CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Josh McCown signing:

McCown’s three-year deal with Cleveland reinforces Johnny Manziel’s place in the Browns’ plans: McCown should be the favorite to start the season opener. He might be the Browns’ best option all year. But McCown also seems an ideal eventual handoff option to Manziel or another young quarterback.

Manziel
McCown
In 12 years, McCown has never started a full 16-game season.

The Browns needed a new quarterback plan after Manziel entered a treatment facility, but they weren’t moving on.

Re-signing Brian Hoyer, after the clunky competition between him and Manziel in Cleveland, wouldn’t have made sense. If Hoyer had come back, he would have been the starter. Despite winning seven of his first 11 games for Cleveland last season, apparently the Browns had seen enough.

McCown can be a starter or backup and adapt either way.

Support existed -- in Berea and from fans -- for Hoyer as a Brown. But Hoyer isn’t much different from McCown. Both are reliable and have shown flashes of good quarterback play, but haven’t sustained it.

Manziel might never be the answer. The Browns still want to find out for sure -- with more than two games as a sample.

Browns hoping for the McCown from Chicago, not the one from Tampa Bay: McCown’s 1-10 record and 14 interceptions with Tampa Bay are curious after he played so well in five starts for Chicago in 2013, throwing 13 touchdowns to one interception.

But McCown dealt with a thumb injury, a struggling offensive line and the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford in September. Those factors shouldn’t excuse his stats, but they help explain them.

The Browns know they aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers. They’ll get better than a starter with a 1-10 record.

Browns clearly unimpressed with quarterback market: The Bucs cut McCown 16 days ago, which allowed four quarterback-hungry teams -- the Jets, Bills, Browns and Bears -- to jockey for the services of the only available quarterback on the market.

The Browns must have believed that the group available at the March 10 start of free agency -- Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Hoyer and more -- wasn’t worth the wait.

There was never a home run for the Browns to hit. The Rams are unlikely to unload Sam Bradford. Save Hoyer, McCown was one of the best available.

Another move to come? Doubtful: The Browns’ quarterback picture has come into focus. They’ll have McCown, Manziel, Connor Shaw and possibly a draft pick (second round or beyond) for training camp.

It’s early, but after asking around, the prospect of trading up for Marcus Mariota seems unlikely at best. Giving up several top picks is a lot to ask for a self-proclaimed build-through-the-draft team.

The Browns can exhaust every option with Bradford, though they probably knew that wasn’t going to be fruitful before they signed McCown.
CLEVELAND -- Having a healthy salary cap is the NFL equivalent to having too much oatmeal, or having too many jackets in the winter.

Nice, sensible, necessary, not overly exciting.

If Cleveland Browns fans are looking for good news after a brutal two months, it’s this -- a team with a pretty good roster has $53,777,486 in cap space as of this week, according to ESPN stats and info. The Browns have a cap value of $106,604,471, with the adjusted cap value sitting at $161,908,285.

With help from J.I. Halsell (@SalaryCap101), a former Redskins salary-cap analyst, here is Cleveland’s exact spending situation:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Gary WiepertBuffalo outside linebacker Jerry Hughes could be an ideal fit in Cleveland's scheme.
As it stands (before player cuts and new signings), the Browns must spend roughly $71 million in cash over the next two years to be compliant with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Why?

Because the CBA requires NFL teams to spend at least 89 percent of the cumulative salary caps from 2013-16, which, for the Browns, projects to $492.17 million in spending by the end of the 2016 league year.

How much have the Browns spent during that span?

To date, Cleveland has spent or committed to $420.99 million. Splitting in half, the Browns could spend $35.5 million in each of the next two years. Or, if they are feeling aggressive, spend a cool $50 million before September. The Browns likely want a larger cushion of space for next year.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Browns are entering March with plans to spend about $40 million in the next eight months. There is a reasonable plan for such spending. All free agency deals are one-year totals while assuming the signing bonus is prorated over the length of the deal.

Rookie draft picks: $7.9 million.

This takes into account the Browns’ two first-round picks and the rest of the lot. This is essentially money all teams must pay, give or take a few picks.

