Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Thursday, February 21, 2013
Wake-up: Free-agent talk at the combine

By Jamison Hensley

The NFL combine is supposed to showcase the next wave of players coming into the league. But it's also the time when agents sit down with teams about prospective free agents. Of course, agents only talk to the players' current teams. They're no such thing as tampering in the NFL, right? If you didn't get the hint, there's a lot of free-agent talk in today's wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Besides meeting with the agent for quarterback Joe Flacco, the team is scheduled to sit down with the representative for free-agent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe at the NFL combine. "I think Dannell has proven himself to be one of the elite young linebackers in the NFL," agent Hadley Engelhard told The Baltimore Sun. "His best football is in front of him. Hopefully, there's a home for him in Baltimore. If not, I'm sure plenty of other teams will be happy to have him on their roster." The Sun estimates that it could take twice as much to retain Ellerbe as it did to keep inside linebacker Jameel McClain ($10.5 million over three years) last season.

BENGALS: The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy said you can't rule out the Bengals using the franchise tag on a special teams player. If the Bengals wanted to tag kicker Mike Nugent for a second straight season, it would cost the team about $3.185 million. He also indicated that it's a possibility the Bengals could tag either punter Kevin Huber or kicker Josh Brown. As Reedy pointed out, six of the 21 tags last season were on punters or kickers. If the Bengals did this, it would be a major misstep considering offensive tackle Andre Smith and defensive end Michael Johnson are soon-to-be free agents.

STEELERS: Even though the Steelers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau doesn't see much difference between the Steelers and their division rival who won the Super Bowl. “Do I feel we could have done the same thing they did? I do. I do,” LeBeau told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It didn't break that way.” LeBeau added, "They got the right people back at the right time, and we continued to have more injuries, it seemed like. Many times that decides it.” This is why the Steelers have to do everything in their power to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger healthy going forward. His injuries have derailed the past two seasons.

BROWNS: The Browns will meet with the agent for soon-to-be free agent Josh Cribbs at the NFL combine. While it's unlikely that the three-time Pro Bowl returner will come back to the Browns, agent J.R. Rickert didn't rule it out. "Josh has really built a foundation there with the city and with the team," Rickert told The Plain Dealer. "Cleveland is a second home to him. But he's also a professional and he wants to play. If they if don't re-sign him, he'll pursue other options as they're available." The Browns are expected to add another wide receiver in the draft and they have a less-expensive option in Travis Benjamin at returner.