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Grading the Bengals and the AFC North in Free Agency


Baltimore Ravens

Unsigned players: LS Kevin Houser (UFA), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (UFA), C Daniel Sanders (UFA).

Key arrivals: Ex-Chargers TE Kris Wilson, Aug. 8; Ex-Bills UFA TE Jonathan Stupar, Aug. 8; Ex-Texans UFA S Bernard Pollard, Aug. 4 (two years); Ex-Texans UFA FB Vonta Leach, July 31 (three years, $11 million).

Key departures: UFA OT Jared Gaither, Aug. 11 (to Chiefs); UFA OG Tony Moll, Aug. 10 (to Jaguars); UFA FB Le’Ron McClain, Aug. 3 (to Chiefs) UFA QB Marc Bulger, Aug. 3 (retired); Cut FB Jason McKie, July 31; UFA CB Fabian Washington, July 31 (to Saints); UFA S Dawan Landry, July 29 (to Jaguars); OG-C Chris Chester, July 29 (to Redskins); UFA CB Josh Wilson, July 29 (to Redskins); UFA WR Donté Stallworth, July 29 (to Redskins); Released RB Willis McGahee, July 28; Released TE Todd Heap, July 28 (to Cardinals); Released NT Kelly Gregg, July 28; Released WR Derrick Mason, July 28; Released DT Kelly Talavou, July 30.

Key re-signings: RFAs Oniel Cousins, LB Tavares Gooden, LB Jameel McClain, S Haruki Nakamura, S Tom Zbikowski, July 30; UFA DT Lamar Divens, July 31; UFA CB Chris Carr, July 30 (four years); UFA OLB Prescott Burgess, July 30; UFA OG-OT Marshal Yanda, July 29.

Grade: C-

Comment: The Ravens had to make some moves to get under the cap and to be able to ink their rookies, and it meant losing some veteran leaders like WR Derrick Mason and TE Todd Heap. Their one area of upgrade was at fullback, where they inked Texans Pro Bowl FB Vonta Leach, allowing Le’Ron McClain to go to the Chiefs. They also inked Rickey Williams, who will be a good backup to Ray Rice. This is a team that is focused on winning the North, which means beating the Steelers, and based on their moves, that is going to be a tough sell.


Cincinnati Bengals

Unsigned players: DE Jonathan Fanene (UFA), MLB Dhani Jones (UFA), TE Reggie Kelly (UFA), S Chinedum Ndukwe (UFA), WR Terrell Owens (UFA), CB Keiwan Ratliff (UFA), S Marvin White (UFA), S Roy Williams (UFA).

Key arrivals: Ex-Titans TE Bo Scaife, Aug. 5 (one year); Ex-Eagles OG Max Jean-Gilles, Aug. 2 (one-year, $1.15 million); Ex-49ers UFA OLB Manny Lawson, Aug. 2 (one-year, $3 million); Ex-49ers UFA CB Nate Clements, July 30; Ex-Raiders OLB Thomas Howard, July 30 (two years); Ex-Raiders UFA QB Bruce Gradkowski, July 29.

Key departures: UFA OT Kirk Chambers, Aug. 11 (to Lions); UFA OG Evan Mathis, Juiy 31 (to Eagles); UFA CB Johnathan Joseph, July 29 (to Texans); Released DE Antwan Odom, July 29; Traded WR Chad Ochocinco to Patriots, July 29 (Bengals received a late-round draft pick in 2012 and another in ’13, per ESPN.com).

Key re-signings: UFA OLB Brandon Johnson, Aug. 3 (one year); RFAs C Kyle Cook, OG Nate Livings, QB Jordan Palmer, OT Dennis Roland, July 30. UFA RB Cedric Benson, July 31 (one year); UFA RB Brian Leonard, July 30; UFA S Gibril Wilson, July 30.

