AFC North: Josh Cribbs

Josh Cribbs drew the Twitter ire of Cleveland Browns fans with one simple comment after the Jets were blown out by the Bengals on Sunday.

"We're not the Browns," the special-teams specialist told Newsday after Sunday's game. "We’re not the team that gives up. We have fight in this team."

OK then.

Cribbs then did a spin on one of his more well-known quotes after a Browns' loss to Pittsburgh. In Cleveland, he said the Browns were "going to take this loss and run with it."

With the Jets, he told Newsday: "It's good that [the loss] comes now because we're still in the mix of this." The paper's headline even said that Cribbs was able to see the bright side.

Cribbs was a Cleveland favorite in his years with the Browns, and many fans were disappointed when the team did not re-sign him in the offseason. But he would occasionally find himself in trouble for saying too much. He's available, friendly and over-the-top candid, and as losing wore on him he wore his disgust and frustration on his sleeve -- especially when he discussed his contract status. These kinds of statements are not untypical of him.

The brouhaha led to some interesting back and forth on Twitter, with Browns fans first letting Cribbs know their ... ahem ... thoughts.

Among the tamer comments Cribbs heard:

Which prompted Cribbs to state that he was misquoted:

Which, naturally, brought more ridicule:

Which brought a placid response from Cribbs:

Perhaps from a Cleveland perspective, this guy got it right:

One of the best returners in Cleveland Browns history left the team in the offseason.

As it turns out, the Browns may be using a faster, more elusive punt returner -- and in the end he may turn out to be just as good and maybe better than Josh Cribbs. Travis Benjamin has more quickness and pure speed than Cribbs, and when he gets any room to maneuver he is a threat.

Benjamin only returns punts -- he’s too frail to return kickoffs -- but Thursday night in the win over Buffalo he had a 79-yard return for a touchdown and a 57-yard return. Total, he set a team record with 179 yards in returns (the previous record was held by Eric Metcalf, who returned two punts for TDs in a win over Pittsburgh in October 1993).

“Fabulous,” coach Rob Chudzinski said after the game.

[+] EnlargeTravis Benjamin
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesTravis Benjamin is trying to make Browns fans forget about Josh Cribbs.
“Fastest man on the field,” tight end Jordan Cameron said.

All he needs is room to get going. And Bills punter Shawn Powell gave Benjamin room plenty of times. His kicks were long -- 45.5 yards -- but they were low, and he kept outkicking the coverage (sort of like I did with my wife). To the point that Buffalo released Powell the day after the game.

“It’s only a matter of time in this league before you get exposed,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said.

Benjamin has room to grow. He goes through games where he has trouble catching the ball, or does little on returns. He’s also so small that there is a constant risk of being injured.

Too, on the 59-yard return he let Powell shove him out of bounds. The cardinal sin for a returner is being stopped by the punter. Benjamin let it happen on the first, but on the second he ran through the tackle.

The key to any success is consistency, and Benjamin had a strong preseason but averaged just 7.7 yards per return in the first four games.

He provides hope with this game.

Letting Cribbs go was the right decision by the new Browns regime -- even though it was disappointing for the fans, it was time.

Counting on Benjamin was a risk. A year ago he looked small and injury prone and too inconsistent to play on offense. There’s a lot of guys who try to rely on pure speed who don’t succeed in football.

But Benjamin made a statement about his value against the Bills.

He just needs to continue what he started.
All four AFC North teams are on the field today for more voluntary practices. The Cleveland Browns will hold their mandatory minicamp next week, and the rest of the division teams will do so in the second week of June. Now that your calendar is set, here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Ravens lost seven starters from their Super Bowl-winning team and added the likes of Elvis Dumervil, Michael Huff, Matt Elam and Arthur Brown. Coach John Harbaugh was asked if this year's team is better than the one that hoisted up the Lombardi trophy a year ago. That’s definitely the idea, our goal is to get better," Harbaugh told 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. "The proof is in the pudding, we proved that last year. We’ll have a lot of work to do between now and then to prove it again this year. But, we have a chance, I like our young players.”

