A few quick thoughts on news of Josh Gordon's latest mess, brought to you by ESPN's Adam Schefter, that the talented yet troubled receiver could the 2015 season after failing another league-administered test, this time for alcohol. Before this week, Gordon had twice violated the league's substance-abuse policies.

Gordon made Browns' decision to cut ties easier: The likelihood of Gordon staying on the roster seemed bleak even before this news. The only way the Browns would have kept Gordon is if they couldn't create a trade market for him. Now that market is gone, the point moot and the decision easy -- move on, better off without him.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
DavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon has failed another drug test and now will be subject to a one-year suspension, according to league sources.
That last part is weird to say about a team with a wildly talented receiver at a thin position, but the Browns' offense looked disjointed when Gordon returned from a 10-game suspension. Five of quarterback Brian Hoyer's 13 interceptions came during the first seven quarters of playing with Gordon. The Browns started 6-3 with a group of overachieving receivers led by Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins. Gordon was dominant the year before with about 117 receiving yards per game, but there's no promise he'll ever return to that form.

Gordon has had a DUI, two NFL suspensions and misses team meetings, which prompted the Browns to suspend him late last season. There's no way to bring that hit list back to the locker room.

The Browns don't need to act now, and unless Gordon wins a grievance he'll still be under his rookie deal in 2016. But they must go forward knowing he's not in the plans.

Browns should outline clear plan for the outside receiver position: The Browns' current receiving corps includes two slot receivers at 5-foot-8 or under (Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel) and an undersized situational receiver (Travis Benjamin, 5-10).

Yep, time for Ray Farmer to get to work.

The general manager passed on receivers from a historically good 2014 receiver class and he'd do the franchise a disservice if he doesn't address the need in free agency or the draft. The list of free agents includes top-shelf playmakers that will likely stay home (Denver's Demaryius Thomas, Dallas' Dez Bryant) and plenty of other impact guys (Philly's Jeremy Maclin, Baltimore's Torrey Smith, San Francisco's Michael Crabtree). Get something done, either in the open market, in the first three rounds of the draft or both.

Was Gordon worth it? The Browns gave up a second-round draft pick for Gordon, who gave Cleveland 35 games, 161 catches, 2,754 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Was he worth it? Probably. He was worth the risk. He was the league's best receiver in 2013. It didn't work out. But the team got production from him.

Hope Gordon gets better: Tough to see talented guys struggle off the field. Not fun to watch it unfold. I hope he gets the right people around him, because from what I've heard, that's a big part of the problem.

Johnny Manziel's rookie season in photos

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
Johnny Manziel might have been disappointed to fall to the No. 22 pick on draft night, but that paled in comparison to the problems he would later encounter during his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns.

From being fined for an obscene gesture during a preseason game to posting a 1.0 QBR in his debut to being fined for missing a treatment on his injured hamstring, Manziel stayed in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

Here is a look back in pictures at a much-publicized, if not successful, rookie season.

Johnny ManzielElsa/Getty ImagesFalling to Cleveland with the 22nd pick didn't humble Manziel, as the former Heisman winner flashed his money sign on stage. Within 25 minutes of Manziel's selection, the Browns had sold 200 season tickets and had 300 renewed.
Johnny ManzielESPNCoach Mike Pettine wasn't amused when he learned Manziel had flipped off taunters on the Redskins' sideline during a preseason game. Manziel was fined $12,000 by the league for his momentary loss of composure.
Johnny ManzielKevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsManziel led an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by his 10-yard run, on his first possession after subbing for a struggling Brian Hoyer against the Bills. It was the highlight of his rookie season.
Johnny ManzielAP Photo/David RichardManziel looked ill prepared in his first start, in Week 15 against the Bengals. He was 10-of-18 passing for 80 yards and two interceptions as Cleveland lost 30-0, its first shutout defeat in five years. Manziel's QBR was 1.0.
Johnny ManzielAP Photo/David RichardMoney signs were being flashed in Week 15, but not by Manziel. The Bengals had fun with his trademark gesture after smothering the rookie in his first start.
Johnny Manziel Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesA hamstring injury cut Manziel's season short, and being fined for not showing up for treatment on the injury the following week was one of the low points of his season.
Johnny ManzielAP Photo/Don WrightThe Browns' quarterback situation is as uncertain as ever after Manziel's performance on the field and questions about his commitment off the field. Brian Hoyer is an impending free agent whose return is in doubt.

