Diamond Images/Getty Images (Jackson, Mayfield), Jason O. Watson (Smith-Schuster), Gary Landers/AP/Shutterstock (Taylor and Dalton)

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  • Will missing the playoffs be considered a disappointment for Cleveland this season? Also, Lamar Jackson settles in for Year 2, Andy Dalton adjusts to his new head coach and Ben Roethlisberger attempts to carry his team back to the postseason.
By Jenny Vrentas
May 30, 2019

BALTIMORE RAVENS

2018 team record: 10–6

New players: S Earl Thomas, RB Mark Ingram, WR Marquise Brown, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, LB Pernell McPhee, LB Shane Ray

Players lost: QB Joe Flacco, LB C.J. Mosley, S Eric Weddle, OLB Terrell Suggs, OLB Za’Darius Smith, WR John Brown, WR Michael Crabtree

In what areas did the team improve? The Ravens worked to build out their offense around Lamar Jackson, adding Ingram in free agency to be a lead back in their run-first approach and loading up on offensive weapons in the draft. WRs Brown and Miles Boykin, first- and third-rounders, are both speedsters with complementary body types, and sixth-rounder Trace McSorley, the former Penn State QB, could be slotted in a Taysom Hill-type role. Jackson took over the starting QB job last November from Flacco, and to help the offense grow with their second-round QB, the Ravens stocked their roster with players who support what they’re trying to do.

What areas still need help? Baltimore has been defined by defense since the beginning of the team’s existence, but this offseason, the team has seen extreme turnover on that side of the ball. They wanted to keep Mosley but got out-bid by the Jets, and also lost Suggs, their longest-tenured player, and Weddle, who was the veteran anchor of the secondary. These three players, who brought experience at every level of the defense, made the Ravens the best defense in the league last season. They added top safety Thomas, but Baltimore’s pursuit of Gerald McCoy indicates they’re still trying to offset the unit’s major losses.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? How big of a step will Jackson take in year 2? The QB admitted himself that he has a lot to work on this offseason. He completed just 58.2% of his passes as a rookie, and told reporters after one OTA session that his throws have “been everywhere” during offseason workouts. He also said he was surprised to hear that Greg Roman, who was promoted to OC after Marty Mornhinweg left the team, would be installing a new system. “It has been getting to me a little bit,” Jackson said. There is plenty of time until the season begins, but one hopes this is not representative of the communication between the OC and the QB.

Best tweet of the offseason


CINCINNATI BENGALS

2018 team record: 6–10

New players: OL Jonah Williams, DE Kerry Wynn, CB B.W. Webb, G John Miller

Players lost: LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Vincent Rey, DE Michael Johnson, TE Tyler Kroft, T Cedric Ogbuehi

In what areas did the team improve? The Bengals’ biggest need was on the offensive line, and they lucked out when the versatile Williams was still available when they picked 11th. Williams has already been given reps at left tackle while Cordy Glenn slid inside, though that the unit’s final configuration is not yet set. When Cincinnati was regular participants in the playoffs, their success started with a strong offensive line, and the addition of Williams was a key step toward re-building that unit. The Bengals re-signed right tackle Bobby Hart, who is coming off a down season, and also added Miller as a free agent.

What areas still need help? It might surprise you to be reminded that the Bengals had the worst defense in 2018, yielding 413.6 yards per game, even more than the porous Chiefs. Heading into 2019, there are still questions about who will be filling the middle of the field for the Bengals. With Burfict and Rey gone, six-year veteran Preston Brown is the most experienced linebacker on the roster, followed by four-year pro Nick Vigil. The Bengals drafted two linebackers, Germaine Pratt and Deshaun Davis, who will have a chance to contribute right away, but linebacker is a position where they could use extra fortification.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? How will Andy Dalton play under Zac Taylor? The Bengals elected to stick with Dalton for at least another year, hoping that Taylor can have the same kind of success with him that his former boss, Sean McVay, has had with Jared Goff. If it doesn’t work out, nothing is stopping the Bengals from moving on from Dalton, who is signed through 2020 with no remaining guaranteed money. They used a fourth-round pick this year on NC State QB Ryan Finley, but if Dalton doesn’t succeed this season, the Bengals could be in position to use a high draft pick on a QB next year.

