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AFC North Free Agency Preview

NFL Free Agency Preview

NFL Free Agency PreviewThe following is a 2019 NFL Free Agency breakdown written by Anthony Cervino. Throughout this NFL Free Agency preview, Anthony tries to identify team needs from each and every NFL franchise. He also takes a stab at trying to accurately predict logical landing spots for impending free agents and connect the dots for some surprising moves that we may not see coming.

NFC North Free Agency Preview

Baltimore Ravens

Salary Cap Space: $21,993,514

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • RB Buck Allen (27)
  • RB Ty Montgomery (26)
  • WR John Brown (29)
  • LB C.J. Mosley (26)
  • WR Michael Crabtree (32) — released
  • QB Robert Griffin III (29)
  • OLB Terrell Suggs (36)
  • S Eric Weddle (34) — released
  • DT Brent Urban (27)
  • TE Nick Boyle (26) — re-signed to a three-year deal
  • TE Maxx Williams (24)
  • WLB Patrick Onwuasor (26) — received a second-round tender
  • DT Michael Pierce (26) — RFA
  • RB Alex Collins (24) — waived

Team Needs and Potential Fits:

Wide Receiver — Let’s face it, John Brown is likely one and done with the Ravens. After flashing early with Joe Flacco under center, the 29-year-old wideout sputtered with Lamar Jackson at the helm. If the Ravens want to compete, not only will Jackson have to show that he can throw the football, but the Ravens also need to bring in better help on the outside. And now that the Ravens have released Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, who is primarily a slot receiver, will be the lone returning wideout who had any significance for the Ravens in 2018. Therefore, replacing Crabtree and Brown should be on the top of Baltimore’s priority list. While they don’t have a ton of cap space, the Ravens could draft a receiver and add a quality veteran like Mike Wallace, who played in Baltimore from 2016-2017, without breaking the bank.

Quarterback — With Robert Griffin III a free agent and Joe Flacco shipped out the door to Denver, Lamar Jackson is the only quarterback left standing on the Ravens depth chart. And because Jackson’s playing style exposes him to additional contact, having a secure backup is a necessity. While this year’s free agent class isn’t full of top-end starters, it is filled with solid QB2s. Look for the Ravens to target a signal caller with a skill set resembling Jackson’s like a Tyrod Taylor or a Teddy Bridgewater. Both Taylor and Bridgewater are former NFL starters who could immediately play if Jackson is lost to injury or further struggles to throw the forward pass.

Linebacker — Because Terrell SuggsZa’Darius Smith and C.J. Mosley are set to hit free agency, the Ravens could lose three essential pieces to their top-ranked defense. While Suggs, a lifelong Raven, could always re-sign, he is going to be 37 by the time the season begins. But Suggs isn’t the only potential loss. Mosley is one of the league’s top inside linebackers and Smith is evolving into one of the NFL’s up and coming pass rushers. With limited cap space, it is hard to believe the Ravens could retain all three assets. In fact, if the only could afford to keep one, it wouldn’t shock me one bit. With Suggs and Smith acting as possible losses on the outside, the Ravens could target Pernell McPhee, who played with the team from 2011-2014, as a situational pass rusher while they develop younger talent acquired in the draft.

Running Back — With Alex Collins waived, plus, the fact that Ty Montgomery and Buck Allen are impending free agents, the only rushers that are under contract on Baltimore’s running back depth chart are Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon. Look for the Ravens to bolster their RB depth chart in free agency and the draft. Perhaps they pursue a legit pass catching back on the open market like a Bilal Powell or a T.J. Yeldon to pair with Edwards, their early-down banger. While Dixon has a ton of upside, he comes with a lot of uncertainty. Between injuries and suspensions, Dixon has only played in 18 of a possible 48 career games.

Cleveland Browns

Salary Cap Space: $46,127,676

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • CB E.J. Gaines (27)
  • QB Tyrod Taylor (29)
  • LB Jamie Collins (29) — released
  • CB Phillip Gaines (27)
  • WR Breshad Perriman (25)
  • CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (26) — RFA
  • WR Rashard Higgins (24) — received an original-round tender
  • FB Orson Charles (28)– RFA

Team Needs:

Linebacker — The Browns had needs at linebacker even before they released Jamie Collins this week. And while Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert are quality players at the second level of their defense, the loss of Collins only magnifies their handicap. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks spent five seasons with the Panthers from 2012-2017 and could find a way to lure Thomas Davis to Cleveland. While Davis’ career is winding down, he could still be effective, especially when paired with his old DC.

