The preseason is finally over, and the AFC North has been busy cutting down their offseason rosters to 53 players. The Steelers have been very busy bringing in two big-name players before the start of the season. Baltimore is excited to get Joe Flacco back at practice. The Browns finally stopped trying to convince us that Brock Osweiler is capable of being a starting quarterback in the NFL.
In what seems like a cruel joke, the Ravens and Jeremy Zuttah have parted ways again. It seemed like it was a stroke of luck when the 49ers released Zuttah for the Ravens to re-sign him. Baltimore has lost quite a few players along their offensive line, and Zuttah would allow them to shuffle around players in a way that would almost be comfortable.
However, the Ravens didn’t think Zuttah was worthy of being on their 53-man roster. Ryan Jensen is currently slated as the starting center.
The Ravens also released Keenan Reynolds, the former Navy quarterback turned receiver. He was a feel-good story around the Baltimore area, but it looks like the experiment is over.
It seems the Ravens’ plan to have Flacco back by Week 1 for the opener against the Bengals is on schedule. Flacco returned to practice eight days before the season opener. This will give Flacco time to knock the dust off his long rest from a back injury.
The team also saw Danny Woodhead and Breshad Perriman return to practice, which leads to the thought the Bengals may be facing a team that hasn’t had the time to gel yet with so many key pieces missing significant chunks of the offseason.
The Bengals will see in Week 1 just how up to speed this Ravens’ offense is entering the season.
One of the biggest things this preseason showed for the Browns was that they needed to add a playmaker to their offense. This was especially true when DeShone Kizer was named the starting quarterback. The more talent they surround the rookie with, the easier the transition will be.
This led to the Browns and Steelers making a trade. The Browns sent the Steelers a sixth round pick in 2018 to acquire Sammie Coates.
Coates started off last season as the starter for the Steelers. The first five games he had 19 catches, but after he broke two of his fingers he had trouble catching the ball. The Steelers have liked what they’ve seen from Justin Hunter, and it allowed them to move on from Coates. It also allows Coates the opportunity to play instead of being bogged down the depth chart.
Coates will be able to stretch the field for the Browns, and that frees up Corey Coleman to do more than just be a deep threat. It also adds depth to a receiving group that was so thin Hue Jackson had planned to use running back Duke Johnson Jr. as a receiver.
It was clear from the start all this talk about Osweiler was trying to get someone to bite on a trade for him, and the Brown proved that by releasing him when they needed to make room for backup quarterback Kevin Hogan on the roster.
Osweiler lost his job the second week of the preseason, and Kizer seized the opportunity. Afterward, Osweiler made some pretty snarky comments about losing his job. It was clear he wasn’t content with being a backup with Cleveland. The Browns then tried to trade Osweiler, but whether it was his poor play or $16 million salary, they couldn’t find any takers.
Cleveland decided to release Osweiler even though they still owe him that $16 million. Still that is easier to swallow since they got Houston’s second round pick in exchange for him. It was a nice try to get more for Osweiler, but it was clear the rest of the league wasn’t interested in a trade. The Broncos did quickly pick up Osweiler bringing him back to the team that drafted him and the Browns will pay a bit less of that $16 million as a result.
The Steelers added one of the biggest names to hit free agency late in the offseason. After the Browns released Joe Haden, Pittsburgh quickly gave him a deal. On paper it is a three-year deal, but only the first year ($7 million) is guaranteed.
It is noteworthy that the Browns attempted to trade Haden before releasing him after he refused to take a pay cut, but the Browns couldn’t find any takers for the corner.
The question becomes is Haden capable of helping a struggling secondary in Pittsburgh? The answer is maybe, but maybe not. Haden has struggled to stay on the field as well as play up to the level with which many of us associate his name. The fact is he has been a shell of himself for a few seasons now. Is that because of injury and can he get back to his former level of play?
It doesn’t help that the Steelers plan to move to more of a man-to-man based coverage. That really doesn’t suit what Haden is at this point in his career. You shouldn’t be surprised to see teams try and take advantage of the new Steeler.
The Steelers may have finally found a playmaker at the tight end position following Heath Miller retiring two years ago.
Pittsburgh traded for Vance McDonald from the 49ers, and he is an instant upgrade from their current tight end group. It was clear when the team added Virgil Green a couple seasons ago that the Steelers felt they needed someone who could threaten defenses as a pass catcher from the tight end position. This move came after Jesse James failed to show any improvement in his route running.
The Steelers sent their fourth round pick next year to get McDonald. The Steelers also received the 49ers’ fifth round pick. It seems odd the 49ers let McDonald go for so little. It could be that McDonald didn’t want to waste his prime years on a team set to rebuild again, or maybe the 49ers couldn’t find a great market for the tight end who has the worst drop rate during his career.