The Baltimore Ravens might release tight end Dennis Pitta over his $5.5 million salary, according to the NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

This doesn't come as a major surprise because it's been assumed the Ravens were going to approach Pitta about taking a pay cut. Pitta, 31, led all tight ends last season with 86 catches, but there is some concern that he lost a step after averaging 8.5 yards per catch (28th among tight ends).

AP Photo/David RichardIf Dennis Pitta doesn't agree to a lower salary, the Ravens would have to make him a post-June 1 cut to get the best possible financial result for the team.

What shouldn't go overlooked is the Ravens will unlikely get immediate salary-cap room from parting ways with Pitta. Baltimore could say goodbye to Joe Flacco's favorite target and then have to wait three months before being able to use the created cap space.

Here is the reason why: It makes no sense to cut Pitta without a June 1 designation because that would free up only $3.3 million in cap space and add on $4.4 million in dead money. If the Ravens designate him as a post-June 1 cut, they would open up $5.5 million in cap room and spread the dead money into two seasons ($2.2 million in 2017 and $2.2 million in 2018). The only problem with that scenario is the Ravens wouldn't then be able to use the additional cap space until after June 1.

So why would the Ravens cut Pitta? Baltimore doesn't want to pay him the sixth-highest base salary for a tight end in 2017. Pitta wasn't much of a factor in the red zone (two touchdowns) or downfield (more than 68 percent of his receptions went for under 10 yards).

Baltimore would probably be open to keeping Pitta at a reduced cost. He agreed to a $4 million pay cut last year ($3 million of which he later recovered in incentives) because he didn't play in 2015 after having two hip surgeries. The questions are whether Pitta would do this again after setting a career high in catches, and what would the Ravens do if Pitta declined a pay reduction.

If Baltimore cuts Pitta, it would show a lot of confidence in an unproven young tight-ends group and possibly signal the return of Benjamin Watson. He is coming off season-ending Achilles injury and was considered a potential cap cut because he represents $3 million in cap savings. Watson, 36, caught a career-best 74 passes and six touchdowns in 2015.

The rest of the Ravens' tight-ends group is filled with young prospects such as Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore and Darren Waller. But all four have a history with injuries and suspensions, which means the Ravens will best served to keep Watson or Pitta. The economics appear to favor Watson, whose $3 million salary is nearly half of Pitta's in 2017.

The Ravens, who currently have the fifth-worst cap space in the league, are expected to make several moves before the start of free agency March 9 in an effort to free up salary and get younger. Among the tougher decisions looming for Baltimore is what the team will do with Pitta.

Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesOne year after losing guard Kelechi Osemele in free agency, Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner is projected to attract a lucrative deal.

The Baltimore Ravens might be a couple weeks away from watching another starting offensive lineman receive a lucrative payday elsewhere.

Rick Wagner, the Ravens' starting right tackle the past three seasons, could become the NFL's second highest-paid right tackle. He is projected to make $6.9 million per season, according to Spotrac.

This would come one year after Kelechi Osemele signed the most lucrative contract ever for a guard (an average of $11.7 million per season).

The Ravens would prefer to keep Wagner after he produced one of his best seasons since being selected in the fifth round by Baltimore in 2013. Wagner, 27, was rated as the ninth-best right tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He gave up three sacks, four quarterback hits and 25 hurries in 2016.

By the March 9 start of free agency, Baltimore has to determine whether Wagner is worth that type of money or if there is more value in finding another starting right tackle at a lesser cost. The Lions' Riley Reiff, a 2012 first-round pick, is the second-best right tackle available and is projected to make $5.3 million per season. Other starting right tackles in free agency include the Patriots' Sebastian Vollmer (a likely cap cut) and the Panthers' Mike Remmers.

One concern about committing so much money to Wagner is his inconsistency. He had his best NFL season in 2014, and he then followed it up with one of his worst. In 2015, he allowed a career-worst 52 quarterback pressures.

But Wagner should draw interest because of the number of teams looking to solidify the right side of their lines. The Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers are among the teams looking for starting right tackles. Wagner has a connection in Seattle after protecting Russell Wilson's blind side when they were at Wisconsin.

The highest-paid right tackle is the Eagles' Lane Johnson, but he received $11.252 million per season because Philadelphia will likely move him to left tackle at some point. The true market price for right tackles is an average over $6 million per season, which is what five are currently earning: the Packers' Bryan Bulaga ($6.75 million per season), the Chiefs' Mitchell Schwartz ($6.6 million), the Jaguars' Jermey Parnell ($6.4 million), the Falcons' Ryan Schraeder ($6.3 million) and the Steelers' Marcus Gilbert ($6.1 million).

Losing Wagner would continue an unwanted trend of players leaving Baltimore after being developed there for four seasons. In the last four offseasons, another team has given at least one Ravens free agent more than $12 million in guaranteed money. Linebackers Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, wide receiver Torrey Smith and Osemele received a total of $91.9 million in guaranteed money.

