It has been awhile since we’ve checked in on the rest of the AFC North. For the first time in a minute it seems like the Bengals are projected to be the bottom of the barrel in the division. Of course projections don’t really give teams any advantages once the season begins.
The Bengals’ rivals have found themselves in the news this week, so it is only right we check in on the teams that are supposed to put Cincinnati in their place. (Please sense the sarcasm in that before you run to the comments.)
The Ravens have quietly been one of the more active teams in free agency over the past few seasons. During the initial wave of free agency this year, they added players like safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram. Of course they also lost safety Eric Weddle and pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. Those are the kinds of tough decisions you have to make when you want to go after premiere free agents.
It should come as no shock that they decided to dip back in the free agency pool after the deadline when free agent signings no longer count against compensatory picks. To compensate for the loss of Suggs and Smith, they added Ray along with Floyd to further bolster their receiving corps.
Ray had just finished up his rookie deal with the Broncos this offseason after he had been a first-round selection in 2015. He had 14 career sacks over his four seasons in Denver, but being able to get playing time became a major issue when the team drafted Bradley Chubb to be the running mate for Von Miller that Ray never became. Ray’s injury in 2017 also opened the door for Shaquil Barrett (now with the Buccaneers) to also steal away snaps from from the former-first round pick. Ray will have plenty of opportunity to make the Ravens’ squad as well compete for snaps with the voids left by Smith and Suggs.
Floyd’s career has been much more wayward. He played out his rookie deal in Arizona after the team spent a first-round pick on him. There were times where it looked like he could be the heir apparent to Larry Fitzgerald, but somewhere along the line his production just fell off. He spent time with the Patriots, Vikings and Washington the past three seasons totaling just 24 catches for just over 200 yards as well as two touchdowns. His odds of making an impact in 2019 aren’t great.
The Browns made one of the biggest moves of the offseason when they acquired Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants via a blockbuster trade. It may end up being one of the more unforgettable moves from the NFL in quite some time (whether it works out or not). As fans of a team in the same division as them, we need to prepare to actually hear about the Browns going forward.
Unlike the past 25 years, the quarterback situation isn’t a dumpster fire, and the offense around Baker Mayfield looks like it could be as talented as any in the NFL. Not to mention they swept the Bengals last season for the first time in 16 seasons (thanks for nothing Hue Jackson).
Two main reasons support the Browns’ sudden emergence as the hot commodity in the AFC North. For starters, they finally have had a taste of success and wasted no time to build on it. This is a team that has been bad for over a decade (with their last playoff appearance in 2002). They had only won a single game the two years prior to last season. It becomes a pretty interesting story when a team like that looks like they have a chance to finally be able to hold their own in the league.
The second reason is because two of their biggest players, Mayfield and Beckham, are players who the media can latch onto. Mayfield is very much an us-against-the-world guy who is also a former first-overall pick. You could see it via the way he talked about Jackson leading up to and following the games against the Bengals last season.
Beckham is a receiver who walks to the rhythm of his own beat. He is a polarizing receiver, sure, but the Bengals have experience with ultra-talented receivers who love to bask in the attention (I still miss Chad Johnson). The thing is, people may hate Beckham for whatever reason, but his play has nearly always been good enough to warrant the attention he gets off the field.
All of this has the potential to create a season where people will talk about the Browns all year. Whether it is because they are finally winning a decent amount of games, or whether they are crashing and burning. It is hard to imagine any in between for this team next season.
Roethlisberger continues to show why he is one of the most beloved teammates and people of all-time. It has been well documented that Roethlisberger has been universally loved by his teammates, and trips like this show why. This obviously isn’t an attempt fight off any rumors or observations to contrary. It is likely this trip was to celebrate yet another offseason where the Steelers didn’t lose any of their top offensive weapons.
Alright, let us return to reality.
This offseason the Steelers lost wide receiver Antonio Brown for pennies on the dollar and Le’Veon Bell after holding out for all of the 2018 season. Brown was especially vicious on his way out calling out Roethlisberger as what he called an “owner mentality”. It didn’t help when Kevin Colbert, the Steelers general manager, talked about how the Steelers have Roethlisberger and 52 kids.
It hasn’t been a great offseason for the Steelers from a PR perspective, but they have laid relatively low since moving on from Brown. They now have to hope that running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are ready to fill the production of Bell and Brown for the long-term.
It is easy for teams to be happy when they are winning, but it will be interesting to see if things start to bubble over again if the Steelers don’t improve after missing the post season last year.