AFC North Free Agency Grades
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Cincinnati Bengals C+
- WR A.J. Green, franchise tag
- DT D.J. Reader, 4-years $53 million, $20 million guaranteed
- CB Trae Waynes, 3-years $42 million, $15 million guaranteed
- S Vonn Bell, 3-years $18 million, $3 million guaranteed
- QB Andy Dalton, signed by the Cowboys
- TE Tyler Eifert, signed by the Jaguars
For a team who over the years have been known to hold back spending money in free agency the Bengals really broke the trend this offseason. There first move of bringing back A.J. Green on the franchise tag is in my view a great one, as its likely they will sign him to a long-term deal. Apart from the injury concern with Green missing 29 games in the last 4 years he is an elite top 10 wide receiver who will prove vital to the growth of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
The addition of D.J. Reader bolsters the underrated Bengals defensive line. Reader’s 16 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hits over the past 4 years in Houston proves he can get down and dirty in the run game whilst also providing a presence in the pass-rush.
I’m not a fan of the Trae Waynes move, his deal places him 6th in annual earnings for cornerbacks which is heavily overpaying for a corner who never stood out with the Vikings and proved at times to be a liability.
Cutting Andy Dalton was a wise cap move and allowing Tyler Eifert to move on was also smart as Eifert has only played 59 games in his 7-year career.
Baltimore Ravens - B
- EDGE Matthew Judon, franchise tag
- EDGE Calais Campbell, via trade
- DT Michael Brockers, 3-years $30 million, $21 million guaranteed
- DT Michael Pierce, signed by the Vikings
- S Tony Jefferson, released
- TE Hayden Hurst, traded
The Ravens already stout defense took a step up in free agency. The decision to franchise Matthew Judon in my opinion could be a good move if Baltimore elects to trade Judon coming off a career year with 9.5 sacks. I believe they could get considerable draft compensation given the Chiefs gave up a first for defensive end Frank Clark. However, if they choose to pay Judon I believe it would be around the $18 million mark and a mistake. Judons productivity in 2019 is misleading as he had the highest rate of clean-up/ unblocked pressures according to Pro Football Focus, hence, I think his production could be replaced at a lower cost.
The addition of Calais Campbell has the potential to be a top offseason move. The 5-time Pro Bowler was recently voted into the 2010s All-Decade team and in the past 3 years in Jacksonville he has totalled 31.5 sacks along with 44 tackles for loss and 3 Pro Bowls. Hence, to add a player of Campbells reputation and ability for a 5th round-pick is an elite move by the Ravens front office.
Whilst the loss of Pierce in the defensive line could’ve been noticeable the Ravens replaced him with veteran defensive tackle Michael Brockers who over his 8-year career has 23 sacks and 43 tackles for loss. Hayden Hurst although being a minor cog in the works in my opinion will prove to be quite a notable loss for the Ravens offense. In 2019 the Ravens ran the three tight end set formation an awful lot, with Andrews, Hurst and Boyle. Now with Hurst gone with no adequate replacement the Ravens could see a fall in the efficiency of the three tight end set that the reigning MVP Lamar Jackson thrived in.
Pittsburgh Steelers - C+
- EDGE Bud Dupree, franchise tag
- TE Eric Ebron, 2-years $12 million
- FB Derrick Watt, 3-years $9.75 million
- DT Javon Hargrave, signed by Eagles
Placing the franchise tag on Bud Dupree is a questionable move. Personally, I don’t like the use of the franchise tag unless you believe you are a contender and will then allow the player to move on in free agency the following year or you intend to trade or sign them to a contract. Further, I don’t view the Steelers as Super Bowl contenders nor do I believe Dupree is worth signing long-term as prior to his 11.5 sack season in 2019 he averaged 5 sacks a year which are very pedestrian numbers, I also view his production to be somewhat down to playing opposite T.J. Watt who was First-Team All-Pro in 2019. Therefore, if the Steelers were to trade Dupree I would view the move to be a good one.
At 2-years $12 million I think the signing of tight end Eric Ebron is a smart one. He is an athletic Red-Zone threat who could pivotal in Pittsburgh’s offence. However, despite Ebron’s upside he has been known to have poor hands even in his best years, as in his Pro Bowl year in 2018 he only caught 66 of his 110 targets.
Cleveland Browns - B
- OT Jack Conklin, 3-years $42 million, $30 million guaranteed
- TE Austin Hooper, 4-years $42 million, $23 million guaranteed
- RB Kareem Hunt, second-round tender
- QB Case Keenum, 3-years $18 million, $10 million guaranteed
- LB Joe Schobert, signed by the Jaguars
- S Eric Murray, signed by the Texans
- LB Christian Kirksey, signed by the Packers
The Browns signing Jack Conklin was a great move in my opinion. Mayfield was sacked 40 times last year. While the interior of the Browns offensive line has played at a high level their tackles have let them down. Conklin has only allowed 10.5 sacks in his first 4 years in the league and will provide and instant impact at right tackle.
However, I don’t view the signing of Austin Hooper as a good one. Whilst the rest of the NFL appear to view Hooper as a top tight end, I believe they vastly overpaid, making Hooper the second highest paid tight end at $10.5 million annually. Hooper, whilst productive in receiving yards rarely wins one-on-one match ups, an ability top tight ends need in the modern game. Despite this, playing in an offense with Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry will take attention away from Hooper meaning he may be able to thrive finding holes in zone coverage similar to how he did in Atlanta.
Retaining Kareem Hunt gives the Browns two elite running backs in their backfield. Whilst this could be a cause for drama in the locker room over touches, it appears 2017 Pro Bowler and rushing leader Kareem Hunt has accepted his role as number two behind 2019 Pro Bowler Nick Chubb who totalled 1494 rushing yards in 2019, leaving the Browns with potentially the best backfield duo in the NFL.
Losing line-backer Joe Schobert could potentially be a big loss for Cleveland. It leaves their line-backer group bare with sophomores Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki starting alongside veteran B.J. Goodsoon. Despite Schobert performing poor against the run throughout his career he was a top line-backer in coverage the past two years along with averaging 102 tackles a year during his 4-year career in Cleveland. However, if Wilson and Takitaki develop well this move could end up being a good one for the Browns.
Image by: https://www.flickr.com/people/edrost88/