The Pittsburgh Steelers emerged from the 2023 NFL Draft as one of the more improved teams, which did not go unnoticed by the rest of the AFC North. Now that the draft is over and some teams have turned their sights to fine-tuning their rosters, several of the Steelers’ rivals may be set on adding some high-profile players for their 2023 campaigns.
Steelers Run Defense Could Have More Challenges
The Minnesota Vikings have made their desire to offload Pro Bowl running back, Dalvin Cook one of the offseason’s worst-kept secrets. The Vikings see his age (28 years old) and his cap hit over the next few years ($42 million in total through 2025) and it could lead to them moving on to focus on the future. The Vikings weren’t able to find a trade partner for Cook during the draft, making the AFC North an attractive place to find a trade partner for the running back.
According to Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports, both the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals are interested in Cook as the Vikings could see either AFC North team as a viable trade partner. The Ravens have put their running game front and center with a backfield consisting of JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, plus their dual-threat quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who is returning despite a tumultuous contract situation.
While some might see that as a full backfield, the Ravens still might want to pull the trigger on the trade for Cook. Dobbins could be one of the targets that the Vikings could see as a respectable switch, depending on their view of Dobbins’ injury history.
The Bengals are in a bit of a different boat when it comes to the possibility of trading for Cook because their backfield is hardly set in stone. Joe Mixon has been a productive member of the Cincinnati offense for many years, going for over 1,000 yards in three of the last five years, but his recent off-the-field issues could make the Bengals consider using him as trade bait in order to get Cook to Cincinnati. If the Bengals have enough concern with Mixon, Cook’s age could be less of a factor when they consider the production they would be trading for.
Mixon ended up not being charged for a gun-related incident in January, but the Bengals were aware when they drafted Mixon that other teams had passed due to a possible assault issue while he was at Oklahoma. Mixon has been linked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams as well. If either the Bengals or Ravens end up trading for Cook, facing him twice a year would definitely be the kind of test that the Steelers retooled for this offseason.
Steelers Watch As AFC North Adds Depth
The Cleveland Browns may not be looking to trade for a running back, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t made any of their own post-draft moves.The Browns released former number one overall pick, Jadaveon Clowney in March which meant that they went looking for a replacement for the underachieving Clowney on the defensive line.
The Browns looked to the Vikings depth, trading with Minnesota for Za’Darius Smith. Smith can be considered a rental by the Browns but as he will be a free agent in 2024, but for 2023 at least, the Browns will have a bookend to Myles Garrett.
It was a pickup that Cleveland considered themselves lucky to get, especially considering the extreme lack of draft picks they had this year thanks to the brutally expensive Deshaun Watson trade with the Houston Texans. Smith isn’t a young buck, but in comparison to the rare flashes shown by Clowney, the Browns will look to their new pass rusher for more consistency over the next season.
Steelers Should Be Unfazed By Moves
In years’ past, moves like Cook being traded into the AFC North or the Browns adding another pass rusher would bring some nerves to the Pittsburgh fanbase, but 2023 isn’t like those. The strategy was there and the execution seemed perfect from the trio of Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan and Andy Weidl.
Whether Pittsburgh will face Mixon or Cook twice a year or Smith tries to collapse one side of the line, it shouldn’t bring any reason for pause. Let the rest of the AFC North add away, because when compared to the calm, patient, direct route the Steelers took, everything else looks like panic.