AFC North Free Agency Recap
A lot has happened in the NFL since the gates to free agency opened on March 11.
The AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the league. At least two teams made the playoffs from 2008 to 2013. That streak ended last season, with just the Bengals making the postseason. There is much need for improvement, as each four teams did not play to their potential.
The AFC North division winner has had a relatively quiet off- season. The team finished last year at 11-5, and went 3-3 in the division. The divisional champs lost to the Chargers on Wild Card weekend.
The team re-signed safety, Taylor Mays, to a one-year deal. He was on injured reserve for most of the 2013 season, due to a dislocated shoulder. The inconsistent Mays has helped the team as a situational defender and on special teams.
The Bengals also re-signed wide receiver, Brandon Tate, to a one- year deal. Tate hasn’t had a dominant presence on offense, but he is a game-changing return man. He averaged 26.1 yards per kickoff and 9.3 yards per punt last year.
Linebacker, Vincent Rey, will also be back in Cincinnati after signing a two-year contract. Rey proved his importance after the knee ￼injury to Rey Maualuga. The backup linebacker set a career-high mark this season with 47 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions. Rey has also been an impact on special teams coverage.
Additionally, the Bengals re-signed Mike Pollak to a three-year deal. Pollak is a versatile offensive lineman who was helpful on the front line, when guard, Kevin Zeitler, was out. Pollak himself missed the first seven games of the season to a knee injury.
The team signed former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle, Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse played on the line protecting Bengals quarterback, Andy Dalton, at TCU. The lineman can play guard and tackle. Newhouse started for the Packers in 2011 and 2012, but was a backup in 2013.
Bengal’s offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, will be reunited with his former Oakland Raiders player, Jason Campbell. Campbell was the quarterback for the Browns last season. He threw for 2,015 yards and 11 touchdowns. Campbell is an experienced quarterback who will be a reliable backup for Dalton. The veteran quarterback signed a one-year deal.
Some notable losses for the Bengals include Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson, Brandon Ghee and Andrew Hawkins. They also cut veteran James Harrison and Kyle Cook.
￼The Bengals will look to make some more moves, since their divisional competitors seem to be making big changes. As we’ve seen, the AFC North title is not an easy one to hold onto.
The 2012 Super Bowl Champions could not find their way back to the playoffs in 2013. They completed their season at just .500 with an 8-8 record, 3-3 in the division. The black and purple’s hunt for their sixth straight playoff appearance was halted after back-to-back losses to end the season.
The Ravens signing of former Carolina Panthers wide receiver, Steve Smith, is a step in the right direction for Joe Flacco and his offense. The Smith duo of Torrey Smith and Steve will open up the field, making it tougher for opposing defenses.
The Ravens managed to keep their top three free agents in Baltimore. Among them is the strong and sure-handed tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitta signed a five-year deal. The tight end was out for most of the season with a hip injury, but came back in mid-December and appeared to be in good shape. Pitta is Flacco’s favorite target with 122 career receptions and 11 touchdowns.
Another important move was the four-year deal given to linebacker Daryl Smith. Smith came into Baltimore with big shoes to fill after the ￼retirement of Ray Lewis and started all 16 games for the team last season and set career-highs with 123 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions. The Ravens biggest struggle in the 2013 season was their offensive
line. Offensive tackle, Eugene Monroe, signed a five-year contract with the team 30 minutes into free agency.
Wide receiver and explosive return man, Jacoby Jones, is back after re-signing with the 2012 champs for four more years. Jones has been a secret weapon for Flacco, by securing game-winning passes down field. He also almost guarantees the offense great field positioning.
Safety, Jeromy Miles, signed a one-year deal with Baltimore. Miles played an important role on special teams with eight tackles last year. The loss of James Ihedigbo will give Miles more opportunities to make an impact.
A two-year deal was reached with linebacker and special teams player Albert McClellan. He led the Ravens last season with 12 special teams tackles. He is an inside and outside linebacker in the Ravens 3-4 scheme.
Some notable losses for the Ravens are Corey Graham, Michael Oher, Arthur Jones and Tandon Doss. The team cut Jameel McClain and Vonta Leach.
Baltimore has made smart moves this offseason. The difference for the Ravens in 2014 should be their running game. If the Ravens can
￼figure out how to improve their groundwork, the team will be a threat to the AFC North divisional title.
Another team who finished at .500 was the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were 8-8, and 4-2 in the division. The Steelers started their season 0-4 and lacked their usual dominance and strength for most of the season. It was the second straight season Pittsburgh did not make the playoffs.
The Steelers re-signed linebacker Jason Worilds to a one-year transition tag contract. Worilds has a guaranteed place with the Steelers and there are now talks about the long term. With the loss of LaMarr Woodley, Worilds will have a bigger role on the team.
Safety, Will Allen, will also remain a Steeler after signing a one-year deal. Last season, he played as a nickel/dime safety behind Troy Polamolu and Clark. Allen has competition with Shamarko Thomas for the position.
Cody Wallace will remain in Steeler Country for another three years. The offensive lineman impressed the team, after replacing Fernando Velasco, who suffered from a torn Achilles last season.
Long snapper, Greg Warren, re-signed with Pittsburgh on a one- year deal. Warren has been the Steelers snapper for the past nine seasons.
￼Guy Whimper re-signed with a one-year contract. He is a versatile offensive lineman who plays multiple positions on the line. He was a backup who played 270 snaps last season.
The Steelers were in need of improving their aging defensive line, so team signed Chargers free agent, Cam Thomas, to a two-year deal. With the losses of Al Woods and Ziggy Hood, Thomas was a much- needed acquisition.
Safety, Mike Mitchell, signed a five-year contract with the Steelers. He will replace Ryan Clark. For the Panthers in 2013, Mitchell had 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions.
Notable players lost for the Steelers are Ziggy Hood, Al Woods, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer, David Johnson and Jerricho Cotchery. The team also cut LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and Curtis Brown.
The Steelers need to strengthen the area they are most known for to become a playoff contender again; defense.
The Cleveland Browns concluded their season at 4-12, going, 2-4 in the division. The team re-signed one player but took advantage of the free agency market by signing six newcomers.
The Browns re-signed kicker, Billy Cundiff, to a one-year deal. Cundiff made 21 of 26 field goal attempts in 2013.
￼Former Houston Texans running back, Ben Tate, signed a two-year contract with the Browns. He has 1,992 career rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Browns also signed former Arizona Cardinals linebacker, Karlos Dansby, to a four-year deal. Dansby will play on the inside in Cleveland’s 3-4 schemes. Last season he recorded 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions.
Dansby’s teammate, tight end Jim Dray, will be joining him in Cleveland. Dray signed a three-year contract. With Jordan Cameron on the roster, Dray will be used to protect the quarterback and in the run game.
Donte Whitner will leave the 49ers to go back home to Cleveland. The defensive back signed a four-year contract. The two time Pro-Bowler will replace T.J. Ward.
The Browns made moves to enhance their special teams by signing Jets defensive back, Isaiah Trufant, to a two-year deal. He registered eight tackles on special teams last season.
The Browns signed former Bengal, Andrew Hawkins, to a four-year deal. Hawkins has 995 career receiving yards and four touchdowns. He will be a more dominant presence on the Browns than he was in Cincinnati.
￼Notable losses for the Browns include T.J. Ward, Shawn Lauvao and Oniel Cousins.
Ariel Epstein is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email email@example.com.