2009 Offseason Overview: AFC North

AFC North:
Pittsburgh Steelers:

-The Steelers have always been a smashmouth team on both sides of the ball, but they sort of got away from that style offensively this season. This was mostly due to their two starting running backs, going down with injuries, and their poor offensive line. However, they are still one of the elite teams in the entire league, thanks to their outstanding defense, and Ben Roethlisberger. Their main goal this offseason will be to upgrade their offensive line, which has allowed too many hits on Roethlisberger, and not opened up enough holes for the ground attack.

Key FAs:

-QB Byron Leftwich: due to the amount of hits Ben Roethlisberger has sustained this season, Leftwich has been a valuable commodity when coming in for the hurting starter. I’m not sure if he has done enough for another team to consider him a starter, but he might want to come back, as this has been a good situation for him so far.

-OT Willie Colon: has done a decent job in the ground game on the right side, but pass protection has been horrible all season.

-OT Marvel Smith: I really see the Steelers going in a different direction at the tackle position. They will likely look for a new starter either through the draft or in free agency.

-CB Bryant McFadden: has played very well this season, and may field offers from other teams that are too high for the Steelers to match. Benefits from an outstanding pass rush, but still a solid starter.

Needs: OL, DL, CB, LB, P

-Offensive line has to be the number one need for this team going into the offseason. The problem for the Steelers is that they will once again be picking late in the first round, which could put the elite tackle prospects out of reach for them. However, they may also elect to trade back, and grab one of the solid guard or center prospects that are also available. Punter has also been a concern of which they will look to address this summer.

-The Steelers’ defense has been outstanding all year, but management may look to bring in some depth at the defensive line, cornerback, and linebacker positions. All of the starters on the defensive line are thirty or over, so look for Pittsburgh to try and find players that they can fit into their 3-4 alignment either through the draft or in free agency. Cornerback is another area in which they could be a little short in the depth department, especially if Bryant McFadden is not retained. Also, the starters at LB are all excellent, but the Steelers may look to add some solid back ups as insurance.

Baltimore Ravens:

-The strength of the Ravens is their defense, but the offense is slowly catching up, thanks to rookie QB Joe Flacco and a strong running game. The Ravens face an interesting offseason in which a few key players are becoming unrestricted free agents, including team leader Ray Lewis. GM Ozzie Newsome has to decide what he is going to do with the linebacker, who has played at a very high level all season. The problem the Ravens face is that Lewis is getting older, so length of contract may be a big talking point, as well, a couple other big names on their defense need new contracts.

Key FAs:

-QB Kyle Boller: He will be let go to pursue maybe a starting position elsewhere. He has a strong arm, but has been a disappointment in Baltimore after being thrust into the spotlight to early.

-FB Lorenzo Neal: Everywhere he goes the running game seems to get better, and Baltimore was no exception. Baltimore may not be able to afford to bring him back, so look for him to lend his services elsewhere.

-LB Ray Lewis: Has been a fixture in the organization and leader of a defense that is always strong and competitive. Look for the Ravens to do whatever it takes to bring him back, as he is highly regarded in the organization, and the leader of their locker room.

-LB Bart Scott: Has emerged as one of their best linebackers, but much like what they did with Adulias Thomas, the Ravens might let him seek big money elsewhere, and replace him with a player already on the roster.

-DE Terrell Suggs: Has emerged as a big time pass rushing threat. After being franchised last summer, he might not be affordable for the cash strapped Ravens, and will be a commodity on the open market.

-SS Dawan Landry: He is a restricted free agent, but the Ravens may be at risk to lose him to an offer sheet, so they will slap a big compensation package on him for anyone trying to take him from them. He is very young, and very talented, so they may be forced to sign him to a long term deal sometime soon.

Needs: CB, LB, OL, WR

-There were some big shoes to be filled when Jonathan Ogden retired after an illustrious career. However, LT Jared Gaither did a very good job stepping in for the legend, and has combined with LG Ben Grubbs to form a nice, young left side. The Ravens may look to add another offensive tackle, though, as on the right side, Willie Anderson is 33, while Adam Terry may not be suited to play there. Although Flacco was sacked 34 times, that is not all on the line, as a rookie quarterback tends to hang onto the ball longer and take unnecessary hits. The Ravens may look to add another wideout, as even though Michael Clayton has shown some big play ability, he is still not that explosive, and Derrick Mason is just more of a possession wide receiver, who is getting older.

-If it wasn’t for the absolute steal of Fabian Washington from the Raiders, this might be an even more glaring need. Washington was excellent in a year, where Samari Rolle and Chris McCalister showed their age, and appear to be fading. The Ravens will probably look to add a good, young corner through the draft that can play in man-to-man. The Ravens have done a good job of filling in their holes at linebacker with good young players in their system, but it may be time to look for some reinforcements in this years draft, either at rush OLB or ILB.

