AFC North: Brandon McDonald
No. 3: Class of 2007
Best picks: OT Joe Thomas (first round), CB Eric Wright (second round)
Analysis: This was not a stellar draft for the Browns, but Cleveland has the slimmest pickings of all division teams. So 2007 made the cut. The Browns hit a home run with Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick. Thomas has been to four straight Pro Bowls and is one of the best at his position. Despite Wright's struggles this past season, he was a starting cornerback for Cleveland and turned out to be a decent second-rounder. The Browns also drafted cornerback Brandon McDonald in the fifth round, and he was a contributor for three seasons. The biggest miss in this draft was first-round quarterback Brady Quinn. He was expected to be the long-term solution, but was shipped to the Denver Broncos after three uneventful seasons for tailback Peyton Hillis.
No. 2: Class of 2006
Best picks: LB Kamerion Wimbley, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers (sixth round)
Analysis: The second draft of the Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era in Cleveland turned out to be the best. The Browns landed two starting linebackers in Wimbley and Jackson. Wimbley never quite lived up to expectations, but recorded 26.5 sacks in four seasons with the Browns. He was traded to the Oakland Raiders last year and recorded nine sacks. Jackson led the Browns in tackles in 2008 and had two 100-tackle seasons before suffering a pair of pectoral injuries. Vickers is one of the best fullbacks in the NFL and a great find in the sixth round. The Browns also drafted fifth-round tailback Jerome Harrison, who showed flashes before falling out of favor in Cleveland and being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Regime changes resulted in some of these players having to switch teams, but this was a solid class.
No. 1: Class of 2010
Best picks: CB Joe Haden (first round), S T.J. Ward (second round), QB Colt McCoy (third round)
Analysis: I'm going out on a limb, but I think the 2010 class will be Cleveland's best of the past 10 years. As you can see, this class doesn't have too much to compete with. The first two picks -- Haden and Ward -- have great ability and project to be longtime starters in the secondary. McCoy showed some good things and is vying to be Cleveland's franchise quarterback, although he still has a lot to prove. The Browns also have two rookies in tailback Montario Hardesty and guard Shawn Lauvao who could turn out to be good players. Hardesty is coming off a torn ACL, and Lauvao got mostly backup time in 10 games last season.
On Friday we will conclude our series by ranking the best overall draft classes in the division.
Biggest surprise: The biggest surprise is that Cleveland waited until after 9 p.m. ET Saturday to announce its moves. Supposedly, it was a strategic decision so other teams were not aware of players the Browns made available. I don’t think it makes a difference, especially because the Browns are not a team rich with talent to begin with. As far as players, Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald's name stood out most on this list. His career has been up and down, but he brought a wealth of starting experience (27 starts) to a young secondary. McDonald may have helped seal his own fate when he made negative headlines this summer for an offensive tweet aimed at Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens. The Browns were not pleased with McDonald’s poor judgment.
No-brainers: Quarterback Brett Ratliff had no shot of making this team, because the Browns already have their three players at the position in Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and rookie Colt McCoy. New Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert made several additions at cornerback this offseason, including veteran defensive back Sheldon Brown and rookie first-round pick Joe Haden. That made it very tough for young corners such as Coye Francies to make the team. Receiver Syndric Steptoe has talent and may get interest elsewhere, particularly as a kick returner. But with Pro Bowl returner Josh Cribbs in Cleveland, the Browns have no use for Steptoe.
What's next: Despite Cleveland establishing its 53-man roster, the Browns should still be active on the waiver wires. This roster overall is not very deep, especially compared to its AFC North counterparts. So the Browns could make some additions in several areas to improve the bottom of their roster. Backups shouldn’t get too comfortable in Cleveland.
"Two messages appeared on Ochocinco's Twitter page during the prohibited period for players to be using social media, which begins 90 minutes prior to kickoff until postgame media obligations are fulfilled," the NFL's statement read. "One Ochocinco message appeared at 6:50 p.m. ET and the second at 9:53 p.m. ET. The game kicked off at 8:07 p.m. ET."
The league's minute-by-minute detailing of Ochocinco's tweets should be a message to players. The NFL is very protective of its image and, therefore, closely monitoring social media sites.
Several AFC North players have been in hot water over controversial tweets. Cleveland Browns defensive backs Brandon McDonald recently sent a profanity-laced tweet toward Bengals receiver Terrell Owens that made headlines. Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden also revealed internal business by tweeting that a teammate was fined during a team meeting.
Here are some notes and observations:
- The star of the day was running back Peyton Hillis, who returned from a groin injury that sidelined him for about a week. Hillis was acquired in the Brady Quinn trade with the Denver Broncos and has good size and surprisingly soft hands. He displayed that combination by trucking a would-be defender in team drills and also catching two long receptions for big gains. One catch was over linebacker Matt Roth and the other was over Jason Trusnik.
"It feels good to be out there with the guys and the coaches again," Hillis said about returning. "It gets pretty boring and kind of heartbreaking to sit inside and watch your teammates practice."
