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Wake-up: Big Ben enjoyed talk with Haley

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The first time Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley called Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback ignored it. Not intentionally, of course.

Roethlisberger didn't recognize the number, but he quickly returned the call after listening to his voice mail. The long-awaited chat "was a good step in the right direction," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"I think it will be a good working relationship -- and good friendship, who knows," Roethlisberger told the paper.

NFL rules prohibit Roethlisberger and Haley from talking about football until April 16, so they touched on golf, family life and Haley being a ballboy in Pittsburgh.

So why did it take a couple of weeks for them to connect? "I didn't know what the rules were," Roethlisberger said. "Could I call him? Could he call me? I don't know what you're allowed to do or not allowed to do."

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers created $4.5 million in salary cap space by releasing defensive end Aaron Smith and guard Chris Kemoeatu. The Steelers, who were a projected $25 million over the cap, have cleared $37.4 million in cap room by cutting players and restructuring contracts, the Tribune-Review reported.

Hensley's slant: Let me get a show of hands ... who really thinks Roethlisberger and Haley avoided talking about football? Sure, and there's no tampering going on at the NFL combine either. You know quarterbacks and coordinators all around the league have chatted briefly about football this offseason. It's naive to think otherwise.

BENGALS: The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy thinks the Bengals shouldn't re-sign wide receiver Jerome Simpson in free agency. Simpson pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge Thursday. "There are lots of players who have potential in this league, but if you base Simpson’s production on results and not the wow factor, he hasn’t delivered," Reedy wrote. "The off-field matter should only reinforce why it isn’t worth it. It’s time for another team to take over the role of redeemer." Hensley's slant: I agree that this offseason is the time when the Bengals show their fan base that they're not the same Bengals. That means letting another team take Simpson's baggage.

BROWNS: Head coach Pat Shurmur told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the team hasn't yet slammed the door on putting the franchise tag on running back Peyton Hillis, although a source told that paper that it's "very unlikely." Shumur was noncommittal when asked about the chances of the Browns re-signing Hillis in free agency. "When he was in there, he played good football for us," Shurmur said. "Now the business of sport takes over here and we'll have to see what happens." Hensley's slant: Shurmur told the Plain Dealer that Hillis never talked to him about joining the CIA (which was first reported by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter), but we all know that Shurmur is certainly familiar with Hillis going MIA. Hillis' inconsistent behavior on and off the field should caution the Browns and other teams about giving him a multiyear contract.

RAVENS: According to the New York Daily News, the Jets are targeting Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who becomes a free agent on March 13. Johnson played six seasons under Jets coach Rex Ryan when he was the Baltimore defensive coordinator. "He's tougher than heck, and he's a lot more talented than people give him credit for," Ryan said of Johnson in September. Another Ravens defensive coordinator, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, is also expected to be interested in Johnson. Hensley's slant: The Ravens can replace Johnson with Paul Kruger on passing downs, but they really don't have anyone who can set the edge against the run like Johnson. That's why the Ravens aren't going to let Johnson go without a fight. “I had a conversation with Jarret at the end of the season and I told him I would maintain communication with him throughout the process,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said last week at the NFL combine. “He plays like a Raven and we’d love to have him back if things can work itself out.”