AFC North: Free agency update

by Alex Salamon | Mar 18, 2015
Andrew Gribble, Senior Staff Writer



Ravens, Bengals, Steelers match Browns’ methodical approach

Can you believe it’s only been eight days since free agency opened in the NFL?

The moves have been fast, furious and surprising all across the league -- and that’s just when you consider all of the trades that have been made. Signings big and small have been made by all 32 teams and will continue to occur as draft preparation comes to a head over the next few weeks.

Closer to home, the activity hasn’t been as headline-grabbing as the Browns’ methodical approach was matched by their AFC North division rivals, all of whom are coming off 2014 playoff appearances.

Here’s a breakdown of who has come and gone from the division over the past week.


Steelers

New faces: RB DeAngelo Williams

Coming back: LB Arthur Moats, TE Matt Spaeth, LS Greg Warren, CB Antwon Blake, S Rob Golden, FB Will Johnson

Biggest loss: OLB Jason Worilds (retired)

Other losses: CB Brice McCain (Dolphins), DE Brett Keisel (released)

Notables on the market: OLB James Harrison, CB Ike Taylor, S Will Allen, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, RB Ben Tate

The big storyline: The Steelers’ biggest storyline thus far involves one of their players who doesn’t fit in any of these categories. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed a new five-year deal with the Steelers that will keep him with the team that drafted him until he’s 38. According to NFL Media, Roethlisberger will make anywhere from $99 million to $108 million. This is the second major contract Roethlisberger has received since his rookie deal. That helped soften the blow of Worilds’ retirement, which was a bit of a stunner.


Ravens

New faces: S Kendrick Lewis

Coming back: RB Justin Forsett, DB Anthony Levine

Biggest loss: DT Haloti Ngata (Detroit via trade)

Other losses: WR Torrey Smith (San Francisco), WR Jacoby Jones (San Diego), TE Owen Daniels (Denver), DE Pernell McPhee (Chicago), QB Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo), S Darian Stewart (Denver).

Notables on the market: S Jeromy Miles

The big storyline: There’s no way around it: The Ravens are going to have a different feel to them on both sides of the ball in 2015. The loss of Stewart has been appeased by the arrival of Lewis, but the Ravens will need to replace pass-catchers who accounted for more than 1,400 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in 2014. External expectations likely will dip a bit, but this seems to happen to the Ravens every few years, and they’ve shown the ability to bounce back with a slew of new faces.


Bengals

New faces: LB A.J. Hawk, DE Michael Johnson

Coming back: LB Rey Maualuga, LG Clint Boling, K Mike Nugent, RT Eric Winston

Biggest loss: T Marshall Newhouse (New York Giants)

Other losses: N/A

Notables on the market: QB Jason Campbell, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, WR Brandon Tate, TE Jermaine Gresham, CB Terence Newman

The big storyline: The Bengals’ first week of free agency certainly provided a few crowd-pleasing moments. On top of retaining a handful of popular starters, the Bengals created two different kinds of homecomings. Hawk, a former Ohio State Buckeye who grew up an hour away from Cincinnati in Kettering, helps solidify the middle of the defense at a reasonable price. Johnson was the big fish who got away from Cincinnati one year ago, but he’s now back with the team that helped him earn a big payday with Tampa Bay, which, despite releasing him, owes him a bunch of money. If Campbell doesn’t return, could this mean the Bengals are ready to roll with AJ McCarron as the backup behind Andy Dalton?


Browns

New faces: QB Josh McCown, QB Thad Lewis, WR Brian Hartline, DB Tramon Williams, DL Randy Starks

Coming back: WR Marlon Moore, P Spencer Lanning, RB Shaun Draughn, OL Ryan Seymour

Biggest loss: TE Jordan Cameron (Miami)

Other losses: DB Buster Skrine (New York Jets), QB Brian Hoyer (Houston), LB Jabaal Sheard (New England)

Notables on the market: DL Ahtyba Rubin, WR Miles Austin

The big storyline: The Browns stuck to their strategy of being prudent with their spending while simultaneously filling areas of need with four potential starters and positioning themselves well for the draft, where they carry 10 picks. A player of Williams’ caliber became an ideal target after Skrine signed a lucrative deal with the New York Jets and Starks adds experienced beef to a defensive line that is looking to heal up and rebound from last year’s performance. Hartline and McCown bring more experience and potential production to a passing game that stalled in December.