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AFC North News: Lamar contract, Watson hearings and offseason grades

Time to get caught up on all the AFC North news...

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Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

The other day I was perusing the internet and stumbled across some news surrounding AFC North teams not named the Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously, this news intrigued me, considering the competitive balance in the division, but they weren’t necessarily things I would cover in articles for the site.

I then felt if the news was intriguing to me, it is likely intriguing to others who read the site. So, I decided to put together an AFC North News article a couple times a week where I compile links and parts of articles so you can keep tabs on what’s going on within the division, outside of the city of Pittsburgh.

Just as a reminder, these are not the full articles. If you want to read the entire article, click the link next to the headline.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the AFC North news...


Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson Contract Update (ESPN)

Jackson and the Ravens have been at a standstill for quite some time. Baltimore is prepared to do a deal, but Jackson hasn’t forced the issue — and has even dodged it, as he would an open-field tackler. He’s either incredibly patient or he wants to get to free agency.

And you have to give Jackson credit here: He has made himself millions by waiting. The market has gone up exponentially since last summer, with four passers (Watson, Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen) all above $43 million per year. As a former MVP with 105 total touchdowns and an astounding 37-12 record as a starter, Jackson can justify at least asking for something in the ballpark of Watson’s five-year, $230 million deal.

The flip side is Jackson isn’t coming off a great year — his 50.7 QBR was well below what he put up in the previous two seasons — and was sidelined for five games, fueling the conversation about whether his dual-threat style of play will affect long-term durability. One league exec said the Ravens would be foolish not to at least consider paying Jackson on a year-to-year basis, going from the fifth-year option of $23 million for next season to two franchise tags.


Long-time Ravens punters Sam Koch retires (ESPN)

Before a packed team auditorium, Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch announced his retirement Thursday during a tear-filled press conference, which ended the career of the longest-tenured player in franchise history.

Koch, 39, will remain with the Ravens as a special teams consultant this season and mentor Penn State punter Jordan Stout, who was drafted by Baltimore in the fourth round 19 days ago.

A 16-year veteran, Koch played in a team-record 256 games in Baltimore, 27 more than any other Ravens player. The only active player with longer current service with his team is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.


Ravens Pro Football Focus Offseason Grades (PFF)

Offseason Grade: A

Free Agency Grade: Average

Draft Grade: A+


Do the Ravens have any quality wide receivers?? (PFF)

@WILLOFHOUSEWILL: WOULD THE RAVENS BE BETTER SERVED EXPANDING THE ROLES OF THE YOUNG RECEIVERS AND ADDING DEPTH IN THE SECONDARY OR SIGNING JARVIS LANDRY?

I think the Baltimore Ravens need to add a veteran wide receiver. Will Fuller could be a pretty decent facsimile of traded wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, as well.

As Baltimore’s roster currently stands, it has 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman and a bunch of guys with little-to-no NFL experience.

Devin Duvernay has 53 career receptions for 473 yards with two touchdowns and 11 carries for 120 rushing yards, James Proche has just 17 career receptions for 216 yards, and Tylan Wallace caught two passes for 23 yards as a rookie in 2021. The Ravens could probably enter the season with one of those receivers as a third option, but they need more certainty at the position even in a run-heavy offense with receiving options at running back and tight end.


Cincinnati Bengals

Jessie Bates Contract Update (ESPN)

Expect Bates to stay away from the Bengals for an extended period this offseason while bound to a franchise tag he has yet to sign.

This is one where I don’t sense much optimism. There has been no tangible progress on a deal, and it’s uncertain how close to the top of the market Cincinnati is willing to get. I can confirm the USA Today report that Bates does not intend to play on the tag, and when I asked a source involved what will happen if no deal is reached by July 15, the source said things will get “interesting.”

Whether Bates would be willing to miss games is still unclear. But the threat for this to snowball is certainly there. Bates would do very well in 2023 free agency, so he could play on the $12.9 million tag this year and hit the open market. The Bengals could also always opt to trade Bates, though there hasn’t been any movement on something like that.

