AFC North Roundup: Bengals, Steelers & Ravens

Keeping you up to date on all the important items for the Cleveland Browns' division rivals. What have the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens been up to this week?

Cincinnati Bengals Give Fifth-Year Options to 2012 First-Rounders Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler

The Cincinnati Bengals announced on Tuesday that they will be picking up the 2016 fifth-year options of their two 2012 first-round draft picks, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler. Teams have until May 3 to decide on the fifth-year options for players drafted in 2012’s first round; some teams are waiting until that deadline, which is after the 2015 NFL draft, to make their decisions, while others, like the Bengals, acted before Thursday’s draft kicks off.

Kirkpatrick, selected 17th-overall, had an injury-marred beginning of his career. First, he missed rookie offseason workouts with a groin injury. He then suffered a knee injury in training camp, later re-aggravating the knee and forcing him off the field until Week 9. He played in five games upon his return, but totaled only four combined tackles before landing on injured reserve.

He was then buried on the depth chart heading into 2013, spending much of the season on the bench while veterans Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones the team’s starting trio of corners. Kirkpatrick did get called up to the starting lineup in Week 15 after Hall suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear but did not play well, totaling two interceptions and just one pass defensed while allowing one touchdown in four starts (including playoffs).

Kirkpatrick went on to appear in all 16 games for the Bengals in 2014, with one start. Hall returned fro his injury and Kirkpatrick was again fourth on the depth chart, limiting his on-field impact. He had 23 combined tackles, three interceptions and seven passes defensed. He will get first crack at Newman’s starting job this year, with the veteran leaving for the Minnesota Vikings in free agency. And given his $7.5 million payday he will receive from the Bengals in 2016, it’s clear they believe he’s up to the task of a full-time starting role.

Heitler was a quicker study. He was a Week 1 starter at right guard for the Bengals and has not yet missed a game. He was Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 12th-ranked offensive guard in his rookie season and their seventh-ranked right guard. He hasn’t slowed down, ranking ninth among guards in 2014 and fifth among right guards. He allowed only one sack, two quarterback hits and six hurries. He is not just one of the more unheralded draft picks from 2012’s first round, but also one of the most underrated guards in the league. The Bengals, however, don’t have any plans to relinquish him to another team; for now, he will be making $8 million in 2016 from his fifth-year option, though a contract extension could lower that cap hit significantly, while also providing him job security.

Pittsburgh Steelers: GM Kevin Colbert Blasts Draft Leaks

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert held his pre-draft press conference on Monday and had a message to send about the practice of leaking and circulating pre-draft information about the league’s prospective players: Cut it out.

Colbert said that the dissemination of negative information about prospects prior the draft does a disservice to the entire process. He said, via ESPN’s Scott Brown, “I think it's horrible. I think it's really bad for our profession when people use whatever means they use to get information out to try to influence the draft and they talk about a kid's test score, a kid's injury, a kid's character. I think that's awful. It's disrespectful to our profession, it's disrespectful to the game, it's disrespectful to the kid.”

These leaks serve to influence a player’s draft stock, whether favorably or unfavorably. But the Steelers try to do all they can to ignore the noise and focus on their own time-tested pre-draft process. Colbert added, “We're going to be true to what we do and feel good about it and live with it.”

Colbert’s outrage is understandable, but getting the process to stop will be a gargantuan, if not impossible, task. The NFL news cycle is now 24/7, 365 days a year and the pre-draft period is all about smoke screens, subterfuge and the strategic leaking of information, whether by teams or by agents, to ensure a desirable outcome in the draft. And as long as the Steelers are committed to tuning out the noise, the continued practice shouldn’t have much affect on what decisions they make.

Baltimore Ravens: Ravens Cancel Thursday Night Draft Party

A draft party scheduled by the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night has been canceled, the team announced on Tuesday. The move was made “out of respect to the curfew in Baltimore,” according to the press release. The curfew, a result of civil unrest in parts of the city, began on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. and runs until 5 a.m. and will be in place for at least a week.

The Ravens had scheduled the event to run from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Thursday night, running concurrent with Round 1 of the 2015 NFL draft. Automatic refunds will be issued to all fans who have purchased tickets to the event.

In addition, retired Ravens linebacker and current ESPN NFL analyst Ray Lewis will forego his trip to Chicago for the draft, opting instead to stay in Baltimore. Lewis released a statement on Tuesday which read: “I felt that it was more important for me to stay in Baltimore and try to help the city I love. I greatly appreciate ESPN’s understanding and flexibility at this late date. I did not feel right leaving the city at this time.”

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