AFC North: AFC North

The Baltimore Ravens face a tough decision in how to handle running back Ray Rice's domestic violence incident, which has gone from a simple assault to a summons indicating the running back knocked his fiancée unconscious.

If the Ravens stand by Rice, they're going to face increasing pressure from fans and negative media attention to cut him. If the Ravens cut Rice, they will lose a significant chunk of their salary cap, which will derail some of their offseason plans to bounce back from last season's disappointing 8-8 season.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Doug Kapustin/Getty ImagesRay Rice rushed for 660 yards and four TDs this past season.
The Ravens are in a lose-lose situation with Rice.

In most instances, teams gain salary-cap room by cutting a player. But, the way Rice's contract is structured, the Ravens would lose $5.5 million in cap space by parting ways with Rice because of the pro-rated bonuses that would have to be absorbed. To put that in context, that $5.5 million is more than what the Ravens saved when they signed linebacker Terrell Suggs to an extension Monday.

The Ravens could designate Rice as a post-June 1 cut, which would create $4 million in cap space in 2014. The problem is, Rice would count $9.5 million in dead money in 2015, which is a large chunk for a player not on the roster. Anyway you look at it, the Ravens lose a significant amount of cap space if they decide to cut him.

Let's make this clear: As of Wednesday evening, no one from the Ravens organization has insinuated that Rice is getting cut. There has been no anonymous sources speculating that Rice is on the chopping block.

Some fans have asked about a "moral clause" that would allow the Ravens to cut Rice without taking a cap hit. That is unrealistic. The other 31 teams in the league aren't going to let the Ravens have a pass because a player was arrested. Do you think the Ravens would allow the Steelers to cut a player without suffering the cap consequences just because that player was arrested? No.

The Ravens have never rushed to judgment on a player. They kept cornerback Samari Rolle and Suggs on the team during their domestic violence cases. General manager Ozzie Newsome told reporters Monday that Rice is still a big part of the team's plans in 2014, although he did say a final decision won't be made until he gets all of the answers.

Even if the Ravens stick with Rice, he could face discipline from the NFL. Under the personal conduct policy, the league has fined and suspended players who haven't been arrested. The fact that Rice has never been arrested previously could work in his favor.

Rice is coming off his most disappointing season, averaging a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry. This upcoming season was considered a make-or-break one for him. Now, the Ravens might have to think about the future a little sooner.

As Rice deals with the incident, the Ravens are at the NFL combine. While there is no easy way to part ways with Rice, team officials need to take a look at whether there are any prospects who can replace him.

Countdown to combine: Steelers

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
PITTSBURGH -- With the NFL combine starting Wednesday in Indianapolis, we’re taking a look at positions of need and who the Pittsburgh Steelers might be looking at during the combine at those positions.

Position of need: Inside linebacker

The Steelers need depth at the position and possibly a long-term starter. Rookie Vince Williams started 11 games at left inside linebacker following the loss of Larry Foote in the 2013 season opener. Williams, a sixth-round draft pick, made steady improvement, but struggled in coverage. It is too early to tell whether he is a viable NFL starter in the mold of Foote, who stood out against the run, or is better suited as a reserve who is also a core special-teams player. Foote has one year left on his contract, but given his age -- the 12th-year veteran turns 34 in June -- and the fact that he is coming back from a ruptured bicep, there is no guarantee he returns for another season. Stevenson Sylvester will be an unrestricted free agent next month.

Three players the Steelers might be targeting

Chris Borland, Wisconsin: The Steelers, like most teams, should fall in love with his game tape. Borland made tackles all over the field at Wisconsin, racking up 416 stops during a career in which he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors three times. Borland burnished his reputation as a guy who can simply play at the Senior Bowl ,and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks the 5-foot-11, 245-pounder second among inside linebackers. Concerns about his height and short arms, which raise questions about whether he will struggle to shed blocks at the next level, could hurt Borland’s draft stock. Couple that with the belief many teams have that inside linebackers can be found later in the draft, and there is a good chance Borland will still be available when the Steelers pick in the second round.

Christian Kirksey, Iowa: Kirksey played outside linebacker in college, but he would likely move inside if drafted by a team that plays a 3-4 defense like the Steelers. Kirksey had an outstanding senior season -- he recorded 104 tackles despite getting overshadowed by teammates James Morris and Anthony Hitchens -- and he drew good reviews from his week at the Senior Bowl. The 6-2, 234-pounder has good size and athleticism, and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has raved about his character. Kirksey could be among the inside linebackers available to the Steelers in the middle rounds if they address other positions earlier in the draft.

