As the offseason continues, we take a look at some headlines around the AFC North to see what the competition is up to this summer. The Ravens have a couple of safeties who are surprising coaches and teammates. The Browns have the worst triplets on both sides of the ball (and no one is surprised). And the Steelers released long-time kicker Shaun Suisham who will retire due to a setback in his recovery. Let's get to all the details.
The Ravens have overhauled their secondary this offseason, and Jerraud Powers has plans to be the biggest contributor. Powers comes from Arizona on a one year "prove it" deal. So far he has been proving it. The 28-year-old chose Baltimore over a couple teams that offered multi year deals.
"I knew if I wanted to extend my career, I wanted an opportunity to play nickel," Powers told BaltimoreRavens.com. "I think my attributes best fit that position."
The slot corner has become more valuable in today's NFL as teams spread out defenses with frequency. It also makes sense that Powers would choose a one year deal like this. He is betting on himself to be able to prove he has more value than teams currently believe he has. If he plays as well as his teammates and coaches have said, he could be in line for a more valuable multi year deal with Baltimore or whoever else feels like giving him the money. At that end of next season, Powers will be 29 and it might be his last chance at signing a big deal. It's a hefty gamble, but Powers is betting on himself.
Matt Elam was a a first round pick in 2013, and Terrence Brooks was a third round pick the following season. Baltimore had expectations of being set at the safety position for years to come, but now these two are fighting for a spot on the team. Elam spent last season on injured reserve after tearing his bicep. Brooks spent last season starting for Baltimore while flashing potential. Baltimore wasn't content banking on that duo though. Lardarius Webb returned from injury, and the team added Eric Weddle in free agency. It is safe to say that duo will be the Week 1 starters, but Webb has an injury history, so having a capable safety behind him is important. Although what may be even more important is what each can produce on special teams. Especially if both players are relatively even at safety, the tie breaker could be if one can produce something for the team on special teams as well as in a reserve role on defense. It's a far fall from what Baltimore expected to have, but at some point the team will have to cut its losses.
The Browns' 2016 season hinges on Robert Griffin III reverting back to the sensational rookie he once was, and the Browns and Griffin have taken an interesting approach to making sure that happens. The process started when Griffin told the Browns' organization that he needed to be coached, and Hue Jackson and his staff have obliged. Cleveland has highlighted three major areas of improvement. Those areas include throwing the ball after planting your back foot, getting down and sliding; throwing the ball away and avoiding needless hits. These three areas are almost basic quarterback fundamentals in the new era of football.
First, planting off your back foot to throw is a pillar of proper throwing mechanics. Griffin has had trouble with doing it consistently. Throwing after planting off your back foot, rather than throwing off your back foot creates a much more consistent velocity and provides accuracy to throws. Throwing off your back foot often causes a quarterback's body to move the wrong way, and that means the passes can't get as much power behind them as usual, which gives the defense plenty of opportunity to deflect or intercept the ball.
The other two pretty much protect the quarterback from injury and unnecessary turnover opportunities. If a quarterback doesn't have the ability to extend a play, you'll often hear coaches tell them to get rid of it at the bottom of their drop back or to step up in the pocket. But Griffin has the ability to extend the play. That isn't always a good thing though. When a quarterback escapes the pocket, he opens himself up to a whole new world. He's no longer protected the same way, and defenders know that. So their message to be smart while outside of the pocket is important. A quarterback is worth more over a season than a couple of extra yards here and there.
It's no secret that Cleveland has one of the worst rosters in the NFL. Recently ESPN's Bill Barnwell ranked the best and worst triplets in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Browns, Barnwell ranked their triplets the worst on both offense and defense. This isn't a total surprise. Cleveland's struggles in free agency and the draft over the past couple of years have been well documented, and each have been full of bad choices. Also Cleveland's best player, Joe Thomas can't be included in the triplets, so that hurt them too.
On offense Griffin, Corey Coleman, and Gary Barnidge were the selected three, and that's just rough. Barnidge is coming off an incredible season, but he is already 30-years-old. Coleman is a bright spot, but whether he can be a number one receiver remains to be seen. Plus he will need a little time to develop. Then there is Griffin who is a true wild card. If he returns to form then the Browns have a chance to be respectable this year, but if he plays poorly it could be another long year of counting draft picks for Cleveland. Barnwell also had a nice compliment/insult. "What's most amazing, perhaps," Barnwell wrote. "Is that the Browns have significantly upgraded their skill-position talent from a year ago and are still last." It's hard to pull off being that bad, but the Browns manage to do it.
Defensively they had more of a chance to climb out of the basement with Joe Haden, Desmond Bryant, and Paul Kruger, but Barnwell felt they earned that bottom ranking again. The difference between Cleveland and the New Orleans, who ranked 31st, was that Cameron Jordan played at an All-Pro level while Haden had the worst year of his career due to injuries. The other two players are more there by default than actually adding too much improvement to the defense.
It is frustrating for a fan base to see their team ranked so low on both sides of the ball, but the Browns are trending in the right direction. They'll just have to live through a few painful years to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Suisham seemed to have turned his luck around in Pittsburgh after a troubled start to his career, but for four seasons he was a stability for the Steelers, most of the time. Last season, after getting injured, it was clear his job was in jeopardy as Chris Boswell took over kicking duties and performed well. Couple that with Suisham's hefty price tag for a kicker, and it already seemed like his relationship with the Steelers could be coming to an end. Unfortunately for Suisham, his luck took a turn for the worse. He encountered a complication while healing from his injury and now has to call it a career in the NFL. Last year, Boswell was 29 of 32 on his field goals, and Pittsburgh will have to hope that trend continues. Otherwise, Ben Roethlisberger might get his wish of going for two after every touchdown.
If you've been following football for the past couple of years, you know the NFL expects its players to follow any rule by the books. Late last season, James Harrison and several other players were accused of using PEDs in a since-recanted Al-Jazeera report that surfaced around the time Peyton Manning was rolling through the playoffs. Manning was center-stage in the report, which also featured athletes from varying professional sports. Manning threatened legal action and Al-Jazeera recanted the report. The NFL is still interested in the details of that report and wants to interview the players mentioned. Harrison meanwhile isn't exactly pleased to be involved in all of this. At 38-years-old, Harrison is getting ready for another NFL season and seems to be an exception to father time as he continues to play at a high level as he ages. As such, people constantly attribute that to Harrison possibly having some outside help, whether that's true or not. Harrison has continually passed all of his drug tests and even attempted to show people before the NFL put a stop to it. Now, he's wondering how he could possibly need to answer for something that was recanted. He even drafted up a letter essentially mocking the NFL's letter to him, which he posted to instagram.
He also posted this:
It isn't hard to understand players' frustrations with the league's office. They have routinely dished out various degrees of punishment for the same crime. They extend their reach beyond the borders of their control. They even will uphold a punishment a season after it occurs with minimal evidence. Team executives and players have a right to be upset, and it wouldn't be shocking if more players continue this trend of putting the league office on blast (speaking of, Bengals offensive lineman Eric Winston has done that, too). That is, until the league starts fining them for that as well.