AFC North: Alex Smith

CINCINNATI -- With one tight end nursing an unspecified injury the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday re-signed another.

Alex Smith, a 10-year veteran who had been an unrestricted free agent this offseason, was added just as tight end Jermaine Gresham goes through his own injury.

A league source told ESPN's Field Yates on Tuesday that hernia surgery has kept Gresham out of on-field practices since they began two weeks ago. Coach Marvin Lewis admitted to reporters last week that Gresham was hurt, but he declined to go into specifics of the injury. Not only has Gresham missed all of the voluntary organized team activities to this point, he also wasn't practicing in Tuesday's mandatory minicamp, although he was in attendance. Before that sighting, he hadn't been seen by media since early May, when he was around for voluntary offseason conditioning workouts.

According to Yates, there is no exact timetable on Gresham's return.

With Smith's return, the Bengals are officially at full capacity on their roster. They now have 90 players. While they can cut players and add others at any time between now and training camp, this figures to be the roster they will carry into the preseason.

"Alex played significant snaps for us last year, and it's good to get him back in the fold," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's ready to go physically, and it's minicamp week, so he jumps right back in there for us."

Smith's only season with the Bengals was 2013. He signed last offseason as an unrestricted free agent from Cleveland. He played in every one of Cincinnati's regular-season games last year, starting two of them. His last start came during the regular-season finale, when he played in place of both Gresham and Tyler Eifert, the Bengals' top two tight ends who had suffered injuries the week before.

Eifert also has missed time this spring. He didn't practice last week after battling through a minor shoulder injury. He began Tuesday's minicamp, but didn't finish the workout.

Smith has played in 119 career games, making 57 starts. He also has 163 catches for 1,473 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Ranking team needs: Tight ends

April, 18, 2013
The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Thursday, the blog is addressing tight ends. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top five tight ends are: Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert, Stanford's Zach Ertz, Michigan State's Dion Sims, Rice's Vance McDonald and San Diego State's Gavin Escobar.

Here's the rankings ...

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: The only word we've received about Heath Miller is he's walking without a limp and that came in a radio interview this week with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Miller, who tore knee ligaments 3 1/2 months ago, is a strong candidate to start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. The other Steelers tight ends with any experience are Matt Spaeth and David Paulson. For that reason, the Steelers have been linked to Eifert in the first round. Miller, a starter for all eight of his NFL seasons, had one of his best seasons in his first year in Todd Haley's offense. Still, Miller's salary jumps to $6 million in 2014, the last year of his contract, which is another reason for Pittsburgh to look to the future.

2. Cleveland Browns: The Browns didn't replace Ben Watson in free agency, so it's assumed that Jordan Cameron, a fourth-round pick in 2011, will get a chance to start. Cameron has potential, but he is still a project. Also, the Browns' flirtation with Fred Davis in free agency tells me they're not entirely sold on Cameron. It wouldn't surprise me if the Browns went with Cameron this year, but it wouldn't shock me if they drafted one either, especially if coach Rob Chudzinski, a former tight end, finds someone he likes.

3. Baltimore Ravens: I'm sure there are some wondering why the Ravens aren't last on this list. Baltimore has Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, so there's no need at tight end. But both are heading into the final years of their contracts, and the Ravens often look ahead to groom replacements. The Ravens are expected to approach Pitta about an extension, but he may want to see his value in the free-agent market. The Ravens could look for a tight end in the middle rounds.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are set with their top three tight ends this year: Jermaine Gresham, Alex Smith and Orson Charles. Gresham's production has increased in each of his three NFL seasons. He finished with 64 catches for 737 yards and five touchdowns. Smith provides experience as a nine-year veteran and also has experience in Jay Gruden's offense from his days in Tampa Bay. Charles is a solid pass-catching prospect who was drafted in the fourth round last year. There's no need for the Bengals to draft a tight end this year.
The Cleveland Browns are the first team in the division to take to the field this offseason because teams with new coaches are allowed to hold an early voluntary minicamp. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have begun their offseason workout programs, but those teams won't hold on-field activities until May. Lucky for you, there's never such a wait when it comes to the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Ravens have been able to take risks with reclamation projects in the past because they've had such strong leaders in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Now, with both of them gone, Baltimore believes it can still have success with troubled players like inside linebacker Rolando McClain, who signed a one-year contract last week. "I think the guys in the locker room will be able to provide him with the proper guidance that he needs as to the way John wants his football team and football players to be," general manager Ozzie Newsome said, via The Baltimore Sun.

