By Cian Fahey
As the Pittsburgh Steelers carry out their tradition of sitting silently and watching other teams overspend on NFL free agents, the team is happily watching on as their biggest rivals faltered early on.
The saying goes “If you\’re not getting better, you\’re getting worse,” but the saying doesn\’t take into account the prospect of your rivals getting worse. While some of the AFC North teams are yet to get worse, their stagnation is enough to keep them in the Steelers\’ side-view mirror.
The Ravens have lost some key defensive contributors already, while a key offensive piece has been shopping himself around multiple teams.
Corey Redding may not be a name on most people\’s minds when they think of the Ravens\’ defense, but he was a very important contributor to the success of the group in recent years. Playing the 3-4 defensive end role, which Steelers fans appreciate but most NFL fans don\’t, Redding was a better than average performer in Baltimore. The team will struggle to instantly replace him.
Jarrett Johnson was signed by the San Diego Chargers who looked past his inability as a pass rusher to still recognize him as a very good player. Losing Johnson isn\’t as significant as losing say a Terrell Suggs, but his departure does take away from the Ravens defense. Johnson added another dimension to the Ravens\’ defense because he excelled at everything but pass rushing. He expertly dropped into coverage while being stout against the run. Because of Sergio Kindle\’s well documented issues, Johnson\’s successor hasn\’t been effectively groomed over the past few years.
Redding and Johnson started together regularly on the same side, at the very least, the Ravens lose some level of continuity on defense. Something the Steelers, for the most part, have kept this off-season outside of the obvious loss of James Farrior.
Offensively, the Ravens will need to adjust to a new face on the offensive line most likely as Ben Grubbs is attracting a lot of suitors. Meanwhile, the Ravens have targeted Evan Mathis as his replacement. Mathis is a 30 year old one-year-wonder who is nothing near a dead certainty as a starter.
Whether they were going to re-sign him or not, the Cleveland Browns have so far lost one free agent, who was also a starter during his time in Cleveland. Peyton Hillis escaped Cleveland after an injury plagued season last year to become the new running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. At the very least, Hillis leaving gives the Browns another issue to address.
While it wasn\’t a free agency move, the Browns also missed out on bringing in Robert Griffin III which would have thrown somewhat of a spanner in the works of the AFC North. With Griffin, the Browns could have had a joker in the deck because it had been so long since they had a quarterback worthy of being on the same level of those winning the division on a regular basis. Without him, they see Colt McCoy as being no different to Matt Flynn. Another year of McCoy on that offense can only be good for the Steelers, that is presuming James Harrison doesn\’t punish him for last season\’s hit and get himself suspended for an even longer spell.
Outside of re-signing their kicker, so far the Bengals haven\’t made any moves of note. The only activity involving the team has seen two players leave. Frostee Rucker left the team and landed within the division at Cleveland, while Jonathan Fanene, who had 6.5 sacks, was snapped up by the New England Patriots.
The Bengals have watched on as a slew of receivers who could have fit their offense signed with other teams. The Steelers won\’t have to deal with Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, Pierre Garcon or not even Mario Manningham seemingly as the Bengals are yet to approach him.
So while many Steelers fans, most likely the younger less experienced followers of the team, are frustrated by the lack of activity or fretting about the potential losses, there is a lot to admire about a team simply holding onto its strengths and sustaining a level of continuity.
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