AFC North Free Agency Update

How have the Ravens’ division rivals fared in free agency?

Posted by Garrett Downing on Sunday, March 18th, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Categories: 2012 Offseason, Garrett Downing

The first few days of free agency have brought a frenzy of big contracts and plenty of movement around the NFL.

But throughout the AFC North, things have also been tame.

The Ravens and their division rivals have been relatively quiet in free agency, compared to some of the action happening elsewhere in the league.

Here’s a closer look at how the Browns, Steelers and Bengals have changed since free agency started.

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland General Manager Tom Heckert said before free agency started that the Browns wouldn’t “go crazy” with their spending, and that has proved to be the case.

The biggest news for the Browns has been the departure of fan-favorite Peyton Hillis. The running back signed a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Browns President Mike Holmgren said that letting Hillis go was the best thing for both sides. Hillis struggled on and off the field last season, and the Browns could look to replace him by taking Trent Richardson in the draft.

The Browns have made some moves of their own, signing former Cincinnati defensive end Frostee Rucker and former Eagles defensive end Juqua Parker. After bringing in Rucker and Parker, Cleveland cut defensive end Jayme Mitchell, who had been somewhat of a disappointment the last two seasons in Cleveland.

The Browns also re-signed cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who was the team’s nickel back last season. Patterson played well in his first season with the Browns, and he will likely compete to be one of the team’s starting cornerbacks alongside Joe Haden.

On the offensive side, the Browns cut guard Eric Steinbach, who spent all of last season on injured reserve because of a back injury. Steinbach could be a possible option for the Ravens at guard, after Ben Grubbs went to New Orleans and Evan Mathis opted to remain with the Eagles.

The free-agency moves likely aren’t done for Cleveland, which is looking to upgrade at several positions, including quarterback and wide receiver.

Pittsburgh Steelers
The priority for the Steelers in recent months has been shedding salary, as they came into the offseason over the salary cap. They’ve trimmed their spending by cutting veterans like Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith, but they still don’t have much room to make free-agent signings.

The Steelers have yet to sign anyone, but a recent report suggests that they could be targeting former Chargers running back Mike Tolbert. Pittsburgh’s starting running back Rashard Mendenhall is coming back from a torn ACL, so the Steelers are looking for some help in the backfield.

The big question for Pittsburgh at the start of free agency was whether another team would make a play for their restricted free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace.

The Steelers placed a first-round tender on Wallace, hoping that would deter other teams from trying to sign him, and so far that strategy appears to have worked.

In terms of losing players, Pittsburgh hasn’t had any of their unrestricted free agents leave for other teams.

Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have been one of the surprising teams in free agency because of their inactivity. Cincinnati has the most salary-cap space of any team in the NFL, but the Bengals have made just one signing and have also allowed some of their own unrestricted to leave for other teams.

Rucker went to Cleveland and fellow defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene signed with the New England Patriots. The Bengals top free agent is safety Reggie Nelson, who met with the Jets and is reportedly considering a contract offer from them. Update: Nelson signed a four-year deal with the Bengals on Sunday night.

The Bengals also lost offensive guard Mike McGlynn to the Colts and Nate Livings to the Cowboys.

In terms of bringing players to Cincinnati, the Bengals have visited with seven players, and cornerback Jason Allen is the first one to agree to a deal with Cincinnati. Allen will provide some depth in the secondary as No. 1 cornerback Leon Hall works his way bay from a torn achilles that he suffered last season.

Two other players scheduled to meet with the Bengals are running backs Michael Bush and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals are looking for help at running back because they’re apparently willing to part ways with veteran Cedric Benson, and Bush or Green-Ellis are two of the top candidates to fill that role.

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