on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve if he decides not to play this season.

At this point, the Ravens have to proceed as if Pitta isn't going to play again. But injuries to the top free-agent tight ends have put the Ravens' plans on hold.

CLEVELAND -- The waiting -- and the embarrassment -- might have been the hardest part.

The Cleveland Browns can easily navigate the four-game suspension to general manager Ray Farmer, especially since the punishment involves no loss of draft picks.

Forget a hammer-drop. The league is using a chisel on the Browns, who have been under investigation since early January over Farmer's improper text messages during games. For nearly three months, the Browns have handled new assistant coaching hires, free-agency plans and NFL draft scouting under this cloud. These are not extraordinary tasks, but they can be complicated when sanctions loom.

With 10 draft picks still intact for 2015, the suspension for Farmer is far from crippling. Farmer's texts probably did not help the team gain a competitive advantage, but they clearly broke the rules.

Yet Atlanta lost a 2015 fifth-round draft pick over piping in artificial crowd noise.

The bigger internal challenge for the Browns is this: Will the ruling exacerbate an already brutal offseason or serve as a clean break?

The Browns clearly would prefer the latter.

An avalanche of issues, beginning with Kyle Shanahan's departure and fueled by Josh Gordon's suspension, among other concerns, gave power to the "same old Browns" crowd. The Browns seem desperate to change that storyline, but questions remain as to whether they really know how to do so.

They could prove they do by using the heavy load of picks to pump out a productive draft class: Not being duped into any bad trades; getting the players they want; staying relatively low-key. Then have Farmer sit out for a few plays.


The NFL was served best by asking Farmer to take time off during the season. That way, the punishment hits Farmer where it hurts, but isn't so mean-spirited as to remove him from the draft room in April.

The Browns probably have some good stories to tell. They have players they like, especially on defense. Offseason workouts breed optimism. They'll soon welcome back quarterback Johnny Manziel.

It seemed like everything was on hold while the team waited for the NFL's ruling.

The Browns now have reasons to feel more relieved than handcuffed.

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns fans and media have expended months of offseason energy on the team’s search for a quarterback who can exorcise the numbing streak of 22 starters since 1999. Sam Bradford. Marcus Mariota. Nick Foles. They must be vetted, pursued, contractually rewarded.

That chase might be dead.


[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSigns point to Josh McCown opening training camp as the starting quarterback for the Browns.

Grieve if you must.

Anything is possible, but it still comes back to this with the Browns’ quarterback situation: Giving Josh McCown $6.25 million guaranteed on a three-year deal would have been unlikely had the team felt the chances of trading for Bradford or Mariota were good.

They vetted the other options before closing on McCown.

Even if the Browns offered Eagles coach Chip Kelly the 19th overall pick for Sam Bradford -- like they reportedly did to the Rams when Bradford was still there -- Kelly would need much more than picks 19 and 20 to move into Mariota’s range. Not sure why he would want to do that unless Cleveland would part with the 12th overall pick, which is too steep for the injured quarterback.

The Browns’ top two quarterbacks in training camp could very well be -- as it seemed all along -- McCown and Johnny Manziel.

Even Browns center Alex Mack knows that.

"It’s going to be a quarterback battle," Mack said. "Josh McCown’s coming in. I think Johnny Manziel’s going to be back, and we will see how Johnny does."

Not the most attractive option, but the most likely.

The Browns could prove that wrong with an aggressive trade play in April. But when GM Ray Farmer talked up his current crop of quarterbacks when speaking to the media at last week’s owners meetings, he sounded like a guy who knows he has no choice.

If nothing changes, what exactly will the Browns get from a McCown-Manziel combo?