Silence can be golden, but the silence regarding the talks to keep Terrelle Pryor off the free-agent market seem mildly concerning.

Especially for those who want to see Pryor remain with the Cleveland Browns.

The team and Pryor's camp both have maintained a public silence about the situation, with the only comments from Pryor at the end of the season that he told his agent he wanted to stay in Cleveland, but a deal has to be fair to both sides. That's a point that has yet to arrive.

As the March 9 date for the start of free agency approaches, the deadline for placing the franchise tag on Pryor gets closer. That's a move neither the team nor the player wants.

The nuances of the tag are explained here by ESPN's Kevin Seifert. The bottom line is the tag essentially keeps a player with his team, and pays him very well. The teams don't like to anger the player, who loses freedom, nor do they like the high salary that goes with the tag. Players don't like their chance at not being able to decide where they want to play.

The Browns could put one of two tags on Pryor. The first keeps him from seeking offers. The second allows him to sign an offer sheet, and if the Browns don't match, they receive two first-round draft picks.

The Browns would probably make that trade yesterday. No team is going to sign Pryor to that kind of contract and give up two first-round picks to get him. He simply has not played enough receiver to warrant that consideration.

Franchising Pryor would keep him in Cleveland at a price expected to be near $15.8 million. If he's franchised, the Browns could continue to negotiate a long-term deal. Pryor also could sign the offer at any time.

Once he signs the franchise offer, he becomes the NFL's highest-paid receiver, in terms of cash paid in 2017.

The Rams' Tavon Austin right now is the due to receive $14.977 million in cash and bonuses, according to both ESPN's Roster Management System and Next are Dallas' Dez Bryant ($13 million), Denver's Demaryius Thomas ($12.5 million), Atlanta's Julio Jones ($11.5 million) and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ($11 million).

Pryor would pass them all, and the Browns would have to swallow the entire salary-cap cost. (Cleveland, though, is one team for which that cost would not matter. The Browns are projected to have around $108 million in salary-cap room when free agency begins.

As Seifert points out, in the past five years, 47 players were franchised. Twenty-two signed the offer, 24 signed long-term extensions and one signed a modified deal -- that was Jason Pierre-Paul, after his fireworks accident.

Terrelle PryorJason Miller/Getty ImagesWith only one full season of experience at receiver, it's proving difficult to judge a fair contract for Terrelle Pryor.

The advantage for the Browns is clear. They retain their top receiver for at least one year, which is important, given the lack of depth at the position in general. If Pryor leaves, the Browns are suddenly barren at receiver.

The team also gets another year to see Pryor at the position and assess his long-term value. The fact that no deal has been agreed to indicates the team and player disagree about that value.

The Browns have used the tag twice, for place-kicker Phil Dawson. Though Dawson was more than deserving, the fact that the team used it on a kicker speaks to its talent in recent years.

Dawson was and is the ultimate professional, and even he didn't appreciate being tagged. Players simply don't like it. A player like Pryor worked his entire life for the chance he has now -- to be rewarded by the team that gave him a chance or to test his value on the market, where teams typically are overly generous.

Having that freedom revoked usually does not go over well. It's tough to project how well Pryor would do on the market, but at 27, he might be at his peak in terms of marketability.

ESPN's Roster Management System analyzes age and production, and it shows 27 is when a receiver hits his peak. He then maintains a high level through the age of 31. At 32 is when productions starts to drop.

The other risk for a player is injury. If a player has a serious injury while on a one-year contract, his bargaining power decreases.

However, the tags were negotiated by the players and management in collective bargaining, so players must live with them.

In Pryor's case, he'd live with it for a year. At least he'd live well.

The Baltimore Ravens can double their current salary-cap room before free agency begins March 9.

The Ravens just need to make their biggest cap purge in 15 years to do so.

Baltimore, which currently has $15.3 million in cap room (fifth-fewest in the NFL), can create an additional $20.3 million in space with a half-dozen moves. The Ravens would need to cut linebacker Elvis Dumervil ($6 million in savings), safety Lardarius Webb ($5.5 million), cornerback Shareece Wright ($2.6 million), center Jeremy Zuttah ($2.3 million), cornerback Kyle Arrington ($2.1 million) and safety Kendrick Lewis ($1.8 million).

Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesLinebacker Elvis Dumervil, who has a salary-cap number of $8.375 million, could potentially be cut by the Ravens after recording just three sacks last season.

This would mark a drastically different offseason for the Ravens, who haven't released more than four players before the start of free agency since 2002.

"Everything is on the table," coach John Harbaugh said about potential cap cuts at the end of the season. "Absolutely, everything has to be on the table, in terms of how we can improve. The financial part of it is a big piece of it."

