With the defense shifting from a 3-4 alignment to the 4-3 under defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, the Browns have made their most moves on this side of the ball.
Robaire Smith is coming off a season-ending back injury and he is older than Rogers and Coleman at 33.
Matt Roth could be an unrestricted free agent and it's uncertain if the Browns think he will be a defensive end or outside linebacker in the 4-3, if they retain him.
Marcus Benard, who had 7.5 sacks last season is most likely being looked at as a defensive end in the 4-3. Jayme Mitchell, who the Browns traded for as a pass rusher is an unrestricted free agent. He is described to be suited as a 4-3 defensive end. Titus Adams was on injured reserve last season.
The Browns have several defensive linemen on the roster, but none with a lot of experience other than Brian Schaefering and Derreck Robinson. Travis Ivey, Ko Quaye and Brian Sanford were rookies last season.
Bottom line: Most observers think the Browns have to look at the defensive line in the draft with either their first or second pick--or maybe both—especially if there is no free agency before the draft.
The Browns parted ways with Eric Barton and David Bowens several weeks ago and signed D'Qwell Jackson to a one-year contract that is incentive- laden for as much as $4.5 million. Jackson is just 27 and is coming off back-to-back seasons on injured reserve where he tore each of his pectoral muscles in the two seasons. He led the NFL with 188 tackles in 2008 and the Browns think the 4-3 will be to his benefit.
"I don't think he's a non-fit in a 3-4," Heckert said. "But a 4-3's probably a better fit for him. He's not a huge guy inside. In a 4-3, he can probably play Mike (middle linebacker) or Will (weak side). He's just better suited, body type."
Heckert said Scott Fujita was the ‘ideal' strong side linebacker and Chris Gocong can play any of the three positions. Either he or Jackson will most likely be in the middle with the current group of linebackers.
As of now, it appears that Jackson, Gocong and Fujita would be the early favorites to start at linebacker.
Bottom line: The Browns currently have enough proven linebackers at the NFL level to field the position, which is more than what can be said at defensive line currently. However, they need more depth at the position, as well as impact players.
Eric Wright confirmed that he was given a second-round tender by the Browns in a twitter post meaning the Brown would receive a second-round draft pick if Wright signed with another team. The Browns would also have the opportunity to match any offers Wright received.
Heckert said we have ‘two good corners' in reference to Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown recently. Brown will be 32 on March 19 and Heckert said there are no plans to move him to safety at the present. If Wright stays, the Browns still need another corner or two.
Mike Adams has been very versatile at both positions, but is probably better at safety. Coye Francies returned late in the season. DeAngelo Smith is a versatile player, who was on the practice squad last year. The Browns also added Ramzee Robinson.
Bottom line: If the new CBA keeps players like Wright and Elam restricted free agents, they will likely return. Wright will be counted on to regain the form he displayed in his first three years in the NFL. He was considered to be on the verge of breaking out to an All-Pro type player before having a disappointing 2010 season. The tender would also seem to diminish the Browns drafting a cornerback like Patrick Peterson with the sixth overall pick.
There have been no reports as to the status of Elam. He is a fifth-year player and would be a restricted free agent if the rules the league was under last year stand. The Browns did not announce whether he was tendered a contract.
By placing the franchise tag on Phil Dawson the Browns are making sure they don't lose him. They hope to sign him to a longer contract, but by retaining him they solidify the kicking game. Reggie Hodges was given a multi-year deal last season and Ryan Pontbriand might be Butch Davis' best draft pick.