- Despite Hillis' highlights, the practice overall was sloppy offensively. In one sequence, center Billy Yates failed to execute a shotgun snap to backup quarterback Colt McCoy on consecutive plays. The coaches forced Yates to run a lap. Quarterback Senenca Wallace also fumbled a snap and threw an interception to linebacker Eric Barton. Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme made some throws and missed some throws Monday, but didn't turnover the football.
- Of all things, Twitter was a major topic of discussion Monday. This comes on the heels of Cleveland cornerback Brandon McDonald sending a profanity-laced tweet to Cincinnati star receiver Terrell Owens that drew plenty of headlines. Browns coach Eric Mangini warned his players Monday about representing the team in a professional manner, and the players seem to get the message.
"You have to make sure what's out there is what you really want out there," Browns Pro Bowler Josh Cribbs said. "I have fun with it. It's just a social tool, and a lot of it is a joke. You joke around with a lot of guys."
Owens, a likely Hall of Famer, said he was unfamiliar with McDonald until today.
"Who?" Owens responded. "I don't even know who he is. Is he Ronald McDonald?"
The Bengals will travel to play the Browns in Week 4, where these two players can settle their differences.
For whatever reason, it's been trash-talking season throughout the AFC North division. The Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have been going back-and-forth with various comments, and suddenly McDonald and the Browns have entered the fray.
- Tonight will mark the debut of receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens together as the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys open the 2010 NFL season.
- With several key veterans over 30, is the window of opportunity closing for the Baltimore Ravens?
- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood is making a name for himself in training camp.
- Cleveland Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald, who got a pick-six off rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, was one of the biggest stars of this weekend's scrimmage.
With camps getting started around the league, I figure it's a good time to share some of my zany tales from the AFC North.
- Last year in Latrobe, Pa., some fans were screaming "James! James, we love you!" at the top of their lungs. So I walked to the roped-off area to say hello, and those same fans suddenly gave me this strange "Who the heck are you?" look. So I turned around and noticed Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was standing around the same area that I was before. I walked away feeling really dumb and embarrassed.
- I once stopped Cleveland Browns guard Eric Steinbach for an interview coming off the field and I greeted him with a handshake. When he opened his right hand, I noticed blood was on his palm. Having to make a quick decision, I didn't want to shun Steinbach. So I shook his bloody hand anyway and said "Hey, it's football." We went on with the interview, and I washed my hands soon after.
- I don't get spooked easily. But one time I was interviewing Robert Geathers in Georgetown, Ky., about his micro-fracture surgery. Cincinnati Bengals teammate Tank Johnson suddenly crept from behind and grabbed me on the shoulder, causing me to jump. All three of us got a pretty good laugh out of it.
- Two years ago, I got to Baltimore Ravens camp early when only rookies, quarterbacks and selected free agents were participating. They didn't have enough defensive backs to do team drills, so Baltimore used a couple of children who were no taller than five feet. I said they must be mimicking Cleveland's cornerbacks (Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright) in this drill, which people thought was pretty funny.
Now the Browns have tremendous flexibility with their No. 7 overall pick. It's no longer predictable that Cleveland will get secondary help -- either at cornerback or safety -- in the first round. That makes the Browns somewhat of a mystery in the top 10, which new team president Mike Holmgren probably prefers.
So with the draft approximately two weeks away, the AFC North blog went back to the drawing board to break down Cleveland's new-found options on draft day.
Option No. 1: Draft Tennessee safety Eric Berry
Analysis: This was the best choice before the Philadelphia trade, and it remains the best choice after the Philadelphia trade. Last week it was debatable whether cornerback or safety was Cleveland's biggest need defensively. Berry and Florida cornerback Joe Haden were the two highest-rated players at their respective positions. Therefore, it was natural that Cleveland had both players on its radar. But acquiring Brown to be the team's top cornerback scratches Haden off the list with the No. 7 overall pick. Eric Wright should be a solid No. 2 cornerback while Brandon McDonald gets removed from the starting lineup. But a large void remains at safety, where the team lacks a playmaker. Berry's athleticism and big-play ability are exactly what the Browns need to run defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's aggressive 3-4 scheme. The question is, will someone ahead of Cleveland take Berry off the board first?
The Browns shipped backup linebacker Alex Hall and a fourth- and fifth-round pick to the Eagles, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Cleveland has plenty of draft picks to spare, particularly in the middle rounds, and still has 10 selections in this month's draft.
Brown, who likely will get an extension with Cleveland, fills a major void at cornerback and moves the struggling Brandon McDonald out of the starting lineup. Gocong is a player Browns coach Eric Mangini liked coming out of college and has starting experience with Philadelphia, tying Gocong with current Browns general manager Tom Heckert.
The trade for Brown likely impacts Cleveland's draft plans in the first round.
The Browns are no longer desperate for a cornerback with the No. 7 overall pick, where Florida's Joe Haden was a potential target. Tennessee safety Eric Berry definitely makes more sense at this point if Cleveland has a choice between the two players.