The message from the Cleveland Browns about the team’s quarterback situation in 2015 remains consistent: Johnny Manziel is not a given.

The Browns are answering questions bluntly about Manziel by saying there is no certainty they will turn to him as their guy.

Then again, they also said before last season that they didn’t want him to play at all as a rookie. Can’t ignore that fact.

What are the Browns saying?

Coach Mike Pettine the day after the season: "It's just still very early to tell just what [Manziel's] future holds for us."

General manager Ray Farmer two days after the season: "There could be any number of stones that we overturn to try to find the right [player] to bring in here to help improve our roster."

New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on Thursday: "We're not sure if our starting quarterback is in the building right now or not."

Pettine on Thursday: The quarterback possibilities "are all items that will be on the table for discussion."

Even owner Jimmy Haslam weighed in the same way, speaking to a group of reporters at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards Thursday night.

"We don't know who our quarterback's going to be next season," Haslam said.

The clear message is that the Browns, publicly at least, are not willing to commit to Manziel based on the six quarters they saw from him as the starter. They don't seem inclined to cut ties with him, but they don't seem inclined to anoint him, either.

Couple that with the reality that the team reached out to Brian Hoyer about returning -- no numbers discussed yet -- and the message delivered is that the Browns are pondering options.

And while they ponder, they are evaluating Manziel and his future.

To hear the Browns, they don't know how it will play out.

It's not exactly a comforting feeling to see a team be so open about the uncertain status of its most important position, but it is January. A lot can happen before minicamp, let alone training camp.

But there seem to be some very clear and direct signals going from the team to its second-year quarterback.
The announcement that the Baltimore Ravens will release nose tackle Terrence Cody brings up the 2010 draft, which will not be remembered fondly by a franchise known for making the right moves. Cody was among the misses by the Ravens in a draft that didn't produce many impact players.

The Ravens traded down in the first round that year when they should have found a way to trade up. Pro Bowl wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (No. 22) and Dez Bryant (No. 24) were selected just before the Ravens were on the clock at No. 25.

This was also the draft when the Ravens didn't have tight end Rob Gronkowski on their draft board because of medical concerns. Gronkowski has turned into a three-time Pro Bowl player who has scored 54 touchdowns in five seasons.

The Ravens ultimately traded out of the first round, getting picks in the second, third and fourth rounds from the Denver Broncos, who chose quarterback Tim Tebow at No. 25 overall. That allowed the Ravens to regain some picks after they sent their original third- and fourth-round picks to Arizona for wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

There is only one player who remains from that 2010 draft, and it's unknown whether tight end Dennis Pitta will play after hip surgeries two straight years.

Here is a look at the Ravens' selections in the 2010 draft:

Second round: LB Sergio Kindle. The Ravens gambled on a prospect with several red flags and lost. Kindle fractured his skull when falling down a couple flights of stairs before his first training camp, and played a total of three games in his disappointing career. All he has to show for his NFL career was one tackle and one drunken-driving arrest.

Second round: Cody. He was supposed to be the long-term replacement for Kelly Gregg, and he only managed one season as a full-time starter. Cody struggled with his weight early in his Ravens career and injuries toward the end of it. He played one game in 2014 before being released.

Third round: TE Ed Dickson. He looked like a rising prospect in 2011 when he broke out with 54 catches and five touchdowns. But a lack of confidence and unreliable hands led to 46 catches in his final two seasons with the Ravens. Dickson signed with Carolina last offseason as a free agent.

Fourth round: TE Dennis Pitta. He became one of Joe Flacco's most trusted targets in the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl season, when he set career-highs in catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdowns (seven). Since then, he's been limited to seven games in two seasons because of hip injuries. The Ravens expect an update on Pitta's status for 2015 in a few weeks.

Fifth round: WR David Reed. It looked like Reed was going to be an electric returner after leading the NFL in kickoff returns (29.3) as a rookie. But fumbles and injures derailed his career with the Ravens. He was traded during the summer of 2013 to the Indianapolis Colts, and he spent the 2014 training camp with the San Francisco 49ers before being released prior to the start of the regular season.

