It's no secret that the Browns are focused on upgrading the linebacker position. Every major free agent linebacker has seemingly been tied to the team in some way over the past couple of weeks.
Here's the low-down coming out of Berea as to what the team is really thinking about these players:
When linebacker Takeo Spikes was released by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Browns were immediately mentioned as interest in the veteran standout. The Browns were seeking an outside and inside linebacker, so the connection was obvious. Spikes said on a radio show that he was interested in the Browns, New England and Pittsburgh due to the defensive schemes they utilize.
Though Spikes would appear to be a nice addition and potential upgrade to the Cleveland defense, the Browns have not been active in pursuit of the veteran linebacker, but are keeping the option open at this time.
Coming off a productive 2007 season prior to a shoulder injury which required surgery, Spikes was released by the Eagles. In Cleveland, sources tell the Orange and Brown Report, "Spikes is not at the top of the teams most wanted list and the decision-makers are leery of Spikes due to fit, injury and other personal reasons. It isn't that he (Spikes) is a bad apple or anything, it's just that the team simply is not sold on him."
Another high-profile linebacker has made his way through Cleveland and remains an option: Al Wilson, formerly of the Denver Broncos. Wilson, a perennial All-Pro with the Broncos prior to a neck injury late in the 2006 season, did not play in 2007 and is seeking an opportunity to compete for a starting role on a winning team.
Wilson passed a physical in Cleveland last week, but left without a contract offer. Following Wilson's departure, a league source tells the Orange and Brown Report, "The Browns and Peter Schaffer (Wilson's agent) have had discussions regarding the linebacker, which include some parameters and concerns, but there has not been a negotiation process. There is a legitimate mutual interest, but the obstacle may be Cleveland making a commitment."
The Browns seem to be looking for a sure thing, and appear to be somewhat leery to take a chance on a 'maybe' player. The organization likes Wilson's ability, professionalism and production prior to the neck injury, but does not know what to expect following the injury.
"Prior to the neck injury, Al Wilson was a very, very good middle linebacker. He had a nose for the football, played extremely well going forward and just knew how to get to the ball-carrier. The issue comes down to the Browns wanting to take a chance that he is the same player following the neck injury," a Browns' source tells the Orange and Brown Report.
"In Wilson, the issue is not about making a deal or salary cap implications, it is all about a roster spot in area of need for this team. This is the hundred-thousand dollar question that must be answered inside the Cleveland front office."
Two years ago, the Cleveland Browns believed they were on the verge of signing Detroit Lions defensive end Kalimba Edwards to play outside linebacker in Cleveland. At the last moment, Edwards re-signed with the Lions. Today, Edwards is once again available, as he has been released by the Lions following two lackluster seasons.
Cleveland is again interested in the defensive end, and again is interested in Edwards playing outside linebacker in the Browns 3-4 defensive scheme. The belief is that the 265-pound Edwards has the physical ability and quickness to be effective in this scheme, which would provide him space to make plays, rather than consistently being engaged by bigger offensive linemen.
"He (Edwards) has the stature and skill that should translate into the outside fairly well. The interest in him (Edwards) is not nearly what it was two years ago, but interest remains due to the situation and what the player is believed to bring to the table," a team source tells the Orange and Brown Report. "We'll see where it goes, the organization is not in a hurry-up mode just to sign any capable player, it has to be the right fit physically, mentally and financially."
Another possible fit at linebacker, Steelers free agent Clark Haggans, has not made a visit to Cleveland, but remains a player of interest.
Haggans has performed well in the Pittsburgh 3-4 defense and the Browns have kept an eye on him since the free agent player signing period commenced. The Orange and Brown Report reported nearly three weeks ago that the Browns had been attempting to line up a visit with the veteran outside linebacker. While the local media has echoed those reports, what hasn't been reported is that the Cleveland interest in Haggans is not only as an outside linebacker, but as an inside linebacker as well.
A source close to Haggans tells the OBR, "The Cleveland interest appears legitimate and interesting. One thing we did not want to do was visit teams, just to visit, and have them pit player against player in the negotiating process. Clark (Haggans) has options available to him, and is exploring them, with Cleveland being one which would keep him the 3-4 defense, provide him the opportunity to rush the quarterback and stay within the division (AFC North)."
Cleveland is an option for the veteran linebacker, but with he also has to deal with the Browns non-committal approach to filling the position. Interestingly, Cleveland and Haggans' representatives had been unable to secure a visit to Cleveland, but this has now changed. Haggans will be in Cleveland next week to meet with the team, which may mark the time that the heat may be turned up in regards to the Cleveland linebacker situation.
"Haggans is a player of real interest to the Browns. He is solid on the edge, plays the run, can get to the QB and has the physical and mental make-up to be flexible playing inside," a team source tells the OBR. "Flexibility is a key element as the Browns look to improve the quality and depth at the position. He (Haggans) will be in next week and we'll see where it goes from there, the Browns will feel him out to determine if their belief of him as a player is likely following the discussions.
"Once the Browns meet with Haggans, we should have a much clearer picture as to how Cleveland will address the linebacker issues."