The lockers are empty. Coaching changes have been made. The business of the AFC North is mostly dormant between now and the mid-March start of the 2018 NFL league year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t developments around the division worth paying attention to. What happens in the next six weeks will set the tone for the upcoming season; here’s the need-to-know news for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals while the teams’ offseason pictures become increasingly clear.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It’s been almost two months since Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a scary and significant neck injury in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Beyond knowing that he underwent spinal stabilization surgery and that he subsequently was confined to a wheelchair, little else was known about his recovery. But this week, there was a positive update.
As Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman reported, Shazier was released from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on Thursday and now will undergo the outpatient rehabilitation portion of his recovery. Shazier also took to Instagram to announce the latest milestone in the process.
Still, questions remain about Shazier’s contract status with the Steelers. DropTheHammer breaks down the options available to Pittsburgh, which are limited given they have already exercised Shazier’s fifth-year option, which is fully guaranteed in instances of injury.
Also: The first glimpse of Pittsburgh’s new offense was unveiled to some degree in the Pro Bowl last week, when the Steelers’ crew handled coaching the AFC side. Anthony Defeo is already a bit worried, though, by what he saw—and didn’t see—out of coordinator Randy Fichtner’s debut, which featured numerous Steelers’ starters not being used to their full potential.
Baltimore Ravens: The offseason is all about evaluating the talent currently on teams’ rosters and trying to figure out where the needs lie and how to get better. But Baltimore Beatdown’s Vasilis Lericos doesn’t see a need at inside linebacker where many others do for the Ravens. He argues that Patrick Onwuasor is a better pairing with C.J. Mosley rather than using considerable cap space or a high draft pick on a potential upgrade.
Also: There is one position that no one can argue the Ravens must improve this year: Wide receiver. Logan Levy takes a look at two impending veteran free agents and determines whether they are worth Baltimore’s time and cash this year. First, he examines the fit of the Los Angeles Rams’ Sammy Watkins and then he turns to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Allen Robinson (or perhaps, if the cash is available, Jarvis Landry).
Cincinnati Bengals: There are a lot of moving parts to the contract situation of Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron, including the impending ruling on a grievance he filed against the team, which will be ruled upon in mid-February. But whether it results in McCarron being a restricted or unrestricted free agent this year, the Bengals still have a decision to make. Cincy Jungle’s Patrick Judis takes a look at the Bengals’ options, and what Alex Smith’s new deal with Washington could mean for McCarron’s market value.
Also: As expected, the Bengals will not be bringing back running back Jeremy Hill in 2018. Jason Marcum reports that Hill said his goodbye to Cincinnati, via Twitter, on Wednesday. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent rushed just 37 times for 116 yards and no touchdowns in 2017, thanks in part to an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve and Cincinnati drafting Joe Mixon in the second round last year.