C.J. Mosley, Alabama: The consensus All-American and possibly the most ready-made NFL player in the draft might not even get to the Steelers at No. 15 overall. The 6-2, 228-pound Mosley is a three-down linebacker who should make an immediate impact, if not start right away. The hunch here is that Mosely does make it past the first 14 picks with a handful of teams in front of the Steelers desperate for quarterbacks and the de-valuing of inside linebacker in the draft in general. If Mosley, who is expected to test well in all aspects at the combine, is available when the Steelers make their first-round pick, it will be very temping for them to take him and pair him with Lawrence Timmons. That, if Mosley is as good as advertised, would help the Steelers improve a run defense that allowed 125 yards per game in 2013.

Franchise/transition tags: Steelers

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers, usually judicious with the designations that prevent a player from becoming an unrestricted free agent, are unlikely to use a franchise or transition tag for the third year in a row.

Jason Worilds, who had a breakout season in 2013, is the only candidate for a tag, but it looks as though the Steelers will try to re-sign the outside linebacker without the benefit of a safety net.

Monday is the first day teams can apply franchise and transition tags on players. For an explanation of tags and their ramifications, click here.

"They're always available to us," general manager Kevin Colbert said last week when asked if the Steelers will tag one of their players, "but I'd say doubtful."

The Steelers' precarious salary-cap situation -- Colbert acknowledged that the team has some "work to do" to get in compliance by March 11 -- is probably the biggest reason tags won't be in play for a third year in a row.

Using a franchise tag on Worilds would require the Steelers to offer the fourth-year veteran a one-year contract that should be at least $10 million (franchise tags for linebackers were $9.62 million last year).

The Steelers have used tags in the past with the goal of later re-signing that player to a long-term deal. They were successful in doing that three years ago with outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who received a franchise tag but later signed a six-year, $61.5 million contract.

The problem for a team that has to to get in compliance with the cap by the start of the NFL's new year and have the flexibility to sign their own free agents or others is that once a tagged player signs the one-year contract, the money is guaranteed.

More significant, it counts against the cap, and the Steelers do not have enough flexibility to absorb a $10 million hit -- or one that is not appreciably lower even if a transition tag is used -- without scrambling their finances and compromising their roster.

Worilds, who recorded 8.5 sacks in 2013 and supplanted Woodley at left outside linebacker late in the season, tops the list of Steelers unrestricted free agents the organization will try to re-sign.

The best-case scenario for the Steelers is to lock up Worilds before the free-agent signing period starts March 11. But it also looks as if they are prepared to gamble that they can still get a deal done even if Worilds hits the open market with no provisions for the Steelers to match any offer he receives.
At the risk of developing a relationship with everyone in the Twitter-sphere -- admit it, it's a scary thought -- today marks the debut of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag, named partly in honor of David Letterman.

Post your Browns questions on Twitter. Just send them to me @PatMcManamon with #BrownsMail on the post. I'll sort through and find the best and give as honest an answer as I can, time and space and legalities permitting. Your tweets will be embedded in the post, so please, keep them appropriate.

This wouldn't be me if I were entirely serious, so quirky questions are welcome, provided they pass the personal taste test, standards enacted by Sir Laurence Olivier and me.

On to the first edition of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag.

The Baltimore Ravens failed to make the playoffs for the first time under coach John Harbaugh, ending a postseason streak for the franchise as well as the division.

For the first time since 2007, only one team from the AFC North reached the playoffs. That was a string of five straight seasons with multiple playoff teams for the division, the longest current streak in the NFL.

The AFC North was the only division that had at least two playoff teams in 2008 (Pittsburgh and Baltimore), 2009 (Cincinnati and Baltimore), 2010 (Pittsburgh and Baltimore), 2011 (Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) and 2012 (Baltimore and Cincinnati). The AFC North was the last division to send three teams to the postseason until the AFC West accomplished that feat this season.

How impressive has this been? The longest playoff streak now belongs to the NFC West, who has had multiple teams reach the postseason in two straight seasons.