Fifth round: DT Arthur Jones. This is one of the Ravens' late-round success stories. Injuries in college caused Jones to fall in the draft, and the Ravens landed a two-year starter. He was arguably the Ravens' best defensive lineman in 2013, which priced him out of the Ravens' range. Jones signed a five-year, $32 million contract ($16 million guaranteed) with the Colts last offseason.

Sixth round: OT Ramon Harewood. He spent his first two seasons on injured reserve before starting five games at guard in 2012. A year later, Harewood was cut by the Ravens after struggling with knee problems in training camp. He's had several tryouts but he hasn't been on an NFL roster since getting cut by the Denver Broncos in June 2014.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel criticized the New England Patriots' approach on Friday and did not just reserve his scorn for the AFC champions.

Keisel also took aim at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of the controversy that has raised new questions about the lengths to which the Patriots will go to win.

"It's a damn shame what's going on right now in the league," Keisel said on WDVE Radio in Pittsburgh. "To me the one place you look is Goodell."

Goodell and the league have to sort through reports that most of the footballs supplied by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last Sunday were not inflated to NFL standards. The Patriots thumped the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, but the shine from that victory quickly faded when New England came under scrutiny for what has been dubbed "Deflate-gate."

Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady each denied they had anything to do with what happened last Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and that the air pressure level in footballs would not have mushroomed into a national story if it was an isolated incident.

But in 2007, the Patriots were fined heavily and stripped of a first-round draft pick after Goodell ruled the team had illegally videotaped opponents.

"They are looking to win at all costs," Keisel said of the Patriots. "That's why they've been to the Super Bowl six times. There are rules and you're supposed to follow the rules, but sometimes the rules don't get followed and it's a shame."

Steelers president Art Rooney II said earlier this week that taking air out of footballs would not rise to the level of a major rules breach.

When asked if the NFL has to take a hard line if the Patriots tried to gain an advantage because of past transgressions, he said, "I think the league will have to impose some discipline if they determine what's being reported as fact. I have no idea what is reality and what is not at this point. But if it happened, it's a violation of the rules, and I'm sure the league will impose some kind of discipline."
MOBILE, Ala. -- Bring up the Cleveland Browns to NFL people at the Senior Bowl this week and a common theme emerges.

The Browns can’t seem to get the culture right. Berea is where well-meaning people get chewed up by the dysfunction.

Recent headlines lend ammunition to those talks. In less than a month, the Browns have fined their maligned rookie quarterback for missing team activities, suspended their top receiver, let their offensive coordinator walk for a lateral job and two years left on his deal, and fielded calls from NFL investigators over allegations that non-coaching staffers suggested play calls via text to the sidelines during games.

From Mobile to Cleveland, it looks like a magma-hot mess.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakGM Ray Farmer on perceived friction in the organization: "Part of being a good, healthy organization is people feel free to have those kind of conversations and speak candidly."
General manager Ray Farmer isn’t providing details on Kyle Shanahan’s departure, but isn’t hiding from any perceived problems, either. He seems to welcome the chaos. He started that conversation when talking to Fox Sports Ohio earlier in the week, which made me wonder:

If a GM acknowledges internal friction on the record, even in general terms, isn’t in bubbling 10 times as strongly beneath the surface?

I asked Farmer whether that assumption is fair. Here’s what he said:

"I know the word friction keeps coming up. It’s not friction. It’s conversation," Farmer said. "Those exist in every organization I’ve ever been in. People want to turn that into a negative. I don’t think it’s a negative. I think it’s a positive. Part of being a good, healthy organization is people feel free to have those kind of conversations and speak candidly. At the end of the day it’s about coming out with a decision and a plan that’s best for the Cleveland Browns."

Farmer is right that healthy debate internally can help strengthen the Browns. But consider the strongest franchises in the league, either now or in the past decade. The Patriots, Seahawks, Steelers, Packers, Ravens and Giants. You would never hear about those teams losing a coordinator to a lateral job amid leaks about text messages and roster discord. What Farmer witnessed in previous employment with the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs (not exactly teams on the list above) doesn't necessarily blend with the NFL model for success.

Coach Mike Pettine’s answer to why Shanahan left salary on the table to pursue a lateral job makes some sense -- keeping Shanahan would create a 'dark cloud' over the Browns since he didn’t want to be there. Holding him hostage isn’t always effective, especially when a disgruntled employee could cause trouble.

