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Around the AFC North: Minkah Fitzpatrick Feels Added Responsibility As NFL's Highest-Paid Safety

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Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) defends in coverage during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Minkah Fitzpatrick Expects More From Defense After Signing New Deal

Minkah Fitzpatrick is determined to reward the Steelers for their investment in him.

The two-time Pro Bowler became the highest-paid safety in NFL history June 15 when he signed a contract extension reportedly worth $18.4 million per year.

Fitzpatrick led all defensive backs in tackles last season (124), but he was disappointed by the Steelers' overall defensive performance. They led the NFL in sacks (55) but finished 25th in overall defense and last in rushing defense, and Fitzpatrick said he was "embarrassed" by Pittsburgh's 42-21 playoff loss to the Chiefs.

To Fitzpatrick, being the top-paid safety brings added responsibility to lead Pittsburgh's defense back to prominence.

"Last year was not to our standards at all," Fitzpatrick said via Bryan DeArdo of CBSSports.com. "I know myself, T.J. (Watt), Cam (Heyward), all of us were not happy or pleased at all with the way the season ended. Especially in that playoff game, [it] was an embarrassment, honestly. Not our typical selves. That's what motivates us.

"Obviously, the money is a blessing and creates opportunity for everybody and our families. Now, it's my duty to go out and play at a high level and show them that I deserve this compensation."

Fitzpatrick was impressed with rookie defensive end DeMarvin Leal during minicamp and thinks the Steelers made a key addition adding free agent inside linebacker Myles Jack. Pittsburgh is preparing for a new era after the retirement of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but Fitzpatrick believes the defense can carry a heavier load if necessary.

"I'm really excited," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm excited about Levi. I'm excited about Myles. We drafted well in the front. I think we have a young but experienced defense. We've got older guys who are great at coaching and getting the new guys ready to play. We're going to need some new faces to step up. I'm very excited about this upcoming season."

Cleveland Browns: Jadaveon Clowney Wanted to Reunite With Deshaun Watson

In his first press conference since re-signing with the Browns, edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney made no secret that his decision to rejoin Cleveland was strongly influenced by embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Clowney and Watson were teammates with the Texans for two seasons (2017-18), and after the Browns traded for Watson, Clowney said his decision became easy.

"I was all about where my boy Deshaun was going," Clowney said via Jake Trotter of ESPN.com. "I just wanted to go play with him and see what I can do with him again."

However, it remains to be seen if Clowney will again play with Watson, who is facing 24 active civil lawsuits from women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions. The NFL is believed to be nearing the completion of its investigation into Watson, and he could reportedly face a "significant' suspension though he is not facing criminal charges.

Clowney said he is not worried about a potential Watson suspension ruining the Browns' season. He had nine sacks in 2021 and teamed with All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett (16 sacks) to give the Browns a dynamic one-two punch.

"We've got a good defense, we can hold it together," Clowney said. "We did good last year, and we were banged up on offense all over the place and our defense played well for what we had going on. ... We're going to be all right."

Cincinnati Bengals: Several Key Players Getting Healthier As Training Camp Nears

The Bengals had a relatively injury-free 2021 season, which played a major role in their run to the Super Bowl as AFC champions.

However, all teams deal with some injuries and the Bengals have two starters who underwent offseason shoulder surgery - wide receiver Tee Higgins and inside linebacker Logan Wilson. Starting guard Alex Cappa (core injury) missed mandatory minicamp as well, but Head Coach Zac Taylor believes Higgins, Wilson and Cappa will all be ready for training camp.

"I should be careful to say someone is going to be ready day one of training camp," Taylor said via Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. "But the thought is they've really attacked the rehab, doing all the things, the progression has been as we hoped it would be. It remains to be seen these five weeks how they handle it, but I'm encouraged that they'll be ready to go."

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