Right now, the Ravens only have more cap room than four teams: the Dallas Cowboys ($13 million over), New York Jets ($8.7 million over), Kansas City Chiefs ($5.2 million under) and Philadelphia Eagles ($9.6 million under). In order to improve an 8-8 team, Baltimore needs to create more cap space to try to keep a top free agent (nose tackle Brandon Williams and offensive tackle Rick Wagner), add a veteran cornerback, fill the void left by retired wide receiver Steve Smith and potentially replace Dumervil and Webb if they're cut.

Dumervil has become a prime candidate to get released because of his cap number ($8.375 million) -- fourth-highest on the team -- as well as his age (33) and declining sack numbers (career-worst three last season). Webb is another potential target because of his cap figure ($7.5 million) and an uneven season in his first year as a safety.

The other likely cap-cutting decisions include Zuttah, who was inconsistent as an undersized center; Wright, who struggled more than any other Ravens defender; Arrington, who spent all of last season on injured reserve; and Lewis, who lost his starting safety job and was placed on IR last October.

The Ravens could decide to cut more players. Parting ways with wide receiver Mike Wallace ($5.75 million) and tight end Ben Watson ($3 million) would open up an additional $8.75 million.

Baltimore could also choose to not let go of as many players. The Ravens might hold on to Webb, who played better toward the end of the season.

Traditionally, the Ravens don't start making their cuts until the end of February. Baltimore hasn't released many players for cap purposes recently. Only eight Ravens players were cut or traded before the start of free agency over the previous four offseasons.

Baltimore's biggest upheaval recently occurred in 2011, when the team cut tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and running back Willis McGahee.

But the greatest cap purge in team history came in 2002, when the Ravens released 10 players, including two future Hall of Fame players (safety Rod Woodson and tight end Shannon Sharpe) as well as defensive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, wide receiver Qadry Ismail, defensive end Rob Burnett and fullback Sam Gash.

The Ravens aren't expected to match that number of cuts this offseason. But Baltimore will need to part ways with more than a handful of players to create much-needed cap room.

CINCINNATI -- With free agency around the corner, it's a good time to review what the Cincinnati Bengals did last season with their free agents and what impact that made on a lousy 6-9-1 season.

The Bengals experienced a significant change after letting two of their top receivers go in free agency and starting a new right tackle. The results weren't great, but were they avoidable?

Wide receiver Marvin Jones

Marvin JonesAP Photo/Mike Roemer

The Bengals wanted to keep Marvin Jones, but with A.J. Green in the building, it probably wasn't meant to happen.

Although the Bengals reportedly gave Jones a competitive offer, he ultimately signed a five-year, $40 million contract with Detroit ($20 million guaranteed), giving him a chance to step out of Green's shadow and into a bigger role.

Jones first season with the Lions started off strong, with 482 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games. His targets and production dipped significantly about midseason, but he still finished with 930 receiving yards and four touchdowns, better than any season he had in Cincinnati.

This was a big loss for the Bengals. When Green went down with a hamstring injury in Week 11, they didn't have anyone reliable to step into his shoes.

Jones' presence might have also eased the transition from offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to Ken Zampese and taken some of the pressure off Green in the early part of the season when Tyler Eifert was hurt.

With the offense struggling to maintain consistency, having Jones certainly would have helped in a big way.

Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu

Mohamed SanuJason Miller/Getty Images

Did the Bengals miss Mohamed Sanu in 2016? Of course.

Would he have been worth the money he commanded in free agency? Probably not.

Sanu signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract with the Falcons ($14 million guaranteed). For comparison: Green, the Bengals' No. 1 receiver, received $15 million guaranteed when he signed his four-year $60 million extension in 2015.

Instead of spending that money, the Bengals signed Brandon LaFell to a one-year deal with $1 million guaranteed.

Sanu had 33 receptions for 394 yards and no touchdowns in 2015, which weren't particularly eye-catching numbers. However, the Bengals did miss Sanu's versatility, which included his ability to run plays from the wildcat formation.

Their offense appeared to lack some of that creativity at times in 2016.

Sanu played an important part in Atlanta's run to the Super Bowl, with two postseason touchdown receptions. He finished second on the team in receptions (59) and receiving yards (653), and tied for third in receiving touchdowns (4).

Sanu’s playoff success likely made the Bengals think of what might have been, but at that price, and considering the role he played in Cincinnati, it just wasn’t worth it.

Safety Reggie Nelson

Reggie NelsonAP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

After six seasons in Cincinnati, Nelson signed a two-year deal with the Raiders with $4 million guaranteed.

He followed that up with a five-interception season that led to his second consecutive Pro Bowl berth.

The Bengals replaced the 33-year-old Nelson with Shawn Williams, who slid into the veteran's starting role without much fanfare. Pro Football Focus rated Nelson 29th among all safeties and Williams 33rd overall.

Williams and fellow safety George Iloka, who signed a new deal in the offseason, each had three interceptions in 2016.