The bonuses are based on playing time earned last season compared to their original salary level. Gay played in all 16 games for Pittsburgh and started 14.
Here is the full list of AFC North players who received sizable performance-based bonuses:
4. Gay, Steelers cornerback, $325,607
18. Kyle Cook, Cincinnati Bengals center, $268,122
24. Brandon McDonald, Cleveland Browns cornerback, $248,403
- With starting tailback Cedric Benson (hip) still missing practice, it appears Larry Johnson could make his Cincinnati Bengals debut Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Morning take: The Bengals should beat Oakland with or without Benson and could still get Johnson acclimated to the new offense.
- Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs doesn’t believe his sprained knee will end his season.
Morning take: But Suggs’ injury comes at an awful time for Baltimore, which needs to get hot down the stretch. Expect Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to have a little extra time in the pocket Sunday.
- Cleveland Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald is struggling with allowing big plays once again.
Morning take: McDonald had a good rookie stretch as a nickel cornerback a few years ago but was never the same player as a full-time starter. I’m surprised the Browns never found a way to place him back as the No. 3 corner.
- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hopes to redeem himself after a poor game against Cincinnati last week.
Morning take: It’s rare that Roethlisberger has bad games in back-to-back weeks. Don't expect it Sunday against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the top stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
- Center and seventh-round pick A.Q. Shipley is thrilled to be with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Morning take: Because of his pedigree, the Moon Township native and former Penn State center has a chance to become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. But Shipley must first prove he can play at the next level.
- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer says it's his goal to win the Super Bowl.
Morning take: Palmer is extremely confident in his team this season. It will be interesting to see if that optimism translates to on-the-field success.
- Baltimore Ravens tight end Quinn Sypniewski is on the road to recovery after major knee surgery last year.
Morning take: Sypniewski was a decent addition to Baltimore's offense when healthy. But in the past couple of months, the Ravens signed veteran tight end L.J. Smith and drafted Davon Drew, putting Sypniewski's roster spot at risk this summer.
- Newly-signed cornerback Roderick Hood is expected to compete for a starting job with the Cleveland Browns.
Morning take: Last year, young corners Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright had no starting-caliber players behind them when they struggled. Now competition at the position should help the Browns.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Best Match: LB Ray Lewis
The Ravens don't have to look very far for their best match. Without a doubt, the best pairing of the players still available is Baltimore in-house free agent Ray Lewis.
Negotiations have been ongoing for weeks, despite the fact that it was obvious the veteran linebacker was eager to test the market. It turned out the interest in Lewis, 33, was not as strong as anticipated as teams like the New York Jets (Bart Scott) and Dallas Cowboys (Keith Brooking) targeted other linebackers.
Now the best option Lewis has is the reported three-year deal in the range of $24 million that Baltimore put on the table last week. Unless there is a last-minute suitor that wants to go beyond $8 million a year, the Ravens will secure their longtime leader.
Best Match: RB Derrick Ward
If the season started today, oft-injured and inconsistent Chris Perry would be the starting running back for the Bengals. The team has waited long enough for the former first-round pick to develop into a featured back and it hasn't panned out.
Now the Bengals need to find a starting tailback this offseason, and former New York Giant Derrick Ward is the best on the market. He visited Cincinnati last weekend and listened to its best pitch before interviewing with other teams.
A fallback option for the Bengals would be to bring back Cedric Benson. But the team's instant courtship of Ward in free agency is a good indication of which player the Bengals prefer.
Best Match: CB Hank Poteat
Of the four AFC North teams, finding the best match for the Browns was the most difficult. Following last week's trade of former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., it's clear this team is starting over. Therefore, Cleveland is more interested in draft picks than big-name acquisitions in free agency.
With that said, eight-year cornerback Hank Poteat would be the ideal fit for Cleveland. He's cheap, experienced and most importantly he is a favorite of new Browns coach Eric Mangini, who coached Poteat with the Jets.
Cleveland needs depth and experience in the secondary. Poteat can come in and compete for a starting job with young corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald. Or, at the very least, Poteat can play the nickel and teach the young pair.
Best Match: OT Khalif Barnes
The Steelers are rarely big players in free agency, so there are no obvious matches for the defending Super Bowl champions. But former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Khalif Barnes would be a nice addition.
In terms of age and production Barnes, 26, is arguably the best tackle remaining on the market. Pittsburgh's offensive line could use help in keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright next season.
Would the Steelers pay top dollar for a free agent like Barnes? It doesn't appear likely. But if they decide to spend this offseason, Barnes would be a good investment. Otherwise, April's NFL draft cannot come soon enough for Pittsburgh.
It lasted just one play.
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel sat McDonald for the first series as punishment for his poor performance in Cleveland's 34-30 loss to the Denver Broncos. The series lasted one play as Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage.
It appears the benching was more of a gimmick to motivate McDonald than it was to get reserve cornerback Travis Daniels ready to play.
[Update: McDonald intercepted a pass, Trent Edwards' third pick of the first quarter.]