Grade: C

Comment: More downs than up for the Bengals, as coming off a four-win season they had to put up with the distraction of QB Carson Palmer saying he wanted out or he was going to retire. So the team took QB Andy Dalton in the 2nd round of the draft, and it appears he’ll be the opening day starter in Cleveland. They did bring back RB Ced Benson, and getting LB Manny Lawson is an upgrade at that spot. They feel that at WR, A.J. Green is going to end up being long term better than the diva connection of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Even with their moves, this is clearly a year to rebuild in Cincy.


Cleveland Browns

Unsigned players: DT Titus Adams (UFA), RB Mike Bell (UFA), TE Greg Estandia (UFA), DE Robaire Smith (UFA), S Nick Sorensen (UFA).

Key arrivals: Ex-Eagles CB Dimitri Patterson, Aug. 2; Traded for Rams OG John Greco, July 31; Ex-Packers UFA RB Brandon Jackson, July 29; Ex-Saints UFA S Usama Young, July 29.

Key departures: UFA OLB Matt Roth, Aug. 11 (to Jaguars); UFA ILB Blake Costanzo, Aug. 4 (to 49ers); UFA S Sabby Piscitelli, Aug. 4 (to Chiefs); UFA S Abram Elam, Aug. 4 (to Cowboys); UFA FB Lawrence Vickers, Aug. 3 (to Texans); UFA WR Chansi Stuckey, July 30 (to Cardinals); UFA OG-OT Floyd Womack, July 30 (to Cardinals); UFA CB Eric Wright, July 30 (to Lions); UFA ILB Jason Trusnik, July 29 (to Dolphins); Released QB Jake Delhomme, July 28.

Key re-signings: UFA DE Derrick Robinson, July 31; RFA TE Evan Moore, July 30 (one year); FFA PK Phil Dawson, July 30 (one year); UFA OL Billy Yates, July 30; UFA DE Jayme Mitchell, July 29.

Grade: C-

Comment: For first-year head coach Pat Shurmur, the Browns didn’t make a lot of moves in the free agent market, instead focusing on the players that were there and putting their new west coast system in place. They did get a couple vets, including journeyman CB Dimitri Patterson and former Saints safety Usuma Young, who is on pace to start. Overall they also didn’t lose much, but as with the Bengals, with a first-year head coach and Colt McCoy getting the chance to be the opening day starter, this is a year of “let’s see what we got” for the Browns.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Unsigned players: OG Trai Essex (UFA), CB Tuff Harris (UFA), CB Anthony Madison (UFA).

Key arrivals: Ex-Jets WR Jerricho Cotchery, Aug. 11 (one year); Ex-Buccaneers UFA TE John Gilmore, Aug. 2 (one year).

Key departures: UFA LB Keyaron Fox, Aug. 6 (to Redskins); UFA DE Nick Eason, July 30 (to Cardinals); UFA TE Matt Spaeth, July 29 (to Bears).

Key re-signings: RFA QB Dennis Dixon, Aug. 5; FFA OLB LaMarr Woodley, Aug. 5 (six years, $61.5 million, $21.5 million signing bonus); UFA LS Greg Warren, Aug. 2 (two years); UFA NT Chris Hoke, Aug. 1; William Gay, July 31; UFA RB Mewelde Moore, July 31; RFA OT Tony Hillis, July 30 (one year); CB UFA P Daniel Sepulveda, July 30; UFA OT Willie Colon, July 29 (five years, $29 million); UFA OT Jonathan Scott, July 29 (two years, per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette); UFA CB Ike Taylor, July 29 (four years); UFA PK Shaun Suisham, July 29; RFA DE Chris Ellis, July 29.

Grade: B

Comment: As has been the Steeler Way, the team did exactly what they wanted, which was to re-sign their key players for 2011 and beyond. They inked LaMarr Woodley to a long-term deal, they got back CB’s Ike Taylor and Willie Gay, and signed OT Willie Colon to a five-year deal. They really didn’t lose much, which is why in most preseason rankings they are slated as the team to beat in the North, and why many think they are better than Baltimore. As long as this team comes out with the same mentality as they did in 2010, there’s no doubt that the Steelers are the team to beat in the North.


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