The members of the AFC North have made numerous changes to their rosters in the 2013 off-season. Teams around the league are making significant changes as they build their identities on both sides of the ball, and each team will keep its eye on what the others are doing in order to give them a hint on what is in store for the regular season.
The Cleveland Browns have made moves in recent years that impacted the team, but found it difficult to consistently keep up with the stability of the other teams in the division. The changes made by each team in the AFC North during the 2013 off-season has potentially helped the Browns take their biggest step forward in years.
The Baltimore Ravens have lost Paul Kruger (to the Browns), Ray Lewis (to retirement), Dannell Ellerbe (to the Miami Dolphins), Bernard Pollard (released by the team) and Anquan Boldin (traded to the San Francisco 49ers). Ed Reed and Carey Williams may move on to other teams. While the Ravens have Courtney Upshaw to step in for Kruger, Baltimore will be a much changed team in 2013.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost James Harrison (released by the team), Mike Wallace (to the Dolphins), Willie Colon (released by the team), and Rashard Mendenhall (to the Arizona Cardinals). Defensive back Keenan Lewis is visiting other teams.
The Cincinnati Bengals have lost Manny Lawson (to the Buffalo Bills) and Bruce Gradkowski (to the Steelers). Talks are ongoing with Andre Smith, and Ray Maualuga has been seeking work elsewhere. The Bengals will retain Michael Johnson (franchised), and re-signed Robert Geathers.
Cincinnati will look to add a safety and a running back, but thus far they have approached the off season conservatively. They have efficiently assembled a very competitive team in recent years, and if nothing else, they will stand firm and focus on the draft.
While the Browns have added to the front seven via free agency, they will move on to addressing their defensive backfield. They will look to Travis Benjamin to replace Josh Cribbs, and though Ben Watson has not signed with another team, they appear to be moving on at the tight-end position.
The signing of tight end Gary Barnidge will not be the last of the changes at the position. Trent Richardson will be healthy, and Norv Turner will be calling plays for an offense that will feature more experience and skill than recent Browns offenses.
Where the Browns have improved, the Ravens and Steelers have yet to counter punch, but each team will look to fill holes in the draft. The Bengals did not have a lot of room for change, and they appear to be selecting carefully. The Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions. They are the team to beat.
The Browns have been described as an ‘improved team’ in recent years, and the changes made by other teams in the division could be enough to push the Browns into division contention if they take what they’ve done so far and put together a great draft.