AFC North: Best And Worst Moves In Free Agency Period
There are still moves that can be made in free agency and some key players that could be added, but most teams in the AFC North have already shaped their teams since the legal tampering period began. For the most part, the AFC North has done pretty well with each team adding a potential impact player to their team, addressing weaknesses on the roster and trying to overcome losses caused by the salary cap.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns had the most flexibility, given where the teams are in their roster construction while the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to make a push for the Super Bowl. The best and worst for each team and one under the radar move that may have a bigger impact than expected.
Best Move: DL Calais Campbell acquired for a 5th round pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars
The Ravens are going for it, trying to win the Super Bowl in 2020 or 2021. Calais Campbell for basically nothing to get him off the books of the Jacksonville Jaguars gives them a versatile, dominant player who has stayed remarkably healthy in his career and has become a more impactful pass rusher in his 30s. Likely going to play the three-tech, he is arguably a better run defender than Michael Pierce was while giving them an impact player against the pass.
Worst Move: DL Jihad Ward getting re-signed?
It's difficult to criticize the Ravens as they've done a fantastic job thus far in the offseason. Jihad Ward is a mediocre player and they are keeping him around for another minimum deal. It's a stretch, because they've been great.
Under the Radar Good Move: TE Hayden Hurst and a fourth round pick being traded for a second and fifth round pick from the Atlanta Falcons.
Before the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson in the 2018 at the end of the first round, they first took Hurst. Hurst didn't make sense from the start as he was 24 years old when he was drafted and wasn't particularly good for South Carolina. His production was poor after transitioning from a baseball career.
Then, despite being on a team driven by tight ends, Hurst couldn't find reps behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. Somehow, they managed to convince the Falcons to bail them out by giving them a second round pick and fifth round pick for Hurst. The Ravens also sent their fourth round compensatory pick in the deal and had just sent their fifth to the Jaguars for Campbell, so they got a fifth round pick to fill the void.TE
Best Move: CB Mackenzie Alexander for one year, $4 million
The Bengals were one of the first teams to strike in the slot corner market and were able to get a good in Mackenzie at an extremely reasonable rate. It's only a one-year deal, but it was part of a handful of moves to address their secondary, limiting their weaknesses on defense, allowing them to use more assets to build around presumably Joe Burrow when they select him with the first pick of the NFL Draft.
Worst Move: CB Trae Waynes for three years, $42 million
Kudos to his agent, because it's difficult to figure out why the Bengals gave him so much, even if $20 million of it is in the first year. They get a boundary corner with height and elite long speed, but that's never been his problem. He is inconsistent and struggles with agility. Waynes can run step for step with the likes of Marquise Brown of the Baltimore Ravens and Odell Beckham of the Cleveland Browns, but he's going to have a difficult time breaking down and mirroring their cuts.
Under the Radar Good Move: LB Josh Bynes for one year, financials not disclosed
The Bengals got rid of every linebacker from their team seemingly, other than Germaine Pratt, drafted last year. They are switching to a defense that is going to use two linebackers much of the time and Bynes has been better than anyone they let go. He also might provide a boost toward transforming the organization in Zac Taylor's image as they slowly move on from the Marvin Lewis era.
Best Move: OT Jack Conklin for three years, $42 million
The Browns were able to get an impact starter on the offensive line, helping them to establish their identity with this wide zone scheme. They now have one of the most athletic offensive lines in the league between Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and Conklin. The deal provides the Browns some options long term with Conklin, whether they want to keep him or replace him. The collective bargaining agreement causing the salary cap to rise should minimize the sticker shock on Conklin in years two and three.
Worst Move: S Andrew Sengejo for one year, $2.25 million
Much like with the Ravens, it's difficult to find a bad move. Sendejo is a fine player for what the Browns need, but he's a temporary fix. They need to find a free safety for next year. Sendejo was also slightly disappointing compared to some of the options that were out there, including but not limited to Anthony Harris, who to this point, remains unsigned while sitting on the franchise tag.
Under the Radar Good Move: DT Andrew Billings for one year, $3.5 million
This helps the Browns on multiple fronts. The Browns run defense has gone backward since they traded Danny Shelton to the New England Patriots. Not coincidentally, the play of Larry Ogunjobi hasn't been as effective, taking more reps and being subjected to more pounding in the running game. Billings gives the Browns a true run plugging presence at the nose and should help Ogunjobi return to the form he showed as a rookie when he was arguably at his best.
Best Move: TE Eric Ebron for two years, $12 million
Not unlike the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers have assembled a dangerous set of tight ends between Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald. The combination makes it incredibly difficult for defenses to effectively cover them while still dealing with Juju Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Diontae Johnson. Ebron has to have a consistent year while McDonald has to stay healthy, but it gives Ben Roethlisberger an impressive set of weapons, which may allow them to return to the dominant form they had enjoyed in previous years.
Worst Move: DL Chris Wormley and a 2021 7th round pick acquired for a 2021 5th round pick from the Baltimore Ravens
The Steelers weren't going to have an easy time replacing Javon Hargrave, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Chris Wormley is a body that can function there, but aside from being noticeably smaller, there isn't a huge difference between what he can offer and what Derek McCullers offers. Neither is the answer, but both can take some reps. It doesn't change the fact they still need a better solution if they are going to get back to a similar level as they had with Hargrave, who can impact the line of scrimmage and protect the linebackers.
Under the Radar Good Move: G Stephen Wisniewski for two years, $2.85 million
The retirement of Ramon Foster created a hole at left guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Signing Wisniewski not only addresses the position, it might be better off while paying practically nothing for it. The Steelers still have to sign Matt Feiler to retain him as their starting right tackle, but the offensive line will be largely unchanged from last season.