Two full weeks of free agency are now in the books and the Cincinnati Bengals have been relatively quiet. This is either a good thing or a bad thing.
From one perspective, it would appear the Bengals have done very little to improve upon their 10-6 2012 season. They have not signed any intriguing free agents to fill team needs. On the other hand, they have done quite a nice job retaining their own key players.
So, how are the Bengals looking right now when compared to the other three teams in the AFC North?
Let's break down each team in the division to determine if they are in better or worse shape than the end of the 2012 season. Each team will be ranked based on current strength in a final analysis of the division. Teams will be analyzed in the order in which they finished last season.
2012 record: 10-6
Clearly, the Ravens have lost more ground than they gained during the offseason. This is the unfortunate effect of winning a Super Bowl and trying to maintain a team with players that suddenly garner a higher price tag.
The Ravens have done a nice job to replace some key ingredients on defense, but they still lack in one major category—leadership.
The losses of Lewis and Reed simply cannot be replaced by an average free-agent signing. This defense looks primed to lose its identity without the leadership of those two players.
Another concern for the Ravens is the patchwork type of veteran defense that is being put together. These are clearly talented players, but they have never worked in the same system together. It is a very daunting task to make this work—the Philadelphia Eagles tried and failed in 2011.
On offense, the Ravens will miss Boldin tremendously. He was a major factor in the great playoff run and made quarterback Joe Flacco look better than he actually was—not taking anything away from Flacco, who was tremendous in the playoffs.
Unless the Ravens are able to bring key pieces in via the draft, this team seems very likely to take a step back in 2013.
2012 record: 10-6
The noticeable thing about the Bengals' losses and gains is that there really are not many to list. This is because the Bengals have been able to re-sign a vast majority of their own players this offseason. Twelve players have been brought back with new deals.
The Bengals have not made any clear headway thus far in free agency. The main focus for Cincinnati is to attain players that are able to contribute immediately through the draft. This will allow them to build around the young core of players and leave enough cap space to extend their own marquee players in the near future.
It truly is a great plan that the Bengals have put together this offseason. They are using free agency to maintain the core of the team and waiting to use the draft to improve. This has been a proven method for building a good, sustainable roster.
Two key free agents that currently remain on the market that the Bengals would like to re-sign are Andre Smith and Terence Newman. Indications from the front office are that the Bengals would like to strike deals with both players very soon.
If Cincinnati is capable of bringing both back for 2013, this will free up the early rounds of the draft and allow the Bengals to get creative with building for the present and future.
With the Ravens tying the Bengals in total wins from last season, things certainly look good so far for Cincinnati as the Bengals continue to build while the Ravens decline.
2012 record: 8-8
The Steelers seem to find themselves in the same situation as the Ravens. Due to salary cap restrictions, not only have they been unable to retain their own players, but they have had trouble replacing them as well.
Pittsburgh has sustained losses on both sides of the ball. On the defensive side, linebacker and safety have become a major concern for this team. On offense, wide receiver is very thin and the offensive line is still a work in progress. This is not a good mixture when a injury-prone quarterback is under center.
With only $2.9 million of cap room left and draft picks to sign, the Steelers would have to move around money in a very clever way to be able to fill any more needs via free agency.
Last season was a big disappointment for the Steelers. They missed the playoffs for only the third time in the last 12 years after an 8-8 finish.
Not only do the Steelers have work to do by filling major holes on the roster, but they also need to get their own players healthy again.
Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are two big-time talents on this team, yet they cannot seem to stay healthy. The Steelers are a much better football team when both of these players see action on the field. However, that has become a struggle in recent years.
Injury concerns and major holes to fill for a team that is coming off of a down season is not a good sign for Pittsburgh. This team looks to be on the decline and may not see a winning season in 2013.
2012 record: 5-11
Key free-agent losses: K Phil Dawson, TE Ben Watson, DE Frostee Rucker, LB Kaluka Maiava and QB Josh Johnson.
New head coach Rob Chudzinski really has the Browns moving at a rapid pace this offseason. From the first day of free agency, the Browns were a major player. The team quickly signed Kruger and Groves to shore up the defensive front and recently signed a veteran quarterback in Campbell.
The Browns already had a core of very talented players on the roster but could never seem to make all of the pieces work together. Defensively, this is a very sound team and with the moves they have made in free agency, the Browns should improve even more.
On the offensive side of the ball, Chudzinski will look to revamp the passing attack. They are already set on the ground behind second-year player Trent Richardson and will look to complement him with an aerial attack.
The move to bring in Campbell was a great one. He will apply pressure to second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden for the starting role and will have a good chance to win it outright in camp. If Campbell can get back into form and help spread the ball around on offense, this could be a vastly improved team in 2013.
Look for this improved Browns team to provide fierce competition in the coming year for AFC North rivals. Remember, in 2012, the Browns drew even against the Bengals and Steelers and lost two close games to the Ravens.
This is a team on the rise. The Browns still have a way to go before they can be considered a contender, but they should improve upon their finish last season.
AFC North Rankings
After breaking down all four teams from the division, it is very clear that one team is on the rise, one is level from a year ago and two are on the decline. This may not last throughout the duration of the offseason, but for now, that is how things stand.
Factoring in the finishing records for each team last year and taking current moves in free agency into consideration, the 2013 standings could very possibly look like the standings below.
1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-11 wins)
2. Baltimore Ravens (8-9 wins)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8 wins)
4. Cleveland Browns (6-7 wins)