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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Wake-up: Steelers' Gay on free-agent tour

By Jamison Hensley

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

None of the Steelers' free agents have signed elsewhere, but starting cornerback William Gay has suddenly become popular.

Gay, who started 15 games last season for Pittsburgh, visited the Cardinals on Monday and is scheduled to meet with the Titans on Tuesday. This comes a few days after Gay said he wanted to stay with the Steelers and the team had expressed interest in retaining him.

It was only last year when Gay was an unrestricted free agent during a lockout-shortened offseason and drew little interest. Gay eventually signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh before training camp.

Hensley's slant: The Steelers don't seem too concerned about losing Gay, one of the bigger surprises for last year's top-ranked pass defense. Pittsburgh, which also cut Bryant McFadden, apparently will rely on Ike Taylor, along with younger players like restricted free agent Keenan Lewis and two players who were rookies a year ago, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.

BENGALS: Reggie Nelson, who signed his four-year deal Monday, explained why he chose the Bengals over the New York Jets. "Both Marvin [Lewis] and [Jets coach) Rex [Ryan] were in Baltimore together and they can both be very persuasive," Nelson told Cincinnati reporters, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "But in the end, I like what Marvin and Zim [defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer] are doing and what the team has accomplished.” The Bengals hosted four free agents Monday: running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, tight end Joel Dreessen, defensive end Derrick Harvey and cornerback Terence Newman. Running back Michael Bush will complete his visit Tuesday. Hensley's slant: You can't accuse the Bengals of being cheap this time. Nelson will earn $6.5 million this year (which includes base salary and bonuses), which is more than the franchise tag ($6.2 million) and more than what LaRon Landry received from the Jets (one year for $4 million). Now, Nelson has to keep playing like he did last year and live up to the contract.

BROWNS: Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao will "almost certainly" be the starting guards for a second straight season, according to the Canton Repository. Pinkson was a rookie fifth-round pick a year ago, and Lauvao was drafted in the third round in 2010. “Hopefully, those guys improve and play even better than they played last year," general manager Tom Heckert said. Hensley's slant: The right side of the line is a concern with Lauvao and the current hole at right tackle. Lauvao gave up 4.5 sacks and committed eight penalties in his first full season as a starter. It's unknown what the Browns plan to do at tackle after injured Tony Pashos was cut and Artis Hicks signed with Miami. Oniel Cousins isn't the answer there.

RAVENS: Matt Birk, who signed his three-year deal Monday after passing his physical, said the reports of him leaving the game were somewhat exaggerated. He will be entering his 15th season. "I’ll probably always have that desire to play," Birk told the Carroll County (Md.) Times. "Let me just say the reports that I was seriously contemplating retirement, that never came from me. I did say I’d think about it, but that’s just natural. You take a little time to heal up emotionally, physically and mentally and decide if you can do it again. I talked about it with my family and I did some serious thinking. I’m of the mindset that I’m always going to do it until I can't. It’s a process. It takes time. Yeah, I’m back, but I really never left.” Hensley's slant: It's hard to imagine Birk playing all three years of this new deal at the age of 35. But I was wrong before. Count me among the ones who thought Birk was going to retire this offseason. Still, it makes a lot of sense for the Ravens to think about drafting a center this year.