CLEVELAND -- Ahtyba Rubin played 13 games last season, hitting the 100-game mark in Cleveland after seven years with the team, playing out his four-year, $26.5-million deal.

Rubin
He wasn't healthy for 13 games. Not even close. Rubin said on Thursday he "really wasn't right the whole year."

Playing hurt -- as a result, not able to maximize his ability on the field -- could affect his free agency. There's a good chance the Browns will move on from Rubin after his 28-tackle, one-sack performance last season.

The way Rubin saw it, sitting wasn't an option. He wasn't playing for March dollars, he said.

Rubin, who twice injured his ankle during the season, is working out in Florida and expects to make a full recovery. He wore a protective boot for a while but did not need surgery.

"I didn't even think about my scenario -- if you're able to play, you should play," said Rubin about 2014. "I never even thought about not playing. I've just got to do the best I can now, making sure I'm in complete football shape when that time comes and perform at my best."

Rubin first injured his ankle in an early-season practice going against Alex Mack, Rubin said. The problem persisted, and Rubin got injured again in Week 16.

This will be Rubin's first time hitting the open market. He's played seven years and wants to log many more.

"This is a new situation for me," Rubin said. "I'm just letting my agent take care of everything. I want to get a good 12, 13 years in there."

Whether with the Browns or elsewhere, Rubin said he believes his team will get more of the player who earned the contract extension in 2011.

"I know what I can do," Rubin said. "For me to be struggling [last year], it was frustrating."
CINCINNATI -- The NFL still has yet to announce the official salary-cap spending limit teams will be allowed to hit this coming season, but recent reports have indicated it soon will be set around $143 million.

If that is the case, it means the Cincinnati Bengals will have about $36.5 million of cap space to work with, according to numbers ESPN Stats & Information updated Thursday afternoon.

Earlier this month, we reported a projection close to $33 million for the Bengals. That was using the previous $140-million-per-team projection.

Regardless of where the salary cap ultimately settles, the Bengals ought to have some of the most space to work with in the league. Based on Thursday's projections, they rank seventh in available cap space. Their anticipated $36.5 million is some $5 million shy of the team with the sixth-largest amount of cap space, the Indianapolis Colts. With an expected $67.1 million of cap space, the Jacksonville Jaguars pace all teams in the amount of money they will be able to spend this year.

It's good news for the Bengals, who typically are frugal with their offseason spending habits compared to other teams. Unlike last offseason, when the Bengals had multiple big-money, long-term extensions they wanted to take care of, this year they only have one. It's not even a necessity, either. With at least two more years to sign A.J. Green to a new contract, the Bengals don't have to be in a rush to extend the Pro Bowl receiver. That said, though, there is interest from both sides in possibly addressing an extension this year.

Even if they set aside money for Green, the Bengals still should be able to spend more freely in free agency. Coach Marvin Lewis already has indicated he anticipated the team being more aggressive on the free-agent market. With more than an $36 million to spend on this season alone, the Bengals ought to be able to re-sign some of their current free-agent targets and invest in another one or two who could warrant larger deals.

Ndamukong Suh still probably is off the table, but is Greg Hardy? Nick Fairley? We'll find out in about two weeks, when the Bengals can start spending.
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Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer may not believe in taking a wide receiver high in the draft, but the rest of the NFL world does.

Many mock drafts have the Browns pigeonholed into taking a wideout with the first of their two first-round picks, 12th overall. Almost all have them taking a wideout either 12th or 19th.

A consensus seems to be growing that the Browns won't be able to take the two top wideouts; Amari Cooper of Alabama or Kevin White of West Virginia are expected to go in the top 10.

That leaves a logical and appealing choice at 12: DeVante Parker of Louisville.

That's the player ESPN's Todd McShay has the Browns taking in his third mock draft Insider. And it makes good sense. Adams is a 6-foot-3 receiver who had 43 catches in six games after he returned from a broken foot. He averaged 142.5 yards per game and topped 200 against Florida and 180 against Kentucky. He is a logical, talented pick, and the Browns would do well to bring him to Cleveland.

The other general thinking from draft analysts is the Browns will use the 19th pick for a right tackle to replace or compete with Mitchell Schwartz. For whatever reason, the thinking is the team needs to upgrade at right tackle. Thus, McShay has them taking offensive tackle Ereck Flowers of Miami with their second first-round pick.

