2021 Offseason Team Needs: Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers

     

Thanks for checking out our 2021 Offseason Team Needs previews. Consider this a primer for the goals each team has to accomplish this offseason and the resources they have to work with. 

A couple of notes. Salary cap projections are from Over The Cap and based on a cap of $180.5 million. That number could ultimately be different depending on what the NFL and NFLPA figure out before free agency. Compensatory picks are also from OTC’s projections, which are historically the most accurate in the industry. Their methodology is outlined here.

With that, let’s get into it:

Bengals

Projected Cap Space: $37,838,130

Draft Picks: 8

  • 1st (No. 5)
  • 2nd (No. 38)
  • 3rd (No. 69)
  • 4th (No. 102)
  • 5th (No. 133)
  • 6th (No. 166)
  • 7th (No. 197)
  • 7th (No. 199, from DET)

Notable Free Agents: DE Carl Lawson, CB William Jackson, WR A.J. Green, CB Mackensie Alexander, G Quinton Spain, S Shawn Williams, G Alex Redmond, WR John Ross, DT Mike Daniels, LB Josh Bynes, WR Alex Erickson, S Brandon Wilson, K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber

  1. Offensive Tackle

The priority for the Bengals this offseason is clear: Protect Joe Burrow. To do that, the clearest upgrade is at offensive tackle, where Cincinnati seems poised to finally move on from veteran Bobby Hart. A premium addition via either the draft or free agency — and perhaps even both — is on the table for the Bengals. They could also look to make more additions at guard beyond re-signing Spain, who impressed after being picked up midseason following his release by the Bills. 

  1. Defensive Tackle

2021 appears like it will be the first time in more than a decade that the Bengals start the season without veteran DT Geno Atkins, who is a likely cap casualty after dealing with injuries the past few seasons. Cincinnati went after DT D.J. Reader as a big-ticket free-agent addition last offseason but he missed most of the season with an injury. Assuming he’s back healthy, another disruptive, pass-rushing interior player would complement him nicely. 

  1. Cornerback

The Bengals will likely have to pick one of either Lawson or Jackson to keep this offseason, and the early signs point toward Lawson in an effort to keep Cincinnati’s pass rush afloat. That does create a hole on the back end, however, as Jackson was the team’s No. 1 corner after prized free-agent addition Trae Waynes tore his pectoral during the offseason and never played a snap. Darius Phillips is a potential ascendant player but the Bengals need more depth and another viable starter at the position. 

Browns

Projected Cap Space: $21,743, 157

Draft Picks: 9

  • 1st (No. 26)
  • 2nd (No. 59)
  • 3rd (No. 90)
  • 3rd (No. 92, from NO)
  • 4th (No. 101, from PHI)
  • 4th (No. 123)
  • 5th (No. 153, from LAR)
  • 6th (No. 187)
  • 7th (No. 222, from BUF)

Notable Free Agents: DT Larry Ogunjobi, DE Olivier Vernon, WR Rashard Higgins, S Karl Joseph, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Terrance Mitchell, LB B.J. Goodson, OL Kendall Lamm, S Andrew Sendejo, K Cody Parkey, DT Vincent Taylor

  1. Defensive End

Browns GM Andrew Berry has strong philosophical roots from the Eagles’ front office, and one core tenet from that bunch is you can never have enough pass rushers. Myles Garrett is obviously one of the best in the league, but surrounding him with players that can make offenses pay for dedicating so much attention to Garrett is a priority for Berry. Look for Cleveland to try to upgrade from Vernon this offseason, potentially in a splashy way. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are some names the Browns have expressed interest in both now and in the past. 

  1. Cornerback

The secondary was frequently the weak link for the Browns in 2020. Safety was arguably worse than corner but injuries really hurt the Browns in terms of what their lineup was expected to be at safety. After being traded for coming out of camp, S Ronnie Harrison was held to 11 games. And second-round S Grant Delpit didn’t play a snap, along with second-year CB Greedy Williams, as an Achilles and nerve issues respectively knocked them out for the season. Delpit and Harrison is potentially a solid, young combination, the Browns just need to add some more depth to help star CB Denzel Ward and provide insurance in case Williams’ nerve issues continue to keep him off the field. 

  1. Defensive Tackle

Ogunjobi is the biggest free agent the Browns are set to lose, and not just literally. He was a key player in the middle of their defense but it appears Cleveland is willing to let him test the open market and expects another team to value him higher. Restocking the depth chart at defensive tackle and keeping the line strong will be a need for the Browns this offseason. 