Wide Receiver — The Browns have Jarvis Landry at receiver, and that’s about it. While impending sophomore WR Antonio Callaway flashed last season, his off the field concerns make him a liability. And since Rashard Higgins is a restricted free agent while Breshad Perriman is an unrestricted free agent, there is a good chance that Cleveland’s wide receiver corps looks vastly different in 2019, which isn’t such a bad thing. I mean, it’s Breshad Perriman and Rashard Higgins were talking about here. Since the Browns have some money to spend without too many glaring needs, they could afford to make a splash addition in free agency. While a Dez Bryant could be a short-term option to get the job done, he is coming off a severe knee injury and is about to enter the back end of his career. Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin could provide big-bodied upside to the squad, but the Browns could make the most noise by trading for Odell Beckham Jr. If the Giants are willing to play ball, the Browns have the cap space to absorb OBJ’s contract and the assets to give the Giants in return to acquire his services. Can you imagine what Baker Mayfield could do with David Njoku, Landry, OBJ, Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb? Pass the damn popcorn!

Offensive Line — The Browns are poised to part ways with LT Greg Robinson in free agency. Add in the fact that they have reportedly put high-priced guard Kevin Zeitler on the trading block — he was reportedly offered to the Giants as a part of an OBJ trade — and the Browns have a pair of holes to fill on PFF’s No. 2 ranked offensive line from 2018. Losing Zeitler would be a significant loss for the Browns as he was PFF’s top-rated pass-blocking guard last season. Since Cleveland could potentially be in the market for two starters, they could elect to address these needs in both free agency and the draft. Because there aren’t many reliable left tackles available in free agency, they could look to draft one while they fill Zeitler’s spot at guard with a player like Jets free agent G James Carpenter, who is a quality starter at a much cheaper rate.

Notable Additions:

  • RB Kareem Hunt — signed to a one-year deal
  • DE Olivier Vernon — acquired Vernon and a 2019 fourth-round pick from the Giants in exchange for OG Kevin Zeitler and a 2019 fifth-round pick

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Salary Cap Space: $19,276,610

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • DT Tyson Alualu (31)
  • RB Le’Veon Bell (27)
  • P Jordan Berry (28)
  • LB Anthony Chickillo (26)
  • TE Jesse James (24)
  • RB Stevan Ridley (30)
  • WR Eli Rogers (26)
  • WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (31)
  • CB Coty Sensabaugh (30)
  • G Ramon Foster (33) — re-signed to a two-year deal
  • TE Xavier Grimble (26) — placed with original round tender
  • G B.J. Finney (27) — received a second-round tender

Team Needs:

Linebacker — Maybe it’s just me, but since ILB Ryan Shazier’s life-altering injury a few years back, the Steelers’ defense has not looked the same. Between his terrific play on the field and his leadership off of it, Shazier’s absence has been a significant one. The same could be said about losing James Harrison as well. And since it is no secret that OLB Bud Dupree isn’t living up to his hype — Dupree was the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 draft — the Steelers must find help at linebacker as T.J. Watt can’t do it all on his own on the second level. But because the Steelers need help at inside and outside linebacker, this could be a position that sees upgrades in both free agency and the draft. While the Steelers are a team that I feel lacks leadership, adding an experienced veteran might be the way to go. I’d love to see Clay Matthews migrate over to the AFC North and land with the Steelers if he doesn’t end up re-signing in Green Bay. Although Matthews is on the back end of his career, he can still make his presence known even if it’s in a reduced role and help pull together a locker room that has felt so far apart for a long time. Another name to watch is Terrell Suggs. Per reports, Suggs and the Ravens could be headed for a divorce. And if the 36-year-old wants to give it another go, perhaps he makes his way over to Pittsburgh in a move that makes a lot of sense for both sides, especially if the Ravens are moving on from him because they don’t think he can play at the same level anymore. I don’t think there is a better way to stick it to them.

