NFL Free Agency Updates: AFC North

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Courtesy of

Zack Goodrow, Staff Writer

In this barren wasteland of sports news, there has been one league that has become a savior of our sports sanity: NFL free agency. Lanthorn Sports will be recapping keys moves of the off-season while breaking down where teams now sit after the initial free agency period. Today, we will be recapping the AFC North.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: Last season the Ravens ran away with the AFC North title, led by coach of the year John Harbaugh’s dynamic run, MVP Lamar Jackson’s sophomore season. Harabaugh and Assistant Coach of the Year Greg Roman at offensive coordinator transformed the offense into a powerful option-run scheme led by Jackson.

The QB threw for 36 touchdowns and 3,127 yards, and led the league among quarterbacks rushing for 1,206 yards and seven TDs on his feet. The new, almost unstoppable offense combined with a tough defense will keep Baltimore as front runners for the division going into next season. 

The Ravens committed highway robbery from a cap-strapped Jaguars to add last year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award recipient. Calais Campbell will join a stout Ravens defensive line that already included runner-stuffing nose tackle Brandon Williams. Campbell had a down season last year for his standards with the Jags, with 56 tackles and 6.5 stats, but will likely rebound with an all-around better defense with the Ravens.

The Ravens did bring in DE Derek Wolfe from the Denver Broncos, who has been a consistent starter and veteran for the Broncos over the past eight seasons, and recorded seven sacks last season. Baltimore also brought back EDGE rusher and GVSU Football alum Matthew Judon on the franchise tag and re-signed cornerback Jimmy Smith to a one-year deal.

The Ravens did have a few departures on the defense, cutting safety Tony Jefferson and losing defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley to other teams. With many young players in the ranks on defense and the draft coming up soon, the Ravens defense should be one of the best as it has been for the past ten years, and the offense will only get better as Jackson improves. The Ravens should be on top of the division again this year. STOCK UP. 

CINCINNATI BENGALS: Bengals fans had a miserable season last year as their team won only two games last season. They have been rewarded for their suffering with the first pick in this year’s draft. All likelihood points to the Bengals selecting LSU and Ohio native quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick in the draft.

Burrow broke college football’s records last year on route to the Heisman award, throwing for 60 touchdowns, 5,671 yards and completing over 70 percent of his passes. Burrow can mesh with coach Zac Taylor and continue his magic in his rookie season, but even if he struggles, the Bengals now have a fresh new direction and something to be excited about.

With a little less than $45 million to spend on players in free agency, the Bengals had money to work with to improve the team and that’s what they did. The team placed the franchise tag on star receiver A.J. Green after he missed all of last season with an ankle injury. It was a priority to the team to keep Green as the No. 1  option for Burrow or whoever will be under center next season.

The team brought in defensive tackle D.J. Reader from the Texans to pair with longtime defensive tackles Geno Atkins on the defensive line. They also brought in a pair of cornerbacks with Mackensie Alexander on a one year deal and Trae Waynes for three years-$42 million. Both former Vikings cornerbacks should be welcome additions to a weak secondary, but they don’t come without risks. The Bengals are going to try to tap into former second round pick Alexander’s potential, after four seasons with the Viking and mainly contributing on special teams and as a slot corner.

Waynes’ contract is a little more baffling, giving the CB a $14 million base salary. Waynes was targeted 84 times in coverage and allowed 61 receptions, the sixth most in the league. It’s a major risk paying him that much cash when he has never played like a number one corner in Minnesota.

The Bengals did take some risks in free agency and for the first time in what seems like forever, the team has whipped out its checkbook to bring in veteran talent. The team can still deal Andy Dalton to any takers, perhaps the Patriots or Chargers, but the team may want to keep him as a Burrow mentor or a safety net. It’s hard for the Bengals to get any worse than they did last season, so any addition to the team is an improvement. STOCK UP. 

