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Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Wake-up: Bengals haven't talked to Benson

By Jamison Hensley

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

Now that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have reportedly spoken to each other, let's move onto another AFC North situation where the sides aren't talking -- running back Cedric Benson and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Benson becomes an unrestricted free agent in 20 days (on March 13). "We haven’t had any talks about a new deal," Benson told Sirius NFL Radio last night (via the Cincinnati Enquirer).

In his first season with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Benson finished with 273 carries, which was his fewest since 2008.

“We had a chance to establish an identity and we kind of got in our rhythm at times and there were times that were tough,” Benson said. “You can look at the statistics. We didn’t stick on what the offense was built on. When we had Carson [Palmer] and Chad [Ochocinco], we kept a strong identity in the run game and we kind of got away from it and didn’t let that part of the offense grow and bit the bullet on it a little bit.”

Hensley's slant: It was expected that Benson and the Bengals would have a mutual parting of the ways this year, and his comments only confirm that. This doesn't mean that the Bengals will hand the starting job to Bernard Scott. The Bengals should address the running back position in the draft or free agency, and perhaps both.

BROWNS: ESPN's Todd McShay considers Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, who could be a first-round target of the Browns, among the second tier of wide receivers along with Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree and Julio Jones. “He compares to Julio Jones in that, he’s a physical receiver that’s ready to come in and I think he can contribute right away, knows how to use his body very well to shield defenders from the ball and position guys away," McShay said in a recent conference call, via the team's website. "He’s got strong hands, but still, every once-in-a-while, has a focus drop and Julio Jones was the same way. I think Jones attacked the ball a little bit better. He belongs in the top of the class at wide receiver this year and in the top 10 picks, I believe.” Hensley's slant: It's funny that Blackmon compares to Julio Jones because the Browns received five draft picks from the Atlanta Falcons (including picks in the first and fourth round this year) by passing on Jones last year. The Browns can't ignore the wide receiver position again this year, whether it's taking Blackmon in the top five or Baylor's Kendall Wright with their second first-round pick. This offense needs playmakers in the passing game.

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston said no one should panic about the contract talks with quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice because they're staying with the Ravens. "Flacco and Rice aren't going anywhere because the Ravens designated them cornerstones last season when they cut receivers Derrick Mason and Todd Heap," Preston wrote. "Every time there was an issue on offense last season, Rice and Flacco became the spokesmen. The question is, when will the Ravens pay Rice and Flacco?" Hensley's slant: The pecking order looks like it's been set. Even though team officials are expected to talk to the agents of both players at the NFL combine, the Ravens have made it a priority to get a contract extension with Flacco because they can put a relatively cheap franchise tag on Rice. Based on the longevity of quarterbacks compared to running backs, Flacco's contract will also be a more long-term one.

STEELERS: The Steelers showed their commitment to Willie Colon as their right tackle by restructuring his contract, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The move created $2.85 million in salary-cap space, the paper reported. Colon, who has missed 31 of the past 32 regular-season games due to injuries, has four years remaining on a five-year, $29 million contract that he signed in August. Hensley's slant: It was assumed that Colon would regain his starting job at right tackle because Marcus Gilbert is shifting to left tackle in 2012. The Steelers are now around $8 million over the cap. How much Pittsburgh can get under the cap will dictate whether wide receiver Mike Wallace gets a first-round tender ($2.7 million) or the franchise tag ($9.6 million). It looks like the Steelers are leaning toward putting a first-round tender on Wallace, which would leave them vulnerable to losing him.