BENGALS: After two weeks of offseason workouts, special teams coach Darrin Simmons told the team's official website that he has been impressed with the overall team speed. "It's as high as it's ever been; maybe ever," Simmons says. "We had a couple of fast groups from '04-'06. We had some fast guys then. I think our team speed was fast then. I think we're (more) experienced, so we're even in a better place now." Safety Shawn Williams, a third-round pick, has stood out. "He's as natural as an instinctive guy -- as far as understanding football concepts -- as I've seen come out in a long time; really natural," Simmons said.

STEELERS: Despite not significantly improving the offense in his first year as coordinator, Todd Haley told the team's official website that the expectation this season is "to get to that confetti game, as Coach [Mike] Tomlin likes to call it.” To do that, the Steelers have to be better than 21st in offense. "I would expect great development up front (with the offensive line), and I think our quarterback is as good as anybody’s," Haley said. "We just need to do a better job of protecting him and him of protecting himself. And we need to run the ball more efficiently, because I think we’ll be able to throw it with anybody.”

BROWNS: As The Plain Dealer put it, when was the last time a Browns assistant lost two Pro Bowl players? That's the challenge facing special teams coach Chris Tabor, who watched kicker Phil Dawson and returner Josh Cribbs sign elsewhere in free agency. "It was obviously great to coach those guys," Tabor said. "I feel very fortunate. But at the same time I'm excited about this group and the challenges that lie ahead and the things that we can build upon. In some areas, we will start from scratch but that's OK. In my opinion as a coach that's the fun process."
The theme of Thursday's wake-up call is former players. Even though they're gone, they still generate interest. Other than the item on the Cincinnati Bengals, it's time to revisit some names no longer on an AFC North roster:

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston doesn't think the Ravens should have signed linebacker Rolando McClain, who announced his retirement Wednesday. "The Ravens blew it on this one," Preston wrote. "They went out and signed a knucklehead who remained a knucklehead. At this point, we don't know why McClain retired at age 23, and to be honest, I'm afraid to ask. I really don't want to know, and I'm just glad he is out of here." Also, 2005 first-round pick Mark Clayton announced his retirement two months after saying he was ready to play again. A right knee injury had sidelined him all of last season. Clayton is 30 years old, seven years older than McClain.

BENGALS: The timetable hasn't changed for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who isn't expected to participate in team drills until the start of training camp in late July, according to the team's official website. He is recovering from offseason knee surgery. Kirkpatrick has been able to do some individual drills while he rehabs. "It's the best he's moved since he's been here," secondary coach Mark Carrier said. "It's amazing what you can do when you don't have any pain. Remember, he's been hurt pretty much since he's been here, so he really looks good so far."

STEELERS: Former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace told the Miami Herald that his new quarterback (the Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill) can be just as good as his old one (the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger). "It's funny, they both played receiver at the beginning of college," Wallace said. "They both know what we [receivers] like to do out there, so the chemistry is there already. Both have strong arms. Ryan has a cannon, can really fling it." Wallace added that Tannehill "may be able to throw the ball a little farther than Ben." Maybe Wallace should wait to actually catch a pass from Tannehill in a meaningful game before making such comparisons. With Roethlisberger throwing him the ball, Wallace had more 40-yard receptions (27) than anyone in the NFL since 2009 and the most touchdown catches of 40 yards or longer (16).

BROWNS: Wide receiver-returner Josh Cribbs is officially an ex-Browns player after signing a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders. Cribbs, who went to three Pro Bowls during his eight seasons with Cleveland, expressed no hard feelings with his former team. "I am going to be for them until we play them," Cribbs told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "They are great fans. I love them just as much as they love me. I hope they win this year. I hope they get the job done and reach greater heights. I hope they root for me as a player and I will be rooting for them from afar." This is a much better response than when Cribbs lashed out on Twitter toward the end of last season. The Browns will replace Cribbs with Travis Benjamin in the return game.
With full-team minicamps beginning in about two weeks, the AFC North blog is taking one final look at the division's top 20 free agents. Only one player, Josh Cribbs, remains unsigned. The division teams were able to keep nine players on the list. Remember to check ESPN.com's free-agent tracker to keep up-to-date with all the moves around the league.

Here is the rankings and where the players stand now (* -- unsigned):

1. Joe Flacco, Ravens QB: Signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract with the Ravens. The then-record deal includes $52 million guaranteed and a $29 million signing bonus.