BENGALS: Tight end Alex Smith, who signed with the Bengals on Tuesday, believes switching from Cleveland to Cincinnati will allow him to go from the bottom of the AFC North to the top of it. "I thought the division was definitely leaning in Cincinnati's favor based on some of the roster moves that teams were doing," Smith said, via the team's official website. "Cleveland is going through another transition with a new coach (and) just seeing the way players were exiting out of Pittsburgh and Baltimore, I thought the way Cincinnati was able to keep the nucleus … they already had a nice, young talented roster, so I think being able to build off of that, you've already seen success and I expect them to run away and be even better now. Especially with the shape of the rest of the division."

STEELERS: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told WDVE in Pittsburgh that he is "really excited" that the Steelers have matched the offer sheet for Emmanuel Sanders, which keeps the wide receiver around for one more season. “He’s a lot better than people give him credit for being,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s really smart. It’s good for the team. He’s a good teammate. He can really help. If he stays healthy, I think he can do some great things.” Roethlisberger had lobbied to keep Sanders since the New England Patriots signed Sanders to the offer sheet.

BROWNS: It's still about five months until the start of the regular season, but Brandon Weeden took the first reps at quarterback when the Browns opened their first offseason camp under new coach Rob Chudzinski. Weeden told The Plain Dealer that "this is probably the biggest time of my entire career, just because the rookie year is tough. Going into year two, you've got to show you can play." The Browns signed Jason Campbell to compete with Weeden, and there is still a chance that Cleveland could draft a quarterback. Weeden said he hasn't been told of the team's draft plans. "That's above my pay grade," he said.
Glad to be back after a short break. I thought this past week was going to be a quiet week in the AFC North but it certainly wasn't. The Baltimore Ravens signed another player from the Oakland Raiders. James Harrison is looking to resurface in the division. And the Pittsburgh Steelers decided not to let another wide receiver leave the fold. Unless other news breaks, I'll provide my thoughts on all the recent happenings in the division in one post before noon. As I play catch-up, here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd believes you shouldn't bet against the Ravens when it comes to reclamation projects. The latest is Rolando McClain, the former Raiders linebacker and problem player. "There's a tipping point at which too many of them start to poison your team," Cowherd wrote. "But with so many solid citizens in their locker room, the Ravens can afford to take a chance on one or two quality players who go rogue and now seek redemption."

BENGALS: In addition to the Bengals trying to complete a deal with Harrison, the team has reportedly re-signed backup running back Bernard Scott and is close to an agreement with former Browns tight end Alex Smith, according to the team's official website. Scott said he is ahead of schedule in coming back from a season-ending knee injury. The Bengals are expected to take a running back in the draft later this month.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh matched the New England Patriots' one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team announced Sunday night. "Glad the business side is out of the way," Sanders wrote on Twitter. "Now its back to playing football and bringing number 7 back to Pittsburgh. Love!!! #Steelernation." If the Steelers didn't match, Pittsburgh would have received a third-round pick from the Patriots. I'll have a bigger post on Sanders coming shortly.

BROWNS: Quarterback Colt McCoy, who was traded to the 49ers on April 1, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that it didn't take him long to notice a difference between his new team and his old one. "When I walked in the building in San Francisco, it was the same feel [as at the University of Texas]," McCoy said. "It’s a great organization, and their only focus is: We want to win, and we want to win now. That’s obviously different than some of the things that I’ve been part of the last few years. I was really happy about that.” The Browns were 14-34 during McCoy's three seasons in Cleveland.
What do you hate? The start of the work week, your mother-in-law (not mine, of course) or perhaps it's those long, rambling introductions to your morning blog posts that go on, and on, and on. For linebacker Terrell Suggs, it's the Patriots. In case you missed it from last night, Suggs told a Boston radio station that he "guarantees the other 31 [NFL] teams hate the New England Patriots." Here is my blog on that topic and here is your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Ravens' free agents are in a holding pattern until there is a resolution with quarterback Joe Flacco. According to The Baltimore Sun, it's unlikely that the Ravens will strike any deals with their free agents before March 4, when the team will use its franchise tag if it can't get a long-term contract signed with Flacco. "There have been no discussions with the Ravens," Bryant McKinnie's agent, Michael George, said. "It's just like the other players around the league where Flacco is the main negotiation going on aside from Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, solely for salary-cap purposes. Most players go to free agency. You negotiate with the existing club if you can."

