Super Bowls aren't won and lost in the offseason, but eventual championship teams are shaped during the league's idle months. On Tuesday, a quartet of stories surfaced that could impact next year's NFL landscape -- and could alter the AFC North's landscape in particular.
The last three months haven't been particularly fun for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Pittsburgh rival, the Baltimore Ravens, not only went on and won the AFC North, but they defeated the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers en route to winning Super Bowl XLVII -- the franchise's second NFL title.
The offseason isn't shaping up to be kind to Pittsburgh, either. With the Steelers up against the wall financially, Pittsburgh figures to lose most, if not all, of its notable free agents, including wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Pittsburgh's front office will have some difficult decisions to make, as the team will need players under contract to restructure their current deals, just so the Steelers can get under the salary cap as it is. James Harrison is willing to restructure his contract, but is apparently unwilling to take a pay cut, which could making keeping the linebacker tricky.
Neal Coolong over at Behind the Steel Curtain wrote that he believes Harrison is likely to suit up for another team in 2013 -- and that it simply doesn't make sense for the Steelers to retain him:
The Steelers can't build for the future by pushing cap money for a player who's 35 and has missed a good chunk of the last two years with injury, even if he showed he still can play at a high level when healthy.
It's an unfortunate reality, but the only way it seems Harrison will be with the Steelers in 2013 is if he accepts a deal like nose tackle Casey Hampton signed last year, which essentially cut his salary and guaranteed him one more season.
Parise's words don't indicate Harrison is willing to accept that deal.
Though Harrison is certainly not of Ray Lewis' stature, it will be somewhat strange come September if neither Harrison nor Lewis are playing in the AFC North.
The slight rebuild that the Steelers, and Ravens, have to undergo this offseason certainly opens the door for the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. Cincinnati has qualified for the playoffs in back-to-back years since turning to Andy Dalton, and have plenty of cap space to work with this offseason -- unlike the Steelers and Ravens.
Cleveland, meanwhile, may look to steal from the Steelers, and rumors are already linking the Browns to Mike Wallace. Only the Bengals have more cap space than the Browns this offseason, and Cleveland needs to surround Brandon Weeden with as much talent as possible. Wallace would provide the Browns another down-field threat, to go along with Josh Gordon.
Cleveland's owner Jimmy Haslam used to be a minority owner of the Steelers, so Wallace-to-Cleveland rumors make sense on plenty of levels.
Browns fans over at Dawgs By Nature, SB Nation's Browns blog, have been discussing Cleveland's potential moves -- though some commenters would rather the Browns avoid Wallace in free agency.
Wallace himself won't make Cleveland a playoff team, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction: adding a legitimate weapon on offense while subtracting from a division rival in cap space.
All 32 NFL teams must be under the salary cap exactly one month from today, March 12, and it's no surprise that organizations are asking
overpaid high-priced players to take pay cuts. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb is due $11 million next year, and if Kolb wants to remain with the Cardinals, he'll need to take a drastic pay cut.
In two seasons with Arizona, Kolb has appeared in 15 games, completing 58.5 percent of his passes, for 3,124 yards -- good for 7.2 yards per attempt. Kolb has thrown 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with the Cardinals.
While those numbers aren't terrible, and they're certainly an upgrade from what Arizona saw in 2012 when Kolb was injured, they simply don't justify an $11 million price tag -- not to mention Kolb's obvious durability concerns.
Still, Cardinals fans can attest to the fact that Kolb is clearly better than John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer. Jess Root, of Revenge of the Birds, wrote that he believes Kolb will be back with the Cardinals -- provided the team approaches Kolb in an appropriate manner:
On the other hand, Kolb now has big durability issues. Is he going to get more money or opportunities elsewhere? Plus, Kolb himself feels very strongly that there are great things to be done in Arizona, and now he has some coaches who have had great success in making quarterbacks successful.
Provided Arians likes what he sees in Kolb, I think the first choice for everyone involved is to have Kolb be the guy. What does that mean? It probably means that this will happen, as long as the team approaches Kolb the right way.
If Kolb is released, he'll have no shortage of suitors, as he'll instantly become the most talented quarterback on the free-agent market (not counting Joe Flacco). Kolb wold be a logical fit for the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would be reunited with head coach Andy Reid, and could also be chased by the Jets, who desperately need to replace Mark Sanchez.
Arizona's No. 1 need is a quarterback, and it just seems unlikely that they'd part ways with the most talented one on their roster.
Kolb isn't the only quarterback in the news on Tuesday. According to an ESPN Dallas report, the Cowboys are interested in locking Tony Romo up to a long-term contract extension -- which could come as a surprise to the most casual football fans.
If the Cowboys and Romo come to to an agreement on an extension, it'll benefit the Cowboys in two ways. First, it'll likely alleviate 2013 cap pressure. With the March 12 deadline a month away, teams throughout the league are looking for any avenue to get under the NFL's salary cap in the next month -- including working out extensions and restructuring deals with players currently on rosters.
Secondly, it would lock Romo up for the near future -- and let's face it, the Cowboys need Romo if they're going to win in the next few years. The free-agent market isn't going to yield a capable replacement for Romo, and this year's draft class appears to be particularly weak at quarterback.
Romo's deal isn't set to expire until after the 2013 season, but letting Romo test free agency would be a mistake -- and franchising him would cost the Cowboys far too much money in 2014. Extending Romo now is the logical move for the Cowboys -- a team that could certainly stand to hop aboard the logic train.