2. Mike Wallace, ex-Steelers WR: Signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Dolphins. The deal includes $30 million guaranteed and an $11 million signing bonus.

3. Ed Reed, ex-Ravens FS: Signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Texans. The deal includes $6 million guaranteed and a $2 million signing bonus.

4. Andre Smith, Bengals OT: Signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Bengals. The deal includes $5 million guaranteed and a $3 million signing bonus.

5. Michael Johnson, Bengals DE: Signed a one-year, $11.2 million franchise tag with the Bengals.

6. Dannell Ellerbe, ex-Ravens ILB: Signed a five-year, $34.75 million contract with the Dolphins. The deal includes $14 million guaranteed and a $7 million signing bonus.

7. Paul Kruger, ex-Ravens OLB: Signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract with the Browns. The deal includes $20 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus.

8. Phil Dawson, ex-Browns K: Signed a one-year, $2.35 million contract with the 49ers. The deal includes a $1 million signing bonus.

9. Dennis Pitta, Ravens TE: Restricted free agent received second-round tender ($2.023 million).

10. James Harrison, ex-Steelers OLB: Signed a two-year, $4.45 million contract with the Bengals. The deal includes a $1.2 million signing bonus.

*11. Josh Cribbs, Browns WR-PR: Unsigned. He failed to reach an agreement with the Cardinals, so he's been visiting the Raiders, Jets, Giants and Lions this week. My guess is he signs with Detroit.

12. Bernard Pollard, ex-Ravens safety: Signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Titans. The deal includes a $500,000 signing bonus.

13. Keenan Lewis, ex-Steelers CB: Signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the Saints. The deal includes $10.5 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus.

14. Cary Williams, ex-Ravens CB: Signed a three-year, $17 million contract with the Eagles. The deal includes $10.5 million guaranteed and a $5 million signing bonus.

15. Manny Lawson, ex-Bengals OLB: Signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Bills. The deal includes a $3 million signing bonus.

16. Terence Newman, Bengals CB: Signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Bengals. The deal includes a first-year roster bonus of $1.4 million.

17. Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers WR: Restricted free agent received a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet from the Patriots and the Steelers matched it.

18. Rey Maualuga, Bengals LB: Signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract with the Bengals. The deal includes a $2.5 million signing bonus.

19. Adam Jones, Bengals CB: Signed a three-year, $5.35 million contract with the Bengals. The deal includes $1.5 million guaranteed and a $750,000 signing bonus.

20. Benjamin Watson, ex-Browns TE: Signed a three-year, $4.95 million contract with the Saints. The deal includes a $1.2 million signing bonus.
Josh Cribbs went to three Pro Bowls during his eight-year career with the Cleveland Browns, including last season. He holds seven Browns records, most of which are for returns and all-purpose yards.

Now, two weeks away from when most teams begin their minicamps, Cribbs is without a team. He is the last of the AFC North's top 20 free agents who remain unsigned.

Cribbs was expected to sign with the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, but he hasn't fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. The Cardinals then used a third-round pick on Tyrann Mathieu, who has big-play ability as a returner.

Asked if Cribbs was off the Cardinals' radar, general manager Steve Keim told the team's official website: “That’s something we have already explored. At this point, I really can’t get any further into it, so I will leave it at that.”

That doesn't sound like Cribbs is on the Cardinals' priority list. Early in free agency, it was reported that Cribbs was deciding between the Cardinals and the New England Patriots. But the Patriots are no longer an option after they signed return man Leon Washington.

Two potential destinations for Cribbs are the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lions didn't re-sign returner Stefan Logan, and the Buccaneers looked at Washington in free agency.

Just don't expect a reunion between the Browns and Cribbs. The new regime decided to part ways with Cribbs and kicker Phil Dawson, the two longtime faces of the expansion era Browns. Cleveland is set to go with Travis Benjamin, a fourth-round pick from a year ago, as its primary returner.
It's no surprise that there's a lot of interest in what the Cleveland Browns will do at the No. 6 overall pick. Browns draft talk dominated this week's chat and included a question about the team's bigger need on defense. Here are the highlights from the AFC North chat ...

