Friday, July 12, 2013
Eight in the Box: Offseason regret
By Jamison Hensley
A look at the one move each team in the AFC North needed to make but didn't:
Baltimore Ravens: Sign a veteran wide receiver in free agency. The Ravens addressed all the losses from their Super Bowl team except one. Baltimore traded Anquan Boldin, its leader in receiving yards the past three seasons, to the San Francisco 49ers and didn't sign a receiver in free agency or draft one until the seventh round. Even though Boldin was never a 1,000-yard receiver for the Ravens, Joe Flacco depended on him in clutch situations. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Boldin led the Ravens with 43 targets on third down this season (including the playoffs) and ranked seventh among wide receivers with 29 catches on third down. The Ravens are banking on Jacoby Jones to replace Boldin, but that could reduce Jones' role as a returner. Tight end Dennis Pitta will likely absorb Boldin's production in the passing game.
Cincinnati Bengals: Add a proven starter at strong safety. This is a move the Bengals have needed to make for a couple of seasons. Cincinnati has talent and depth throughout a defense that should end up being one of the top five in the NFL this season. The soft spot on defense is at safety, where the Bengals will start Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams or George Iloka. This was a trouble spot last season when the Bengals shuffled Mays, Jeromy Miles and Nate Clements at strong safety for the first four games before re-signing Chris Crocker. The Bengals passed on a free-agent safety in his prime, Dashon Goldson, even though they were among the teams with the most salary-cap room entering free agency. At this point, the Bengals have a top-notch free safety in Reggie Nelson and a big question mark at strong safety.
Cleveland Browns: Bring in a starting cornerback. There was no criticism over the Browns not bringing back Sheldon Brown, who started the past three seasons for Cleveland. The second-guessing comes from the fact that the Browns did the minimum to replace him. They drafted Leon McFadden in the third round and didn't sign an established starter in free agency. The most high-profile cornerback signed by the Browns was Chris Owens, who was benched last season when he was the Atlanta Falcons' nickelback. Like the Bengals, Cleveland had the salary-cap room to make a significant upgrade. The Browns had free agent Brent Grimes in for a visit before he signed with the Miami Dolphins, and they didn't actively pursue the likes of free agents Sean Smith, Keenan Lewis, Antoine Cason, Chris Houston and Aqib Talib. There is a big drop-off from Joe Haden to the rest of the cornerbacks.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Add a tight end as insurance for Heath Miller. Some have speculated that the Steelers' ignoring of the tight end position this offseason is a sign the team expects Miller to be ready for the start of the season. Miller, who had a resurgence in Todd Haley's first season as offensive coordinator, tore knee ligaments late in the season and had surgery Jan. 2. The last word on Miller came in late May, when there was a report he was running 100-yard sprints. Still, it's unknown whether Miller will be suiting up for the Sept. 8 opener against the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers have put themselves in a predicament if Miller is sidelined for an extended period. The Steelers signed Matt Spaeth in free agency, but he's a run-blocking tight end. He has averaged eight catches per season. The only other tight end with any experience is David Paulson, who had seven catches last season as a rookie. This combination isn't going to replace Miller's 71 catches and eight touchdowns from a season ago.