AFC North: Stanford Routt

Here are some happenings over the weekend for each AFC North team:

RAVENS: Baltimore is preparing for Kansas City's press coverage with cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt. "They had a little bit of a switch from last year," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told The Baltimore Sun. "It will be interesting to see. I am sure they’ll have some things they’ll change coming into this game. They made a complete switch in their secondary approach."

BENGALS: Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle who spent the past 11 seasons as the Bengals’ secondary coach, isn't surprised by the development of Andrew Hawkins. "But it does scare me because I have to go up against it this week,” Coyle told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I knew early on that he was going to be a special player. He is a great hard worker, has talent and also has heart and is tough.” Hawkins is third on the team in receptions (15) and second in receiving yards with 247.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh will rotate outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to avoid any fatigue in the fourth quarter, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazettereports. Harrison and Woodley will be spelled by Chris Carter and Jason Worilds, respectively, as they look to chase down the elusive Michael Vick. "I have to come off," Harrison said. "It's no need being out there, being dog-tired, and not be able to do what's necessary to play the position. You want to stay fresh. You don't want to go out there and play every snap in the first half and come out sluggish in the third and have nothing left in the fourth."

BROWNS: Browns wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin were ruled out with hamstring injuries by the team after being listed as doubtful on Friday. Greg Little and rookie Josh Gordon will start, according to The Plain Dealer. "I plan to take full advantage of it," Gordon said said.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert shot down the perception that team president Art Rooney II has taken a more active role in football decisions.

Some believe it was Rooney's decision -- and not coach Mike Tomlin's -- to part ways with Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator and hire Todd Haley to replace him.

"Art Rooney obviously is the owner of the team and the president of the team," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Of course he's going to be in the loop on every decision as any chief operating officer would be of any corporation. I think to say he is meddlesome or dictating every decision I think is very inaccurate."

Colbert said, "A lot of decisions are made around here with a collective effort and, in our end, when we're talking about players, it's a collective effort between myself, coach Tomlin and Art, and that's the way we do business."

Hensley's slant: I'm not sure Colbert would have acknowledged Rooney as being meddlesome even if he has been asserting more influence. It was telling that Rooney was the one who first informed Arians that his contract wasn't not being renewed and not Tomlin. You can't fault Rooney for making decisions that he thinks is best for his team. I certainly would do the same. The only concern is whether he is taking away Tomlin's power in doing so.

BENGALS: Former Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt is scheduled to visit Cincinnati on Friday, according to NFL Network. Routt remained in Kansas City for a second day of meetings and is still talking to the Buffalo Bills. Routt was released last week just one year into a five-year, $54.5 million contract, ending his seven-year tenure in Oakland. Hensley's slant: The Bengals are in need of cornerback depth because Kelly Jennings and Adam Jones are both free agents and Leon Hall is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury. It was assumed that the Bengals would address cornerback in the draft. But Routt would be an upgrade over Jennings and Jones and could press Nate Clements for his starting job.

BROWNS: Cleveland remains uncertain on Peyton Hillis' future with the team, according to Some in the organization want to re-sign the running back, but others want to go in a different direction and draft Alabama's Trent Richardson, the website reported. Hensley's slant: I've said for months that I think it's in the Browns' best interest as far as team chemistry to part ways with Hillis. But, even if the Browns keep him, they should still look to address running back in the draft. The Browns wouldn't be signing Hillis to a long-term deal and they can't have much faith in backup Montario Hardesty, who is constantly injured.

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston says wide receiver Randy Moss wouldn't be bad for the Ravens for a year or two. "At the right price, I wouldn't mind seeing him line up opposite Torrey Smith with Anquan Boldin in the slot," Preston wrote. "The Ravens had similar plans for Lee Evans last year, but he spent most of 2011 on the sideline with a high ankle sprain." Hensley's slant: If Moss is motivated, there is no doubt that he would help the Ravens. But that's a big "if." I'm not sure he can bounce back like he did in 2007. Remember, three teams gave up on Moss in 2010. He reportedly wore down the patience of Tom Brady in New England, undermined then-head coach Brad Childress in Minnesota and never showed up on the field in Tennessee.
The Pittsburgh Steelers may not admit it, but the urgency to re-sign top cornerback Ike Taylor probably increased this past weekend.



Taylor is Pittsburgh's biggest unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the team failed to land a top-rated cornerback in the NFL draft. The Steelers filled other needs in the first and second round before addressing the position.

The Steelers picked Texas cornerback Curtis Brown in the third round and Citadel corner Cortez Allen in the fourth round. Pittsburgh feels both players have potential. But based on their draft status, it's rare for a rookie taken in the middle rounds to be ready to start right away for a Super Bowl contender.

If Taylor is re-signed, this would help the transition of the younger corners. Similar to last year, Taylor and Bryant McFadden would be the starters for the Steelers, while young corners like Brown, Allen, Crezdon Butler and Keenan Lewis can compete for backup roles.

But the going rate for free-agent cornerbacks is extremely high this offseason. Oakland Raiders corner Stanford Routt recently signed a deal averaging $10 million per season, which could set the market for free agents like Taylor and Johnathan Joseph of the Cincinnati Bengals.

With those kind numbers being thrown around, there's no guarantee Taylor will return to the Steelers. If that's the case, one of Pittsburgh's inexperienced corners might have to step up into a starting role in 2011.

What is Ike Taylor's asking price?

February, 28, 2011
Last week the Oakland Raiders paid cornerback Stanford Routt $31.5 million over three years, which is an average of more than $10 million per season.

Most AFC North fans are probably asking, "Who is Stanford Routt?" And that is the point.

It's a great year to be a free-agent cornerback in the NFL. Even low-profile ones like Routt are getting a ton of money this offseason, which does not bode well for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The reigning AFC champion and Super Bowl runners-up have begun preliminary negotiations with Ike Taylor, who is Pittsburgh's No. 1 cornerback. The Steelers are very thin at that position, and it is perhaps their biggest need entering next season.

But when players like Routt, who recorded two interceptions last season as Oakland's No. 2 cornerback, are getting more than $10 million per season, that drives up the market for all free-agent corners. Taylor is not a shutdown player, but he is solid at the position. He recorded 66 tackles and two interceptions last season.

The Cincinnati Bengals have the same issue with pending free agent Johnathan Joseph, who is 26 and in his prime. Cincinnati only has one player (quarterback Carson Palmer) making more than $10 million per season, and the Bengals probably won't go that high for Joseph.

Now that the franchise tag has gone to outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers will be negotiating with other teams for Taylor, who will soon become an unrestricted free agent.

Would Taylor ask for more than $10 million per season? If so, it becomes questionable that he would return to Pittsburgh. It's also possible Taylor, who spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, would accept a "home-team discount," despite the high going rate for corners.

We won't have any firm answers until the NFL and NFLPA reaches a new collective bargaining agreement. But keep an eye on this development in Pittsburgh.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
  • It's looking more like Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph will test free agency.
Morning take: Cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Stanford Routt both got at least $10 million per season this week in new contracts. If Joseph isn't getting the same offer from Cincinnati, there is no reason to sign before becoming a free agent.
Morning take: Hint, hint?
  • Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says re-signing offensive lineman Marshal Yanda is a priority.
Morning take: Yanda is a better guard than tackle and could fill one hole on the right side. But Baltimore still needs to find a tackle to pair with Michael Oher.
  • Cleveland Browns backup running back Montario Hardesty is excited about new head coach Pat Shurmur.
Morning take: Hardesty is trying to return from a torn ACL. Hardesty could be a good addition to help starter Peyton Hillis if he can stay healthy.