Darrell (Dallas Tx): Which need is bigger for the Browns with no second-round pick, free safety or cornerback? They need both.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Corner. At safety, they can plug in Tashaun Gipson or Eric Hagg. Having Buster Skrine at corner is a scary thought.

Carlos (Hobbs, NM): With all these vets getting released by the Ravens, are there any more players that you see the ravens cutting?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): If the Ravens need more cap room, they will approach fullback Vonta Leach about taking a pay cut. He is due to make $3 million this year. It could lead to his release.

Bryant (Akron): I'm upset to see the Browns not bringing back Josh Cribbs or Phil Dawson. What do you think was the main reasoning behind the decisions especially Cribbs?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): New regime wants to get fresh start. Dawson and Cribbs have been the faces associated with Browns since their return to the NFL. Also, the Browns wanted to get a younger kicker and they have a replacement for Cribbs in Travis Benjamin.

Quammy (Cincinnati, OH): Given the current uncertainty at the Bengals safety position, courtesy of Taylor May looking like a chicken with his head cut off in coverage, what are the possibilities/interest the Bengals have in Charles Woodson? Seems like this free agency has been filled with bargains, and the Bengals love bargains.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Don't see this happening. I get the feeling the Bengals would turn to Chris Crocker again if they can't draft a starting safety.

Joe Routson (Monroe, OH): Is there any chance the Browns pick up a starting CB, ILB, or safety before the draft via free agency or trade?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): There is no corner out there right now. You want Quentin Jammer? I don't see the Browns making any more moves before the draft. If they don't address these spots, they can still go with Robertson at ILB and either Gipson or Hagg at safety.

Duron, Columbus [via mobile]: Thanks for all the work. I know it's probably getting old, but any update on the Bengals resigning Andre Smith? Thanks.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): When I talked this week to head coach Marvin Lewis, he sounded pretty optimistic that it would get done before the draft.

Jason (Santa Monica): The Steelers must see something in Alameda Ta'amu if they are still keeping him around. Any chance you see him starting at defensive tackle and Steve McLendon moving to Ziggy Hood's spot at DE? Ta'amu was considered a top-three DT in the draft last year

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): There is no chance that Ta'amu is a starter this year. He didn't even get on the field last year. The Steelers will start McLendon this year and have to determine whether they want to invest in him or go with Ta'amu in 2014.

James,nc [via mobile]: What's the thing about Eddie Lacy that make people say he is not a good first-round pick? I would love to see him in Steelers uniform.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Lacy lacks the speed that you want for a playmaking running back. He runs tough and has good balance. But Lacy isn't dynamic. He's sort of a poor man's Frank Gore.

Danny sc [via mobile]: Do you think the recent moves by the Bengals at the quarterback position were designed to send a message to Andy Dalton and that this is his make-or-break year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): If either John Skelton or Josh Johnson is a threat to Dalton, the Bengals are in trouble. Big trouble.
It's 18 days into NFL free agency, and there's only five players on the AFC North top 20 list who remain unsigned. As always, click here for ESPN.com's free-agent tracker which will keep you up-to-date with all the moves from around the league.

Here is the rankings and where the players stand now (* -- unsigned):

1. Joe Flacco, Ravens QB: Signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract with the Ravens. The NFL-record deal includes $52 million guaranteed and a $29 million signing bonus.

2. Mike Wallace, ex-Steelers WR: Signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Dolphins. The deal includes $30 million guaranteed and an $11 million signing bonus.

3. Ed Reed, ex-Ravens FS: Signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Texans. The deal includes $6 million guaranteed and a $2 million signing bonus.

*4. Andre Smith, Bengals OT: Unsigned. Smith remains a priority for the Bengals. He has surprisingly drawn little interest in free agency.

5. Michael Johnson, Bengals DE: Signed a one-year, $11.2 million franchise tag with the Bengals.

6. Dannell Ellerbe, ex-Ravens ILB: Signed a five-year, $34.75 million contract with the Dolphins. The deal includes $14 million guaranteed and a $7 million signing bonus.

7. Paul Kruger, ex-Ravens OLB: Signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract with the Browns. The deal includes $20 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus.

8. Phil Dawson, ex-Browns K: Signed a one-year, $2.35 million contract with the 49ers. The deal includes a $1 million signing bonus.

