Early grades on AFC North in free agency

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
4:15
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Matt Williamson, of Scouts Inc., handed out grades to the AFC teams after the first wave of free agency. It's an Insider piece, but I will share a small portion for each of the AFC North teams:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Williamson's grade: B-minus. While I am a proponent of not overspending on other teams' castoffs, and bearing in mind that the Bengals have a great opportunity to add quality talent in the draft with two first-round picks, I can't help but feel that the Bengals let a great opportunity slip through their hands this offseason. I would have attacked a high-end free agent or two such as Carl Nicks or Cortland Finnegan.

Hensley's grade: B. The Bengals upgraded at running back and left guard while bringing back their top free-agent priority in safety Reggie Nelson. The biggest knock against the Bengals is they didn't make a splash by signing a high-profile free agent like guard Ben Grubbs or wide receiver Robert Meachem.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Williamson's grade: D. The biggest crime of the offseason was the Browns allowing the Redskins to outbid them for the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, but even after losing out on the right to draft Robert Griffin III, the Browns didn't add nearly enough to consider them as anything but a bottom feeder for yet another year.

Hensley's grade: C. The Browns desperately needed to improve at quarterback, wide receiver and right tackle. But Cleveland's offense came out of the initial wave of free agency empty-handed. The Browns did improve their run defense by signing Frostee Rucker and their pass rush by adding Juqua Parker.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Williamson's grade: C. The Ravens lost several starters to other clubs over the past few weeks and will need younger players to step up in their place, but this remains a very strong roster.

Hensley's grade: D. The Ravens lost three starters (Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding) from last season's AFC North champion team and have yet to add anyone to replace them. The toughest part of free agency was when the Ravens failed to sign Evan Mathis, who re-signed with the Eagles, after Baltimore had just lost Grubbs.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Williamson's grade: C. Pittsburgh was greatly handcuffed by its salary-cap situation. But even though the Steelers released quite a few older brand name players, they sit in good shape for the 2012 season.

Hensley's grade: D. The Steelers avoided a failing grade because they've lost only two starters from last season's playoff team. James Farrior was cut in the team's salary-cap purge, and William Gay left as an unrestricted free agent. What Pittsburgh really lost in trimming $25 million to get under the cap was veteran depth and leadership.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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