Best 2024 NFL Offseason Move For Every AFC North Team

Justin Madubuike
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We can probably all agree that the AFC North is the best division in football. It sent three teams to the playoffs last season, and every club within the division finished over .500.

Things may about to be getting even tougher in the AFC North in 2024.

Joe Burrow is back and healthy for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers may finally have a real quarterback in Russell Wilson, the Cleveland Browns could finally get a full season out of Deshaun Watson and the Baltimore Ravens boast the reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson.

But how did the four squads manage this offseason?

Let’s break down each AFC North club’s best move over the past several months.

Baltimore Ravens: Re-signing DL Justin Madubuike.

The Ravens have always prided themselves in their defense, so if they would have lost arguably their best defensive player this offseason, it would have been a tough pill to swallow.

Baltimore entered free agency with significant financial constraints, but it was able to keep Justin Madubuike on a four-year, $98 million extension.

Madubuike broke out with 56 tackles and 13 sacks in 2023, which came after he showed clear signs of ascending the preceding campaign.

With the Ravens losing both Patrick Queen and Jadeveon Clowney in free agency, retaining Madubuike was paramount, and that’s exactly what they did.

Madubuike is a dominant force, and he is still just 26 years old. Keeping with the tradition of other great Baltimore defenders, the Texas A&M product looks like he will be a member of the Ravens for a very long time.

Cincinnati Bengals: Signing DL Sheldon Rankins.

Burrow’s absence wasn’t the Bengals’ only problem in 2023.

Cincinnati ranked 31st in the NFL in defense last season, so it obviously needed to do something to address the issue in free agency.

The Bengals did lose defensive tackle D.J. Reader, but they were able to replace him with Sheldon Rankins, who rattled off 37 tackles and six sacks with the Houston Texans this past year.

Rankins probably isn’t as stout in stopping the run as Reader, but he is certainly no slouch in that area and is unquestionably better at applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. He should comprise a rather lethal pass-rushing duo with Trey Hendrickson.

Overall, Rankins is the better all-around defensive lineman than Reader and should be seen as an upgrade.

Cincy also added safeties Geno Smith and Vonn Bell to its secondary, but Rankins was definitely the most impactful addition the club made this offseason.

Cleveland Browns: Re-signing EDGE Za’Darius Smith.

The Browns won 11 games on 2023 based mostly on the strength of their No. 1-ranked defense, and Za’Darius Smith was a big part of that.

Cleveland was able to retain Smith on an affordable two-year deal, which will allow him to continue wreaking havoc with Myles Garrett.

Smith didn’t post huge numbers last season, finishing with 27 tackles and 5.5 sacks, but his impact was clear, and he is just two years removed from logging 10 sacks with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Browns’ defense is terrific at every level, and Garrett’s presence up front is obviously the primary focus. Don’t rule out the possibility of Smith having another huge season statistically thanks to Garrett requiring so much attention from opposing offensive lines.

Smith may be 31 years old, but he clearly has plenty left in the tank.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Drafting WR Roman Wilson.

Russell Wilson may have been the biggest attention-grabber, but the best sneaky good move by the Steelers this offseason was landing Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson in the third round of the NFL Draft.

To be clear, I actually think Pittsburgh should have done more to address its ailing receiving corps this offseason. The Steelers traded Diontae Johnson, and they didn’t really move to replace him. That leaves very limited depth behind George Pickens at the position.

However, Wilson (not Russ) could end up being one of the biggest steals of the draft.

The 22-year-old hauled in 48 receptions for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns during his final season with the Wolverines, helping the school win a national championship. It’s also important to keep in mind that Michigan’s offense was very run-heavy, so Wilson’s numbers were largely tempered.

Wilson will probably have a great shot of winning the No. 2 receiver role in Pittsburgh, as Van Jefferson and Calvin Austin represent the not-so-impressive competition.

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