BENGALS: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, last year's first-round pick, won't be able to practice until training camp because he had a procedure done to correct the knee problems from last year, according to the team's official website. He is expected to be ready for the first day of camp. "I think he can play. I don't know where, when or how yet," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. "We have two free agents (Terence Newman and Adam Jones) … I'd like to have them back but that doesn't mean Kirkpatrick isn't better than all of them. He could be the guy that's playing."

STEELERS: Wide receiver Antonio Brown became the second Steelers player to restructure his contract, creating about $3 million in salary-cap room in 2013, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. With linebacker Lawrence Timmons reworking his deal Tuesday, the Steelers have opened up a total of $8 million of cap space. Pittsburgh is now approximately $6 million over the cap. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to restructure his contract by the end of the week, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley is another candidate to do so. Also, free-agent wide receiver Steve Breaston will visit with the Steelers on Thursday after meeting the Browns on Wednesday.

BROWNS: Tony Grossi from ESPN Radio in Cleveland speculates on a quarterback domino effect for the Browns. Matt Cassel, who is expected to be released after the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith, could rejoin the Patriots to be the backup, which could prompt New England to trade current backup Ryan Mallett to the Browns. "Let’s say (Patriots coach Bill) Belichick would agree to a fourth-round pick," Grossi wrote. "Would the Browns give up their fourth-round pick for Mallett while already being without their second-rounder (for Josh Gordon)? That decision would tell us what the Browns truly think of Brandon Weeden."
Even if the Browns wanted Alex Smith, the price was too steep for them to acquire him.

Smith was traded to Kansas City for a second-round pick in the 2013 draft -- the second selection (No. 34 overall) in the round -- and another conditional midround pick in 2014, a league source confirmed to ESPN's John Clayton. The Browns didn't have a second-round pick this year because they used it on wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last year. If Cleveland did have one, its second-rounder would still have been lower than the Chiefs'.

Now that Smith is no longer a candidate to come to Cleveland, you can expect to hear Matt Cassel being linked to the Browns. Cassel is expected to be released by the Chiefs, sources told ESPN. He was a disaster last season for the Chiefs, going 1-7 in eight starts. His 66.7 passer rating ranked 32nd in the league. Still, Browns vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi is close with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who drafted Cassel in 2005.

While the Browns haven't named Brandon Weeden their starter for 2013, it seems that they're down to looking at lower-tier quarterbacks like Cassel and Matt Moore to come in and compete with Weeden. There is also still a chance that the Browns could trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett. At this point, Weeden is the favorite to hold on to the job, and as I wrote earlier today, he remains the Browns' best option.
Brandon WeedenSharon Ellman/AP PhotoWith precious few draft picks this year and a weak quarterback class, the Browns need to develop quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Those following the Browns know this vicious cycle better than anyone: A new decision-maker means a new head coach, and a new head coach leads to a new starting quarterback. This is why every comment and quote from the revamped front office is overanalyzed by the media and fans alike to see if the Browns are committed to Brandon Weeden or, at the very least, even like him.

In the end, after free agency is settled and the draft is over, Weeden should be Browns' starting quarterback in 2013. This isn't necessarily an endorsement. This is just the reality of the situation.

In other years, chief executive officer Joe Banner might have been inclined to ship off Weeden for a fifth-round pick. This year, Weeden is the best option over a weak-armed Alex Smith (who was traded to the Chiefs on Wednesday), an inexperienced Ryan Mallett and an underwhelming quarterback draft class. Those other choices cost draft picks, which is something the rebuilding Browns, who already used a second-round pick on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft, can't afford to give up.

