With free agency right around the corner and the NFL still unsure about the 2021 salary cap, I thought I might take a spin around the AFC North and see how the neighbors are doing. Based on the new just announced NFL cap floor of $180 million, we’ll examine cap space, the number of draft picks, team needs, key free agents and off-season plans.
Cincinnati Bengals. Eight draft picks and the fifth overall in the first round. The Bengals have all their original picks plus an extra seventh. They are currently $40.5 million under the salary cap. The team needs: WR, OL, TE, DL, LB and S. Key Free Agents: WR A.J. Green, WR John Ross, CB William Jackson, DE Carl Lawson and LB MacKensie Alexander. The Bengals have 28 free agents. They have the most money to spend in the division and have plenty of needs to address on both sides of the ball. Their first priority is the offensive line before QB Joe Burrow gets killed. They also need help at every defensive position. A historically cheap team. If the Bengals franchise tag DE Carl Lawson, then that signals they are going to spend some cash.
Baltimore Ravens. Seven draft picks and the 27th overall pick in the first round. The Ravens don’t have their original third and seventh-round pick but will pick up two compensatory picks, probably a third and a fifth. They are currently $23.9 million under the salary cap. The team needs: WR, OL, DE and S. Key Free Agents: OLB Matt Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, WR Willie Sneed, DE Derek Wolfe and C Matt Shura. The Ravens have 27 free agents. The Ravens front office has signaled they are going to extend QB Lamar Jackson this season. On the bad side, some of the Raven WR’s are asking for more money and OT Orlando Brown wants to be traded if he’s not paid like a starting LT.
Pittsburgh Steelers. Nine draft picks and the 24th overall pick in the first round. The Steelers don’t have a fifth-round pick but have an additional seventh. They are expected to receive two compensatory picks, probably a fourth and a sixth. They are currently $13 million over the salary cap. The team needs: OL, S, LB and RB. Key Free Agents: OLB Bud Dupree, LT Alejandro Villaneva, CB Mike Hilton, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and RB James Connor. The Steelers have 24 free agents. Where to start? Ben Roethlisberger’s contract hangs over this franchise like an albatross. For years, the Steelers have been extending Big Ben’s contract like they’re putting it on a credit card. Well, the payment is due. Roethlisberger’s contract accounts for 22% of the Steelers’ salary. To add to the situation, if the Steelers do move on from Big Ben, they have no one to replace him. The Steelers have quite a few holes to fill, but first, they need to get their salary cap under control and that might require the team to cut players.
Winning the AFC North is the next step the Browns need to take to advance further in the playoffs. Cincinnati appears to have taken a major step in finding their franchise quarterback. However, they’re several years away from competing for the division. Baltimore, like Cleveland, is about to make the hardest decision an NFL franchise can make, a contract extension for their starting QB. Just look at the current roller-coaster ride that is the off-season quarterback carrousel. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. As for Pittsburgh, they’re in a mess of their own making, their salary is being held hostage by a 39-year-old QB. No matter what happens, the Steelers are headed for a decline. If the Browns front office can fix the defense this off-season like they fixed the offense last season, then the AFC North will come down to the Browns and the Ravens. My money is on the most stable franchise in the AFC North, the Browns.