Free agent quarterbacks: $8 million.

Sorry, Sam Bradford fans. Don’t expect the Rams to part with him without at least a second-round pick in their hands, maybe more. I’m not expecting the Browns to offer more than a third. They want to stay true to the build-through-the-draft plan.

There is no obvious home run out there, so the Browns will do what they can -- $4 or million for Josh McCown, maybe $5 million for Brian Hoyer, or $6 million for Ryan Mallett. The Browns have discretion here, but no quarterback will command enough to stress the team's books.

Splashy free agent signing: $8-9 million -- Buffalo outside linebacker Jerry Hughes

Mike Pettine is a fan of Hughes, who acquitted himself well against Joe Thomas in the Bills' Week 13 win against Cleveland. Thomas had three penalties in that game. Pettine, a former Buffalo coordinator, spent one season with Hughes, who seems the perfect complement to Paul Kruger's strength game and Barkevious Mingo's lateral speed.

In this case, filling the outside linebacker need in free agency allows the Browns to attack nose tackle, wide receiver, and tight end high in the draft.

If Hughes commands $10 million a year, that is probably too steep for a draft-precedent team. Getting him for $8 million would be a win for the Browns.

(Free agent fallback: Baltimore WR Torrey Smith at $7-8 million)

Restricted free agent tenders: $6 million

The restricted tender numbers aren’t out yet, but my guess is a first-level tender -- a placeholder where an opposing team must relinquish a first-round pick to cut a deal with the player -- will be somewhere in the $3.5 million range, with a second-level tender around $2.4 million, and a third-level in the $1.5-million range (just projections).

If the Browns truly believe safety Tashaun Gipson is a cornerstone in the defensive backfield, they will either slap him with a first-round tender or cut a long-term deal now. If the Browns give him a second-level deal, no doubt Gipson’s camp will shop him around.

Linebacker Craig Robertson could get a second-level tender. Both players are valued, and it makes sense to keep them.

In-house free agents: $7.5 million -- Cornerback Buster Skrine at $5 million a year (possibly higher) and Miles Austin at a one-year, $2.5-million deal.

Coaches have made clear they would like Shrine to return. Skrine will have a good market, but the Browns should be able to make a competitive play for him.

Austin would be a reasonable re-sign. The offense was better with him in the lineup.

Otherwise, I’m suspecting the team will let most free agents walk.

Special teams: $2 million for Ted Ginn

Give Ginn, an effective returner and Cleveland native, a two-year deal with a couple of million up front in signing and roster bonuses.

Total cap spending: $40.4 million

Bottom line: The Browns could spend on a receiver, but it’s hard to imagine Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin leaving their current spots. Smith might command closer to $8-9 million, a bit pricey for the Browns’ taste. Hughes is a safer play. Draft a receiver in the first and fourth rounds, re-sign Austin, and ride with what you have.
CINCINNATI -- In an effort to clear a little cap space and to start making room on the roster for offseason additions, the Cincinnati Bengals released Friday veteran defensive end Robert Geathers and receiver Greg Little.

Combined, the two releases will give the Bengals roughly $3.2 million in cap savings.

The Bengals also released offensive guard Mike Pollak last Friday.

Geathers
Little
Geathers' release wasn't much of a surprise, as it had been expected that either he or tackle Domata Peko would be on the defensive line's chopping block this offseason. It also was expected that Little wouldn't be brought back to the club. The fourth-year receiver had a rather disappointing six-game run in Cincinnati this past season, and didn't do much to convince the Bengals he belonged in the Queen City for another year.

Signed last October to help the Bengals address a need at the injury-plagued receiver position, Little caught just six passes for 69 yards during his brief stay. He also dropped two passes.

Geathers' departure brings an end to one of the franchise's longest-standing tenures. An 11-year NFL vet -- all of them spent in Cincinnati after his fourth-round selection in 2004 -- Geathers ranks third in team history in games played by a defensive lineman. Tim Krumrie (188) and Eddie Edwards (170) outpace him. Geathers also was part of all five playoff appearances under head coach Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati is 0-5 in those games. Geathers is one of the few players in franchise history who has played in that many postseasons.

