Skip to main content

AFC North Offseason Overhaul: Ravens get makeover

The Pittsburgh Steelers prioritized locking down their own stars this offseason, inking Antonio Brownto an extension and franchise-taggingLe'Veon Bell. Aside from ancillary additions and subtractions, the Steelers mostly stood pat. Despite relative inactivity (and Ben Roethlisberger's little-believed dalliance with retirement), Pittsburgh remains the class of the division on paper. Keeping their stars healthy all season will again be the biggest hurdle to another Steelers playoff appearance.

Coming an Antonio Brown touchdown short of swiping the AFC North last season, the Baltimore Ravens underwent an offseason overhaul. General manager Ozzie Newsome watched Steve Smith Sr. and young playmaking linebacker Zach Orr retire. He cut Elvis Dumervil. He traded starting center Jeremy Zuttah and D-lineman Timmy Jernigan to move up a grand total of 37 spots on two draft picks. And he lost right tackle Ricky Wagner, defensive end Lawrence Guy, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and receiver Kamar Aiken in free agency. Newsome made splash free-agent signings of safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead and corner Brandon Carr, and he handed nose tackle Brandon Williamsa big-money contract. The Ravens still need to hit on several playmakers in the draft to wrestle the division back from the Steelers.

Once the owners of one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, Cincinnati continues to be hurt by offseason attrition. The loss of offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler could prove crippling if the young replacements don't improve (more on this later). Swiss Army knife running back Rex Burkhead's departure for New England damages the backfield depth and special teams. Even with A.J. Green returning healthy, the erosion on the offensive side of the ball for the second straight offseason could doom quarterback Andy Dalton.

The Browns bolstered the offensive line, adding Zeitler and JC Tretter. Cleveland's roster remains full of holes, but let's be honest -- the Browns' offseason overhaul doesn't really begin until draft day. We can revisit Year 2 of Sashi Brown & Co.'s long rebuild later this summer.


BIGGEST ADDITION: Tony Jefferson, safety.
Old team:Arizona Cardinals. New team:Baltimore Ravens.

It might not be the sexiest addition in the NFL, but the Ravens snagging Jefferson -- for less than what the Browns were offering, no less -- provides Baltimore with potential for the best safety pairing in the NFL. Eric Weddle and Jefferson offer the Ravens needed flexibility on the back end that will immediately upgrade both the run and pass defense. That flexibility will come in mighty handy when matching up against Bell, Brown and the dual-threat Steelers offense.

BIGGEST LOSS (tie): Andrew Whitworth, tackle and Kevin Zeitler, guard.
Old team:Cincinnati Bengals. New teams:Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns.

Despite being 35 years old, Whitworth remains one of the best pass-blocking left tackles in the NFL. Over the past three seasons, Whitworth has allowed just eight sacks and 44 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus. His loss alone would be a big blow to Cincinnati. Couple that departure with Zeitler's defection up I-71 to Cleveland, and the Bengals head into 2017 with a precarious protection situation in front of Dalton. 2015 draftees Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher will be asked to man the tackle spots, but neither has proven reliable -- Ogbuehi was a turnstile last season. Andre Smith returns as a veteran option should one of the younger tackles implode, but he was disastrous last season in Minnesota.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Danny Woodhead, running back.
Old team:Los Angeles Chargers. New team:Baltimore Ravens.

No one is sleeping on Danny Woodhead, but the shifty running back could end up providing the most bang-for-the-buck of any addition in the AFC North. Assuming he's healthy after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, Woodhead is a perfect fit in the Ravens' backfield. Baltimore's offense frustrated fans and analysts alike last season with its insistence on abandoning the running game. With offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg returning, we should expect a similar short passing game approach this season. If that is indeed the case, at least Woodhead will be a threat out of the backfield and a willing pass blocker. The pint-sized runner owns elusiveness in space and toughness between the tackles, a true dual-threat the Ravens have missed.


Baltimore Ravens: The secondary additions shouldn't end Baltimore's quest to upgrade the defense. An edge rusher to replace Dumervil and become the heir apparent to Terrell Suggs remains a need. Linebacker help to take Orr's spot could also come in the draft. With Breshad Perriman yet to prove he can be a true No. 1, Baltimore will need to add to the receiver corps. Replenishing the offensive line is also a big need, which could be aided by the potential signing of Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold.

Cincinnati Bengals: End Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins need help along the Bengals' defensive line. Adding a pass rusher in a deep draft at the position should be a priority after Michael Johnson's play deteriorated over the course of the past two seasons. The O-line questions remain an issue, but with little answers in this year's draft, praying the changes work might be all Cincy fans can do.

Cleveland Browns: As it has been throughout this millennium, quarterback remains the biggest need in Cleveland. Yet, with no sure thing in this year's draft class, it's a need that Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson might wait a year to fully address. The Browns are expected to take pass rusher Myles Garrett No. 1 overall, which would fill a big need. The defense requires upgrades at every level, but weaknesses in the secondary are especially glaring in light of the Tony Jefferson whiff and devolution of Joe Haden's career.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Letting Jarvis Jones walk in free agency came as no surprise, but it underscores the continuing need for an edge rusher in Pittsburgh. James Harrison -- who will turn 39 in May -- can't play forever (or can he?). Inside linebacker depth to replace Lawrence Timmons' snaps alongside Ryan Shazier could come in the draft. Martavis Bryant's possible return from a year-long suspension would be huge for Ben Roethlisberger and a passing game that struggled to replace the deep threat last season. Finding an eventual successor to Big Ben continues to be a need. As has been the case the past two years, Landry Jones is not the answer.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content