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Free Agent Report Card : AFC North

By Jake Leicht

Cleveland Browns

Grade : B+

Notable Re-signings:


Notable Acquisitions:

(RB) Carlos Hyde (Three years, $15.25 million)

(CB) T.J. Carrie (Four years, $31 million)

(CB) Terrance Mitchell (Three years, $10 million)

(OT) Chris Hubbard (Five years, $36.5 million)

(TE) Darren Fells (Three years, $12 million)

(DE) Chris Smith (Three years, $12 million)

(CB) E.J. Gaines (One year, $4 million)

Notable Losses:

(OT) Joe Thomas (Retirement)

(RB) Isaiah Crowell (Jets)

Best Move(s):

It feels like the Browns make big moves every offseason. The previous regime usually seemed like they were overpaying for talent because Cleveland was not exactly a free agent hot spot. But this year feels a little bit different under John Dorsey. The Browns were able to obtain the consensus top free agent running back Carlos Hyde for $15.25 million over three years. While many think this takes them out of the Saquon Barkley sweepstakes, the deal is small enough that they could make it work. Terrance Mitchell was also a solid signing given the amount of money Cleveland had to spend and the holes they had in their secondary, as Mitchell provides much needed depth. At first glance, the Chris Hubbard contract looks like an overpay. But upon further review, Dorsey structured the contract so that the Browns can opt out of his deal after the 2019 season if Hubbard does not perform. In truth, the right tackle position has been one of the Browns biggest problems over the past couple of seasons. Signing Hubbard away from the Steelers is a move that could pay off to be huge. Chris Smith is another solid signing given the fact that the Browns needed some depth at pass rusher, as Smith has a ton of potential even though he is already thirty years old.

Worst Move(s):

The T.J. Carrie signing was a bit of a head scratcher. Carrie performed well with the Raiders, but at 4 years, $31 million, he needs to be really good with the Browns. Like the Hubbard contract, the Browns could get out of Carrie’s contract after the 2019 season. Of course, they are hoping that Carrie plays well enough to be a starter on the Browns for the foreseeable future. Tight end Darren Fells also feels like a bit of an overpay given the fact that he is pretty much just a blocking tight end at this point. Luckily for the Browns, they are slightly overpaying at positions of need, and they have the cap money to do it. The biggest loss of the offseason was the retirement of Joe Thomas. That is not exactly a “bad move” by the Browns since I am sure they would rather him be on the field for the upcoming 2018 season, but whoever plays left tackle will have some massive shoes to fill.


The Browns have been very active this offseason. The biggest moves that they have made are acquiring Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, and Damarious Randall via trades. They will come in and bolster the Browns immediately. The Browns have acquired several key talents that should make an immediate impact via free agency as well. Adding talented running back Carlos Hyde for a relative bargain allows the Browns some wiggle room in the draft while not taking them out of the Saquon Barkley sweepstakes. Terrance Mitchell’s versatility makes his three year, $10 million deal worthwhile for the Browns’ secondary. Incoming right tackle Chris Hubbard’s contract seems large, but if he plays well it will be money well spent because of how bad the Browns have been at the position for the past several years. If Hubbard is below average, they can get out of the contract in two years. The signings of T.J. Carrie and Darren Fells feel like a bit of an over pay, but they do fill positions of need for the Browns. Like Hubbard’s deal, the Browns can get out of Carrie’s deal after the 2019 season if he does not perform well. Overall, this offseason has been exceptional for the Cleveland Browns. Through multiple trades and free agency signings, the Browns look poised to finally get over the hump and compete during the 2018 season. Adding talent in the draft will also help the roster out immediately.

Cincinnati Bengals

Grade: C-

Notable Re-signings:

(TE) Tyler Eifert (One year, $5.5 million)

(P) Kevin Huber (Three year, $7.95 million)

Notable Acquisitions:

(QB) Matt Barkley (Two years, $3.35 million)

(LB) Preston Brown (One year, $4 million)

(DT) Chris Baker (One year, $3 million)

(OT/OG) Bobby Hart (One year, $955,000)

Notable Losses:

(OT) Andre Smith (Cardinals)

(RB) Jeremy Hill (Patriots)

(QB) AJ McCarron (Bills)

(DE) Chris Smith (Browns)

(LB) Kevin Minter (FA)

(DB) Pacman Jones (FA)

Best Move(s):

Adding solid football players to one year deals is never a bad move. Preston Brown will serve as a nice placeholder at linebacker next season, and he could potentially cash in on a nice free agent deal next offseason if he plays well in Cincinnati in 2018. Chris Baker is a veteran defensive tackle will bolster the Bengals’ interior pass rush as well. Bringing back tight end Tyler Eifert is also a nice move because of his playmaking ability in the red zone. Eifert’s biggest problem throughout his career has been injuries. Signing Eifert to a one year deal is great for the Bengals. Another solid move was letting free agent running back Jeremy Hill leave town. Hill has regressed since his first season with the Bengals, and his departure paves the way for Joe Mixon to have an even bigger role in the Bengals’ offense.

Worst Move(s):

The Bengals should have brought back AJ McCarron for two years, $12 million, who signed with the Buffalo Bills for two years, $10 million. There is a chance that he was willing to take less to have an opportunity to start, but McCarron has proven himself as one of the most capable backup quarterbacks in the league. Andy Dalton is not exactly setting the world on fire at the moment either. Matt Barkley is a much worse backup quarterback option than McCarron, though he is quite a bit cheaper. Andre Smith leaving for the Cardinals doesn’t help matters, though they did trade for Cordy Glenn. Smith’s deal with the Cardinals was for $8 million over two years. The Bengals could have brought him back for offensive line depth, but he was probably looking for a solid starter job. Paying punter Kevin Huber $7.95 million over three years is a bit suspect as well.


