<
>

Inside the AFC North

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are some notes and observations from within the division:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization built on stability and will continue that trend in 2009 with their coaching staff. The same group that coach Mike Tomlin put together in 2007 will be coming back for a third consecutive season. This includes defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and highly touted linebackers coach Keith Butler. This is surprising considering Pittsburgh is coming off its sixth championship. For example, the Super Bowl runner-up Arizona Cardinals will have two new coordinators next season.

  • It's likely that the Cleveland Browns lost a potential free-agent target with the recent retirement of linebacker Matt Chatham. A source tells us there is "no doubt" Chatham, who played for Eric Mangini with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, would have received at least an inquiring phone call from Mangini about joining the Browns this season. Chatham, 31, was injured and released from the Jets earlier last season and recently decided to pursue other interests.

  • The Cincinnati Bengals not putting a franchise tag on receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh means the team is likely to part ways with the former Pro Bowler this offseason. Now Cincinnati has to decide what to do with fellow receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, who is signed through 2010 with a team option for 2011. The $8 million salary-cap hit the team would have incurred last year made the Bengals cringe, but that number would be reduced to $4.865 million if they move Ocho Cinco this offseason. That may be enough to convince the Bengals to trade an unhappy player. They should take the hit, get the draft pick(s), and start over by playing younger receivers.

  • Here is an important question: Who takes over the leadership role if Ray Lewis leaves the Baltimore Ravens? The team hasn't had to ponder this question for more than a decade as Lewis has thrived in the leadership position. Two candidates could be safety Ed Reed, who leads more by example, or quarterback Joe Flacco, who is both young and low key. That may be all the more reason to keep Lewis in-house.