However, this does not jive with the Browns' feelings on Schwartz. The team does not believe he is a weak link.
"I thought Mitchell [Schwartz] had a good year for us," coach Mike Pettine said at the combine. "Had some plays he'd want to take back, but we feel good about where our offensive line is."

Pettine doesn't do a lot of dancing when he evaluates players, so to assume the Browns need to update a position the coach doesn't want to upgrade might not mesh.

To me, it still makes more sense for the Browns to think defensive front with the 19th pick.
Roger Goodell’s praise of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam provides a breeding ground for cynicism.

Goodell made clear he is a “big fan” of Haslam and Cleveland is "fortunate" to have him.

Perish the thought that this Browns offseason has turned into a dumpster fire, and that this dumpster fire follows last offseason, when the CEO, general manager and coach all were fired after one season.

The list of football foibles goes on and on.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesCleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has a strong supporter in Roger Goodell, according to comments he made in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday.
But then there’s the Pilot Flying J rebate fraud scandal. That’s the Knoxville, Tennessee, company Haslam runs, the one that paid $92 million to settle a federal investigation into rebate fraud and shelled out $85 million more to settle lawsuits related to the same issue. In paying the $92 million, Pilot accepted criminal responsibility for its employees cheating small trucking companies by not paying promised rebates.

Haslam said he never knew anything about the fraud scheme, that he was shocked to know it was going on. He promised to take action, and he did.

But now he’s saying some of the same things about his football team.

The team didn’t know how deep Johnny Manziel's issues were. It did its homework on Justin Gilbert but didn’t know his problems. Haslam knew nothing about his general manager sending text messages to coaches during games, in violation of league rules.

The commissioner said this at the Canton Civic Center on Wednesday: “I think this community, and I know this is Browns country, I think they're fortunate to have Jimmy Haslam as an owner, and we're fortunate to have him as an owner in the league.”

Roll out the cynicism.

Goodell earned $44 million in 2014, according to the SportsBusiness Daily. Goodell earns that money because of the 32 owners, of whom Haslam is one. And Haslam was one owner who raised ticket prices this offseason, in some cases 30 percent. An increase in ticket prices leads to … more revenue.

But Goodell is also in charge of a league that is trying to settle lawsuits from former players whose lives have been severely affected by head injuries. The 1985 Chicago Bears were the subject of a heartbreaking report on HBO’s "Real Sports." A recent ESPN.com story by Jim Trotter detailed the heartbreak of depression prevalent in ex-players, in part brought on by head injury.

The man in charge of this league gave Ray Rice only a two-game suspension, and the commissioner said he didn’t know what happened in the elevator between Rice and his then-fiancee (now wife). When the video inside the elevator surfaced, there were cries for Goodell to resign. He resisted, and his owners supported him.

Why they did is no great secret: Goodell drives revenues -- to more than $9 billion last year. Because he increases these revenues, the owners, Haslam among them, reward him. Goodell visits Canton and talks about how lucky Cleveland is to have Haslam.

This isn’t to say that Haslam isn’t trying to win or that Goodell doesn’t genuinely like the Browns owner. It would be silly to say otherwise.

But it’s just as silly to be so gushing. Wouldn’t a simple phrase such as, Jimmy is one of our 32 owners, and we certainly hope that his efforts work for Browns fans, be just fine?

In making such a statement, Goodell reaffirmed the belief that he is the commissioner of ownership, not the entire NFL.
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ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Thursday that it might make more sense for the Pittsburgh Steelers to use their first-round pick on a cornerback instead of an outside linebacker.

He based the opinion on players who could be available at No. 22 overall, not what is the bigger need for the Steelers.

Kiper Jr. said cornerbacks such as LSU’s Jalen Collins, Washington’s Marcus Peters, and Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson could all be on the board when the Steelers make their first pick of the draft.

The pool at outside linebacker won't be as deep with pass-rushers such as Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Missouri’s Shane Ray and Clemson’s Vic Beasley all expected to be taken before the 22nd pick.

Kentucky’s Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Virginia’s Eli Harold could be the Steelers’ best options in the first round if they pick an outside linebacker prospect, Kiper Jr. said.

