Are the Ravens ready to get back to their winning ways?
Will head coach Marvin Lewis finally get a playoff victory for the Bengals?
Can the Browns get out of mediocrity?
Are the Steelers moving forward, backward or nowhere?
Let’s look at the how the offseason went for the AFC North Division.
Free Agency: Ageless WR Steve Smith (Panthers) adds a reliable deep threat that the Ravens are sorely lacking. TE Owen Daniels (Texans) & RB Justin Forsett (Jaguars) add quality depth. The Ravens did a good job re-signing several of their own free agents to help keep the team intact.
Draft: Alabama LB C.J. Mosley was a wise pick, as he could become a permanent fixture for a long time. NT Timmy Jernigan & FS Terrence Brooks of Florida State will add valuable depth and potential starting ability in the future. Colorado State TE Crockett Gilmore is an old school/traditional type player that will help as both a blocker and receiver. Coastal Carolina RB Lorenzo Taliaferro adds more competition to a crowded backfield & Penn State OG John Urschel is a strong project.
Overview: The Ravens went through a Super Bowl Championship hangover last year, but are now primed to become serious contenders again. Re-signing players like NT Terrence Cody, WR Jacoby Jones, OT Eugene Monroe & TE Dennis Pitta, emphasize how much the Ravens are willing to do to become one of the elite teams again.
Free Agency: Veteran SS Danieal Manning (Texans) adds good depth & QB Jason Campbell (Browns) is a quality back-up. Unfortunately this is as good as it got for the Bengals, as salary cap issues prevented them from adding more talent.
Draft: Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard was a gem of a pick, that the Bengals could not have expected so late in the first round. Louisiana State RB Jeremy Hill will add power to the running game, and West Virginia DE Will Clarke adds youth to an already strong defense. Alabama QB A.J. McCarron is a project that many fans will be keeping an eye on.
Overview: It’s now or never for QB Andy Dalton. He has the weapons on offense and the Bengals have one of the best defenses in the NFL. There is no more room for excuses. The Bengals can win the division, but can they finally show up in the post season? Also, head coach Marvin Lewis is in his 12th year with the Bengals and is 0-5 in the playoffs. How much time does he realistically have?
Free Agency: The Browns seemed more interested in adding older veterans rather than keeping their own younger counterparts. WR’s Nate Burleson (Lions) & Miles Austin (Cowboys), LB Karlos Dansby (Cardinals) OT Paul McQuistan (Seahawks) SS Donte Whitner (49’ers) are all at the twilight of their careers. The additional signings the Browns made, are mostly viewed as back-up players.
Draft: The Browns did make the draft payoff in a big way. Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert adds another big threat in the secondary. Then came the big trade-up to land coveted Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel. Nevada OT Joel Bitonio was a great pick in the 2nd round & Iowa LB Christian Kirksey should be a versatile defensive player. Small college talent RB Terrance West (Towson) & CB Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) were the icing on the cake.
Overview: Long time defensive coordinator Mike Pettine gets his first ever head coaching job, and what a job he has ahead of him. The Browns are facing a big dilemma. The fans will be yelling for Manziel to play immediately, but having him sit and learn would be the wise move. Losing defensive standouts T.J. Ward & D’Qwell Jackson and replacing them with aging veterans is a puzzler. Pettine is fortunate that this is his first year, then again Rob Chudzinski may have felt the same way last year.
Free Agency: FS Mike Mitchell (Panthers) is a big addition for the secondary. However, WR’s Darrius Heyward-Bey (Colts) & Lance Moore (Saints), & RB LeGarrette Blount (Patriots) are a bit underwhelming for an offense that desperately needs weapons.
Draft: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier is fast. Now he needs the discipline to contain his aggressiveness. Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt is a strong 2nd round pick. Kent State RB Dri Archer will add speed & the other Clemson WR Martavis Bryant adds dependability. UCLA LB Jordan Zumwalt & Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers are solid late round picks.
Overview: The Steelers once again find themselves in a state of flux. The imbalance on both offense and defense make it difficult to assess if they have really improved. The loss of several veteran players makes the offseason feel like a step sideways instead of forward. QB Ben Roethlisberger is not getting any younger, and if he were to get injured…..Yikes!
If things do not improve for this team, don’t be surprised if head coach Mike Tomlin finds himself on the hot seat.