The Steelers hit the free agency ground running Thursday — kind of like running in place — while two AFC North Division foes were busy acquiring players and spending gobs of money to do so.
As the 4 p.m. start of the signing period began and other teams quickly swooped up free agents, the Steelers did, too: They signed two of their own, backup quarterback Landry Jones and tight end David Johnson, each to two-year contracts.
The first day of free agency ended as it usually does for the patient Steelers, with no further news of them signing anyone else’s free agents. However, they have scheduled some free agents for visits over the weekend, although names were hard to come by.
In the meantime, division foes Cleveland and Baltimore were busy collecting new players and re-signing some of their own as they try to make up distance on the reigning AFC North champion Steelers. Cincinnati, though, took a huge blow, losing its best two starting offensive linemen.
The perennially last-place Browns made the biggest bang and uniquely so — they began outside of free agency. They traded for Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler in a salary dump by the Texans and received a 2018 second-round pick as a bonus to do so — in order to pass off his $16 million guaranteed salary to Cleveland. The Browns also gave the Texans a fourth-round draft pick in 2017 in exchange for Houston’s sixth-round pick as part of the deal.
Cleveland then reportedly was shopping Osweiler around to other teams and might cut him if they found no interest. The deal essentially allowed the salary cap-flush Browns to pay for a high draft pick next year. They now have three second-rounders in 2018 and there is speculation they will use that to strengthen a package to try to entice the New England Patriots to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
That wasn’t all the Browns did as the regime that took over a year ago tries to pull them out of years of losing. They moved to strengthen the middle of their offensive line by signing three players led by Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler to a reported five-year, $60 million contract, $31.5 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid guard in NFL history. They added Packers center J.C. Tretter and extended the contract of their own guard, Joel Bitonio.
Cleveland next came to terms with Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt on a four-year, $32.5 million contract that has $17 million guaranteed, according to Cleveland.com. That might mean they will not try to keep Jeannette native Terrelle Pryor, a wide receiver reportedly looking for more money than Britt. The Browns also lost a player, safety Jordan Poyer, who signed with Buffalo.
In Baltimore, the Ravens added Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson on a four-year, $36 million contract. They signed Chargers halfback Danny Woodhead and re-signed Ryan Mallett, their backup quarterback. They kept wide receiver Mike Wallace, too, by picking up his option. Later Thursday, they kept their own free agent nose tackle Brandon Williams, agreeing to a five-year contract.
On the other side of Ohio, Cincinnati’s offense was hurt with the loss of Zeitler to the Browns and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who reportedly agreed to a contract with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Bengals did re-sign cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, often rumored to be a target of the Steelers in free agency, to a reported five-year, $52.5 million contract.
As the dust settled on the first half-day of free agency, the AFC North pecking order might not have changed but the Browns did something they have not been able to do much of during the playing part of the season — they won the day.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.