Posted by: mdegeorge | August 11, 2011

NFL Free Agency Diagnosis: AFC North

The 2011 NFL season has come courtesy of an unprecedented time in the league’s history. Essentially two offseasons worth of transactions have been jammed into around two weeks to completely reshape the entire league in the blink of an offseason eye. Most of what you thought you knew about a team can be thrown out, with some teams having close to 40 percent of their rosters overhauled instantly.

Let’s try and bring some order to this mess, since the pressure is going to ratchet up starting Thursday when the first round of preseason games kicks off and the hot stove might cool a bit. Below are the lists of departures and arrivals for each of the 32 NFL teams and just what they mean for teams.

We’ll continue with the AFC North.

Carson Palmer won't be under center for the Bengals this year ... we think. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Baltimore Ravens

Signed: LB Prescott Burgess, CB Chris Carr, OT Oniel Cousins, LB Tavares Gooden, FB Vonta Leach, LB Jameel McClain, S Haruki Nakamura , RB Jalen Parmele, S Bernard Pollard, WR Marcus Smith, G Marshal Yanda, S Tom Zbikowski, RB Ricky Williams

Lost: G Chris Chester, TE Todd Heap, S Dawan Landry, WR Derrick Mason, FB Le’Ron McClain, WR Donte Stallworth, CB Fabian Washington, CB Josh Wilson, RB Willis McGahee, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Diagnosis: It’s been a bit of a perplexing offseason for the Ravens, one in which they seem to be shifting towards youth. Gone is Heap without a suitable replacement. Asking rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss to pick up the slack left by Mason and Houshmandzadeh puts too much pressure on Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin. Williams for McGahee is an OK switch, provided Leach stays healthy and provides more blocking (albeit less pass-catching) than Le’Ron McClain. Most of the blame for the league’s 21st-best pass defense apparently falls on the shoulders of the corners, with Washington and Wilson jettisoned without any new pickups other than the re-signing of Carr. At least the snarl of the defense in Jameel McClain and Nakamura returns, though second-leading tackler Landry departs. It’s an offseason that should leave many in Baltimore shaking their heads.

Cincinnati Bengals

Signed: RB Cedric Benson, CB Nate Clements, C Kyle Cook, QB Bruce Gradkowski, LB Thomas Howard, G Max Jean-Gilles, LB Brandon Johnson, WR Andrew Hawkins, LB Manny Lawson, RB Brian Leonard, QB Jordan Palmer, OT Dennis Roland, TE Bo Scaife, S Gibril Wilson

Lost: CB Johnathan Joseph, G Evan Mathis, DE Antwan Odom, WR Chad Ochocinco, LB Dhani Jones

Diagnosis: Well, no one seems to know who the quarterback in Cincinnati is going to be (other than not Carson Palmer). Whoever the starter is, he’ll at least be surrounded by an upgraded arsenal of weapons. The team opened its wallet to retain Benson. The purging of Terrell Owens and Ochocinco in favor of promising youngster Jordan Shipley, first-rounder A.J. Green and veteran tight tend Scaife means the new QB will get a fresh start as the loudest voice in the huddle. What remains to be seen is if that someone is second-round pick Andy Dalton or the newly-signed Gradkowski. The defensive changes were positive as well. They lose a strong corner in Joseph but replace him with Clements. Lawson replaces Jones and serves as an insurance policy if Keith Rivers is hurt long term.

Cleveland Browns

Signed: K Phil Dawson, RB Brandon Jackson, DE Jayme Mitchell, TE Evan Moore, CB Dimitri Patterson, LB Derreck Robinson, G Billy Yates, S Usama Young

Lost: LB Blake Costanzo, S Abram Elam, S Sabby Piscitelli, WR Chansi Stuckey, LB Jason Trusnik, FB Lawrence Vickers, G Floyd Womack, CB Eric Wright, QB Jake Delhomme, LB Eric Alexander

Diagnosis: The Browns were fairly quiet in the offseason. They allowed Delhomme to walk, putting their faith firmly in Colt McCoy as the starter and Seneca Wallace as the veteran back-up. Until Mohamed Massaquoi returns from injury, McCoy’s weapons will be scarce, with tight end Ben Watson the number one target and rookie Greg Little forced to take on a big role. The defense loses a big piece in Elam, but could benefit from the signing of Patterson if he develops into the type of elite cover corner he already thinks he is. They’ll also build with youth on the line behind first-round tackle Phil Taylor and second-round end Jabaal Sheard. Much like other teams sporting young quarterbacks, though, the inability to get a big name wideout is disheartening.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Signed: OT Willie Colon, QB Dennis Dixon, CB William Gay, TE John Gilmore, OT Tony Hills, DT Chris Hoke, RB Mewelde Moore, OT Jonathan Scott, P Daniel Sepulveda, K Shaun Suisham, CB Ike Taylor, LS Greg Warren, WR Jerricho Cotchery

Lost: DE Nick Eason, TE Matt Spaeth, OT Flozell Adams, OT Max Starks, WR Antwaan Randle-El

Diagnosis: Not much changes in the Steel City. Moore is retained as the third-down back. Randle-El and his halfback-pass arsenal are gone, but Cotchery is brought in as a short-term veteran solution while Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown develop. Defensively, Eason is made expendable by the drafting of Cameron Heyward, while the Steelers manage to hold onto corners Taylor and Gay and tie up LaMarr Woodley long-term. The biggest changes, though, come in the protection of Ben Roethlisberger. Colon will continue to guard Big Ben’s blind side while the aging Adams is let go. Starks also leaves, replaced by another Florida product in draft pick Marcus Gilbert and the more veteran Scott. And the Steelers stand pat in the kicking game, returning 2010 Jeff Reed replacement Suisham and Sepulveda.

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