Time flies in the AFC North. One moment the Pittsburgh Steelers are riding high, the next moment the Cleveland Browns are favored to win the division. This group of teams has already begun making big moves, from trading Joe Flacco, to signing Kareem Hunt. Let’s see what else the NFL free agency period has in store for the AFC North.
Free Agents: The Ravens likely made their biggest move of the offseason when the team shipped Flacco to the Denver Broncos. Getting the majority of Flacco’s contract off the books is just an added bonus to officially begin the Lamar Jackson-era. Baltimore’s top free agent names are in the linebacking core. Both Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley have expired contracts, and the team would like both players back. There’s little reason to believe either player will make it to the free agent market.
Possible Targets: Just like last season, the wideout position will undergo a heavy makeover in the coming months. The team has already released Michael Crabtree, and John Brown has one foot out the door. Brown is a speedster, while Crabtree is a great possession receiver. Donte Moncrief and Randall Cobb could fit perfectly in those respective roles.
Free Agents: No team has been talked about more often this offseason than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Le’Veon Bell has played his last game in the black and yellow, and another year of Antonio Brown seems unlikely, to say the least. Bell is looking for a big payday, and could receive a contract north of Todd Gurley’s four-year, $57.5 million deal signed last year. LB Ryan Shazier is also scheduled to be a free agent, so his status will be intriguing to watch. Could the Steelers re-sign him in some capacity or let him recover as an unrestricted free agent?
Possible Targets: The crazy part about losing arguably the two best offensive players in the game is the fact that Pittsburgh already has replacements lined up. James Conner will take over in the backfield, and JuJu Smith-Schuster will get the chance to shine as a true number one. If Pittsburgh wants to add to that position to make sure Smith-Schuster plays to full capability, signing either Golden Tate or Jamison Crowder would make sense. A Mike Wallace reunion is an idea worth at least floating around.
Free Agents: Cleveland has a ton of cap space, with no marquee players worth re-signing. The biggest name is backup QB Tyrod Taylor. It would make sense to bring Taylor back, but the assumption is he’ll look for one more starting gig. DB E.J. Gaines struggled to stay healthy, and WR Breshad Perriman impressed in limited duty. The team would be wise to give Perriman another short-term deal before he becomes a free agent.
Possible Targets: Just like the Ravens, the Cleveland Browns may have made their biggest move in the month of February. The team gave RB Kareem Hunt a low-risk, high-reward deal. If Hunt is able to play, the 2017 NFL rushing champion could power Cleveland to the playoffs. Hunt and Nick Chubb have the ability to give the Browns the best one-two punch in the league. If Gaines leaves, Buster Skrine or Eric Rowe could be targeted to replace him.
Free Agents: Two position groups could see the most change in Cincinnati this offseason. The Bengals have not one, not two, but three free agent TEs. They include Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah. Expect the team to let Eifert test the market, but attempt to re-sign either Kroft or Uzomah. Both players have filled in well when Eifert deals with injuries. On the defensive side, LBs Preston Brown and Vincent Rey have played out their final contracted seasons. Brown is a tackling machine when healthy, so it’s possible Cincy tries to re-up the 26-year-old.
Possible Targets: At the moment, the Bengals appear poised to enter the season with a QB-RB-WR combo of Andy Dalton, Joe Mixon and A.J. Green. But other than that, the team has a ton of free agents on the offensive line. They may elect to start fresh on that unit, and use free agency as a place to rebuild the line. Ja’Wuan James, Ereck Flowers and Trent Brown are some of the younger options at the tackle positions.
Check back for more NFL division previews as free agency approaches!