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AFC North News: Teams around the division face difficulties this offseason

Taking a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rivals, and what they’re facing heading into the 2023 offseason.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers team needs are well-documented at websites like this one every day, but what about the other teams who call the AFC North home? It is here where I take a look at some of the talking points surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens.

Below you’ll see three stories surrounding the three other teams in the division. If you want to read the full article, click the link above the block quotes.

Let’s dive into the news surrounding the Steelers’ biggest rivals...

Cincinnati Bengals

Charges against Joe Mixon expected to be dropped

A misdemeanor menacing charge against Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon was dismissed Friday.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office requested that the aggravated menacing charge against Mixon be dismissed, according to a filing issued Friday afternoon.

“We need additional investigation before we would move forward with this case,” a prosecutor told county judge Curt Kissinger, according to WCPO-TV.

The prosecutor said the victim understood the need to dismiss the case and would be in favor of moving forward with the charge if it needs to be refiled.

Bengals facing a critical offseason

Now that the season has ended, everything in Cincinnati is centered on one critical topic — Burrow’s contract extension.

Because Burrow has been in the league for three years, he is now eligible to reach a new contract with the Bengals. And while Cincinnati has enjoyed the benefits of having a top-tier quarterback on a rookie deal, the Bengals will have to pay Burrow what he’s worth. That deal could not only make him one of the highest-paid players in the league, but it will also have significant ramifications on the team’s salary cap in future years.

One day after the season ended, Taylor said Burrow’s looming extension is already on the team’s offseason agenda.

“I think that starts now internally,“ Taylor said. “Just wrapped up with the team today and as you go forward, you get a chance to start talking about Joe and all the other players that are up.”

There are big contract decisions to be made across the board, including other members of the 2020 rookie class such as linebacker Logan Wilson and wide receiver Tee Higgins.

The money and structure of Burrow’s contract extension will impact how the Bengals will build a roster looking to go from one of the best teams in the AFC to Super Bowl champions.

Bengals in the Top 50 ESPN Free Agents

10. Jessie Bates III, S, Cincinnati Bengals

Age entering 2023 season: 26

With post and split-field range over the top and a history of creating on-the-ball production (14 career picks), Bates is an easy fit as a versatile defender in both single-high and two-deep schemes. He had four interceptions, eight pass breakups and 38 solo tackles this season. He allowed 15 catches on 30 targets for 243 yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, ranking third in the league among safeties who played at least 250 coverage snaps. Bates, who played on the franchise tag, will be coveted if he hits free agency.

45. Vonn Bell, S, Cincinnati Bengals

Age entering 2023 season: 28

Bell has the ability to match up against tight ends, and he plays with a physical demeanor in the box. He’s a dependable and tough veteran safety who can play top-down from split-field alignments and make plays on the ball. Bell intercepted a career-high four passes and added eight pass breakups this season. On nearly 500 coverage snaps, he didn’t allow any touchdowns as the nearest defender in coverage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

50. Germaine Pratt, ILB, Cincinnati Bengals

Age entering 2023 season: 27

Pratt has the movement skills to play on the outside in a 40 front, can track the ball from the second level in the run game and creates coverage disruption as a three-down defender. He has logged over 90 total tackles in each of his past two seasons, while posting two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 2022.

Cleveland Browns

Browns had issues both on and off the field

The Cleveland Browns had just lost a fourth straight game in Week 7 in Baltimore, putting their season on edge before the midway point.

According to multiple team sources, the heated postgame exchange involved outspoken rookie defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey, who had called out Cleveland’s defensive backs.

That same game, star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had refused to play on first or second down because he was upset about a game plan he believed favored All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett over him.

Ironically, Cleveland’s beleaguered defense had finally shined that day.

The Browns mostly contained Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. And late in the fourth quarter, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah forced a fumble to give Cleveland a chance at a game-winning drive.

However, that came up short, and the Browns fell to 2-6.

The defense would continue to play significantly better the rest of the season. But the damage to Cleveland’s once-promising playoff aspirations had already been done.

On Jan. 8, on the heels of another deflating defeat in Pittsburgh, coach Kevin Stefanski fired third-year defensive coordinator Joe Woods.

New DC in Cleveland

“Jim Schwartz has been an outstanding coach in this league for a very long time, and we are thrilled that he is joining our staff to lead our defense as the defensive coordinator,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said in a statement released by the team. “Jim has seen defensive success at each of his coaching stops because he knows how to get the best out of his players and will match scheme to suit strengths.

“Jim is a passionate leader who believes in teaching fundamentals. We’re excited about the vast experience he brings to our staff to meet the demands it takes to consistently defend the varying offenses in the AFC North and across the National Football League.”

Browns in the Top 50 ESPN Free Agents

48. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Cleveland Browns

Age entering 2023 season: 30

Clowney’s production dropped off in Cleveland this season, as he had just two sacks in 12 games. He’s a straight-line power rusher who can set a hard edge versus the run game given his physical tools. He never has fully turned those tools into production, however; the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft has zero double-digit-sack seasons. Clowney could be a rotational addition by a contender in the offseason.

Baltimore Ravens

Will Lamar return to Baltimore?

Quarterback Lamar Jackson’s future was a convenient talking point in Mobile, and most are in the same spot that they were six months ago. Most believe the Baltimore Ravens should place the exclusive franchise tag on Jackson and try to work out a long-term deal, knowing he’s secured for one more year. And if it becomes clear that reaching a new contract is next to impossible, the Ravens can entertain trade offers closer to the draft.

“And it could become a standoff, because I wouldn’t expect him to sign the tag for a while,” an AFC exec said. “And they will be so far apart in the guaranteed money.”

Yes, Baltimore and Jackson could possibly be $100 million apart there, a massive gap to bridge. Those trade calls are coming. I don’t get the sense that that process has heated up, in part because teams are assuming Jackson will be tagged. It’s still very early on this one.

Ravens OC job one of the best?

When Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh interviews his offensive coordinator candidates, he will ask them about their vision for the offense, how their ideas fit with the team’s players and how their scheme can merge with what the team has done successfully in the past.

For the candidates, their biggest question to Harbaugh likely is this: Who will be quarterbacking the offense in Baltimore?

Ravens officials expressed confidence last week that Baltimore can still get a long-term deal done with Lamar Jackson, but there is a lot up in the air with the team’s star quarterback, especially when it comes to the franchise tag or a possible trade. If the Ravens place the tag on Jackson, it’s unknown when he would report to the team this year, or whether he would play under the tag. Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta also declined to comment when asked whether he would listen to trade offers from other teams.

Harbaugh said he doesn’t believe the uncertainty with Jackson will affect his ability to attract the best offensive coordinator candidates.

Ravens in the Top 50 ESPN Free Agents

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Age entering 2023 season: 26

Jackson is the league’s most electric player, with an upper-tier skill set that creates major issues for opposing defenses. Before a knee injury that sidelined him for the final six games of the season, he had 2,242 passing yards — with 17 touchdowns — and 764 rushing yards with three more scores. He’s still young and can keep improving. With the positional value to demand a multiyear contract, Jackson is clearly the top player on the board. The Ravens have said

39. Ben Powers, G, Baltimore Ravens

Age entering 2023 season: 26

A road grader in the run game, the 310-pound Powers plays his best football in close quarters, where he can use his power at the point of attack. He was the league’s second-best guard in run block win rate (78.8%) this season. He can get stressed on his edge as space expands, but he did have a pass block win rate of 93.2%, which ranked 10th among all guards. He could be a nice pickup on the market.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the 2023 NFL offseason.