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State of AFC North: Ravens lead NFL in drug suspensions, Le’Veon Bell contract talks “day-to-day”

The Ravens lead the league in a stat no team wants to lead. Cleveland could end up prospering from their early trust in analytics. Ryan Shazier is the cornerstone few people think about for the Steelers.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Is Ryan Shazier the cornerstone of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ future? The Baltimore Ravens have quietly led the NFL in drug suspensions and now another tight end is the casualty. The Cleveland Browns led the wave of analytics in football, and they could prosper because of it.

Baltimore Ravens

Ravens now lead NFL in drug suspension

In a division that includes Martavis Bryant, Le’Veon Bell and Josh Gordon, the Ravens’ players struggles with the league’s substance abuse and performance enhancing drug policies have somehow flown under the radar. Baltimore actually leads the league in players who have been suspended for breaking these rules since 2010.

The most recent victim, tight end Darren Waller, has been suspended the full 2017 since he is a repeat offender. And, the suspension could be longer. Also this offseason, running back Kenneth Dixon was hit with a four game suspension. The Ravens have 10 players who have violated the drug rules. Other notable names include Will Hill, Haloti Ngata, Matt Elam and Nick Boyle.

It is curious that many fans are unaware the Ravens have this many players getting suspended for drug policies. In fact, I assume if you gave a fan a choice of any AFC North team who would’ve had that many suspensions, I’d bet the Ravens would be the last guess. Somehow the Ravens have maintained this image of being a model franchise despite suspensions and little on field success in recent seasons.

Waller’s suspension, coupled with Dennis Pitta being released could do some damage to the Ravens plans at the position. What was once arguably too deep of a group now seems to be down to Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore and Nick Boyle. At this point, the Ravens should count themselves lucky they were this deep at the position to begin with.

Orr returns from retirement; won’t be back with Baltimore

Many probably remember Zachary Orr’s abrupt retirement early this offseason after receiving news he had a spine condition that left him more likely to get paralyzed or die from the contact in football. Well, after receiving some more medical opinions on the matter, he realized he wasn’t in as much risk as he initially thought, and he has decided to return to the NFL. His decision comes with poor timing for the Ravens.

Orr was an undrafted free agent who became the leading tackler for the Ravens, and Baltimore had every intention of re-signing him prior to his retirement. His decision to retire meant they could make moves else where, and it enabled the team to sign a lucrative free agent like Tony Jefferson.

The Ravens have around $5.8 million in cap space, and that could theoretically get a deal done if there weren’t other teams interested. However, Orr has already met with the Lions and Colts. Plus the Ravens have Kamalei Correa who is coming into his second season after being selected in the second round. The team may be very content to let Orr and his possible spine complications be a concern for another team.

In any case, I’m sure at the end of the day we all just hope Orr has a healthy career from here on out.

Cleveland Browns

Are Browns’ expectations getting too high?

It seems like a yearly occurrence that Cleveland fans talk themselves into thinking the team will somehow turn it around. But this season seems different; maybe it’s not just talk. The Browns actually had a great offseason. From free agency to the draft, they really knocked it out of the park.

This has led to many fans gaining confidence that somehow the Browns will go from worst to pretty good. I don’t think any rational fan expects them to go to first. Many fans probably don’t expect them to go anywhere at all.

A realistic prediction for the Browns is that DeShone Kizer will somehow make his way onto the field, and the more this young core plays the better. Expect the Browns to really be in it to win it in a lot of games, with an actual offensive line out there and a defense that isn’t a complete doormat. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them get to four wins. I would imagine seven wins as their absolute best case scenario; and that’s hard to fathom.

Cleveland ahead of analytic wave in NFL

It has been a rough process to get not only old school NFL media, but also fans, to see what the Browns have been doing since bringing in their new front office. It boasts a heavy analytic background and it is safe to say this Browns regime is led in a better way than any in recent memory.

Their first move was probably the most controversial. They let a ton of talent walk in free agency, and they seemed very content to punt the 2016 season in favor of getting a high draft pick. They also traded away their second overall pick for a king’s ransom, and they have been using that draft capital to accumulate even more picks in this past draft and also future drafts.

The Browns tanking has led to some concern that other teams may openly tank, but the NFL shouldn’t worry about becoming the NBA anytime soon. The parity in the NFL is far greater, it isn’t as much of a star driven league and players and coaches have far shorter leashes in the NFL. Though, we’ll see what happens with the New York Jets this year, who seem destined to intentionally tank.

They have also made moves the NFL isn’t use to. The most notable is Cleveland taking on Brock Osweiler’s contract for a second round pick from the Texans. It is a fantastic move considering the Browns basically just bought a second round pick, but many struggled to see the move for what it is. Osweiler is an unlikely answer to the Browns’ quarterback problems, but even if he helps minimally, it just becomes an added bonus to getting a second round pick.

The Browns have also seemed to find the nice medium between their front office and coaches. The analytics apparently pointed to the Browns drafting Mitch Trubisky first overall instead of Myles Garrett, but the coaches talked them out of it. It is hard to say which side is making which decisions, but overall the Browns took a huge risk with analytics, and so far, it seems to be paying off.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Shazier is a cornerstone for Pittsburgh

When fans think of the Steelers’ future, they probably think of Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell. However, one of the Steelers’ most important players for the future is linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier has become a leader on the defense, and he is arguably one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Shazier will only be 25 in September, and he has already shown a knack for getting to the ball. He really makes what the Steelers do as a 3-4 defense work. He runs from sideline to sideline to make plays, and is capable of holding his own in coverage. Although, the Steelers are switching to more of a man coverage scheme this season, which will test his coverage skills.

The main concern with Shazier has been his durability issues. He has failed to play an entire season during his three year career, missing time due to knee, ankle and shoulder injuries. He has also been dinged up for plenty of other games he actually played in. If he can shake the injury bug, he could become one of those great Steelers’ defenders who we love to hate.

Bell ‘good with everything’ as deadline approaches

In what has become a weekly update on Bell’s contract situation with the Steelers, the running back offered up his thoughts as the deadline to work out a long-term extension or sign his franchise tag grows closer.

"I'm good with everything, just taking it day to day for real," Bell told ESPN about how he is approaching the process.

If Bell and the Steelers can’t agree on a long term deal before July 17, Bell will sign his franchise tag tender and make around $12 million this season. If the team and player do come to an agreement, Bell will likely become the highest paid running back in the NFL, which would amount to him earning more than $8 million per season.

Deadlines often make deals happen, and the closer we get to the 17th, the closer we get to the pressure producing the best chance of a deal getting done.