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Tag:Pittsburgh Steelers
Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:34 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:34 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency Previews: AFC North

Can Baltimore do enough this offseason to stay ahead of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati? (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Baltimore Ravens

In 2011, for the fourth time in John Harbaugh's four years as head coach, the Ravens made the playoffs, this time sweeping the Steelers and winning the AFC North in the process. But this team isn't without issues -- questions about Joe Flacco and the passing game linger, the defensive leaders are old, and fans still aren't sold on Harbaugh, especially in big games. Despite the concerns, Baltimore is annually one of the NFL's best teams, thanks largely to general manager Ozzie Newsome's keen ability to put together a roster. 

Free agents of note
The team wisely franchised its best offensive weapon, running back Ray Rice, and now maybe Harbaugh can convince coordinator Cam Cameron to actually use him … Center Matt Birk apparently won't retire this offseason and he'll meet with the team soon to talk about a new deal … That holds for guard Ben Grubbs, too, considered Baltimore's best offensive lineman. The two sides have spoken about a long-term contract but progress has been slow … Linebacker Jarret Johnson might be the Ravens' most underrated defender. If he doesn't return, Jets head coach Rex Ryan is reportedly interested in bringing him to New York … Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams are restricted free agents but the former could draw some interest even if he receives a first-round tender.

Needs
Flacco was sacked 31 times last season, a career low, but the offensive line is still an issue. They signed Bryant McKinnie off the street to play left tackle and if Grubbs hits free agency, the left side will be a liability.

In the last two offseasons, Baltimore brought in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans and neither impressed. Derrick Mason was Flacco's security blanket for his first three seasons, and now that distinction has fallen to Anquan Boldin (and you could even argue Ray Rice). While Torrey Smith made progress his rookie season, Baltimore needs a quality third receiver to go with their young, emerging tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

Targets
Newsome doesn't look to be a big player in free agency because of salary-cap limitations, but Mike Wallace makes a ton of sense if the asking price is a low first-rounder. And while they won't be able to afford guard Carl Nicks, Pro Football Focus suggests that Evan Mathis could be an affordable alternative should Grubbs get away and Mathis doesn't return to Philly.

Cincinnati Bengals

The 2011 Bengals took everyone by surprise, and that includes head coach Marvin Lewis, who probably had no idea what to expect when he re-upped in January, jettisoned Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and watched as Carson Palmer sat out the season before eventually being traded. Cincy drafted a big-play wideout, a smart, accurate quarterback, started both and ended up in the playoffs. Go figure. If the Bengals are to improve in Year 2, they'll need to upgrade the players around Andy Dalton.

Free agents of note
Running back Cedric Benson made the most of a second chance in Cincy but he won't be back … Wide receiver Jerome Simpson pleaded guilty to drug charges recently and his NFL future is uncertain … Guard Bobbie Williams will likely be replaced and Pacman Jones probably won't be re-signed either … The Bengals would like to keep defensive ends Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker … They franchised kicker Mike Nugent.

Needs
A.J. Green was a godsend but Simpson's legal trouble and Andre Caldwell's inconsistency means that Dalton could use another outside threat. Same holds for the running backs. Bernard Scott will get more carries as a result Benson's departure, but he's not an every-down back (is anybody in today's NFL?). Either way, there isn't much depth behind him unless you think Brian Leonard is a viable second option. With Williams' departure, there's a need at right guard, too.

Targets
The Bengals have some $60 million in cap space and they could address a whole heap of needs … except they rarely go big in free agency. So look for them to focus on less expensive, second-tier players. PFF mentioned Jerricho Cotchery, and Eddie Royal would make sense, too. Effective running backs can be had for cheap, and if none are available before the draft, the Bengals could find one in the later rounds.

Cleveland Browns

Pat Shurmur's first season was a forgettable one (and it's a good bet that, thanks to James Harrison, Colt McCoy has already forgotten it). There were allegations that the offense was too predictable, but this is what happens when a second-year quarterback is without his Pro Bowl running back, doesn't have a go-to receiver, and the offense line struggles to keep him upright. Depending on what happens in free agency and the draft, McCoy's window might already be closed.

Free agents of note
Madden curse victim Peyton Hillis wasn't franchised and has since been reduced to publicly stating that he'd take a hometown discount to stay in Cleveland (and he has no plans to join the CIA) … However, the Browns did franchise 37-year-old kicker Phil Dawson.