Still, it's hard not to wonder what might have been if Nelson was around last season, particularly with his knack for forcing turnovers. Nelson helped the Raiders clinch their first playoff berth since 2002 with an interception against the Chargers.

Considering the Bengals played in so many tight games this season, a play like that could have been the difference in at least one of them.

Did they make the right move? This question might require a few years to truly answer. The Bengals reportedly made an offer to keep Nelson, but the sides ultimately chose to move on.

Williams is only 25, and should be a solid cog in the backfield for years to come. If he continues to improve, this will prove to have been the right move. For now, mark it as an incomplete.

Tackle Andre Smith

Minnesota's Andre SmithNick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

The Bengals allowed Smith to leave in free agency after seven seasons, obviously banking on the thought that their 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi could slide into his place.

Smith signed a one-year deal with Minnesota. It included a $2.5 million base salary and a $500,000 roster bonus, with additional incentives for games played. However, a triceps injury landed him on IR after just four games.

The injury makes it difficult to assess how Smith would have played had he been allowed a full season away from Cincinnati. However, the Bengals' offensive line was nothing short of disastrous in 2016, as Andy Dalton was sacked 41 times -- more than twice the amount he had been sacked in 2015.

The mistake the Bengals made wasn’t necessarily allowing Smith to leave. Smith earned dismal grades by Pro Football Focus in both 2015 and 2016. But they did make a miscalculation in believing Ogbuehi was ready to take on a starting role.

He struggled instead and spent the season rotating with veteran Eric Winston at right tackle before being benched for 2015 second-rounder Jake Fisher. Ogbuehi finished the season ranked 70th by Pro Football Focus among all tackles.

A healthy Smith could have perhaps given the line some stability, but it’s hard to predict the ultimate outcome.

Cornerback Leon Hall

Leon HallRich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Hall, 32, signed with the Giants in training camp after nine seasons with the Bengals. Although there was a possibility of a return to Cincinnati after William Jackson III was injured in the preseason, Hall ultimately chose to go to New York.

Hall was a rotational backup with the Giants. He played in 12 regular-season games as a reserve and at one point was a healthy inactive for the first time in his career. He was moved from cornerback to safety at the end of the season.

Hall’s position as a slot cornerback with the Bengals was filled by 24-year-old Josh Shaw. It’s unlikely his presence would have changed much about how the Bengals' season ended.

The Cleveland Browns continue to work to ensure that receiver Terrelle Pryor does not reach free agency.

The Browns face an interesting choice with Pryor as they try to sign him to a new deal. Determining his true value is not easy given that he has been a receiver for only one season.

Terrelle PryorFrank Jansky/Icon SportswireTerrelle Pryor has turned himself from a quarterback to a reliable receiver, potentially earning a solid payday in the process.

In that season, he played well, catching 77 passes for 1,007 yards with four touchdowns. He led the Browns in each of those categories.

Pryor's work ethic in moving from quarterback to receiver in the middle of his career cannot be questioned. He did something that only Marlin Briscoe had done before him, and that happened in 1968 and 1969, when Briscoe played for Denver in the AFL. In two years, Pryor went from project to making the team to starter to established receiver.

That is in his favor.

So is his work ethic.

What works against the 27-year-old as he seeks a new deal is that he did it for only one season, and that he was more or less the only consistent target for a bad team.

One line of thinking could be that Pryor played well. The other is that somebody had to catch the passes for a bad team, and it was him.

Picking at Pryor is unfair given what he accomplished, though. The risk with Pryor is the risk with any free agent or potential free agent: overpaying. The notion might seem comical given that the Browns have $100 million in salary-cap room, but overspending for one player could lead to overspending for others.

The Browns were not extravagant when they gave linebacker Jamie Collins a four-year, $50 million deal. It made Collins among the highest-paid linebackers in the league, but that's the way the Browns view him in Gregg Williams' defense. His deal was generous, but not outrageous.

What is Pryor worth?

One way is to judge what players like him made in 2016.

In terms of numbers, Pryor's most significant was his total yards. He ranked 22nd in the league, and was one of 25 players to top 1,000 for the season.

The five immediately ahead of him were Tyrell Williams of San Diego, Pierre Garcon of Washington, Emmanuel Sanders of Denver, Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona and Mike Wallace of Baltimore. The five behind Pryor were DeSean Jackson of Washington, Michael Crabtree of Oakland, Kenny Britt of the Rams, Davante Adams of Green Bay and Adam Thielen of Minnesota.

Three of those 10 players were on their rookie deals, so the contracts of Williams, Adams and Thielen can't be considered because theirs were not comparable to a free agent's.

The others signed contracts between two and five years, and averaging between $4.5 million and $11 million per year.

