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 final division opponent up for reevaluation is the Cleveland Browns, who started off the 2014 season strong before trailing off dramatically at the end of the year, maintaining their streak of finishing with a below .500 record by posting seven wins to nine losses, going 0-5 in their last five times.
Now, it’s much harder to build off of the first half of the previous season than it is the second half. You tend to want to finish strong more than you want to get off to a good start, if you have to choose one or the other, though injuries could play a role in this, as was the case for Pittsburgh during the 2012 season.
The Browns got things started by making a change at the quarterback position, signing Josh McCown, who had a poor season in Tampa Bay, a starting job that he earned through solid play with the Bears in 2013. McCown was released, and the Browns signed him, subsequently allowing Brian Hoyer to sign elsewhere.
In all, that is more or less how the Browns’ offseason went, trading like for like, allowing one free agent to walk while replacing him with a generally similar, if not older free agent signing.
In the secondary, for example, the Browns allowed Buster Skrine to sign elsewhere, replacing him by signing Tramon Williams. They allowed Ahtyba Rubin to move along while signing Randy Starks along the defensive line.
Tight end Jordan Cameron was a significant loss for the Browns, who had hoped to retain him even last year, but he chose to sign with the Dolphins this offseason. They have replaced him with Rob Housler, who was underutilized as a pass catcher in Arizona last season.
At wide receiver, Cleveland said goodbye to Miles Austin while adding both Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline. The coaching staff is certainly trying to surround their new quarterback with some taller receivers. He had success with tall targets in Chicago, and yet he had the same thing with the Buccaneers and had greater difficulty.
The other main free agent loss the Browns had was, of course, Jabaal Sheard, but he seemed to fall out of favor with the current coaching staff anyway. Cleveland re-signed defensive linemen John Hughes and restricted free agent Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, wide receiver Marlon Moore, restricted free agent linebacker Craig Robertson, and restricted free agent safety Tashaun Gipson. The restricted free agents have yet to sign their tenders. Defensive tackle Sione Fua remains unsigned.