Cleveland Browns:

-After such a promising season, the Browns suffered a monumental letdown in 2008, and have fired both their head coach and GM. Considering this roster has all sorts of talent on it, they underachieved, and couldn’t handle their tough schedule. Whoever comes into this job shouldn’t have that much work, as like I said, there is talent, but they must change the culture, as both Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage were “nice” to a fault. They will also have to unload one of their starting QBs, most likely Derek Anderson.

Anderson didn’t exactly increase his trade value this season, and if anything, lowered it significantly. He has a strong arm, but is extremely erratic, and it doesn’t help your completion percentage when you have a receiver who drops the ball as much as Braylon Edwards does. It looks as though owner Randy Lerner is trying to bring in a big name like Bill Cowher, or Marty Schottenheimer, but Cowher has already turned it down, so who knows what will happen with their coaching situation.

Key FAs:

-LB Andra Davis: Has started for the Browns ever since he was drafted by them, but has fallen out of favor, and has been overshadowed by D’Qwell Jackson, who led the league in tackles this year.

-LB Willie McGinest: Has been a great mentor for the young players on the defense, especially Kamerion Wimbley, but has lost a step, and may retire or come back for a lesser salary.

-SS Sean Jones: Is part of a good young secondary, and will most likely be brought back with an extension.

Needs: WR, DL, LB

-With Brady Quinn most likely pegged as the starter he is going to need some consistent targets. Donte Stallworth has struggled with injuries, and will need to regain the form that made him a prized free agent, while Braylon Edwards needs to find his 2007 form, and stop dropping the ball. The Browns may try and find more touches for Joshua Cribbs, and Joe Jurevicius is talking of coming back as well. Some depth at this position could be useful, though.

-On the defensive side of the ball, there will need to be some attention paid to the front 7, as they struggled to stop the run this year. Shaun Rogers was a great pick up, but they need more than him on their line, as well as a big linebacker who can fill the gaps and make solid tackles, is needed to replace Davis. Another pass rushing specialist at linebacker is also needed if Willie McGinest is not brought back, and even if he is, this still could be a need.

Cincinnati Bengals:

-How Marvin Lewis has managed to keep his job is incredible. The Bengals started this season 0-8, and there was speculation that he might get canned then, but he stayed on as head coach, and now with all of the latest firings in the NFL, he has still yet to be fired. To the Bengals credit, they did play pretty well down the stretch after their horrendous start, and they were missing starting QB Carson Palmer, not to mention the distraction of Chad Johnson in the summer.

Once an offensive force, now the defense has seemed to of caught up to the O, and it looks as if the offense is going to need to be rebuilt. There is also the question of what will happen with Carson Palmer. He went down with an elbow injury, and was reportedly speaking with Jake Delhomme about Tommy John surgery. Delhomme made a full recovery after the surgery, and is back to playing at a high level, so if Palmer elects to have the surgery, he should be back at some point next year.

Key FAs:

-QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: Struggled in his first few starts with turnovers, but was solid down the stretch. May stick around as insurance for Palmer, if Palmer is not ready in time for the start of 2009.

-RB Cedric Benson: Found the form that made him a top 5 pick, with the Bengals and should be brought back to compete for the number one RB position.

-WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Had another solid statistical season, but may bolt to a contender.

-OT Stacy Andrews: was franchised last summer by the team, so they must have seen enough in him to not let him walk. However, he gave up 9.5 sacks this season on the right side, and with promising rookie Anthony Collins playing well at LT, Andrews may be expendable.

-K Shayne Graham: Mr. Consistency for the Bengals. They would be wise to bring him back after another solid year, although he did not make or attempt any 50+ yard field goals.

-DL John Thornton: At age 32, he may be let go because of his age. Still somewhat effective, but easily replaceable.

Needs: DE, WR, TE, RB, LB

-The need at WR really hinges on what happens with their two starters, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. As mentioned earlier, T.J. is an unrestricted free agent, and Chad Johnson may get traded because of the distraction he has become. Even if only one of them stays around, the need isn’t so great after the drafting of Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson last April. The Bengals brought in Colts back up Ben Utecht to be the much needed pass catching tight end in the offense, but he was a bust, so the search continues. As far as running back, the Bengals may look to bring in a running mate to help Cedric Benson, or as an insurance policy, if they are still not fully convinced that he can be a number one guy.

-The Bengals were one of the worst teams in the league at pressuring the quarterback this season. They finished with only 17 sacks as a team, good for second worst in the league. All things considered, it was amazing how well their secondary played in spite of having to cover for longer periods of time. Also, it is hard to say that the defense really played all that bad this season, but this is definitely an area of concern heading into next year. As far as the need at LB, it is not dire, but some more depth would really shore up that unit.

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