AFC North Notes: The deal on Rice's deal?

ITEM: What's real regarding Rice negotiations?
Over the last week, there have been three different reports regarding the status of negotiations between the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Rice on a long-term contract.

On Monday, May 21, Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun reported that the sides are making progress toward a long-term contract. The report made clear that no deal is imminent but said the two sides are talking and moving toward a deal. Because the Ravens placed the franchise tag on Rice, the deadline to get a long-term contract worked out is July 16. The franchise tender for running backs is $7.7 million for the 2012 season.

With LeSean McCoy having worked out a contract extension with the Philadelphia Eagles, there was some belief that those numbers would be used in some way by the Ravens and Rice to settle their negotiation.

In the days following that report, some dissenting views emerged.

First it was ESPN's Adam Schefter reporting that while the Ravens and Rice are talking, they have not made any progress toward a new deal. Then it was Sal Paolantonio of ESPN, who said that when talking to a senior Ravens official about reports that Rice wants a contract similar to the ones signed by Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson money, that senior team official said, "That is simply not going to happen."

Peterson signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with $36 million guaranteed, while Johnson signed a six-year, $56 million contract with $30 million guaranteed.

ITEM: Gruden, Dalton disagree with Cosell
Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden came to Andy Dalton's defense when a report surfaced in which Greg Cosell of NFL Films said he thinks the second-year quarterback has some limitations when it comes to arm strength and that he heard there are members of the organization who feel the same way.

Gruden responded to this by telling Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he doesn't have any doubts about Dalton's ability.

"I don't know where that came from and why he said it," Gruden said. "If there were reservations about Andy Dalton there would be a lot more quarterbacks here right now. We know and he knows he has to get better. … I have no reservations about arm strength. I think he can do it all."

Like most rookies, Dalton's play declined somewhat in the second half of last season, but it still was good enough to help the Bengals finish 9-7 and qualify for the playoffs as an AFC Wild Card.

A couple of days later, Dalton also spoke to Reedy on the subject.

"I'm comfortable with it. Everyone knows what they are going to get out of me," he said. "I don't think it held us back last year and I don't think it is going to hold me back in my career. Arm strength is one thing, there's a lot to throwing. It's timing, consistency and making sure everyone is on the same page. I'm going to keep working but I don't think arm strength is an issue."

ITEM: Heckert on Taylor, Weeden vs. McCoy
At the 33rd annual Akron Browns Backers dinner on May 21, Cleveland Browns General Manager Tom Heckert told the crowd that Phil Taylor will be back by the middle of the 2012 season and that the starting quarterback will be determined by an open competition.

Taylor, the team's No. 1 pick in 2011, tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights at the team's practice facility, and he already has had surgery to repair it.

"I don't think there's any question about that," said Heckert. "We think he'll probably be (back by the) end of October, early November. But he'll definitely be back, no doubt, no question about it."

Heckert called his time frame as "being very, very cautious. He could be back earlier than that. But he'll be back at some point."

As to the quarterback situation, the Browns first tried to trade up high enough in the first round of this draft to pick either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, and when that failed the team selected Brandon Weeden with its second pick in the first round.

Since Weedon is 28 years old, speculation was that he immediately would be handed the starting job and that Colt McCoy either would be traded or serve as the backup.

"I think when we say open competition, the best guy is gonna play," said Heckert. "That's the way it is, but we drafted Brandon Weeden to be that guy You draft a guy 22nd in the draft, you think he's gonna be that guy. You can write it and talk about it however you want. The best guy's gonna play, but we fully expect Brandon to be that guy. Now if he's not, and Colt plays better or Seneca Wallace, whoever, but right now that's our goal is to have Weeden be the guy."

Heckert also said he can envision both McCoy and Wallace being on the final 53-man roster.

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