Needs
After a promising rookie season, McCoy regressed in Year 2, but again, that wasn't entirely his fault. That said, this is the NFL and second and third chances are rarely granted because of ill-timed misfortune. McCoy should get an opportunity to compete for the starting job but he won't head into training camp with his name atop the depth chart.

Hillis was a flake in 2011 and the Browns can't trust him to show up from one week to the next. Even if he returns on the cheap, they'll need depth behind him.

Greg Little was the team's second-round pick in 2011 but he's raw. He struggled with dropped passes as a rookie but the bigger issue is that Cleveland didn't have a legitimate deep threat.

Targets
There's the possibility that Cleveland makes a move for Robert Griffin III, and even if that doesn't happen, if the Cardinals release Kevin Kolb, the Browns would certainly be interested. Matt Flynn is also a possibility should Peyton Manning end up in Miami.

Whether through the draft or free agency, the Browns haveto find a wideout. Look what A.J. Green did for the Bengals if you need proof for why they're important. Where they find said wideout is a different story. We can't imagine Vincent Jackson would want to come to Cleveland with the QB situation unsettled, but the Browns have two first-rounders. If they don't have to mortgage them both to get RG3, they could address other needs -- including WR -- in Round 1.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Free agents of note
Gone are many of the players responsible for the Steelers' three Super Bowl appearances since 2005: Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Bryant McFadden and Chris Kemoeatu were all released. Backup defensive tackle Chris Hoke retired, and left tackle Max Starks, who came off his couch to bolster the o-line midway through the '11 season, won't be re-signed. With Mike Wallace a restricted free agent, the Steelers have two wideouts currently under contract (Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders) … Jerricho Cotchery would like to return -- and the team wants him back -- but they'll need to so some salary-cap gymnastics to make it happen … Third-down back Mewelde Moore could return but he's not a priority … Cornerback William Gay was a solid starter but he excels as a nickel back. Again: the cap could determine if he's back … Starting guards Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster are both restricted free agents.

Needs
If Willie Colon can stay healthy, the Steelers should be set at tackle (second-year player Marcus Gilbert will move to the left side in 2012). And with Maurkice Pouncey at center and either Foster or Legursky at right guard, the only gaping hole will be at left guard (which was pretty much the case when Kemoeatu was still with the team).

With Ward and Cotchery now free agents and Wallace a possible target for WR-needy teams, the Steelers need to find depth behind third-year players Brown and Sanders.

Farrior's age (37) and salary necessitated his departure but now Pittsburgh needs to find their next young menacing linebacker to replace him. Larry Foote can serve as the bridge to whomever will end up playing alongside Lawrence Timmons.

There was speculation that nose tackle Casey Hampton could become a cap casualty but he's currently with the team. Still, with Hoke and Smith's departure, Pittsburgh could stand to add some warm bodies along the defensive line.

Targets
Typically, the Steelers don't make many splashy free-agent signings and that'll again be the case this offseason. They'd love to have Cotchery back, as well as find ways to re-sign Moore and possibly Gay (not to mention keep Wallace). Expect them to target an offensive lineman, linebacker or defensive lineman in the early rounds of the draft.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:33 pm
 

2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers

Jackson's a big winner Monday, as he escaped the franchise tag like it was a defensive back. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

A record 21 players received a franchise tag in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, including six kicker-types. You can see everyone that got tagged at our 2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker. Let's break down the winners and losers below.

Winners

Vincent Jackson: Jackson held out most of 2010 because he wanted to get paid. He then signed his franchise-tag tender in 2011 because he wanted to get guaranteed money. Now that the Bolts declined to tag him, he's going to get filthy rich as one of the top two wide receivers to hit the free-agent market on March 13. Jackson and Marques Colston are the two top talents on a market that features several teams -- the Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, and Seahawks, to name a few -- in need of a wideout.

Carl Nicks: Nicks reportedly hasn't heard anything on a new deal from the Saints and with New Orleans not reaching a deal with quarterback Drew Brees before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, Nicks is going to hit the open market on March 13. He's 26, a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in

Matt Flynn: Flynn wasn't expected to receive a tag from the Packers, but it's official now, and that means he'll hit the free-agent market. This is critical for Flynn given the number of quarterback-needy teams out there. It's also critical because the Packers won't control his next destination; if they tagged Flynn for the price of $14.4 million guaranteed (which he would sprint to sign), then they'd almost certainly end up trading him. Now Flynn gets to land a bigger contract on the open market.

