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State of the AFC North: Browns makes statement; help wanted in Baltimore

The Browns are determined to get rid of the stigma surrounding their team with a strong start to their offseason. After an unfortunate injury, the Ravens are in search of a replacement in the middle of their defense.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ season just came to an end on Sunday in their loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, but like the Bengals, the Ravens and Browns have been sitting at home for weeks, beginning to prepare for the 2017 season. Here’s a look at the biggest headlines out of Baltimore and Cleveland for the Bengals’ AFC North rivals.

Baltimore Ravens

Third year linebacker Zachary Orr forced to retire

It’s never easy to see a player be forced to walk away in the prime of their career due to injury. Zachary Orr has been forced to do just that. Orr has a congenital congenital neck condition, that required him to make the decision to retire after just his third year in the NFL. At 24 Orr had already been to the Pro Bowl and become a leader in the middle of the Ravens’ defense. Now, he has left behind some big shoes to fill.

There are two players currently on the Ravens’ roster that may be forced to step up. The first is Albert McClellan who had 55 tackles last season. He has spent six seasons with the Ravens so he may get the first shot at the job in the offseason. However, don’t rule out Kamalei Correa who was a second round pick for the team last season. He didn’t play that much this season, but another offseason and an opportunity for playing time up for grabs could see him make some real improvements.

The draft could be another spot to add a contender for the competition. It might end up being a reach if they take one in the first round, but there are several linebackers who could fit the Ravens scheme. The issue will be whether a first round linebacker is the right pick to make from a value perspective for the Ravens, something Ozzie Newsome takes very seriously.

Should Baltimore use their first round pick on a running back?

The Ravens will be picking a lot later than they did last season. Baltimore is currently slated to have the 16th selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. It is hard to project who exactly will be there, but one position that may have the most value is running back.

There are three running backs who could go in the first round and be early impact players. Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook are expected to go the earliest with Christian McCaffrey also projected to go somewhere in the first, or maybe second round. If Cook or Fournette slide to 16 that would be incredible value, but should that be what the Ravens do?


Last year the Ravens cut Justin Forsett twice, once in the preseason and then early on during the season. Baltimore went on to play most of the season with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon as their two backs. Both of these players were very productive. The problem with the Ravens’ rushing attack in 2016 was the team’s refusal to stick with it. The Ravens only attempted 384 rushing attempts. Only seven teams ran the ball fewer times. They also abandoned it in games they were leading in or only down a score.

The Ravens have their guys at the position, but maybe they just need more opportunity.

Ravens hire Joe D'Alessandris as offensive line coach.

The Ravens have replaced offensive line coach Juan Castillo who left to join the Buffalo Bills with Joe D’Alessandris. A 40 year coaching veteran, D’Alessandris has coached eight seasons in the NFL. He has experience in the CFL, World League and among the NFL ranks with the Chiefs, Bills and most recently the Chargers.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland re-signs Jamie Collins

Ian Rapoport is reporting that the Browns have extended linebacker Jamie Collins on a four year, $50 million, with $26 million in guarantees. That’s $12,500,000 per year, making Collins the fourth highest paid linebacker in the league, tied with Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin and behind Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston.

Re-signing Jamie Collins is bigger than just signing a good player for the Browns. It is a statement from this regime that things are going to change. Also extending his contract could be huge for this offseason going forward after trading for him during the season.

The big deal is getting Collins to commit long term to this team. The Browns likely overpaid, but Cleveland isn’t in a position to be bargain hunting for good players. Moreover, they can easily afford it. Before the extension, the Browns had a little more than $108 million in cap space according to Over The Cap. Overpaying is part of turning a perennial loser around. Being able to pay everyone more is one of the few things that’ll get talented free agents to give Cleveland a chance.

Also extending Collins frees up the franchise tag to be used elsewhere. Maybe on Terrelle Pryor Sr.? It’ll be interesting to see where they stick that since it was assumed they’d be forced to use it on Collins.

Should the Browns bring back Crowell?

A rebuilding team with plenty of cap space should certainly bring back one of their most talented offensive players, right? They should, but will they? Isaiah Crowell averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2016, but he fell just shy of 1,000 yards. Now it appears the two sides are at a stalemate as far as a deal.

Crowell has been a bargain for his three years in Cleveland. He has consistently gotten better and more involved in the offense. He has carried the ball a total of 531 time for 2,265 yards and 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile, he has made just more than $1.5 million total during his three years in Cleveland.

Right now, he is being smart. He knows the Browns have an insane amount of cap space and they have gotten quite the bang for the buck with him. He is trying to leverage hitting free agency into getting more money, as all NFL players do. He is playing a dangerous game of chicken though. Teams haven’t valued free agent running backs as much in recent seasons, outside of a DeMarco Murray type guy, opting instead to draft talented backs. Ironically enough Crowell is proof you don’t have to spend big money on a back since he was an undrafted free agent who made an impact. He could hit the market and be forced to come back for less than what they are paying him now. For what it’s worth, my money would be on the two sides agreeing to a deal very near to when the free agency period begins as both sides fear a worst case scenario.

Coaching moves in Cleveland

  • Jerod Kruse named assistant defensive backs coach
  • Clyde Simmons named defensive line coach
  • DeWayne Walker named defensive backs coach
  • Blake Williams named linebackers coach
  • Bob Wylie named offensive line coach
  • Hue Jackson is “leaning towards” moving former Bengals scout Greg Seamon from tight ends coach to quarterbacks coach and moving Mark Hutson from assistant offensive line coach to tight ends coach.