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AFC North News: Lamar a no-show, Njoku contract and more Watson news

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

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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 month 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...


Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns reach 4-year, $56.75M deal with TE David Njoku (ESPN)

The Cleveland Browns have agreed to terms on a new four-year, $56.75 million deal with tight end David Njoku that includes $28 million guaranteed, his agent confirmed Friday.

Agent Malki Kawa confirmed the deal on social media, while Njoku thanked the Browns organization in a post to Instagram.

The Browns placed the franchise tag on Njoku earlier this offseason, and he had until July 15 to agree to a long-term contract. Had they not reached a deal, Njoku would’ve played the 2022 season on the franchise tender, which is worth $10.931 million, per a memo previously obtained by ESPN.


Deshaun Watson facing 23rd active civil lawsuit over alleged inappropriate sexual conduct (ESPN)

Another woman has filed a lawsuit against Deshaun Watson, joining 22 others who accused the Cleveland Browns quarterback in civil cases filed in 2021 of inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions.

In the 23rd civil case filed Tuesday in Texas against Watson, the lawsuit states that the plaintiff had her first massage session with Watson during the summer of 2020 and that his “behavior grew worse.” During the third and final massage, she alleges in the lawsuit that Watson exposed himself to her, touched the woman between the legs and “repeatedly requested” her to have sex with him.

According to the lawsuit, the woman changed her mind about suing Watson after watching HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” last week. On that show, two other women, Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes, who have also accused Watson of inappropriate sexual conduct, criticized the Browns for giving the quarterback an NFL-record $230 million guaranteed contract after trading for him in March.


Monday Morning Quarterback (Sports Illustrated)

I don’t think the HBO interviews affect things much on the Deshaun Watson front. While video always can impact the way people view something, the information in the Real Sports report from Soledad O’Brien didn’t really tread into any new territory. So I think the NFL investigation, nearing completion, will move forward unaffected—with one of the final steps, talking to Watson himself, now having taken place. The NFL’s talked to more than half of Watson’s 22 accusers, and deposed all of them. To me, that leaves the June 30 deadline for pretrial discovery important to watch in this case. My understanding is the league is likely to wait until June 30 has passed, allowing for the most information possible to be produced in the court proceeding before making a decision. So July seems like a good bet, as to the timing of a call coming from the NFL on Watson. Ideally, they’d get full legal closure before doing it. But it increasingly appears that waiting for that will mean waiting until 2023. At the earliest. — Albert Breer


Bill Barnwell Offseason Rankings (ESPN)

15. Cleveland Browns

What happened: I don’t think I can classify this one as simply right or wrong, but we obviously need to talk about it when evaluating Cleveland’s offseason. It’s fair to say the decision of any team to compete in trade talks for Deshaun Watson qualifies as somewhere between distasteful and repugnant on a moral level. Watson is facing 23 lawsuits against him alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions. The Browns won the trade negotiations only by essentially handing Watson a blank check. He and his representation returned that check with a five-year, $230 million deal that is fully guaranteed, one which offers no relief or ability to void guarantees if Watson is suspended by the NFL.

On a football level, the trade for Watson comes in on the high end of NFL trades. The Browns are sending their next three first-round picks to the Texans as part of the deal, the sort of haul that we almost never see NFL teams commit as part of a package. Then again, it’s hard to envision a 26-year-old quarterback with Watson’s track record on the trade market. Cleveland was willing to overlook Watson’s alleged behavior and the likelihood of a suspension in 2022 because it felt his upside was worth the PR hit and the draft capital.

Even if Watson didn’t have the off-field allegations over his head, three first-round picks and a fully guaranteed $230 million would be a staggering commitment to acquire any player. Watson has to be a superstar for the entirety of this deal to justify the move. He’s capable of playing at that level. On the field, it’s easy to understand why the Browns would see upgrading to a different class of quarterback as an easy victory. Off the field, the trade is difficult to stomach or regard as a success.


Cincinnati Bengals

Bill Barnwell Offseason Rankings (ESPN)

11. Cincinnati Bengals

What went right: After the Bengals’ shocking run to the Super Bowl, just about everyone had the same offseason formula for Cincinnati. They wanted the Bengals to devote resources to fixing their offensive line. The Bengals devoted resources to fixing their offensive line. Things don’t have to be complicated!

In come three new starters. Former Cowboys tackle La’el Collins steps in on the right side, Bucs guard Alex Cappa is in to play guard and former Patriots and Dolphins lineman Ted Karras will have the first crack at center. With 2021 second-rounder Jackson Carman expected to compete for a starting job, the Bengals could have as many as four new starters up front in Week 1 this season.