"Robert has been with us for all my seasons except the first one," Lewis said about the 31-year-old in a statement, "and he has been a team leader as well as a very productive player. He's an incredible teammate and a true professional, a big part of the winning seasons we've achieved. If Robert elects to pursue an opportunity with another NFL team, the timing of this move will allow him the best possible chance at that."

Geathers' younger brother, Kwame, joined the team late last season as a practice squad addition. He was signed to a future's contract in January, and is expected to be among the linemen competing for playing time when mini camp opens in May.

One of only 19 players to have spent 11 or more seasons with the Bengals, Geathers leaves behind some significant memories. He was a two-time team leader in sacks. He had a career-high 10.5 of his 34 sacks in 2006. He also scored two touchdowns off a fumble return and interception. The score off the fumble was a 75-yard return, the longest fumble return in team history.

An elbow injury ended Geathers' 2013 season after just two games. He didn't fully bounce back from it.

With Geathers and Little gone, the Bengals are expected to double their efforts to find players who can contribute at those positions. Cincinnati last season had the worst grade among NFL pass-rush units, according to Pro Football Focus.

Little's biggest claim to fame while in Cincinnati came about three weeks after his arrival when he was asked about his rocky departure from Cleveland. Days before the Bengals' Thursday night game against the Browns, he said "somebody has to pay" for the way he was released.

No one did. The Bengals lost the game 24-3, and Little caught just one eight-yard pass of three targets.
It’s not that the Cleveland Browns should build a roster of nothing but Ohio State guys.

Though that might not be a totally bad thing.

Hartline
It’s just that the team’s receiver position is such a need that when a capable/talented player is released, it sets the squirrels running on the treadmill in the mind to wonder if he fits the Browns. It just so happens that two talented players were released this week and both are from Ohio State and grew up in Northeast Ohio.

Ted Ginn Jr. would fill a glaring need as a returner and could compete at wideout as well. He still has speed, which always is an asset. Carolina and the Browns both have interest in Ginn, a Cleveland native, and there is some thinking from Carolina that the Browns have the edge.

That has to play out.

Friday, word broke that the Dolphins are releasing Brian Hartline.

While Ginn, 29, seems to be a natural, Hartline would take discussion. But he’s worth discussing. Hartline, a native of Canton, Ohio, is 6-foot-2, 28 years old and he’s caught 189 passes the last three seasons in Miami.

He does not have blazing speed, but he’s a tall target with good hands. Word also broke Friday that Atlanta was releasing Harry Douglas, but he seems to have similar skills as Andrew Hawkins. Douglas is a good player, but he might not add to what Hawkins and even Taylor Gabriel do. Hartline might.

The point, too, isn’t that the Browns receivers can’t play. They can, and they (Hawkins, Gabriel, Travis Benjamin) give everything they have. They play with heart, effort and professionalism.

But to think the position doesn’t need upgrading via depth also isn’t realistic.

The Browns always talk about “driving competition" at every position, so adding more capable players will do just that. Drive competition and let the playing time sort itself out.

More players will be released, more opportunities will be available, but it’s clear the Browns can address the receiver spot this offseason — if they choose to address it. They will have more than $50 million in salary-cap space. Money isn’t an issue. How the money is doled out is, but many NFL teams seem to be able to do that and win.

Adding a veteran free agent or two — be they Ohio State guys or guys from Guam — would help. So would drafting a receiver -- with Louisville's DeVante Parker a personal preference.

The position suddenly wouldn’t look so barren.
CLEVELAND -- The Browns hosted free agent quarterback Josh McCown for two days this week, and though the Buffalo Bills are pushing to sign him, the Browns believed they were still in the negotiation game as of Thursday night.

McCown
McCown's camp has talked with a few teams in the last 24 hours. The Browns are believed to be one of them. No deal is imminent.

It's natural to assume the Browns, if they sign McCown, won't re-sign Brian Hoyer or make a bigger play for a Sam Bradford or Mike Glennon.

I'm not necessarily doing that.

