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ESPN ranks the Browns and Ravens as having two of the worst offseasons

Two teams who call the AFC North home were on the wrong side of the latest rankings.

NFL: AUG 17 Colts Training Camp Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are some divisions in the NFL which have a level of disdain for each other unparalleled to the rest of the divisions. Some might say the NFC East would be the most hate-filled division, but I’d argue the AFC North now carries that dubious crown.

Whether you’re talking about the teams, or the fan bases, when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, there is no love lost between these teams. This division is far more than just Steelers vs. Ravens, and the dislike for the other runs extremely deep.

With that being said, when Bill Barnwell of ESPN puts out the bottom tier of his offseason power rankings, the teams who did very little to improve themselves, and two of the Steelers’ rivals make said talk about it.

Before going further, understand there were obviously teams who were deemed to have worse offseason than these two AFC North teams. Nonetheless, see where Barnwell ranked both the Ravens and Browns, and why he wasn’t thrilled with their 2023 offseasons to date:

21. Baltimore Ravens

What went right: The Ravens finally came to terms on a deal with Lamar Jackson. After seemingly negotiating with the team’s star quarterback for years, general manager Eric DeCosta finally managed to get a deal done. Jackson will be with the Ravens for years to come, and you need only look at the Commanders and their post-Kirk Cousins flailing to see what can happen if a team lets its quarterback leave for nothing after two franchise tags.

You certainly can’t argue the Ravens left Jackson wanting for help, either. DeCosta signed Nelson Agholor and Odell Beckham Jr. and then used a first-round pick on wideout Zay Flowers. With Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely at tight end, Jackson suddenly has one of the league’s deepest receiving corps. The move to hire Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken to take over that role in Baltimore should give Jackson his best chance at thriving in a more modern, diverse passing attack than the one he ran under Greg Roman. Of course, Baltimore is now paying a premium hoping that’s what happens next.

What went wrong: I’m not sure everything else went well. I spoke to more than one NFL executive who was shocked by the terms of Beckham’s new contract. Beckham had been disappointing in Cleveland, ran hot and cold in Los Angeles, tore his ACL in the Super Bowl, and then wasn’t able to play a year ago. The Ravens are paying him $15 million for the 2023 season, including $13.8 million up front in a signing bonus. Even if he does live up to those expectations, the Ravens would have to franchise him or give him a significant new deal to stick around after this campaign. There wasn’t much on the wide receiver market, but I’d be surprised if Beckham was a $15 million caliber of player in 2023.

Even given those improvements, I’m concerned Baltimore doesn’t have enough on defense. Calais Campbell left and was replaced by Bears rotation D-lineman Angelo Blackson. With Marcus Peters unsigned, the Ravens imported corner Rock Ya-Sin, who was disappointing in Indianapolis before playing better while missing six games in Las Vegas a year ago. He’s on a one-year deal. Cornerback looks like a problem outside of Marlon Humphrey.

Do the Ravens have a great pass-rusher? Justin Houston is no longer on the roster, and he was the only Baltimore player to rack up more than six sacks a year ago. It’s fair to say they deserve some benefit of the doubt given their history of drafting and developing talent, but they’re dependent on Odafe Oweh or David Ojabo making a leap and becoming this team’s best pass-rusher in 2023. It’s possible they might have been more aggressive if the Jackson deal had been completed before the draft.

What’s left to do: Add a veteran edge rusher. Houston is still a free agent, as is former Baltimore defender Yannick Ngakoue. The Ravens don’t need a star, but a specialized pass-rusher might be helpful.

19. Cleveland Browns

What went right: The defense turned over a new leaf. After a frustrating 2022 season from Joe Woods’ unit, the Browns had to make adjustments. Out went Woods and disappointing veterans Jadeveon Clowney and John Johnson III, neither of whom lived up to expectations after signing big free agent deals.

Lacking draft capital after the Deshaun Watson trade, the Browns had to look toward free agency. Juan Thornhill joins from the Chiefs to take Johnson’s spot in the lineup. They also imported two Vikings in Dalvin Tomlinson and Za’Darius Smith. Tomlinson will be an essential cog as Cleveland attempts to fix a run defense that ranked 28th in DVOA a year ago. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who will be the team’s third pass-rusher, is coming off a season in which he ranked 13th in pass rush win rate.

The biggest addition might be former Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who was last seen as a coordinator with the Eagles during the ups and downs of the Doug Pederson era. In addition to integrating the new veterans, Schwartz needs to develop the young talent on this defense; Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Grant Delpit and Greg Newsome have to turn into consistently effective starters for the Browns to succeed, given how much they’re spending on the offense.

What went wrong: I’m not sure they got the right players. Smith looked like a steal when he racked up 9.5 sacks over the Vikings’ first nine games last season, but he managed only a half-sack over the rest of the campaign. Injuries caused the 30-year-old to fail a physical with the Ravens before he signed in Minnesota. This is a high-risk, high-reward trade for the Browns, even if they didn’t give up much draft capital in the process.

As you can gather, the Steelers and Bengals will find themselves on the better part of these rankings, but it does beg the question how you, the reader, feels about the Ravens and Browns offseasons? Do you think they got better? Worse? Are treading water? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the rest of the 2023 offseason.