Thursday, May 7, 2009
Inside the AFC North
By James Walker
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are several notes and observations from within the division:
- We are hearing that it will be extremely tough for the Pittsburgh Steelers to make any more moves with their heralded free-agent class of 2010 without first striking a deal with left tackle Max Starks. The franchise tag used on Starks is eating up a whopping $8.451 million of this year's salary cap. Players such as tight end Heath Miller, safety Ryan Clark, nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Brett Keisel and tailback Willie Parker are all playing in the final year of their deals. Even with linebacker Larry Foote's recent release, we're told things probably will remain status quo unless Starks and the team can agree to a long-term extension.
- The Baltimore Ravens could have a tough decision to make in the battle for backup quarterback. Newly signed John Beck should provide stiff competition for last year's No. 2 quarterback Troy Smith. But here is an important wrinkle the Ravens have to consider: If Beck wins the backup job does that eliminate Baltimore's "Wildcat" offense? Baltimore used it with a lot of success last season. But if Smith is the No. 3/emergency quarterback, by rule he can dress but cannot play unless starting quarterback Joe Flacco remains on the sidelines for the remainder of the game. This small rule could be a major reason Smith remains the No. 2 quarterback. Chances are Beck cannot run the gimmick formation as well as Smith.
- The recent release offensive tackle Levi Jones was the final link to another example of poor management by the Cincinnati Bengals. Before the 2006 season, Cincinnati was coming off a playoff appearance the year prior and had to decide which offensive linemen deserved new contracts. The team chose to give Jones and aging tackle Willie Anderson huge deals at the expense of up-and-coming guard Eric Steinbach. Jones and Anderson were never the same players after those contracts and both tackles have been released. Steinbach went to the Browns as a free agent in 2007 and became a Pro Bowl guard. To this day, Cincinnati's offensive line has yet to recover from those poor decisions.
- There is a rumor floating around Cleveland that the Browns might be interested in a deal involving receiver Braylon Edwards for New York Jets tailback Thomas Jones. We're not sure how much validity there is to this one. But knowing the Browns, this likely wouldn't go down unless future draft picks were involved. Cleveland also would have to give Jones, 30, a big contract extension following a trade, which doesn't seem like something the new regime in Cleveland is interested in at the moment.