- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
The Ravens and Joe Flacco's agent had a "productive" first meeting Saturday at the NFL combine, the quarterback's representative Joe Linta told the Annapolis (Md.) Capital.
Flacco, who is entering the final year of his contract, is seeking an extension that averages $15 million per season, the Capital reported. Linta told the Baltimore Sun that contractual terms weren't discussed, and the meeting was to gauge the interest in getting a deal done.
"It's very clear that Joe is an important part of the Ravens team," Linta told the Capital. "We'll keep working away. I'm optimistic that we can work something out."
Ravens officials have been equally optimistic.
"Sometimes in negotiations, it can be done in two days or it can take 12 months," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think there is a willingness with Joe Linta and Joe Flacco's part, and Steve [Bisciotti, Ravens owner] and the organization to try and get the deal done. We're going to push toward that."
Hensley's slant: The tone so far suggests a deal will get done this year, but my guess is it won't get done until mid-July. I don't think the Ravens or Flacco want to enter the regular season with this hanging over their heads. My other guess is his new contract will average $13 million per season.
BENGALS: The Bengals have a projected $60 million in salary-cap space but they have a reputation for being frugal with their money. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis agreed that the Bengals have to be aggressive in free agency because they only have 42 players under contract. But he said there is a difference between being aggressive and being foolish. “You win by developing your own players and not overpaying for a guy who you’re not sure is going to work out until 6-10 games down the road and maybe not then,” Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We have to continue to draft. Do we need to supplement that with players? Yes and we’re going to try and do that. Aggressive doesn’t mean overpay and get stuck with both a bad contract and an average player. We need to have a guy who fits what we do.”
Hensley's slant: The Bengals have to be proactive in order to keep winning back a skeptical fan base. My wish list for the Bengals include wide receiver Robert Meachem, guard Ben Grubbs (if he doesn't re-sign with the Ravens) and running back Michael Bush.
BROWNS: The Browns will try to sign a wide receiver in free agency, according to head coach Pat Shurmur. "I think it's important if you can add leadership and experience to the team, but he's also got to be a guy who can play," Shurmur told reporters at the NFL combine, via the Chronicle-Telegram. "I think that's the thing you've gotta look at, especially with guys that are free agents." The last two "big name" receivers signed in free agency -- Joe Jurevicius in 2006 and Donte Stallworth in 2008 --were disappointments.
Hensley's slant: The Browns desperately needs to add a wide receiver with speed. Because this wide receiver group is among the worst in the NFL, the Browns should address this position in free agency and the draft. I still see Pierre Garcon as the best fit, especially if Mario Manningham is going to the Buccaneers.
STEELERS: Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said there is a shallow talent pool for tight ends this year. Only 14 of them were invited to the NFL combine, making tight end the smallest group other than centers. "We have to dig a little deeper and make sure we don't miss guys who aren't playing in a pro-style offense but have the ability to do so from a size and athleticism standpoint," Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We have to make sure we try to unearth all those guys and give them their due, even though you're not seeing them do the same thing you're going to ask them to do."
Hensley's slant: The lack of tight ends is not good news for the Steelers. It would benefit Pittsburgh to find an athletic, pass-catching one because Heath Miller is entering the final year of his contract and third-stringer Weslye Saunders is facing a four-game suspension from the NFL. Teams have found quality tight ends in the middle rounds recently: the Saints' Jimmy Graham (third round), the Ravens' Ed Dickson (third round) and the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez (fourth round).