McCown is simply a good player to have on the roster, starter or not. There are a few reasons for this. McCown has seen a bit of everything in 12 years. He's started 49 games and watched from the sidelines for many more. He's got a good relationship with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. At worst, McCown helps the Browns' transition and becomes a good influence for younger quarterbacks. At best, he starts and wins games.

The Tampa Bay experiment went terribly wrong for McCown, but it's noteworthy that the Bucs' offensive line was brutal at the beginning of the season and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's leave of absence in September disrupted continuity. McCown didn't play well, throwing 14 interceptions to 11 touchdowns, but he was dealt a losing hand in Tampa. He's had success as a starter in the past.

Even if McCown signs something close to his two-year, $10-million deal with Tampa a year ago, that wouldn't hamstring the Browns, who have $53.77 million in cap space as of this week. If they wanted to make additional quarterback moves, they can.

McCown is a versatile quarterback option, that simple.

For as much as the NFL discusses quarterback play in absolutes, the Texans won nine games with the Ryan Fitzpatrick-Ryan Mallett-Case Keenum-Tom Savage combination. The Browns won seven of their first 11 last season with Hoyer. There are no quarterback home runs available for Cleveland, but that doesn't mean they can't make the AFC North interesting.
One reason why the Baltimore Ravens won't be able to do much in free agency is because of "dead money," which is the amount of space consumed by players no longer on the roster, whether they retired, were released or traded.

The Ravens rank second in the NFL with $12.5 million in dead money, trailing only the Detroit Lions ($17.3 million). The Ravens' dead money essentially comes from two players, running back Ray Rice ($9.5 million) and receiver-returner Jacoby Jones ($2.625).

That's why releasing Jones on Wednesday didn't help the Ravens from a cap perspective. Unless the Ravens designated him as a June 1 cut, the Ravens created $750,000 in cap space by cutting Jones but will still carry three years of his pro-rated bonus ($2.625 million) on this year's cap.

Jones' dead money is only a fraction of the amount accounted by Rice, who is gone but is still affecting the Ravens' cap. Rice counts a whopping $9.5 million against the Ravens' salary cap for this season because he was released after June 1 last year. That meant his remaining three years of pro-rated bonus was split over two seasons, with the biggest hit coming in 2015.

Consider this: Rice represents a higher cap number than all but three Ravens (defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, quarterback Joe Flacco and cornerback Lardarius Webb) and he's not going to play a snap for the team. With Jones, his dead money is more than the cap numbers of C.J. Mosley, Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele and Rick Wagner.

If the cap is $143 million this year, Rice and Jones would eat up 8.5 percent of the Ravens' cap in 2015.

Some of the blow of the Ravens' dead money is lessened by the fact that the Ravens carried over $5.8 million in unused cap from last year. The Ravens would still rank among the league leaders, given that only seven other teams have over $6 million in dead money.

The Ravens' dead money will likely increase before free agency begins March 10. If the Ravens can't reach an extension with defensive tackle Ngata, they would carry $7.5 million in dead money in 2015 by cutting him. The release of defensive end Chris Canty and offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski would total less than $1 million combined in dead money.

DEAD MONEY IN 2015

(Through Thursday)

Detroit Lions: $17.3 million
Ravens: $12.5 million
Dallas Cowboys: $9.8 million
Pittsburgh Steelers: $8.8 million
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $7.9 million

Source: ESPN Stats & Information
The Pittsburgh Steelers are more than $8 million under the 2015 salary cap if it comes in at $143 million, according to ESPN Roster Management.

An expected $10 million spike from last year’s spending ceiling and the restructuring of a pair of contacts put the Steelers at $8.025 million under if the cap is $143 million.

That puts the Steelers in pretty good shape with the start of the NFL’s new year – and the free agent signing period – still more than a week away. Both start on March 10 and the Steelers could easily create more cap room before then.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015 and the eight-time Pro Bowler will probably have to accept a significant pay cut if he wants to return to the Steelers.

Restructuring the contract of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is also an option after the Steelers re-worked the deals of right tackle Marcus Gilbert and free safety Mike Mitchell earlier this week.

Pouncey has a cap hit of $8.1 million in 2015. The Steelers could lower that by turning most of his $5.5 million base salary next season into a signing bonus and spreading the bonus over the remaining five years on Pouncey’s contract.