Best tweet of the offseason


CLEVELAND BROWNS

2018 team record: 7-8-1

New players: WR Odell Beckham, Jr., EDGE Olivier Vernon, DT Sheldon Richardson, RB Kareem Hunt, CB Greedy Williams, S Morgan Burnett

Players lost: G Kevin Zeitler, S Jabrill Peppers, LB Jamie Collins, DE Emmanuel Ogbah

In what areas did the team improve? The Browns’ runaway offseason hype would have you believing every single one. In all seriousness, GM John Dorsey aggressively attacked the offseason, starting with his trade for Beckham, who has the ability to be one of the most dangerous game-breaking weapons in the NFL, a year after bringing in Jarvis Landry. QB Baker Mayfield will have no problem finding mouths to feed. Cleveland has the potential to have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league, pairing Williams with last year’s first-rounder Denzel Ward. Up front, the additions of Vernon and Richardson should only make Myles Garrett even better.

What areas still need help? The trade of Zeitler to the Giants was an underrated loss. He was a reliable veteran at the right guard position, and 2018 second-round pick Austin Corbett hasn’t simply stepped into that job. At left tackle, they’re sticking with Greg Robinson, who re-signed on a one-year deal after taking over the job held by Joe Thomas for more than a decade. You can’t address every position every year, but you could argue that offensive line is one spot where the much-ballyhooed Browns got worse this offseason.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? Can the Browns live up to the hype? Cleveland ending its 16-year playoff drought not only seems possible in The Land this season, but we’re at a point where it feels like anything short of the playoffs would be a massive disappointment. With the offseason swings the Browns have taken, Freddie Kitchens may face the greatest pressure of any of the rookie coaches to get the most out of this talented roster and keep together the myriad personalities now populating the locker room.

Best tweet of the offseason


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

2018 team record: 9-6-1

New players: LB Mark Barron, LB Devin Bush, CB Steven Nelson, WR Donte Moncrief

Players lost: WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell, T Marcus Gilbert, TE Jesse James, S Morgan Burnett

In what areas did the team improve? The Steelers saw a player they liked and needed in Bush, and they made a bold move to get him. Bush is the presence they’ve been missing since Ryan Shazier’s terrifying spinal injury left both an emotional and physical void in the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense. Bush is the modern-day prototype of an NFL linebacker, with the speed and instincts to play sideline to sideline and to never have to come off the field. GM Kevin Colbert said the move the Steelers made on draft night, trading up 10 spots to nab Bush, was enabled in part by the draft pick return they received from shipping Brown to the Raiders in March.

What areas still need help? This seems obvious, but… pass-catcher. JuJu Smith-Schuster has expressed his readiness to take on the No. 1 receiver role previously occupied by Brown (see below tweet). But, who is the No. 2 receiver? Right now, the Steelers are looking to find the answer among second-year player James Washington, free agent addition Moncrief and third-round pick Diontae Johnson. As a rookie, Smith-Schuster contributed 917 yards and seven touchdowns, and followed that up with his 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns last season that, as we all remember, earned him that ever-so-important team MVP award. That’s a lot of production to fill.

Biggest question heading into the regular season? Can Ben Roethlisberger lead the Steelers back to the playoffs? And we mean lead in every sense of the word. After an unusually turbulent 2018 season, Roethlisberger is the only remaining member of the Killer B’s. His leadership has been called into question by the other two former B’s, Brown and Bell, and even Roethlisberger himself admitted, “I lacked in leadership” in 2018. He’s promised to refocus his energy on how he can be a better leader for his team, and given that the team signed him to a three-year contract extension this offseason, they’re counting on him to be able to do that despite losing two of the NFL’s most talented skill position players.

Best tweet of the offseason

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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