It's now up the Cincinnati Bengals, the division's lone representative, to extend another streak for the AFC North. This division has sent a team to the AFC Championship Game for the past three years.
CINCINNATI -- After three solid weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals Twitter mailbag is back for more.

We know our loyal readers will always have burning questions, so we wanted to take this time each week to address some of those concerns. In order to have your question included in our weekly rotation, feel free to tweet me @ColeyHarvey or email me at each Friday by noon ET. If I don't get to your question, keep asking. It just means we had a lot of mailbag interest that week.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 13

November, 29, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 22-20 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Chillin' at home: The Ravens improved their record to 14-2 in home games when the temperature at kickoff is below 40 degrees, winning 14 of the past 15 times this has happened. It was 37 degrees at the start of Thursday night's game with the Steelers. The Ravens, who are 5-1 at home this season, have always played their best at M&T Bank Stadium, although not necessarily against their biggest rival. Since 2010, the Ravens are now just 2-2 against Pittsburgh in Baltimore, and 26-2 against the rest of the league (including playoffs) at home.

Pressure doesn't result in picks: Joe Flacco didn't throw an interception for the first time since Week 7 (Oct. 20), which just happened to be the last time the Ravens played the Steelers. Over the past four weeks, Flacco had been picked off six times in 78 passes, an average of one every 13 throws. On Thursday night, he wasn't intercepted on 35 passes. Since 2011, the Ravens are 15-2 in games when Flacco doesn't throw an interception. The key against the Steelers was the improved pass protection, especially against Pittsburgh's blitzes. Flacco was 7-of-10 (70 percent) when the Steelers sent five or more rushers, his highest completion percentage against the blitz this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He had a 52 percent completion rate against additional pressure entering the game, which ranked 31st among 38 qualified quarterbacks.


Fast starts: The Ravens have dominated the first quarter recently, which is quite a turnaround from the first two months of the season. In the past four games, the Ravens have outscored teams 30-3 in the first quarter. Compare this to the first eight games, when the Ravens ranked third in fewest points scored in the first quarter (16). Baltimore marched 71 yards for a touchdown on its opening drive against Pittsburgh, the second time in four weeks the Ravens have reached the end zone on their first possession of a game. The Ravens are now 43-9 (.826) under coach John Harbaugh when scoring first.

Extending the drive: The Ravens punted only once, marking just the fifth time in team history they had one or no punts in a game. The last time the Ravens punted one time in a game was Oct. 31, 2005, when the Ravens played at Pittsburgh. When you take away the drive that ended the first half and the game, the Ravens were able to get inside the Steelers' 31-yard line on six of seven possessions. The Ravens were able to sustain drives by going 10-of-17 on third downs, which was a season-high 58.8 percent success rate for Baltimore. Six Ravens converted third downs, including Torrey Smith, who did it four times. Flacco threw for 118 yards and a touchdown on third down.
Ben Roethlisberger/FlaccoGetty ImagesBen Roethlisberger, left, and Joe Flacco are trying to keep their teams in the playoff hunt.
BALTIMORE -- A few weeks ago, it looked like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers would only be playing for bragging rights on Thanksgiving night. Not so anymore.

There are major playoff implications in the 39th meeting between the AFC North rivals who respect -- but certainly don't like -- each other. The winner of Thursday night's Ravens-Steelers game closes to within 1.5 games of the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals and becomes the front-runner for the final playoff spot in a log-jammed AFC wild-card race.

The Steelers (5-6) have rebounded from an 0-for-September start and won three straight, becoming the hottest team in the division. The Ravens (5-6) have won two of their past three and are looking to avoid being swept by Pittsburgh for the first time since 2008.

This is how Steelers team reporter Scott Brown and Ravens team reporter Jamison Hensley see this physical showdown unfolding:

Jamison Hensley: Ben Roethlisberger has been on a tear in the Steelers' three-game winning streak with seven touchdowns and one interception. What began to click for Roethlisberger this month?

Scott Brown: The Steelers have really put the game in Roethlisberger's hands the past couple of weeks with their use of the no-huddle offense, and I think it is safe to say that approach agrees with them. It's no secret how much Roethlisberger likes running the no-huddle offense, and I'm not sure why it took the Steelers this long to really take the reins off that attack.

Maybe there were concerns about using it extensively with a rookie running back and an offensive line that always seems to have moving parts because of injuries. Maybe Mike Tomlin is wary of exposing the offense too much and making it easier for opponents to devise ways to stop it. I will be very interested in seeing how much they use it against the Ravens in a loud stadium after a short week of practice.

