FA Recap: AFC North

Sam Monson reviews the moves of the AFC North after the first week of free agency.

| 2 years ago

FA Recap: AFC North

As free agency starts to slow down, it’s time to take inventory of last week’s craziness. The moves were fast and furious (and perhaps a bit premature), as a few teams were extremely aggressive in pursuit of turning around their fortunes while others took to free agency with constraint. Here’s a look at where we stand after a week of free agency:

Baltimore Ravens

FA-Recap-forsettKey Losses:
ED Pernell McPhee
DI Haloti Ngata
TE Owen Daniels
WR Torrey Smith
CB Antoine Cason
CB Danny Gorrer

Key Re-Signings:
RB Justin Forsett
LS Morgan Cox

Key Additions:
S Kendrick Lewis

We all know that Baltimore doesn’t tend to make much noise in free agency. They are a team that likes to build through the draft, but when you see their net movement presented in list form like that it does make you pause.

Retaining Justin Forsett was a nice move as he showed this season that he can perform extremely well when handed a starting role. Forsett notched 42 missed tackles forced by defenders between receptions and carries, averaging 5.4 yards per rush and perhaps most notably also grading very well as a blocker despite checking in at under 200 pounds.

You have to suspect the Ravens will add competition for him in the draft, but he deserved that new deal. Our own special teams guru Gordon McGuinness will tell you locking down Morgan Cox is a very good move, because as much as nobody seems to value them, you can do a lot worse at long snapper, and when you do you’ll find bad plays following.

Kendrick Lewis is a solid safety and will likely add some competition in that secondary even if he doesn’t start.

Pernell McPhee is perhaps the biggest piece to lose, but Baltimore are uniquely capable of absorbing that hit with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil still in town. Haloti Ngata is still playing at a very high level, but was claiming too much of Baltimore’s salary cap so they moved him on, confident in the abilities of Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams to pick up that slack. Owen Daniels and Torrey Smith are both players with limitations, but between them they represent 161 targets from the Ravens offense this past season. Steve Smith is the unquestioned number one, but the Ravens need young players to step up and likely need to hit on somebody in the draft for that passing attack not to suffer from the losses

Cincinnati Bengals

FA-Recap-johnson - CopyKey Losses:
OT Marshall Newhouse
TE Jermaine Gresham
CB Terrence Newman
ED Robert Geathers
KR/PR Brandon Tate

Key Re-Signings:
OG Clint Boling
OT Eric Winston
LB Rey Maualuga
K Mike Nugent

Key Additions:
LB AJ Hawk
ED Michael Johnson

The Bengals lost a lot of players that saw significant time for them, but unusually they might not suffer much from the bloodletting because of how poor some of those players were actually playing for them. Robert Geathers has earned a negative grade at PFF every single season we have been grading (2007->) and some of those grades have been among the worst in the league for edge players. He has been a guy the Bengals have been unable to walk away from, like a bad relationship you can’t seem to end, but has finally left the team and will almost certainly represent an improvement in addition by subtraction on the field.

Jermaine Gresham was a former first-round pick at tight end, but has never lived up to that billing, while the team probably let Terrence Newman walk at the right time, too.

The big move the team needed to make happen was re-signing Clint Boling. He has been one of the better guards in the NFL throughout his career and represents a very solid starter to lock down on a very good offensive line. As long as Andy Dalton is the quarterback then maintaining a strong line is crucial for the team. Retaining Maualuga was a more debatable move but he was coming off arguably his best season for the Bengals so it makes some sense.

In getting Michael Johnson back after just a year away in Tampa Bay, the Bengals got a player they are familiar with who has had his best play within their system, but there can be little reason to justify bringing in AJ Hawk, who had played his way out of Green Bay.

Cleveland Browns

FA-Recap-starks - CopyKey Losses:
QB Brian Hoyer
TE Jordan Cameron
ED Jabaal Sheard
CB Buster Skrine
S Jim Leonhard
WR Miles Austin
DI Ahtyba Rubin

Key Re-Signings:
DI John Hughes

Key Additions:
CB Tramon Williams
DI Randy Starks
WR Brian Hartline
QB Josh McCown

There’s no doubt that the Browns lost a lot of players, but they will not see any of them as irreplaceable. In fact, in Josh McCown, Brian Hartline, Randy Starks and Tramon Williams they already have secured like-for-like replacements for Brian Hoyer, Miles Austin, Ahtyba Rubin and Buster Skrine.