No one is saying Weeden is a franchise quarterback. He was a disappointment last year as a rookie, but he hardly cemented himself as a first-round bust. What you can say with certainty is this: Weeden has his best chance to succeed this season. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to throw the ball downfield, and Weeden's arm strength has the makings of being a good fit. It was evident that Weeden had become frustrated in Pat Shurmur's conservative play calling. The Browns are expected to stretch defenses more under Turner and head coach Rob Chudzinski.

Call it a one-year trial or a one-season reprieve, but the Browns need to give Weeden another shot to prove himself. While Banner and vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi didn't draft Weeden, the Browns did invest the 22nd overall pick in last year's draft on him. The Browns have to try to develop him. They have to develop someone eventually.

Based on NFL history and the AFC North division, the best way for the Browns to find success is to find a quarterback in the draft. Nine of the past 10 Super Bowl champions won with quarterbacks they drafted (only exception was the Saints and Drew Brees). Over the past five seasons, the Browns have watched Joe Flacco win a Super Bowl with the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger hoist up the Lombardi Trophy for the Steelers and Andy Dalton lead the Bengals to back-to-back playoff appearances. And, over those same five seasons, the Browns have had nine starting quarterbacks (Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Thad Lewis and Weeden) and a different season-opening starter each year.

Ideally, Banner and Lombardi would want to place their stamp on the franchise and draft a quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick. But most draft analysts agree that using a selection that high on West Virginia's Geno Smith or USC's Matt Barkley is a stretch. Banner alluded to that when he acknowledged that taking a quarterback at No. 6 is not the team's focus. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. suggested Weeden might be the first quarterback taken if he was in this year's draft class, another indication why Weeden remains a viable candidate for the Browns.

"If I'm Cleveland, nobody in this draft is making me say, ‘I have to take this quarterback even though I have Brandon Weeden,'" Kiper said. "I don't think Cleveland is going to be able to find that guy."

Cleveland isn't going to find "that guy" in free agency or in a trade. Alex Smith was the top quarterback available before getting traded to Kansas City. Even though Smith worked under Turner in 2006, he doesn't have a strong enough arm for Turner's downfield passing attack. Smith has good footwork and timing. He can read defenses. He just won't provide that explosive playmaking ability, which is one reason why the 49ers ultimately turned to Colin Kaepernick.

Mallett has the arm, just not the experience. He's been linked to the Browns because, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Lombardi had Mallett rated as the top quarterback in the 2011 draft. But Mallett, who has four career regular-season passes, could be the next Matt Cassel.

Like Smith and Mallett, Weeden has his faults as well. Weeden just won't cost a draft pick from the Browns, who have one selection in the first 67 picks this year. There are valid concerns about Weeden's instincts and his ability to read defenses (just ask running back Trent Richardson). And there's always the age factor. Weeden will turn 30 during the 2013 season, and Flacco is 28.

The new regime has handled the awkward quarterback situation the right way. The Browns haven't given the starting job to Weeden because he didn't earn it last season. Weeden's 3,385 passing yards ranked second among NFL rookies last season (behind only Andrew Luck) and were a Browns rookie record. He is one of only five Browns quarterbacks to have three or more 300-yard passing games in a season. But Weeden threw 14 touchdowns (the fewest by a quarterback with at least 500 pass attempts) and 17 interceptions (tied for fifth-most in the league).

Banner told Browns reporters at the NFL combine that the team is going to give Weeden "his best chance to succeed."

"We're telling you that we see potential that we're going to try to work with it and see what it's going to develop into," Banner said. "Some of that is just going to come from how bad he wants it. So I think we'll know a lot more than we know now shortly."

The Browns will likely add a veteran such as Matt Moore in free agency and hold a quarterback competition. It will be up to Weeden to prove he deserves to be the starter for this year and the future. If not, the Browns will end up in the same spot next year, looking for another potential franchise quarterback.
The NFL combine is usually the time when you try to figure out what players a team will add. In the Browns' instance, it looks like Brandon Weeden is more likely to stay the team's starting quarterback since the Browns staff arrived at Indianapolis.

