AFC North Notes: Williams, Steelers, Ravens, Browns

The Bengals followed their model by signing safety Shawn Williams to a four-year extension, Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. The 25-year-old has only started four games in his career, serving as a backup to George Iloka and Reggie Nelson while chipping in on special teams. Still, Williams possesses serious upside and he is one of the key reasons why the team was willing to let Nelson leave via free agency.

He keeps his head down, kept working,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He came in and George and Reggie were in the spots there. He kept coming on. I kept saying this guy needs to get on the field for us. We have to find a way to get him on the field. You have something done like that, the organization gave a good offer and I’m happy for him. He deserves it.

The Bengals have taken this kind of leap before and they’ve been rewarded for it. In 2013, the Bengals inked Carlos Dunlap to a six-year, $40MM extension before he truly broke out and he went on to rack up 21.5 sacks in two seasons. Ditto for defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who was signed to a five-year, $55MM deal prior to August of 2013, a deal that is extremely modest compared to deals given to top-end players at the position on the open market.

Here’s the latest from a busy news day in the AFC North.

  • Antonio Brown said finishing his career under another long-term extension with the Steelers would be “an honor,” and he’s not planning to hold out for a new contract just yet, Jeremy Fowler of reports. “I always want to be a Steeler for life. We will let those things take its course,” Brown told media, including Fowler. “I’m excited to get back on the field. … My focus right now is to show up and become the best player.” Following his stay in Los Angeles for Dancing with the Stars, Brown plans to return to Pittsburgh for OTAs. Playing on of the NFL’s best bargain contracts, Brown is set to make $6.25MM in base salary this season and occupy a $12.37MM cap hold in 2016. The latter figure is eighth among receivers. With Martavis Bryant now out for the season, Brown could have additional leverage in a potential contract standoff, which he didn’t necessarily deny was forthcoming — although Kevin Colbert recently said he does not expect to alter the Steelers’ policy of not extending players who have more than two years left on their deals. Brown’s 265 receptions over the past two seasons are an NFL record.
  • After announcing recently he’ll return for a 14th NFL season, James Harrison called NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith regarding a drug test. Harrison was trying to videotape the drug test, but the drug-testing agent informed the linebacker that could result in a positive test, per Fowler. The reporter notes Harrison has filmed drug tests in the past, yet he didn’t do so this time as to not want to get the tester fired. All NFL players are subject to random testing in the offseason. Harrison was named in a highly scrutinized Al Jazeera report in December but succinctly denied any HGH use. At 38, he’ll be the oldest defensive player in the league this season.
  • The NFL does not appear to buy the Ravens‘ company line of not being aware rookie-camp practices fell under the no-pads policy that veteran offseason workouts do,’s Adam Schefter reports. Baltimore is under investigation for suiting up rookies in pads during a non-contact punt-protection drill, and the league viewing the team as attempting to skirt the rules — albeit for a stretch that amounted to five minutes — could result in a loss of practice time.
  • Although John Urschel remains the favorite to replace Kelechi Osemele at left guard for the Ravens, Ryan Jensen, Alex Lewis and the newly signed Vlad Ducasse could challenge the 2014 fifth-rounder for the job, Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun reports. However, if the Ravens opt to keep Eugene Monroe, No. 6 overall pick Ronnie Stanley becomes the favorite to succeed Osemele at left guard, Zreibec writes. Monroe has three years left on his deal, one that pays him between $8.7-$8.95MM in each season, but has missed 15 games the past two seasons. Cutting Monroe this year would saddle the Ravens with $6.6MM in dead money.
  • Joe Haden is uncertain to return for Browns training camp after offseason ankle surgery, but the seventh-year corner insists he’ll be ready by Week 1, Nate Ulrich of reports. Haden, who missed 11 games last season due to concussion issues, admitted it was “a little upsetting” to hear Sashi Brown say it was too early to tell whether he’d play on Sept. 11 in the Browns’ opener. “I think I’m going to be back definitely for sure not to miss any regular-season time,” Haden said Wednesday after undergoing surgery March 16. “I don’t really know about training camp. … But I just know for sure that my whole thing is I’m not missing any games.”

Zach Links contributed to this report

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