Antonio Brown tradeWide Receiver — It looks like the Steelers and Antonio Brown are going to part ways. And if that is indeed the case, then the Steelers will be in the wide receiver market. Historically a team that drafts wideouts well, the Steelers could search for another receiver in the draft. However, since last year’s second-round pick James Washington didn’t exactly have the best showing in his rookie campaign — they jury is still out on him — it wouldn’t surprise me if Pittsburgh found a receiver on the open market… Speaking of the open market, with Eli Rogers and Darius Heyward-Bey set to hit free agency, Pittsburgh’s wide receiver corps could look vastly different in 2019. While this year’s free agent class isn’t filled with stud receivers, there is still talent to be had. Depending on his recovery from a late-season knee injury, I could see Dez Bryant lining up in Pittsburgh in 2019. And while Bryant isn’t exactly a church boy, he is very much a team guy whose priority is winning. Lower-end players like John Brown and Mike Wallace could also make a lot of sense too, especially if the Steelers want to add big-play speed at a cost-effective rate.

Secondary — While Pittsburgh’s defense has always been the focal point in their team’s history, the same can’t be said about their present-day unit. And while they have their aforementioned needs at linebacker, their defensive line and secondary could also use some fresh blood as well, especially since players that include S Sean Davis and CB Joe Haden are entering their contract years. If the Steelers want to look ahead and replenish their secondary, now may very well be the time to do it. With big game safeties like Landon Collins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Earl Thomas all available on the open market, the Steelers could finally have the chance to add their best back-end defender since Troy Polamalu if they want to spend some of that cap money they can potentially save by moving on from both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The Steelers could also look to get help at cornerback by poaching E.J. Gaines from the Browns, who also run a variation of the zone defense.

Notable Additions:
  • Draft Compensation — received a sixth-round pick in 2019 from the Cardinals in exchange for RT Marcus Gilbert

Cincinnati Bengals

Salary Cap Space: $80,064,505

Notable Impending Free Agents:
  • LB Preston Brown (26)
  • CB Darqueze Dennard (29)
  • TE Tyler Eifert (28)
  • TE C.J. Uzomah (26)
  • DE Michael Johnson (32)
  • TE Tyler Kroft (26)
  • LB Vincent Rey (31)
  • QB Tom Savage (28)
  • OL Jake Fisher (25) — RFA
  • G Trey Hopkins (26) — received a second-round tender
  • OT Jake Fisher (25) — RFA
Team Needs:

Linebacker — Since Vontaze Burfict’s injury and off the field issues are a liability, now might be the time for the Bengals’ to bring in some help at linebacker. And while Burfict is a fierce presence when he is on the field, he hasn’t played more than 11 games in a season since 2013, which was the last time he played in a full 16 game slate. With Burfict, the Bengals’ defense is a terrific unit. But without him, there is a tremendous regression. What’s more, both Vincent Rey and Preston Brown are headed into free agency, which creates an even greater need should they lose one or both of those pieces. The Bengals cleaned house with a lot of their coaching staff this offseason and in addition to hiring Lou Anarumo as their defensive coordinator, they also brought in Mark Duffner as their senior defensive assistant. Duffner, formerly of the Buccaneers, could attempt to bring over one of his former players LB Kwon Alexander in free agency. Since the Buccaneers don’t have a ton of cap room, there is a good chance that Alexander isn’t re-signed and could ultimately wind up in Cincinnati.

Tight End — The Bengals don’t have the best of luck at the tight end position. Not only did they lose Tyler Eifert — AGAIN!!! — in 2018, but they also lost his primary backup Tyler Kroft to an injury as well. Add in the fact that C.J. Uzomah didn’t do very much despite his expanded role and the fact that all three of them are free agents and the Bengals have a glaring need to upgrade their tight end depth chart with more dependable players. While they could re-sign one of their guys, it might be in their best interest to look elsewhere for help. Signing a player like Jesse James from the Steelers could be a strong move to add a red zone presence, but in a deep tight end draft class, look for the Bengals to draft one at some point as well.
Secondary — While the Bengals employ some talent in their secondary, they surrendered the most passing yards in the league last season (4,414). And since primary slot CB Darqueze Dennard is headed into free agency, it is no secret that they need help on the back-end of their defense. Because new DC Lou Anarumo was the defensive backs coach for the Giants in 2018, there is a chance that he could bring with him S Landon Collins, who is a surprising free agent as New York elected not to place the franchise tag on him. Another option would be CB Janoris Jenkins, should the Giants ultimately release him, which is an expected move.
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