Consistency and competition are two words that come to mind regarding the AFC North division. In 2022, the teams finished in the same order that they had in 2021, with the Bengals winning the crown, the Ravens settling for runner-up, the Steelers coming in third and the Browns taking up the rear. Each team went 3-3 in the AFC North in what continues to be one of the best divisions in football.
The division's two best teams played in an epic wild card showdown that was decided by Sam Hubbard's 98-yard fumble return for a score. In what could be a foreshadow of things to come, the Ravens played that game without Lamar Jackson, whose future in Baltimore has and will continue to be a hot-button topic.
They didn't make the playoffs, but the Steelers did go 9-8 while running their streak of non-losing seasons to 19. Pittsburgh went 7-2 down the stretch on the strength of T.J. Watt's return, Minkah Fitzpatrick's All-Pro exploits and Kenny Pickett's improved play during his rookie season. For a 33rd straight year, the Steelers finished ahead of the Browns, who suffered their second straight losing season despite boasting one of the league's best rushing attacks.
With April's draft just around the corner, here's how each AFC North graded out during the first several weeks of free agency.
Baltimore Ravens: F
In short, the Ravens' offseason has been an utter disaster. It starts and ends with Jackson and his ongoing contract saga. Things went from bad to worse this week after Jackson publicly requested a trade. Baltimore's brass responded by reiterating its desire to sign him to a long-term deal.
Outside of Jackson, Baltimore hasn't done much. It released six-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who signed with the Falcons. The Ravens traded Chuck Clark, a solid starting safety, for an undisclosed draft pick. Baltimore's biggest offseason signing so far was veteran wideout Nelson Agholor who caught just 31 passes for the Patriots in 2022.
Finally getting closure on Jackson would be a big start, but the Ravens still have a lot of work to do this offseason. They'll likely look to the draft to address their biggest needs that include receiver, cornerback, pass rusher and offensive guard.
Cincinnati Bengals: A
Give the Bengals a lot of credit for brilliantly adjusting their offseason plan. While they initially hoped to re-sign their free agents, Cincinnati changed course after watching Samaje Perine, Vonn Bell and Hayden Hurst sign with other teams. The Bengals responded by pulling off the biggest signing of free agency by acquiring former Chiefs Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
Cincinnati also re-signed linebacker Germaine Pratt, one of the team's top defenders over the past two years. They filled several other holes on their depth chart by signing defensive backs Nick Scott and Sidney Jones IV and tight end Irv Smith Jr. Running back is one of a few remaining needs Cincinnati will likely fill during the draft.
Joe Burrow's contract extension is another order of business the Bengals are still looking to get done this offseason. Contract talks have begun, but don't expect anything to get done anytime soon. That said, there is nothing to indicate that a deal won't get done between Burrow and the Bengals before the start of the regular season.
Cleveland Browns: B
The Browns have had an effective, albeit relatively quiet offseason. They managed to keep several of their free agents in Cleveland that include linebackers Anthony Walker Jr. and Sione Takitaki, center Ethan Pocic and safety Juan Thornhill.
Cleveland wants to open up its offense this season, so the trade to acquire former Jets wideout Elijah Moore makes a lot of sense. The Browns need reinforcements behind Nick Chubb, however, with Kareem Hunt unsigned and D'Ernest Johnson now in Jacksonville. Cleveland also still has holes to fill in the secondary along with the interior of its defensive line.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B+
For a second straight offseason, the Steelers have used free agency to bolster an ever-improving offensive line. One of this year's free agent signings, former Eagle Isaac Seumalo, is expected to compete for Pittsburgh's starting left guard position against Kevin Dotson.
The Steelers also aggressively addressed inside linebacker by signing veterans Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. Pittsburgh made a splash by signing eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, as the Steelers' defense now has four former first-round picks in its starting lineup. Among the team's better in-house free agency signings was defensive end Larry Ogunjobi, who played well under a one-year deal last season.
Nose tackle, receiver and defensive back are still areas the Steelers need to address this offseason. Bud Dupree, who visited the Steelers on Thursday, will fill Pittsburgh's current void at backup pass rusher if the former first-round pick re-signs with the Steelers.