The Cleveland Browns still need to address corner and defensive end as the NFL Draft is a month away, but even if they are unable to sign those players, the Browns have improved while the rest of the division has had a far more difficult offseason.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were expected to basically fall apart after last year’s attempt to make the Super Bowl. They are losing three starters on the offensive line, running back James Conner, corner Steven Nelson, linebacker Vince Williams and edge rusher Bud Dupree.
They did manage to keep Juju Smith-Schuster for at least one more season and the signing of B.J. Finney, who has been effective for them at center before could help fill one of the spots on the offensive line. Keeping Tyson Alualu is a pleasant surprise for Steelers as well.
The biggest problem for the Steelers is they are stuck with Ben Roethlisberger for another year, which is a failure on two fronts. First, they have no one else to play that position and second, Roethlisberger was deteriorating over the course of the season.
He might benefit from the offseason as it pertains to his surgically repaired elbow, but he can’t move anymore, so he’s a sitting duck in the pocket. He’s able to process and throw the ball quickly, but unless they can find a running game, it limits what the offense can do.
The Cincinnati Bengals lost both William Jackson and Carl Lawson, replacing Lawson with Trey Hendrickson and then opting for Chidobe Awuzie in place of Jackson. They also signed Mike Hilton to play the slot, Eli Apple for depth at corner and Ricardo Allen for depth at safety.
Along with Hendrickson, the Bengals signed Larry Ogunjobi to improve their defensive tackle position.
The Awuzie signing might be their most cost efficient signing, but their most prudent move is likely the addition of Riley Reiff to the offensive line. Presumably, stepping in to replace Bobby Hart at right tackle. Reiff doesn’t have to be all world to be a massive upgrade and help to stabilize the offensive line. The Bengals still need more help on the interior, but they could find some help in a strong draft class for guards and centers.
The Bengals might have lost some star power, but they might be slightly better for it on balance. For a team that went 4-11-1, it doesn’t feel like they improved nearly as much as they should have in free agency, but it does seem like a couple unheralded moves could pay off handsomely.
The Baltimore Ravens have had far and away the most bewildering free agency period, perhaps of any team in the NFL. Letting both Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk in free agency isn’t necessarily a massive failure for them, since their defense is so heavily predicated on their secondary’s ability to allow the team to blitz.
They just haven’t done much with the cap room it frees up for them. Signing Kevin Zeitler, who was released, is smart on a couple fronts. He’s still an effective, bull dozing guard that fits exactly what this offense wants to do, but he doesn’t impact their compensatory formula either. The Ravens stand to get picks for both Ngakoue and Judon.
Other than that, the only meaningful move they’ve made in free agency is signing Sammy Watkins. Yes, he’s fast, which could be a good fit with what this offense wants to do but he has gotten steadily worse throughout his career. His last two seasons with Patrick Mahomes were downright bad, but he’s going to provide a boost to the Ravens passing game?
Marquise Brown made some big strides at the end of last year as a receiver and Mark Andrews is a good tight end. The Ravens may well have been better off simply not signing anyone rather than adding Watkins at this point.
Free agency isn’t over and the Ravens could still add more help, but if they do nothing else heading into the draft, they are putting pressure on the front office to nail picks that can contribute early and asking Lamar Jackson to carry more for this team or they will likely take a major step backward.
As was the case last year, if Jackson can become a more consistent passer, he becomes as dangerous as any player in the NFL. That didn’t happen last season and the Ravens offense had to revert to heavily relying on his legs. This summer, the Ravens are going to be considering a contract extension with Jackson and if he hasn’t made strides as a passer, is still relying heavily on his legs to make plays, that becomes a risky proposition.
All of this serves to further highlight just what the Browns have been able to do this offseason to improve their roster and the job Andrew Berry has done.
John Johnson and Troy Hill are clear upgrades to the secondary while Takkarist McKinley and Malik Jackson improve the depth in their pass rush. Another veteran edge rusher, perhaps Jadeveon Clowney, could really set them up well for the NFL Draft.
As for the draft, if the Browns don’t sign a veteran nose tackle to back up Andrew Billings, they could look for help there. The Browns didn’t select anyone over 22 years old in the 2020 NFL Draft. Perhaps a coincidence, there is value in selecting prospects that are younger.
For a position like the nose, it’s difficult to find players who are physically ready to take on the NFL and contribute early. If their age isn’t a deal breaker, two players that could be of interest to the Browns include Khyiris Tonga of BYU and Jonathan Marshall of Arkansas.
Tonga served a two-year mission before beginning his football career for the Cougars. At 6’2 1/8″ 325 pounds, he has shown both impressive strength and explosion on film with a good understanding of how to play his role.
At his Pro Day, Tonga posted a 5.02 40-yard dash, a 28″ vertical and a 105″ broad jump. Those are good numbers that only help to provide further evidence that he could have the necessary power to thrive in the NFL as a two-gap player.
Jonathan Marshall needs a lot of coaching, so while he posted good production for the Razorbacks and some eye-popping highlights, his play was inconsistent. Still, his athleticism and strength at 23 years old was notable. Marshall ran a 4.88 40 at 6’3 1/8″ 310 pounds at Pro Day, which one might take with a grain of salt. However, the 32″ vertical and 114″ broad jump are more difficult to deny. That could make for a heck of a project for defensive line coach Chris Kiffin to develop.