Ravens

Projected Cap Space: $18,203,773

Draft Picks: 7

  • 1st (No. 27)
  • 2nd (No. 58)
  • 3rd (comp)
  • 4th (No. 122)
  • 5th (No. 152, from PIT)
  • 5th (comp)
  • 6th (No. 186)

Notable Free Agents: OLB Matt Judon, OLB Yannick Ngakoue, OLB Tyus Bowser, DL Derek Wolfe, RB Mark Ingram, WR Willie Snead, OT D.J. Fluker, OLB Pernell McPhee, DL Justin Ellis, DL Jihad Ward, C Matt Skura, QB Robert Griffin, CB Anthony Levine, WR Dez Bryant, RB Gus Edwards (RFA)

  1. Offensive Line

For a team that likes to run the ball as much as the Ravens do, a strong offensive line isn’t enough. The unit has to be bordering on elite, like it was in 2019. That wasn’t the standard in 2020 and it’s what the Ravens are trying to get back to this offseason. Unfortunately for them, RT Orlando Brown’s trade request adds another potentially massive leak as they’re trying to patch a couple at guard and center on the interior. Expect this to be the area the team focuses a lot of attention on this offseason. 

  1. Outside Linebacker

If the offensive line is priority 1a, outside linebacker is priority 1b for the Ravens. Judon and Ngakoue both are highly effective pass rushers and it’s not clear that Baltimore will want to pay the price it costs to keep either, including potentially the franchise tag. It might be easier to re-sign Bowser, McPhee or Ward but even then the Ravens need much more help to continue to have an effective pass rush from those outside linebacker spots. Hitting on a productive pass rusher in the draft who they can have under contract for several more years would be ideal for the Ravens. 

  1. Wide Receiver

It’s not the only thing but adding talent at receiver is a part of the puzzle for improving the Ravens’ passing attack. Former MVP QB Lamar Jackson thrives when targeting the middle of the field, he’s less effective when he has to attack outside the numbers. But he also needs someone he can trust, and with a receiving corps filled with young, developing players, that person was often either Snead or TE Mark Andrews. That’s part of why the Ravens added Bryant late last season as a bid to find another trusted target for Jackson. While they can’t afford to be involved with the top free agents, it would make sense for them to pursue a more dynamic upgrade who still offers the reliability Bryant and Snead did. 

Steelers

Projected Cap Space: -$30,601,664

Draft Picks: 9

  • 1st (No. 24)
  • 2nd (No. 55)
  • 3rd (No. 88)
  • 4th (No. 119)
  • 4th (comp)
  • 6th (No. 192, from TB)
  • 6th (comp)
  • 7th (No. 210, from MIA)
  • 7th (No. 219, from BAL)

Notable Free Agents: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, OLB Bud Dupree, LT Alejandro Villanueva, RB James Conner, OL Matt Feiler, OT Zach Banner, CB Mike Hilton, CB Cameron Sutton, LB Avery Williamson, DT Tyson Alualu, S Sean Davis, P Jordan Berry

  1. Offensive Line

The coming exodus out of Pittsburgh of pending free agents is going to hit the offense hardest of all. Counting C Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement, the Steelers are looking at potentially losing four of five Day 1 starters on the line last season. Fortunately, Banner should be easy enough to keep coming off a torn ACL. Feiler might not have much of a market either. But that still leaves gaping holes at center and left tackle for the unit tasked with protecting QB Ben Roethlisberger in perhaps his final go-round. 

  1. Outside Linebacker

Much of the Steelers’ success on defense is built around the pass rush, spearheaded by MVP candidate OLB T.J. Watt. But it helped the past few seasons having a strong starting talent like Dupree rushing from the other side. Even after a torn ACL, Dupree’s market will likely be beyond what Pittsburgh can afford. They still should focus on adding a replacement or two, whether it’s another starter across from Watt or depth behind 2020 third-round OLB Alex Highsmith

  1. Running Back

With this many pending free agents, there are a number of other holes the Steelers need to plug this offseason. Sometimes the answer is on the roster, but at running back, it’s doubtful that’s the case. At various times the past year or two, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels and Anthony McFarland (2020 fourth-rounder) have had a crack at leading the way for the Steelers and have been shown ultimately lacking. Given HC Mike Tomlin’s preference for a bell cow back to shoulder the majority of the load, that should move running back higher up the needs list for the Steelers. The good news is there should be a plethora of options in free agency and the draft. 

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