Inside the AFC North


Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are several notes and observations this week within the division:

  • Will the Pittsburgh Steelers use all of their salary-cap room provided by the recent signing of left tackle Max Starks? That is a valid question to ponder, because no team likes to go into the season with zero wiggle room. For example, when backup quarterback Charlie Batch broke his collarbone last year, the Steelers saved enough cap space and flexibility to sign a quality backup in Byron Leftwich, who proved to be a great pickup and helped win a couple of games during their Super Bowl run. The team may opt to keep some "injury protection" money again this year instead of reaching as many long-term deals as possible with its heralded 2010 free-agent class that includes players such as tight end Heath Miller and safety Ryan Clark.

  • Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times and ProFootballTalk.com reported this week that Baltimore Ravens tailback Ray Rice recently switched agents to Todd France. Naturally, this means Rice has his eyes set on his next NFL contract. He is in the second year of a four-year deal and has worked with Baltimore's starters all offseason. Houston Texans 2008 draft pick Steve Slaton made a similar business move after a great rookie year. If running backs like Slaton and Rice also have a big sophomore seasons, there could be potential contract rumblings next offseason.

  • I'm not a lawyer, but I will pretend for a second and give the Cleveland Browns some brief counsel: It might be wise to settle Joe Jurevicius' staph infection case out of court. There are seven known instances of staph linked to the Browns and the former receiver is the first to turn it into a lawsuit. The organization hinted last week that it is willing to fight the claims, but perhaps the Browns don't realize all is fair in love, war and litigation. Cleveland's dirty internal laundry could be aired in court. What if the Browns had more cases of staph the media wasn't aware of? It could certainly come out, as well as every detail of Cleveland's medical practices with Jurevicius and possibly other players that led to staph. I don't know which side would win this suit. But even if the Browns were successful, many internal details and potential mistakes from the organization would be made public for the media, fans and potential free agents to see, setting up a lose-lose situation for Cleveland.

  • The Cincinnati Bengals are still considering their options concerning a partnership with the city lottery, team vice president Troy Blackburn told the AFC North blog recently during minicamp. As an alternate way to make income in a tough economy, the NFL in May lifted its ban with local lotteries. A handful of teams -- including the Ravens within the division -- have already taken the plunge by allowing lotteries to bear team logos on scratch-off tickets. Blackburn said the Bengals have always had a good relationship with the Cincinnati lottery and remain in discussions for a similar deal.