The Steelers should also gain some cap relief after they sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a long-term contract.

Roethlisberger is going into the final year of his contract and has a cap hit of $18.395 million.

The Steelers will presumably lower that when they sign Roethlisberger to a new deal that will likely include a huge signing bonus and escalating base salaries.

There aren’t any indications that the Steelers and Roethlisberger are close on a new contract.

It will get done and is still a matter of when and not if, a stance that the Steelers have consistently maintained.
The book is called Everybody Fumbles.

Published in 2014, it is the ultimate statement by Earnest Byner, the former Cleveland Browns running back involved in the play that has gone down in Browns history as merely “The Fumble.”

[+] EnlargeEarnest Byner, Brian Brennan
AP photo/Mark DuncanEarnest Byner's fumble in the 1988 AFC Championship Game haunted him for over a year until he left Cleveland.
Byner’s miscue at the goal line late in the January 1988 AFC Championship Game in Denver came as he was about to score to tie the game. It still hurts Browns fans, and it left Byner feeling like he was drowning.

But in time he recovered.

Byner now wants to make sure another player does not go through what he did for as long as he did. Byner watched the end of this season's NFC Championship Game and saw the Green Bay Packers' Brandon Bostick misplay an onside kick, helping Seattle complete an improbable comeback.

When Byner heard Bostick talk after the game and then a couple of days later, saying that he had let an entire team and fan base down, Byner knew he had to reach out -- even though he had never met Bostick and had never talked to him.

“I didn’t want him to feel like he was alone,” Byner said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Bostick made Byner’s role clear in a first-person story written on SI.com on Thursday, a story in which Bostick revealed he still lives with his mistakes and that he received death threats on Twitter.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s the first thing on my mind,” Bostick wrote. “There are nights when I dwell on it before falling asleep. Sometimes the thought creeps up on me when I’m lifting weights, or eating dinner, or sitting on my couch at home."

"That’s one of the reasons I’m calling him and we’re talking,” Byner said. “I’m trying to make it so it’s not a difficult process for him."

Bostick was supposed to block on the kick and let teammate Jordy Nelson catch the ball. Instead, Bostick tried to catch it and lost it.

Byner heard Bostick’s anguish after the game and reached out through Packers assistant coach Sam Gash, who played for the Ravens when Byner was an assistant coach in Baltimore.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bostick
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesEarnest Byner reached out to Brandon Bostick immediately after the tight end botched the onside kick in the NFC title game.
“With the way social media is now, the weight and how much he hears it, it all happened to him a lot quicker than it did me,” Byner said. “It took me four or five months. It made me struggle after four or five months.”

Byner would hear people yell, “Hey don’t fumble.” He’d hear other barbs, snide remarks. He’d notice people looking at him, then looking away. He felt love from many Browns fans, but the weight from the negative, he said, became heavier every day.

“It was almost like a drowning,” Byner said.

Byner played for the Browns for one season after the fumble but was not himself. He said it took a trade to Washington to bring him out of his dark state.

“It took a spiritual conversation for me to actually get past the fumble,” Byner said. “I’m not preaching to [Bostick]. But to me the spiritual impact is crucial. The spirit has a way of freeing you up a lot.”

Since then, Byner has helped several players in several sports. Bostick is the latest, as the two have talked several times since the championship game. The ex-Brown feels that Bostick will benefit from being released by Green Bay. Going to Minnesota will help him start fresh.

“The next step,” Byner said, “is to get together. I need to look him in his eyes. I need to feel what he’s feeling. That way I can make a difference in the process. Not just that process, but in his life. Because the better the person, the better the player you will have.”

As Byner says when describing his book on a video on his website earnestbyner21.com: “Mistakes are critical to learning, understanding what happened and how it happened. And being able to go to the next level. Being able to ultimately become a champion, not just in sports, but also in life.”
CINCINNATI -- Hue Jackson was encouraged by the work his running backs showcased near the end of the 2014 season, but the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator is convinced the unit has barely scratched the surface of what it can do overall.