9. Dennis Pitta, Ravens TE: Restricted free agent received second-round tender ($2.023 million).

*10. James Harrison, Steelers OLB: Unsigned. Harrison has to be rethinking his decision not to take a pay cut with the Steelers. He's only taken one visit, and the Ravens signed Elvis Dumervil during it. Could he end up in Arizona like so many other ex-Steelers?

*11. Josh Cribbs, Browns WR-PR: Unsigned. The Cardinals are waiting until Cribbs is fully recovered from meniscus surgery before signing him.

12. Bernard Pollard, ex-Ravens safety: Signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Titans. The deal includes a $500,000 signing bonus.

13. Keenan Lewis, ex-Steelers CB: Signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the Saints. The deal includes $10.5 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus.

14. Cary Williams, ex-Ravens CB: Signed a three-year, $17 million contract with the Eagles. The deal includes $10.5 million guaranteed and a $5 million signing bonus.

15. Manny Lawson, ex-Bengals OLB: Signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Bills. The deal includes a $3 million signing bonus.

*16. Terence Newman, Bengals CB: Unsigned. Newman announced on Twitter on Friday night that he has re-signed with the Bengals. No official word from the Bengals yet.

*17. Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers WR: Restricted free agent visited the Patriots but has yet to sign an offer sheet. The Steelers have first right of refusal and would receive a third-round pick as compensation if they didn't match the offer.

18. Rey Maualuga, Bengals LB: Signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract with the Bengals. The deal includes a $2.5 million signing bonus.

19. Adam Jones, Bengals CB: Signed a three-year contract with the Bengals that pays him $3.3 million in base salaries.

20. Benjamin Watson, ex-Browns TE: Signed a three-year, $4.95 million contract with the Saints. The deal includes a $1.2 million signing bonus.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each AFC North team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Baltimore Ravens: Losers. No debate here. The Super Bowl champions have been among the biggest losers in free agency. The Ravens have parted ways with seven starters (including five on defense), and free agency is only 11 days old. Baltimore also lost a chunk of its history when linebacker Ray Lewis retired and safety Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans in free agency. Both players were past their prime, but their departures create a major leadership void. The losses that will hurt the Ravens the most are wide receiver Anquan Boldin (traded to San Francisco) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (signed with Miami). The Ravens don't have the depth at either position to replace them. The only additions have been defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, both of whom will improve the run defense.

Cincinnati Bengals: Winners. You can't really call the Bengals "losers" because they've only lost one starter from last season's playoff team, and Cincinnati wasn't interested in bringing back outside linebacker Manny Lawson (signed with Buffalo). The biggest criticism is the Bengals haven't been aggressive in free agency. Cincinnati is one of three teams that haven't signed a free agent from another team this offseason. The Bengals have been active in keeping their team intact, re-signing nine of their own free agents. That list includes three starters (linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive ends Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers), kicker Mike Nugent and punter Kevin Huber. The Bengals will feel more like winners if they can retain their top priority, offensive tackle Andre Smith. With about $30 million in salary-cap room remaining, Cincinnati is looking to bring back cornerback Terence Newman and extend the contract of defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The Bengals also need to address voids at strong safety and outside linebacker.