Both tested very well at the NFL scouting combine, and Dupree is a physical specimen and an athletic marvel.

The 6-4, 260-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, recorded a 42-inch vertical leap, and a broad jump of 11-feet, 6-inches.

The one question teams may have about Dupree is why he did not take over games more often in college.

"You look at him in paper and say he’s a top-15 pick, at worst a top-25 pick," Kiper Jr. said. "But I didn’t see consistent domination, and I saw some instances where there was a little bit of a lack of great instincts to find the ball. To me he’s a first-round pick, but you want to see if you can make him more consistent. As a pass-rusher you turn him loose with that skill set, he flashed it."

Dupree recorded eight sacks last season and 23 for his career, so it’s not like there is a serious disconnect between his physical ability and production in college.

"I wouldn’t say he’s a boom-or-bust,” Kiper Jr. said, "but he’s not a guarantee, because his performances at Kentucky were a little bit up and down."
The release of receiver-returner Jacoby Jones on Wednesday meant the Baltimore Ravens parted ways with another player from their championship past.

Two years removed hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy, the Ravens only have 15 players currently under contract from their Super Bowl 53-man roster. If the Ravens don't re-sign any of their six free agents from that Super Bowl team, it would represent a 72 percent roster turnover in a matter of 24 months.

A few players retired like Ray Lewis and Matt Birk. Some landed contracts that the Ravens couldn't match like Paul Kruger, Arthur Jones, Dannell Ellerbe and Corey Graham. Others were cut like Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach. And a couple were traded like Anquan Boldin and Bryant McKinnie.

There are now more players from that Super Bowl team who were out of the league last year (18) than are currently under contract with the Ravens.

A look at the players who remain from the Super Bowl 53-man roster and the ones who are gone:

UNDER CONTRACT WITH RAVENS (15)

QB Joe Flacco, G Kelechi Osemele, G Marshal Yanda, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Terrell Suggs, LB Courtney Upshaw, RB Bernard Pierce, LB Albert McClellan, C Gino Gradkowski, DT DeAngelo Tyson, P Sam Koch, K Justin Tucker, CB Jimmy Smith, TE Dennis Pitta and CB Asa Jackson.

RAVENS FREE AGENTS (6)

WR Torrey Smith, WR-KR Jacoby Jones, NT Terrence Cody, LB Pernell McPhee, QB Tyrod Taylor and LS Morgan Cox.

WITH OTHER TEAMS (14)

WR Anquan Boldin (49ers), OT Michael Oher (Titans free agent), LB Paul Kruger (Browns), DT Arthur Jones (Colts), LB Dannell Ellerbe (Dolphins), CB Corey Graham (Bills), SS Bernard Pollard (Titans), TE Ed Dickson (Panthers), CB Cary Williams (Eagles), WR Tandon Doss (Jaguars), CB Chykie Brown (Giants), SS James Ihedigbo (Lions), LB Josh Bynes (Lions) and WR Deonte Thompson (Bills).

OUT OF NFL FOR PAST SEASON (18)

LB Ray Lewis, FS Ed Reed, RB Ray Rice, OT Bryant McKinnie, C Matt Birk, FB Vonta Leach, NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu, WR David Reed, RB Anthony Allen, SS Sean Considine, LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, G Bobbie Williams, TE Billy Bajema, CB Chris Johnson, FS Omar Brown, LB Adrian Hamilton, OT Ramon Harewood and LB Bryan Hall.
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds has probably played his last down for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Polamalu
 There have been no contract talks between the two sides, and the Steelers won’t use a transition tag to keep Worilds from becoming an unrestricted free agent on March 10.

Unless there is a sluggish market for Worilds -- something that is unlikely since he is only 26 years old and one of the better pass rushers who is poised to hit the open market -- the fifth-year veteran will be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Less certain is what will happen with strong safety Troy Polamalu.

The eight-time Pro Bowler is coming off a season in which he did not intercept a pass or record a sack for the first time since 2007. Polamalu turns 34 in April and has clearly lost a step, but he apparently has no plans on retiring.

Cornerback Ike Taylor told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh that Polamalu is already training with the intent of playing next season.

Polamalu is still under contract with the Steelers for two more seasons, but he is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015.

That is too much money for a player whose skills have declined but it is one thing to ask Taylor to take a pay cut -- something the Steelers did last year -- quite another to do it with Polamalu.

