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Free-agency outlook

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AFC North

Ravens: They need to move quickly to re-sign Jeff Blake or go after Kordell Stewart to resolve the quarterback issue. With ample cap space, they have the money to land wide receiver David Boston and one of the better defensive linemen (Tennessee's John Thornton?). That might allow them to pick an offensive tackle high in the draft.

Cincinnati: With more than $9 million in cap space, the Bengals can match any offer to retain linebacker and transition player Takeo Spikes, a vital cog in Marvin Lewis' reshaped defense. Getting free agents to move to Cincinnati has long been a problem, but Lewis at least has their attention now. Washington's Daryl Gardener might be his first target.

Cleveland: The Browns are more than $22 million over the cap limit and several roster bonuses are due tomorrow. Few of those will be met, starting with linebacker Jamir Miller's $14 million bonus. Other potential casualties include defensive linemen Orpheus Roye, linebacker Earl Holmes and cornerback Corey Fuller.

Pittsburgh: Although the Steelers have been re-signing their best players before they reach free agency, left tackle Wayne Gandy is about to test the market. He would be a big loss. Cutting Stewart recoups his $6.3 million salary, but losing Charlie Batch would mean the Steelers have to find another quarterback behind Tommy Maddox.

AFC East

Buffalo: Whether the Bills keep wide receiver Peerless Price or not, defense is their top priority this offseason. They need to get better up front and they'd like to keep linebacker Keith Newman, who should get some decent offers. Without a first-round pick, Buffalo needs to be productive in free agency.

Miami: Even though Ricky Williams led the league in rushing last season, the Dolphins will retool their offensive line, starting at left tackle. If tackle Mark Dixon returns, it'll be at guard. Center Tim Ruddy and guard Todd Perry must restructure their deals or be cut. The Dolphins also need to sign a veteran receiver with the impending loss of Oronde Gadsden.

New England: Some $6 million over the cap, the Patriots must get restructured contracts from linebackers Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson and defensive end Anthony Pleasant, or they're gone. The franchising of safety Tebucky Jones may not necessarily mean he's coming back. While getting younger on defense, the Patriots also need an upgrade at running back. They may be in the market for Washington's Stephen Davis.

New York Jets: They revamped their defense a year ago and now face the loss of right guard Randy Thomas and kicker John Hall. If Thomas leaves, the Jets likely will pursue Oakland's Mo Collins. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles is a restricted free agent who would be very attractive on the open market.

AFC South

Houston: The Texans have a ton of free agents and a longer list of needs. Right tackle Ryan Young, inside linebacker Jay Foreman and safety Eric Brown will probably attract the most attention. With left tackle Tony Boselli still an unknown, the beleaguered offensive line remains a trouble spot. The Texans must shore up to protect quarterback David Carr. They also want a running back badly.

Indianapolis: Letting outside linebacker Mike Peterson get to free agency was a bold - or reckless - move for a team that needs to upgrade its defense. Peterson is one of the best free agents available at any position, but there are a lot of linebackers available this year. Defensive end Brad Scioli and center Jeff Saturday are other possible key defections.

Jacksonville: The Jaguars are beginning to see the light at the end of their salary cap tunnel. They will have at least $7 million to spend on free agents and have franchised safety Donovin Darius. They'll probably lose running back Stacey Mack and will probably cut defensive end Tony Brackens after June 1. They also would like to redo quarterback Mark Brunell's contract. New coach Jack Del Rio has his work cut out.

Tennessee: Restructuring quarterback Steve McNair's contract helped chip away at a $14 million cap deficit, but the Titans will have to do more pruning. They probably can't keep Thornton, one of the top defensive linemen in free agency. And they'll let wide receiver Kevin Dyson go. But they kept punter Craig Hentrich with the transition tag.

AFC West

Denver: Thanks to several bad free-agent decisions, the Broncos were $15 million over the cap before cutting three starters this week, including cornerback Denard Walker and defensive tackle Chester McGlockton. They're ready to move quarterback Brian Griese, too. Altogether, the Broncos need to clear some $20 million of cap space, ostensibly to bring in quarterback Jake Plummer.

Kansas City: After fielding the worst defense in the league, the Chiefs are eyeing major changes. They'd like to replace defensive end Duane Clemons with Philadelphia's Hugh Douglas, and they like Eagles linebacker Shawn Barber, too. They can use help in the secondary, as well.

Oakland: Nearly $50 million over the cap, the Raiders have some serious cutting to do. Expect them to turn loose defensive tackles Sam Adams and Darrell Russell, cornerback Tory James and perhaps wide receiver Tim Brown, who carries a $7.88 million cap number. The Raiders have 12 players with cap figures over $4 million, so the cutting should be obvious.

