AFC North: Omar Khan

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers director of football administration Omar Khan is among those that the Miami Dolphins have requested to interview for their general manager job, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Khan, the Steelers' point man on contract negotiations and a key behind-the-scenes figure in the organization, has twice interviewed for general manager openings. Khan, 36, was a runner-up last year for the New York Jets job, which went to John Idzik.

The Dolphins, per Schefter, have also requested interviews with Cardinals vice president of player personnel Jason Licht and Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer.

Giants vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross and Titans vice president of personnel Lake Dawson will interview for the opening in Miami, according to Schefter, as well as Dolphins assistant general manager Brian Gaine.

The loss of Khan, who I profiled here, would be a significant one for the Steelers, but his reputation is such that it seems only a matter of time before he is at least offered the opportunity to run his own team.

The Steelers have braced for his possible exit as they hired Samir Suleiman last year to assist Khan in contract negotiations and salary cap planning.

Suleiman had spent the previous 10 years as the Rams' director of football operations.
The Ravens will head out to Denver tomorrow for Saturday's divisional playoff game, but they're not the only ones with travel arrangements. It looks like the NFL head-coach and general-manager searches could affect the rest of the teams in the division. I'll explain further in the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Slowed by injuries, linebacker Terrell Suggs has one sack in his past eight games and just one quarterback hurry in his past three games, including none against Denver last month. The Ravens, though, don't sound disappointed. “I’m marveled the guy has played at all this year,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via the team's official website. “So I think anything that we’ve gotten out of Terrell Suggs has been a positive. I don’t look at it at all that he hasn’t done something successful. I look at it as this has been a bonus that we ever had the guy.”

BENGALS: Cornerback Terence Newman, who played under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Dallas and Cincinnati, gave a ringing endorsement to his coach. Zimmer interviewed with the Browns on Wednesday and has drawn interest from the Chargers. "I think he’d do great. It’s kind of an enigma how he’s not a head coach already," Newman told the team's official website. "His track record speaks volumes. It’s just one of those things where you have to get an opportunity; you have to get a chance. If there’s any coach right now that’s deserving, I think it would be him. He’s won Super Bowls. He’s led great defenses. He’s led great teams. So, with that being said, he’s well deserving."

STEELERS: Omar Khan, the Steelers' director of football and business administration, is interviewing for the Jets' GM job on Thursday, according to the New York Daily News. Khan is part of the Jets' growing list of candidates that includes former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and Dolphins assistant general manager Brian Gaine. Losing Khan would be significant for a Steelers team that needs to do some maneuvering to get under the salary cap. Khan has been Pittsburgh's chief contract negotiator for more than a decade and is known for his cap expertise.

BROWNS: Marv Levy and Bud Grant, two Hall of Fame coaches who worked in the Canadian Football League, believe Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman would have no trouble making the transition back to the American game. Trestman was interviewed by the Browns earlier this week. “You do have to adapt a bit, but it’s the same game,” Levy told The Plain Dealer. "The same things that win in the U.S. win up there. If you run, throw, block, tackle, catch, kick better than your opponent, you’re probably going to win. It’s still about fundamentals and teaching. I have been very impressed with Marc. I know he’s being considered for several jobs and I think he’d make a darn good NFL coach.”
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Bengals cornerback Leon Hall is on schedule to be ready for the start of training camp after a torn Achilles ended his season in November.

Hall won't participate in offseason minicamps, but he's already been doing some light running and jumping off boxes less than three months after his surgery.

"With the Achilles, and really with any injury, you don't want to come back too early," Hall told the team's website. "As important as I think the [offseason training activities] and minicamp are, it's just as important that you don't want to go into an OTA or minicamp practice and take a step back and miss the start of training camp. Early September, we'll answer some questions."

Hensley's slant: Getting Hall back at full strength is essential to the Bengals' defense. He is Cincinnati's best player on defense and is a difference maker. In the first nine games with Hall, the Bengals gave up eight touchdown passes. In the last seven regular-season games without him, they allowed 12 touchdown passes.

BROWNS: Tight end Ben Watson told the Boston Herald that he doesn't feel any residual effects from the three concussions that he suffered last season. He was placed on injured reserve in December but plans on playing his ninth NFL season. "I’m great," Watson said. "Three or four days after the last incident, I felt normal. I passed all my cognitive tests. I didn’t have any headaches." Hensley's slant: Watson's production dropped significantly in his second season with the Browns. His receptions went from 68 to 37 and his receiving yards plummeted from 763 in 2010 to 410 last season. The Browns might diminish Watson's role in favor of getting Evan Moore more involved.

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes John Harbaugh gets overlooked as one of the NFL's top coaches. "He already has beaten the best, including [Pittsburgh's Mike] Tomlin twice last season," Preston wrote. "But Harbaugh gets left out because of the stigma attached to being a longtime special-teams coach, and he also happens to be the coach of one of the NFL's most dominating personalities, inside linebacker Ray Lewis." Hensley's slant: It's hard to question Harbaugh's record since he became the Ravens head coach. He became the fourth NFL coach since the 1970 merger to guide his team to the playoffs in his first four years and his 48 victories (including playoffs) ranks as the third-most in the league over the past four seasons. But the true test to Harbaugh's coaching will come when the Ravens make the transition from future Hall of Famers (and team leaders) Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

STEELERS: Cornerback Ike Taylor became the third player to restructure his contract to help the salary-cap strapped Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The details of the new contract are unknown. Also, Steelers executive Omar Khan took himself out of the St. Louis Rams' general manager search, the Post-Gazette reported. Khan, 35, has been an executive with the Steelers and their chief contract negotiator the past 11 years. Hensley's slant: Both moves will really help the Steelers get out of their cap predicament, especially the return of Khan. My guess is it didn't take much convincing to get Taylor to restructure his contract. He was probably in a helping mood after how the playoffs ended for Pittsburgh.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The Steelers released cornerback Bryant McFadden and special teams player Arnaz Battle, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

These moves freed up $3.5 million in salary-cap room. McFadden played six of his seven NFL seasons for the Steelers, and Battle joined Pittsburgh in 2010.

