NFL Offseason Updates: AFC North

Courtesy of

Zack Goodrow, Editor-in-Chief

BALTIMORE RAVENS: At the beginning of the 2020 NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens appeared to digress from their previous success. After going 14-2 in 2019, the Ravens started out 2020 with a record of 6-5. They went on to win their remaining five games, finishing the season at 11-5. They again led the NFL in rushing yards, but the team had a difficult time playing efficiently in the passing game. Baltimore prioritized getting franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson more weapons this offseason. 

The Ravens elected to let receivers Dez Bryant, Chris Moore and Willie Snead walk in free agency. Baltimore signed WR Sammy Watkins to a one-year $6 million contract. Watkins struggled last year with the Kansas City Chiefs as he’s seen his role diminish for the past few seasons. He has a chance to play a more prominent role with the Ravens this year. First round draft selection, WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), was also added to the revamped receiving corp. 

The Ravens offensive line has seen some major changes. Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown demanded to be traded and was sent to the Chiefs for a first, third and fourth-round pick. Starting guard D.J. Fluker and center Matt Skura also left the team. Baltimore signed OT Alejandro Villanueva, OG Kevin Zeitler and drafted OG Ben Cleveland (Georgia) in the third-round of the draft. Even with the massive haul they received, losing Brown is going to sting. Baltimore did make solid moves to patch up their offensive line however. 

On defense, Baltimore lost former Grand Valley State University linebacker, Matthew Judon, after he signed an enormous four-year $56 million contract with the New England Patriots. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue also departed to join the Las Vegas Raiders. Ngakoue leaving the team shouldn’t hurt too much, as he didn’t fit their defensive system and wasn’t very impactful during his limited time with the team last season. 

To counteract these moves, Baltimore opted to keep their own free agents. DE Tyus Bowser was re-signed to a four-year $22 million contract after a career season. Defensive lineman Derek Wolf was brought back on a three-year $12 million deal. DE Pernell McPhee and defensive tackle Justin Ellis were also retained on one-year contracts. Baltimore also added Odafe Oweh (Penn State) in the first round of the draft. 

Overall, the Ravens improved their receiver room and made multiple plug-and-play moves on the offensive and defensive lines. None of these moves make the Ravens objectively better on paper. In total, their success this season will come down to how they adjust their game plan in the passing game with Jackson and on how opposing defenses will react to it. STOCK NEUTRAL. 

CINCINNATI BENGALS: It was going to be hard for the Cincinnati Bengals to get any worse than they were last season. One of the only bright spots for the 4-11-1 team was rookie QB Joe Burrow, before he tore his ACL and MCL in Week 11 of the regular season. The goal for Cincinnati this offseason was to add more weapons to Burrow’s arsenal, improve their abysmal offensive line and to aquire more assets on defense. 

Receivers A.J. Green and John Ross both left the team, but Cincinnati picked up a potential star in the first round of the draft. With the fifth overall pick, the Bengals selected WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) to reunite with Burrow. Chase will join fellow receivers Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Auden Tate to form a talented receiving group for Burrow. 

OT Bobby Hart left the team for the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals replaced him with OT Riley Reiff on a one-year $7.5 million deal. Reiff isn’t great, but he should be a decent placeholder for a year. OG Quinton Spain was re-signed on a one-year deal. Cincinnati also spent their second round pick on OT Jackson Carman (Clemson). 

Perhaps their best pass rusher last season, DE Carl Lawson, departed from the Bengals to join the New York Jets. Longtime stud in the middle of the line, DT Geno Atkins, was also not brought back. Cincinnati replaced Lawson with DE Trey Hendrickson who had a career high 13.5 sacks with the New Orleans Saints last year. He was signed to a four-year $60 million contract. DL Larry Ogunjobi was signed to a one-year deal and DL Mike Daniels was brought back by Cincinnati. DE Joseph Ossai (Texas) was drafted in the third-round of the draft. 

The Bengals lost their best cornerback, William Jackson III, in free agency to the Washington Football Team. CB Mackensie Alexander also departed from the team after playing adamantly last year. The Bengals made some risky moves to replace these two starters.

CB Chidobe Awuzie was signed to a three-year $21.75 million contract. He’s shown promise during his career but struggled last season as he only appeared in eight games. CB Mike Hilton was brought in on a four-year $24 million deal as he had a career high three interceptions with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. Safety Ricardo Allen signed a one-year deal with the Bengals. If these players can play at a better level than Jackson III and Alexander, the team will be in good shape. However, it was risky to spend this amount of money on players who may not pan out. 

