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AFC North Offseason In Review

Matt Pearce

For the most part, the 2015 offseason has come to an end. Teams are preparing to start Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and unrestricted free agency is officially over.

With this in mind, it is time to take a look back at what has happened over the past four months.

Biggest Non-Football Storyline: Johnny Manziel in Rehab

As you would expect, Browns’ quarterback Johnny Manziel stayed in the news during the offseason. Soon after the Browns’ season ended, he voluntarily checked himself into a rehab center, presumably for alcohol. He left the center over a month ago and his focus is now back on football. Obviously, this was a well-talked about subject during the offseason, but had little impact on actual football.

Biggest Surprise: Jason Worilds Retires

An unrestricted free agent this offseason, former Steelers’ outside linebacker Jason Worilds decided for forgo millions of dollars and retired. Pittsburgh was not expected to retain him, due to his price tag, but his retirement was shocking. He is just 27-years old and had 15.5 sacks over the last two seasons. With his retirement from the NFL, he will now devote himself to his religion.

Best First Round Pick: Bud Dupree, Steelers

In the first round, Pittsburgh decided to select a replacement for the departed Worilds. A hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, Dupree is an excellent fit in the Steelers’ zone-blitz based defense. At Kentucky, he had 23.5 career sacks. Many people––including me––projected Dupree to be gone well before the Steelers were on the clock.

Best Second Round Pick: Maxx Williams, Ravens

The prize of a weak tight end class, Williams dropped to the Ravens in the late second round. Not only was this pick great value, it filled a need, as Dennis Pitta‘s career is in question after multiple hip injuries. Topping it off, the Ravens traded up a few spots to take Williams, jumping ahead of Pittsburgh, who was set to take the former Minnesota Golden Gopher.

Best Third Round Pick: Paul Dawson, Bengals

With the last pick in the third round, Cincinnati took the most instinctive linebacker in the draft. Dawson, a TCU product, failed to impress at the NFL Combine, but turn on the tape and you’ll see he makes plays all over the field. If he had the athletic numbers to back up his on-field performance, he would have gone much higher than 99th overall. Simply put, Dawson is a football player.

Best Day Three Pick: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Browns

Entering the 2015 draft cycle, Ekpre-Olomu was considered to be a first round talent. He was likely going to end up on day two of the draft due to his lack of height (5-foot-9) and 2014 performance, but he tore his ACL in December––and there are reports that the injury was more severe than just a torn ACL. However, there is no way that he should have fallen this far in the draft. He is a day two talent at a premier position in the NFL. Yes, his medicals may be bad, but he is a very talented cornerback.

Best Free Agent Signing: Michael Johnson, Bengals

Just one year removed from playing in Cincinnati, Johnson re-joined the Bengals after he was released by Tampa Bay. Last offseason, he signed a five-year contract worth $43 million with the Buccaneers. However, he underwhelmed and was cut after just one season. He returns to Cincinnati on a four-year contract worth $20 million. Johnson was much better playing with the Bengals than with the Buccaneers. Back in Cincinnati, his performance should improve. The Bengals are relying on this, as they ranked dead last in the NFL in sacks last season with just 20.

Best Re-Signing/Contract Extension: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Entering the offseason, priority number one for Pittsburgh was to lock up their star quarterback for the rest of his career. Roethlisberger still had one year left on his contract, but neither side wanted to enter the season that way. The 33-year old ended up signing a new five-year contract worth $99 million. If certain incentives are reached, the deal can be worth $108 million. Pittsburgh needs Roethlisberger in order to return to another Super Bowl and now they have him through the 2019 season.

Biggest Free Agent Loss: Torrey Smith, Ravens

As always, the AFC North as a whole had more major subtractions than major additions in free agency. The biggest subtraction was Smith, who departed Baltimore for San Francisco on a five-year contract worth $40 million. With the Ravens, he may have had only one 1,000-yard season, but he was an integral part of the Ravens’ offense. Baltimore will be hoping rookie Breshad Perriman can fill Smith’s role, but losing a receiver who caught 11 touchdowns last season is always tough.

Wheeler and Dealer Award: Ozzie Newsome, Ravens

This offseason, only two non-draft day trades were completed by AFC North teams and both were done by the Ravens. First, the Ravens shipped defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and a seventh round pick to Detroit for fourth and fifth round picks. Ngata had a huge cap hit and the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on a new contract, so he was traded away. Second, Newsome sent backup center Gino Gradkowski and a 2016 fifth round pick to Denver for a 2016 fourth round pick. Newsome is considered to be one of the best general managers in the NFL and this is just one of the reasons.

Best Coaching Hire: Keith Butler, Steelers

Replacing a legend is never easy, but when you have learned under the said legend for years, it becomes much easier. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau left the Steelers, leaving a hole on their defensive staff. Butler, the linebackers coach for years under LeBeau, had been groomed as a heir for years. He will keep the same scheme that has kept the Steelers at the top of defensive rankings for years. It is always good to replace from within.

Biggest Coaching Loss: Gary Kubiak, Ravens

At first, it looked like the Ravens would be keeping their offensive coordinator, as Kubiak announced he would stay in Baltimore and turn down requests for head coaching vacancies. Soon after this announcement, the Denver Broncos job opened up. He played in Denver and later became the offensive coordinator for John Elway’s two Super Bowl victories. Elway is now the decision maker in Denver, so the hire made plenty of sense. In Kubiak, the Ravens lose the coordinator who led quarterback Joe Flacco to his best statistical season as a pro. Last year, the Ravens’ offense was the best in their short history. New coordinator Marc Trestman has a tough act to follow.

Thanks for the Memories: Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu

Staples of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry since the early 2000s, both Reed and Polamalu hung up their cleats this offseason. Reed didn’t play in 2014, but he was still trying to find a team to sign him. These two will go down as two of the best safeties in NFL history and will soon be in the Hall of Fame.



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