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Offseason report: AFC North
BETTER: Defending Super Bowl champions usually don’t undergo as many roster changes as the 2013 Ravens.
There are still questions at left tackle and wide receiver, but the moves made by general manager Ozzie Newsome give Baltimore a legitimate shot at defending its Lombardi Trophy. The defensive line was upgraded with the additions of Marcus Spears (Dallas) and Chris Canty (New York Giants). Elvis Dumervil also is a better pass-rushing complement to Terrell Suggs than Paul Kruger, who signed a big-money contract with Cleveland.
Plus, the Ravens have emerging star quarterback Joe Flacco under wraps for the long haul after signing him to a contract extension. University of Florida strong safety Matt Elam (first round) and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown (second) will be on the field sooner than later.
BETTER: The Bengals aren’t big spenders in free agency but did a nice job retaining the bulk of their own talent capped by last week’s re-signing of right tackle Andre Smith. The Bengals added two more offensive weapons by drafting Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (first round) and North Carolina running back Gio Bernard (second). Eifert gives Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden the chance to run more two tight end sets with Jermaine Gresham and draw double-coverage away from wide receiver A.J. Green. Bernard, the first running back drafted overall, will form a 1-2 rushing tandem with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
It’s now on quarterback Andy Dalton and the rest of his unit to produce more than the paltry 23 points generated in back-to-back road playoff losses in Houston.
BETTER: The hiring of two outstanding coordinators in Norv Turner (offense) and Ray Horton (defense) gives first-time head coach Rob Chudzinski a bona fide shot at success.
The Browns bolstered the front seven of a new 3-4 defensive scheme with the additions of two veterans (Baltimore’s Paul Kruger and Oakland’s Desmond Bryant) and outside pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick. One big problem that remains: uncertainty at quarterback.
New Browns management doesn’t appear to have much faith in second-year passer Brandon Weeden.
WORSE: The Steelers are paying the price for trying to keep the window of opportunity with veteran players open for too long after falling short against Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis and outside linebacker James Harrison were among the departures on a team with sparse salary-cap space. Steelers linebackers usually make little impact as rookies, which tempers expectations for 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones.
However, Michigan State bruiser Le’Veon Bell (second round) will have the chance to prove himself as the second coming of Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh’s backfield.