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Friday, March 11, 2011
AFC North labor impact

By James Walker

NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are among the most affected teams in this impasse. Cleveland has a rookie head coach (Pat Shurmur) and a young quarterback (Colt McCoy) and will switch systems on offense and defense.

Cleveland hasn't run a 4-3 defense since 2004. The team also has to make alterations in personnel to fit the scheme. With free agency delayed, the draft becomes even more important for the Browns to fix weaknesses, particularly on the defensive line.

A West Coast offense is all about timing, and McCoy will not get the usual amount of offseason preparation to learn the new playbook and work with his coaches and teammates. Whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, Cleveland needs to make up for lost time ASAP.

Cincinnati Bengals: It has been an offseason of turmoil for the Bengals. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer wants out, they fired their offensive coordinator and several players, such as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, have lashed out about the team.

A prolonged work stoppage could provide mixed results for Cincinnati. The bad news is that obviously the Bengals won’t be able to start their offseason program and the rebuilding process to getting over last year’s abysmal 4-12 season. But a work stoppage also would give the organization a chance to step back, take a breather and really evaluate all that has gone wrong internally.

The biggest decision is what to do with Palmer. Cincinnati could not trade Palmer until there is a new collective bargaining agreement. But right now it appears the Bengals are ready to call his bluff and see if Palmer retires. Despite a stoppage, things will be really interesting in Cincinnati.

Baltimore Ravens: I don’t have the same worries about Baltimore as I do with Cincinnati and Cleveland. The Ravens are by no means perfect and still have holes to fill. But they have an identity and should be ready to move forward as soon as a new CBA is reached.

The draft is always huge for the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome, and that’s where their focus will be for the next six weeks. But a labor impasse will delay a chance for Baltimore to work out a long-term extension for Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who was given the franchise tag.

With so much pressure on starting quarterback Joe Flacco entering his fourth season, I’m sure Baltimore would like to get him in the facility and back to work as soon as possible.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As with Baltimore, I don’t have much concern about the reigning AFC champion Steelers. They are a veteran team with the same system in place and kept most of their coaches.

Pittsburgh traditionally is not a major player in free agency. Therefore, that delay won’t affect the it. The Steelers will put most of their focus on building through the draft.

On a lighter note, Steelers receiver and captain Hines Ward will be participating in “Dancing With The Stars.” So that will at least give Steeler Nation something to watch in the coming months during the labor impasse.