Here is what we know (or at least have been told):
  • Chief executive officer Joe Banner said he doesn't expect the Browns to use the No. 6 overall pick on a quarterback. "It's not the focus of our thinking," Banner said. West Virginia's Geno Smith and USC's Matt Barkley are considered the top quarterback prospects in this year's draft.
  • The Browns also aren't in the running to acquire 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, if reports are correct. San Francisco has a deal in place to trade Smith, according to CBS Sports, and a source told the Plain Dealer that the Browns are not the team. (update: ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter is reporting this morning that a deal isn’t yet in place, but the 49ers are confident they’ll be able to trade him). A trade can't become official until March 12, the start of the new league year.
  • There have been no more rumblings about a trade for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The Browns were linked to him by the Boston Globe because new vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi was impressed with Mallett when he was an analyst with the NFL Network. Cleveland might be hesitant about giving up a third- or fourth-round pick for Mallett since it doesn't have a second-round selection this year (the result of taking wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft).

Where does this leave Weeden? In a pretty good spot. The Browns won't officially name Weeden the starter for 2013 anytime soon, but it's a good sign for him that they aren't close to bringing in someone to replace him.
The Cleveland Browns should stick with Brandon Weeden. That's according to this week's SportsNation poll.

Of the 8,127 votes, 46 percent said the Browns should go with Weeden as their 2013 starting quarterback. Signing 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was second with 32 percent.

Here are selected comments from the AFC North mailbag:

Steve from Akron, Ohio: My personal opinion is that they should stick with Weeden and give the guy a chance. In terms of passing yards for rookies, he was second only to Andrew Luck. I think that speaks for itself considering the weapons available to him in the first half of the season. Cleveland's attitude in the past years of "win immediately or you're done" has gotten them nowhere.

Josh from Columbus: The best thing the Browns could do is go for Alex Smith. He is a proven commodity and Browns could use a more mobile QB (more mobile than either Weeden or Ryan Mallett). With the amount of cap space the Browns have, they could add Smith and Mike Wallace but would have to over pay for both of them. But they are they Browns, so that makes too much sense.

Max from Dallas: The Browns should take Matt Barkley in the first round, and if they can trade down and do that, all the better. But they should get him no matter what. I'm not a USC fan at all but Barkley got a bad rep and all because of his team having a bad coach and no defense. Barkley is the truth. If the Browns miss out on Barkley they should wait and take Landry Jones in the second round.

Brad from Maryville, Tenn.: Why is Thad Lewis always left out of the Cleveland QB discussion? Every time the guy gets a chance, he shows star quality. I'd like to see Alex Smith start with Thad Lewis at backup. Trade Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy for whatever they're worth. I love Colt but he's just too fragile to start in the NFL.

Jonathan from Cleveland: As a 40-year-old Browns fan who grew up watching Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar, these past 14 years have been painful. While Brandon Weeden might be close to my age, he deserves to get another year before we replace him. Weeden had the potential, but never received proper coaching last year. Pat Shurmur did him no favors by refusing to alter his philosophy to fit Weeden's skills. He fits Chud and Turner's prototype, and should be given at least a year to see what they can do with him. Enough is enough already.

Neil from Chicago: I think the Browns should trade for Alex Smith (if they can get him for no more than a 3rd round draft choice) or sign him for a reasonable amount as a free agent, and have him compete with Weeden. I do feel that Weeden will be a successful QB in the pros, but, it cant hurt to have another QB on the team that has proven he can play. Wouldn't matter who wins the job as the starter. The Browns are moving in the right direction and it won't be long until they can compete for the division title!

Christian from Shaw AFB, S.C.: Give Weeden one more year. My gosh man! I am not ready to anoint him the "Franchise QB" but one year doesn't make him a bust either. You have one of the best offensive coordinators in the league now, develop it. I am tired of the Coaching/QB Carasel. Everyone saying he had a "disappointing" year is getting old too. Did he make mistakes? Absolutely, but Tom Brady wouldn't have fared that much better as the QB.

