Grading the offseason for the Bengals means comparing them to the AFC North

Marvin Lewis joined Antonio Bryant during a press conference on Friday, introducing the receiver to the Cincinnati media. While most believe that Bryant will be a big improvement over the ineffective Laveranues Coles, Marvin Lewis was asked about the offseason so far.

"Well, we’ve signed a receiver and I feel really good about that," Lewis said. "I feel good about the direction we took this season and so far with our organization. I think we got some of our needs prior to the draft being filled with veteran players, which enables us when we come to the draft to be completely open. To look at the best prospect and then draft based on that which is a good situation."

Some would argue that aside from the Bryant signing, the Bengals haven't improved during free agency. Chris Davis being the only other player that wasn't on the roster last season, the Bengals signed an additional three players, Tank Johnson, Roy Williams and Daniel Coats -- all of whom were on the squad last year. Alternatively, they've only lost two players to other teams -- Shaun Smith was very limited in his contributions and Larry Johnson was only a thought when Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott battled injury. Admittedly, neither player is a loss and two restricted free agents weren't tendered, J.P. Foschi and Matt Sherry, making them unrestricted free agents.

And as of this posting two starters that are still free agents, Bobbie Williams and Reggie Kelly, will likely return. But they're still not signed. And that always draws concerns with a negotiation group led by Katie Blackburn -- her negotiation segments on Hard Knocks with Andre Smith still give me horrifying nightmares.

So the Bengals have been boring. They're not making moves to satisify an impatient fanbase that wants the team to at least make their best effort on every player that's available. We're not people who like watching other teams sign quality players while we're perceived as sitting on our hands. Boring. One has to be reminded that this team won the AFC North, won ten games and swept the division, which included two teams that played in the AFC Championship game in 2008. That team is coming back in 2010. Will it be enough? One could argue if you sit status quo in the NFL, you're going to fall behind too quickly to react.

HAS ANYONE IN THE DIVISION REALLY DOMINATED THE OFFSEASON? When you sit back and analyze the Bengals' offseason thus far, you have crossover with other teams and see what they're up to. How are others within the division faring? Are you concerned about the Steelers, Ravens or Browns? Has any team improved that much to confidently say that they are the clear division favorites?

The Baltimore Ravens signed troubled receiver Donte Stallworth, traded for Anquan Boldin and brought Derrick Mason back on a two-year deal. They did sign Jim Zorn as the team's quarterback coach, but who knows how that will improve quarterback Joe Flacco. Have the Ravens made the moves up to this point to be the better team in the division?

"Boldin brings credibility to the Ravens passing attack, which has been without that big name #1 wideout for years," said Bruce Raffel of the Ravens blog Baltimore Beatdown. "Now combining Boldin with Derrick Mason, gives us a passing attack that will complement our running game enough to put enough points on the board to support their solid defense and go deep into the post season once again, and this time to the Big Game."

The Steelers signed Casey Hampton to a long-term deal, re-signed Ryan Clark, tagged place kicker Jeff Reed, brought Antwaan Randle El and Larry Foote back and signed receiver Arnaz Battle. Have the Steelers improved, or are they status quo, keeping their own and signing role players in free agency?

The Browns have made some moves, mostly related to clearing out their roster for draft picks. They signed a few veterans like Tony Pashos and Jake Delhomme. They signed linebacker Scott Fujita and then traded Kamerion Wimbley. We call that a draw. On the other hand, they cut Steve Heiden and replaced him with semi-effective Benjamin Watson at tight end. Of all the teams in the AFC North, the Browns could make the most noise when the NFL Draft wraps up. Still, this doesn't mean the Browns will make bold strides toward competing for the division this season. There's too much personnel turnover and too much youth that's about to be embedded into the roster to think Cleveland's chances of winning the AFC North to be realistic at this point. But at least they're doing it right this time, building a roster from the ground up.

On paper using the age old method of scanning for names and comparing what you know of those players in your mind, none of the AFC North teams clearly dominated free agency. The Browns are looking to use 12 draft picks during April's NFL Draft to improve their squad. The Bengals, Ravens and Steelers, all of whom are relatively content with their roster, are filling gaps to improve recent successes.

It would be one thing to claim that the Bengals aren't improving whereas the other division teams are. But like the Bengals, the Steelers and Ravens are keeping their core players, adding maybe one big-named player while looking to draft players to build their respective foundation. No one in the AFC North signed Julius Peppers, Karlos Dansby, Aaron Kampman, Dunta Robinson, Gary Brackett, LaDainian Tomlinson, Thomas Jones or Chester Taylor. In fact, of all the free agents, the Bengals may have added the best receiver available in Antonio Bryant within the division. The best any team has done that's comparable was the Ravens trading for Anquan Boldin.

WHAT'S ON TAP? While Cincinnati hasn't made the moves that makes us dance in the streets, singing backup vocals to the naked cowboy, the Bengals are standing firm with a roster composed of players that won last year. They are standing firm with the players that got them to the playoffs in 2009. But they're also aware that a majority of those players aren't just talented, they're leaders and everyone on the squad is big-picture minded. Yes, even Chad Ochocinco is thinking this way now.

Restricted free agents like Brandon Johnson, Abdul Hodge, Frostee Rucker and Evan Mathis are still unsigned, while Rashad Jeanty is being courted by the Miami Dolphins. Once those players are signed, and once the Bengals get Bobbie Williams and Reggie Kelly back, Cincinnati will focus on building their squad through the NFL draft.

And the NFL Draft is exactly what each AFC North team is looking to make their biggest moves during the offseason.

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