  • Expect McCown to enter training camp as the first-string quarterback: McCown will be the safe play unless proved otherwise. The Browns had two offseason quarterback plans: one with Manziel, one without him. McCown has started 49 NFL games since 2003 and is being paid slightly above backup money, roughly $14 million over three years, with the chance to earn an extra $6 million in incentives. Based on that payout and McCown’s experience, the job is his to lose.
  • The Browns could keep the starting job open early in training camp: The Browns could treat this training camp like the last, deciding on a two-quarterback race after the second preseason game. This gives Manziel the chance to assuage his 2014 ills with a more productive training camp while trying to minimize the pressure he faced as a rookie.
  • Don’t expect the Chicago Bears McCown or the Tampa Bay Bucs McCown, but something in between: McCown had everything working in 2013 after throwing for 13 touchdowns and one interception -- including four Pro Bowl-caliber playmakers to get the ball. He won’t have that luxury in Cleveland. But he also won’t be as bad as his 1-10 record in Tampa suggests. McCown battled a thumb injury, shaky offensive line play and the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Expect numbers in line with McCown’s career -- 59 percent passer, slightly above a 1-1 touchdown/interception ratio.
  • Manziel will come back refreshed and focused, but the on-field concerns remain: By all accounts, Manziel is taking his two-month treatment stint seriously. He could come back as a different guy. That will help him. But that doesn’t solve a few on-field concerns, including accuracy and his escapability, which was supposed to be a strength. The Browns had to cobble together a late-season plan for Manziel that backfired, but this time new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo can try to figure out which plays work best for Manziel.
  • Connor Shaw will have the inside track on the third-string job unless a draft pick makes a move: The Browns brought in Thad Lewis for competition but they like Shaw, who doesn’t have a huge arm but showed savvy and toughness in a Week 17 near-win at Baltimore. Drafting a second-tier quarterback such as Bryce Petty or Garrett Grayson would fuel competition.

A look at how the Baltimore Ravens currently stand with their depth chart nearly three weeks into free agency:


QB: Joe Flacco, Keith Wenning

RB: Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro

FB: Kyle Juszczyk, Kiero Small

WR: Steve Smith, Michael Campanaro

WR: Kamar Aiken or Marlon Brown, Jeremy Butler

TE: Crockett Gillmore, Phillip Supernaw

LT: Eugene Monroe, James Hurst

LG: Kelechi Osemele, John Urschel

C: Jeremy Zuttah, Gino Gradkowski

RG: Marshal Yanda, Urschel

RT: Rick Wagner, Hurst

Breaking it down: The Ravens are only set along the offensive line. There is a need to upgrade at wide receiver and tight end through either free agency or the draft. It's unlikely that the Ravens will go with Aiken or Brown as a starting wide receiver. The Ravens have limited options in free agency (Michael Crabtree or Greg Jennings) but have several choices in the first couple of rounds in the draft. It would be beneficial for the Ravens to bring in an experienced tight end (perhaps Zach Miller after he's medically cleared) because Gillmore and Supernaw have a combined one career start. The Ravens might also draft a running back somewhere in the first three rounds.


DT: Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy

NT: Brandon Williams, Christo Bilukidi

DE: Chris Canty, Brent Urban or DeAngelo Tyson

OLB: Terrell Suggs

ILB: C.J. Mosley, Arthur Brown

ILB: Daryl Smith, Albert McClellan or Zach Orr

OLB: Courtney Upshaw or Elvis Dumervil

LCB: Lardarius Webb, Asa Jackson

SS: Will Hill, Matt Elam

FS: Kendrick Lewis, Brynden Trawick

RCB: Jimmy Smith, Rashaan Melvin

Breaking it down: The biggest question marks are depth at cornerback and in the pass rush. The Ravens don't have a proven No. 3 cornerback after Smith and Webb, both of whom have an extensive injury history. There is a drop-off in the pass rush after Suggs and Dumervil. The Ravens are hoping Upshaw can replace Pernell McPhee, who provided pressure up the middle as well as on the edge. This would be the right time to add a young pass-rusher from the draft because Suggs and Dumervil are both over the age of 30 and Upshaw is entering the final year of his contract.


K: Justin Tucker

P: Sam Koch

PR-KR: Campanaro or Jackson

Breaking it down: Tucker is one of the top kickers in the game and Koch bounced back last season. The Ravens need to find a replacement for Jacoby Jones, who was the team's returner for the past three seasons. Campanaro appears to be the top candidate to take over as returner, but coach John Harbaugh wouldn't commit to him at the NFL owners meetings last week. Jackson is another option on the current roster.

Note: The status of TE Dennis Pitta (hip) and FS Terrence Brooks (knee) is uncertain because of injuries.

CINCINNATI -- In addition to the scouts and coaches taking a look at potential pro prospects at LSU's pro day Friday, a key member of the Cincinnati Bengals' offense was on the scene, too.

Andrew Whitworth, an LSU product who calls Louisiana his offseason home, was at the pro day to support the latest crop of draft hopefuls from his alma mater. Arguably Cincinnati's most vocal leader, the veteran Pro Bowl left tackle's words carry weight at Paul Brown Stadium.

In this particular case, it wasn't necessary for coaches and front-office personnel to hear him out. Whether they were there to witness Friday's workout or not, Bengals scouts and coaches already know La'el Collins can play. They know he could be a good fit for them. Anything Whitworth had to add about him would just be a bonus.

