Between now and the start of the new league year in March, we’re going to look ahead at the offseason for each NFL team, division by division.
Our offseason summaries began with the AFC East and continue with the AFC North, which might have been the worst division in the NFL last season. Will the Pittsburgh Steelers easily reign again?
2017 record: 9-7 — second place
What’s new? Defensive coordinator Dean Pees is gone. Wink Martindale takes over.
Projected salary cap space: $12 million — Fifth-lowest projected total in the NFL.
Key in-house free agents: C Ryan Jensen, WR Mike Wallace.
Key needs: All of the skill positions that surround Joe Flacco, as well as the offensive line (especially if Jensen gets away).
Draft breakdown: They have the 16th overall pick and one selection in each round except the seventh.
Other potential priorities: They might want to consider finding a potential successor to Flacco under center.
Outlook: The entire offense is a mess, and we’re all overlooking the fact Flacco has been bad for basically his entire 10-year career. With a mid-round pick and little money to spend, they aren’t going anywhere.
2017 record: 7-9 — third place
What’s new? Somehow, Marvin Lewis is back. But departed defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has been replaced by Teryl Austin.
Projected salary cap space: $36 million — The 12th-highest projected total in the league.
Key in-house free agents: TE Tyler Eifert, DE Chris Smith, RB Jeremy Hill, C Russell Bodine.
Key needs: Offensive line (especially if they lose Bodine, but it was already a problem), safety, linebacker and tight end (especially if they lose Eifert).
Draft breakdown: They hold the 12th pick and one pick per round the rest of the way.
Other potential priorities: Do they bring back backup quarterback AJ McCarron? McCarron is slated to become a restricted free agent, but he’s one of the top backups in the league. He could get away, they could re-sign and trade him or they could even promote him and deal Andy Dalton.
Outlook: The Bengals don’t stand out anywhere except in the top wide receiver spot, they refuse to spend money on free agents (in-house or outside) and top 2017 picks Joe Mixon and John Ross won’t likely save them. They’re a middle-of-the-pack team.
2017 record: 0-16 — fourth place, of course
What’s new? New general manager John Dorsey is entering his first offseason in Cleveland.
Projected salary cap space: $110 million — The highest-total in the NFL by a wide margin.
Key in-house free agents: RB Isaiah Crowell.
Key needs: Quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback and offensive tackle (especially if Joe Thomas retires).
Draft breakdown: They have two picks in the top four, four in the top 35 and six in the top 65. It’s a little ridiculous.
Other potential priorities: Might they explore the trade market for their next attempted franchise quarterback? They tried to deal for McCarron at the 2017 deadline, and Nick Foles is a possibility too.
Outlook: They’ll probably get a lot better, because it’s impossible not to when you again have so many picks and so much money to spend. Still, without a quarterback they’re far from being on the verge of competing.
2017 record: 13-3 — First place
What’s new? Former quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner has been promoted to replace departed offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Projected salary cap space: $8 million — The third-lowest projected total in the NFL.
Key in-house free agents: RB Le’Veon Bell.
Key needs: Linebacker (unfortunately, they have to cover themselves if Ryan Shazier can’t return), safety, running back if Bell leaves and quarterback because Ben Roethlisberger is on the back nine.
Draft breakdown: They pick 28th overall and lack selections in the fourth and sixth rounds.
Other potential priorities: If they hit Bell with the franchise tag, they could have a potential holdout headache on their hands.
Outlook: So long as Bell, Ben and Antonio Brown are there, they’ll have a shot.