Shanahan’s decision might have less to do with culture and more with what he sees on the Browns’ roster. Put a top-15 quarterback with the first-string offense and Shanahan’s still under contract. That simple. You are only as good as your options.

But weren’t Farmer and Pettine brought in to help curb the storylines that have plagued the franchise, to work in harmony?

Farmer says his working relationship with Pettine is healthy.

"It’s going to be our decision -- not my decision, not his decision, our decision," said Farmer about the decision-making process internally. "Our culture is a good culture. Coach Pettine and I work hand-in-hand. (Disagreements) have to happen in order for you to make accurate decisions."

That logic might explain why Farmer has a 25-person personnel staff, known as one of the biggest in the league. He’s not afraid of perceived chaos.

"Sustainable success over time. That’s what we’re focused on," Farmer said. "You can always glean something when you talk with somebody."

He might’ve gleaned something from talking with Shanahan -- the problems will persist until the Browns find a solution at quarterback.
CINCINNATI -- It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason, but in certain circles, Cincinnati Bengals president Mike Brown has earned the reputation of being an owner who abhors winning.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

Maybe it was all those years of abject mediocrity and abysmal play his team showcased for so long after he took command following the death of his father, NFL legend Paul Brown, in 1991. Or perhaps it was the Bengals' apparent penchant during most of the 1990s for missing out on draft picks and picking more duds than future stars.

Maybe it was a combination of both.

[+] EnlargeMike Brown
AP Photo/Al BehrmanBengals president Mike Brown is "pushing people to identify players that will make us a better football team in free agency," according to coach Marvin Lewis.
Whatever earned Mike Brown such a reputation, it's long past time for the myth to be put to rest. Coach Marvin Lewis' comments this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, indicated as much. If you go by what Lewis said, Brown is as adamant as anyone around the Bengals about clearing this four-year, first-round playoff hurdle and getting them one step closer to their goal of getting back to the Super Bowl.

Lewis made it clear in a conversation with the Cincinnati Enquirer and Bengals.com that with respect to the Bengals' free-agency plans this year, don't expect the team to sit back and let the rest of the league wheel and deal around them. Look for them to be a little more aggressive. You can thank Brown for that.

"He doesn't want to hear, 'We will be better when we get these guys back,' " Lewis said in the Enquirer. "No, we need to get better. He knows we need to get better. He's pushing people to identify players that will make us a better football team in free agency."

Yes, pushing is the job of an owner or team president. And yes, the members of the Brown family who run the team have made similar charges to coaches and scouts in years past. In this instance, though, management is angered the team keeps hitting a wall.

Some reading this will question why the Bengals -- if they recognize the need for change -- didn't fire Lewis after a fourth straight early playoff exit?

Because for now, the organization values something else over making such rash moves: stability.

There is a belief around Paul Brown Stadium that the Bengals have a solid foundation for success right now. They believe that foundation is the reason they have won at least 10 games in each of the past three seasons. It's also the reason they aren't in favor of letting go of coaches or even demoting slightly underperforming quarterbacks. Between coaching, talent, development, and potential, the Bengals believe their window for making a third Super Bowl trip still is wide open, thanks to the base they have established the past four years.

Brown's insistence on more free-agency aggression seems a sign he's putting this latest wild-card loss on himself. If another early exit happens next season -- particularly after a second-straight season with a fully intact staff, and a year after making these philosophical changes to free agency -- then perhaps the foundation gets rocked as the blame can more easily be shifted to others -- like the head coach.

The pressure to build a 2015 contender is on.

"It's a different feel than where we have been," Lewis said. "It's not a status quo. There has not been a status quo conversation or, 'Oh, we'll be OK, we'll just get these guys back.' No, no, no, that's bull. We got to be better."
Two interesting things happened related to the Cleveland Browns quarterback situation on a usually meaningless mid-January day.

First, new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said the team really doesn’t know who the quarterback will be in 2015.

Speaking with head coach Mike Pettine sitting next to him, DeFilippo said: "We're not sure if our starting quarterback is in the building right now or not. If he is, great. If he's not, that's great too."

Shortly after the news conference, Brian Hoyer's agent Joe Linta told Browns writer Jeremy Fowler that the team had reached out to him about a contract extension.

"We've left the door open both ways," Linta said.