Brandon Carr: The Chiefs decided to use their franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe. That's a smart move, considering they signed cornerback Stanford Routt recently. But it also means that Carr, a 25-year-old defensive back coming off his best season in 2011, will have the chance to hit the open market. Young free-agent cornerbacks are a coveted commodity, and Carr should expect to get paid handsomely.

Stevie Johnson: The leverage of the guaranteed money involved with using the franchise tag on a wide receiver ($9.4 million) coupled with the deadline on Monday really escalated the talks with the Bills and Johnson, and he ended up netting a deal worth $7.25 million per year. That's not exactly on par with the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, but

Losers

Wes Welker: The Pats could very well end up getting Wes Welker signed to a long-term deal, but he can't be happy about being put in a situation that could have him not reaching full free agency until he turns 32 (he'll turn 31 in May of this offseason) if the Patriots simply want him to play another year on the franchise-tag value. Welker would've hit a market that paid him handsomely and it might be difficult for the Patriots to pay him the money he wants over longer period of time. We could see a holdout here.

New Orleans Saints: As if things weren't bad enough for the Saints -- see here, here, here, here, here and, whew, here -- they're likely going to lose their top wide receiver (Marques Colston) and one of their top offensive linemen (Nicks) to free agency. Their quarterback (Drew Brees) is not happy with his contract situation, and losing two weapons like that won't do much to improve his mood. So once they get done with BountyGate, there should be plenty of more fun to deal with.

Cliff Avril
: Detroit should be thrilled that they bring Avril back, but that doesn't mean the defensive end has to be happy. He's not, because he knows he'd kill on the open market this season. He'll get more than $10 million guaranteed next year and that's why it seemed possible that the Lions could let him walk -- they've got more than half their salary cap tied up in Avril, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson next year. So there's some good news: the Lions very much would like to lock up Avril to a long deal.

Houston Texans
: The Texans locked up Arian Foster to a five-year deal that takes him through his 30-year-old season, which is perfect timing for a running back. But it's also giving a lot of money to a running back. (Foster is a tremendously talented guy, a perfect fit for what the Texans do, a great pass-blocker, a great pass-catcher and many other things. But he is still a running back.) On that same day, they were unable to secure Mario Williams, who was their No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Super Mario will become a free agent, and unless he's willing to take a serious discount to stay with the Texans, it's hard to fathom how they keep him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seemed like the Steelers decision to go on a cutting spree and get below the salary-cap line would result in them using the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, who's a restricted free agent. They didn't and because of a confluence of events, they could be in trouble. One, Stevie got $7.2 million a year just now. Two, Jackson and Colston will get big money in free agency. And three, various tags on other high-profile wide receivers will draw more interest for teams that could consider giving Wallace an offer sheet. He may very well end up staying with the Steelers, but there's at least reason to be concerned.

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:48 am
 

Farrior's time with Steelers comes to a close

After a decade in Pittsburgh, Farrior will be released. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Yet another longtime Steelers player is done in Pittsburgh. That’s the word from agent Ralph Cindrich, who tweeted Friday morning that his client, linebacker James Farrior, will not be back with the Steelers in 2012.

“#JamesFarrior has been a rock for the #Steelers but the #Turk takes no prisoners -- he's gone,” wrote Cindrich.

The move to release the 15-year veteran who spent the past 10 years in Pittsburgh (he started his career with the Jets in 1997) is only the latest Steelers casualty as the team tries to get under the salary cap so it, we assume, can sign receiver Mike Wallace to a deal.

Already, Pittsburgh has released defensive end Aaron Smith and cleared the roster spot formerly taken by receiver Hines Ward, and as CBSSports.com’s Ryan Wilson points out, linebacker Larry Foote and nose tackle Casey Hampton also are on the potential chopping block.

Since he landed in Pittsburgh in 2002, Farrior has been a consistent force, recording at least 100 tackles in nine of the next 10 seasons. But his production fell off a bit last year, and at the age of 37, he clearly is slowing down. Farrior was due $2.825 million in 2012, the last year of his contract.

And at this point, you have to wonder if Farrior is done altogether from the game.  

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:34 am
 

Roethlisberger, Haley quickly becoming BFFs

Haley, left and Roethlisberger, center, had a good phone conversation, which must have pleased Tomlin. (US PRESSWIRE)
By Josh Katzowitz

Because the drama for when new Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley would call quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first time was so heavy -- it took more than two weeks after Haley was hired! -- we felt compelled to follow up with the news of how well the phone meeting actually went.

You, of course, will be happy to know that it went really, really well*.