And that is if the Steelers want Polamalu back.

If the Steelers decide it is time to move on from Polamalu, it is not without recent precedent as far as cutting ties with an iconic player. It was, after all, just three years ago that the Steelers released Hines Ward, their all-time leading receiver, even though he clearly wanted to return for another season.

Ward's exit served as a stark reminder that the Steelers rarely, if ever, allow sentiment to enter the equation when faced with tough football or business decisions.

That probaly doesn't bode well for Polamalu unless there is a compromise to be found between the 12th-year veteran and the Steelers -- in the form of a pay cut.
Describing the Browns' pass-rushing situation is fairly simple -- Paul Kruger was the team's only outside linebacker to record more than two sacks last season.

Mingo
Kruger
Sacks aren't everything. Effective edge pressure can be just as important if it leads to the defense getting off the field. But sacks equal money for players, momentum for the team and loss of yardage for the opponent.

The Browns were scheduled to meet with Jabaal Sheard's reps at the NFL combine, but Drew Rosenhaus said a few weeks ago that Sheard is likely to test the market. Sheard is a versatile option. The sack totals aren't there (he did play injured last year, though). He might be interested in returning to a 4-3 scheme.

That leaves the Browns with Kruger, Barkevious Mingo (who also played hurt) and clear-cut backups. Simply put, the Browns need to add at least one rusher through the draft or free agency.

Here are three options:

1. Draft a stud at No. 12 or 19: This draft is so deep at stand-up rushers that even if Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler Jr., and Vic Beasley go in the top 10, the team still has options. Kentucky's Bud Dupree is still a bit raw but has wildly high upside. Virginia's Eli Harold had a strong combine.

2. Make a play for top Tier 2 free agents: Justin Houston is likely staying in Kansas City, and Buffalo's Jerry Hughes might command a huge deal (he could be enticing to former Bills DC Mike Pettine, though). But after that there are plenty of options available. Pernell McPhee is a hot name in NFL circles -- possibly too hot. His market is rising. Somebody's about to overpay. Philly's Brandon Graham or Pittsburgh's Jason Worilds (who's not getting franchised, per colleague Scott Brown) could be available in that range of $6 million or $7 million per season. Brian Orakpo could be a good value pickup because injuries might prevent the former first-round pick from commanding top dollar.

3. Count on Mingo making the jump and add backup depth at a low cost or in the draft's middle rounds: Clearly the Browns would like more from Mingo than seven sacks in 30 games, but Mingo earned street cred in a few areas last year -- he played through a shoulder injury all year, got better against the run and seemed more active as the season progressed. His speed is still ridiculous. The Browns can play him in coverage or let him run laterally to chase down running backs. That's where he's at his best. If he can channel aggressiveness every week (sometimes he looks passive as a rusher), he can break out in his third season. Still a bit on the thin side, too.

Don't be surprised if Mingo and Kruger are the slated starters going into camp, with the team adding depth.
The Baltimore Ravens made their first significant move of the offseason Wednesday, when they cut returner Jacoby Jones. You can expect a lot more from the Ravens as they free up salary-cap space before the start of free agency on March 10.

Here are six moves that could create over $15 million in cap space:

SALARY-CAP CASUALTIES

DE Chris Canty: Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday that he hasn't talked to Canty about whether he's going to retire, but it probably doesn't matter. There's little chance of Canty returning because of the Ravens' depth at defensive line and need for cap space. Cap savings: $2.66 million.

OL Gino Gradkowski: A performance escalator (Gradkowski was a starter in 2013) increased his base salary to $1.695 million, which is too high for a little-used backup. Cap savings: $1.574 million.

LB Albert McClellan: He's a core special-teams player, so there is a chance that McClellan remains. But, if the Ravens desperately need cap room, he is the next obvious player to go. Cap savings: $1 million.

RESTRUCTURE CONTRACT

CB Lardarius Webb: In a perfect world, the Ravens could get Webb to take a pay cut. His $8 million salary is too expensive for an average cornerback. But Webb knows the Ravens won't cut him because the team is vulnerable at cornerback. The likely move is restructuring Webb's deal like last year, when they converted a chunk of his base salary into a bonus and spread the hit over the remaining years of his contract. Cap savings: Potentially $3 million.

CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

DT Haloti Ngata: The only certainty is Ngata won't play under his current contract. His $16 million cap number, which is tops on the team, has to be reduced. Harbaugh expressed optimism at the NFL combine last week that an extension will get done with Ngata. That would give some cap relief to the Ravens and allow Ngata a chance to retire as a Raven. If the sides can't reach an agreement in 12 days, the Ravens will be forced to cut the five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman. Cap savings: $5 million (extension) or $8.5 million (if cut).

G Marshal Yanda: As I previously wrote, this is a win-win situation. The Ravens can make sure they'll have one of the NFL's best offensive linemen for the next four to five years, and Yanda can get the opportunity to be a Raven for life. Yanda is 30 and has shown no signs of wearing down. Cornerback Jimmy Smith and punter Sam Koch are also candidates for extensions, but Ngata and Yanda are the ones that have the best chance to get done before March 10. Cap savings: Around $2 million.
CINCINNATI -- One of the Cincinnati Bengals' greatest offseason needs involves getting receivers who also can provide good kick-return value.

With the possibility that unrestricted free agent Brandon Tate isn't re-signed, and given the fact the Bengals haven't added a true return specialist in several draft and free-agency cycles, there are compelling reasons as to why they are looking for players this year who fit that mold.

So can they just use free agency to address that need?

It's possible. And this week, they've been given two good options of free-agent kick-returning receivers.

Ginn
Ginn
Jones
But should the Bengals sign either Ted Ginn Jr. or Jacoby Jones, a pair of eight-year veterans who were released from their respective teams this week?

No.

Here's why. This year's draft class is full of speedy, athletic and productive pass-catchers who had success as kick returners throughout college. Unlike the near-30-year-old Ginn and the already 30 Jones, each of those players has projected upside and potential. Earlier this week, we looked at a few of them.

Various times this offseason, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has expressed an interest in going after fast wideouts who, like the 5-foot-11 Ginn, likely will be on the shorter side of the height chart. Only one of the prospect receivers in the link above is taller than 6-foot. Jones, at 6-2, is more of a bigger-bodied outside receiver. That alone likely rules him out.

One of the reasons the Bengals are expected to go after smaller receivers is because they need wideouts to play in the slot alongside the bigger A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. In addition to Tate, fellow slot receiver Dane Sanzenbacher also is eligible for unrestricted free agency, and also might not be re-signed. If one or both is gone, there will be an opening that must be filled.

The Bengals also favor smaller receivers because there is a belief that in the short-passing game, receivers of smaller stature are easily lost by the linebackers and safeties who might cover them. It's one of the reasons Cincinnati has liked lining up 5-9 running back Giovani Bernard in the slot and putting him on a linebacker. The times the Bengals did it last year, it worked. He caught two touchdown passes last season that were the product of using his speed to exploit such mismatches.

Again, this draft has many receivers who can do exactly that.

While the Bengals generally might be placing a greater emphasis on free agency this year, it doesn't appear they will be doing that with this particular position. Things can always change, but it seems they favor grooming a hybrid receiver/returner. Their approach at defensive end, however, might be different. In need of immediately bettering their anemic pass rush, veteran players there won't have to learn much. Their only charge will be to get after the quarterback. Because speed is the focus at receiver, there's always the belief that a faster wideout can be found anywhere, in Rounds 1-7 or even as an undrafted free agent. The same might not be the case for athletic edge rushers.

Money won't be an issue for whoever signs Ginn or Jones. Ginn made $2.3 million this past season and Jones signed a contract extension last offseason that would pay him an average of $3 million across four seasons. The Bengals could afford that.

But they also can pay a fourth-round or fifth-round draft pick significantly less, giving them slightly more to work with to sign free agents at other positions of need.
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns' free-agency plans have been difficult to gauge, which means they flash a mean poker face or have no definitive plans on how to spend roughly $50 million of cap space.

The Browns will be private by design. GM Ray Farmer, who’s at the center of an NFL investigation into his text messaging (which likely broke league communication rules), is so concerned about tipping his hand that he wouldn’t answer basic questions at the NFL combine, such as whether his team met with in-house free agents or whether he’ll attend pro days. The whole NFL world descended upon Indianapolis last week, and meetings with team officials and player reps happen frequently.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY SportsDon't expect GM Ray Farmer and the Browns to make a big splash in free agency.
But after asking around, it’s clear many NFL people walked away from Indy without a good feeling about the Browns' direction.