The Bengals have some serious work to do over the next couple of months. They have some major holes on defense and on the offensive line that need to be filled. They made some nice one year deals to bring in Preston Brown and Chris Baker on the defensive side. Though he was not a free agent acquisition, adding Cordy Glenn via trade will be huge for their offensive line if he can stay healthy. They did have to move back to pick 21 in the first round to acquire him though. Losing the insurance of AJ McCarron in their quarterback room is going to hurt. Andre Smith had been with the Bengals for eight seasons before departing for Arizona in free agency this year. Signing Kevin Huber to a three year deal worth up to $7.95 million is pretty questionable considering they have major holes in the secondary that need to be filled quickly. Overall, the Bengals are probably a team heading for a rebuild. They are getting older at some key spots. Signing free agents like Brown and Baker to one year deals is a sign that the Bengals are trying to compete now while also not tying themselves down to future cap problems. After the draft, we will have a better idea as to where the Bengals see themselves this season.

Baltimore Ravens

Grade: C

Notable Re-signings:

(DL) Brent Urban (One year, $1 million)

(OT) James Hurst (Four years, $17.5 million)

Notable Acquisitions:

(WR) Michael Crabtree (Three years, $21 million)

(WR) John Brown (One year, $5 million)

Notable Losses:

(C) Ryan Jensen (Buccaneers)

(WR) Mike Wallace (Eagles)

(RB) Danny Woodhead (Retirement)

Best Move(s):

The Baltimore Ravens are a team in transition. Their offense was lackluster during the 2017 season, and they needed to make some changes to their receiving corps. Adding the dynamic, albeit injury-prone, John Brown on a one year deal was a step in the right direction. When he plays, Brown is a deep threat that can stretch any defense. Adding Michael Crabtree to the mix was also huge. Crabtree is the perfect complement to a guy like John Brown because of his physicality. Crabtree still gets open on a regular basis, and he is a red zone threat that Joe Flacco desperately needed. I also like the Ravens locking up their versatile offensive lineman James Hurst because of his ability to play multiple positions.

Worst Move(s):

The Baltimore Ravens avoided a disaster contract when wide receiver Ryan Grant failed his physical with the team. The Ravens initially agreed to pay Grant $29 million over four years. He failed his physical soon after Michael Crabtree became available. Coincidence? I think not. Grant went on to sign a one year deal with the Colts for $5 million, but the ramifications of losing the trust of potential future free agents is definitely a negative for the Ravens. The Ravens also have some serious question marks on the offensive line. Losing center Ryan Jensen will not help matters. Jensen’s contract with the Buccaneers is pretty salty, so the Ravens were probably okay with letting him go. The big question going into the draft is whether or not they can solidify the offensive line with enough talent to make a run at the division this upcoming season. Losing Danny Woodhead isn’t a huge deal since he has been injured throughout his time in Baltimore.


Overall, the Baltimore Ravens made some nice additions in free agency. Adding pieces like John Brown and Michael Crabtree to the receiving corps is a positive, and extending James Hurst was big as well. Losing center Ryan Jensen will hurt, but there are enough talented interior offensive linemen in the draft this year to fill their need. Their grade would have been much worse had they signed Ryan Grant to the 4 year, $29 million contract that they initially agreed to at the beginning of free agency. Grant’s failed physical nullified the deal and saved the Ravens from making a mistake, but it could also make future free agents think twice before agreeing with the Ravens on a contract.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Grade: A

Notable Re-signings:

Notable Acquisitions:

(S) Morgan Burnett (Three years, $14.5 million)

(LB) Jon Bostic (Two years, $4 million)

Notable Losses:

(OT) Chris Hubbard (Browns)

(DB) William Gay (FA)

(DB) Mike Mitchell (FA)

Best Move(s):

The Steelers have made some fantastic offseason moves. Tendering Chris Boswell was a must considering he is one of the top young kickers in the league. Adding free agent safety Morgan Burnett for $14.5 million over three years was a homerun. Burnett has been an above average safety in the league for most of his career with the Packers. Though the safety market has been slow and puzzling, adding a talent like Burnett makes a huge difference in Pittsburgh’s secondary. It also frees them up in the draft as well. Former Colts’ linebacker Jon Bostic was also a solid signing given the Steelers’ need for linebacker help after Ryan Shazier went down with his injury this past season. Bostic’s contract is only for $4 million over two years, which is great value. Again, this allows the Steelers to fill a need without having to use a high draft pick. Keeping Le’Veon Bell was obviously the number one priority for the Steelers this offseason. The Steelers franchised Bell, so it will be interesting to see how the situation plays out during training camp.

Worst Move(s):

The loss of veterans William Gay and Mike Mitchell will have an impact on the secondary, but filling those positions with Morgan Burnett and a young corner potentially from the draft should make up for it. Losing offensive tackle Chris Hubbard will hurt offensive line depth, but they were never going to pay him the 5 year, $36 million contract that the Browns gave him. Overall, there hasn’t been any bad moves on the Steelers’ part this offseason.


The Steelers have done a great job plugging holes on their defense this free agent period. Paying Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic relatively cheap contracts for their skill level has been huge for their defense and draft plans. Bostic will not be able to replicate what Shazier can do defensively, but he will fill in admirably for a low cost. Keeping Le’Veon Bell was obviously the right move given that he is the best running back in all of football. The major question is whether or not Bell will play on the franchise tag this season or simply hold out. Chris Boswell was given a second round tender, which is solid considering how well he kicked this past season. Losing offensive tackle Chris Hubbard hurts, but they can address their offensive line depth in the draft in April. Overall, there has been some nice upgrades and holes filled for the Steelers this offseason at great prices.



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