AFC North Notes: Bengals, Browns, Steelers

     

Bengals

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin refuted a recent report that said Cincinnati won’t trade the No. 1 overall pick. 

“I don’t know that any decision has been made for what we’re going to do in April,” Tobin told Bengals.com. “We’re early in the process. We certainly haven’t had any meetings to determine that at this point. Those will be meetings we’ll have as we go through the process.”

Tobin said he isn’t worried about LSU QB Joe Burrow, who is the presumptive No. 1 pick, not being in attendance for the Senior Bowl, as they’ll have plenty of time to evaluate him before the April draft. 

“We’ll have a lot of opportunity to get to know him through the process,” Tobin said. “We feel very comfortable by the time we have to make a decision in the draft on him and the other players as well.”

Burrow is as close to a lock to be picked by the Bengals as any No. 1 pick in recent memory despite Cincinnati’s reluctance to publicly confirm it. That leaves Bengals QB Andy Dalton in a similar position to where he was in 2019 when he was benched for a rookie quarterback. Dalton made it known he wasn’t happy about that and would have preferred to be traded. This offseason, Tobin said the team will work to find a solution for both Dalton and the team at quarterback that makes everyone happy. 

“I’ve talked to Andy individually and we’re going to be in constant communication throughout the offseason,” Tobin said in an interview with NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. “We haven’t made any decisions there and I wish I could give him a decision there — it’s you, it’s somebody else, all those things are possibilities. I can tell you one thing, what Andy Dalton‘s done for the Cincinnati Bengals is not something that we’re going to forget and we’re not going to just willy-nilly, make something happen with him that, a) he’s uncomfortable with and, b) that we’re uncomfortable with.”

  • Bengals HC Zac Taylor said re-signing WR A.J. Green is “definitely” a priority this offseason and the team will have contract conversations with Green in the spring. (RosterWatch)

Browns

Former Browns HC Hue Jackson has not been able to land another NFL coaching gig since the Browns fired him in 2018. Jackson’s 3-36-1 record with Cleveland has been a significant roadblock for teams considering him, as it was more disastrous than usual for Browns coaching candidates. At the NFLPA Bowl where he was working as a coaching assistant, Jackson made the case for himself. 

“My coaching record over 32 years speaks for itself,” Jackson said via Joe Reedy of the Associated Press. “I don’t think two and a half years at Cleveland should tarnish my whole career but at the same time people have to know that you are out there and are willing and able to work.”

  • According to ESPN’s Jake Trotter, the Browns believe WR Odell Beckham‘s recovery from a core muscle surgery will follow a similar timeline to RB Kareem Hunt‘s. Hunt had surgery in training camp and was ready to go by the end of his eight-game suspension. 
  • Browns WR Jarvis Landry will not have surgery on a hip injury that limited him in 2019 and has agreed to participate in the Pro Bowl skills challenge. Surgery would entail a six-to-eight month rehab. (Nate Ulrich)
  • The Browns have parted ways with assistant coaches Ryan Lindley (QB), John Lilly (TE), John Parella (Asst DL), Deuce Schwartz (Def QC), Tyler Tettelton (Off QC), Alonso Escalante (Def QC), and Jody Wright (Off Asst). (Field Yates)
  • Browns offensive assistant Jim Dray has been hired by Arizona. 

Steelers

Ordinarily, Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster would be a locked-in extension candidate given his production after Pittsburgh drafted him in the second round. However, 2019 injected some uncertainty into the mix. Between the challenge of stepping into the No. 1 role vacated by Antonio Brown, losing QB Ben Roethlisberger for nearly all of the season and missing four games himself to injury, Smith-Schuster finished with a career-low 42 catches for 552 yards and three touchdowns. 

Steelers owner Art Rooney II told reporters the organization still obviously values Smith-Schuster and would like to keep him. But 2019 makes putting a value on Smith-Schuster’s next deal a little trickier. As he enters the final year of his deal in 2020 — and given Pittsburgh’s policy of not negotiating in-season — it’s possible Smith-Schuster bets on himself and his contract isn’t addressed until 2021. 

“Well again, it was a tough season to evaluate with the different quarterbacks and some of JuJu’s injuries so it’s a tough season to evaluate from a lot of different standpoints,” Rooney said via PennLive.com’s Jacob Klinger. “Obviously we still think highly of JuJu and still think he’s going to be an outstanding player in the league moving forward and we will address the contract situation when it’s appropriate.”

  • The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly says Steelers pro personnel coordinator Brandon Hunt would be the likely successor to GM Kevin Colbert if and when he leaves. 
  • Though the Steelers would save money by releasing TE Vance McDonald, Kaboly thinks he’s back in 2020 because there aren’t a lot of clear upgrades in the draft and free agency. 
  • Rooney says the Steelers’ negative experience with using the franchise tag on RB Le’Veon Bell and him sitting out the entire 2018 season won’t impact potentially tagging LB Bud Dupree. (Gerry Dulac)

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