Now that the draft has ended and most of the free-agent signings are finished, it’s a good time to look back at what everyone in the AFC North has done. There was plenty of excitement around the division as teams are all building for the future but also expecting to win now. Taking into account everything that has happened since the start of the year, here is a ranking of the AFC North off-season:
With one of the most impressive free agency hauls in the NFL and what most experts rated as an outstanding draft, the Browns on paper have had an amazing off-season. Offensively adding TE Austin Hooper, RT Jack Conklin, and LT Jedrick Wills JR; Cleveland brings in three new day one starters. Donovan Peoples-Jones is another exciting player that was added and could make an immediate impact as a returner. On the other side of the ball, they brought in what could be three more starters in the draft alone with S Grant Delpit, LB Jordan Phillips, and DT Jordan Elliot. They all have superstar potential and we’re considered great value where they were selected. Even more impressive is the fact that Andrew Berry managed to pull this haul while also adding a 2021 3rd round pick. The Browns addressed every need and then some this off-season earning them the top spot.
Adding QB Joe Burrow, WR Tee Higgins, and LB Logan Wilson was an incredible start to the draft. The biggest loss for Cincinnati this off-season was familiar TE Tyler Eifert who left for Jacksonville. They added DT D.J. Reader, CB Tray Waynes, and S Vonn Bell to fill holes defensively, and should be a lot tougher against the pass next season. They also just cut Andy Dalton which will allow them financially to add a few more veterans to the roster. It was a complete overhaul for the Bengals and they really couldn’t have done much of a better job. Had they managed to acquire a few additional picks in the draft or for the future, they probably would have topped this list.
Baltimore struggled to make a big splash in free agency but also retained many key pieces of their team. The Ravens biggest loss was DT Michael Pierce headed to Minnesota $9 million per year. Their biggest signings were G D.J. Fluker and DE Derek Wolfe. With their first-round pick they selected LB Patrick Queen from LSU. Queen was regarded as a top linebacker, but it seems like a bit of reach to spend a 1st round pick on a guy who finished 3rd on his own team in tackles. They added some insurance by also selecting Malik Harrison from Ohio State. Offensively they may have found Lamar Jackson some new weapons in JK Dobbins and Devin Duvernay. The Ravens didn’t steal the headlines this off-season, but they did manage to save money while adding depth and potential foundations for the future in the draft.
Of all the AFC North teams the Steelers were hit the hardest by free agency. Losing DT Javon Hargrave was a big blow and they also lost TE Nick Vannett, C B.J. Finney, and ILB Tyler Matakevich. Their biggest signings were TE Eric Ebron who has annually under-performed and FB Derek Watt who they are paying over $3 million per year. In the draft, Pittsburgh notably added WR Chase Claypool from Notre Dame and OLB Alex Highsmith from Charlotte. Both were just outside the top rated at their positions, but have questions around their game translating to the next level. The Steelers then went on to add two players from a 3-9 Maryland team, G Kevin Dotson from Louisiana-Lafayette, and DT Carlos Davis from Nebraska in the last round. It seems as if Pittsburgh is the only team in the division that failed to really make a huge impact for the future.