Free agency grades for Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Steelers

Analyst John Breitenbach assigns free agency grades to every AFC North team.

| 7 months ago
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Free agency grades for Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Steelers

With the initial fury of NFL free agency beginning to quiet down, the PFF staff is taking a look at how each team fared through the first few weeks. Signings, re-signings, players lost to other franchises, and the dollar amounts for each of these transactions are taken into account when assigning a grade (“A” through “F”).

PFF will be rolling out grades for every team by division throughout this entire week, with a look at the AFC North and NFC North today.

Baltimore Ravens

Grade: C

Key additions: S Eric Weddle, TE Ben Watson, WR Mike Wallace

Key losses: OT Kelechi Osemele, LB Daryl Smith, DT Chris Canty, S Will Hill, QB Matt Schaub

Key retentions: CB Shareece Wright, LB Albert McClellan, K Justin Tucker

The Ravens did little to improve their roster coming off a disappointing season. Kelechi Osemele’s market was too strong, but his departure seemed inevitable after Marshal Yanda was re-signed mid-season. Even considering the age difference, Baltimore can’t be faulted for retaining PFF’s No. 1 overall guard at nearly $5 million less per year. Losing Osemele is a blow, especially considering that he offers the versatility to play tackle if necessary, but the Ravens’ reluctance to give two guards top money is understandable.

Daryl Smith had been an excellent player for the Ravens, but took a major step backward in 2015 (46.9 overall grade), while Will Hill’s off-field issues are well-documented. Eric Weddle provides a ready-made replacement. He’s been one of our highest-graded safeties over the years, recording cumulative grades of at least +5.5 in each of his eight seasons. The next-best transaction was retaining Justin Tucker, who remains one of the top kickers in the league. The Ravens could have looked at upgrading on Shareece Wright, who gave up a 116.5 passer rating in 2015, but he still graded positively. We don’t expect Ben Watson or Mike Wallace to make much of an impact, but the latter, in particular, offers some upside as a deep-threat.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Grade: B-

Key additions: TE Ladarius Green, OT Ryan Harris

Key losses: OT Kelvin Beachum, NT Steve McClendon, TE Heath Miller (retired), CB Antwon Blake

Key retentions: G Ramon Foster, CB William Gay, S Robert Golden, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey

The Steelers upgraded the tight end position, but downgraded at left tackle. Heath Miller’s retirement opened the door to bringing in Ladarius Green, who should provide an upgrade at tight end immediately. Green finished as our 26th overall tight end in 2015, despite finding his targets limited behind Antonio Gates, while Miller finished way down at 43rd. Considering he only cost $5 million per year with $5 million guaranteed, Green was one of the best-value signings of this free agency period. In contrast, the decision to allow Beachum to sign with Jacksonville while bringing in Ryan Harris as a replacement drags the Steelers’ grade down. Harris remains one of the poorer left tackles (60th-of-76), while Beachum (79.4) was playing well prior to tearing his ACL. The injury complicated the decision on their incumbent left tackle, but Pittsburgh could have added a better alternative to Alejandro Villanueva than journeyman Harris.

The Steelers also made wise decisions by retaining Ramon Foster (82.3) and William Gay (74.5), while allowing Antwon Blake (35.1) to move on. Foster is one of the better interior offensive lineman in the league, and Gay remains Pittsburgh’s top cover-corner. Only the loss of NT Steve McLendon is somewhat significant, but two-down run-stuffing nose tackles can be found with relative ease. Obviously losing Bryant to a season-long suspension is a blow, but DHB has improved to a level of competency, and Sammie Coates may have developed sufficiently to contribute in 2016.

Cleveland Browns

Grade: D+

Key additions: QB Robert Griffin III, S Rahim Moore, LB Demario Davis, OT Alvin Bailey

Key losses: WR Travis Benjamin, RT Mitchell Schwartz, C Alex Mack, CB/S Tashaun Gipson, DT Randy Starks, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Dwayne Bowe

