AFC North Notes: Free Agency I

Based on some comments from General Manager Ozzie Newsome, wide receiver Steve Smith was brought aboard at least as much for his attitude as for his statistics.

"We've added one of the top competitors in the NFL," Newsome assessed after Smith was cut by Carolina and quickly signed by Baltimore last week. "He's a proven player who has performed the best in big games and biggest situations. He adds toughness to our offense."

Smith, 35 in May, entered the NFL as a third-round pick in 2001 of the Carolina Panthers, and during his 13 seasons with that team he caught 836 passes for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns. He amassed 64 of those catches for 746 yards and four touchdowns last season.

"Steve is a Ravens-style football player," Coach John Harbaugh maintained. "He always has been in our eyes; it's just that he's been playing for another team."

NOT GOING ANYWHERE: The Ravens retained TE Dennis Pitta, OT Eugene Monroe, LB Daryl Smith, WR/PR/KOR Jacoby Jones.

NO LONGER IN THE PLANS: DT Arthur Jones (Indianapolis), LB Jameel McClain (New York Football Giants), S James Ihedigbo (Detroit), CB Corey Graham (Buffalo), OT Michael Oher (Tennessee).

The biggest splash made early in free agency was to prevent the coach from becoming a free agent after next season. The Bengals announced a one-year contract extension for Marvin Lewis, which means Lewis won't be in the potentially awkward position of working as a lame duck in 2014.

"Marvin has earned this commitment for the job he is doing," owner Mike Brown announced. "We are one of only five teams to qualify for the playoffs the last three years and our prospects are bright looking ahead. Marvin is driven to achieve more and we are happy to secure his leadership of our team beyond the coming season."

Cincinnati went 11-5 and captured the AFC North Division championship in 2013. The Bengals have been to the playoffs five times in Lewis' first 11 seasons, but the franchise hasn't won a playoff game since 1990. Lewis' career record, including the postseason, is 90-90-1.

In terms of signing players, the Bengals had tendered restricted free agent WR Andrew Hawkins at $1.431 million, a level that would allow them to match any offer he received from another team, with no draft pick compensation if they did not. The Browns subsequently signed Hawkins to an offer sheet worth a reported $12.2 million, with $5.3 million in guaranteed money. The Bengals have until March 18 to match the offer and retain Hawkins, or allow him to leave for a division rival.

NOT GOING ANYWHERE: G/C Mike Pollak, WR/PR/KOR Brandon Tate.

NO LONGER IN THE PLANS: DE Michael Johnson (Tampa Bay), C Kyle Cook (cut), OT Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay), LB James Harrison (cut), CB Brandon Ghee (San Diego).

Better or just different?

That's a legitimate question in Cleveland after the Browns cut LB D'Qwell Jackson and then signed LB Karlos Dansby (Arizona), after they lost safety T.J. Ward to Denver and then signed S Donte Whitner (San Francisco), and after they cut WR and then signed WR Andrew Hawkins (Cincinnati) to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

According to reports, the way the numbers worked out indicate the Browns paid more money for older players at linebacker and safety.

The Browns dumped D'Qwell Jackson's contract because he was due $6.6 million in 2014, but they're going to pay Dansby, 32, $10 million in 2014. Dansby's contract averages $6 million per season through 2017.

At safety, the Browns gave $13 million in fully-guaranteed money to Whitner as part of a four-year, $28 million deal. Ward signed for $7 million fully guaranteed, with another $6.5 million guaranteed for injury only until the 2015 league year. The total value of Ward's four-year deal is $22.5 million, which is $5.5 million less than Whitner's contract.

To Whitner, different is better.

"You really have to change the culture," said Whitner, a Cleveland native who played at The Ohio State University. "You have to change the mind-set and you have to change the feel within the locker room."

CB Isaiah Trufant (New York Jets) was another free-agent addition, and RB Ben Tate became the most recent of the new additions when he came to terms on March 16. Tate compiled a career average of 4.7 per carry in three seasons working as the complement to Arian Foster in Houston.

NO LONGER IN THE PLANS: QB Brandon Weeden (cut), QB Jason Campbell (cut), G Shaun Lauvao (Washington), Ward (Denver), Jackson (Indianapolis), Bess.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.