Steve from Guildford, Surrey, UK: Stick with Weeden because he shows promise and stretches the field. Drafting a new QB next year is unlikely to get a starter in the first or second rounds. Trading for Alex Smith is likely to result in another average season and salary cap damage, whereas the team can be strengthened in key positions (CB, S, G, WR, TE) using draft and salary cap.
If the Browns want Alex Smith, they'll have to give up draft picks for him. That's the latest update coming from the NFL combine.

Sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the 49ers are "highly, highly, highly unlikely" to release Smith. So, if the Browns want Smith, they'll likely have to trade for him.

The Browns have been linked to Smith because he previously played under Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the team's decision-makers have been noncommittal with Brandon Weeden. Other teams who might be interested in Smith are the Chiefs, Jets and Jaguars.

The 49ers have leverage right now because there are fewer high-potential quarterbacks in this year's draft. But the Browns know that San Francisco would prefer not to pay its backup quarterback $7.5 million this year. If the Browns wait to see if the 49ers will eventually release Smith, it would cost them a shot at other quarterbacks available in free agency like Matt Moore. This is because the make-or-break date for the 49ers is April 1.

According to Mike Sando from the NFC West blog, San Francisco must pay a $1 million bonus to Smith if he remains on the roster April 1. At that point, Smith's $7.5 million salary would become guaranteed.

In other words, don't expect the 49ers to do the Browns or other potential suitors any favors in March. The first day for any trades is March 12, which is the start of free agency. If the Browns want Smith at that point, it will come at a price.
Like most offseasons, the Browns have a decision to make at quarterback. A year ago, the Browns invested a first-round pick in quarterback Brandon Weeden. Now, with new decision-makers in place (Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi), no one knows what the future holds at that position, much less the 2013 season.

So, what do you think the Browns should do at quarterback?


What should the Browns do at quarterback this offseason?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,293)

The Browns could stick with Weeden for another season. Owner Jimmy Haslam said there will be a quarterback competition, so the job won't be handed to Weeden. But the Browns could sign a backup-level quarterback like Matt Moore in free agency, which would make Weeden the favorite to win the job.

Cleveland could trade for San Francisco's Alex Smith or sign him if he becomes a free agent. The 49ers have committed to Colin Kaepernick, which makes Smith available. Smith had a 104.1 passer rating last season before getting injured and ultimately benched. He has ties with new Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who held the same position in San Francisco in 2006.

The Browns could trade for New England's Ryan Mallett. There has been speculation that Mallett is a favorite of Lombardi. As an NFL Network analyst prior to the 2011 draft, Lombardi suggested that Mallett was going to be a first-round pick. Lombardi also has a strong relationship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, which is always helps in facilitating a deal.

Cleveland could draft a quarterback in the first round again. While many analysts don't think a quarterback should go in the top half of the first round, the Browns could surprise everyone by taking USC's Matt Barkley or West Virginia's Geno Smith with the No. 6 pick or trade down to get one of them. This seems to be a long shot, but you can never predict what at team will do when it comes to quarterbacks (did you expect Christian Ponder to go at No. 12 in 2011?)

Record your vote in the poll and let me hear your thoughts on this hot topic by dropping me a line in the AFC North mailbag. Your comments may appear on the AFC North blog later in the week.

Who will compete to be Browns' QB?

February, 5, 2013
It's been expected that there would be a quarterback competition on the Cleveland Browns this year after everyone in the organization has been noncommittal on Brandon Weeden being the starter. On Friday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam confirmed it.

"I think Norv [Turner] and [Rob] Chudzinski have been very open that they like a lot of what Brandon does, but we're going to have competition at that position," Haslam told Cleveland reporters at the Super Bowl, "and I think competition makes us all better."

The next question is: who will be part of this competition? I'm not really buying Michael Vick. There are reports linking Vick to the Browns based on his ties with Joe Banner in Philadelphia and Chudzinski's success with Cam Newton in Carolina. But offensive coordinator Norv Turner was on the coaching staff in San Diego when the Chargers passed on taking Vick in 2001.

