The AFC North is going to be one of the best divisions in football in the upcoming season. There are three teams that can contend for a championship right away with the fourth being extremely entertaining. It is going to be a battle from Week 1 and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were at the top of the division in 2020. Their defense was one of the top in the league but suffered a big loss when Bud Dupree left in free agency. The offense should be improved with JuJu Smith-Schuster returning and by adding Najee Harris in the draft. They will compete with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. The Ravens have displayed a rushing attack that is unmatched over the last two years with Lamar Jackson under center.
In Cleveland, spirits are as high as they have been in years. The Browns snapped their streak of years out of the postseason and did it with a blowout victory over the Steelers. This year, they are hoping to take the AFC North crown. The Cincinnati Bengals are the rebuilding team in the division that is not ready to win now. With that being said, Cincy is high on Joe Burrow and they gave him another weapon in Ja’Marr Chase. If nothing else, the Bengals are going to be an exciting team to watch.
Plenty of eyes will be on the AFC North once the season begins. Before we get there, the offseason could see some big moves.
Here are four players that could be moved prior to the start of the regular season.
Baltimore Ravens: Calais Campbell
So far, the Ravens have won the trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars that landed them Campbell. At 35 years old, he is entering the final year of a two-year, $25 million extension he signed with Baltimore. That makes him the perfect candidate to be moved in the offseason. The Ravens will have plenty of suitors if they put the veteran lineman on the block.
Campbell will carry a cap hit of $13 million this season. The Ravens would be able to shed some cap space while adding some capital. That could be used to improve the offensive side of the ball.
Baltimore could use a few more weapons moving forward. It is unlikely that Campbell helps them get higher than a third-round pick, but there are plenty of options at this point in the draft. Campbell might even end up getting signed by the Ravens after the season. This is the decision that the team will have to make moving forward. If he is not part of the plan, it would benefit the team to send him away in a move.
The Ravens are a win-now team, so they could decide to keep Campbell if he is playing at a high level. The front office will have to make the right call moving forward and judge what they might be able to get in a deal.
Cincinnati Bengals: CJ Uzomah
The Bengals added some offensive firepower by drafting Chase with the fifth overall pick in the draft. They are not quite ready to compete in a difficult AFC North, but they have the young talent that can help them rebuild quickly. That will likely not include Uzomah, who missed the 2020 season with an injury.
The tight end is in the final year of his deal with the Bengals. He carries a small cap hit this season, but Cincinnati has some other options at tight end they could decide to roll with. Drew Sample will likely come in as the starter along with Mason Schreck and Thaddeus Moss on the depth chart.
Uzomah would be able to get some significant snaps if he is healthy, but the return could be more worth it than what he would produce on the field. With this being Uzomah’s final year with the Bengals, the front office could be looking for a return on the trading block.
Cincinnati will certainly be an exciting team to watch in the AFC North because of their big names. There could still be some big moves coming from the front office as we approach the summer.
Cleveland Browns: David Njoku
Njoku was a first-round pick of the Browns back in 2017 and has not lived up to the hype. He was a hot topic in trade rumors last season after he requested one from Cleveland. They decided to keep him around and find a way to incorporate him into the offense. That was not done as a receiver as Njoku finished with just 19 catches for 213 yards and two scores in 2020.
He did learn how to block. The Browns dominated on the ground a season ago using their two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield. Njoku was part of this success as a blocker.
Moving forward, the Browns are comfortable at the tight end position. They gave Austin Hooper a big contract in free agency last summer and Harrison Bryant could turn into the next big thing. The Browns exercised Njoku’s fifth-year option, which means he will be back in Cleveland.
That means the team could trade him if they get the right offer. At 24 years old, Njoku still has plenty of time to break out and become the receiving tight end that was expected coming out of college.
The Browns won a playoff game a year ago and they are entering this year with high hopes. They will be one of the favorites in the division and could make a run come postseason time. Cleveland has pieces in place and now it is about putting them all together.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Haden
Haden is another name that has been in trade rumors recently. He was released by the Browns and agreed to a two-year deal with the Steelers. He is entering the final year of his deal with Pittsburgh and it will be interesting to see what the front office decides to do. They have found success with some key members of the secondary such as Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
He carries a huge cap hit this season. Haden is earning a base salary of $7 million, but the cap hit will be $15.7 million. At 32 years old, Haden could be on his last leg and it all depends on how the Steelers view him moving forward.
The Steelers have one of the best pass rushes in the league, which has given their secondary a break in recent years. They are a defense that is built well and has some wiggle room when it comes to trades. Because of contract situations, Haden could be the first one on the move. Cameron Sutton is on the other side of the field from Haden at the moment and there could be a chance for other corners to step up.
Pittsburgh is looking to win a tough AFC North for the second year in a row. They certainly have the talent, but also a tough schedule and high expectations. The Steelers organization is one of the best in the league and they know how to make the right move.