At the beginning of free agency, I examined potential moves and needs for Pittsburgh’s three AFC North opponents: the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cleveland Browns. Patting myself on the back here, but I nailed quite a few of those moves.
Below I’ll examine some of the additions and subtractions from each of the Steelers division opponents, and how this updates their outlook.
The Ravens are all over the place, in my opinion, losing an eight-game starter in Ducasse. Their offensive line also lost two more starters. First-time Pro Bowler, center Jeremy Zuttah, was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Tackle Ricky Wagner (who started 14 games) also found employment elsewhere, signing with the Detroit Lions.
Those moves fail to help the offense, and as predicted in my earlier piece, Baltimore also gutted some of their defense, parting ways with OLB Elvis Dumervil and CB Shareece Wright.
The bleeding stopped with the secondary, as Lardarius Webb, a corner who played safety last season, was replaced by bringing in Jefferson. As mentioned before, second-year corner Tavon Young could probably step in as a starter for Wright, though the Ravens have been showing interest in another free agent to fill that role.
However, they’re still in dire need of offensive playmakers. Danny Woodhead, when healthy, should pick up where Juszczyk left off. The Ravens also picked up the $8 million option on WR Mike Wallace, but will it be enough with an offensive line which needs work, and a defense which will sorely miss Dumervil, and recently retired Zach Orr?
Best move: re-signing monster playmaker Brandon Williams to a new deal. (Too bad they had to drop a lot of other players to make the cap space to do so.)
Update: The Ravens have come to terms with former Dallas Cowboys corner Brandon Carr.
I’m not really sure what to make of the Bengals moves thus far. Like the Steelers, they haven’t been very active in free agency, opting to keep a few of their own players, while letting others go.
Keeping Eric Winston is a positive, but Whitworth and Zeitler’s departures will be felt. Dansby isn’t a major loss for their defense, while I suspect the team will either draft a replacement for Peko and/or try 2016 fourth round pick Andrew Billings (who was hurt the entire season) at the position.
Dre Kirkpatrick was sought after by the Steelers but re-signed with Cincy. The Bengals didn’t need him, as they have a stable of other first round corners on the depth chart… yet they ponied up for a big contract anyway.
Best move: bringing back WR Brandon LaFell, who has ping-ponged from team-to-team over the years but had a solid year with the Bengals last season.
The one move I said the Browns had to make was fixing their offensive line. They invested a great deal of money in doing so, but it should pay off in the long run, as the team started sixth different quarterbacks in 2016 due to their inability to protect them from opposing defenses.
With the most money to spend in free agency, the Browns may not be done making moves yet. However, the other moves they have made, leaves some analysts scratching their heads.
Rather than re-sign breakout receiver Terrelle Pryor, Cleveland allowed him to enter free agency, and sign a deal with the Washington Redskins. Instead, the Browns replaced him with Kenny Britt, shelling out a mega-deal for an unreliable and mostly unproven player.
But that wasn’t the biggest move the Browns made: that would be trading for Houston’s Brock Osweiler, who has been considered everything short of a pariah at the position. Cleveland received a second-round pick in the trade, which looks more like a trade for the pick than for the player. Cleveland was already rumored to be entertaining trade offers for the former Broncos and Texans passer shortly after the ink on their trade deal dried.
What makes the move even more puzzling is that the team released two of their three quarterbacks from 2016, Robert Griffin and Josh McCown. Should the team skip on drafting a quarterback (which is unlikely) they will go into the 2017 season with second-year pro Cody Kessler, and Osweiler, competing for the starting position.
Best move: signing J.C. Tretter, who appeared to be one of the best centers on the market. He will immediately step in for Cam Irving, a former first-round pick who failed to replace the former center and All-Pro, Alex Mack.