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Will Free Agency Change the AFC North Balance of Power?

March 25th, 2012 at 5:21 PM
By Chuck Chapman

Cincinnati Bengals fans might have been concerned a bit about losing two backup defensive linemen, but the concern elsewhere in the AFC North is palpable as salary cap constraints and age have changed the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens and may just alter the balance of power in this closely contested division.

After two weeks of free agency, it's time to take a look at what the Bengals' division rivals have been up to. Bengals 101 has prepared a list of players lost, players gained, and players who have re-signed with their teams. A question mark next to the player's name means that player is an unrestricted free agent, but hasn't signed with a team yet. Those players may still land back with their old clubs, but for our purposes we've included them in the "Lost" category.

Baltimore Ravens

Lost: RB Matt Lawrence?, TE Edgar Jones?, OG Ben Grubbs, OG Andre Gurode?, DE Cory Redding, DT Brandon McKinney?, LB Jarret Johnson, CB Dominique Foxworth (cut), S Haruki Nakamura, S Tom Zbikowski

Gained: CB Corey Graham, S Sean Considine

Kept: RB Ray Rice, C Matt Birk, LB Brendan Ayanbadejo, LB Jameel McClain

Summary: Losing Grubbs and Johnson are big losses for the Ravens. Grubbs anchored the inside of the offensive line and for all the attention paid to Ray Lewis and Terrelle Suggs, many believed Jarret Johnson was their best defensive player. Losing UC alum Nakamura and Zbikowski hurts their secondary depth and special teams units. They kept Ray Rice and Jameel McClain, but paid dearly.

Cleveland Browns

Lost: RB Peyton Hillis, OT Artis Hicks, OT Tony Pashos (cut), OT Steve Vallos, OG Eric Steinbach (cut), DE Jayme Mitchell (cut), S Mike Adams, P Brad Maynard?

Gained: DE Juqua Parker, DE Frostee Rucker

Kept: TE Alex Smith, OT Oniel Cousins, CB Dmitri Patterson, K Phil Dawson

Summary: The Browns' offensive line depth took a beating through free agency loss and injuries. Their starters form a decent unit, but there's not much behind them if they get hurt. With Hillis gone, that puts the ball in the hands of Montario Hardesty or Chris Ogbonnaya unless the Browns use one of their high draft picks on a running back. Cleveland also was left standing in the quarterback musical chairs game, so Colt McCoy will be back to run the offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Lost: QB Charlie Batch?, QB Dennis Dixon?, QB Byron Leftwich?, RB Mwelde Moore?, WR Jerricho Cotchery?, WR Mike Wallace (RFA), OT Jamon Meredith, OT Max Starks?, OG Trai Essex?, OG Doug Legursky?, DT Chris Hoke (retired), WR Hines Ward (retired), CB William Gay?, CB Bryant McFadden?, P Daniel Sepulveda?, LB James Farrior (cut), DE Aaron Smith (cut), OG Chris Kemoeatu

Gained: None

Kept: None

Summary: Somebody should probably check with Pittsburgh and see if they're aware free agency began. They've lost A LOT. They have the opportunity to re-sign some of the players listed above, but have hardly any room under the cap, even after reworking several deals. Not only have they lost depth at critical positions, but they've lost leadership in players like Hines Ward and James Farrior. The Steelers have been among the NFL's best at rebuilding on the fly. This may be their biggest challenge yet.

Tags: Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bengals, Football, NFL

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