Baltimore Ravens

Assessing the AFC North in free agency

Free agency began four weeks ago today (though after waiting days and days and days for the Ravens to make moves, it feels like it started four months ago). The Ravens lost three starters during the first week of free agency and a few reserves. But they locked down a pair of promising, young defenders in cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Jameel McClain. That's how the Ravens make a splash.

The Ravens don't have much salary cap space, but they say they aren't done signing players. At some point this offseason, they could sign a veteran offensive lineman, wide receiver and/or running back.


Looking at the rest of the AFC North, it has been a pretty quiet offseason around the division. The cap-strapped Pittsburgh Steelers released a handful of popular veterans and are holding their breath as they wait and see if another team makes a play for restricted free agent Mike Wallace. The Cincinnati Bengals haven't been big spenders. And the Cleveland Browns plan to bolster their roster in the draft.

Heading into the draft, it appears the Ravens, who were AFC North champions in 2011, haven't given much ground to their division rivals. Here's a quick look at what each of those three teams has done.


Cincinnati Bengals:

The departed: The Bengals entered free agency with 19 unrestricted free agents, and despite being among the league leaders in cap space, they have retained only five of them. They lost two players from their defensive line rotation (Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene) and two former starters from their offensive line (Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn). Wide receiver Andre Caldwell has also bolted.

New faces: The Bengals have signed 10 unrestricted free agents, including five of their own (free safety Reggie Nelson was perhaps the most notable). They added a pair of underachieving defensive ends in Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was brought in to replace Cedric Benson, who remains unsigned. They also signed veteran offensive guard Jacob Bell.

What's left to be done: Cincinnati has two picks in the first round of the draft, which could be used on an offensive guard, a defensive back or maybe a running back. The Bengals' defense was stout last season, but they need to find a reliable cornerback to pair with Leon Hall. Offensively, they need to beef up the offensive line and give quarterback Andy Dalton a couple of new toys to tinker with.

Cleveland Browns:

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The departed: The Browns entered free agency with several unrestricted free agents, including running back Peyton Hillis. They have also released four players. Hillis is the most notable departure -- he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs -- but he had a disastrous 2011 season and it was clear a breakup was inevitable. Safety Mike Adams has joined the Denver Broncos but he certainly isn't irreplaceable.

New faces: The Browns haven't done much, though they did add competition at defensive end with Rucker and Juqua Parker. Team officials have said they plan to improve the team through the draft.

What's left to be done: A lot, but the Browns have two first-round picks and three of the top 37 overall selections. They were interested in trading for the second overall draft pick from the St. Louis Rams, presumably to take quarterback Robert Griffin III, but were unsuccessful. They might draft a different quarterback at some point, but they need to add impact skill players with at least two of their top picks.


Pittsburgh Steelers:

The departed: The Steelers have a bunch of free agents. Wallace is the most important one, but as the deadline to submit offer sheets to restricted free agents approaches, it doesn't look like he is going anywhere. The team was forced to make difficult decisions in cutting popular veterans Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith. Offensive tackle Max Starks, a former starter, is still on the market.

New faces: None. The Steelers have signed just one player -- Ramon Foster, their restricted free agent.

What's left to be done: There is concern in Pittsburgh, but I wouldn't call it panic. The Steelers need a starting nose tackle to take over for Casey Hampton. Their offensive line is again something they should address in a significant way. Mediocre starting running back Rashard Mendenhall sustained a serious knee injury late last season and might have to sit out 2012, so they need to find a replacement.