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NFL Rumors: How the Bengals, Steelers, Browns and Ravens Can Improve Over the 2022 Offseason

After reaching the playoffs for the first time in six years, Joe Burrow and the Bengals went on to compete in their first Super Bowl in more than 30 years. What can they do to build upon their success in free agency and through the draft?
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NFL Rumors: How the Bengals, Steelers, Browns and Ravens Can Improve Over the 2022 Offseason

Baltimore Ravens

In a bit of a shock, the Ravens experienced a down year and finished in a tie for last in the AFC North division. They were injury-ravaged from the start, and after injuries and sickness hit star quarterback Lamar Jackson, they just couldn't put things together quick enough to find a playoff berth. As you can imagine, they were on the borderline of being a top-20 team in overall DVOA, including the 28th-ranked defensive unit on the year. The primary culprit? The league's third-worst pass defense.

Outside of the preseason injury to three-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters, Baltimore limped its way through the year, relying on Marlon Humphrey as the top seasoned corner and Anthony Averett opposite him. At safety, Chuck Clark led the way with a 66.3 PFF grade while the other safety spot had its share of struggles between Deshon Elliott and Ar'Darius Washington. Now, they did re-sign veteran Tony Jefferson within the past few days, but there's more to be done, mainly at corner.

Peters' All-Pro playmaking will surely help, but it doesn't stop there. The Ravens are positioned nicely in the draft, equipped with pick 14 of the first round, to add one of the many high-quality defensive backs. Washinton corner Trent McDuffie is the prospect most likely to be there at their position, behind the likes of Derek Stingley and Sauce Gardner. And as for free agency, you can rule out any of the top guys given Baltimore's cap situation. They'll have between $8 and 9 million, and while that could get a second-tier player, that money would be better spent elsewhere to sure up the offensive line or add a veteran pass-rusher on a lesser deal.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland tied Baltimore's 8-9 record, though the Browns were the superior team when consulting the advanced metrics. Football Outsiders has them 13th overall -- a balanced 14th offensively and 11th defensively. They, unlike the Ravens, will watch a number of key players walk in free agency, though their salaries will go along with them. And it's for that reason they'll have just under $25 million at their disposal in free agency.

Where should Andrew Berry and the front office put that money to good use? To me, it's at linebacker. This past season, their defensive unit ranked 23rd versus the run, allowing 100-yard rushers on 9 occasions. Heading into the new season, Anthony Walker is set to hit free agency, and Sione Takitaki is unproven after starting 8 games and playing to a 67.5 PFF grade in only 285 snaps.

The Browns could go one of two ways to upgrade in the middle. The first option is to utilize their 13th overall pick to pick Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean. But the issue with that is Dean projects to be a better weakside linebacker, a spot that should continue to be held down by 2021 pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The open market makes a lot more sense with someone like De'Vondre Campbell out there. After an All-Pro season in Green Bay, Campbell is the top guy at his position, and while he could get somewhere between $8 and 10 million a year, the Browns have the money to spend. Why not sure up the squad's run-stuffing capabilities?

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Pittsburgh Steelers

This past season, Pittsburgh -- without a doubt -- overachieved as they won nine games and appeared in the AFC Wild Card round. Things are going to look a lot different, and that starts at quarterback after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. Coincidentally enough, too, the Steelers continue the trend of having more '21 wins and more '22 cap space than the team immediately below them. With so many players no longer under contract, including Big Ben, Joe Haden and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh has nearly $30 million with which to work.

There are a few areas the Steelers could decide to fortify, but by the numbers they need it most at one of the most crucial positions on the offensive side of the ball: left tackle. Dan Moore, a fourth-round pick in 2021, started 16 games this year only to be handed a 57.8 PFF grade for his efforts. He allowed seven sacks and committed five penalties. After some seasoning, Moore might be a fit elsewhere on the line, but the Steelers could use a proven commodity on the blind side of whoever their new quarterback is.

That might be a rookie first-rounder (pick number 20) such as Malik Willis, so even more reason to focus on the tackle in free agency. They might not be able to pry Orlando Brown from the Chiefs, but Cam Robinson and Terron Armstead are viable options. They would command $17 and $24 million, respectively, according to their market values, and though that is a pretty penny, Pittsburgh does have some space to work with.

Cincinnati Bengals

For the third time, the trend of better-performing teams with higher cap space holds true. Last year's AFC champions, the Bengals went 10-7 yet they move toward March with more than $48 million in their pockets. One would naturally believe that there aren't many areas for them to brush up on, but Cincy's run severely outpaced their on-field play. Football Outsiders placed them 17th overall, 18th on offense and 18th on defense, per DVOA.

They need help in the secondary and will have holes to fill along the defensive line, yes -- nevertheless, offensive line play has been their largest sticking point. Not only did Cincinnati allow the second-highest adjusted sack rate (9.1%) in the league behind Chicago, but their run-blocking rated 31st in power success percentage. To unlock both Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon, they need to address the chief concern in free agency if they are unable to do so on draft night.

The irony of the situation is that only Jonah Williams -- the team's starting left tackle and first-round pick of 2019 -- will remain among the Bengals' three high-performing linemen in 2021. Both right tackle Riley Reiff and left guard Quinton Spain are set to be free agents, while both center Trey Hopkins and right guard Hakeem Adeniji failed to reach a 52 player grade.

It's possible for the Bengals to add an interior lineman such as Boston College's Zion Johnson late in the first round, however, a more immediate upgrade could be made via free agency. At guard, Connor Williams and Brandon Scherff lead the market, whereas at center there are a number of routes. Jason Kelce is the best regardless of age, while the likes of Brian Allen, Ben Jones and Ryan Jensen also make for fantastic alternatives. After all, the resources are there to protect and build around the franchise's star quarterback.

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Brett Oswalt has been writing about sports for five years, has covered everything from the NBA to College Football DFS, and previously served as an editor at numberFire. He is a Senior Workforce Planning Analyst at Highmark by day, and an avid sports fan and girl-dad by night. He resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, Marley, daughter, Aria, and goldendoodle, Braun.

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