"At the end of the day, he can be an excellent guard or he can be a great tackle," Whitworth told ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett.

Whitworth should know. Although he's spent the bulk of his nine pro seasons at left tackle, he came to the league with some guard experience. Late in the 2013 season it paid off when left guard Clint Boling suffered a season-ending ACL injury in an early-December game at San Diego. The Bengals moved Whitworth to Boling's spot and pulled their swing tackle off the bench to play fill in for Whitworth at left tackle.

The Bengals ended up having one of their best rushing performances of the season in their next game, a key late-season win. But with Boling's year done, how would they adequately replace him?

Like his coaches, Whitworth sensed the Bengals had no other viable options to fill Boling's spot. So Whitworth volunteered to move there the rest of the season.

It was one of the more brilliant adjustments the Bengals made that year.

As for Collins, an athletic showing at the combine in February proved he ought to be a first-rounder in the draft that begins April 30. Since then, his noted versatility as both an interior and exterior blocker has made him climb even higher up the mock draft boards.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., for instance, didn't have Collins going anywhere on his first 32-team mock draft early this offseason. In his latest mock, though, Kiper had Collins getting picked 16th by the Texans. In his mock for on Sunday, draft analyst Dane Brugler sent Collins to St. Louis with the 10th overall pick.

"If they can already consider you at two positions, that means they have a high opinion of you," Whitworth said. "To me, it's more of a compliment, because that means they think you're tough and strong and physical, and that you can also play on the edge."

While it's looking more unlikely that Collins will be on the board when the Bengals select at No. 21, he continues to be the ideal first-round selection if he ends up falling that far.

Not only do the Bengals value versatility in linemen, but they value mentoring among players. The LSU tie would be a natural bind for Collins and the 33-year-old Whitworth, who is on the back stretch of his career. Collins could be his eventual replacement and play alongside fellow former LSU teammates Jeremy Hill and James Wright, who were drafted by Cincinnati last year.

Names of teams getting some private time with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota have begun to trickle out, via NFL Network's Albert Breer and others.

The Bucs, Redskins and Jets reportedly are on the board with a Mariota one-on-one, with Tennessee already having worked out Mariota after his pro day. If you're counting at home, those teams comprise four of the top six picks. The Chargers also are reportedly involved.

The Browns' predicament -- two first-round picks and the ritualistic quarterback concerns -- will fuel interest in how much digging is necessary on the player considered by most analysts as the draft's second-best quarterback.

But here are a few reasons why the Browns might not need or get a visit with Mariota.

  • Mariota's relationship with QBs coach Kevin O'Connell: O'Connell privately tutored Mariota before and even after taking the Browns job. He orchestrated Mariota's pro day throwing sequence. He knows Mariota better than most. The Browns can lean on that insight, cutting out the proverbial middle man on get-to-know-you sessions.
  • Can't invite every quarterback to Berea: Teams only get 30 in-house visits for interviews/physicals. With hundreds of intriguing prospects, including several quarterbacks outside the first-round projections, the Browns must be judicious with those visits. Plus, if they have good intel on Mariota already, they can save the reservations for other prospects.
  • Mariota’s selective process: With this high profile a prospect, Mariota will meet with teams he either wants to be drafted by or feels holds a good chance in drafting him. It’s not a speed-dating round. There’s strategy involved. Maybe Mariota’s camp feels Cleveland is out of range.The key question is simple: Do the Browns love Mariota? If they like him, no need to schedule a visit. You can consider him if he starts to fall past the Jets at No. 6. If you love him? Glean as much as you can.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will apparently take a closer look one of the most talented players in the NFL draft after Randy Gregory’s stock took a potential hit following an admission of a failed drug test.

The Steelers will host Gregory for a pre-draft visit, according to Tony Pauline of Draft, in case the Nebraska defensive end/outside linebacker falls in the draft.

Gregory is one of the top pass-rushers in the draft after recording 17 sacks in two seasons at Nebraska. He has one of the highest ceilings in the draft -- click here to watch a snapshot of his sheer power -- and the Steelers would be crazy not to at least do their homework on him.

ESPN’s Todd McShay ranks Gregory as the seventh-best player in the draft. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Gregory is the 11th-best player in the draft, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

Gregory told the NFL Network earlier this week that he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine last month. He reportedly failed multiple drug tests at Nebraska and his latest admission will compel teams to do extra homework on Gregory.

