The seasons of the Ravens (5-11) and Cleveland Browns (3-10) have been over for weeks. The Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) lost in the AFC wild-card round for a fifth straight year. The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) were eliminated Sunday in a divisional round loss to the Denver Broncos.
Every team in the AFC North is now in position to look ahead and start focusing on next year. That means the draft and free agency and the annual departure of players.
This is nothing new for the Ravens who lose several key players every year. This offseason, however, they won't be alone. In fact, the Ravens' two biggest division rivals could get hit hard in free agency.
Top unrestricted free agents: Jimmy Clausen, QB; Chris Givens, WR; Albert McClellan, LB; Kelechi Osemele, OT/OG (starter); Matt Schaub, QB; Justin Tucker, K; Courtney Upshaw, OLB (starter); Shareece Wright , CB (part-time starter).
Outlook: All things considered, the Ravens don't have the deep group of unrestricted free agents that they've had – and lost – in the past. That will be especially true when Tucker doesn't hit the open market, because he'll either get a contract extension or the franchise tag. Osemele is really the only marquee guy. He'll have his share of suitors, and the Ravens will probably have to go out of their financial comfort zone to retain him. Upshaw is a role player that the Ravens love, but he'll only be back for the right price. Expect the Ravens to seek smaller deals with McClellan, Wright and long snapper Morgan Cox.
Top unrestricted free agents: Wallace Gilberry, DE; Leon Hall, CB (part-time starter); George Iloka, S (starter); Adam Jones, CB (starter); Marvin Jones, WR (starter); Emmanuel Lamur, OLB; Reggie Nelson, S (starter); Vincent Rey, ILB (part-time starter); Mohamed Sanu, WR; Pat Sims, DT; Andre Smith, OT (starter); Brandon Tate, WR/KR; Eric Winston, OT
Skinny: The Bengals have gone to the playoffs in five straight seasons, largely because they've maintained a deep and talented roster and a strong coaching staff. But the loss of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was one of several defections from Marvin Lewis' staff, and the Bengals could also be hit hard in free agency. Three of their four starting defensive backs, two of their top three receivers and their starting right tackle all could hit the open market. Lewis expressed confidence that the Bengals will be able to keep the majority of their team together and Cincinnati will have some cap space. However, they won't be able to keep everybody.
Top unrestricted free agents: Travis Benjamin, WR (starter); Tashaun Gipson, S (starter); Craig Robertson, ILB (part-time starter); Mitchell Schwartz, OT (starter).
Skinny: Hue Jackson will shake up this roster one way or another, and find players, including a quarterback, that are better fits. The Browns still have a long way to go. It would certainly help if the Browns re-signed Schwartz, a solid right tackle, and Benjamin, a legitimate deep threat. Both were solid in the latest dismal football season in Cleveland. Gipson is a quality safety, but he's been hit hard by injuries in recent seasons and all indications are that he's played his last game as a Brown. Still, the Browns should have more free agent additions than departures.
Top unrestricted free agents: Mike Adams, OT; Will Allen, S (starter); Antwon Blake, CB (starter); Kelvin Beachum, OT (starter); Brandon Boykin, CB; Ramon Foster, OG (starter); William Gay, CB (starter); Robert Golden, S; Darrius Heyward-Bey WR; Will Johnson, FB (part-time starter); Doug Legursky, C; Steve McLendon, DT (part-time starter); Sean Spence, ILB; Cam Thomas, DE; Jordan Todman, RB; Mike Vick, QB.
Skinny: The Steelers will get plenty back with the healthy returns of running back Le'Veon Bell and center Maurkice Pouncey, but they stand to lose a lot in free agency both along the offensive line and in the secondary. Pittsburgh is seemingly trending younger defensively anyway, which could lead to Allen and Gay's departure. The Steelers have five players with a salary cap hit of $10 million or more in 2016, including Ben Roethlisberger who will take up just under $24 million of cap space. Pittsburgh will have to depend heavily on the draft to make up for the inevitable free-agent losses.
- Free Agency
- Baltimore Ravens
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Cleveland Browns
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Marvin Lewis
- Justin Tucker
- Tashaun Gipson
- Hue Jackson
- Kelechi Osemele
- Mitchell Schwartz
- Courtney Upshaw
- Travis Benjamin
- AFC North
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Darrius Heyward-Bey
- Jordan Todman
- Maurkice Pouncey
- Shareece Wright