The Browns have many needs, given their 1-15 record last season, but here are some ways they can upgrade the roster before the NFL Draft
Free agency is here.
For Browns fans--outside of the NFL Draft--free agency is one of the most anticipated times of the year. In 2017, the Browns are armed with over $100 million in salary cap space and a host of draft picks in the upcoming draft, with five of the top 65 picks.
Here is a chance for the Browns to upgrade their team quickly with some key moves that won't cost them any precious draft choices--only the money they've been saving up for several years.
Today is the day 'legal tampering' begins in free agency. It used to be that teams were not allowed to talk to players before free agency began. Remember in 2006, the Browns announced the signings of LeCharles Bentley, Joe Jurevicius and Kevin Shaffer at 12:01 am the year free agency began.
They did a lot of negotiation in that minute after free agency opened, right?
Several years ago, the NFL wisely allowed a two-day period prior to the opening of free agency to let agents negotiate with NFL teams to come to agreements, but nothing can be finalized until Thursday March 9 at 4 pm, when the new league year begins. However, most of the news will leak out by agents and we'll know pretty much where the big name players are heading before free agency officially opens.
Here are some priority areas the Browns can address in free agency before the draft:
Let me say this first, the Browns have to get the quarterback situation decided and get it right. If they are setting their sights on the Patriots' Jimmy Garoppolo, they need to see if that is an option and be aggressive when the trading period also begins Thursday. They also will find out likely by Saturday if the Bills release Tyrod Taylor and he becomes an option.
Reading between the lines with EVP Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson last week in Indianapolis, the Browns are planning on moving on from Robert Griffin III, even if they keep him on the roster past March 11 and give him the $750,000 roster bonus. They look at him as an insurance policy in case they can't make a trade or sign a free agency quarterback before the draft in late April.
If the two above players aren't obtained, other lesser options in free agency would be Mike Glennon, Brian Hoyer or Case Keenum. Tony Romo or Jay Cutler are expected to become available, as well, but wouldn't seem to fit a 1-15 rebuilding team.
Some would say the Browns need to address the offensive line before any other position. Joel Bitonio and John Greco suffered season-ending Lisfranc injuries and their return to start the season isn't guaranteed. Cameron Erving, Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango were drafted in the last two years to solve the problems of losing Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz to free agency. None have shown they are the answer, as of yet.
The Browns allowed a league-high 66 sacks last season and still have questions at center and right tackle. Last year's right tackle, Austin Pasztor is poised to hit free agency.
The Browns could use some of their cap space to solve at least one of the starting positions on the offensive line. This year's draft analysts have said the talent and depth is less than in previous years.
Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler, who is 27 on Wednesday, was a first-round draft pick of the Bengals and has started for five seasons. He could move in to the starting right guard spot and allow Greco to be the all-around backup or play center if Austin Reiter, Gabe Ikard or Anthony Fabiano aren't ready to start.
Competition could be heavy for Zeitler, who could command as much as $12 million a season per reports. Signing a player from an AFC North rival would also weaken the Bengals. ProFootballTalk.com has Zeitler as the 11th-best available free agent. Others are T.J. Lang (Packers) or Ron Leary (Cowboys). Lang is ranked 19th by PFT and Leary is 25th.
Former Buckeye Nick Mangold, 33, was released by the Jets and could be an option.
The Browns made a huge signing of their own potential free agent by wrapping up linebacker Jamie Collins before he could hit the open market. However it appears that Terrelle Pryor is poised to hit the market. It looks as though Pryor will likely get a big offer from some team and at best, the Browns will be given the chance to match it, since he has said repeatedly he wants to stay with the Browns. Brown said re-signing Pryor was a priority, but he wouldn't panic if he leaves.
On Monday, Pryor tweeted:
“I’m anxious and nervous. But everything in Gods hands.... We must follow his plans...”
Cleveland.com reported already that Pryor has drawn interest from several teams, including the Steelers, Giants, Titans, Eagles and 49ers.
My experience tells me once a player hits the open market-especially with the Browns--they're usually gone. Browns fans remember that only last year, this happened with Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin, Tashaun Gipson, Alex Mack and Johnson Bademosi.
Whether the Browns are able to keep Pryor or not they have to add a veteran wide receiver. Even though he was in his first year at wide receiver, Pryor was the Browns best offensive playmaker with 77 receptions for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns and his upside as a receiver is just getting started.
Andrew Hawkins was released, which leaves the four drafted receivers from a season ago. Corey Coleman had an injury-plagued rookie season and obviously, has potential, but Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton and Ricardo Louis hardly forced their way on to the field for a 1-15 team.
Some of the candidates for the Browns at wide receiver are Brandon Marshall, recently released by the Jets, free agent Pierre Garcon or Kamar Aiken from the Ravens. The 49ers have informed Torrey Smith that he will be released. Alshon Jeffery is the biggest name wide receiver set to hit the market, along with DeSean Jackson. Jeffery is ranked 12th by PFT and Jackson is 13th.
The Browns need to get a starting safety in free agency. Last year, at this time the Browns decided to let Donte Whitner and Gipson leave and the void was evident. Ibraheim Campbell and Derrick Kindred were 4th round draft choices in the last two drafts and still might emerge, but it's hard to count on that.
Jordan Poyer showed some promise but had a season-ending injury. Even if one of the aforementioned players emerges in Gregg Williams' system, it would be nice to add a top-flight safety to anchor the secondary.
The Cardinals Tony Jefferson (5-foot-11, 213) sits at the top of the free agent class, ranked 14th overall, by PFT. He’s 25, and should be entering his prime. He has started 31 games in four season, including 14 last season. He had 74 tackles, two forced fumbles, five passes broken up and two sacks.
In his career, he had 220 tackles, two interceptions, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, five sacks and 11 passes broken up. Jefferson went undrafted from Oklahoma, but is expected to get between $7-$10 million a season per reports. Other options are Jonathan Cyprien (Jaguars), Micah Hyde (Packers) and Barry Church (Cowboys). Hyde is listed as the 33rd best free agent available, while Church is 39th. Cyprien is listed at 53rd.
It's March...let the madness begin.