The more logical candidates are the 49ers' Alex Smith and the Patriots' Ryan Mallett. Smith played under Turner in 2006, and Mallett has been a favorite of vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi. With Turner, Smith completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 2,890 yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Mallett has thrown four passes in the NFL, completing one. Smith and Mallet both could be traded before free agency begins March 12.
Thursday marks the final day for the media to meet with the players on the Ravens and the 49ers before Sunday's Super Bowl. The only availability on Friday is with the head coaches. Now that you have the schedule, it's time for your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: While the 49ers worked at the Saints' indoor facility to prepare for the Super Bowl at the Superdome, the Ravens dealt with wind gusts up to 24 mph at Tulane University. The Ravens had the option of working at the Saints' indoor facility late in the afternoon or early evening after the 49ers finished, but coach John Harbaugh preferred to stick with the usual schedule of practicing mid-afternoon. “We didn’t like the wind, but we got all of our work done," Harbaugh said. "Spirits are high. They looked great.’’

STEELERS: Redskins special-teams coordinator Danny Smith accepted the same position with the Steelers. Pittsburgh received permission to speak with Smith just two days ago after Amos Jones became the special-teams coordinator with the Cardinals. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers also were considering LSU assistant Thomas McGaughey for the position. The Redskins' coverage teams both ranked in the top 12 last season.

BENGALS: Hue Jackson will take over as running backs coach, multiple sources told The Cincinnati Enquirer. In other news, Jackson apologized for setting up Mitch Ross, a co-owner of Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS), with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis when Jackson was Baltimore's quarterbacks coach. Ross told Sports Illustrated that he gave deer-antler extract to Lewis to speed up his recovery from triceps surgery. "I never knew the young man [Ross] could be that way," Jackson told The Baltimore Sun. "I apologize for the whole organization."

BROWNS: It's unknown whether the Browns will look to trade for or sign 49ers quarterback Alex Smith as a free agent, but it sounded like Smith would be open to reuniting with offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Smith played under Turner in 2006 with the 49ers. "Loved my time with Norv," Smith said, via The Plain Dealer. "[It was] a very, very friendly QB system. For [Cleveland], it's going to be a terminology change going from a West Coast system to the digits, but very, very QB-friendly, big-play potential for the offense with a lot of chunk plays."
Happy Halloween to the AFC North blog family. Hopefully none of the Steelers fans are using those 1934 jerseys as their costumes. That would truly be frightful. Here's your first treat of the day, the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston says getting defensive tackle Haloti Ngata healthy is the top priority for the Ravens, especially with games against the Browns' Trent Richardson, the Raiders' Darren McFadden and the Steelers' Jonathan Dwyer coming up in the next three weeks. "Ngata might be the best tackle in the NFL, but played the past three games with an MCL sprain and shoulder injury," Preston wrote. "He started all three games, but missed some playing time because of the injuries. In two of those three games, the Ravens allowed more than 200 yards rushing and 181 in the third game against Houston."

STEELERS: Pittsburgh is looking at Sunday's game at the New York Giants as a measuring stick. "We are playing the defending champions at their place," coach Mike Tomlin said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That is varsity football, as we say in our business. Looking at what they have done this year, it's equally as impressive. They are 6-2. They've won their last four games. They do things that winning teams do." The Steelers are still searching for a signature win this season. All four of their victories have come against teams that have losing records and own a combined 12-18 mark (.400).

BENGALS: Pat Sims' season could be in jeopardy because of a hamstring injury. Sims, who started 23 games at defensive tackle in his first four seasons, has only one more week on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list before the Bengals have to make a decision whether to begin his three-week practice window or shelve him for the season. “We're waiting on Pat to get where Pat can help us,” coach Marvin Lewis said, via CBS Sports. “He's being given certain guidelines to do so that he can achieve it quickly. He's got some time.”

BROWNS: The Browns are starting to build some momentum. Cleveland has won two of its past three games after losing 11 games in a row. "Since I've been here it's just been ‘We're happy we got a win, OK -- phew,'" tight end Alex Smith told The News-Herald. "Now we're developing a culture. We're just trying to keep on this path of (going up). I think it hit home even more when (owner Jimmy Haslam) came in and talked to us. That was pretty much the bottom line. He said, ‘I'm about winning. Whoever's on board, we'll be good.' That was kind of awakening everybody -- it's go time."