2021 NFL Free Agency Grades: AFC North

The AFC North had an eventful offseason as all four teams were wheeling and dealing. Baltimore saw some notable defensive players leave, while Cincinnati made some additions that should improve their roster for next season. Cleveland bolstered the secondary, while Pittsburgh saw some defensive names leave and brought back JuJu Smith-Schuster. Now, these teams will look towards the Draft to sure up any other needs they might have.

Cleveland BrownsCleveland Browns: A-

Key Additions
SS John Johnson (3YR/$33M)
CB Troy Hill (2YR/$9M)
DE Jadeveon Clowney (1YR/$10M)

Key Departures
DE Olivier Vernon

Injuries hurt the Cleveland secondary last season, as Grant Delpit missed most of the year. Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward also had their issues. It is a rather young secondary and the offseason was about adding some experienced players into the mix. John Johnson was one of my favorite offseason signings among any of the teams.

Both him and Hill will be upgrades and add more bodies into a secondary that needed it this offseason. Jadeveon Clowney has been bouncing around the last few years and will take another one-year deal with the Browns. Playing opposite of Myles Garrett, this will be a nightmare for opposing offenses.

The Browns didn’t have a ton of glaring needs but they beefed up the secondary and will still have picks to make in the draft. This roster has been trending upwards the last few years and we are seeing a more final project.

Cincinnati BengalsCincinnati Bengals: C+

Key Additions
DE Trey Hendrickson (4YR/$60M)
CB Chidobe Awuzie (3YR/$21M)
CB Mike Hilton (3YR/$24M)
RT Riley Reiff (1YR/$7M)

Key Departures
DE Carl Lawson
WR AJ Green
CB William Jackson
DT Geno Atkins

Cincinnati has seen a lot of names move on this offseason that were once prominent figures on the team. The more disappointing departures were Carl Lawson and William Jackson. I have a preference for Lawson over Trey Hendrickson, who they signed as his replacement from the New Orleans Saints. I am not fully convinced Hendrickson can be the alpha, where he was more playing with all the focus on Cameron Jordan. The Jackson departure was filled in with Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton, which does add an extra body to the secondary and are upgrades from what they had left.

A one-year deal with Riley Reiff is a plus for the Bengals. The offensive line is a must-fix this offseason. Rieff is a good start and they will likely pick up more in the draft to help build up this offensive line. Whether that will be Penei Sewell or someone with their next pick, we shall see.

Baltimore RavensBaltimore Ravens: C-

Key Additions
RG Kevin Zeitler (3YR/$22M)
WR Sammy Watkins (1YR/$5M)

Key Departures
DE Matt Judon
DE Yannick Ngakoue
OL Orlando Brown

Baltimore continues to let players walk, which has been a staple for their strategy over the last few decades. Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue had successful stints in Baltimore but we will see if they are able to prove it elsewhere. Kevin Zeitler was a great addition as they rotate around their offensive line after trading Orlando Brown to the Chiefs for a few picks. Zeitler will help quite a bit in the run-style offense Baltimore uses.

A lot is going to come down to how they use their picks in the draft. Baltimore did sign Sammy Watkins but they did have other names they were after. Now with two first-round picks, they should be looking to beef up with a top wide receiver. They will need to hit on them, given they just gave the Chiefs a solid o-lineman that solved their glaring weakness. It is a bit odd given the Ravens are trying to chase them in the AFC.

Pittsburgh SteelersPittsburgh Steelers: D

Key Additions
RG Joe Haeg (2YR/$3.1M)

Key Departures
OLB Bud Dupree
LT Alejandro Villanueva
RT Matt Feiler
CB Mike Hilton

Pittsburgh’s offensive line was in shambles last season, to the point Ben Roethlisberger was throwing a second after the snap, and no matter who was in the backfield, they struggled to run. Losing Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva this offseason makes the offensive line a must to attack in the draft. Joe Haeg signed on a cheap deal but isn’t enough.

The Steelers also let Mike Hilton and Bud Dupree walk, which isn’t a surprise given the contract hits they would have given. Pittsburgh has had a tremendous track record with drafting replacements, so we will see where they go in the upcoming draft. Otherwise, there isn’t much to report here in Pittsburgh.

Jason Guilbault has been writing and podcasting in the fantasy sports world for over five years. You can find his work at Daily Fantasy Cafe. He is an avid Tottenham fan, and follows the Boston sports teams. When he isn’t diving into stats, he is enjoying the outdoors or down at the local brewery.

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