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State of the AFC North: End of road for Pitta? Ravens make moves at CB; Browns keep dealing

Dennis Pitta re-injured his hip during OTAs. The Browns make a trade for a former first round pick. Things are heating up between Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens have already suffered through two significant injuries very early in OTAs, and one could be career-ending. The Cleveland Browns’ front office keeps wheeling and dealing, this time, they’re bringing in a (so far disappointing) first round talent. Contract negotiations seem to be heating up between Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers, though Bell still isn’t showing up for OTAs.

Baltimore Ravens

Pitta re-injures his hip

In what has to be one of the more somber stories so far this season, Dennis Pitta re-injured his right hip during a non-contact play during OTAs. Pitta was diving for a pass, and when he got up couldn’t put pressure on his leg.

This is the third time Pitta has injured this same hip, and unfortunately this one could be a career-ending injury. Pitta, who already made an incredible comeback to even be at this point, may have played his last down in the NFL.

The 31 year old would’ve been a part of a very crowded tight end room. This injury opens the door for players like Maxx Williams, Darren Waller and Nick Boyle. Benjamin Watson and Crockett Gillmore figure to be the starting tight ends now, but Joe Flacco will surely miss his favorite target and the tight end who caught more passes than any other NFL player at his position in 2017. This injury probably won’t hurt the Ravens’ offense too much because they are deep at tight end, but it will have a hit on morale, for now.

If this is the end of Pitta’s NFL career, it was a great one for the Ravens tight end who spent seven years in Baltimore, and played 66 games while catching 224 passes for 2,098 yards and 13 touchdowns. 2016 was his bst NFL season as a pass catcher as he recoded a career-high 86 catches for a career-high 119 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Ravens suffer huge blow to secondary

Pitta isn’t the only player to suffer an injury during early Ravens OTAs. The Ravens starting slot corner, Tavon Young, tore his ACL in practice, and will miss the 2017 season.

Young started the the final 11 games for the Ravens last season and was heading into his second season. He showed promise by ranking 26th among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus’ calculations last season.

This injury could have a significant ripple effect on what was looking like a promising secondary. The Ravens drafted Marlon Humphrey in the first round to eventually be the corner opposite of Jimmy Smith, but he isn’t a great fit to play inside with his lack of quickness. Brandon Carr also doesn’t have a lot of experience in the slot. This creates a pretty obvious weakness for teams to exploit.

Ravens make moves at cornerback

In response to Young’s injury, the Ravens signed cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Al-Hajj Shabazz. The team also released Kyle Arrington, who missed all of the 2016 season with a concussion. In cutting Arrington, the Ravens saved $2.1 million in salary cap space.

Boykin will compete for the primary slot cornerback role, which figured to be Young’s job this season. He joins the Ravens after stints with the Eagles and more recently, the Steelers. He missed all of 2016 due to injury. Shabazz, a rookie in 2016, has spent time with the Steelers, as well as one game with the Texans at the start of his NFL career.

Cleveland Browns

Browns trade for Calvin Pryor

The Browns needed to get a new Pryor on board after losing Terrelle Pryor Sr. this offseason. As such, the Browns pulled off a trade with the New York Jets that sent Demario Davis, a linebacker acquisition from last season, back to the Jets for Calvin Pryor, who has struggled to live up to his first round hype.

The move does two things. First it shows the Browns are clearly transitioning to more of a 4-3 defense by trading away a productive linebacker from last season who wouldn’t see the field as much with that shift. Instead of underutilizing him, the Browns sent Davis back to his original team and will now take a chance on a safety who needs a change of scenery.

Pryor comes in at a position of need for the Browns, and may walk into a starting role right away. It was no secret the Browns defense was awful last season, and a big part of that was awful play from their safeties. We still aren’t sure exactly what Jabrill Peppers will be doing at the NFL level, but it is looking like that may be the Browns’ safety combo, unless recently acquired cornerback Jason McCourty makes the shift to safety.

This is a pretty low risk trade for Cleveland, and it could land them a starter. At worst, they lose some depth at linebacker.

Don’t fall for Osweiler hype

Seriously? The Browns’ front office has no shame. They have been super active with trades ever since they took the reigns, and it appears they may be trying to drum up some interest in the recently acquired Brock Osweiler.

Here is Hue Jackson gushing over Osweiler.

Obviously, we all know if anyone can fix a quarterback it is Jackson, but come on. The Texans GAVE the Browns a second round pick to TAKE Osweiler off their hands. A lot of that has to do with his enormous contract, but even more has to do with how poorly he played in his one season in Houston.

It feels like the Browns are getting ready to try and showcase him in the preseason to see if any quarterback needy teams take a nibble on Osweiler. They already got a second round pick for him, and if they manage to get another pick, it doesn’t matter the value, that would be insane.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Bell may keep Steelers waiting

What was once viewed as a not-so-serious absence from voluntary workouts may quickly turn into a serious situation between the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell. Bell, who is currently franchise tagged by the Steelers, is seemingly not attending practices until he has a long term deal. Some among the Steelers organization say it’s not a big deal and he can’t practice until his groin surgery is healed anyway, but, they may just be playing it down.

If Bell signs his franchise tag, he will be compensated with $12.1 million for the 2017 season. If he’s going to get a long-term deal this offseason, it needs to be by July 15. But, the Steelers rightfully have some issues when considering giving Bell a long term deal.

First, his trouble with the league’s substance abuse policy is problematic. Technically, if he has another hit it will be a four game suspension because of a compromise with the league after his last failure to show up for a test. Still, he is walking on the wild side in that regard, and after dealing with Martavis Bryant it is understandable the Steelers would be hesitant.

The second issue is Bell has missed some time with injuries. For each of the last three seasons he has been injured during the playoffs. Last year he started in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots, but left early on with a groin injury and did not play in the second half.

Bell is one of the most complete and talented running backs in the NFL, but his trouble off-the-field and remaining healthy are issues. Is it enough to keep the Steelers from locking him up long term? We’ll see.

Burns talks about Steelers switch to man coverage

The Steelers are making a very public shift in their defense. After decades of running a very famous zone blitz defense that would confuse and frustrate quarterbacks, the Steelers are switching to a man coverage defense.

Pittsburgh is making the change because it betters suits their personnel. One person in particular who this benefits is second year cornerback Artie Burns. He struggled mightily in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots, and he had some strong words about the change.

"There's always some opening in a zone defense, somewhere somebody missed a drop,” Burns told Penn Live. “There's always some loophole in a zone defense and playing man you know you can get right in somebody's chest and pressure them. You got to be physical and attack.”

Those are strong words coming from a person who seemed to be in the wrong position frequently during the AFC Championship game, but he has a point. If you aren’t getting pressure on the quarterback, which the Steelers routinely got during their prime defensive days, zone coverage is pretty easy to pick a part.

Still, he also pointed out how other teams have won Super Bowls by using man coverage. Those teams also had premier pass rushers and extremely talented corners on the edge who could handle just about any receiver.

The Steelers pass rush is lacking, and their corners are very young. On top of that, their safeties aren’t really coverage guys. They are throwback hitters who aren’t equipped to help cover over the top on a consistent basis. Not to mention, becoming more vanilla on defense will magnify those one-on-one matchups on the outside.

The shift in defensive philosophy makes sense, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be issues in making the transition.