"I was happy we ended the season running the ball the way we did but there is still so much more there," Jackson at last week's NFL combine. "We left a lot of meat on the bone."

While many outside the locker room praised rookie Jeremy Hill's play -- particularly during the final nine weeks of the regular season when he led the league in rushing -- Jackson was letting Hill and fellow back Giovani Bernard have it.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsRookie Jeremy Hill led the league in rushing during the final nine weeks of the regular season.
Their harshest critic, Jackson made no qualms about wanting to see them break even more tackles, slip more defenders and get even bigger gains. He was only so critical because he still believes the two running backs can be the bedrock of his offense.

In 2013, Bernard was an outside candidate for the NFL's rookie of the year award. Hill was in the mix this past season. Neither won, but the recognition they received was a testament to how well they fit in the Bengals' multiback scheme that's designed for the load to be shared. Unlike other teams, Cincinnati doesn't want to be paced by a single back. Jackson believes a player wears down faster if he is the only running and passing option out of the backfield.

When it came to catching passes out the backfield, the first-year Bengals coordinator was truly impressed.

His running backs combined for 80 receptions last season. That's more than the position group had during any other year in this four-season playoff run. The running backs had 60 receptions in 2013, 43 in 2012 and 53 in 2011, the year the Bengals began this stretch of postseason appearances. The team still, of course, hasn't won a playoff game since 1991.

Bernard did the heavy lifting in the passing game in 2013, catching 56 passes to the four that BenJarvus Green-Ellis had. There was a more even split this past year. While Bernard caught 43 passes, Hill caught 27. Backups Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman combined for the other 10.

"People keep saying, 'Well, Gio didn't catch a lot of balls,'" Jackson said. "Well, that's because we had another guy who could catch the ball very well. That gives us another threat. That position caught 80 balls last year. That is quite a bit for a running back position."

It is, but consider this.

Two running backs, Chicago's Matt Forte and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, had more than 80 receptions this season by themselves. There also were eight other teams that had two or more running backs who caught 25 or more passes each. Only two of them, however, the Lions and Colts, made it to the playoffs with the Bengals.

As encouraged as he was about his running backs' receiving numbers, Jackson still isn't convinced Hill has done his best job helping quarterback Andy Dalton have time to pass to other players.

"You earn the right [to play] by pass protection," Jackson said, adding that injuries to Bernard helped accelerate Hill's playing time. "It wasn't his running ability. That's [pass protection] what we drafted him for. He would be the first to tell you we need to grow in that area."

Growth is precisely what Jackson is predicting for Hill and Bernard in 2015.

"There is more in there for both of them," he said.
All you have to do is start looking at the alternatives to figure out why running back Justin Forsett has become a priority for the Baltimore Ravens.

The growing list of running backs who've been cut -- Steven Jackson joined Reggie Bush, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson and Peyton Hillis on Thursday -- contains great options for a fantasy football draft -- in 2011. In 2015, these backs are worn down and represent a Plan B for only the desperate. Last season, none of those backs gained more than 707 yards rushing last season, and Johnson and Hillis were the only two to average more than four yards per carry.

Forsett
Even though the Ravens are expected to draft a running back early in this year's draft, they need a reliable veteran running back for what should be a young backfield. The top option is re-signing Forsett because he is proven in this system and lacks wear and tear.

"We would like to retain Justin," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I’ve learned something since the end of the season about Justin that I didn’t really know. He has mentored some very good, young backs, starting with Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Maurice Jones-Drew when he was in Jacksonville. Having Justin here -- and with the opportunity [of] also brining in hopefully another young running back -- to have Justin be around that guy would be an asset also. So, we will work to try to retain Justin.”

It's not a given that the Ravens are going to be able to re-sign Forsett. The Atlanta Falcons are expected to show interest, according to ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure.

But it should be easier (and more cost efficient) for the Ravens to keep Forsett, a 29-year-old back whose had one year as a featured back, than the likes of wide receiver Torrey Smith and pass rusher Pernell McPhee, both of whom might get market value.

If Forsett would sign elsewhere, the Ravens could look at the unrestricted running back free-agent class that includes Frank Gore, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Mark Ingram, which would go against the team's typical operating procedure. Over the last 13 years, the only unrestricted free agent running back signed by the Ravens was Ricky Williams.

