Overreactions from Steelers Nation: AFC North Free Agency

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation” a weekly column where I poke fun at fans, reporters, and so-called experts while trying to figure out if some of these hot takes are real – or just for attention.

How did the Steelers do? That’s the question asked most frequently by fans who want to compare their team to others, in hopes that Pittsburgh has improved more than their opponents: specifically those rivals in their own division.

With the NFL Draft looming in the near future, teams are still in the process of building their rosters. Also, no team has ever “won the offseason” and parlayed that into winning a Super Bowl. However, we can still look at everyone’s status near the end of March and see how these organizations may fare as the weeks and months roll on into the 2023 season.

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Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are clearly the crown jewel of the division now, having won it in back-to-back seasons. That’s namely due to landing Joe Burrow in the 2020 NFL Draft and securing pieces around him and his rookie contract.

I think the Bengals will remain competitive for a while, not just because of Burrow, but because they’ll manage a way that his cap hits won’t really start to hurt them for several years down the road. (Think toward the end of the second contract.) However, that first big deal is closing in soon, and that will affect their chances of keeping some of their explosive weapons, such as WR Tee Higgins or WR Tyler Boyd.

That’s also because Ja’Marr Chase will eventually command a big dollar deal too, but that’s foreshadowing down the road: in 2023 the Bengals lost both safeties and are looking at patching up their secondary, while they just fortified their problematic offensive line to give Burrow more time to find those pesky receivers.

Cincy will have draft picks to reload too, because they didn’t go and needlessly give them away like Cleveland.

That should keep them as the chief obstacle for the Steelers to overcome in the AFC North for the years ahead.

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Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore is a dumpster fire right now, on count of QB Lamar Jackson’s situation. The Ravens are in a position to lose both of their starting quarterbacks from last season, as Jackson was franchise tagged but is not signing and claims to be seeking a megadeal – or be traded.

Tyler Huntley, who started four games in place of Jackson, and was somehow named to the Pro Bowl with two touchdowns to three interceptions, was tendered as an exclusive rights free agent. It’s unlikely another team comes snooping (yes, pun intended) but it could happen.

Baltimore is in no position to draft a top replacement this year either. Because of the contract Jackson commands, signing his tag or otherwise, they’ve missed out on most of free agency as their cap is handicapped to allotting that money on the side for whatever move happens.

Also, either scenario could cripple their salary cap for the foreseeable future, which is part of the back-and-forth in their negotiations.

There’s a lot to be said about how the Ravens are currently being run too. I usually give Baltimore a lot of credit on their drafts but when you look at them overall, there’s quite a few busts and also players that have demanded to get out of town too.

Free agency has netted them exactly one headlining player, if you’ll call WR Nelson Agholor that. That’s not really the move to entice Jackson to sign, seeing as Agholor has never sniffed a 1,000-yard receiving season…

For all of the Tomlin “haters” out there, the Ravens have failed to win anything meaningful since the Super Bowl in 2012. I think John Harbaugh is going to end up back on the hot seat soon regardless. Depending on how the QB position shakes out for them and what their new OC brings, Baltimore may be no better than a middle of the pack team going forward.

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Cleveland Browns

Cleveland fans are like an ostrich burying their head in the sand. A literal “this is fine” meme when it comes to the current state of their franchise. It all revolves around finally winning a playoff game in 2020, but those days are long behind this organization, which blew its load to acquire Deshaun Watson in what I feel will go down as one of the worst trades in NFL history.

Cleveland will continue to be the parody of how an NFL franchise should be operated. The Browns gave away their first round draft picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024 for Watson, who already had a rich contract – but turned around and guaranteed him a smooth five-years at $230 million dollars. (It was both the largest contract and most guaranteed money in NFL history.)

Here’s a Public Service Announcement to Cleveland: your situation is not fine! Yet I’ll hear their fanbase talk about “BuT wE cAn ReStRuCtUrE.” Yes, but that can gets kicked down the road to where the credit card is maxed out and eventually needs paid.

Truthfully, the only good things to come of the Browns deal with Watson is how it cripples their cap space while also influencing what Lamar Jackson does with the Ravens. In both scenarios, each team can be really screwed, much like the Steelers were with owing Ben Roethlisberger $40 million in his final season.

The path to NFL success is landing a solid rookie quarterback, who is on a rookie contract, and surrounding that player with solid draft and free agency depth.

When you don’t have draft picks or don’t have the money to sign players, well, good luck finding XFL players to round out your roster! (And trust me, when someone gets injured, those guys do end up playing!)

I’m chuckling at some of the “analysis” that shows the Browns having an A grade in free agency too. They somehow found a way to fit another big money deal for DT Dalvin Tomlinson into their plans (four years, $57 million) that will further influence their spending into the future. A draft pick swap with the Jets for Elijah Moore could pay off – or it may not.

The Browns defense suffered losses in the secondary and they’re still far from patched up in other areas, while the offense is also starting to see depth wither away, such as RB Kareem Hunt.

In all, Cleveland is a ways away from Baker Mayfield’s rookie deal and adding firepower like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. to their ranks. This could be the last “make or break” year for that team before it truly implodes.


Soon I’ll touch upon the Steelers rebuilding phase and how it greatly differs from the way their rivals have chose to structure their rosters.

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