Navigating the offseason and making it to the next NFL season with a winning team is no easy task.
If teams could just magically keep all of their players and go into the next season unscathed, teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers would be sure-fire Super Bowl contenders. Even a team like the Baltimore Ravens could become a contender just by getting healthy and getting all of their roster back. But, that's simply not going to happen for them or anyone in the AFC North.
This offseason will likely see several big-name, impact players leaving their respective AFC North teams and the result may be a shakeup in the division. We already know who the Bengals may lose, and if they let many of their big impending free agents leave, it may allow Pittsburgh to have the edge over them in the division before the 2016 season even begins.
The good news is, the Steelers also have their own problem of having too many key free agents and not enough money to sign them. None of their guys are the caliber of player of George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Adam Jones or Marvin Jones, but that doesn't mean they aren't key to what Pittsburgh does.
As of now, the Steelers have 11 impending free agents who played at least 200 snaps in 2014 and four guys who played at least 962 snaps. Ramon Foster was quietly one of the NFL's better guards in 2015 and finished as Pro Football Focus' 16th-best guard. He is 30-years-old, but with Pitt having just around $9 million in cap space, it's going to be hard to keep the stud guard.
Both of the Steelers' starting corners are also set to be free agents. William Gay is a quality DB, but Blake is a liability who the team may be better off without. Still, the Steelers also need to re-sign Brandon Boykin after he played well in limited snaps after the team acquired him in a trade with Philadelphia before the season began.
Boykin is young enough and showed a lot of potential both in Pitt and during his time in Philly. Of these three, there's a decent chance at least two of them will be gone, which would leave Pittsburgh without two of their top three corners from the end of last season. At safety, the Steelers may also lose starting safety Will Allen and top backup safety Robert Golden.
Then there's left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who had a great 2014 season in which he emerged as a quality left tackle, but tore his ACL and missed most of the 2015 season. It will be interesting to see his market develop as his presence was sorely missed last season.
Pittsburgh may also lose James Harrison to retirement this offseason. Despite being 37-years-old last season, he was still one of Steelers' best defenders and someone who could still put fear into opposing quarterbacks. Losing him would be a big loss for that defense.
Looking to Baltimore, they too may be forced to let some quality free agents walk this offseason. The biggest of which would be Kelechi Osemele, who has become an elite guard and is now hitting free agency for the first time.
He's actually played a lot of offensive tackle and was PFF's 18th-best tackle last season, which will only make the demand for him even great this offseason. With the Ravens having just around $6 million in cap space, don't expect Osemele back with them. That means Baltimore will lose a guy this offseason who is probably one of the four or five best players on their entire roster.
Also scheduled to hit free agency is Justin Tucker, who's easily one of the NFL's best kickers. Even the best kickers don't cost too much, but with Baltimore so close to the cap limit, even keeping Tucker will be tough. He's won a lot of games for the Ravens, and losing him would really sting.
Another star offensive lineman who may depart from the North this offseason is Alex Mack. The Pro Bowl center is expected to opt out of his current deal with the Cleveland Browns and test the market. The good news is, Cleveland has almost $40 million in cap space, and that's before the team cuts Johnny Manziel soon.
Still, does Mack want to re-sign with a team that's lost double-digit games in all but one year he's been in the NFL since 2009? He's one of the game's best centers when healthy, and he'll probably get a big contract if he tests the open market.
Tashaun Gipson was one of the game's best safeties from 2013-14 before having an off year in 2015 while also having to play corner with Cleveland having so many injuries there. He'll probably get a nice contract offer from someone this offseason, and given the Browns' shortcomings, he may be willing to leave for the same type of offer from another club.
Some other notable AFC North players set to hit free agency include Browns linebacker Craig Robertson, Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw, Steelers defensive lineman Steve McLendon, Browns tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Browns receiver Travis Benjamin.
Needless to say, there could be a lot of talent leaving the division this offseason. Hopefully, that won't apply to the Bengals.
Of the above mentioned players, which would you be glad to see leaving the AFC North this offseason?