As OTAs open up, let’s check in on the Cincinnati Bengals’ rivals around the AFC North. The Ravens are very happy with wide receiver Breshad Perriman’s offseason so far, and the team is hoping he can quiet the concerns many have regarding the team’s receiver unit. The Browns added a questionable name to their front office. Antonio Brown talks about living up to the money associated with his contract, and one reason why he might struggle to do so.
One of the riskier moves from the Ravens’ offseason could be paying off. Danny Woodhead was signed in free agency from the Chargers, and came into OTAs with no medical restrictions. Woodhead tore his ACL three games into the 2016 season.
This is huge considering the team will be without Kenneth Dixon for the first four games after he was suspended for violating the league’s performance enhancing drugs policy. Although, Dixon may become expendable if Woodhead can return to his pre-ACL injury level of play. Dixon was drafted to be essentially the change of pace back who could catch passes out of the backfield and run the ball when needed, but Woodhead is the ideal running back for that. He is comparable to having a slot receiver coming out of the backfield. He becomes a matchup nightmare for any linebacker.
Woodhead being this far along in his recovery allows him to learn the Ravens’ offense and gain chemistry with Joe Flacco for the entire offseason program. It could end up paying huge dividends for the Baltimore offense.
The Ravens never added another receiving threat this offseason, and that’s seemingly a problem when you consider the team who lost Steve Smith Sr. to retirement. Their lack of movement at the position has been a pretty consistent, and arguably fair, criticism all offseason. With OTAs underway, a receiver has been turning heads and has a few Ravens believing this could be his year. That player is Breshad Perriman.
You may remember Perriman as the receiver who very dramatically missed his whole rookie season after a few close calls of returning to the field. Last season he played in all 16 games, but did little to really burst onto the scene. He had some big plays, but his best receiving game was a 64 yard effort.
Still, after what was basically his rookie season, Perriman has plenty of room to grow, and several veteran players on the Ravens raved about how well he’s performing during OTAs. Specifically they’re impressed by his speed. Per Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com, Jimmy Smith even told John Harbaugh after getting beat by Perriman that, “I think I would have pulled my hamstring if I had chased him right there.”
OTAs are the time where players like Perriman, who have incredible speed, should thrive. Players aren’t in pads, and contact is nonexistent. So the Ravens will need to see some more action this offseason before they can confirm their receiving problems are solved.
It is no secret the Browns have had an offseason to remember, so far. They have done a lot to reward fans who suffered through a 1-15 season. This has led recently tendered running back Isaiah Crowell to proclaim the Browns will shock those who still doubt the team; and they could.
It is hard to be 1-15 bad in the NFL. But now, the Browns seem to have plenty of promising talent moving forward, especially on the offensive side of the ball, which was lacking at one key position last season: offensive line.
What Cleveland trotted out there last season in front of their quarterbacks was hardly an offensive line. It was hard to watch their quarterbacks run for their lives last season.
This offseason the Browns added Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter to help actually create some protection and running lanes for an offense that just struggled to do both of those things. They always had All-Pro Joe Thomas, but now have more impressive lineman who can actually help him create a solid line. Crowell averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season with little help in front of him, and now it will be very interesting to see what he does with actual holes to run through.
The biggest question on the Browns' offensive line is Shon Coleman, but his 72.2 2016 PFF grade is actually the lowest of all players on the Browns' offensive line and higher than three projected starters on the Bengals' offensive line. Consider that.
It is hard to hit a homerun with every offseason move, right? The Browns added former Colts GM Ryan Grigson as their senior personnel executive. Grigson was part of the Colts’ effort to build a team around Andrew Luck, and it is pretty obvious he did about as bad of a job as could’ve been done.
Grigson’s tenure with the Colts looks more like the Browns’ last regime. He drafted Bjoern Werner and Phillip Dorsett in the first round, and Dorsett came when there were players who could’ve helped protect Luck instead of adding another receiver he didn’t have time to get the ball to.
In fact, the only difference between the past Browns regime and Grigson’s version of the Colts was that he had Luck, while the Browns have struggled through countless quarterbacks. If it wasn’t for already having a franchise quarterback, the Colts would’ve been the laughing stock of the NFL. That Grigson put almost no priority on providing protection for the quarterback is extremely troubling.
Cleveland fans better hope he is around more to provide experience on logistics of building a team, and not so much to actually help build the team.
Here’s what one former Colts player had to say about the addition of Grigson to the Browns’ front office:
One thing that seems to have an effect on players is money. That is no secret, and last season Antonio Brown was playing for his next contract. Now that he is the highest paid receiver in the NFL, he needs to attempt to live up to those expectations.
"It's pressure every day," Brown said via ESPN. “It was pressure the day for me to come here, pressure today for me to work here. You've got to love it. It comes with the job. My focus now is helping us win a championship."
Brown hasn’t been a stranger to putting in hard work during his career. He chronicles his extensive workout process every day on social media. Brown turns 29 in July, which means he will be entering his 30s early on during this lucrative deal, but what’s troubling is Ben Roethlisberger could walk away from the NFL as soon as next offseason. While his discussions of retiring this offseason didn’t seem sincere, it should be a wake up call that a 35-year-old quarterback who has been injured pretty often is nearing the end of his run.
Roethlisberger leaving during Brown’s deal could have the biggest impact on him living up to the money. If Brown can produce at this same level without Roethlisberger, then he will have truly earned all of money.
It was no secret the Steelers missed Martavis Bryant last season. After bursting onto the scene in 2015, his year-long suspension for 2016 left a huge hole opposite Brown, which no one could seem to fill. In fact, a lot of that workload in the passing game fell onto Le’Veon Bell who finished 2016 as the second leading receiver in Pittsburgh, despite missing three games as well as being the primary running back.
Bryant is an insanely talented receiver. His speed coupled with his size just isn’t fair. He could easily be a top receiver on most teams in the NFL, and having him on the same roster as Brown makes Pittsburgh a threat. Still Bryant’s biggest weakness has always been his issue of getting in his own way. It is also clear he’s on his last chance with the Steelers, and he isn’t out of the woods yet as far as the NFL is concerned. The NFL released this press release on his conditional return:
"Bryant may join the Steelers at the training facility and participate in meetings, conditioning work and similar activities. Once arrangements have been confirmed regarding Bryant's clinical resources in Pittsburgh, he will be permitted to participate in all preseason activities, including practices and games... Prior to the start of the regular season, the NFL will review Bryant’s progress. Based on his compliance and engagement with his program and resources, he will be permitted to participate in all regular season activities beginning in Week 1. He will be evaluated later in the season for full reinstatement."
Bryant will have to break the trend of troubled receivers who couldn’t make their ways back to the NFL before him (like Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon) to keep his spot with the Steelers.