*Just pretend we’re having this conversation in a high school hallway, and we’re gossiping about the potential newest power couple in class. Then, the enthusiasm shown above makes a little more sense.

"It was a really good talk," Roethlisberger, who spoke with Haley for about 15 minutes, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "Unfortunately, we can't talk football right now and that's one of the big things I wanted to talk about.

Pittsburgh's offensive upheaval
"So it was just me talking to him, about golf, his family, my family, him having been a ballboy here, just things like that. It was a good start and I felt it was a good step in the right direction.”

Initially, Roethlisberger blew off the call because he didn’t recognize the phone number that popped up on his ID. But after listening to the voice message, he immediately called back Haley to have a chat.

According to NFL rules, the two can’t actually talk football until mid-April, so instead, they began to build a relationship -- personal or otherwise.

“I think it will be a good working relationship -- and good friendship, who knows," Roethlisberger said.

Look, CBSSports.com’s Ryan Wilson had it right when he wrote that this so-called controversy wasn’t a big deal. But at the same time, if Roethlisberger felt disrespected by Haley’s decision not to make contact for a few weeks, it becomes a bigger story. Especially when you remember this quote from Roethlisberger after Haley was hired to replace Bruce Arians, a Roethlisberger favorite: “I've gotten a lot of calls and texts and emails from people around the league, both good and bad about him. Everybody has an opinion, as we all know, and they're letting me know what their interaction with him was -- good, bad and indifferent. I've heard a lot of things and I'm looking forward to meeting him and forming my own opinion.”

Now that they’ve finally met and talked, it seems like, so far, the Roethlisberger’s opinion is a positive one. And maybe this story, at least until training camp begins, can be left alone for a while.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:08 pm
 

Report: Steelers to release DE Aaron Smith

Ward and Smith were the two remaining players the organization had drafted in the 1990s. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Steelers' veteran purge continues: a day after Pittsburgh announced that they would release wide receiver Hines Ward, defensive end Aaron Smith is next in line, according to NFL Network's Jason La Canfora.

NFL News, Notes
Smith, like Ward, was drafted in the 1990s, and was an integral part to the team's success for much of the 2000s. But after starting every game but one from 2000-2006, Smith missed five games in 2007, and played in just 15 games from 2009-11 while he recovered from an assortment of injuries. In Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme, the defensive ends aren't pass-rushing specialists; instead, they're responsible for taking on blocks (and often double-teams) while the linebackers behind them make the tackles.

At the height of his career, Smith was considered the prototypical 3-4 end. And while he wasn't a household name, his talents didn't go unnoticed; Patriots head coach Bill Belichick once singled him out as one if his favorite players to watch. But that was before injuries and age caught up to him.

Now 35, Smith's fate doesn't come as a surprise. In four games in 2011, he wasn't nearly the player the Steelers had watched for more than a decade. And with the organization's current salary-cap situation, there were going to be some roster casualties. On Wednesday, it was Ward, one of the best players in team history. Thursday it appears to be Smith. And in the coming weeks and months, linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote, and nose tackle Casey Hampton could also see their careers in Pittsburgh come to an end.

But the Steelers have been preparing for this day; they drafted defensive linemen Ziggy Hood in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in 2011. Hood started nine games in 2010 and 14 games last season, while Heyward saw action in 16 games as a rookie.

Every offseason comes with player turnover, but the Steelers roster could look much different in 2012, especially if Mike Wallace ends up elsewhere.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 11:09 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 12:21 am
 

Report: Steelers will tender Wallace, not tag

Pittsburgh might decide to tender Wallace, a restricted free agent, instead of franchise tagging him. (Getty Images)
By Josh Katzowitz

A day after announcing that they would cut Hines Ward, the Steelers are leaving themselves open for the possibility of another receiver leaving the team.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Steelers will tender -- and not franchise tag -- restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

Wallace is coming off a 72-catch, 1,193-yard, eight-touchdown season in Pittsburgh, where he led the team in all categories. He’s also one of the NFL’s best deep receiver threats, averaging 18.7 yards per catch in his three-year career. At this point, he’s a star in the making.

NFL News, Notes
The Steelers apparently will place a first-round tender on Wallace, but considering Pittsburgh’s salary-cap problems -- how many times is Ben Roethlisberger going to have to restructure his contract, anyway? -- it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another squad swoop in and offer Wallace a deal the Steelers can’t match.

The franchise tag would cost the Steelers about $9.4 million for 2012, and there’s little chance for the math to work. Pittsburgh now has to hope Wallace isn’t seen by the rest of the league as worthy of a first-round pick.

