- 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:
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was asked if he was "more convinced than ever" about quarterback Joe Flacco's ability to lead the team to the Super Bowl after his performance in the AFC Championship Game.
"Not more. I'm as convinced," Bisciotti told the Baltimore Sun at the NFL owners meetings. "The question has never been raised behind closed doors, 'Are we sure Joe is our guy?' Not once. Not by anybody, not by scouts, coaches, ownership. It just does not come up. What he needs to do to improve always comes up, but that comes up with every player in our personnel meetings. He has to get better, but every one on our team has to get better. He's no different except that he gets a disproportionate amount of attention."
Bisciotti, though, couldn't provide any information on the ongoing contract talks with Flacco and running back Ray Rice.
"They don't give me updates really," he said. "[Vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty] and Ozzie [Newsome] have their numbers. They're deep into, I'm sure, both of them. All I know is they're suiting up for me this year. To me, that makes it easier for me to see. I'll always watch with interest as most of our fans do, and all I can do is go back on our track record of all of our other great players and it always seems to work out."
Hensley's slant: Bisciotti said last year that the Ravens would start negotiations on a long-term deal with Flacco in 2012, and he followed through on that this offseason. But we'll see the level of the team's commitment and confidence in Flacco when the length and details of the eventual new contract are revealed.
BENGALS: Team owner Mike Brown said he doesn't think the Bengals were targeted for bounties by the Saints. The Bengals played the Saints twice in a three-year period when the bounties occurred. In one preseason game, quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a high ankle sprain when he tried to pull the ball down on a busted play and a Saints defender rolled on it. “I never had a sense when we played them that they were playing in an illegal fashion or trying to hurt us,” Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hensley's slant: I'm still confused how players are motivated by bounties. For the most part, the reward for taking out a player was $15,000. A player under contract for $1 million that season makes four times that amount for that game. Is it really worth it?
BROWNS: General manager Tom Heckert said talk that players don't want to come to Cleveland is "crazy." He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "We had great talks with a lot of people and people think we are going in the right direction. It's really the exact opposite. The people we've talked to, it has nothing do with Cleveland. They want to play here. There's a reason why D'Qwell Jackson wanted to come back here. We signed Joe Thomas. Joe told us he wouldn't have signed back here if he didn't think we were going in the right direction. So I think there's a lot of positive things.'' Hensley's slant: I don't believe the notion that players are avoiding Cleveland. The reason that free agents haven't come to the Browns is because they're getting outbid by teams like the Redskins. And draft picks will be happier to get picked by the Browns when the franchise can get back to its winning ways.
STEELERS: Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney downplayed his appearance at the NFL owners meetings even though there are strong indications that the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland will step down from his current post after 2012."It's great to be here," Rooney told Pittsburgh reporters, "but my job is in Ireland. I take it very seriously." Rooney hadn't attended the meetings since 2009. Hensley's slant: The Patriots' Robert Kraft summed up the owners' affection for Rooney the best when he said, "He has that special glow, like the elder statesman that you respect, just the classic guy. He always has had the league's best interest at heart."