While Roethlisberger is No. 8 in the NFL in passer rating (92.2), the Ravens' Joe Flacco is 29th (76.8). What has been his biggest problem this season?

Hensley: Well, it's been interceptions, interceptions and ... did I happen to mention interceptions? Flacco has never been picked off more than 12 times in the regular season. This season, he has thrown 14, and it's not even December. Only four quarterbacks have been intercepted more than Flacco this season. And honestly, the increased turnovers shouldn't come as a surprise in a year when he hasn't had his top two targets (Anquan Boldin was traded and Dennis Pitta is on injured reserve-designated for return).

What Flacco has going for him Thursday night is he always plays better at home, and he comes up big late in games against the Steelers. He has two game-winning drives in Pittsburgh, and he tied the Steelers with a late drive last month. In his past six games against Pittsburgh, Flacco has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception.

But a big reason for Flacco's increased turnovers this season is the increased pressure getting to him. What is the state of the Steelers' pass rush?

Brown: The pass rush has gotten better, but it's still not where it was when James Harrison was in peak form and LaMarr Woodley was able to actually stay on the field instead of dealing with nagging injuries. Woodley has missed the past two games with a calf issue, but his absence has allowed Jason Worilds to really emerge.

Worilds is finally showing why the Steelers drafted him in the second round in 2010, passing on local product Sean Lee, among others. Worilds has been extremely disruptive the past two games coming off the left edge, and he is playing so well, I'm wondering if he is the Steelers' best long-term option at left outside linebacker.

The Ravens' pass rush has been a strength of the team. Baltimore is tied for the NFL lead with 37 sacks. Will the Ravens be able to get to Roethlisberger?

Hensley: History says yes. The Ravens have recorded at least two sacks in 19 straight games, dating back to the 2012 season. It ties the Philadelphia Eagles (2003-2004) for the NFL's longest such streak since 1990. Most of the attention is on the pressure the Ravens bring from the edges with Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (nine sacks). But defensive tackle Arthur Jones (four sacks) and blitzing inside linebacker Daryl Smith (3.5 sacks) collapse the middle of the pocket.

That being said, sacks aren't the primary goal with Roethlisberger. The Ravens want to contain him in the pocket as much as possible. They know how dangerous he is when he escapes and finds an open receiver downfield.

Roethlisberger isn't the only concern for the Ravens' defense. One reason why the Ravens lost in Pittsburgh was their inability to stop rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for a season-high 93 yards that day. Is he one of the X factors for the rematch?

Brown: I actually forgot Bell came that close to a 100-yard rushing game the last time the Steelers and Ravens played. Bell is having a strange season in that the rookie is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, yet he has completely stabilized the running game and given it hope for the future. He looks like an NFL back, and his skills allow him to pick up yards in the passing game when running lanes are clogged. He can also grind out the tough yards, and he has shown enough flashes as a runner that I think it's only a matter of time before he becomes a really good back.

Mike Tomlin talked about the success Ray Rice has had in recent weeks, and since he takes lavishing praise on the opponent to another level, I figured you would provide more of a straight answer. Is Rice hitting his stride or is he still struggling and looking like a back who might have lost his burst?

Hensley: It's easy to sum up the past two weeks for Rice. When he played against the NFL's worst run defense (Chicago Bears), he ran for 131 yards. When he went against the best run defense (New York Jets), he was held to 30 yards. Rice has certainly been a more determined runner the past couple of weeks. He just hasn't been the same playmaker this season.

But this isn't the same Steelers run defense from previous seasons, either. Pittsburgh ranks 23rd in the league in stopping the run. Six running backs have gained at least 70 yards against the Steelers this season. Could Rice be the next one to do this?

The Baltimore Ravens used to own the AFC North. They have won the past two division titles. They had won 12 straight games in the division from December 2010 to December 2012, tying the longest such streak since realignment in 2002.

Lately, it seems like the division has owned the Ravens. Since that streak ended, the Ravens have lost to each team in the AFC North at least once. In fact, they've lost four of their past five games in the division.

Now, with the Bengals playing at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, the Ravens are in a must-win game in terms of keeping their faint hopes alive of three-peating in the division. Baltimore (3-5) is 2 1/2 games behind division-leading Cincinnati (6-3) and has a 1-2 record in the AFC North.