Taken together, the average salary of all seven for the course of their contracts was $8.18 million. This is not top-receiver money like Julio Jones ($14.25 million), A.J. Green ($15 million) or Dez Bryant ($14 million) makes. It's closer to bottom-third No. 1 receiver pay.

Which, given Pryor's experience as a receiver and his production in one season as a starter, seems fair.

Spotrac tracks salaries in all sports and projects a market value for a player based on position, playing time and production.

The site calculated Pryor's value at $8.9 million per year, which is in line with the average of the players around him, with an increase for free agency and for a 1,000-yard season.

An average annual salary of $9 million seems like the ceiling. Could the Browns go to $10 million per season, or perhaps even $11 million?

They could.

Teams extend themselves for free agents, and to keep their players from free agency. But based on Collins' deal, the Browns don't seem inclined to overpay, which is what an $11 or $12 million deal would seem to be.

Pryor, though, knows that in free agency it takes only one team to make him wealthy.( The Browns have to judge his worth with what they want to pay.

If they cannot work out a new deal, they could give Pryor the franchise tag.

That figure is expected to be worth $15.795 million for one year.

Mock-draft season is gaining steam, and there is one consistent element in those done by ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr.: The Browns will select Myles Garrett with the first overall pick.

McShay released his Mock 2.0 last week; Kiper released his today.

Both say that Garrett's combination of pass-rush skills and overall ability warrant going No. 1.

Kiper called Garrett the best player in the draft and said having a rookie with his talent and at his position is "like stealing." McShay said he's simply too good to pass up. Both Kiper and McShay have given Garrett to the Browns with the first pick in their postseason mock drafts (McShay's 1.0 was released in December). This is called a growing consensus.

That video where Garrett asked for Jerry Jones to trade for him? Ignore it. It meant nothing. It was a joke.

Things get interesting when it comes to the 12th pick. McShay projects that North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky will still be there, and the Browns will take him. That's a fair projection if the Browns haven't added Jimmy Garoppolo via trade (something that the NFL Network's Charley Casserly projects will happen in his mock draft LINK).

McShay projects Deshaun Watson going second to San Francisco, with both Trubisky and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer available at 12. Trubisky is the better choice for the Browns.

Kiper projects that Watson and Trubisky will both be gone before the Browns make their second of two first-round picks — Trubisky to San Francisco, Watson to Buffalo.

He gives the Browns LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, but adds that he made the pick because he doesn't project trades (which Casserly did). Kiper said this pick is based on the assumption that the Browns have added a quarterback through trade or free agency.

In his first mock draft, Kiper gave the Browns running back Dalvin Cook of Florida State. McShay's first mock was done before the season ended; he gave the Browns defensive end Derek Barnett of Tennessee 12th, and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen of Alabama first. Casserly has the Patriots acquiring the 12th pick for Garoppolo, and projects Barnett going to New England.

Garrett seems to have risen in the eyes of all draft analysts. The majority give him to the Browns with the first pick.

PITTSBURGH -- Free-agent running back Le'Veon Bell's negotiation with the Pittsburgh Steelers could get complicated, but at the core it's quite simple.

Just follow the snow tracks to Minneapolis, the birthplace of Adrian Peterson's milestone $100-million contract in 2011.

No running back has touched Peterson's average earnings of $14 million per year since that deal. The next-closest currently under contract is LeSean McCoy at around $8 million. When it comes to Bell's future, the sound of McCoy's number is much sweeter to the Steelers than Peterson's.

But Peterson is still the market's standard-bearer, at least for now. And Bell, arguably the best tailback to enter free agency since Peterson's prime, will hope to spike that market with one swift open-field cut.

That means Bell, ever confident, will set his eyes north.

Can both sides find a sweet spot?

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsIncluding the postseason, Le'Veon Bell played in 15 games for the Steelers during the 2016 season, accounting for 2,244 yards rushing/receiving and 11 touchdowns.

The franchise tag is a good first step in earnest. The Steelers can apply the tag starting today, slating Bell to make around $12.4 million for one year and serving as a placeholder in case both sides can't agree on a longer deal.

Peterson can still deepen the intrigue. The Vikings' looming decision on Peterson should be closely watched at Steelers headquarters. The Vikings are widely expected to pass on the 31-year-old Peterson's $6 million roster bonus in the final year of his deal. That leaves Minnesota with two options: Cut him or ask him to take a reduced salary, a reality a prideful Peterson might not accept.

If Peterson is released, that $14-million-a-year clip is off the books, leaving McCoy the game's highest-paid back. The Steelers easily could give Bell more than McCoy without jeopardizing the salary cap.

But consider that Bell -- who's coming off an explosive year in which he averaged 157 yards from scrimmage per game -- has long admired Peterson's career, and he basically admitted in a rap lyric last offseason that he'll want Peterson money. Bell, also known as the rapper Juice, wrote this in his song "Focus": "I'm at the top and if not I'm the closest, I'ma need 15 a year and they know this."