The Steelers claimed during the combine that they want Wallace to finish his career in Pittsburgh, as general manager Kevin Colbert said, “We think he's only scratched the surface in what he can do. There's a lot left there that still can be developed and we're anxious to see it happen as a Steeler."

But if the Steelers do, in fact, decide to tender Wallace instead of tag him, the chances of that actually happening will grow slimmer.

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Posted on: February 29, 2012 5:38 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 8:06 pm
 

Steelers set to release WR Hines Ward

Hines Ward was Super Bowl XL MVP and the face of the Steelers  for more than a decade. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

After 14 seasons, 1,000 receptions and 85 touchdowns, Hines Ward's tenure in Pittsburgh is all but over. It was once a matter of if, now it's when, and team president Art Rooney II provided those details Wednesday.

“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Rooney told the team’s website.

“Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines’ accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best.”

Ward released a statement of his own (via NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano):

"This isn't how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago," he said. "I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life. To Mr. Rooney, thank you for allowing me to play for one of the greatest organizations in the world. To my fans and in particular, Steeler Nation, thank you for your support and all the great memories. I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold. I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac tweeted Wednesday that the organization felt that Ward had nothing left.

gerrydulac
Decision to release 86 was not about money. He could've offered to play for free and wouldn't matter. Coaches feel he can't play anymore.
2/29/12 7:12 PM

gerrydulac
Ward would have been Sunday inactive if Steelers kept him. They didn't want him taking a roster spot at expense of developing young player.
2/29/12 7:14 PM

The 2011 season was Ward's worst since his rookie campaign; he lost his starting job to second-year standout Antonio Brown and managed just 46 catches for 381 yards (and a career-worst 8.3 YPC average), and two touchdowns. Part of Ward's decline can be blamed on age (he's 35), but he also suffered a severely sprained ankle in Week 4's loss to the Texans.

Whatever the explanation, the Steelers are ready to move on without him, which means that the 2012 offense will feature quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace -- assuming the team extends his contract (he won't be franchised, at least to hear general manager Kevin Colbert at last week's combine). The three wideouts, none older than 25, constitute one of the league's most dynamic receiver corps, which should make new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's job a lot easier.

Ward, meanwhile, thinks he has a few years left. It just won't be in Pittsburgh -- unless the team re-signs him later this the summer, perhaps an option given that there are currently three wide receivers on the roster. More likely: the Steelers make a run at Jerricho Cotchery, who they signed to a one-year deal before the 2011 season to be the No. 5 wideout. By December, he had also surpassed Ward on the depth chart and proved to be a capable underneath target and a willing blocker.

While the Steelers continue their free agency and draft preparations, and Ward contemplates his NFL future, the conversation will inevitably turn to the latter's Hall of Fame credentials. In our minds, he's a lock. Then again, we don't have a vote.

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Posted on: February 24, 2012 5:26 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2012 5:27 pm
 

Ravens unlikely to chase RFA Mike Wallace

Don't expect Baltimore to pursue Wallace off the field. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

INDIANAPOLIS -- Though the Steelers now look much more likely to retain wide receiver Mike Wallace, there's still a fear among Pittsburgh-area football fans that Wallace, a restricted free agent, could be lured away by another team. That team, according to GM Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh, won't be the Baltimore Ravens.

When asked about the Ravens going after potential restricted free agents, Newsome stressed the difficulty involved in doing so.

"The problem with going after a restricted free agent is that at that point, the player and the agent have all the leverage," Newsome said on Friday at the NFL combine. "Because you have to do a deal that you don't think the other team is going to match. And then giving up a first round pick -- with the new rules, that first-round pick, the amount of money you have to pay over the next four years, it's not like it was in the previous CBA.

"So you have to factor all of those things in before you decide to do it. There are some teams that have two [first-round picks] this year, but they'll be thinking about all those other ramifications."

Harbaugh was more blunt than Newsome, simply pointing out that pushing money towards a free-agent wide receiver simply isn't "smart" given the Ravens financial situation.

'I don’t see us spending high numbers on a wide receiver," Harbaugh said. "We just don’t have the cap room. It wouldn’t be smart."

And then there's this: the Ravens already have a deep-threat wide receiver. Asked about the need for one, with Torrey Smith on the roster, Newsome offered only good-natured, sarcastic-laced rhetorical questions.

"Did you watch us play this year? Do you think we need a deep threat?" Newsome said.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com