Will it also bring teams like the Steelers, who pick No. 22 overall and have a need for pass-rushers, into play for him?

Kiper doesn’t think so.

“I’d say the range for him is still 5 to 13 because of the [failed drug] test,” Kiper said. “Could he drop down to 12, 13? Maybe. He’s going to be kind of a wild card.”

One of the best ways to crystallize a general manager’s priorities is through his spending. Where teams invest the most money can help illustrate where they believe games will be won or lost. Yes, some numbers can be skewed (many franchise cornerstones are still on cheap rookie deals, for example).

For the Browns, however, it’s become clear Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine believe the defensive backfield and offensive line are the two money positions. The signing of cornerback Tramon Williams to a deal worth roughly $7 million per season affirms that position. The Browns have one of the league’s best (and highest-paid) corners in Joe Haden and several promising young corners but still targeted Williams, a productive and durable corner who just turned 32.

Many teams invest heavily in corner and offensive line, but not many do so as aggressively as Cleveland.


  • Cleveland is one of three NFL teams paying more than one cornerback an average of $7 million a year. The Jets have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, with Buster Skrine close behind in the $6.25-million range, and the Broncos have the Aqib Talib-Chris Harris combo.
  • The Browns and Seahawks are the only NFL teams paying three defensive backs an average of $7 million or more per year. The Browns signed Donte Whitner to a four-year, $ 28-million contract last offseason.
  • The Browns dedicate 26.6 percent ($35.42 million) of the current payroll of $137.6 million to the defensive backfield, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System.
  • The Browns dedicate 45.6 percent ($62.71 million) of their payroll to defensive backs and offensive linemen.
  • The Browns are one of two teams paying both a left tackle (Joe Thomas) and a center (Alex Mack) at least $8 million a year. The Jets do the same with tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.
  • The Browns owe 42.3 percent of their 2015 money to seven players, including signing-bonus proration – CB Haden ($11.7 million), OT Thomas ($10.2 million), LB Paul Kruger ($8.2 million), C Mack ($8 million), DE Desmond Bryant ($7 million), S Whitner ($6.75 million), CB Williams ($6.5 million). Five of those players are on defense.
  • The Browns’ highest-paid skill player in 2015 (Andrew Hawkins, $5 million) ranks 10th on the team.

The addition of Dwayne Bowe (due roughly $4.5 million after proration) tilts the overall receiver number to $16.17 million, or 11.7 percent of the team’s 2015 salary pool. But Farmer hasn’t exactly dispelled the notion that he doesn’t place a premium on skill players. The team’s quarterbacks, running backs, wideouts and tight ends combine for $28.42 million, or 20.6 percent.

CINCINNATI -- Now that Terence Newman and Taylor Mays have signed with the Minnesota Vikings, the Cincinnati Bengals have lost three players to free agency this year. Since it's been a while, let's take a quick look at where things stand with the Bengals at this stage in free agency.

It's also worthwhile to check out ESPN's Free Agent Tracker in order to see what the Bengals and other teams have done throughout this busy month.

*DE Michael Johnson (added after being cut by Tampa Bay)
LB A.J. Hawk (added after being cut by Green Bay)
*CB Brandon Ghee
*DT Pat Sims

OG Clint Boling
MLB Rey Maualuga
K Mike Nugent
OT Eric Winston
DT Devon Still
TE Kevin Brock (as exclusive-rights free agent)
CB Chris Lewis-Harris (as exclusive-rights free agent)

OLB Emmanuel Lamur (second-round tender offered)

Lost to free agency
OT Marshall Newhouse (signed with the New York Giants as an unrestricted free agent)
CB Terence Newman (signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an unrestricted free agent)
S Taylor Mays (signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an unrestricted free agent)

OL Mike Pollak
DE Robert Geathers
WR Greg Little

Remaining unsigned Bengals unrestricted free agents
TE Jermaine Gresham
QB Jason Campbell
RB Cedric Peerman
WR Dane Sanzenbacher
WR Brandon Tate
TE Alex Smith

*-Denotes a former Bengal who was signed for a second stint with the team.

CINCINNATI -- All of a sudden, the pool of talent on the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive line has grown deep.

The team's primary offseason objective has been accomplished.

Fresh off a year in which their defensive line was arguably the weakest link of a defense that ranked 22nd in the league, the Bengals put much of their focus on shoring up the ineffective front. With a league-low 20 sacks -- one of the worst sack totals in franchise history -- the Bengals were graded by Pro Football Focus as having the worst pass rush in the NFL in 2014.

