Change of course in Baltimore

The Steelers' counterparts in the AFC North have been busy since the NFL's unrestricted free agency period commenced.

Here's a quick look at some of the recent activity within the division:

BALTIMORE: The Ravens' attempt to revamp their defensive line didn't quite go as initially planned.

Baltimore made a big splash when it acquired Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell for a fifth-round pick in 2020. Campbell, who has also played for the Cardinals, is one of four NFL defenders to have amassed at least 80 sacks and 30 passes defensed in the last 10 seasons.

But the Ravens posted a story on their website on Friday morning announcing they would not be signing Rams defensive tackle and noted run-stuffing presence Michael Brockers, as had been previously reported. reported shortly thereafter that Brockers had agreed on a deal to return to the Rams.

The Ravens also re-signed a couple of in-season additions from 2019, defensive tackle Justin Ellis (a fourth-round pick of the Raiders in 2014) and defensive end Jihad Ward (a second-round pick of the Raiders in 2016).

Baltimore allowed a franchise-record 4.4 yards per rush (tied for 20th in the NFL), amassed just 37 sacks (16th in the league) and relied heavily on blitzes last season.

The first move in response was to place a franchise tag on outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who had nine-and-a-half sacks and 14 tackles for a loss in 2019.

Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith had departed for Green Bay via free agency prior to last season and wound up delivering 13.5 sacks for the Packers.

CLEVELAND: The Browns brought aboard tight end Austin Hooper (Atlanta), offensive tackle Jack Conklin (Tennessee), and quarterback Case Keenum (Washington) via free agency.

Hooper (75 receptions, 787 receiving yards and six touchdown catches in 2019) will potentially team with incumbent David Njoku and provide for new head coach Kevin Stefanski the opportunity to operate out of two-tight ends sets, something Stefanski favored the majority of the time as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota last season.

Conklin was a first-team All-Pro in 2016 after joining the Titans as the eighth-overall pick out of Michigan State. The Browns can address left offensive tackle should they so desire with the 10th overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Keenum has started 62 games since 2013, including eight with the Redskins last season. He was with Stefanski in 2017 in Minnesota, which means Keenum can provide familiarity with the new coach and the new offense while serving as a ready-to-play backup and a mentor to starting quarterback Baker Mayfield in Cleveland.

"I know the situation with Baker, how he has played and the investment the team has in him," Keenum said in a conference call. "I am excited to kind of come alongside and really be a part of the quarterback room and the offensive side of the ball to try to help out in any way that I can in the meeting room and in the film room."

CINCINNATI: The Bengals came up with one of the more intriguing moves in the division when they reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Ravens inside linebacker Josh Bynes as an unrestricted free agent.

Bynes, 30, is a former undrafted rookie out of Auburn who had one sack and two interceptions in 12 games with Baltimore in 2019. He only has four-and-a-half career sacks and four interceptions in stints with the Ravens, Lions, Cardinals and Ravens again since 2011. But the Baltimore defense started coming together last season after Bynes rejoined the team in Week Five (following losses at Kansas City and against Cleveland in which the Ravens surrendered a combined 333 rushing yards while falling to 2-2).

Bynes, a veteran of Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens at the conclusion of the 2012 season, is projected to provide stability in the middle of the Cincinnati defense and mentor the linebackers.

"As far as being a leader and setting a tone, I think it comes from the sense of being underrated," Bynes told Geoff Hobson of "I had to prove myself in the league. I've had ups and downs, even last year when I didn't play the first part of the year.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity in Cincinnati. It feels great to be wanted."

The Tyler Eifert era came to an end when the Bengals' first-round tight end in 2013 agreed to terms with the Jaguars. Eifert played in all 16 games last season but in a limited capacity (45 percent of the offensive snaps) in the wake of appearing in just 14 games combined over the previous three campaigns due to injury.

Wide receiver A.J. Green, who never played last season (ankle), received a franchise tag.

Related Content