It’s not lost on the player that Cincinnati has been active in signing external free agents, yet an in-house playmaker with a second-team All-Pro nod, 10 interceptions and 35 pass deflections in his career and plenty of locker-room credibility as a leader remains unsigned. As a result of recent deals for Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, more than $52 million of the Bengals’ cap is tied to defensive line and cornerback.

It seems like anything is possible here, including a lengthy holdout.


Bengals Pro Football Focus Offseason Grades (PFF)

Offseason Grade: A

Free Agency Grade: Good

Draft Grade: B+


Cleveland Browns

Deshaun Watson to start meeting with the NFL soon (ESPN)

NFL officials began direct meetings with Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson in Texas on Tuesday as the league seeks to determine if he violated the personal conduct policy and, if so, whether discipline should be imposed, a source told ESPN’s Ed Werder.

The meetings are believed to involve Watson and the NFL investigative team of Lisa Friel.

The NFL has been investigating Watson to determine if he violated its code of conduct. Watson is facing 22 civil lawsuits from women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions. Two grand juries in Texas have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, and Watson has denied all wrongdoing.

Friel, a former prosecutor in New York, has been heading the investigation. Once it is completed, former U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson, a disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and NFL Players Association, will decide if Watson violated the conduct policy and will report to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Watson, meanwhile, will be hosting several of his teammates in the Bahamas this weekend to work out and bond before the start of the team’s organized team activities, another source confirmed to ESPN.


Browns reportedly agree to terms with Jadaveon Clowney on one-year deal (ESPN)

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has agreed to re-sign with the Cleveland Browns on a one-year contract worth a maximum of $11 million after enjoying one of the best seasons of his career with the franchise, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Clowney finished with nine sacks and two forced fumbles for the Browns last season while playing opposite All-Pro pass-rusher Myles Garrett, who, like Clowney, also was a No. 1 overall draft pick.

Clowney’s agreement to re-sign with the Browns was first reported by Cleveland.com.


Browns Pro Football Focus Offseason Grades (PFF)

Offseason Grade: B+

Free Agency Grade: Above Average

Draft Grade: B


Chase Winovich excited to start his AFC North career (PFT)

The Browns traded for defensive lineman Chase Winovich in mid-March in exchange for linebacker Mack Wilson, setting up two defensive players for a needed change of scenery.

After recording 5.5 sacks in each of his first two seasons, Winovich saw his playing time reduced to just 10.5 percent of New England’s defensive snaps in 2021. He ended the year with no sacks and just one quarterback hit.

So as he begins his time with Cleveland as a potential rotational edge rusher, Winovich is optimistic about his opportunity in the AFC North.

“In life, we’re very quick to assign things as good or bad, success or failure, this or that,” Winovich said in an interview with Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “But I think ultimately that removes any possibility, and the possibility is that it could be the best thing to ever happen to me.”

Winovich added that he’s gained 10 to 15 pounds this offseason to help his transition into Cleveland’s defensive scheme.


Deshaun Watson’s lawyer “not optimistic” about HBO’s treatment of the case (PFT)

On Tuesday night, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel will debut a story that includes interviews with “several” of the women accusing Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, does not have high expectations for the finished product.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I’m not optimistic,” Hardin told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I believe they’ll air the accusations of the women without attempting to look behind it to see what kind of merit do they have.”

Hardin has tried in the past to get the media to focus on the merits, or lack thereof, of the specific allegations. His efforts didn’t take. He eventually stopped trying.

“My approach all along was that we were not going to win the battle of public opinion,’’ Hardin told Cabot, not mentioning the fact that did indeed tried to sway media and fans Watson’s way in 2021, with multiple press conferences and the release of evidence that potentially undermines the allegations, such as text messages. “And my goal has always been to have these cases examined by law enforcement and I strongly believed that trained investigators would ultimately conclude that there was nothing to them from a criminal standpoint and that’s where my focus has always been.”


Feel free to chime in on the above news in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of Phase 3 of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.