AFC North: Best moves and other free agency questions

Nearly two weeks into free agency, the AFC North appears to have gotten even better. It welcomed a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a two-time NFL rushing champion, a top pass-rushing defensive tackle and a former first-round wide receiver.

Last season, the division became the second in NFL history to have every team finish with a winning record, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. The only other time this occurred was in 1935 with the NFL West, when the Cardinals were in Chicago.

This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals all made major upgrades. The Steelers added quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. The Ravens filled their void at running back with Derrick Henry. The Bengals added a force in the middle with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. The Browns brought in a promising target by trading for wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

In addition to Wilson's arrival, Joe Burrow and Deshaun Watson will return from season-ending injuries. This quarterback landscape will make it tougher for Baltimore and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson to repeat as AFC North champions.

The Ravens have also taken the biggest hit since losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Baltimore has lost 11 players through free agency or trade, including three moving to an AFC North rival. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen signed with the Steelers, safety Geno Stone went to the Bengals and backup quarterback Tyler Huntley joined the Browns.

"Obviously, a few of our competitors have taken some of our players," Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. "It happens every year; every year we look at the AFC North [teams and] they draft well, [and] they sign good players. They have a way of doing things. But let's not forget, we'll be there, too. I love our team, [and] I love our roster. We have some challenges ahead, but we're going to be ready to play in September."

Here is a breakdown of how the Ravens, Browns, Steelers and Bengals have fared in free agency so far:

Who was the best addition?

Browns: Cleveland has been trying to acquire wideout Jeudy from the Denver Broncos for more than year. Even though Jeudy has yet to surpass 70 receptions or 1,000 yards in a season, the Browns believe the 2020 first-round pick has No. 1 receiver potential. At worst, Jeudy should slot into the starting lineup and give Watson a deep threat downfield. That would be solid value for what Cleveland had to surrender to get him (2024 fifth- and sixth-round picks). At best, Jeudy could develop into Watson's go-to receiver down the line. -- Jake Trotter

Steelers: Depends on the definition of best. In the short term, adding Queen was the smartest move. Not only does he have the chance to follow in Ryan Shazier's well-rounded, game-changing and long-awaited footsteps, but he also joins the team from the Ravens. It's a move that makes the Steelers stronger and their interdivisional rival weaker -- or at least can help slow down Baltimore's reinvigorated ground attack anchored by Henry. But the best long-term addition might not be revealed until later this season or next: Fields. For a sixth-round pick -- that could turn into a fourth based on playing time -- the Steelers may have landed the franchise quarterback they've coveted since Ben Roethlisberger's retirement. Fields isn't perfect, but given an opportunity to grow in a stable organization, he could benefit from a second chance and flourish in Pittsburgh. -- Brooke Pryor

Ravens: Henry. The Ravens' highest-profile need was running back because J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards were free agents. Baltimore landed a runner whose physical style suits the AFC North. In his last eight games against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Henry has averaged 98 yards from scrimmage and has scored six touchdowns. For those who expect Henry to take a step back at the age of 30, he's the only player in the league to rush for more than 1,000 yards and score double-digit touchdown runs in each of the past two seasons. -- Jamison Hensley

Bengals: Rankins. He is someone who ranked in the top 10 last season in pass rush win rate as a defensive tackle (ESPN/NFL Next Gen Stats) and gives the Bengals another solid pass-rusher. Rankins will also need to be solid against the run, something he feels he doesn't get enough credit for. But if he can affect the quarterback regularly, any shortcomings elsewhere on the field will be forgiven. -- Ben Baby

What was an underrated move?

Browns: The Browns entered free agency hoping to land a marquee, play-making defensive tackle. Ultimately, those possibilities either re-signed with their own teams or signed with the Las Vegas Raiders for a big deal (Christian Wilkins). Still, the Browns reinforced their defensive front, headlined by the signing of former Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks. The Ohio native has posted more than 100 tackles in five straight seasons. He should solidify Cleveland's run defense following the free agent departures of linebackers Anthony Walker Jr. (Dolphins) and Sione Takitaki (New England Patriots). -- Trotter

Steelers: Signing WR Van Jefferson to a one-year deal. After trading away Diontae Johnson and cutting Allen Robinson II, the team needed to refill the wide receiver room around George Pickens. Jefferson didn't light the world on fire with his numbers last season, but he spent half the year in Atlanta with new OC Arthur Smith and the familiarity with his scheme should give the offense a steady contributor both in the pass game and run game as a blocker. Plus, Jefferson was a major part of the L.A. Rams' Super Bowl season with 50 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns. -- Pryor

Ravens: Ronnie Stanley's $8 million pay cut. This was a big win-win for Baltimore. The Ravens gained much-needed $9.6 million in salary cap room and kept Stanley protecting Jackson's blind side. Stanley has been solid but he's struggled to stay healthy. Now, the Ravens get a motivated Stanley, a former Pro Bowl left tackle whose salary went from $11 million to $3 million. Stanley can make $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses if he plays, and as part of the reworked deal, he becomes a free agent next year. This is suddenly a critical contract year for Stanley. -- Hensley

Bengals: Zack Moss. Moss led the NFL in yards per carry outside of the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's a great fit for a team that likes to employ wide zone concepts, a favorite of offensive line coach Frank Pollack. He's also adept out of the shotgun and is a very capable pass-blocker. Those things could significantly improve the offense if he performs as well as he did at the beginning of 2023. -- Baby

What are the biggest remaining questions?

Browns: When will Watson be cleared from last year's season-ending shoulder surgery and what will it look like after he is? To this point, the Watson trade has been a disaster. To get him, the Browns had to give up three first-round picks and pay him the richest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history ($230 million). But Watson has played in 11 games over two seasons and had one of the worst cumulative QBRs (41.6) over that span. The Browns are built to win now. That means this could be the make-or-break year for the Watson trade to finally produce. -- Trotter

Steelers: Will Wilson start Week 1 -- and who will be snapping the ball to the starting quarterback? Sources have indicated to ESPN that Wilson has been tabbed the starter, but plans can change. Though Wilson said he felt like himself again during his second season in Denver, and his improved numbers reflect that, he's still an aging quarterback competing against a young gun with tremendous upside. That competition -- even if informal -- will be something to monitor throughout the offseason. The Steelers also have to add a center to the mix after releasing starter Mason Cole and missing out on the top free agents. Look for the team to address that position -- along with offensive tackle -- in the NFL draft. -- Pryor

Ravens: The offensive line. Baltimore has to replace three starters up front. Pro Bowl right guard Kevin Zeitler signed with the Detroit Lions and left guard John Simpson went to the New York Jets, who also traded for right tackle Morgan Moses. It was time for the Ravens to rebuild their offensive line, which wore down by the end of the season. Also, Simpson led Baltimore with six holding penalties and Moses topped the team with eight sacks allowed. DeCosta loves the depth at offensive line in this year's draft and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens select a guard or tackle with the No. 30 overall pick. -- Hensley

Bengals: Are the trenches good enough? Trent Brown arrives as a massive right tackle, but his play has declined in recent years and he has battled injuries. He's also on a one-year deal, which means Cincinnati still does not have a long-term solution at right tackle. The Bengals also have yet to add depth at defensive tackle. Having enough bodies in the middle will be important if the Bengals want to stay fresh for a deep playoff run. -- Baby