Time will tell what it all means, but it is interesting. Clearly, though, the details are what matters. If the Browns offer Hoyer backup money, he will go to free agency.

Last offseason the team declined to offer more than that. Hoyer declined to sign. Now the Browns have their new offensive coordinator talking about not knowing the quarterback.

DeFilippo's statement, like the Browns' negotiations with Hoyer, comes down to details. Because DeFilippo admitted he was eager to work with Johnny Manziel, or whoever walked through the door. DeFilippo said he’s used to late adjustments, and mentioned guys like Derek Carr, Matt Flynn, and Matt Schaub arriving as free agents or via the drafts.

The problem is that neither Flynn nor Schaub did a whole lot of anything in Oakland. Flynn had one start and 34 pass attempts. Schaub had 10 passes while Carr played throughout his rookie season.

Carr did well, but the veterans on the free agent market this offseason are kind of reminiscent of Flynn and Schaub. Jake Locker. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ryan Mallett. There really isn’t a lot of there there to add to that ever-growing Browns jersey with the list of names.

Hoyer is among the free agents, and the Browns at least know him. He might be amenable to a deal that pays him if he performs -- with incentives for things like wins and playoff appearances -- but he will be starting with a new system as well.

Hoyer would not be afraid of competition, but given the water under the bridge, it would probably take a pretty significant offer for Hoyer not to at least see what is out there for him in free agency.

As for Manziel, the message seemed to be that nothing will be granted.

If Manziel earns the job, he earns it. But as of this moment, the job is not his. At least that is what DeFilippo and Pettine tried to convey.

DeFilippo is the sixth offensive coordinator in six seasons.

He’s just the latest to walk into the Browns annual uncertainty at the team’s most important position.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II reiterated what new defensive coordinator Keith Butler told the team’s website last week: the defense won’t fundamentally change even though the Steelers and Dick LeBeau have parted ways.

The Steelers will continue with the 3-4 as their base defense and the emphasis will remain on stopping the run and getting after the quarterback.

“I am not sure I see anything dramatic other than to acknowledge that the game is changing,” Rooney said in regard to Butler succeeding LeBeau. “Keeping up with offenses these days is a real challenge. But I think Keith is very knowledgeable and has been around a long time. He has seen a lot of defensive football in his days. We are excited to have him as our defensive coordinator.”

Butler will run the Steelers’ defense after coaching the team’s linebackers since 2003. His challenge isn’t just following LeBeau, one of the great defensive minds in NFL history.

It is also getting more big plays out of a defense that managed just 33 sacks in 2014 and had 21 takeaways.

Only six NFL teams had fewer sacks than the Steelers in 2014.

“We need to be able to pressure the quarterback more consistently,” Rooney said. “Some of the games that we were successful in this season, I think we were able to do that. I think that’s the key to stopping these high-powered offenses. You have to be able to pressure the quarterback. We need to create some more turnovers [too], those kinds of things.”

The Steelers have to get more out of their outside linebackers next season and that position is fraught with uncertainty.

Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2013, is the only outside linebacker on the roster with NFL experience who is signed beyond 2014. And he has just three career sacks though Jones essentially lost this season after dislocating his right wrist in the third game.

Jason Worilds, who has 15.5 sacks in the past two seasons, will be an unrestricted free agent if the Steelers don’t sign or tag the fifth-year veteran before March 10.

The Steelers paid Worilds $9.754 million in 2014 after using the transition tag on the 2010 second-round pick. They have the option of tagging him again though the Steelers would like to sign Worilds to a multi-year contract that would be more cap friendly than the deal he had in 2014.

“We would like to keep Jason,” Rooney said. “He had a good year. Like anything else, if the two sides can come to an agreement on a contract we would like to keep him.”
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh's tone regarding tight end Dennis Pitta seemingly went from cautiously optimistic to just being cautious.

Pitta, who has suffered serious hip injuries in each of the past two seasons, saw a couple of specialists last week, and Harbaugh said he couldn't give any updates right now.

"I did get kind of an overview of that report from our trainer that I wouldn’t really want to share until Dennis has had a chance to kind of consider all of the ramifications of it," Harbaugh said. "But I think we’ll have something on that in a couple of weeks, kind of on Dennis’ time frame. We’ll see where that goes.”

Harbaugh indicated in early December that he expects Pitta to make a full recovery, and he said at the end of the season that he was "cautiously optimistic" about his return in 2015.