The Browns lost four starters to free agency and have so far failed to replace any of them. The grade feels harsh, because Cleveland needed to overhaul the roster under a new regime, but losing six key contributors without adding any players of note is unlikely to see them receiving an offseason award any time soon. The Browns lost two quality starters on the offensive line in Mitchell Schwartz (86.6) and Alex Mack (75.5), along with their most productive receiver, Travis Benjamin (69.8). Cleveland also admitted their mistake by releasing Dwayne Bowe, as well as the underperforming Karlos Dansby (72.0) and Randy Starks (55.9). Dansby, Starks, and Bowe provide a recent reminder of the pitfalls of handing out big contracts in free agency, but the Browns could have found better players on the cheap than Moore (68.1), Davis (43.5) and Bailey (35.4). Davis recorded a career-low grade last season, Bailey ranked 116th out of 142 offensive tackles (despite playing only 274 snaps), and Moore is coming off a season in which he was benched. Not a great start for the Browns’ new regime.

Cincinnati Bengals

Grade: B-

Key additions: S Taylor Mays

Key losses: WR Mohamed Sanu, WR Marvin Jones, LB Emmanuel Lemur, RT Andre Smith,

Key retentions: CB Adam Jones, S George Iloka, DT Pat Sims, LB Vincent Rey, WR Brandon Tate

The Bengals have done a decent job of keeping their secondary intact, despite all four of their starters hitting free agency. Jones and Iloka were retained on reasonable contracts, while Nelson and Hall could still end up back in Cincinnati (both remain free agents). Taylor Mays, a player the Bengals know well, was signed to provide depth. LB Vincent Rey struggled in 2015 (43.8), but could improve in his third year as a starter.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bengals have a number of key losses to contend with. Andre Smith is inconsistent, but certainly has talent. Thankfully, Cincinnati mitigated for his loss in the 2015 offseason, when they double-dipped at tackle in round one (Cedric Ogbuehi) and two (Jake Fisher). Unlike at tackle, the Bengals lack the personnel to replace departed wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Brandon Tate took the fourth-most snaps amongst Cincinnati’s wide receivers, with a grand total of nine last season. He’s never caught more than 24 passes in a season, and that was back in 2010. The Bengals are certainly on the lookout for a complement to A.J. Green this offseason.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • JudoPrince

    Why doesn’t this list come out at the end of next season? How can anyone possibly know how free agents will affect their new teams?

    • Tim Edell

      The same reason draft articles are written

  • Jake

    Taylor Mays has not been signed.

    • Mike Anderson

      Yeah. He has. On the 17th. If you are gonna criticize get your facts correct.

  • Adam Fogarty

    Here’s my take, I love the weddle signing in Baltimore gives them that leader in the secondary they’ve been missing, I also love the Wallace signing to take advantage of flacco’s arm, I don’t really understand the Watson signing though seeing as they already had Dennis Pitta, Max Williams and Crockett Gilmore on the roster…….I don’t know what Cleveland is doing, they went from having arguably the worst roster to having the worst roster by a wide margin……..I don’t agree with letting beachum walk unless they plan on taking a tackle with their first pick, but they could’ve thrown in a few value signings on the defensive side to fix this woeful defense, and I don’t understand why they’re in contract talks with Geoff schwartz when they already have foster and decastro at guard. ………as for Cincinnati I love that they didn’t overpay for Jones or sanu, but they need some pass rush help and replace Michael Johnson which I have no idea why they brought back to begin with

    • Cam2125

      AV was alright last year and he should improve. We are interested in Schwartz so we can have more depth on the OL. Not resigning Blake means we are more likely to take a CB early in the draft. I think we will take a CB and a Safety in the first 3 rounds.

      • Adam Fogarty

        We can only hope that villanueva gets better because if he doesn’t and they don’t take a left tackle they have arguably the worst left tackle in the league

        • Cam2125

          He wasn’t too bad.

          • Adam Fogarty

            He wasn’t good or even average that’s for sure

          • Runner1967

            Mike Wallace? Why do people assume his lack of production is all about the QB he played with? Just maybe he isn’t as fast as he was. Guy never fights for the ball, has crappy hands, doesn’t track the ball that well, has a limited at best route tree and diminished speed. BTW ole noodle arm at Vikes had the same deep route success as Flacco last season. MW is a JAG with a bit of speed. People need to stop assuming he is anything close to the guy that broke out with the Steelers.

          • Adam Fogarty

            You can blame the quarterback because he didn’t lose his speed from the offseason of switching from Pittsburgh to Miami that’s only a few months it doesn’t work that way