The Pittsburgh Steelers have a hard-and-fast policy about ending negotiating on contract extensions once the regular season begins, though they have made exceptions to other precedents in the very recent past. Those exceptions, though are few and far between; it has been many, many years since they last negotiated a contract with a player on their roster in-season.
This is not the norm around the rest of the NFL. In fact, it’s quite common within the AFC North, with the Baltimore Ravens especially prone to doing it. This year, it’s the Cleveland Browns, who have been busy this week trying to shore up their offensive line for the long term.
Earlier in the week, the fourth-place Browns completed a contract extension for up-and-coming right guard Wyatt Teller. Yesterday, they completed an extension for their other guard, Joel Bitonio, one of only two of their own draft picks starting on the line, which is now his third contract.
“I think it just points to our identity”, Bitonio told reporters yesterday about the significance of the two extensions for their guards. “We want to be a team that wins in the trenches. I think Wyatt and myself give us a versatile ability. To have two guards that can pull either way … really gives us an opportunity as an offense to be multiple”.
Along with J.C. Tretter at center, the Browns retooled their offensive line last offseason, signing right guard Jack Conklin in free agency and then using their first-round pick on tackle Jedrick Wills. Since then, they have had arguably the best offensive line in the league.
The Browns rank in the top five in all major rushing categories, including carries (273 – fifth), yards (1442 – second), touchdowns (16 – first), and yards per attempt (5.3 – first). Their running game is spearheaded by Pro Bowler Nick Chubb, who has rushed for 721 yards and six touchdowns on the season in seven games, averaging 6.0 yards per attempt.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield has taken 24 sacks so far this year in eight games, missing one due to injury. Even though he is averaging an impressive 8.5 yards per pass attempt, he only has thrown eight touchdown passes, though that is offset by their scoring on the ground.
Unfortunately for them, Cleveland will be without its top two backs for the second time this season. Chubb was just placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, while Kareem Hunt will remain on the Reserve/Injured List for at least one more game. D’Ernest Johnson started in their place a few weeks ago, however, and rushed for 146 yards and 22 attempts with a score. You can certainly attribute a significant portion of that success to his run blocking, particularly from their mauling guards, Bitonio and Teller.