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What AFC North roster moves mean

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The AFC North wasted no time making interesting roster moves this week, as both the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens got started for 2009 on Monday.

Baltimore released former three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister while Cincinnati placed a franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham. Let's take a deeper look at both moves.


What's in it for the Ravens?

The biggest thing for Baltimore is that the team saves $8 million in salary cap room and actual money by releasing McAlister. He was a great player for 10 seasons in Baltimore, but his age and injury history did not make him an $8-million player.

The cap room creates space for the Ravens to have more room to negotiate with top-level in-house free agents such as center Jason Brown and linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott. It would have been impossible for Baltimore to make a run at all of these players with McAlister's salary still on the books.

But this also leaves another big hole for the Ravens in the secondary. Baltimore will need to use the draft or free agency to address this need.


What's in it for the Bengals?

Although it can be viewed as strange to franchise a kicker, the Bengals likely were not going to get a long-term deal done with Graham by next week. It's possible the team will not get a deal complete with Graham period, so this is a safe move.

Graham is a solid kicker with great accuracy. Whether he is a top five kicker, which is what he will be paid ($2.483 million) with the tag, is up for debate. But regardless, Cincinnati gets to keep its best special teams player.

But perhaps the biggest news is that Cincinnati will not use the franchise tag on former Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He is the Bengals' top free agent this year and likely will get to test the open market.

Cincinnati has a history of not outbidding teams for its top free agents, and that could happen again this offseason with Houshmandzadeh.