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State of AFC North: Bell and Steelers fail to come to terms; Ravens dabble in mixed reality

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Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers failed to come to terms on a deal before Monday’s deadline. The Browns have put their money where their mouth is. The Ravens experiment with mixed reality.

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There are only a few more Sundays before we are reunited with football. This week in the AFC North the Ravens are dabbling in mixed reality, the Browns put their money where their mouth is and Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers failed to come to an agreement on a long term deal. Bell will now play the 2017 season under the franchise tag (more on that below).

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore experiments with “mixed reality”

It’s no secret the NFL has started to embrace the increase of technology at its disposal. Many teams have used virtual reality to simulate practice reps, and even the Steelers partnered with a company that makes remote control tackling dummies. Now the Ravens are seeing what mixed reality can do for them.

The system is pretty similar to virtual reality. It allows the players to interact with holographic simulations using the proper lens to see the action. Kind of like a virtual reality version of Madden.

The technology is already used by the Cowboys and a few other teams. It can also help cut down on the amount of head trauma players receive by allowing players to get mental reps without paying the physical tolls of repeated collisions.

The Ravens are just running the programs on computers and laptops, but the company hopes to include a headset soon.

Ravens missing link on offense

It was no secret last year the Ravens offense wasn’t where it needed to be. A lot of that had to do with the Ravens not putting enough weapons around Joe Flacco, and this offseason they tried to address that by signing two veteran players. That includes Jeremy Maclin who was recently cut by the Chiefs and Danny Woodhead who is coming off an ACL injury.

Flacco is already singing Woodhead’s praises and even compared him to the best Ravens running back in recent history.

"Really, ever since we lost Ray Rice, we haven't had a type of back that’s quite like how Ray was and quite like how Danny is in the passing game," Flacco told ESPN. "They just have a very good feel for when they're open and how to get open, how to sit in holes, how to find my eyes, and you can already see that. You can see he has a really good feel for those kinds of things. If you remember back, obviously, Ray was really good at doing that, and that gives a lot to your offense for sure."

Woodhead has always had a knack for getting involved in the passing game. He was one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets while he was in New England. He also was a huge part of the Chargers’ passing attack for the past few seasons before suffering his injury last year.

It isn’t a hot of a take to say Woodhead could have a similar impact with the Ravens this year.

Cleveland Browns

Browns put their money where their mouth is

The Browns were heavily criticized last season for letting a number of key free agents walk while only bringing in one free agent. It was a clear and obvious attempt at tanking, but this offseason was very different. They went out and paid free agents and draft picks a league-leading $181 million in guaranteed money this offseason.

It is interesting how that $181 million was divided up as well. Around $76 million went to retaining free agents such as Jamie Collins, Christian Kirksey and Joel Bitonio. These guys are solid building blocks for this team, and keeping them from departing was huge for the Browns in moving forward.

$44.5 million went to draft picks, and almost half of that goes to Myles Garrett, the first overall pick. Cleveland had three first round picks and 10 picks overall, which accounts for their high cost here.

Finally, Cleveland went out and gave about $60 million to outside free agents including Kevin Zeitler who will receive $18 million next season. They also bought a second round pick from Houston by taking on Brock Osweiler’s contract that includes $16 million this season, and they brought in Kenny Britt for just more than $10 million this season.

The Browns did all of this while also remaining $50 million under the salary cap which is just plain crazy. Say what you want about analytics, but the Browns clearly know how to work the system.

Will Cleveland’s new offensive line meet expectations?

A clear focus this offseason for Cleveland was providing protection to whoever lines up under center in 2017. In 2016 the Browns couldn’t slow down anyone’s pass rush, and their quarterbacks suffered as a result. This offseason the Browns went out and brought in Zeitler and JC Tretter to help improve that area of the offense.

As it stands now it looks like the Browns will be starting Joe Thomas, Bitonio, Tretter, Zeitler and Cameron Erving. Although Erving will probably lose that job to the Browns’ third round pick from last season, Shon Coleman, at some point this season.

Health is a concern for a few of those players, but when healthy everyone except Erving is pretty great. It should feel like a night and day difference for Cody Kessler, who is the last remaining starting quarterback from last season. It should also be easier for guys like Duke Johnson Jr. and Isaiah Crowell to find space to run.

It may take some time for this unit to gel, considering how many outside pieces they’ve added, but once it does, Cleveland should have some pretty good protection.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Bell and Steelers fail to agree on long term deal

They always say deadlines make deals, but for the Steelers and their star running back a deadline didn’t do a whole lot of anything. The 4 p.m. Monday deadline came and passed for franchise tagged players to work out a long-term deal, but the Steelers and Bell couldn’t come to an agreement. What does that mean?

First off it means Bell will play this season under the franchise tag, which is a one-year deal worth around $12 million, which is the most any running back will make this season.

This may be a double edged sword. On one hand, Bell gets a huge payday this season with the possibility of hitting the free agent market again next offseason for yet another one. If the Steelers were to tag him again next season it’d be a $14.5 million tag. This is of course assuming he keeps playing at the high level at which he has played the past few seasons... and avoids injury.

The negative side to the one-year deal is the lack of security for Bell. If Bell gets injured or suspended that will hurt his value quite a bit going into the offseason. That’s especially true at the running back position where there seems to be an overload of talent at the position. Of course guys like Bell don’t hit the market too often so it’d be interesting to see what would happen.

Bell has seemed to keep his chin up about the situation and he tweeted this soon after the deadline passed:

The Steelers have also said they will revisit negotiations next offseason, but it could turn into another stand off where Bell has a huge one-year contract to fall back on. Or, he could end up moving on from the Steelers and signing a massive deal elsewhere.

Roethlisberger and Bryant need to fix relationship

Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been shy about being tough on Martavis Bryant. The steelers receiver has struggled to stay on the field due to violations of the league’s substance abuse policies, and Roethlisberger has made several public statements about it including that Bryant “let down” the team.

Bryant missed all of last season after his third strike with the substance abuse policy and his absence was felt all season as no other receiver really stepped up to take the No. 2 spot next to Antonio Brown. In fact, Bell actually finished ranked second in most of the major receiving categories, and he missed three games last season for his own issues with the league’s drug policies.

Bryant now wants to have a man-to-man talk with Roethlisberger, but this whole thing feels weird. Is Bryant mad that Roethlisberger called him out publicly, or does he want to apologize for letting the team down? Either way, why not just pick up the phone and call the guy instead of talking to the media about it?