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State of AFC North: Final cuts see strange move in Baltimore, trade between Steelers and Browns

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The Ravens cut a major contributor from the last two seasons, but then re-signed him. The Browns and the Steelers strike a rare in-division trade. And, the Steelers place their 2015 first round pick on Reserve/Injured to start the year.

Divisional Round - Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

One of the most intriguing moments of the offseason has come and gone as teams have created their 53-man roster. While we have been focused on all the Bengals moves at the bottom of their roster, let’s check in on the rest of the AFC North and the moves they made over the weekend.

Baltimore Ravens

Ravens release Justin Forsett and then re-sign him

Baltimore probably had the most shocking cut on Saturday when they announced Forsett had been released. Forsett has spent the last two seasons with the Ravens, and he has produced at a high level since he gained the starting job in 2014. He made the Pro Bowl that same season before struggling and getting injured in 2015. Still, he was expected to play a major role in Baltimore’s run game.

Forsett’s shocking release came as he was entering just the second season of a three year deal and there have been rumors that the cause was to create a new contract for him.

On Monday, Forsett Tweeted that he was re-signing with the team.

Ravens add Devin Hester

The Ravens added former Bears and Falcons returner, Devin Hester on a one-year deal worth up to $4 million. This move meant there would be no room for former Navy receiver and draft pick Keenan Reynolds on the 53-man roster. Reynolds was cut and then added to the practice squad.

Hetser provides something the team hasn’t had since Jacoby Jones, a playmaker at the returner position. At least that is what they’re hoping for. Hester lit the football world with 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons in punt and kick returns, but he has only had two punt returns for touchdowns in the past three seasons. He only played five games last season in Atlanta while battling injuries. The Ravens are hoping Hester can somewhat return to form this season and provide a spark in the return game.

Other notable cuts

Arthur Brown (linebacker) and Terrence brooks (safety) were two former high draft picks who didn’t make the final roster in Baltimore. Neither were in line for starting positions anyway.

Jeremy Butler (wide receiver) was released and promptly added by the Buccaneers’ practice squad. Butler made big plays when it mattered for the Ravens, but the reality was there wasn’t much room left for Butler with Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, and Breshad Perriman finally activated the receiving group was pretty full. Butler not having an ability to add anything as a returner didn’t help either. Butler’s strong play did land him a job though, so he can’t be too mad at the Ravens who gave him ample opportunity to show other teams how good he was.

Cleveland Browns

Browns trade Justin Gilbert

Teams cut players who have failed to meet expectations all the time, but then there are certain players you send a message to when you cut ties with them. The Browns did that with Gilbert. Gilbert was the last of six first round pick from 2011 through 2014 on the Browns’ roster, but the Browns didn’t hesitate to make a rare in-division trade and ship him to the Steelers.

The Steelers acquired Gilbert for a sixth round pick in 2018. That is nothing in the NFL. The Browns traded Gilbert to the Steelers for nothing because they have no fear of him ever coming back to bite them. It is almost like the Browns saw more of a benefit in actually playing against Gilbert twice a year than just releasing him.

Cleveland adds Stephen Paea

Paea played well in Chicago for the Bears before joining the Redskins and becoming a somewhat surprising roster casualty. Paea amounted six sacks and 33 tackles in 2014 and tried to parlay that into a nice deal with Washington the following year, but Washington only played him sparingly leading to a dip in production.

Now, he’ll join the Browns who added the veteran defensive lineman following his release from Washington. Paea is an instant upgrade to a disappointing group of lineman. The Browns are coming off a season where they had the 30th worst rushing defense in the NFL, any veteran addition could prove useful.

Other notable cuts

Cleveland also parted ways with Taylor Gabriel who showed flashes over the past few years. Gabriel was added by the Falcons who seem to be adding all the former AFC North wide receivers. The Browns also kept four of the six receivers drafted this past spring. Andrew Hawkins also secured his place on the roster which isn’t surprising. Hawkins is familiar with Hue Jackson, and he provides a mature, veteran presence in a group with very little of that.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers take on Justin Gilbert

The Steelers had several corners in camp hoping to secure that fourth spot behind William Gay, Ross Cockrell and 2016 first round draft pick Artie Burns, but none of them earned the spot. This left the Steelers in a bad situation and led to a move that left quite a few Steelers confused and frustrated. A player they had so often joked about, former Browns first rounder Justin Gilbert, is now going to be a contributor to their secondary. Yes, that is how bad it has gotten for the Steelers’ secondary. They are licking the scraps off of the Browns’ roster.

Bud Dupree placed on IR

In a somewhat surprising move, 2015 draft pick Bud Dupree was placed on Injured Reserve. He is allowed to return to the team after Week 8, at the soonest. Dupree was held out of for the entire preseason, but he was optimistic he’d be able to return early in the year.

Dupree’s absence doesn’t necessarily hurt the Steelers to the point of panic, but it does mean the pass rushing rotation may be a little bit tighter than the Steelers would like. Expect a lot more James Harrison and Anthony Chickillo, a sixth round selection from last season.

Other notable cuts

The Steelers cut sixth round pick, Travis Feeney and seventh round pick Demarcus Ayers, but both were added to the practice squad.

As mentioned earlier, the Steelers cut all four corners battling for the fourth spot on the roster at the position (Montell Garner, Doran Grant, Al-Hajj Shabazz, and Donald Washington). Grant is a former 2015 fourth round pick who was cut for the second straight offseason. The Steelers had also tried out Grant at safety during the preseason as well.