Browns, Bengals and Dolphins among first teams in Porter hunt

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Teams lined up quickly by yesterday to enter the Joey Porter sweepstakes, including two of the Steelers' AFC North Division rivals.

Cincinnati and Cleveland were among those who talked to Porter's agent, Jeff Sperbeck, along with Miami and others.

"We're weighing the various levels of interest and where the terms of the contracts are," Sperbeck said yesterday.

No visits by Porter are scheduled and likely won't happen until next week "when we have it narrowed down and decide who has the most interest and the fit that's best for him," Sperbeck said.

Porter would like to top the $5 million salary he was to receive this season from the Steelers before they released him Thursday in what Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations, labeled a salary-cap move.

The Steelers cut Porter five days before he was due a $1 million roster bonus, but they paid a $1 million roster bonus to guard Alan Faneca that came due yesterday as part of his $4,375,000 salary in the final year of his contract.

And, while they were busy extending defensive end Aaron Smith's contract earlier in the week, there has been no such progress made with their All-Pro guard who has been to the past six Pro Bowls. There does not appear to be a new contract for Faneca on the horizon.

Colbert admitted releasing Porter left the Steelers thin at outside linebacker, but they did nothing as free agency began yesterday to try to fill the gap and likely won't for a while.

The Steelers planned to take their usual methodical steps in free agency, preferring to concentrate on their players and the draft rather than make a big splash into the free-agent pool.

"History will probably repeat itself," Colbert said. "There's not a lot of great players available. Even at that, you still have to let this thing settle in a little bit because there will be other players getting terminated, just as Joey was terminated."

If they do sign an outside linebacker in free agency, it would more likely be a younger player who would not cost much. They also took a big interest in the outside linebackers and defensive ends at the combine workouts in Indianapolis last week and could make one their first draft choice. New coach Mike Tomlin has not said whether the Steelers will stay with a 3-4 defense or switch to the one he has coached throughout his NFL career, the 4-3. They also could play both.

Tomlin has said the talent on the team will determine the structure of the defense.

Absent another signing or a rookie stepping in, James Harrison likely would move into Porter's job at right outside linebacker, unless Clark Haggans is switched from the left side. Harrison has played in 44 games and started eight in his three-year career.

Arnold Harrison is the only other outside linebacker on the roster with NFL experience, and he gained it briefly in his first season in 2006 with two starts before he went on the injured-reserve list Oct. 31 with a knee injury.

Starting inside linebacker James Farrior played a season on the outside with the New York Jets.

The Steelers also pretty much took themselves out of the market to sign another running back after they came to terms with Najeh Davenport on a two-year deal Thursday for $2 million. It's more likely they will draft a halfback than sign a free agent.

One of the surprise moves they did not make came when they kept punter Chris Gardocki on the roster. He is 37 years old and has a $1 million salary in 2007.

As for Porter, if his play slowed down last season, his emotions did not, and a team might value that. His leadership as part of the package, especially if he were to go to a team such as Cincinnati.

Porter, though, is suited more for a 3-4 defense, which the Bengals do not run. But they do run it in Miami and Cleveland, teams against which Porter had big games last season.

"Well, of course [we're interested]," Browns coach Romeo Crennel told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"Everybody should be interested in Joey, particularly 3-4 teams. But along with that, you also have to look at what it's going to cost for some of these guys, and Joey's coming out late. He's into it late, so we'll have to see how that plays out and see how he would fit with the team."

The Browns started first-round 2006 draft choice Kamerion Wimbley in the spot Porter played with the Steelers.

"On that right side, we do have a young player that we like quite a bit on our team right now," Crennel said, "but we might be able to put him over there [on the left] or put Joey over there."

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter's services are in demand in NFL free agency.
Click photo for larger image.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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