"We can't really think about how important it is and what's going to happen if we win [or] what would happen if we don't win," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "And we can't think about that, because as soon as you start thinking about that, then you're not going to play the way you should. That's what causes a lot of indecision and tentativeness on the football field is thinking about the result of something."

Flacco added, "You've just got to go out there, and you've got to play 100 percent and just be locked in when you're doing it. And at the end of the day, at the end of the game, you look up at the scoreboard, and if you've done that, you can feel good about looking up and seeing what that result is. More times than not, it's going to be in your favor if you can kind of just stay in the moment and stay in the game. As soon as you start to think about that result and how important this game is and all that, then you're going to freak yourself out a little bit, and you're not going to play the way you want to."

The Ravens are currently 1 1/2 games back of the New York Jets (5-4) for the last playoff spot in the AFC.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Some Baltimore Ravens fans have joked that the only time they see defensive tackle Haloti Ngata these days are on the local fried chicken commercials.

One of the best defensive tackles over the past decade, Ngata hasn't made the same game-changing plays in his first season as the team's nose tackle. He has 21 tackles this season, which ranks ninth on the Ravens and 39th among NFL defensive linemen. Ngata has 1.5 sacks but no forced fumbles, fumble recoveries or batted passes.

"Every single play you’re going to get doubled-teamed as a nose guard, but Haloti [Ngata] can handle it, and he’s playing well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "And I think Haloti can be even more dominant. I would consider him a dominant player. I want him to be a game-wrecker in there every single play. You look at Haloti, and you say, ‘Hey man, wreck the game.’ And that’s what he wants to do, too.”

The Ravens are paying Ngata to be a dominant player. While quarterback Joe Flacco has taken criticism for his big contract, few point out that Ngata is making $4 million in base salary this season, the third-highest on the team. Next season, Ngata will top the Ravens in salary at $8.5 million.

Much of the Ravens' success, especially in run defense, can be attributed to Ngata's play. In his first six seasons in the NFL (2006-11), the Ravens ranked in the top 5 in stopping the run. The past two seasons, when Ngata hasn't been as dominant, the Ravens finished No. 20 in run defense in 2012, and rank No. 13 in stopping the run this year.

In 2011, Ngata made 64 tackles (seventh among defensive lineman) with five sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Last season, his tackle total dropped to 51 (20th among defensive lineman) because he was limited by shoulder and knee injuries.

So why hasn't Ngata been a "game-wrecker" this season?

"At times, he has," Harbaugh said. "People give him a lot of attention. Like [we were just] saying, he’s going to get double-teamed, [and] they’ll hang on those blocks for a long time. Maybe they’re a little later getting up on a ‘backer than they would against other nose guards. So, he gets a lot of respect in there, too.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- It took 10 months for Jameel McClain to get back on the field. It took only one game to convince the Baltimore Ravens that he's their best option at weakside linebacker.

McClain will start over Josh Bynes for Sunday's game at the Cleveland Browns, defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Thursday.

When Bynes was out with a finger infection, McClain started in his place on Oct. 20, his first game since suffering a spinal cord contusion last December. Now that Bynes is healthy enough to play again, the Ravens made the decision to stick with McClain, who had started the past three seasons.

"It's just a chance for me to go out there and prove myself," McClain said.

In his first game back, McClain was the team's third-leading tackler with five and played just over half of the defensive snaps (30). He didn't have a missed tackle.

Pees said McClain is "close" to playing at the same level he did last season.

"He was tentative I think sometimes because he hadn't hit anybody," Pees said. "I would guess it's going to take him a couple of weeks. But he'll be even better this week."

The move means Bynes will have a bigger role on special teams. He made the biggest stop on coverage teams last season when he tackled returner Ted Ginn on the last play of the Super Bowl.

McClain's impact will come in run defense, which has been a problem area for the Ravens recently. The Ravens have allowed 140 or more rushing yards in three of their past four games.

Baltimore's run defense has been a barometer of the team's success this season. In three wins, the Ravens have held teams to 60.3 yards rushing. In four losses, they have been gashed for 137.2 yards on the ground.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens made the first in-season trade in their history four weeks ago when they acquired offensive tackle Eugene Monroe. Could they possibly make another one by Tuesday's trade deadline?

