The Pittsburgh Steelers should be feeling pretty good about the NFL offseason.
It's not that the Steelers have made themselves a lot better since last season, when they finished 10-5-1.
It's just that their competition in the AFC North still looks ordinary.
Cleveland has had more subtractions than additions since making the playoffs last year at 9-7. Baltimore was better than expected at 7-9 and keeps making progress. But quarterback is a question mark. Cincinnati was 2-14 last year.
The Bengals, however, have enjoyed the most exciting offseason in the division, breaking with tradition and deciding not to stand pat after a 12th straight nonwinning season. The Bengals hired a respected new coach, Marvin Lewis, and spent money in free agency. They also acquired their quarterback of the future, Carson Palmer, the No. 1 overall choice in the draft.
Here's a review of the offseason moves by each club:
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5-1)
What's new: A Steelers team that ranked fifth on offense and seventh on defense is back mostly intact. The defense needed a playmaker at safety. Pittsburgh lost to Arizona in the bidding for Tampa Bay's Dexter Jackson. So the Steelers traded up to get Southern Cal's Troy Polamalu, who will replace Lee Flowers at strong safety. Left tackle Wayne Gandy left for Arizona. Kicker Todd Peterson was released, and Charlie Batch replaces Kordell Stewart as the backup quarterback. Jay Riemersma (Bills) should be a popular tight end target for Tommy Maddox.
Key issues: Without Gandy, Marvel Smith must move from right tackle to left tackle. Oliver Ross and Todd Fordham (Jaguars) will vie at right tackle. Jerome Bettis' health remains a question mark. Neither Chad Scott nor Dewayne Washington are lock-down cornerbacks. But that position wasn't addressed in the draft.
Cleveland Browns (9-7)
What's new: The Browns' defense ranked 21st last year. It appears coach Butch Davis decided he couldn't do much worse, so he let all three starting linebackers go. They are scheduled to be replaced by two fourth-round picks (Ben Taylor and Kevin Bentley) and a fifth- rounder (Andra Davis) from 2001. Starting corner Corey Fuller (Ravens) left an already suspect secondary. Davis is counting on new defensive coordinator Dave Campo, the former Dallas head coach, to work wonders. No. 1 draft pick Jeff Faine (Notre Dame) will replace Hamburg native Dave Wohlabaugh (Rams) at center.
Key issues: The quarterback controversy is red hot between Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. Holcomb had better numbers last year. Couch is on thin ice as the starter. This will be the No. 1 training camp battle in the NFL this summer. The Browns ranked 27th versus the run last year. Defensive end Courtney Brown is coming off tricky knee surgery. Defensive tackle Gerard Warren was too heavy last year and underachieved.
Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
What's new: Baltimore got lucky in the first round of the draft when sackmaster Terrell Suggs (Arizona State) dropped to it at 10th overall. Then the Ravens traded a No. 1 pick next year to get their quarterback of the future, California's Kyle Boller. Musa Smith (Georgia) looks like a good third-round pick to back up running back Jamal Lewis. The Ravens are banking on free-agent receivers Marcus Robinson (Bears) and Frank Sanders (Cards) to rebound from off years.
Key issues: Coach Brian Billick bid goodbye to Jeff Blake, so Chris Redman is the quarterback while Boller learns. Redman hit only 53 percent of his passes last year and is trying to come back from a back injury. Defensive line and cornerback worries didn't get addressed on the first day of the draft. Corner Chris McAlister got a franchise tag. Gary Baxter, a second-rounder last year, has to prove he's more corner than safety.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-14)
What's new: Lewis, who got high grades as defensive chief in Baltimore and Washington, has much more control than any Bengals coach since Paul Brown ran the team upon its inception. He got owner Mike Brown to open the purse strings for promising defensive lineman John Thornton (Titans), soon-to-be 30-year-old linebacker Kevin Hardy (Cowboys) and competent cornerback Tory James (Raiders). The Bengals decided Takeo Spikes (Bills) was too expensive, and he wasn't keen on returning, anyway. Tight end Reggie Kelly (Falcons) might help. Lewis took some chances in the draft (WR Kelley Washington, CB Dennis Weathersby) that could pay off in the future.
Key issues: The Bengals plan to let Jon Kitna play QB all year while Palmer learns. Kitna ranked 21st among QBs last year. Despite James' addition, cornerback is a concern. Justin Smith is the only given at defensive end. Hardy is OK, but he's no Spikes.