One source that met with the Browns classified the team as “really unorganized” in their offseason planning, with advance player research appearing oddly minimal.

That's just one account, but it seems in contrast to the team’s approach to draft scouting, as evidenced by one story told about Farmer from the Senior Bowl, where general managers can interview groups of players in timed rotations.

Farmer was probably the most zealous interviewer, a Senior Bowl witness said, going well beyond the timed window with his questions and even holding up general managers from another group.

With Utah’s Nate Orchard, Farmer started firing more questions the player’s way well after a liaison told him his session was over.

If Farmer is firm on his plan to build through the draft and not free agency, his interview with Orchard hints he’s eager to show it.

The Browns will be tempted to spend on moderately priced free agents, but anything more doesn’t fit Farmer’s “judicious” plans for spending. Unless there’s a true difference-maker at a reasonable cost, don’t expect the Browns to move.

Teams must spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over two different four-year spans. As of now, the Browns are tied to about $110 million in salary, though 14 percent of that (around $15.6 million), goes to offensive skill positions (wide receiver, quarterback, running back, tight end), according to former Redskins salary cap analyst J.I. Halsell (@SalaryCap101). At least some money must go to pass-catchers and a quarterback. For comparison, nearly 30 percent of the Browns' money is going to the offensive line, with nearly $20 million for Joe Thomas and Alex Mack in 2015.

With no real progress on several key in-house free agents, the Browns are looking more than ever like a draft-heavy team, a blueprint most elite NFL teams follow.

The only thing that’s clear is the Browns are exhausting all options on the quarterback front, from Sam Bradford to Mike Glennon to Josh McCown, who’s in for a visit this week.

Right now, quarterback is the only position that’s relatively easy to figure out. The team needs help and knows it.
video Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti once said that the successful teams are the ones who pay players for what they can do in the future, not for what they did in the past.

The Ravens backed up those words Wednesday when they announced that they had cut receiver-returner Jacoby Jones.

As general manager Ozzie Newsome said, the Ravens wouldn't have won the Super Bowl two years ago if not for Jones spinning around two defenders for a 56-yard touchdown catch, and sprinting up the middle of the field for a 108-yard kickoff return. The Ravens also wouldn't have reached the Super Bowl if not for Jones delivering the most memorable play in franchise history, the Mile High Miracle catch that propelled them to a divisional playoff win over the Denver Broncos.

All of that didn't matter on Wednesday, when the Ravens decided to part ways with Jones because his $2.5 million base salary for 2015 was too expensive for someone who is just returning kicks.

This is the first of many moves the Ravens will make to get under the salary cap before March 10, but there really wasn't much of an incentive to get rid of Jones in terms of the salary cap. The Ravens freed up only $750,000 of cap room, unless they choose to designate him as a June 1 cut (which would open up $2.5 million that couldn't be used until June).

The Ravens' decision with Jones was a matter of escalating salary and diminishing play. Bad hands forced him out of the No. 3 receiver spot after three games in 2014. He finished with nine catches (his fewest since 2008) and five dropped passes, and his inability to make a consistent impact as a receiver made his $3.375 million cap number too steep.

Jones finished in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns in 2014, but he proved to be a liability on special teams as well. He muffed two punts and made risky decisions (like fielding kicks deep in his own territory) because he was pressing to make plays.

In my mind, the Ravens are making the wrong move and it has nothing to do with loyalty. Barring a surprising move, they are banking on either Michael Campanaro or Asa Jackson to stay healthy and replace Jones. Another option is drafting a returner, although it's a gamble to put a rookie in such a high-pressure role.

Everyone can agree that Jones isn't worth his $2.5 million salary, but many also will agree that the Ravens don't have a proven backup plan at returner. Let's not forget that Jones' five returns for touchdowns (four kickoff, one punt) lead the NFL since joining the Ravens in 2012, and that includes a 108-yard kickoff return at Pittsburgh in 2014.

“We thank Jacoby for what he did for us,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He was invaluable to our success. Opponents, especially on special teams, schemed to stop him. What a compliment to him.”