"I wouldn't comment on it anyway if I did," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "So, it's probably best just to stay away from that."

I don't anticipate the Ravens making a deal before the 4 p.m. deadline, but the Ravens proved this month that they're looking to make this team better.

The market for wide receivers is the hottest one right now, although a tight end like Washington's Fred Davis is also available. Here are the most high-profile receivers who could be on the move:

Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans: Britt certainly has his issues. Since being drafted in the first round four years ago, he has been involved in nine incidents with police. Why Britt makes sense for the Ravens is his low salary. Britt makes $857,500 in the final year of his deal, so he's one of the few players that can fit under the Ravens' cap. But is Britt even worth a draft pick? He has never caught more than 45 passes in a season, and he has eight receptions this season. Britt's potential, though, makes him intriguing.

Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns: There's no questioning Gordon's talent. He's averaging 97 yards receiving per game, which is fourth-best in the NFL. The problem is he's one more strike away from being suspended a full year by the NFL. And let's be realistic: the Browns aren't going to trade Gordon to a team in the division. It's just not going to happen.

Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants: Adding Nicks would significantly upgrade the Ravens' wide receiver position. What makes this prohibitive is the price tag on Nicks. The Giants are reportedly seeking a second- or third-round pick. Since 2000, the Ravens have never traded a second-round pick for a player and have given up a third-rounder just twice (running back Willis McGahee and wide receiver Anquan Boldin).
The signing of Bernard Scott indicates the Baltimore Ravens have serious doubts whether backup running back Bernard Pierce will be able to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Pierce injured his hamstring in the Oct. 20 loss at Pittsburgh and couldn't finish the game, which is why Vonta Leach was in the backfield at times. Pierce also didn't practice in the team's final workout before the players received four days off for the bye.

This is the latest setback for the Ravens' struggling running game. Even though Pierce was averaging 2.8 yards per carry, he did break longer runs this season than Ray Rice.

Scott, 29, is a reliable backup who knows the defenses in the AFC North. A sixth-round pick by the Bengals in 2009, Scott averaged 4.9 yards per carry for Cincinnati in 2010 and scored three touchdowns in 2011.

He is known for his athleticism, but he never received the touches to show it in Cincinnati. Scott was expected to split carries in a running back-by-committee with BenJarvus Green-Ellis last season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last October.

Scott is the second former Bengals player to be signed by the Ravens in the past five weeks, joining backup safety Jeromy Miles. The Ravens play the AFC North-leading Bengals in two weeks.

The Ravens didn't have to make a roster move to add Scott because they had a spot open since trading offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins last week.
  • The Steelers have restructured cornerback Ike Taylor's contract, a source told ESPN, freeing up around $3 million under the salary cap this year. The Steelers and Taylor agreed to turn his base salary this year into a signing bonus that can be spread over the remaining two years on his contract. The Steelers may still have to pay Isaac Redman close to $850,000 after releasing the fourth-year veteran last week. Redman signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract last April and the deal was not guaranteed. Redman, however, has the option of claiming the rest of the money on the contract via a termination payment that the collective bargaining allows players to exercise one time during their career.

  • All of the Steelers players were listed as full participants in practice Thursday. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (quadricep), defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (ribs), tight end Richard Gordon (toe) and tight end Heath Miller (coach's decision) had been limited Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was non-committal about Gilbert playing Sunday in Oakland, but Gilbert said he should be good to go against the Raiders. "Feeling great," he said.

  • Haley said he is happy with the Steelers' running backs and that goes beyond rookie Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for a career-high 93 yards in the Steelers' 19-16 win over the Ravens. "I like the way all of those guys go about their business," Haley said. "They are acting like professionals. When their number is called, they are getting things done for us. Guys are hungry and want to play. That's always a good thing."

    -- Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said the Steelers face a similar challenge in containing dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor as they did last season when they faced Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. The 6-4, 233-pound Pryor's size and speed make him as difficult as any quarterback to tackle, LeBeau said. "He's like having another tailback in the game,” LeBeau said. "He's a great athlete." Pryor leads all AFC quarterbacks with 285 rushing yards but Ike Taylor said one thing the Steelers cornerbacks cannot do is peek into the backfield when they are covering a Raiders receiver. Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake calls that watching TV. Said Taylor, "You don't want to watch TV because nine times out of 10 its going to be on the wrong channel."