Hoyer played his way out of the job last season despite a hugely friendly system in operation and even though McCown regressed back to his career baseline he won’t be a downgrade. Hartline probably represents an upgrade over the current version of Miles Austin, while Randy Starks and Tramon Williams are more definitive upgrades over their predecessors. Starks, in particular, can be effective against both the run and the pass and be a consistent disruptive force on the inside. Williams allowed eight touchdowns in 2014, a lot more than he ordinarily does, and the Browns will be hoping that was just some bad plays rather than a hint that age is catching up to him at 32.

Jabaal Sheard leaving is a problem that the team will be hoping is neutralized by Barkaveous Mingo taking an overdue step up in production, but Jordan Cameron is a weapon that the team needs to try and replace from somewhere, likely the draft. Overall the Browns have had a lot of turnover, but may not suffer from it, and actually look to have secured upgrades in most spots on paper.

Pittsburgh Steelers

FA-Recap-williams - CopyKey Losses:
ED Jason Worilds
DI Brett Keisel
WR Lance Moore
CB Brice McCain
ED James Harrison
CB Ike Taylor

Key Re-Signings:
ED Arthur Moats
TE Matt Spaeth

Key Additions:
RB DeAngelo Williams

The Steelers were always likely to lose some players this free agency period but if one of their outside linebackers was going to retire they will have been expecting it to be James Harrison, not Jason Worilds. Instead, the younger edge rusher walked away from his NFL career at 27, and just days before he would have likely cashed a pretty monster check as his signing bonus from a new team. Worilds left the game for religious reasons, but his departure, along with the current loss of Harrison, means the Steelers suddenly have a pretty sizeable hole on the edge. Re-signing Arthur Moats will help, as he earned a +7.3 grade on his 344 snaps in 2014 thanks to 22 total pressures, but they will also need to think about drafting another body for the rotation there.

Brett Keisel is another of the Steelers old guard to leave, with just Troy Polamalu really remaining from the famous faces that formed their best defenses a few seasons ago. Keisel’s play was just average this year, and his lone sack probably reflects harshly on his pass rush, as he did generate 19 other hits/hurries.

Ike Taylor’s best play is long behind him and he earned a disastrous -8.9 grade on just 263 snaps before injury this season. He allowed four scores, 321 yards and 20 catches on just 26 targets and quarterbacks targeting him had a passer rating of 157.3, a fraction shy of a perfect rating.

Coming in the Steelers have been quiet but did add DeAngelo Williams to the backfield. Williams will serve as primary backup to LeVeon Bell and should be a good complement if they ever need a fill-in ball-carrier.


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • AJ

    I always find it funny when fans want their teams to sign AJ Hawk because their team has a void at inside linebacker.

    Green Bay knows Hawk better than anyone, and they have such a huge void at the position that they had to move Clay Matthews inside to help out. Despite that, even they didn’t want Hawk back. Yet, somehow fans think Hawk is the solution to their team at inside linebacker.

    • JonLee

      He’s a first rounder!

    • Chris

      As Rob said below, Cinci isn’t signing Hawk to play MLB. Maualuga was re-signed to play that. And Burfict is locked in at the WLB. That leaves Hawk to fight it out with Lamur et al for the 2 down SLB spot.

  • robwein

    Bengals didn’t sign Hawk to be a solution for anything but depth. Maualuga is the MLB, as noted above. Hawk can back up at all 3 positions. He doesn’t have much left but Injuries crushed the Bengals at LB last year, and Hawk remains better than the street free agents they were forced to use. He signed a very cheap contract because he is from the area and grew up a Bengals fan. Don’t see the downside.

  • laboyzz

    It doesn’t make sense to list someone as a loss if they haven’t signed elsewhere yet. For example, the Ravens resigned Guy and Canty yesterday. Also, Cason and gorrer are not “key” anythings. They barely played last year. Stewart would be a key loss to add to your list though….

    • herewegobrowniesherewego

      Well, we already know some of the losses aren’t signing anywhere else (Worilds, Jim Leonhard.)

      Since this article was written I’d consider Dwayne Bowe to CLE a “key” signing. Thad Lewis is, like you say with those, probably not a “key” signing, although realistically the four quarterbacks (McCown, Johnny, Lewis, Connor Shaw) could fill the depth chart in any order (the order I listed is most likely, though.)

      • laboyzz

        I didn’t mention Worlds. But they missed the resigning of 5 ravens, and list ridiculous names for “key losses” even though many of those “losses” haven’t signed elsewhere (or retired) yet, like Cason, Gorrer, Gresham, Rubin or Taylor.