In releasing Jones, the Ravens were complimentary of what Jones did for the franchise in the past. But the bottom line is the Ravens refused to overpay for a returner for the upcoming season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers saved almost $4 million in regard to the 2015 salary cap when they restructured right tackle Marcus Gilbert ’s contract.

Gilbert
The Steelers converted a $3.5 million roster bonus that would have been due next month and $1.15 million of Gilbert’s base salary for 2015 into a signing bonus, per ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates, creating $3.724 million in cap savings for the upcoming year.

The Steelers were $1.92 million over the projected salary cap for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information, before restructuring Gilbert’s five-year, $30 million deal.

That is based on the cap rising from $133 to $140 million, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter has reported that the salary cap for 2015 will be at least $140 million. The 2015 spending ceiling for teams could come in as high as $143 million, per Schefter.

The Gilbert restructuring should put the Steelers in compliance with the 2015 cap, something teams are required to do by March 10 at 4 p.m. ET.

The Steelers, however, have work in front of them as they have to create enough salary cap room to be active in free agency, which starts at March 10, the first day of the NFL’s new league year.

Troy Polamalu is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015 and the Steelers will have a hard decision to make if the eight-time Pro Bowl safety does not opt for retirement.

The Steelers could ask Polamalu to take a pay cut or release the future Pro Football Hall of Fame safety.

Team president Art Rooney II has said he wants Polamalu to play his entire career for the Steelers.
The past two days the Cleveland Browns spent time visiting with free agent quarterback Josh McCown, who lost 10 of his 11 starts last season in Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, the quarterback who has gone 10-6 as a starter in Cleveland waits for his private time with the team’s general manager.

The Browns have had no contact with Hoyer other than his postseason meeting with Mike Pettine and post-hiring meeting with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

GM Ray Farmer did not even find time to have a cup of coffee with Hoyer’s agent, Joe Linta, at the scouting combine. The two had no contact at a place where typically teams and agents lay the groundwork if they are interested in their own free agents.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
David Banks/Getty ImagesJosh McCown was 1-10 last season as the starter in Tampa Bay.
Free agency opens March 10, with negotiations permitted starting March 7. If the Browns wish to do anything serious with Hoyer, there’s time. But not a lot.

“I know Ray and Brian want to get together,” Linta said. “Ray is very busy. I’m sure Ray will find the time between now and the start of free agency. Once those two get together we can move forward. Brian definitely knows how the coaching staff feels.”

Would Hoyer want to come back?

“Brian feels the Browns can be a playoff team and is excited about the possibility of staying,” Linta said.

The statement about the coaching staff’s feelings mesh with a report from ESPN’s Ed Werder on Tuesday. He said the coaches told Hoyer privately they would like him back.

Yet Farmer has yet to sit down with Hoyer after texting him shortly after the season about getting together.

McCown is, shall we say, an “interesting” person to bring to Berea because he illustrates perfectly the lack of front-line quarterback talent in the free-agent market.

If the Browns want to sell McCown as “the answer,” have at it. It would be selling yesterday's trash, though. And it would be a continuation of past years when other aging veterans sold as the answer didn’t even last one season. Those names are all on the back of "that jersey."

If the Browns want to present McCown as a backup/mentor who could work with another veteran (Hoyer or Jake Locker) and Johnny Manziel, then OK. That’s logical.

McCown is an excellent guy, a team player and a guy who has been around. He’s knowledgeable, and when he played well in relief of Jay Cutler two years ago in Chicago he never once tried to pretend he was anything other than the backup.

Tampa Bay signed him last season to be the starter, and it didn’t work.

He threw 14 interceptions with 11 touchdowns and went 1-10 as the starter -- with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as his receivers.

The result shouldn’t have been surprising. McCown started five games in 2013 only because Cutler was hurt. From 2008-12 he had two starts.

McCown has never started more than 13 games in a season, and that was in 2004. His overall record as the starting quarterback is 17-32; his overall rating 76.1.

How this translates into any kind of upgrade over Hoyer follows typical Browns logic of the past 15 years that anything new is better, just because.

McCown over Hoyer is simply not an upgrade.

Yet the Browns meet with McCown, fly him in and take him to dinner all while the general manager has yet to find time to have a face-to-face with the guy who played for the team last season.

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