Otherwise, it was a relatively quiet offseason for the Bengals, who had been far more active than usual over the past two springs. C.J. Uzomah left in free agency and was replaced by former Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst on a reasonable one-year deal. Trae Waynes, one of the few disappointments for Cincinnati, was a cap casualty. B.J. Hill, who impressed after being acquired by the Giants, signed a three-year, $30 million deal and will step into a larger role in the lineup with Larry Ogunjobi’s departure.


Bengals rookie Cordell Volson could be the final piece to Joe Burrow’s offensive line (ESPN)

In a massive, tool-filled North Dakota garage made for holding payloaders and semi-tractors, Cordell Volson watched April’s NFL draft on a projection screen, waiting to see if all his hard work had paid off.

Finally, the phone rang. With the 136th pick, the Cincinnati Bengals selected the 6-foot-6 tackle out of North Dakota State, making him the Bengals’ only draft pick on the offensive side of the ball. When his name was shown on the giant display, cheers from close friends and family seated around him filled the 12,500-square-foot storage facility.

Video of the reaction was shared on social media, which created a positive first impression with at least one of Volson’s future teammates on the offensive line.


Monday Morning Quarterback (Sports Illustrated)

Sometimes a contract dispute creates opportunity—and it has in Cincinnati where first-round pick Daxton Hill has taken all of Jessie Bates’ reps with the starters at safety. Regardless of what happens, it’ll be good experience for Hill, who was used almost exclusively as a nickel at Michigan last year, and good for the team to get to see him there. Hill, second-rounder Cam Taylor-Britt (who could challenge Eli Apple for playing time) and fifth-rounder Tycen Anderson have all looked good in the secondary in Cincinnati this spring. — Albert Breer


Baltimore Ravens

Bill Barnwell Offseason Rankings (ESPN)

5. Baltimore Ravens

What went right: After a wildly frustrating second half of the season, the Ravens went back to work and pulled off a very Ravens offseason. They made a big splash in free agency by signing safety Marcus Williams, shoring up the last line of defense in a secondary that couldn’t tackle a year ago. Williams’ deal is really a three-year, $44 million pact, but it’s for a talented player entering the prime of his career. Crucially, for a defense that lost multiple contributors to season-ending injuries a year ago, he has played at least 14 games in each of his five NFL seasons.

The Ravens also made impressive moves in the lower tax brackets. They brought in tackle Morgan Moses on one of the best deals in free agency, signing him to a three-year, $15 million deal with $5.5 million guaranteed. Veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell came back on what amounts to a one-year, $6 million deal. And nose tackle Michael Pierce returned to the organization after an ill-fated run in Minnesota.

Unsurprisingly, it was easy to love Baltimore’s draft. It stayed put at No. 14 and managed to land Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, who was regarded as one of the best players in the entire class, independent of position. One round later, the Ravens grabbed Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo, who projected as a possible top-15 pick before tearing his Achilles. Ojabo will join college coach and new Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who rejoins Baltimore after a year at Michigan.

The Ravens were aggressive in trading Orlando Brown Jr. last year before he would have hit free agency, and they made another move in honoring Marquise Brown’s trade request and sending the talented wideout to Arizona for a first-round pick. It’s a significant return for a player who might have been a trade candidate next offseason, and while Brown is likely to post more impressive numbers in a different style of offense, the Ravens were able to use that first-rounder to draft a much-needed center in Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum.

On the whole, we saw the Ravens shift from the more pass-neutral approach we saw on and off the field in 2021 in terms of their playcalling and decision-making. They used a first-round pick on Linderbaum, a pair of fourth-round picks on tight ends and re-signed fullback Patrick Ricard. My suspicion is that we’re going to see Lamar Jackson and the offense get back to the run-first approach. Given how the offense took a step backward last season, that switch is for the better.


John Harbaugh: Lamar Jackson can speak for self on OTA absence (ESPN)

Lamar Jackson is missing the first week of the Baltimore Ravens’ organized team activities, marking the first time that the former NFL MVP quarterback hasn’t been present at the voluntary spring workouts.

‘We’ve been down this road many times through the years,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’ll just let Lamar speak for himself on that. It’s for him to talk about. You can ask him.”

Asked whether he’s concerned about Jackson missing practice time, Harbaugh said, “It’s not for me to speak for somebody else on that. It’s up to him to speak for himself on that.”

Jackson indicated on social media Tuesday that he wasn’t in attendance for the start of OTAs, but he didn’t provide a reason for his absence. He tweeted, “Can’t wait to get back,” with purple heart and rocket emojis.


Monday Morning Quarterback (Sports Illustrated)

I wouldn’t expect to hear much become public on Lamar Jackson’s absence from OTAs in Baltimore. The Ravens believe trust is a huge factor, really, in all areas for Jackson, but especially with the contract negotiation. So the circle will be kept small on his contract talks, and I’d expect the Baltimore brass will be protective with information on it. — Albert Breer


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 rest of Phase 3 of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.