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AFC North free agency needs: Baltimore Ravens must retool D

With free agency set to kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, Elliot Harrison identifies needs for all 32 teams over eight divisional primers. You'll find the outlook for each AFC North team below, but click here to examine other divisions.

Send your own thoughts on free agency to Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

Baltimore Ravens

Top priority in free agency: Linebacker.
Dannell Ellerbe was an effective overall player for the Ravens in 2012. So does general manager Ozzie Newsome want to pay top-flight coin for a less-than-top-flight player? That's the question. Yes, the Ravens are always in contention. And yes, they just won the Super Bowl, for God's sake. But this team could fall victim to an eroding factor more commonly associated with MLB ballclubs: being poor up the middle. That is, if nothing is done about it. This team played putrid run defense throughout the season and couldn't cover the middle of the field in the postseason. The Ravens need help at linebacker, safety (if Ed Reed doesn't come back) and up front on the defensive line. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who paced Baltimore with nine sacks, is probably gone; the Ravens can't afford him. With Lardarius Webb coming back from injury, free-agent cornerback Cary Williams becomes a luxury.

Other areas of interest: Safety, offensive tackle, wide receiver.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top priority in free agency: Right tackle.
Let's hope J.J. Abrams improves the "Star Wars" franchise as much as Andre Smith has improved on the right side of that Bengals' line. Who would've thought a couple of years ago that we'd be talking about the young right tackle as the biggest free agency priority in Cincinnati? But he is. Although he gave up his fair share of sacks (7.5), the former Alabama product enjoyed a good season overall, getting called for holding just once. Smith is part of the young core Marvin Lewis has built in Cincy through the NFL draft. Defensive end Michael Johnson received the franchise tag after recording 11.5 sacks in 2012. At some point, the Bengals will need to get a long-term deal done. Also, look for Cincinnati to scour the marketplace for help in the secondary.
Other areas of interest: Safety, linebacker, running back.

Cleveland Browns

Top priority in free agency: Tight end.
There are a lot of directions in which the Browns can go, and minimal restrictions. If you're a Cleveland fan, here's something that will make you even happier than John Elway losing in the Super Bowl and a certain someone *not* making the Hall of Fame this year: Your team has CASH. The Browns are carrying somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million in cap space. The key here is to practice sensible spending, not to throw dollars and cents at problems. It sounds so dumbed-down, but how many teams have we seen make that mistake over the years? With the New York Giants, tight end Martellus Bennett proved himself to be a different player than he was with the Dallas Cowboys; he could help out Brandon Weeden (or whoever plays quarterback) immensely. There has been speculation that the Brownies could make a run at free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis, as well (something that could deplete division rival Pittsburgh in the process). Cleveland, which is transitioning to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton, has the capital to grab at least some of the pieces it needs before the 2013 NFL Draft.
Other areas of interest: Cornerback, outside linebacker, offensive guard.

Take a look at the top players that will be available when free agency opens on March 12.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top priority in free agency: Defensive back.
Let's be honest: The Steelers avoid making free agency splashes the way this writer avoids Coldplay. Yet that doesn't mean Pittsburgh won't do anything in free agency, like re-upping cornerback Keenan Lewis. Yes, William Gay is back in the mix, but that doesn't negate the importance of getting Lewis back in the fold. The former Oregon State standout had a solid season, save for being called on eight penalties. The problem here is that the Steelers will have competition for his services, especially within their own division (as mentioned above, Cleveland could certainly use Lewis). Pittsburgh needs an insurance policy behind 30-somethings Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, whether it's found in the marketplace or through the draft.
Other areas of interest: Inside linebacker, wide receiver, nose tackle.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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