Cleveland Browns: Winners. This is a close call. The Browns improved their front seven by signing linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant and added to the pass rush by bringing in linebacker Quentin Groves. Cleveland overpaid for Kruger ($20 million guaranteed for someone who has 15.5 career sacks), but the Browns get the sacks leader from the Super Bowl champions who is entering the prime of his career. The best signing was Bryant, an under-the-radar free agent who can become a game-changer up front in the Browns' new 3-4 defense. The excitement over these additions is tempered by the fact that the Browns said goodbye to two longtime franchise fixtures in kicker Phil Dawson (signed with San Francisco) and receiver-returner Josh Cribbs (expected to sign with Arizona). The Browns can come out of free agency looking much better if they can land Falcons free agent Brent Grimes, the top cornerback remaining on the market.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Losers. This is no surprise. The Steelers' salary-cap restraints have meant a significant amount of losses and few additions in free agency over recent years. This offseason, the Steelers cut their top pass-rusher (aging James Harrison) after he refused to take a pay cut, watched their best deep threat (Mike Wallace) get $30 million guaranteed from the Miami Dolphins, chose not to outbid the New Orleans Saints for their young rising cornerback (Keenan Lewis) and declined to re-sign a former first-round pick (running back Rashard Mendenhall). There will also be changes along the offensive and defensive lines. Pittsburgh released guard Willie Colon and aren't expected to re-sign offensive tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton. The Steelers added depth with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, cornerback William Gay and wide receiver Plaxico Burress. But Pittsburgh has to cross its fingers that New England won't sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet.
Owners and coaches continue to provide some notes from the NFL owners meetings, which are beginning to wind down in Arizona. Here's another packed edition of the wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • Owner Steve Bisciotti told The NFL Network that he has a gut feeling that safety Ed Reed will remain with the Ravens.
  • The Ravens are interested in a handful of free-agent pass-rushers: Elvis Dumervil, James Harrison, Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney. "We’re never going to walk away from a good player, and there just happens to be some pass rushers available right now,” coach John Harbaugh said, via the team's website.
  • Baltimore is planning to meet with Raiders free-agent safety Michael Huff by the weekend, according to The Baltimore Sun. Huff, 30, is seen as a fallback option if Reed signs with the Texans, the paper reported.
  • The Ravens' "aura" led Marcus Spears to sign with Baltimore in free agency, the former Cowboys defensive end told the Ravens' official website. The Chiefs, Jaguars and Patriots showed interest in him.
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Head coach Marvin Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer that getting to the postseason isn't good enough. The Bengals have made the playoffs three of the past four seasons but have yet to win a postseason game. "We’re not satisfied at all," Lewis said. "There was a perception they never got to the playoffs, now there is the perception we are satisfied with it. Someone is putting words in people’s mouths again.”
  • Lewis told the team's official website that he doubts he'll move Rey Maualuga, who recently re-signed with the team, from middle to outside linebacker. "We're very comfortable how we played on defense and all we do is keep getting better with those kids," Lewis said. "Rey had to manage KinderCare out there and he did a good managing it," Lewis said. "I never said we would move (Vontaze Burfict) to the middle before."
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Head coach Mike Tomlin delivered a strong message to those who doubt the Steelers can be a playoff team this season after losing the likes of linebacker James Harrison, cornerback Keenan Lewis and running back Rashard Mendenhall. "That's March talk," Tomlin said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'll see you at stadiums in the fall."
  • Tomlin isn't a believer in the read-option offense. "I think it's the flavor of the day," Tomlin said, via NFC East blogger Dan Graziano. "We will see if it's the flavor of the year. We'll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit." In the Steelers' only game against the read option, they held the Redskins to one touchdown and limited Robert Griffin III to 185 yards of total offense.
  • Team officials said there is a chance that Charlie Batch could return next season even though the Steelers signed Bruce Gradkowski to be the primary backup to Ben Roethlisberger, according to the Tribune-Review. Batch has played the past eight seasons in Pittsburgh.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • It's unclear if the Browns made kicker Phil Dawson an offer or how hard they tried to keep him before he signed with the 49ers, The Plain Dealer reported. This is part of the Browns' statement on Dawson: "We know how much Phil meant to our organization and our fans, and he will always hold a special place in our franchise's history and with the city of Cleveland. We want to wish Phil and his family the best of success in San Francisco."
  • The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto believes the Browns are taking a calculated risk in letting Dawson sign with the 49ers. "(D)on't be surprised if the Browns look for a young kicker, be it low in the draft or perhaps someone who has been cut once or twice -- as Dawson was back in the late 1990s," Pluto wrote.
  • Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown will have a formal role with the Browns again, owner Jimmy Haslam told the Akron Beacon Journal. Haslam wouldn't elaborate on the specifics of Brown's responsibilities. An announcement will be made over the next couple of weeks.
  • The Cardinals are waiting for Josh Cribbs' surgically repaired meniscus to heal before continuing talks with the Browns' free-agent wide receiver/kick returner, his agent told multiple media outlets.
I updated the top 20 free-agent list in the division that reflects the release of Steelers linebacker James Harrison and safety Bernard Pollard. There are eight unsigned free agents remaining on the list. As always, click here for ESPN.com's free-agent tracker which will keep you up-to-date with all the moves from around the league.