The Ravens usually go after players who've been released that offseason because they don't count against the team's compensatory picks. Of the current cap casualties at running back, the only one who might have anything left is Bush.

This is why the cap-strapped Ravens are placing so much importance in keeping Forsett. The Ravens' backfield for 2015 would be more than solid if it includes Forsett, a rookie running back and Lorenzo Taliaferro.
CLEVELAND -- Ahtyba Rubin played 13 games last season, hitting the 100-game mark in Cleveland after seven years with the team, playing out his four-year, $26.5-million deal.

Rubin
He wasn't healthy for 13 games. Not even close. Rubin said on Thursday he "really wasn't right the whole year."

Playing hurt -- as a result, not able to maximize his ability on the field -- could affect his free agency. There's a good chance the Browns will move on from Rubin after his 28-tackle, one-sack performance last season.

The way Rubin saw it, sitting wasn't an option. He wasn't playing for March dollars, he said.

Rubin, who twice injured his ankle during the season, is working out in Florida and expects to make a full recovery. He wore a protective boot for a while but did not need surgery.

"I didn't even think about my scenario -- if you're able to play, you should play," said Rubin about 2014. "I never even thought about not playing. I've just got to do the best I can now, making sure I'm in complete football shape when that time comes and perform at my best."

Rubin first injured his ankle in an early-season practice going against Alex Mack, Rubin said. The problem persisted, and Rubin got injured again in Week 16.

This will be Rubin's first time hitting the open market. He's played seven years and wants to log many more.

"This is a new situation for me," Rubin said. "I'm just letting my agent take care of everything. I want to get a good 12, 13 years in there."

Whether with the Browns or elsewhere, Rubin said he believes his team will get more of the player who earned the contract extension in 2011.

"I know what I can do," Rubin said. "For me to be struggling [last year], it was frustrating."
CINCINNATI -- The NFL still has yet to announce the official salary-cap spending limit teams will be allowed to hit this coming season, but recent reports have indicated it soon will be set around $143 million.

If that is the case, it means the Cincinnati Bengals will have about $36.5 million of cap space to work with, according to numbers ESPN Stats & Information updated Thursday afternoon.

Earlier this month, we reported a projection close to $33 million for the Bengals. That was using the previous $140-million-per-team projection.

Regardless of where the salary cap ultimately settles, the Bengals ought to have some of the most space to work with in the league. Based on Thursday's projections, they rank seventh in available cap space. Their anticipated $36.5 million is some $5 million shy of the team with the sixth-largest amount of cap space, the Indianapolis Colts. With an expected $67.1 million of cap space, the Jacksonville Jaguars pace all teams in the amount of money they will be able to spend this year.

It's good news for the Bengals, who typically are frugal with their offseason spending habits compared to other teams. Unlike last offseason, when the Bengals had multiple big-money, long-term extensions they wanted to take care of, this year they only have one. It's not even a necessity, either. With at least two more years to sign A.J. Green to a new contract, the Bengals don't have to be in a rush to extend the Pro Bowl receiver. That said, though, there is interest from both sides in possibly addressing an extension this year.

Even if they set aside money for Green, the Bengals still should be able to spend more freely in free agency. Coach Marvin Lewis already has indicated he anticipated the team being more aggressive on the free-agent market. With more than an $36 million to spend on this season alone, the Bengals ought to be able to re-sign some of their current free-agent targets and invest in another one or two who could warrant larger deals.

Ndamukong Suh still probably is off the table, but is Greg Hardy? Nick Fairley? We'll find out in about two weeks, when the Bengals can start spending.
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Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer may not believe in taking a wide receiver high in the draft, but the rest of the NFL world does.

Many mock drafts have the Browns pigeonholed into taking a wideout with the first of their two first-round picks, 12th overall. Almost all have them taking a wideout either 12th or 19th.

A consensus seems to be growing that the Browns won't be able to take the two top wideouts; Amari Cooper of Alabama or Kevin White of West Virginia are expected to go in the top 10.

