Bold Free Agent Signings: AFC North

Now that the Super Bowl is over, teams are looking towards free agency to fill voids on their teams. This chapter of Bold Free Agent Signings sees four of our writers take a look at the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals: S Tyrann Mathieu

2018 was a miserable season for the Cincinnati Bengals. After a promising start that saw the team go 4-1 including a win over the eventual division champion Ravens, the season went up in flames.

The Bengals went 2-9 in their final 11 games as injuries piled up and the defense struggled. The 6-10 season finally was enough for the Bengals to end the Marvin Lewis era, which lasted 16 seasons.

2019 will surely be a transition year in Cincinnati. New head coach Zac Taylor is trying to surround himself with a solid staff, and there are no indications as to who he will bring in as his defensive coordinator. Regardless of what defensive scheme the Bengals chose to play in 2018, they’re going to have to bring in talent.

Cincinnati finished dead last in the NFL in total defense in 2018. In addition, the Bengals also finished with the leagues worst run defense and fourth-worst pass defense. The Bengals need to find an impact player this off-season whether it’s in free agency or in the draft to help turn the unit around.

If the Bengals chose the free agent route they should look to make a splash with one of the top secondary players set to hit the market. The player being Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu.

After injuries plagued him in Arizona with the Cardinals, Mathieu joined the Houston Texans in 2018. There, Mathieu was able to re-establish himself as one of the better safeties in the league. He played in all 16 games, grabbed two interceptions, defended eight passes and made 89 total tackles.

What makes Mathieu an excellent fit in Cincinnati is his ability to be effective in both the pass and run defense. Mathieu is always around the ball whether it’s dropping back in coverage or clogging the middle to stop the run. Throughout his career, he has earned the reputation by giving his full effort on every play. That’s exactly what Cincinnati needs.

In addition, it would also bring intrigue to what will likely be a long rebuilding season in Cincinnati. Mathieu has been a fan favorite of many throughout the NFL and his nickname “Honey Badger” is a household nickname. Bringing in Mathieu would improve Cincinnati defensively and put some more fans in the seats.

– Aaron Gershon

Baltimore Ravens: WR Tyrell Williams

The Baltimore Ravens should look to acquire Los Angeles Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams in free agency this off-season. Williams, an athletic, big-play threat in Los Angeles, would serve as the replacement for the potential losses of Michael Crabtree and John Brown. Both Crabtree and Brown could return for the 2019 season, although both returning seems doubtful. Williams logged 17 touchdowns in four seasons as a member of the Chargers.

While 17 touchdowns aren’t great, Williams was rarely the number one option in San Diego or Los Angeles. He often found himself playing behind the likes of Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and a variety of other pass catchers including former first-round pick Mike Williams.

If Tyrell Williams were to come to Baltimore, he would certainly be the No. 1 option for developing quarterback Lamar Jackson. Williams and Jackson could develop strong chemistry as the Ravens look to repeat as AFC North champions.

– Ryan Potts

Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Jordan Hicks

The Steelers are projected to have an over $20 million in salary cap space heading into the 2019 free agency period. It’s been quite some time since the team has had this much money at their disposal in the off-season. Thank Le’Veon Bell. With that much money to spend, it would be nice to see the Steelers finally make a splash signing and add a true playmaker to the middle of their defense.

Enter 6-foot-2 240-pound monster Jordan Hicks. An absolute force in the middle of the field, Hicks would bring immediate relief to a defense that is woefully understaffed at the middle linebacker position. He’s a true three-down linebacker with excellent coverage ability, hard-hitting tackling, and a propensity for the big play. Hicks is exactly what the Steelers need in the middle of their defense. Can the Eagles create enough cap space to hold on to this tremendous player? For the Steelers sake, hopefully not.

– Jonathan Coxe

Cleveland Browns: LB K.J. Wright

A major need for the Browns heading into the 2019 offseason is to shore up their linebacker depth. They can do so by signing a linebacker that was instrumental during the “Legion of Boom”‘s run in Seattle.

Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert (2017 Pro Bowler) headline what turned about to be a pretty underwhelming unit last season. Wright, 29, is coming off of a season in which he only played in five games due to a knee injury so his numbers were pedestrian.

However, he racked up 100 plus combined tackles in each of his four previous seasons. Wright would immediately step into a leadership role on the team, as his veteran experience can help speed up the maturation process for a young Browns defense.

Jamie Collins’s declining play plus his high price tag could force GM John Dorsey’s hand this offseason, and Seattle’s apparent willingness to move on from some veteran players could be a perfect storm for Cleveland and Wright.


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