[+] EnlargeMichael Johnson
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesWith the re-signing of Michael Johnson and other additions, the Bengals now have 12 players for nine spots on the D-line.

Thursday's signing of former Bengal defensive tackle Pat Sims was a prime example of how they've devoted much of their free-agency plans to bolstering the defensive line. With that signing the Bengals soon will have big decisions to make when it comes to determining who actually plays on the line.

When the offseason began, it was unclear exactly how they would address deepening the line's depth, but the Bengals still knew they needed to sign a veteran free agent with pass-rushing promise. If they could get at least one end and one tackle through free agency and the draft, they would have done exactly what they set out to do.

Along with Sims' signing this week, the Bengals also re-signed tackle Devon Still last week and brought back end Michael Johnson nearly a week prior after he spent the past year in Tampa Bay. Of their last four free-agency moves, three of them have come on the defensive line.

It means there are now 12 players competing for what's believed will be nine spots on the defensive line. That's five ends and four tackles. Another two linemen likely will make it onto the practice squad. And don't forget the probability another lineman could be on the horizon. Cincinnati could use one of its draft picks on a lineman, and could even go for a college free agent, too.

If they add only one lineman through the draft, that still means 13 players will be vying for nine spots.

So who makes the 53-man roster?

Well, there's a whole spring and summer of organized team activities (OTAs), minicamps, voluntary workouts and training camp to get through to find out. You won't find anyone around the team making any grand pronouncements about an opening-weekend roster in March.

But who are the most likely candidates to play this year?

At end, you'll certainly see Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Margus Hunt and Will Clarke. The Bengals are financially committed to Johnson and Dunlap and won't be cutting either of them, and it's clear coaches want to get Hunt and Clarke more involved. One has to imagine Wallace Gilberry factors into the mix, too, as he can get back into being more of the true third-down rusher that he was before Johnson left last year. Some of that also depends upon what the Bengals do in the draft. Sam Montgomery could be one of the practice squad players.

At tackle, Geno Atkins isn't going anywhere. Neither is backup Brandon Thompson or veteran Domata Peko (for now). The staff likes Peko's locker-room presence, but the talent around him means he could be in for a battle this summer to prove he still belongs on the field. Likely competing for the fourth and potentially final tackle position are Still, Sims and Kwame Geathers. If Montgomery will be one practice squad lineman, Geathers could be the other.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers are ever going to use a first-round draft pick again on a cornerback – they have not done so since 1997 – this would appear to be the year to do it.

Cornerback and outside linebacker are the Steelers’ biggest need with the draft five weeks away.

And with the draft “rich” in pass-rushers, according to coach Mike Tomlin, it makes sense for the Steelers to address cornerback first and then target outside linebackers.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said the three most likely cornerback candidates for the Steelers to pick in the first round are Washington’s Marcus Peters, LSU’s Jalen Collins and Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson.

All three come with concerns.

Peters was kicked off Washington’s team last November after a series of run-ins with coaches. Collins started only 10 games in three seasons at LSU and recently underwent foot surgery. Johnson, meanwhile, might be better playing off coverage and the Steelers like to use their cornerback in press coverage.

But all three are widely projected as first-round picks – the Steelers have the No. 22 overall selection -- and for good reason.

Peters might be the most talented cornerback in the draft and Collins might be the best long-term prospect at the position. Johnson, meanwhile, is polished and experienced and oozes confidence, a trait that is critical for cornerbacks.

Two cornerbacks to also keep an eye on when it comes to the Steelers, Kiper said, are UConn’s Byron Jones and Utah's Eric Rowe.

Jones tested as well as anyone as the NFL combine, is a high-character kid and has position flexibility. Like Jones, Rowe tested well at the combine and also has experience playing safety.

“He tested like a first-round and played like a high pick as well at a variety of positions,” Kiper said of Rowe.

Jones did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine because he was still recovering from shoulder surgery. But he set a broad jump record with 12 feet, 3 inches – no one had ever exceeded 12 feet at the combine -- and also recorded a vertical leap of 44 inches.

“He's a really good 40 time away from having one of the better corner workouts we've ever seen," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said after the combine.

Jones is slated to run next Tuesday at UConn’s pro day and it will be interesting to see who the Steelers send to Storrs to watch the workout.

Florida State is also staging its pro day on March 31, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that is among the annual showcases he never misses.

Jones will only boost his draft stock if he runs at his pro day. Kiper said on Thursday that it would not “shock” him if Jones works his way into the first round and is selected in the range where the Steelers pick.