Over the past several of seasons, the AFC North was believed to be one of the toughest divisions in the league. Though the Cleveland Browns haven’t been a part of that conversation as of late, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have all been playoff contenders during this time.
Dating back to 2008, at least two teams from this division have made it to the postseason. Last year, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh made up half of the AFC teams in the playoffs.
Looking forward to next season, the Bengals seem to be on the up-and-up, making the postseason the past two years, and will be returning in 2013 with the majority of their roster. The Ravens are now the reigning Super Bowl champions, and despite having over 20 free agents to worry about this offseason, they now have one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The Browns are the cellar dwellers of the division, but with so much salary cap room, they can make some impactful moves during the offseason and make a push for a big turnaround next season.
This now leaves the Steelers. Pittsburgh is approximately $14 million dollars over the salary cap right now. In addition, it is assumed that the Steelers will be cutting ties with a large number of veteran players in order to create more cap room.
Players such as linebacker James Harrison, wide receiver Mike Wallace, running back Rashard Mendenhall, nose tackle Casey Hampton, and offensive linemen Willie Colon, Ramon Foster, and Max Starks all could be with different teams in 2013.
With the possibility of so many players leaving the Steel City, Pittsburgh will have to seek out players via free agency and the draft for immediate impact and not just to add depth. Another thing that’s working against the Steelers is that some of the players predicted to leave could end up playing within the division. There have already been rumors of Wallace possibly landing with the Browns.
The one obvious thing that there is to notice about Pittsburgh is that they are old. Along with economic reasons, the age and the decline of production of some of the players are reasons why the organization is willing to part ways with some of their personnel.
Seeing the current status of all the teams in one of the league’s toughest divisions, the Steelers seem to have the most work cut out for them. Their fight against Father Time will get harder year after year, and the constant financial struggles won’t help either.
The one thing that Pittsburgh has on their side is that their history shows that they have always found a way to make the best out of a bad situation. Hopefully, they can do the same this year.
Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google