Pittsburgh officially announced the signing of safety Myron Rolle, who was a 2008 Rhodes Scholar. He had been on the Tennessee Titans practice squad in 2010 and in their training camp last summer.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Rams requested permission to speak to Steelers director of administration Omar Khan for their general manager position, sources told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Khan, the team's salary-cap manager and chief contract negotiator, has been with the Steelers since 2000. He was a finalist in the Seattle Seahawks' general manager search two years ago.
Hensley's slant: The only significance with these cuts is that it's the beginning of what should be a long list of them. McFadden started the season opener but lost his starting job to William Gay. He played sparingly on defense much of the season and fell behind rookie cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown on the depth chart. Battle contributed on special teams but the veteran wide receiver didn't make a catch in his two seasons with the Steelers.

BENGALS: The Bengals dropped to 10th in the AFC this season with 22 takeaways. Their 10 interceptions were the fewest in coach Marvin Lewis' nine seasons in Cincinnati. "If there’s one thing we have to get … figure out a way to create more. Teams that create the most turnovers play in this game," Lewis told the team's website while at the Super Bowl. "More recently we have declined [in interceptions] and we have to find out why. We play more man concepts. That is part of it. We started very good and then we hit a lull. You have to look at that but conceptually that’s the difference." Hensley's slant: That was the biggest season-long weakness for a defense that consistently overachieved. How important are turnovers? Like Lewis said, you just need to look at the two teams who played in the Super Bowl. New England led the AFC with 34 takeaways, and the New York Giants were fourth in the NFC with 31.

BROWNS: Quarterback Colt McCoy was medically cleared from a head injury that sidelined him for the final three games last year, team president Mike Holmgren told ESPN 850 WKNR-AM in Cleveland (via the Akron Beacon Journal). "He passed all his tests and he’s feeling fine," Holmgren said. "He has no residual effects from the play. I know no one will work harder this off season than Colt McCoy. So I’m happy we got through all that and he’s fine and he appears to be.” Hensley's slant: Now, the only question that remains at quarterback is who will be competing against McCoy for the starting job. At this point, it would be a letdown if the Browns failed to draft Baylor's Robert Griffin III or sign Matt Flynn in free agency.

RAVENS: The team's website speculated that offensive tackle Jah Reid might shift to left guard if Ben Grubbs leaves in free agency. Reid, a third-round pick from a year ago, was drafted to be the team's future right tackle. "The thing that Steve [Bisciotti, team owner] pushed John [Harbaugh] and I the last couple of years is, ‘Don’t be afraid to play young players,’” general manager Ozzie Newsome said when asked about the potential position change. “We’ve had Jah now for a year, and now we’ve got him for a full offseason ... so John and I are not afraid.” Hensley's slant: The Ravens need to make contingency plans because it appears that the odds are against Grubbs returning. Replacing a Pro Bowl guard with a converted tackle seems like a major step backward to me. Baltimore would be better off adding a stop-gap veteran guard if it can't draft a quality one in the first three rounds.

Updated AFC North cap numbers

August, 31, 2011
The regular season is set to begin in less than two weeks.

Here are the updated cap numbers for the AFC North, according to Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network:

Cincinnati Bengals

Cap room: $29,030,430

Analysis: Teams are not required to spend to the cap until 2013, and the Bengals are taking advantage. Cincinnati has the third-most cap space in the NFL. Trading receiver Chad Ochocinco and putting quarterback Carson Palmer on the reserve/did not report list will save Cincinnati more than $17 million this year. The Bengals made several free-agent acquisitions, such as Nate Clements and Manny Lawson. But few were big names. They also re-signed starting tailback Cedric Benson for a bargain, one-year deal after Benson had legal issues this summer.

Cleveland Browns

Cap room: $18,856,161

Analysis: The Browns said they would build through the draft and keep their own players. They stuck to that principle this summer. Cleveland didn't make any significant moves in free agency. The Browns had plenty of needs and plenty of money to spend but stood pat. Cleveland's biggest move was giving Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas a huge, seven-year extension worth up to $84 million. It's the biggest deal in NFL history for an offensive or defensive lineman. Still, Cleveland has plenty of cap room to try to work out more extensions with in-house players such as tailback Peyton Hillis and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.

Baltimore Ravens

Cap room: $2,344,835

Analysis: Baltimore's cap number is somewhat deceiving. The team will have more room -- perhaps as much as $5 million to $7 million -- once it reaches a long-term extension with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The Ravens are working to extend Ngata and remove the franchise tag. But both sides have been unable to reach an agreement. Baltimore has been active and has a chance to make a couple more moves after Saturday's cuts. But the Ravens first have to take care of their in-house business with Ngata.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Cap room: $2,268,471

Analysis: General manager Kevin Colbert and cap specialist Omar Khan did an amazing job of transforming the Steelers' cap from about $10 million over to more than $2 million under. Pittsburgh gave out big extensions to cornerback Ike Taylor and linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons in the process. Key players such quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker James Harrison restructured their deals to assist the Steelers. Pittsburgh kept its team together to make another run this season. Don't expect any additional moves before the start of the season.