Browns: More Pieces Added to Help Mayfield
The Browns have taken major steps to help quarterback Baker Mayfield have a bounce back season.
Mayfield had to be smiling when Cleveland added Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and right tackle Jack Conklin during free agency. On paper, the Browns have an explosive arsenal surrounding Mayfield with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt at running back and Hooper and David Njoku at tight end. Meanwhile, Conklin should provide added protection for Mayfield, who was sacked 40 times last season, more than any quarterback in the division.
Now it's on Mayfield to respond after a disappointing 2019 season. His numbers declined in every major category compared to his rookie season in 2018 when he threw 27 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 93.7. Last season, Mayfield threw 22 touchdowns and was intercepted 21 times, with a quarterback rating of 78.8.
In 2020, will we see the electric rookie Mayfield of 2018 or the erratic sophomore of 2019? Hooper said he is a huge Mayfield fan, which factored into his decision to sign with Cleveland.
"Playing against Baker live, seeing his arm, seeing his competitive spirit, the way he can rally the boys around him, that's what sold me on him, before I was ever a free agent," Hooper said during a teleconference with Cleveland media, via ESPN.com. "I knew what he was about. So, when the opportunity presented itself … I couldn't turn it down."
Backup quarterback Case Keenum was also signed during free agency to help accelerate Mayfield's growth. The Browns need a consistent Mayfield to challenge for the division title, and new Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski believes Keenum's experience will be a resource for Mayfield in the quarterback meeting room.
"Case is somebody that's seen it all and been through it all in his time as an NFL quarterback," Stefanski said, via ESPN.com. "He understands as a backup how it's your job to support the starter and be ready to play at a moment's notice. Bottom line is, we're adding a really tough, smart football player in that room."
Steelers: Due to Pandemic, Steelers GM Takes Old-School Approach to Draft
The Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the greatest drafts in NFL history in 1974, selecting Hall of Famers Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Mike Webster before signing another Hall of Famer, Donnie Shell, as an undrafted free agent.
Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert is using that 1974 draft for inspiration. The coronavirus pandemic has forced cancellations of pro days and visits by players to team facilities. Teams will have to rely on much of the intel they've already collected for this year's draft, but Colbert pointed out that the Steelers hit the jackpot in 1974 when draft preparation was much less sophisticated.
"Art Rooney Jr., Bill Nunn and Dick Haley, they put together the best draft in NFL history, and they didn't have pro days, they didn't have combines," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "They relied on what they felt those guys were as football players. If we have to go into this draft with that same mentality, that's our challenge and we'll do the very best we can."
The Steelers don't have a first-round pick in this year's draft, having traded it to the Miami Dolphins (18th-overall pick) in the deal for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, the Steelers have a second rounder, a third rounder, and two fourth rounders among their six picks. Colbert believes Pittsburgh will come away with talent that will have an immediate impact, despite the lack of pro days.
"We value the pro days to be able to get up close and interact with the player, watch him work out, meet his family," Colbert said. "That part has been taken away from us, but we're not alone in that endeavor."
Bengals: Vonn Bell Wants to Bring Winning Culture to Cincinnati
The signing of free agent safety Vonn Bell was a win for the Bengals, who reportedly outbid the Browns and several other teams for Bell's services.
Bell is only 25 years old and had five fumble recoveries for the New Orleans Saints last season, giving the Bengals a playmaker who comes from a successful franchise. The Bengals have revamped their secondary, headlined by the signings of Bell and corners Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, who both played for the Minnesota Vikings last season.
Bell believes that adding three veterans to the secondary who were all in the playoffs last year will help bring a winning approach to the Bengals, who are coming off a 2-14 season.
"They went and got some guys that can play the game and love the game," Bell told Bengals.com. "It creates a standard, it creates a culture. They just want to bring the atmosphere to Cincinnati and that's what we plan to do."