Free Agency Diary

AFC North Free Agency Preview

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The AFC North is perpetually one of the best divisions in the NFL; however, the Baltimore Ravens’ disappointing season caused them to come back to Earth this season. The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are Super-Bowl contenders, but the Ravens and Browns have a long ways to go to be playoff teams.

Each team has a great opportunity to improve their team through free agency with this loaded class of free agents; therefore, let’s look at each team’s options entering the open market.

Cleveland Browns

Team needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, defensive end, inside linebacker

As the second-worst team in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns have a number of holes that permeate their team. The roster has been put together in a poor manner, thanks to a constantly changing coaching staff and poor draft decisions.

With a new coach and front office, the Browns may be in line to spend big in free agency as they try to change their perception throughout the league.

Top target that would make sense:  Muhammad Wilkerson, DE New York Jets

Under defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the Browns will utilize a 3-4 defense and Wilkerson is the best 3-4 defender in free agency. He may get the franchise tag, but if he hits the open market, the Browns should make every effort to bring him to Cleveland. Wilkerson is a powerful playmaker who can rush the passer and make plays versus the run. He would instantly improve a porous Cleveland defense.

A few other targets: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington; Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago; Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Seattle; Rolando McClain, ILB, Dallas. 

Because of their cap space, the Browns can still target high priced players across other positions like Alshon Jeffery. An interesting name that they may be interested in is Robert Griffin III, if the Browns don’t end up drafting a quarterback. He would give head coach Hue Jackson a young quarterback with a high ceiling, but it will be up to him to undue that damaged that was caused in Washington.

Baltimore Ravens

Team needs: Offensive line, wide receiver, outside linebacker, cornerback

The Baltimore Ravens severely underachieved in 2015 and this offseason will be vital to whether they bounce back or not. Their main holes lie on the offensive side of the ball at wide receiver and offensive line.

Unfortunately, the Ravens don’t have a ton of room; therefore, they will have to be extremely frugal with their spending habits. Look for them to try and hit on under-the-radar names in free agency.

Top target that would make sense:  Russell Okung, OT, Seattle Seahawks

The Ravens have a big problem at offensive tackle entering the 2016 season and Okung would be a viable target to fill that hole. Okung isn’t a top-flight offensive tackle, but he is serviceable and he will be within the Ravens’ price range. Okung would solidify the edge for the Ravens, which would give Joe Flacco more time to throw the ball and find his (hopefully) improved core of weapons.

A few other targets: Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati; Richie Incognito, OG, Buffalo; Anquan B0ldin, WR, San Francisco; Bruce Irvin, OLB, Seattle, Sean Smith, CB, Kansas City

Because of their limited cap space, Baltimore will have to be fishing in the mid-tier of free agency. Marvin Jones would be a great get because he would give the Ravens a legitimate playmaker at wide receiver who runs good routes and has fantastic hands to boot. Bruce Irvin would be a great addition to their pass-rush and he would be a great piece to go with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Team needs: Offensive guard, outside linebacker, cornerback, tight end

Like the Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have a lot of cap space to work with; therefore, they will be looking for low-risk, high reward type of pickups. Also, they may look for veterans who can come in on the cheap.

Cornerback is their biggest need as they were roasted through the air throughout the season. Furthermore, with Heath Miller’s retirement, they will be in the market to find a tight end who can replace their star tight end.

Top target that would make sense:  Richie Incognito, OG, Buffalo.

Because of their low cap space, the Steelers won’t be in the market for the top cornerbacks, which means they will likely address that need in the draft. One player who they could get for cheap, but who had a fantastic year last year is Richie Incognito. The former Bills guard is a dominant run-blocker who has made significant strides in pass protection and he fits the Steelers offense extremely well.

A few other targets: Jahri Evans, OG, New Orleans; Kelechi Osemele, OG, Baltimore, Prince Amukamara, CB, New York, Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis

Kelechi Osemele might be out of their price range, but he would be a great pick up, especially because they would be stealing him from the division-rival Ravens. Prince Amukamara isn’t a sexy name but he is a significant upgrade over the cornerbacks currently on the roster. Coby Fleener would be an apt replacement for Miller.

Cincinnati Bengals

Team needs: Wide receiver, linebacker, center, nose tackle, safety

The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the best rosters in the NFL thanks to apt drafting and smart decisions in free agency. With Mavin Jones potentially leaving, they have a big need at wide receiver. Furthermore, they really need to find an upgrade at center.

The Bengals are blessed with a ton of cap space; therefore, there aren’t any free agents who should be out of their price range.

Top target that would make sense:  Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City.

Though he may be expensive, Derrick Johnson would be a home-run find for the Bengals. He is fantastic against the run and he is better than most in coverage. He would be a great fit in the Bengals defense and behind their defensive line, he would be able to continue being as productive as he was in Kansas City.

A few other targets: Eric Weddle, S, San Diego, Travis Benjamin, WR, Cleveland, Terrance Knighton, DT, Washington

Eric Weddle may be getting old, but he is still one of the best safeties in the NFL. The only real concern is if he can stay healthy for a full season. Travis Benjamin would give the Bengals another big-play threat opposite of A.J. Green. Terrance Knighton would fill the hole in the middle and do a lot for their run defense.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com