CLEVELAND BROWNS: It seems like every year the Browns win free agency. Big name players are signed, stars are traded for, and high draft picks bring in top prospects. This hardly ever works out in Cleveland, however, evident by last year’s third place AFC North finish and 6-10 record, after trading for Odell Beckham Jr., signing Sheldon Richardson and drafting Greddy Williams.

This year, the Browns are in do-or-die mode with the firing of GM John Dorsey and head coach Freddie Kitchens. Cleveland is littered with stars and talent, and massively disappointed last year. Arguably the best move the team made was getting rid of Kitchens, whose offense was lackluster and didn’t gel with franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield.

The Browns hired Kevin Stefanski from the Minnesota Vikings to be the new head coach. The former Viking OC has been a highly touted head coaching prospect, and considered by some to be an upcoming offense guru. Regardless of if the young first time head coach lives up to these expectations, he will no doubt be an improvement over Kitchens whether it be leadership, playcalling, and just overall relationship with players like Mayfield.

One of Cleveland’s biggest problems last year came on the offensive line. The Browns made sure to address this situation by signing former Titans tackle Jack Conklin to a three-year, $42 million deal. The Browns signed arguably the best tackle on the market, as he only allowed 4 sacks a season ago in Tennessee. Cleveland still needs another tackle, but will likely shore up the position in the first round of the draft or potentially by trading for disgruntled Redskins lineman Trent Williams.

The team also brought in tight end Austin Hooper from Atlanta, to a four year $42 million deal. Hooper had 75 catches, 787 yards, and six touchdowns last season. Hooper should be an excellent addition on a pricey contract to pair with David Njoku, as Stefanski likes to run a two TE set. The Browns made other additions to the offense, resigning runningback Kareem Hunt, trading for full back Andy Janovich, and bringing in QB Case Keenum to back up Mayfield. Keenum should be a great addition to the quarterback room, as his best years were in Minnesota under Stefanski.

This will be the first time Mayfield has ever had a veteran as a back-up after competing with Tyrod Taylor in his rookie year, and Keenum will be great in the role of giving Mayfield advice and scheme tips. Cleveland also made some additions on defense signing former Bengals defensive tackle Andrew Billings, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, cornerback Kevin Johnson, and former Raiders safety Karl Joseph. The Browns obviously brought in high end talent this offseason are better on paper, but only time will tell if these additions are any different then those of previous offseasons. STOCK UP. 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: The Steelers lost starting QB Ben Roethlisberger in the second game of the season, seemingly ending any chance they had to make the playoffs. However with stellar defensive play ranking fifth in total defense and number one in turnovers in 2019, the team was competitive and a playoff threat all season, finishing at 8-8.

The offense struggled with QB Mason Rudolph and QB Delvin “Duck” Hodges under center during the season. The Steelers biggest addition this off-season is already on the team. With Roethlisberger coming back, the offense is almost guaranteed to improve in every statistical category. With an already stellar defense, Pittsburgh is hoping Roethlisberger is healthy enough to field a competent offense.

Pittsburgh lost DT Javon Hargrave to the Eagles, a solid defensive lineman who won’t be easily replaced. The defense is already stacked, so Hargrave’s departure shouldn’t hurt the team too drastically. In a rare trade with the Ravens, the team brought in DT Chris Wormley to mend the wound in the middle of the defensive line. The team also brought back stud EDGE rusher Bud Dupree by giving him the franchise tag. Dupree saw his best pro season last year, racking up 11.5 sacks opposite of T.J. Watt rushing the passer.

On offense, the Steelers made some improvements to the tight end position, signing Eric Ebron to a two-year, $12 million contract. Ebron caught only 31 passes and three touchdowns in eleven games last season after making the Pro Bowl in 2018. If Ebron can regain his form from two years ago, this will be a bargain for the Steelers passing attack.

With the low risk addition in Ebron and the return of Roethlisberger, the team’s offense will no doubt be better than last year. Losing Hargrave stings, but bringing back Dupree was a win for the team. The Steelers will be competing for a playoff spot this season, and will be a tough team to beat for any opponent this year. STOCK UP.