AFC North 2017 Free Agency Primer


Just like the Ravens are busy developing their blueprint for when free agency opens March 9, their foes around the division are preparing for the new league year.

Here's an overview of what questionsthe other AFC North teams are facing right now: 

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 record:11-5Notable free agents:RB Le'Veon Bell, WR Markus Wheaton, QB Landry Jones, OLB Jarvis Jones, OLB James Harrison, ILB Lawrence Timmons, RB DeAngelo Williams, SS Shamarko Thomas

Will they sign Brown to an extension?

Wide receiver Antonio Brown isn't a free agent, but the dynamic receiver has made it clear he's looking for a new contract. Brown is entering the final year of his contract, and he's been a bargain the last few years when looking at his salary compared to production. The relationship between Brown and the Steelers seems to be somewhat strained after he posted video of the Steelers playoff locker room celebration, but he's still one of the league's most dynamic receivers. General Manager Kevin Colbert recently said the team is in active contract talks with Brown and would like to see him retire a Steeler.

Is Roethlisberger returning?

The 34-year-old quarterback suggested last month that he might decide to call it a career this offseason. The Steelers have indicated in recent weeks that they expect Roethlisberger to return next year, but the veteran quarterback's comments indicate he might not have many years left in him. The Steelers have to start planning for life without Roethlisberger, and they also know their window with the two-time Super Bowl champion in closing. 

Will they franchise Bell?

Le'Veon Bell might be the best running back in the league, and the Steelers want to work out a long-term deal with him. Colbert would also like to see Bell retire a Steeler, and he didn't rule out using the franchise tag as way to buy more time to negotiate a long-term deal.

Cincinnati Bengals 2016 record:6-9-1
Notable free agents:LT Andrew Whitworth, DT Domata Peko, G Kevin Zeitler, CB Drew Kirkpatrick, WR Brandon LaFell, RT Eric Winston, De Margus Hunt, RB Cedric Peeriman Peerman, RB Rex Burkhead

Can the Bengals solidify the offensive line?

The biggest area of uncertainty for Cincinnati is the offensive front, as two of the five starters are scheduled to become free agents. As a three-time Pro Bowler Whitworth is the most notable and the Bengals will likely try to keep the veteran in Cincinnati. Zeitler has also developed into a solid player over his career – Pro Football Focus graded him as a top-five right guard last season – and it would be difficult to lose him to free agency.

Do they need more help on the defensive front?

The Bengals will also take a long look at their defensive front, particularly with Peko and Hunt heading to the open market. Cincinnati still has Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who can be a game-wrecker, but they would lose quality depth if Peko and Hunt both depart.

Cleveland Browns 2016 record:1-15
Notable free agents:WR Terrelle Pryor, CB Tramon Williams, P Britton Colquitt, QB Austin Davis, G Austin Pasztor

What happens with Pryor?

Pryor's status is up in the air as the Browns contemplate whether to franchise the up-and-coming receiver. Pryor had a breakout season where he caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards, and he would be one of the most coveted free agents if he hits the open market. The Browns are reportedly not planning to use the franchise tag on Pryor, but they still want to work out a long-term deal with him before the start of free agency. ESPN's Mel Kiper suggested the Ravens could get in the Pryor sweepstakes if he hits the market, so his situation bears watching.

Does Jackson turn around the losing culture?

The most significant question facing the Browns is whether they can shed the losing malaise that has been over the franchise since 1999. They have run through several coaches and general managers, and Head Coach Hue Jackson is the latest person tasked with turning the tide. The Browns won only one game in Jackson's first season, but players have voiced their support for him and Owner Jimmy Haslam has emphasized that the team is committed to him.

Will the Browns deal the No. 1 overall pick?

The Browns are rich with cap space and draft picks, so they have the equity to make a splash this offseason. They have the No. 1 and No. 12 overall draft picks this season, which they could use to either acquire top-flight college talent or bring in a new quarterback. Rumors have circulated that the Browns may attempt to trade for Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and they might have to use one of their first-round picks to make that happen. If they don't deal for a quarterback, the Browns may look to bring in a veteran like former Raven Tyrod Taylor if he gets released by Buffalo.

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