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State of the AFC North: Browns free agency lesson; options for Steelers and Ravens

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The Browns want to be a major player in free agency, but it could be hard for them to compete, despite their cap space. The Steelers wants Timmons back at the right price. And, a look at which positions the Ravens will chase in free agency.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the rest of the AFC North has been day dreaming about making big splashes in free agency and the NFL Draft. The Browns think they can sign top players in free agency, but looking at another team’s history shows why they probably won’t. The Ravens are looking at pairing Eric Weddle with another free agent safety this offseason. Pittsburgh is hoping after they re-sign two thirds of their triplets that they can address an area of need with a top free agent.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore all over mock drafts

Tis’ the season for mock drafts. Mock drafts are fun, but there is still a lot that has to happen before the draft. Teams will lose and sign free agents and the combine hasn’t even taken place yet. Still, mock drafts are fun and entertaining because fans like seeing how their team could improve. The Ravens are a team, however, most analysts have trouble coming to a consensus on.

Baltimore is a tough team to mock because they have so many question marks surrounding their offseason as well as holes. Baltimore is dealing with the retirements of Steve Smith Sr. and Zachary Orr, who both are leaving huge shoes to fill. The Ravens also need some sort of spark on offense and a second corner to play opposite Jimmy Smith.

The unpredictable nature of the top ten picks also makes the Ravens’ pick hard to mock. Plenty of teams in the top 10 need quarterbacks, but the quarterbacks at the top of the draft don’t strike unanimous confidence among analysts. This leads to some mocks being filled with teams reaching for quarterbacks and top talent sliding.

After free agency we will have a better idea of what the Ravens’ needs will be, but for now, their fans can enjoy the chaos.

Ravens have eyes on another free agent safety

Last season, the Ravens brought in a free agent safety and it turned out to be one of the best free agent signings of the year. Weddle turned into a leader in that secondary. The Ravens may be hoping to duplicate that signing again this offseason with their eye on another talented free agent safety in Tony Jefferson from the Arizona Cardinals.

This would free up the Ravens to release Lardarius Webb who has been struggling to stay on the field during his career. His release would also free up $5.5 million in cap space.

Jefferson could be a perfect complement for Weddle. Jefferson is more of a run stopping safety than Webb ever was. The Ravens, however, have plenty of their players to worry about taking care of, so it is hard to say whether this interest is anymore than a day dream for Baltimore.

Cleveland Browns

Myles Garrett (jokingly?) asks Cowboys to trade up and Draft him

Myles Garrett, widely considered the can’t-miss product and best played in this draft, told ESPN that he’d like the Cowboys to trade Tony Romo and a few picks to the Browns to take him. Obviously, the internet was outraged.

"All right, I'm speaking to you, Jerry (Jones). Mr. (coach Jason) Garrett, make it happen,” Garrett said in the video. “Dak Prescott is leading our team right now. I need you to take Tony Romo, take a couple picks, give them to Cleveland so you can pick me up. Please. I would love to play in Dallas. Just make it happen."

Here is why it isn’t such a big deal.

Garrett just turned 21 a few months ago. He’s young and though he’s now saying he was joking and that people should lighten up, this was a mistake that a 21-year-old could make. Is it something that should concern Cleveland Browns fans? No. Is it a reason for Cleveland to think about passing on Garrett? No.

Too often, number one picks have fed us the politically correct answer of where they want to play. Garrett let everyone know, if he had his choice, he’d be a Cowboy. That isn’t the way the NFL works and Garrett understands that. If anything this just tells us that Garrett could be a very entertaining player for Cleveland. Browns’ fans please stop over-thinking this draft and be happy when your team takes Garrett.

A look at what Cleveland should do in free agency

I live in an area dominated by Browns fans, so the amount of theories I hear on what the Browns should do in free agency is just about endless. Most of them involve signing every single top free agent on the market. Cleveland certainly has the money to do that, but to see what a realistic Browns’ free agency could look like we just have to travel a few years back and look at what happened to the Raiders.

The Raiders entered the 2015 offseason after a 3-13 season and had plenty of cap space. They had their hopes set on being major free agency participants, going after top free agents like Ndamukong Suh, DeMarco Murray, and Randall Cobb. What they ended up being was a bargaining chip.

What the Raiders ended up with was a few key players to their future, most of whom weren’t signed to lucrative deals. The most underrated signing, after what was viewed as a tame offseason for the team with the most cap space was Michael Crabtree. He signed a one year deal with the Raiders, and after he had a fairly successful year with Derek Carr and the team improved, he re-signed with the team. He has become a core piece of that offense.

There are a few lessons to learn here. First, the best players in free agency don’t just chase the biggest contract. Most of them like to be in a good situation where they feel they will succeed. The best the Browns might be able to do is get a few talented players on short term prove-it deals, who may be in bad situations. Prove-it goes for the team as well. The Browns need to show they are able to be respectable for players to want to stay or come there. The last lesson, if you really want to improve, draft well. The amount of teams that improve through one free agency are few and far between. If you want to change the culture of your team, draft talented young players who will actually help your team. That seems like an obvious point, but look at the past regime’s draft history and you’ll see why it needs to be said.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh wants Timmons back at the right price

The top priorities for the Steelers this offseason are to lock Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell up long term. An under the radar move the team can make is to bring back Lawrence Timmons with a reasonable contract.

Timmons is 30, but he has been rock solid for the Steelers. He hasn’t been their best linebacker, but he hasn’t disappointed either. Well, if you take a look at how much he has counted against the cap, it’s possible he has disappointed, slightly. The past three seasons Timmons has accounted for $11.8, $9.25, and $15 million against the cap. Those are huge numbers considering the Steelers were often close to the cap limit most seasons.

Timmons has expressed interest in returning, but once free agency opens, that could go out the door if another team makes a decent offer while the Steelers are preoccupied with their star players. The thing about NFL free agency is that it is almost a game of musical chairs. If Timmons isn’t taken care of quickly, he may be tempted to take a deal and job security with a new team.

Could Pittsburgh bring in a free agent cornerback?

This year’s free agency class is weak overall, but one position with many solid players is cornerback. The Steelers have an obvious need at the position, but can they add any of these players?

Pittsburgh’s $37 million in cap space is deceiving. They still have to take care of Brown and Bell. Until they do that, we really won’t know what they’re working with. The Steelers will also probably bring back James Harrison. After all that, then they can think about adding a corner.

Steelers fans can fantasize about making a big free agency splash, and it could happen, but it’s more realistic the team drafts another corner and hopes he and Artie Burns develop into a reliable tandem.