AFCN North Free Agency Roundup

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This is the odd part of the NFL calendar, aka “Silly Season”, where hopes of immediate turnaround and vast improvement correlate directly to the first “impact” free agent a team signs.

While a number of useful free agents remain, the AFC North has already taken its proverbial swings at the market, with a few curious additions coupled with some heavily-scrutinized free agent losses.  It’s always fun to see these deals happen, because it lends some idea of a franchise’s direction and response to the inglorious end of their previous season (for 31 teams, at least).

As fans, every weekend during the fall, we yell and scream at our teams to DO something.

Now they are.  No, really.

Here’s a recap of each team’s biggest signing(s), and the sort of impact to expect as a result.

Note:  This will cover only free agent signings.  Trades, such as the Browns’ acquisition of WR Jerry Jeudy, will not be covered, nor will re-signings of 2023 roster players.


Baltimore Ravens

In perhaps the offseason’s most-expected pairing, former Titans RB (and frequent Ravens nemesis) Derrick Henry signed a two-year deal in Baltimore, where he’s expected to do what the Ravens refrained to do in their suspect AFCCG loss – run the damn ball.  The effectiveness of Baltimore’s rushing attack was certainly not in question, as the team again led the NFL in rushing yards by a substantial margin, but having lost short-yardage specialist Gus Edwards to free agency and J.K. Dobbins to injury, the Ravens had to restock somehow.  Adding Henry may be overcompensating, but I doubt the Ravens are complaining; Henry will be the first “bell cow” RB the Ravens have fielded since the punchy exit of Ray Rice in 2014, and he will undoubtedly be counted upon to tire out defenses in the second half, much as Baltimore has done as a matter of course since the ascension of Jackson to the starting QB role in 2019.

Other notable signings:

  • OT Josh Jones
  • ILB Chris Board


Cleveland Browns

Amidst a lot of second-tier signings, the eye-catcher is the Browns nabbing DT Quinton Jefferson, who adds valuable depth to an already-formidable defensive interior.  He’ll ease into a DL rotation that’s young and improving, and should be even more effective with his addition of six sacks, four tackles for loss, and a marked ability to engage multiple blockers.

Also of note was the addition of 235-lb. RB D’Onta Foreman, who will serve as the team’s proverbial battering ram while star RB Nick Chubb continues his rehab from a gruesome 2023 early-season knee injury.  While no one expect Foreman to BE Chubb – who could, really? – he should prove valuable in a rotation with holdover Jerome Ford, which should be enough to make opponents respect the Browns’ rushing attack, at least in the short term.

Other notable signings:

  • QB Jameis Winston
  • ILB Devin Bush


Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have been uncharacteristically busy in free agency, but the signing of OT Trent Brown stands out as the most impactful, as Brown will be tasked with protecting prized QB Joe Burrow, who suffered through a middling, injury-filled 2023, culminating in his leaving a November game against the Ravens with a non-contact (and possibly pre-existing) wrist injury.  Brown is massive (380 lbs) and experienced, having won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2018, and is expected to be the final piece on a line that’s struggled for consistency the last two seasons.  Free agent TE Mike Gesicki should also contribute on this front, as he’s seen as one of the more effective blockers in the NFL at the position.

Other notable signings:

  • RB Zack Moss
  • DT Sheldon Rankins
  • S Geno Stone


Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have embarked on one of the stranger offseasons in their history.  The team typically doesn’t sign marquee names in free agency, opting for depth pieces and roster fillers as needed.  The addition of QB Russell Wilson via an aggravation dump from Denver was certainly affordable, as the Broncos will assume the vast majority of Wilson’s salary minus the league minimum, which the Steelers will be responsible for.  Whether Wilson is truly broken, as recent history has indicated, or is a better option than now-departed QB Kenny Pickett or trade acquisition QB Justin Fields remains to be seen, but no one can criticize the economics for Pittsburgh.  Still, one has to wonder why Denver was so desperate to unload Wilson.  Time will tell.

Other notable signings:

  • ILB Patrick Queen
  • RB/KR Cordarrelle Patterson





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