Bell later backed off those comments, saying he's not a greedy person. But the seed has been planted: He's a confident player and plans to be paid as such. Despite two drug-related suspensions and two knee injuries, Bell's been too good to accept a modest deal. After all, his own suspension aside, Peterson was slated to earn $85 million over the last six years, which dwarfs the recent deals signed by McCoy (five years, $40 million) and DeMarco Murray (five years, $42 million).

No one will understand that discrepancy more than Bell's reps, even if Peterson's numbers are ultimately far-fetched for any running back in 2017.

The Steelers stuck by Bell through the suspensions, then proceeded to pound the rock nearly 30 times per game with their team MVP late in the season. Bell capitalized on that opportunity and proved he's the game's most unique back.

Those factors suggest the two sides need each other. Things could get heated over the next six months before they realize this.

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals will sign cornerback Bene' Benwikere to a one-year deal, according to his agent, Bardia Ghahremani.

Benwikere chose the Bengals over several other potential teams after visiting on Monday.

Benwikere began the 2016 season as one of the starting cornerbacks for the Panthers, but was released midseason after the team gave up 300 yards to Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones.

Benwikere, 25, was a fifth-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2014 and started 14 games for them, including 10 during his first two seasons, before a broken leg late in the 2015 season kept him out of the playoffs.

He was claimed off waivers by the Miami Dolphins after being released by the Panthers and finished the season on the Green Bay Packers' practice squad.

Benwikere has played both outside and inside and could be a potential option at either position for the Bengals, who face an uncertain cornerback situation. Dre Kirkpatrick is a pending free agent, while Adam Jones could face potential punishment by the NFL for violating the league's conduct policy after his arrest in January.

If Jones and Kirkpatrick aren't the starting cornerbacks to begin 2017, Benwikere would be the most experienced cornerback in terms of games started on the roster. The Bengals' 2016 first-round pick, William Jackson III, spent the season on IR and has yet to play.

USA Today first reported the news concerning Benwikere.

Myles Garrett had a message Saturday for those who were upset at his video where he playfully asked the Dallas Cowboys to draft him by making a trade with the Cleveland Browns for the first overall pick in the draft.

His message: "Take a joke, people."

Garrett spoke with ESPN's Sam Khan Jr. In the interview, Garrett confirmed that the video taken by an ESPN social media producer in early December and posted Friday was purely in fun.

He explained further in the interview, which is below:

Question: Explain how the video came about:

Garrett: "I had been interviewing with a young woman that was there at the red carpet [for the college football awards show]. She sat down and she was like 'OK, I have an idea for one more thing.' I was like 'All right.' She said 'It's 100 percent fun and say whatever you want to say, have a message toward any coach or any owner who you'd like to speak to for your favorite team. Just say whatever you want and have fun. It doesn't have to be serious, just play around with it.' I was like 'All right.' So I said what has been going around [from Friday's release of the video] and it was supposed to be pretty much a joke and not taken too seriously. It kind of got blown up."

Q: Were you caught off guard by the national reaction?

Garrett: "Definitely. I've already said I like the Cowboys because that's my hometown team. Everybody knows you're going to like your hometown team. But I want to go No. 1. Whoever that is, if that's Cleveland, I have no problem going up there and playing with them. I'm going to love whatever team and organization that I'm a part of."

Q: So anybody thinking that you want the Cowboys to trade Tony Romo to acquire you, it's just you having fun?

Garrett: "That was something my friends have been talking about and joking about, so I thought it would be funny to put that in the video, because the video wasn't supposed to be serious. [My friends said] 'Well maybe they can [trade] Romo or trade all of their picks.' I said 'That'd be one hell of a trade.' But no, [I wasn't being serious]. I just want to go No. 1."

Q: What's the message you want to tell people about the NFL draft and your future?

Garrett: "Relax. I want to be the greatest player who has ever been at my position, the greatest player who has ever played. I have to pass up [Tom] Brady now, but no matter what team that is, I'm going to give my all. I'm not going to be any different. Whoever picks me up, I'm not going to show any less or any more effort. I'm going to give 100 percent to whatever team [drafts me] and have fun with it."

Q: So obviously, you want to go No. 1, so that means you would like to go to Cleveland?

Garrett: "Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, whoever has No. 1 at the end of the day, that's where I'm trying to go."

Q: Why are you not attending the draft?

Garrett: "Just want to spend time with my family. They raised me, got me where I'm supposed to be. My family and friends who stuck along for the ride, they deserve to be part of this big moment in my life."

Q: Anything you want to add?

Garrett: "Take a joke, people."video

PITTSBURGH -- As the NFL season shuts down and the Boston streets finally are cleared of confetti, the Pittsburgh Steelers are left wondering how sweet this week must have been for the team that exposed them.

