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AFC North Offseason Forecast
By Matt Horkman

Baltimore Ravens

Team Needs: Joe Flacco has yet to play with a young, emerging receiver. This year might be a good time for the Ravens to add one, as free agency and the draft offer a number of good options. The team also needs to find a young running back regardless if they re-sign Justin Forsett. Cornerback has been an issue for years now, in large part because of durability concerns with Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
Terrell Suggs & Haloti Ngata
Free Agency: The Ravens have a tough decision to make at running back. Forsett, who turns 30 in October, is looking to cash in after the best season of his career. Do the Ravens really want to make a commitment to him?

Big Picture: Has Haloti Ngata played his last game in Baltimore? The emergence of Brandon Williams last season makes Ngata expendable, especially with his cap hit of $16 million. His departure would continue Baltimore’s trend of phasing out the old in favor of the new. Just three years ago, the Ravens’ defense consisted of Ngata, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. All are heading to Canton someday, but Ngata’s potential departure leaves only Suggs left from the former fearsome foursome. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Teams Needs: After recording a league-low 20 sacks in 2014, Cincinnati will look to reshape their front four. The addition of at least one pass rusher will be at the forefront of their changes. A youth movement along the offensive line is also coming particularly at left tackle, as Andrew Whitworth is 33. The team may turn to the draft to build for the future.

Free Agency: Mike Brown prefers to draft and develop, but the Bengals can no longer afford to stand pat. With a projected cap total of about $38 million, now is the time to act. Imagine trying to stop an offense that features A.J. Green at receiver with Tyler Eifert and Julius Thomas at tight end. Brown has the money to make something like that happen. Let’s find out of if he does. 

Big Picture: It’s time for Marvin Lewis to feel the hot seat. He’s made the playoffs six times in his 12 seasons as the Bengals' head coach, yet he hasn’t won a playoff a game. Quarterback Andy Dalton has taken the brunt of the blame, but Lewis twice failed to win playoff games with Carson Palmer under center. This is an immensely talented team, and it’d be disappointing to see them not put together at least one deep playoff run.

Cleveland Browns

Team Needs: Most of Cleveland’s problems are on offense. The team needs to replace Jordan Cameron at tight end, as he won’t be back in 2015. Adding a quarterback and receiver to the mix seem likely. The latter may come via one of their two first-round draft picks. 

Free Agency: The Browns have over $50 million in salary cap space, so they could make a major play for several players. Brian Orakpo might look good opposite of Paul Kruger at outside linebacker. In addition, Julius Thomas would be an upgrade over Cameron at tight end. Cleveland’s biggest problem, though, will be convincing free agents to sign with them. The franchise is going through turbulent times, so players seeking a ring may avoid them. Money talks, though. 

Big Picture: The Browns are total mess. Their quarterback of the future is in rehab, their general manger faces a suspension for texting play calls to the sidelines, and their biggest playmaker will serve a season-long suspension in 2015. Drafting Johnny Manziel over Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr was a stupid move. The Browns saw an opportunity to put butts in the stands and they took it. It has backfired and now the franchise needs to decide whether they should bring in yet another quarterback to compete with Manziel.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Team Needs: Every year, I write about Pittsburgh’s need in the defensive backfield. And every year, they don’t address it. After finishing No. 27 against the pass in 2014, perhaps they’ll finally come to terms with their need in the secondary. Heath Miller turns 33 in October. Minnesota’s Maxx Williams would be an ideal replacement in May’s draft.

Free Agency: The Steelers are usually quiet in free agency, choosing to draft and develop their own instead of bringing in outside free agents. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, one of their homegrown talent, is an impending free agent for the second consecutive season. The Steelers slapped the transition tag on him last off-season, and are reportedly considering doing the same again this year.

Big Picture: The offense is among the best in football. If the defense can regain its footing, then Pittsburgh could emerge as a serious threat to New England in the AFC. The Steelers parted ways with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, promoting assistant Keith Butler to replace him. A fresh perspective could be just what the doctor ordered.

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