Free agency is officially upon us! Rumors swirling non-stop! Not too much in the form of official signings just yet, as most action has been in the form of re-signings. That said, you can expect a flurry of transactions in the next few days, one of the most notable being the trading of Darrelle Revis. The Bucs are rumored to be set on cutting him if no trade is realized, as they would get back their very high 3rd rounder in exchange for their 4th. In such a deep draft, that’s a pretty big difference. Moving on to the AFC North now, we will start with a team that is rumored to be interested in Revis, the Browns.
Free agent starters: C Alex Mack, G Shaun Lauvao, RB Willis McGahee, S TJ Ward, K Billy Cundiff, LB D’Qwell Jackson (signed with Colts)
Current needs: QB, C, G, S, CB, LB
Cap Situation: The Browns have A LOT of money to burn this offseason. Their payroll begins at around $100M along with $24M in rollover space from 2013. Apologies for the estimates, but I’m seeing some conflicting numbers from my usual sources. This may have to do with the $11M or so in dead money that the Browns owe to players no longer on the roster, such as Trent Richardson and D’Qwell Jackson. Regardless of what the exact number is, its clear that the Browns will be able to beat just about any other team’s offer to any player they covet. As if this wasn’t enough cap room, they could free up an extra potential 11.5M by cutting the likes of Ahtyba Rubin, Jason Campbell, and Buster Skrine. Rubin is reportedly the most likely to go, carrying a 6.8M non-guaranteed salary at the cost of just 1.3M dead.
Free Agency: It’s easy to see why the Browns might be interested in trading for Revis; they have plenty of draft picks and wouldn’t break a sweat at his $16M cost. While they do need another corner, there are other more pressing needs. QB is the most obvious, and they have already been linked to Matt Schaub. That said, they will very likely be able to draft one of Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, and Johnny Manziel, so its uncertain as to how they will address this need. Since they have so much money available and an already talented roster, winning now would seem to dictate signing Schaub, but of course everyone has heard the rumors of Haslem’s obsession with Manziel. Beyond this, current free agents have created holes at C, G, LB, and S. Alex Mack could be resigned, but it seems the rest will be cut loose in favor of other players. Another WR would be nice, but that may be more easily addressed via a deep draft.
Outlook: The Browns are stocked in the draft (an extra 1st, 3rd, and 4th) and a ton of money, this is a GM’s dream. However, nobody has any idea what is going on in Cleveland behind closed doors. The massive overhaul in personnel is very worrisome, and they were highly criticized for the process in which they searched for a new coach. The question of whether Haslem is a bad owner is a very legitimate one, and should make Browns fans worrisome for the long term future. That said, the roster is loaded for such a low 2014 payroll, and it will be very hard to mess up the massive amount of available liquidity. The Browns definitely have a chance to go from last to first in 2014 if they play their cards right.
Free agent starters: LT Anthony Collins, DE Michael Johnson (signed with Bucs)
Current needs: DE, CB, WR
Cap Situation: A modest $113M payroll is not bad at all for a division winner, and you can throw in an extra $8M in rollover cap space. They also have a ton of non-guaranteed money on the books, but this is all from players who logged quite a bit of playing time and who aren’t that likely to leave. They very well could restructure their deals for some added space, but that will probably be unnecessary. Bengals owner Mike Brown is generally pretty frugal, and I wouldn’t expect them to spend all of their available cash.
Free Agency: The Bengals have some needs, especially DE with the exit of Michael Johnson. Free agent Anthony Collins was very solid at LT while his predecessor Andrew Whitworth moved over to LG, and its hard to say who will be back at LT in 2014. I’d expect them to resign Collins, but I wouldn’t rule out another team swooping in with an offer above the Bengals desired pay range. I’m never very sure who Mike Brown will pursue in free agency, but you can generally expect cost effective signings far from breaking the bank
Outlook: This is a pretty talented roster that is seemingly stuck in limbo thanks to their QB situation. Andy Dalton is not a bad player, but I don’t think anyone expects him to improve very much at this point. The Bengals will continue to be very competitive, but don’t be surprised to see them fall to 2nd or 3rd in the division next year simply due to the toughness of the AFC North.
Free agent starters: LT Eugene Monroe, RT Michael Oher, DE/T Arthur Jones, LB Daryl Smith, S James Ihedigbo
Current needs: OT, WR, DT, LB, S
Cap Situation: The Ravens start the offseason with a modest $109M payroll but only 1.5M in rollover space. There is no fat to trim at all, as they have invested quite a bit of money in many long term contracts. Unless any of these players feel charitable, don’t expect the Ravens to have more than their ~$24M to play with.
Free Agency: Eugene Monroe is clearly their biggest priority, a well above average LT whom they gave up 4th and 5th round picks to get. Rumors so far expect him to be resigned, and he will likely demand at least 8-10M annually. Addressing the other needs will be pretty tough with not much remaining cap room; Arthur Jones is likely to leave, and Daryl Smith might demand more than the Ravens are willing to pay. James Ihedigbo seems most likely to be resigned, but after a pretty good year as a first time starter, he might get some money thrown at him by another team. Oher is as good as gone. The Ravens could definitely go after 1-2 decent free agents, but don’t expect any splashes beyond a long term deal with Monroe. They only have four draft picks (1st,2nd,3rd, and 6th) so a flurry of low key moves seems more likely than a couple big ones.
Outlook: Ozzie Newsome is one of the best GM’s in the business, and prioritizing the resigning of Monroe is clearly evidence of that. They don’t have much room to work with and he will clearly bring the most value per dollar of any of their free agents. It’s a tough situation with how poorly the offense played last season, but you can expect Newsome to make the best of it and field a solid team once again in 2014.
Free agent starters: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Ryan Clark, DT Ziggy Hood, DE Brett Kiesel, OLB Lamar Woodley
Current needs: OL, WR, DT, DE, OLB, S
Cap Situation: Ike Taylor just took a massive pay cut, lowering his cap number from almost $12M to just 2.75M. This was desperately needed, as the Steelers cap number was at around $130M, and now sits at a more comfortable 120M. The situation is still somewhat desperate, as they have very little non-guaranteed money on the books. The biggest number is $5M from Roethlisberger on a total of 18M, but given that he is still playing at a very high level, it seems unlikely that anything changes there. No one else has more than 1.9M in non-guaranteed money, so the only hope for more cap room is restructuring. In addition to Roethlisberger, Lamaar Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have high cap numbers (11M+ each) so those are the guys Steelers fans should hope for charity from.
Free Agency: Its really really tough to expect much of anything here. Ryan Clark should be a major priority, as he might have been the best player last season in a very old secondary. He shouldn’t cost too much, but with how little cap space the Steelers have, I would not expect them to pursue any free agents who don’t come cheap.
Outlook: Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Leveon Bell make for a very exciting offense to watch. But beyond them, the core of this roster is extremely old. To make matters worse, the Steelers do not have a 3rd round pick. It shouldn’t be too surprising that Roethlisberger’s name was floated around in trade rumors earlier this offseason, as this team is very very close to needing to rebuild. As long as that offensive trio is intact, they will be a fun team to watch, but it won’t be long before the Steelers need to blow up their roster.