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Who Benefits When the Entire AFC North Sits Out Free Agency?

By choice, or because of incompetence, teams in the AFC North mostly skipped out on free agency. Which team stands to gain the most?
Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With most impact free agents already signed, it's time to re-evaluate where each team stands in the divisional pecking order heading into the draft. The AFC North mostly sat out of free agency, in some cases by choice and in some cases by incompetence. The end result is a division with a lot of down arrows.



Returning: CB Adam Jones, ILB Vincent Rey, DT Pat Sims, S George Iloka, WR Brandon Tate

New Additions: S Taylor Mays


Lost: WR Marvin Jones, WR Mohamed Sanu, RT Andre Smith, OLB Emmanuel Lamur

Cincinnati was able to win the offseason in the AFC North by retaining their most important defensive backs. Reggie Nelson is still a free agent, but the Bengals can probably survive with Shawne Williams at safety.

While losing Andre Smith hurts, it doesn't hurt like it would've a few years ago. The Bengals prepared for this inevitability by spending their first two picks in last year's draft on tackles. Cedric Obueghi and Jake Fisher will compete to see who grabs the right tackle spot.

Biggest remaining holes: Wideout, defensive tackle, inside linebacker

The main hole is at wideout, where Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leave the depth chart in chaos. A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert are a great starting point, but the Bengals will need to fill in some blanks or resurrect their 2015 playoff Rex Burkhead offense.

Nose tackle also could use an upgrade. Domata Peko hasn't been starter-quality the last two years. A.J. Hawk and Rey Maualuga are stopgaps and Vontaze Burfict is always one bad call away from getting himself suspended.

Eric Weddle takes his beard to Baltimore. Photo by Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports


Returning: WR Marlon Brown, OLB Chris Carter, DB Shareece Wright, K Justin Tucker (franchised), LB Albert McClellan

New Additions: S Eric Weddle, WR Mike Wallace, TE Benjamin Watson

Lost: OL Kelechi Osemele, QB Matt Schaub, ILB Daryl Smith, WR Chris Givens, S Will Hill (suspension/release)


This team is counting on returns from injury to make up the gap between where they want to be and where they finished last season. A healthy Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Justin Forsett will do more to push them towards respectability than any free-agent signing.

Weddle is a solid replacement for Hill, who plays good football between suspensions. On the other hand, I'm not a Mike Wallace believer in any role beyond "2012 Jacoby Jones," and Watson is ancient at this point. Combine that with losing Osemele, and I can't say this team killed free agency.

Biggest remaining holes: Offensive line, cornerback

The Ravens are planning to move cornerback Lardarius Webb to safety. So behind Jimmy Smith, they're running out Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington. That's a spot on the depth chart that could use an upgrade.

Baltimore has soured on Eugene Monroe at tackle, but they have no ready-made replacement for him on the roster. The interior line should be fine, but Baltimore wouldn't complain if they found Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil or Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley on the draft board when they pick at No. 6.


Returning: OL Ramon Foster, DB William Gay, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, DB Robert Golden

New Additions: TE Ladarius Green, LT Ryan Harris

Lost: OL Kelvin Beachum, DT Steve McLendon, ILB Sean Spence, CB Antwon Blake, RB Jordan Todman, WR Martavis Bryant (suspended), TE Heath Miller (retired)


I was all set to say the Steelers made the biggest step forward this offseason, but then Martavis Bryant got himself suspended. The Pittsburgh offense has so much talent on paper, but shows up as reliably as a BART train.

Ladarius Green should be a decent replacement for Miller, though the latter is better in the short game. Harris is not the starting tackle you set out to find, but Pittsburgh likely has some belief in Alejandro Villanueva holding him off. Even if 2015 third-rounder Sammie Coates can replace some of what Bryant brings, most of the upside on this team is in better health.

Biggest remaining holes: Edge rusher, secondary

Bud Dupree's rookie year was a trial, and that's if we're being charitable. Jarvis Jones hasn't been good and probably won't ever be good. James Harrison is undecided on whether he'll come back this season and play at age 38. Unfortunately, this is not the draft to have a need at edge rusher and a late pick.

Instead, I expect Pittsburgh to use their first pick in the secondary. The Steelers have talked up second-rounder Senquez Golson, but corner Cortez Allen has been ineffective for a few years now and this unit isn't exactly overflowing with talent.

Pittsburgh's wide receiver corps would be alright if Martavis Bryant hadn't gotten suspended. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports



New Additions: LB Demario Davis, OL Alvin Bailey, S Rahim Moore, ILB Justin Tuggle

Lost: C Alex Mack, FS Tashaun Gipson, RT Mitchell Schwartz, WR Travis Benjamin, DB Johnson Bademosi

Gonna put as much effort into this paragraph as the Browns did in free agency.


Biggest remaining holes: Quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, inside linebacker, safety

Where does Cleveland go with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft? Do they take another swing at quarterback? Do they believe in Jaelen Ramsey or Laremy Tunsil? Is Myles Jack an answer in the middle? The answers will sort of dictate everything else.

For the Browns' sake, let's hope everything goes better than the actual draft Paul DePodesta presided over in Moneyball. Maybe LaQuan McGowan can be the new Jeremy Brown.

I believe in Jared Goff as a franchise quarterback, so he'd probably be my pick at the spot. My guess, however, is that the Browns will take the player they feel the safest with. And there's nothing that says "risky" like rolling the dice on a rookie quarterback.