San Diego: The Chargers' best players already are locked up, so they won't lose much in free agency. Defensive end Adrian Dingle might attract some attention. More critical is emerging left tackle Damion McIntosh, a restricted free agent.

NFC North

Chicago: It appears the Bears want to land their quarterback in free agency and apply the fourth pick in the draft toward the defensive line. Getting it done is another story. They like free agent Jake Delhomme of New Orleans, but would have to give starter's money to make it happen. Because general manager Jerry Angelo is from Tampa Bay, the Bears could be interested in Shaun King, too.

Detroit: Remodeling an aging, underachieving roster is the priority for new coach Steve Mariucci. The Lions not only have to get younger, they also have to add more talent. Waiting for Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers in the draft, they probably can upgrade the defense in free agency, especially at linebacker.

Green Bay: The Packers opted to use the transition tag on defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt, who has two strikes in the league's substance-abuse program, rather than defensive end Vonnie Holliday, in part because of durability. Holliday missed six games last year with injuries. Green Bay needs to upgrade at linebacker after disappointing years from Hardy Nickerson and Nate Wayne.

Minnesota: Although they are $25 million under the cap, the Vikings still will be frugal in free agency. They want a veteran quarterback - Charlie Batch? - to mentor Daunte Culpepper. They like Holliday and need help on the defensive line. A bigger need is in the secondary, however, and there's not much available.

NFC East

Dallas: Having escaped cap jail last year, the Cowboys have some tricky decisions. They'd like to keep left tackle Flozell Adams even though he didn't have a good year, as well as linebacker Kevin Hardy, who needs to renegotiate his contract. They also have to resolve the Emmitt Smith situation. New coach Bill Parcells is expected to bid for Plummer.

New York Giants: Rarely are the Giants active in free agency, but they'll need to ante up to keep their offensive line intact. Three starters - tackles Luke Petitgout and Mike Rosenthal and guard Jason Whittle - are free agents. Petitgout is the priority. Center Chris Bober is a restricted free agent, as well.

Philadelphia: The Eagles could lose both Douglas, their pass-rushing end, and Barber from their defense. They don't like to overpay players on the downside, which will make it hard to keep Douglas. They need to improve their receiving corps, but might have to wait until the draft.

Washington: After starting six different guards last year, coach Steve Spurrier is looking for help in the interior line. They'd like to get the Jets' Thomas or the Raiders' Collins. First, Spurrier wants a big-play receiver to make his offense go. He already tried trading up for Michigan State's Rogers in the draft. The Redskins will need to find a replacement at defensive tackle if Gardener goes.

NFC South

Atlanta: The Falcons re-signed linebacker Keith Brooking and now will pursue an explosive receiver for quarterback Michael Vick. They covet Price and still could get him from Buffalo in a trade. By releasing three starters this week, they were preparing for the financial commitment that will take.

Carolina: Even though they don't have a quarterback in place, the Panthers used their franchise tag on punter Todd Sauerbrun rather than Rodney Peete, who will be 37. They will seek a quarterback in free agency and probably the draft, as well.

New Orleans: The Saints appear resigned to losing Delhomme, the backup quarterback, to a team that makes him a starter. They are some $12 million under the cap and could make a run at a few free agents. Some of that money may go to retaining kicker John Carney or defensive end Willie Whitehead, though.

Tampa Bay: Without first- or second-round picks for the second straight year, the Buccaneers must attack the free-agent market as well as try to keep their own free agents. Safety Dexter Jackson, linebacker Shelton Quarles and left tackle Roman Oben are players they want to keep. Coach Jon Gruden also must find a backup quarterback and a young one for the future, probably in the draft.

NFC West

Arizona: The Cardinals didn't apply either tag to Boston or Plummer, so both figure to join the exodus of good players who left town. Because wide-outs MarTay Jenkins and Frank Sanders are free agents, the Cardinals could wind up with an entirely new receiving corps in addition to a new quarterback. It looks like they're starting over - again.

St. Louis: For all the intrigue over quarterback Kurt Warner, it appears he will stick with the Rams, $6 million option bonus and all. Getting Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace signed, even with the franchise tag, looms as a difficult chore. That could turn nasty. The Rams need to keep cornerback Dre' Bly and want to keep tight end Ernie Conwell.

San Francisco: With a cap deficit around $6.5 million, the 49ers have to do some shuffling that could cost them defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, who has a $3 million salary and a $700,000 roster bonus. Defensive end Chike Okeafor is the only free-agent starter, but because of the market, he may be hard to retain.

Seattle: For the second straight year, the Seahawks used their franchise tag on left tackle Walter Jones. But they stand to lose outside linebacker Anthony Simmons and defensive end Antonio Cochran from a defense that was terrible. Simmons will be highly sought. Not a good way to start the rebuilding process under new coordinator Ray Rhodes.

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