Even though half of the AFC North finished under .500 last season, and no team won more than 10 games, the division is still being looked upon entering 2022 as potentially one of the most competitive in the NFL. And that starts with the arms race at quarterback, which features—technically—four Pro Bowlers.
The Baltimore Ravens have Lamar Jackson under center, who was the second-ever unanimous MVP in 2019, and the youngest player ever to win the award. He had his team on a path to be the number one seed in 2021 before an injury derailed their season. They ended up dropping the final six games.
The Cincinnati Bengals, of course, have Joe Burrow, who took them to the Super Bowl last season, and they’ve focused on upgrading their offensive line thus far in March. As for the Cleveland Browns, they just acquired Deshaun Watson, who missed the 2021 season for reasons everyone should be aware of, but was one of the top young quarterbacks in the league prior.
And then there’s Mitch Trubisky now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He did make the Pro Bowl a few years ago. But as he sees his divisional competitors load up, as he does every offseason, Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward watches, and waits…and invites the challenge.
“Personally I welcome all smoke to the AFC north”, he Tweeted on Friday, which is, of course, the day it was announced that Watson would be waiving his no-trade clause with the Houston Texans to consent to a trade to the Browns. “See y’all in September”.
Personally I welcome all smoke to the AFC north see y’all in September
— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) March 18, 2022
It’s a pretty clear message. Rosters are assembled in March, April, and May. Champions are built in August, September, and beyond. Acquiring talent is only one ingredient, and the fact is, players who sign free-agent contracts rarely perform at the same level as they did in the final year of their previous contract.
For their part, the Steelers have been in a buying mood so far this offseason as well. While their wide receiver room has taken a pretty big hit in terms of depth, they’ve been able to add two presumed starting offensive linemen, likely their outside cornerback pairing, an upgrade at inside linebacker, a bridge quarterback option in Trubisky, and a Pro Bowl return man.
Of course, that doesn’t mean their roster is complete. For starters—literally—they need to figure out what they’re doing at strong safety. They are likely to add another free agent at wide receiver at this point, as well. And more offensive and defensive linemen couldn’t hurt. At a minimum, they’ll have to bring back Taco Charlton or a comparable veteran on the edge, to boot.
And, naturally, the 2022 NFL Draft still awaits for every team, including the Steelers. These rosters are far from complete, and there will be more cuts made after the draft. Pittsburgh probably won’t be able to compete at the quarterback position with their divisional rivals this year, but they can put together a very challenging 53-man roster.