With the 2015 NFL Draft now just a few weeks away and the vast bulk of the free agency period now behind us, we have already gone through the roster changes that the Pittsburgh Steelers have made on a position-by-position basis.
Now it’s time to turn our focus to the rest of the AFC North, and see how the Steelers’ division rivals have fared during free agency. Three of them made the playoffs last season, but they all entered this offseason with issues, whether cap-related or talent-related.
The second team on deck is the Cincinnati Bengals, who are now perennial postseason cameo actors, appearing in one scene and then casually exiting stage left, while the majority quickly forget they were ever there in the first place.
Of course, the Steelers have only gone to the playoffs in two of the past four seasons, and lost in the Wildcard round on both occasions, knocked out most recently by yet another division rival despite winning the AFC North. But I digress.
The Bengals had a couple of noteworthy free agents hitting the market this offseason, but they did not end up losing anybody they intended to retain. The most notable re-signings were for guard Clint Boling and linebacker Rey Maualuga, both key starters on either side of the ball for Cincinnati.
The Bengals added several key depth re-signings as well, such as retaining tackle Eric Winston and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, the latter a restricted free agent. They also retained three of their key special teams players in Brandon Tate and Cedric Peerman, as well as kicker Mike Nugent.
Added from elsewhere, most notably, were defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Pat Sims, both former Bengals themselves, as Cincinnati looks to rebuild their front line after finishing toward the bottom of the league in quarterback pressures.
Also signed was veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk, who will provide depth. You may notice a theme at inside linebacker for the Bengals this offseason as they do everything in their power to insulate themselves here. This is because they are not sure what to expect from starter Vontaze Burfict, who had microfracture knee surgery.
The Bengals added three other free agents from outside the organization, including yet another former Bengal in cornerback Brandon Ghee. On the offensive side of the ball, they added depth at wide receiver with Denarius Moore, and competition for the backup quarterback position in Josh Johnson, who, wouldn’t you know, is yet another former Bengal.
As previously mentioned, the Bengals did not lose anybody they were overly worried about retaining. Both cornerback Terence Newman and safety Taylor Mays signed with Minnesota, while swing tackle Marshall Newhouse—who was already upgraded with the re-signing of Winston—signed with the Giants.
Cincinnati also cut ties with a trio of underachievers in defensive end Robert Geathers, lineman Mike Pollak, and wide receiver Greg Little. Of their four remaining unrestricted free agents, tight end Jermaine Gresham is the most significant. He is due for surgery, and it is unclear which direction he will go once he is cleared. Quarterback Jason Campbell seems unlikely to re-sign at this point and is reportedly considering retirement.