Here is the rankings and where the players stand now (* -- unsigned):

1. Joe Flacco, Ravens QB: Signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract with the Ravens. The NFL-record deal includes $52 million guaranteed and a $29 million signing bonus.

2. Mike Wallace, ex-Steelers WR: Signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Dolphins. The deal includes $30 million guaranteed and an $11 million signing bonus.

*3. Ed Reed, Ravens FS: Unsigned. Reed took a two-day visit to Houston but left without a deal. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome expects Reed to make a decision this week.

*4. Andre Smith, Bengals OT: Unsigned. Smith remains a priority for the Bengals. He has surprisingly drawn little interest in free agency.

5. Michael Johnson, Bengals DE: Signed a one-year, $11.2 million franchise tag with the Bengals.

6. Dannell Ellerbe, ex-Ravens ILB: Signed a five-year, $34.75 million contract with the Dolphins. The deal includes $14 million guaranteed and a $7 million signing bonus.

7. Paul Kruger, ex-Ravens OLB: Signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract with the Browns. The deal includes $20 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus.

*8. Phil Dawson, Browns K: Unsigned. Not expected to return to the Browns.

9. Dennis Pitta, Ravens TE: Restricted free agent received second-round tender ($2.023 million).

*10. James Harrison, Steelers OLB: Unsigned. Harrison refused a pay cut, but he's drawing very little interest. The Ravens reportedly have talked to him, but there have been no contract negotiations.

*11. Josh Cribbs, Browns WR-PR: Unsigned. Cribbs reportedly visited the Cardinals and took a physical Monday.

*12. Bernard Pollard, Ravens safety: Unsigned. Pollard has had one visit (the Titans) since being released by the Ravens last week.

13. Keenan Lewis, ex-Steelers CB: Signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the Saints. The deal includes $10.5 million guaranteed and a $6 million signing bonus.

14. Cary Williams, ex-Ravens CB: Signed a three-year, $17 million contract with the Eagles. The deal includes $10.5 million guaranteed and a $5 million signing bonus.

15. Manny Lawson, ex-Bengals OLB: Signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Bills. The deal includes a $3 million signing bonus.

*16. Terence Newman, Bengals CB: Unsigned. Newman is expected to choose between the Bengals and Raiders this week.

17. Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers WR: Restricted free agent visited the Patriots last week but has yet to sign an offer sheet. The Steelers have first right of refusal and would receive a third-round pick as compensation if they didn't match the offer.

18. Rey Maualuga, Bengals LB: Signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract with the Bengals. The deal includes a $2.5 million signing bonus.

*19. Adam Jones, Bengals CB: Unsigned. The Bengals are reportedly close to re-signing Jones.