The Bengals are most likely going to struggle again next year. They have added a great young receiver and added some pieces to their defensive line. On paper at least, the team does look to be slightly improved. STOCK UP. 

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Second-year coach Kevin Stefanski seemed to be the missing piece to the puzzle for the Cleveland Browns. During his first year with the team, the Brown went 11-5 and made the postseason for the first time since 2007. The offense looked more cohesive and played excellent as backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were given more prominent roles. The offense remained virtually unchanged this offseason and they should see similar success this year. 

With limited financial resources this offseason, the Browns did make moves to improve their defense. Linemen Adrian Clayborn, Olivier Vernon, Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson are all out the door. Vernon is still on the market and will be missed on the Browns defensive line as he racked up nine sacks last season. Cleveland did bring in DE Takkarist McKinley and DT Malik Jackson on one-year deals to help alleviate some of the pain brought by many of their defensive lineman leaving. 

Perhaps new LB Jadeveon Clowney, who was brought in on a one-year $8 million contract, can replace some of Vernon’s pass rushing ability. Clowney didn’t record a single sack with the Tennessee Titans last year and his value to this defense remains to be seen.

LB Malcom Smith was retained on a one-year deal. Cleveland also signed Anthony Walker to a one-year contract. Walker started all 16 games for the Indianapolis Colts last season and should be a solid addition for the middle of this Browns defense. With their second-round pick in the draft, Cleveland selected ILB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame). Owusu-Koramoah has a chance to start this season and should be a solid NFL player. 

In the secondary, the Browns stole two great players away from the Los Angeles Rams. CB Troy Hill signed a four-year $24 million contract with the team. Hill had a career year last season recording 74 tackles along with three interceptions and two touchdowns. S John Johnson was also signed to a three-year $33.75 million deal. Johnson is one of the most underrated safeties in the league and he racked 105 tackles with an interception last year. 

Overall, the Browns offense will largely remain the same with no big additions or departures. On defense, even with Vernon leaving, this unit looks to be very intriguing. They have the potential to be the best defense in the AFC. With the offense already humming, the defense may soon turn some heads as well this season. Things are looking sunny in Cleveland. STOCK UP. 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Steelers began their 2020 season winning their first 11 games. They slid near the end of the year however, losing four out of their last five games. This team obviously has talent, but they aren’t getting any younger. This was the offseason to retool and make moves for the future. Instead, the Steelers lost many key players and decided to improve positions that weren’t as glaring as some of the other issues on their roster. 

First off, RB James Conner was allowed to walk in free agency and the team elected to draft RB Najee Harris (Alabama) with their first-round pick. Harris obviously has more potential than Conner and fits the Steelers style better as a three-down back. There is one huge question about this selection though. Who’s going to block for Harris? 

Starting OT Alejandro Villanueva signed with the Ravens and longtime starting C Maurkice Pouncey retired. Excluding OG David DeCastro and OT Kevin Dotson, there are no proven linemen on this roster. The Steelers signed career backups like Rashaad Coward, B.J. Finney and Joe Haeg. Since they drafted Harris so high, the Steelers took C Kendrick Green (Illinois) and OT Dan Moore Jr. (Texas A&M) in the third and fourth rounds of the draft, respectively.

39-year-old QB Ben Roethlisberger is like a refrigerator on the field and doesn’t have the mobility to move out of the pocket. This offensive line will struggle immensely this year and so will the rest of the offense. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster was re-signed on a one-year $8 million contract, so there’s one positive note. 

The Steelers defense also lost some key starters. LB Bud Depree signed with the Titans, leaving a pass rushing hole next to LB T.J. Watt. Starting CB Mike Hilton left for the Bengals. CB Steve Nelson has yet to sign anywhere after starting 15 games for Pittsburgh last year. 

Pittsburgh brought back defensive linemen Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley on two-year deals. They also re-signed starting LB Vince Williams. CB Cameron Sutton was re-signed on a two-year deal. Perhaps he can replace some of the production left by Hilton and Nelson, but he hasn’t been asked to do too much during his career with the Steelers so far. 

The Steelers had the opportunity to improve the team for the future. Many of their key players are nearing the end of their careers. However, they decided to spend their resources foolishly on positions that may not help the team now, or in the future. STOCK DOWN.