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Around the AFC North: Steelers headed for quiet offseason

The Steelers used a ton of capital before and during 2019, and it is leading to a tough 2020 where they can’t do much.

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The AFC North’s season ended when the Ravens were upset by the Titans in the Divisional round of the playoffs, so what is next for Baltimore? Will the Steelers be less active in the coming weeks? Is Baker Mayfield shouldering blame for 2019 heading into his team’s new era?

We address all of these questions in our latest AFC North roundup.

How will the Ravens handle edge Matthew Judon’s upcoming free agency?

The Ravens are in a tricky spot with Judon. He is coming off his best season as a pro with 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. He is also entering the prime of his career at 27. Obviously, Baltimore would like to re-sign Judon, but the way they’ve constructed their team doesn’t leave them with much room for a deal that could match what Judon could land on the open market.

One possibility that has surfaced has become the Ravens possibly placing the franchise tag on Judon and then trying to trade him. That seems like a good idea hypothetically, but the franchise tag can be pretty dangerous for Baltimore in this scenario.

They are entering the offseason with just over $26 million in cap space, and tagging Judon commits just over $16 million to Judon for one season. Yes, this secures the rights to trade or have someone pay to sign Judon, but it also drastically hinders their ability to make moves, which Baltimore loves to do during the offseason. They also have several other players hitting free agency that they may lose when trying to pull this off. In other words, this becomes a very high risk/high reward kind of move.

That isn’t to say Baltimore won’t try to pull this off, but it is hard to imagine they risk this given the way they’ve conducted themselves over the past few offseasons.

Baker Mayfield takes blame for 2019 flop

Mayfield and the Browns had an incredibly disappointing season given the expectations from the media following their trade for Odell Beckham Jr., and there are plenty of places to point for why things went wrong. However, Mayfield started with the right place as he spoke with Rex Ryan on ESPN:

Mayfield talks about how unacceptable his 21 interceptions were on the year. That number was second only to Jameis Winston who tossed 30 turnovers. That doesn’t exactly put you on consistent path to victory.

You could also easily make the argument that Mayfield wasn’t the lone problem in Cleveland last season. However, the fact the quarterback isn’t deflecting onto a coach who lost his job after one season, a medical staff that mismanaged their star receiver’s recovery or anything else is a promising sign for Mayfield going forward.

As Ryan notes, quarterbacks and head coaches have to be able to shoulder that blame for when things go bad. They don’t get the ability to point fingers. All that does is lose trust in your ability to lead. Does this make Cleveland the Super Bowl contender many pegged them as before this season started? No, but it does start this new era on the right note.

Steelers are in position for a boring offseason

Pittsburgh made plenty of noise when they jumped the Bengals last season in the draft to select linebacker Devin Bush, and then they sent this year’s first round selection to Miami for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Those moves have left them with little draft capital going into the offseason, and that makes their limited cap space even harder to maneuver.

The Steelers only have five selections currently with no picks in the first, third or fifth rounds. They have two selections in the fourth round, which includes the pick they got from the Dolphins. Pittsburgh is also less than $2 million under the cap. The common thought would be to cut a ton of players for cap space, but that leads to more spots that need filled, and the lack of draft picks to fill in those spots really hurts as well.

This is all leading up to Pittsburgh being forced into a situation where we probably don’t hear about them doing much. That may be for the best considering the last two offseasons have been filled with tons of drama with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

The biggest hit that the Steelers will have to deal with is Javon Hargrave hitting free agency. He has been one of their biggest contributors in the front seven, and it really doesn’t help that Cameron Heyward wants a contract extension going into the final year of his contract. Losing Hargrave would be bad enough, but having any sort of holdout or drama with Heyward as well seems like adding insult to injury.

Getting Ben Roethlisberger back for 2020 will likely have the most impact from 2019 to 2020, but Pittsburgh isn’t trending in the same direction as the rest of the AFC North.