The AFC title game loss to the New England Patriots reminded us how close and how far the Steelers are from a seventh Super Bowl win. New England looks stronger than ever, with a quarterback who somehow is peaking at 39. But that wet night in Foxborough three weeks ago can embolden a team suddenly drenched in humility.

In the next seven months, the Steelers can refine a near-finished product that's approaching full strength after the franchise's last Super Bowl appearance in 2010.

RoethlisbergerAP Photo/Matt SlocumBen Roethisberger's retirement talk should be enough to push the Steelers to get him more firepower.

That starts with five tweaks:

Get a full arsenal for Ben Roethlisberger: The frustration from last season boiled over when Roethlisberger flirted with retirement during an interview on 93.7 The Fan after the Patriots loss. While people in the Steelers organization don't expect him to retire, Big Ben's public stance raises the heart level. The message: Get better. A good place to start is with the complementary passing game. Work to make sure electric Martavis Bryant stays out of trouble upon his return from suspension, then sign or draft an additional playmaker at tight end or wide receiver for good measure.

Get more coverage help: Rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis played a combined 1,550 defensive snaps, experience that will prove invaluable next year. The starting quartet of Burns, Davis, Ross Cockrell and Mike Mitchell seems to be settling into a groove. But adding another pure cover corner alongside Burns would give the Steelers more options to mix man and zone coverages. Hey, maybe Tom Brady can beat either look. Throw everything at him anyway. A valuable free agent at a reasonable rate could work here.

Go bold in the draft: With most of the positional needs met save maybe pass-rusher, the Steelers have an opportunity to get creative. It's time for a change-of-pace running back to alleviate the load on Le'Veon Bell or a lanky tight end in a deep draft year at the position, in case Ladarius Green doesn't return to form. Serve up a Dak Prescott quarterback special late in Day 2 or early in Day 3.

Re-sign these four players: Armed with $30-plus million in cap space, the Steelers would be prudent to bring back Bell and Antonio Brown, even if Bell returns on the franchise tag. But make sure to give Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison chances to return without overpaying. Harrison just grossly outplayed his two-year, $2.75 million deal. He has every right to ask for more. But both sides need each other and should be able to work something out. And don't count out special teams dynamo Shamarko Thomas returning.

Figure out what it takes to beat high-level passers: The Steelers' nine-game winning streak was admirable, but most of the damage came against unimpressive quarterbacks. The Steelers went 1-3 against quarterbacks with top-10 passer ratings in 2016. Meanwhile, Brady and Aaron Rodgers await on the 2017 schedule. When the defensive coaches grind out film this offseason, identifying the proper personnel to fluster -- or at least contain -- the top passers should be a primary focus.

The Baltimore Ravens will have plenty of crucial decisions to make this offseason.

Whether to keep linebacker C.J. Mosley through at least the 2018 season is not one of them.

It's a no-brainer for the Ravens to exercise the fifth-year option on Mosley, which assures them of having him in the middle of their defense for the next two seasons. Baltimore has until May 3 to officially do so.

C.J. MosleyCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker C.J. Mosley has lived up the expectations that came with being the Ravens' first-round pick in 2014.

Mosley has lived up to expectations after being the No. 17 overall pick in 2014, making the Pro Bowl twice (2014, 2016) in his first three seasons. Plus, the fifth-year option -- projected to be north of $8 million -- is a reasonable price for a top inside linebacker when you consider seven made at least that much in base salary in 2016.

The unexpected retirement of Zach Orr, the Ravens' other inside linebacker, only adds to the importance of keeping Mosley, although Baltimore probably always intended on holding onto him.

The Ravens would likely see this fifth-year option as the first step toward getting a long-term extension with Mosley. This is what happened with cornerback Jimmy Smith, who saw his fifth-year option picked up in 2014 and then reached a long-term deal with Baltimore the next year.

The market price for inside linebackers was set by Carolina's Luke Kuechly, who signed a five-year, $61.8 million deal in September 2015. His $12.3 million average per season and $34.3 million guaranteed is by far the highest for an NFL inside linebacker.

The next tier is Seattle's Bobby Wagner and San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, both of whom average over $10.4 million per season. Mosley and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier, the No. 15 overall pick in 2014, could eventually land deals somewhere between Kuechly and other highest-paid inside linebackers (Wagner and Bowman).

Mosley, 24, is scheduled to make $1.618 million in 2017, the final year of his four-year rookie deal. He has certainly outplayed that contract.

Since 2014, Mosley is one of three defenders to record at least 300 tackles, five sacks and five interceptions. Kuechly, Jamie Collins and Thomas Davis are the others.

Last season, Mosley led all NFL linebackers with four interceptions and he finished second on the Ravens with 92 tackles and eight passes defensed. In 2014, he became the first Ravens player to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Since the fifth-year option began, the Ravens picked up the one for Smith in 2014 and declined it for safety Matt Elam in 2016. Baltimore didn't have a first-round pick in 2012, so the Ravens didn't have a decision on a fifth-year option in 2015.

