With spring workouts behind us, we’ve still got a little ways to go until NFL training camps get underway. But the roster building and shuffling of the offseason is mostly out of the way now, meaning we can look ahead to the fall and predict with relative confidence what rosters around the league will look like once the season begins. So we’ll take the opportunity over the next few weeks to look back on the offseason moves and ahead to how those moves will affect teams for the 2014 season.
We’ll start today in the AFC North, where the Bengals finished comfortably ahead of the veteran Steelers and Ravens a year ago, compiling an 11-5 record, three games ahead of the 8-8 marks by Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Cincinnati may head into the 2014 season as the slight favorite to win the division again, but the squad took a couple notable hits this spring. Defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive lineman Anthony Collins both packed up and headed south, signing long-term deals with the Buccaneers in free agency. And while the addition of rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard should help shore up the secondary, Cincinnati didn’t commit more than $1MM in guaranteed money to a single free agent this offseason, so there are no obvious impact players among the new additions.
The Steelers and Ravens parted with longtime mainstays of their own — LaMarr Woodley, Ziggy Hood, and Larry Foote for Pittsburgh and Arthur Jones, Corey Graham, and Michael Oher for Baltimore. But both teams did well to retain key contributors, such as Jason Worilds for the Steelers and Eugene Monroe and Daryl Smith for the Ravens. Throw in a couple intriguing new pieces (Ryan Shazier, Mike Mitchell for Pittsburgh; Steve Smith, C.J. Mosley for Baltimore) and there’s reason to believe both clubs could improve upon last year’s .500 records.
Meanwhile, the Browns are typically an afterthought in the AFC North, having yet to finish first in the division since its inception in 2002. Johnny Manziel‘s arrival will ensure that the team at least remains on the national radar all year, and whether it’s Manziel or Brian Hoyer under center, the Browns have some talent here, having re-signed Alex Mack and added Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, Justin Gilbert, and Ben Tate to their core. Still, with Josh Gordon potentially facing a lengthy suspension, it remains to be seen whether the Browns will put enough points on the board to be a real contender in the division this year.
What do you think? Which of the four AFC North teams will capture the division crown in 2014?