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Tuesday, June 4, 2013
AFC North offseason report card

By Jamison Hensley

ESPN's Matt Williamson handed out grades for all 32 teams Insider in the league based on what each accomplished in free agency and the draft. It's an Insider article, so you'll need a subscription to view the entire piece. I can relay some details for the AFC North teams:

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Williamson's grade: A-minus.

Williamson's comment: Losing the leadership of players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Matt Birk can't be quantified, but this roster has improved overall in their absence. Ozzie Newsome & Co. once again have done a terrific job.

Hensley's comment: I give the Ravens a B-plus because of the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin. I agree that this team improved at nearly every spot with the additions of pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil and defensive lineman Chris Canty, along with the drafting of safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown. But I don't agree with the decision to get rid of Boldin over his $6 million salary when Baltimore kept fullback Vonta Leach at $3 million. The Ravens downgraded at wide receiver and didn't address that in free agency or the draft.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Williamson's grade: C-plus.

Williamson's comment: The Bengals have one of the more talented young rosters in the NFL right now, but what worries me most is the quarterback. I grade Cincinnati negatively for not using even a mid-round pick on a guy like Ryan Nassib or Tyler Wilson to push Andy Dalton and provide some sort of a backup plan. In the end though, considering how much cap space they had and their draft resources, I would have liked to have seen the Bengals do a little more this offseason.

Hensley's comment: I was more impressed by the Bengals' offseason and gave them a B. Much of this grade is based on a potentially great draft, which is headlined by tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. Yes, the Bengals could've spent more in free agency. But I wouldn't hold that against the Bengals as much if they can use that to sign Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson or Carlos Dunlap to an extension. Overall, the Bengals didn't add much but they hardly lost anything either, retaining most of their players from a team that went to the playoffs for the past two seasons. The signing of James Harrison brings more pass rush to Cincinnati as well as much-needed attitude.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Williamson's grade: B.

Williamson's comment: Clearly the mission this offseason for Cleveland was drastically improving the pass rush. This new regime inherited a young and promising offensive core and hasn't done a lot to upgrade it.

Hensley's comment: My grade is B-minus. The Browns made several positive moves -- signing defensive lineman Desmond Bryant and drafting Barkevious Mingo -- that will help this defense now and in the future. The trade for Davone Bess was also very smart and will pay dividends on third downs. My problem is the Browns ignoring the cornerback position, the team's most pressing need, in free agency when sitting on $30 million-plus in salary-cap room. A team with that much cap space shouldn't have such question marks at cornerback, inside linebacker and free safety. Perhaps all that cap room and those additional draft picks in 2014 will lead to a more productive offseason next year.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Williamson's grade: C.

Williamson's comment: If Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Troy Polamalu and the offensive line overall remain reasonably healthy, which is far from a given, Pittsburgh could be quite formidable. If not, and the Steelers get very little production from the young players on this roster, it could be a tough year.

Hensley's comment: This is one team where I agreed with the grade. Limited by little salary-cap room, the Steelers had one of the worst free-agent periods of any team in the league. Pittsburgh lost seven starters, including Harrison, wide receiver Mike Wallace and promising young cornerback Keenan Lewis. What did Pittsburgh add? Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and cornerback William Gay. The Steelers did their best work of the offseason in the draft, upgrading the pass rush with Jarvis Jones and the running game with Le'Veon Bell. So, a bad free-agency period and a productive draft equals a grade of C.