This year, the only team to publicly say it's picking up a fifth-year option on a 2014 first-round pick is the Dallas Cowboys, who will do so with guard Zack Martin.

The option with Mosley will pay him somewhere over $8 million, the average of the 25 highest-paid players at the position, with the top three excluded. Once the Ravens exercise the option, Mosley's fifth-year pay in 2018 is guaranteed for injury. If he’s on the roster at the beginning of the 2018 league year, it’s fully guaranteed.

PITTSBURGH -- A healthy Ladarius Green solidifies the Pittsburgh Steelers' tight end position.

But Green's future remains murky at best after the rangy playmaker missed 13 of a possible 19 games due to his recovery from offseason ankle surgery and a late-season concussion. Steelers president Art Rooney II sounds non-committal on Green's future in Pittsburgh, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Couple that uncertainty with Green's non-guaranteed salary of $5 million in 2017 and a positional reboot isn't out of the question.

To be sure, the Steelers wouldn't mind if Green's health perked up. He's an ideal fit for their vertical passing game. If health remains a minor concern but the team still wants him back, it could ask him to take a discounted salary.

But the tight ends in this year's draft class are considered strong, a reality punctuated at the Senior Bowl last month by prospects such as Alabama's O.J. Howard and Ole Miss' Evan Engram. Many NFL evaluators walked away from the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama, with a bright outlook on this position.

That changes the dynamic.

There's enough depth in the draft at this spot to snag a viable option in the first few rounds, which the Steelers definitely could do. Other than adding a pass-rusher, the team's roster needs aren't glaring. Plus, the Steelers typically prefer the best-player-available approach, which might land them a tight end anyway. Several offensive positions will be in play, including backup quarterback, a change-of-pace running back and help on the outside for Ben Roethlisberger.

This isn't to discount third-year tight end Jesse James. He proved reliable in the final two playoff games with 10 catches for 131 yards. He's got good hands and uses his length well. He won't scare opposing defensive coordinators and his run-blocking still needs refinement. Let's call him a good complementary piece. Xavier Grimble's potential is appealing.

But the Steelers still need a stabilizing force. If the 2016 tight end class had been deeper, we might be talking about a former Day 2 draft pick entering his second season in Pittsburgh.

CINCINNATI -- Former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson wasn't happy when his one-time teammate and good friend Terrell Owens failed to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the second straight year.

Owens ranks second-all time in receiving yards but bounced from team to team in the latter part of his career due to locker-room issues. Johnson told TMZ this week that he felt Owens exclusion was political.

Owens could make the Hall of Fame eventually, but Johnson's chances seem unlikely.

Chad JohnsonAP Photo/David KohlChad Johnson probably won't get to exchange this jacket for a gold Hall of Fame jacket.

Johnson played in the NFL for 11 seasons, 10 with the Bengals and one with the Patriots. He caught 766 passes for 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns. Johnson made six Pro Bowls, earned four First-Team All-Pro awards and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2006.

Johnson finished his career leading the Bengals in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Johnson has said repeatedly over the years that he feels that he has earned his way into the Hall of Fame, even once donning a gold jacket during a game that said "Future H.O.F. 20??" He has also criticized the voting process for including criteria other than statistics, particularly in the case of Owens.

Statistically, Johnson's numbers would make him a long shot for the Hall of Fame.

At the time of his retirement, Johnson ranked 26th in receptions and yards, and 31st in receiving touchdowns. Every other receiver of his era was no lower than 10 in any of those categories, with the exception of Michael Irvin, who retired in 1999.

If the receivers of the 2000s were ranked, Johnson probably wouldn't be top-five in a list that includes Marvin Harrison, Owens, Torry Holt, Hines Ward and Steve Smith, all of whom finished with better numbers.

But it's also possible to argue that Johnson ranked among the best during his prime. He led the AFC in receiving yards from 2003-06, joining Jerry Rice as the only receiver to lead his conference in receiving yards for four consecutive seasons.

He also played in and year out against some of the best defenses in the league. Johnson faced the Steelers and the Ravens twice a year for almost his entire career. With the exception of the 2002 season, both teams were ranked top 10 in total defense from 2001-10. Twice, they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the same season.

However, Johnson struggled once he left the Bengals system, catching only 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdowns with the Patriots in 2011, the final season of his career.

Johnson became eligible for the Hall of Fame for first time in 2016 but did not make the list of semi-finalists. His path over the next few years doesn't look easy.

Not only will he be eligible alongside Owens, but also up for consideration in the next decade is Moss, Donald Driver (2018), Smith and Calvin Johnson, in addition to the already-eligible Isaac Bruce and Ward.

Johnson might have been one of the most entertaining receivers to ever play the game, but as a Hall of Fame candidate, he probably doesn't make the cut.