20. Benjamin Watson, ex-Browns TE: Signed a three-year deal with the Saints.
After a busy few days to start free agency, this weekend included a lot of rumors but no signings. Expect some deals (as well as the announcement of compensatory picks) over the next couple of days at the NFL owners meetings. The AFC North blog won't be on site at Phoenix, Ariz., but I'll be giving my take on any news coming from the desert. Let's catch up on some free-agent talk in the wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • General manager Ozzie Newsome told USA Today that he plans to meet with Ed Reed's agent this week at the owners meetings and expects the free-agent safety to make a decision this coming week. Reed spent two days visiting the Texans last week but left without a deal.
  • The Ravens have "serious interest" in Broncos free-agent defensive end Elvis Dumervil, according to The Baltimore Sun. Dumervil was released by the Broncos when they didn't receive the paperwork in time to reduce his $12 million salary.
  • Baltimore picked up the $5 million roster bonus on cornerback Lardarius Webb, The Sun reported. Webb, who tore his ACL in the sixth game of the season, will earn $2.385 million in base salary this season and carries a $5.385 million salary-cap figure.
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • It looks like the Bengals are "closing in" on deals to retain two of their own free agents, linebacker Rey Maualuga and cornerback Adam Jones, according to the team's official website. Cornerback Terence Newman also remains high on the team's priority list.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • The Steelers and Packers have both expressed interest in Giants free-agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Bradshaw, who turns 27 on Tuesday, had surgery to replace a screw in his right foot in late January but should be ready for offseason camps.
  • Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the team hasn't received any official word that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet with the Patriots. Sanders, a restricted free agent, visited New England on Friday.
  • Just like the Ravens, the Steelers are also interested in Dumervil, according to The Sun. The Patriots and Titans are also reportedly interested in him.
  • Head coach Mike Tomlin told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the locker room isn't reeling from the losses of veterans James Farrior, Hines Ward and Aaron Smith. "I don't think we're devoid of leadership at all," he said.
  • For their September game in London this season, the Steelers will practice Wednesday and Thursday in Pittsburgh before taking an overnight flight to England. The Steelers will fly back following the game against the Vikings, which means they will only spend two nights there (Friday and Saturday). As the Tribune-Review points out, that's just one more night than they usually stay for games.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Falcons free agent Brent Grimes, the best cornerback remaining, "came away impressed" from his visit with the Browns and is expected to narrow his choices sometime this week, a source told The Plain Dealer.
  • Browns free-agent receiver-returner Josh Cribbs is visiting the Cardinals, according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. How does she know? Well, Cribbs was spotted on her flight to Arizona, where the owners meetings are being held this week.
Here's a recap of the first two days of free agency in the AFC North: the Browns signed players, the Ravens lost starters, the Bengals focused on re-signing their own players and the Steelers created more salary-cap space. If you want more details about Day 2 in free agency, take a look at the wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd believes fans shouldn't panic over the Ravens' loss of players. "There has to be a plan in place that's dictating these recent moves," Cowherd wrote.
  • The Ravens envision recently signed Chris Canty to play a role similar to the one defensive end Cory Redding had a couple of years ago. “I’m excited about that," Canty told Baltimore reporters, via the team's website. "I’m very confident that I’d be able to come in and do that job at a very high level and help provide this defense with an opportunity to be aggressive and to be a dominant defense.”
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Bengals coach Marvin Lewis thinks the recent signings of two right tackles (Phil Loadholt and Gosder Cherilus) will help the team wrap up a deal with Andre Smith. "We're working hard to get Andre and a couple of deals are done now, and that ought to make things easy," Lewis said, via The Cincinnati Enquirer.
  • According to the team's website, Lewis seemed unfazed that the Bengals lost three backup players who didn't fit into their long-term future: Defensive tackle Pat Sims (Oakland), outside linebacker Manny Lawson (Buffalo), and backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (Pittsburgh). "Nothing has changed," Lewis said. "I'm happy for Manny and that's a great thing for him. Our plans are set the way they are set."
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Gradkowski, who was signed by the Steelers on Wednesday, has been a backup throughout his career but this time it's a different situation for him. "There's a great franchise quarterback here," Gradkowski said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "To get to play with him and be a part of this is amazing. I haven't had that yet, to be somewhere where that guy is the guy. Ben (Roethlisberger) is the guy."
  • The Steelers re-signed long-snapper Greg Warren, who has spent his entire seven-year career with the Steelers. Also, Beanie Wells visited the Steelers and took a physical, according to The Post-Gazette.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Outside linebacker Paul Kruger wants to be an every-down player and not a pass-rush specialist. "That's the biggest thing I want to change, is just being somebody you can rely on during the whole game," Kruger said at his introductory news conference, via The Plain Dealer. "I think that I was deemed as a pass-rusher only and it's something I think I'll be able to show people, I can be effective on every snap."
  • The deal that will land receiver-returner Josh Cribbs in Arizona should be finalized Thursday morning, according to The Plain Dealer.
It was a fast start to free agency. It was so hectic that 20-plus posts weren't enough to cover everything in the AFC North on Tuesday. Time to hit the other news happening in the division ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
CINCINNATI BENGALS
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • The Browns and Buccaneers have expressed interest in trading for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, a source told The Boston Herald. But the paper said no deal is imminent.
  • Browns receiver-returner Josh Cribbs is leaning toward signing with the Cardinals, according to Fox Sports. The Patriots are also interested in Cribbs.
  • Cardinals outside linebacker Quentin Groves, another pass rusher, is scheduled to visit the Browns, according to The Plain Dealer.

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