As reigning Super Bowl champions, the Ravens knew their rivals in the AFC North would enter free agency looking to do whatever it took to knock them off their perch. While most of the attention has been on the players the Ravens have lost, the Browns, Bengals, and Steelers have all made some interesting moves thus far. Here’s a look at some of the moves made by the Ravens’ rivals in the AFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals: So far the Bengals have focused on keeping their young and productive defensive line together. They re-signed defensive ends Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry, and franchised defensive end Michael Johnson, who finished second on the team with 11.5 sacks. They also re-signed linebacker Rey Maualuga.
Best move: Signing Gilberry to an extension. The 28-year-old had 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble last season, and at three-years for $6.75 million, he represents a valuable insurance policy if Johnson leaves after the 2013 season.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns entered free agency as one of the teams with the most available cap room, and so far they’ve made a couple of big moves---one with direct impact on the Ravens. While the five-year, $40 million contract the Browns gave former Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger may have been a bit of an overpay; the Browns get a player entering the prime of his career coming off his best season. They also signed defensive tackle Desmond Bryant and outside linebacker Quentin Groves.
Best move: Signing Desmond Bryant. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Bryant was the sixth-rated defensive tackle in football last year for the Oakland Raiders and rated fourth in terms of pass-rush efficiency. The Harvard product is only 27, so the Browns may be getting a player who can anchor their defensive line for years to come.
Pittsburgh Steelers: With little cap space to make many additions of consequence, the Steelers have mostly lost players this offseason. They were forced to cut four-time All-Pro James Harrison, and lost big-play wide receiver Mike Wallace to Miami. Other prominent Steelers signing elsewhere include former first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall (Arizona), cornerback Keenan Lewis (New Orleans), and guard Willie Colon (New York Jets). The Steelers have added some players, as they resigned Plaxico Burress and signed cornerback William Gay, who played for the team from 2007-2011.
Best move: Letting Wallace walk. The Steelers decided wide receiver Antonio Brown was the young wideout they wanted to keep when they signed him to extension last summer, a move that all but guaranteed Wallace would leave. While his ability to stretch the field will be missed, he was less consistent than Brown and with $30 million in guaranteed money from Miami, way too expensive for the Steelers to keep.
With moves being made left and right since last Tuesday, it may seem hard to believe that we’re still not even a week into free agency. There are still a number of quality players left in the free agency pool, and the Ravens and their division rivals will no doubt be active in the lead up to the NFL Draft. But looking at the Browns and Bengals recent signings, it seems teams are figuring out the best way to beat the Ravens is to make sure you’ve got constant pressure on Joe Flacco.