The Ravens are financially committed to Pitta even if he can't play in 2015. Pitta's $4 million salary is guaranteed unless he chooses to retire, so the Ravens will keep him around whether he's playing or on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve.

Pitta, 29, became one of Joe Flacco's most trusted targets in 2012, when he set career-highs in catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdowns (seven). Since then, he's been limited to seven games in two seasons because of hip injuries.

Other than Pitta, the only Ravens tight end currently under contract who played for the team last season is rookie third-round pick Crockett Gillmore. Owen Daniels, who finished third on the Ravens with 48 catches for 527 yards, is an unrestricted free agent.

Phillip Supernaw, who played six games, is an exclusive-rights free agent and can be retained if the Ravens tender him a contract. The Ravens also signed two tight ends to future-reserve deals this offseason: Allen Reisner and Konrad Reuland.
CINCINNATI -- First, let's give credit where it's due.

Kudos to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner and Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson for the news they gathered out of a nearly 40-minute sit-down interview with Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, on Wednesday. Yours truly did not make the trip down.

Among several news nuggets Lewis provided Dehner and Hobson was a comment that the Bengals are content with Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback. Lewis made it clear the team has no plans to look for a quarterback via the draft or free agency to compete with Dalton this year.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Bengals haven't shown a willingness to upset the applecart at quarterback.
None of this is a surprise.

"We have no problem with Andy Dalton as our quarterback. We don't have time to waste time with another quarterback," Lewis said, according to Bengals.com. "To not continue to press forward and get Andy better and to get whoever the backup quarterbacks are better. The quarterback competition: Where has it worked? It doesn't get you wins."

Lewis' comments also seem like an indication the team will be welcoming back Jason Campbell, the backup who is slated to hit free agency when the new league year opens in March. If he does return, it means the Bengals will go into the year with three quarterbacks. That's because he and Dalton will be joined again by AJ McCarron, who could in theory at least compete this summer with Campbell for the top backup job.

It be jarring to see Lewis make these assertions on the heels of one of Dalton's worst seasons, statistically speaking. But the Bengals have been steadfast in their commitment to the starting quarterback throughout his four-year tenure in which they have reached the playoffs four times, albeit all with first-round exits. Right or wrong, it's a decision they have firmly stood by. It's one they backed up in August when Dalton signed that massive contract extension that covers the next six seasons and pays him up to $115 million.

We have discussed at length here how the structure of Dalton's contract permits the Bengals to move on from him after the 2015 season, without a cap hit, if he isn't playing to their standards. So even if Lewis supports Dalton now, the quarterback still is entering a pivotal fifth year. The hope is that with a second season under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Dalton will thrive.

To thrive, Dalton has to make reducing turnovers his primary focus this offseason. He had 17 interceptions in 2014, one year after a career-high 20. Many of them came at inopportune times and turned momentum away from the Bengals. If he cuts down on the picks and manages the run game as well as he did late this season, the Bengals' offense should be dramatically better than this season's No. 15 ranking.

As we've also mentioned, the Bengals believe they have a firm foundation all the way around right now. If they were to shake it up with a quarterback controversy or a coaching change (whether it's at head coach or defensive backs coach), it could create a harmful ripple effect. While certain personnel changes will come to improve the defense, they believe it's best to keep key positions intact.

Dalton may not be great, but the security of knowing they won't be going through a transition at quarterback has the Bengals completely at ease.
The Baltimore Ravens sent four players to the Pro Bowl, except they won't all be teammates when they kick off this Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and running back Justin Forsett were drafted by Cris Carter's team, and guard Marshal Yanda and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil were taken by Michael Irvin's team.

This is the second year that the NFL's all-star event held a draft instead of going with the traditional AFC-NFC format. As a result, when the starters take the field, Yanda and Mosley could collide at University of Phoenix Stadium. When the second teams play, Dumervil may tackle Forsett to the ground.

John Harbaugh and the Ravens' staff will coach Team Carter, so he'll have familiar faces with Mosley and Forsett.

Mosley, the first Ravens rookie to ever reach the Pro Bowl, was the first Raven selected in Wednesday night's televised draft. He was taken in the 10th round (19th overall) by Team Carter.

