In these sports-deprived times, there’s sadly not much direct AFC North information to impart, although I’ll do my best. My usual column, “Speaking of which”, is getting awfully hard to generate, as transitional themes from topic to topic aren’t always easy, especially in these addled times. But why waste time reading my disclaimers? On to the “news”.
Oft-injured TE Tyler Eifert, late of the Bengals, has accepted a two-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A first-round pick in 2013, Eifert never was able to deliver on his ample skillset due to excessive injuries. I can’t help but think the Bengals might actually be better off without him, as finding reliable backups to Eifert was getting troublesome. As this is a rebuilding year, look for the Bengals to draft a TE, probably in the middle rounds, to establish a safe outlet for their presumed first overall pick, QB Joe Burrow.
Conversely, the Bengals made some news yesterday by nabbing former Ravens LB Josh Bynes off the free agent market. A project initially, Bynes was undrafted breaking in and has been a journeyman of sorts, but there’s little question he solidified Baltimore’s interior defense last season, and it’s possible he contends for a starting assignment in Cincinnati going forward. Either way, he’s a valuable depth piece, but it’s fair to wonder at his age (31) if he has any room left to improve.
The Ravens opted to keep another of their own in long-time CB Jimmy Smith, whose well-documented injury history undoubtedly played a role in his receiving no substantial offers in free agency. Smith remains big, fast and talented, and although coaches can cynically expect him to miss an average of four games per season, few question his ability when healthy and active. Even for just a season, retaining Smith keeps most of last season’s exceptional secondary together. Smart move overall (especially the contract length).
Quietly and without fanfare, the Steelers bid goodbye to tenured CB Artie Burns, who inked a one-year “prove it” deal with the Bears. Burns’ issues during his fall from first-round draft pick to spot-player-during-blowouts have been well-documented; he simply didn’t evolve from the player he was in college to a fully-developed NFL starter. It should be noted that the Steelers gave him every opportunity, often to excessive fan derision, to progress and learn; Burns simply didn’t get better. Both sides now have a chance to move on, and in Burns’ case, perhaps a new environment will push him to new heights…but I wouldn’t count on it.
New Browns RT Jack Conklin has said he wants to ensure RB Nick Chubb gets the rushing title this season, citing his love of run blocking and the fact he blocked for last season’s rushing leader, RB Derrick Henry of the Titans. Chubb nearly finished the deal last year with an unsettled offensive line; this year’s version should be better able to produce needed short yards, having finished 2019 22nd in the NFL on third down conversions. If Conklin and company can improve on that, Chubb’s numbers should be expanded accordingly.
Short and without frills, eh? See you next week.