That leaves a logical and appealing choice at 12: DeVante Parker of Louisville.

That's the player ESPN's Todd McShay has the Browns taking in his third mock draft Insider. And it makes good sense. Adams is a 6-foot-3 receiver who had 43 catches in six games after he returned from a broken foot. He averaged 142.5 yards per game and topped 200 against Florida and 180 against Kentucky. He is a logical, talented pick, and the Browns would do well to bring him to Cleveland.

The other general thinking from draft analysts is the Browns will use the 19th pick for a right tackle to replace or compete with Mitchell Schwartz. For whatever reason, the thinking is the team needs to upgrade at right tackle. Thus, McShay has them taking offensive tackle Ereck Flowers of Miami with their second first-round pick.

However, this does not jive with the Browns' feelings on Schwartz. The team does not believe he is a weak link.
"I thought Mitchell [Schwartz] had a good year for us," coach Mike Pettine said at the combine. "Had some plays he'd want to take back, but we feel good about where our offensive line is."

Pettine doesn't do a lot of dancing when he evaluates players, so to assume the Browns need to update a position the coach doesn't want to upgrade might not mesh.

To me, it still makes more sense for the Browns to think defensive front with the 19th pick.
Roger Goodell’s praise of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam provides a breeding ground for cynicism.

Goodell made clear he is a “big fan” of Haslam and Cleveland is "fortunate" to have him.

Perish the thought that this Browns offseason has turned into a dumpster fire, and that this dumpster fire follows last offseason, when the CEO, general manager and coach all were fired after one season.

The list of football foibles goes on and on.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesCleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has a strong supporter in Roger Goodell, according to comments he made in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday.
But then there’s the Pilot Flying J rebate fraud scandal. That’s the Knoxville, Tennessee, company Haslam runs, the one that paid $92 million to settle a federal investigation into rebate fraud and shelled out $85 million more to settle lawsuits related to the same issue. In paying the $92 million, Pilot accepted criminal responsibility for its employees cheating small trucking companies by not paying promised rebates.

Haslam said he never knew anything about the fraud scheme, that he was shocked to know it was going on. He promised to take action, and he did.

But now he’s saying some of the same things about his football team.

The team didn’t know how deep Johnny Manziel's issues were. It did its homework on Justin Gilbert but didn’t know his problems. Haslam knew nothing about his general manager sending text messages to coaches during games, in violation of league rules.

The commissioner said this at the Canton Civic Center on Wednesday: “I think this community, and I know this is Browns country, I think they're fortunate to have Jimmy Haslam as an owner, and we're fortunate to have him as an owner in the league.”

Roll out the cynicism.

Goodell earned $44 million in 2014, according to the SportsBusiness Daily. Goodell earns that money because of the 32 owners, of whom Haslam is one. And Haslam was one owner who raised ticket prices this offseason, in some cases 30 percent. An increase in ticket prices leads to … more revenue.

But Goodell is also in charge of a league that is trying to settle lawsuits from former players whose lives have been severely affected by head injuries. The 1985 Chicago Bears were the subject of a heartbreaking report on HBO’s "Real Sports." A recent ESPN.com story by Jim Trotter detailed the heartbreak of depression prevalent in ex-players, in part brought on by head injury.

The man in charge of this league gave Ray Rice only a two-game suspension, and the commissioner said he didn’t know what happened in the elevator between Rice and his then-fiancee (now wife). When the video inside the elevator surfaced, there were cries for Goodell to resign. He resisted, and his owners supported him.

Why they did is no great secret: Goodell drives revenues -- to more than $9 billion last year. Because he increases these revenues, the owners, Haslam among them, reward him. Goodell visits Canton and talks about how lucky Cleveland is to have Haslam.

This isn’t to say that Haslam isn’t trying to win or that Goodell doesn’t genuinely like the Browns owner. It would be silly to say otherwise.

But it’s just as silly to be so gushing. Wouldn’t a simple phrase such as, Jimmy is one of our 32 owners, and we certainly hope that his efforts work for Browns fans, be just fine?

In making such a statement, Goodell reaffirmed the belief that he is the commissioner of ownership, not the entire NFL.

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