Dumervil, who set the Ravens' single-season record with 17 sacks, was chosen in the 17th round (34th overall) by Team Irvin. Forsett, the NFL's fifth-leading rusher, was drafted in the 19th round (37th overall) by Team Carter.

Yanda, who was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl, went to Team Irvin on the first day of the draft, which was devoted to interior offensive and defensive linemen as well as special-teams players.
It only took a matter of minutes for A.J. Green to come off the board during Wednesday night's Pro Bowl draft.

Taken with the third overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals receiver was drafted by the Pro Bowl team that will be coached by former Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter. Green was the first non-quarterback taken, and the second player selected by Irvin and player-captains, Antonio Brown and J.J. Watt. Brown and Watt were named captains of the team Tuesday.

Green was the only Bengals player actually picked in the draft, as the other four Pro Bowl selections were assigned to their teams as part of this second year of the "unconferenced" format. Before Wednesday's draft, players either were voted or named as alternates to one single Pro Bowl team that was subsequently separated into two teams with the draft.

To help keep Sunday night's all-star game in Arizona fair, certain players were assigned to each team.

In the Bengals' case, quarterback Andy Dalton was assigned to Carter's team with Green, while punter Kevin Huber and defensive tackle Geno Atkins were assigned to the other team coached by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. It means if Atkins and Dalton are on the field at the same time, the lineman actually could sack his quarterback.

Atkins only had three sacks this season after coming off an ACL tear last year. By all accounts, physically, he was fully healthy all year. He had 12.5 sacks in the last complete season he played before this year, 2012.

Dalton threw for 3,398 yards and 19 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2014. Green, who was voted to the Pro Bowl with Huber, caught 69 passes and set career-lows with 1,041 yards and six touchdowns. Hurt off and on, Green missed parts of five games. Huber ranked fourth this season in net punting, but he led the league in percentage of punts inside both the 10- and 5-yard lines.

This is Green's fourth Pro Bowl, Atkins' third, Dalton's second and Huber's first.
PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II weighed in on two subjects that are outside of Pittsburgh but have roiled Steelers' fans nonetheless: reports, including one from ESPN, that the New England Patriots may have illegally gained an advantage over an opponent and running back LeGarrette Blount's reward for abandoning the Steelers.

The Patriots' 45-7 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game -- and another crack for quarterback Tom Brady at an elusive fourth Super Bowl title -- has been clouded by lingering suspicion hanging over an organization that has already been busted for cheating.

The Patriots, who were punished for illegally videotaping opponents by the NFL in 2007, face less serious accusations as far as manipulating the air pressure in footballs used in their blowout win over the Colts.

But the Patriots have never been able to completely wash away the stench from Spygate, and the mounting evidence that they may have cheated again could lead to some significant repercussions and at least tarnish coach Bill Belichick's legacy.

Here is what Rooney, the Steelers' president, said when I asked him if the NFL needs to come down hard on the Patriots, if it is determined they cheated, because of past behavior: "Let's put it this way: I think the league will have to impose some discipline if they determine what's being reported as fact. I haven't talked to anybody up there myself so I have no idea what is reality and what is not at this point. But if it happened, it's a violation of the rules and I'm sure the league will impose some kind of discipline."

Blount, who signed a two-year contract with the Steelers almost a year ago, violated one of the basic codes among teammates when he left the sidelines before a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans last November.

Blount, unhappy about his diminishing role in the offense, went to the Steelers' locker room before they had beaten Tennessee after he did not receive a carry against the Titans.

Never mind that Le'Veon Bell rushed for a career-high 204 yards against the Titans and that Bell was Blount's best friend on the team.

The Steelers wasted little time in waiving the discontented Blount and the Patriots re-signed the fifth-year veteran in late November.

Blount emerged as the Patriots' best back late in the season -- just as he did in 2013 -- and is one victory away from winning a Super Bowl title.

Despite the success of Blount -- and the Steelers' need for a quality backup after Bell hyperextended his right knee in the regular-season finale -- Rooney has no regrets with how Pittsburgh handled the Blount situation.

"Obviously we don't want to have those kind things happen in the middle of the season but it is what it is and I think we made the decision [to release Blount] for the right reasons," Rooney said. "Not going to worry about it too much. We just have to make sure that we make a better decision this year and fill that position with someone we're comfortable with and who will be a good fit."



Sunday, 1/25