Rich's Rant: Dreaming of Free Agency

Rich Passan enjoys a gentle slumber, filled with visions of free agents in orange and brown...

Welcome to the National Football League's version of how to keep the people talking about your product. While some people choose to call it the offseason, the NFL calls it something entirely different: Business as usual.

Major League Baseball has awakened from its winter slumber for spring training. The National Basketball Association creeps closer to the postseason. College basketball girds for March Madness. Even NASCAR steals a significant portion of the sports spotlight.

But on Friday, the NFL drops the flag on free agency, that wonderful opportunity to shake up the league's personnel landscape in order to better balance the competitive nature of the league. At least that's what we are led to believe.

Once again, the league takes control again of the spotlight.

It's that time of the year where rumors run rampant and speculation spirals totally out of control.

It's that time of the year where fans of NFL teams envision superstars who become free agents wearing the colors of their team. Where there is no such thing as a salary cap and the sky is the financial limit.

It's the time of the year throughout Browns Nation where fans conjure up thoughts of a dream lineup for the Cleveland Browns. Time to erase most of the memories of the first 10 seasons since the return and restore the glory of the past.

And what fun it will be, especially for Cleveland fans who have attached their hopes for a revival to the new front office. Realism takes an extended vacation and imagination takes full command. That's what free agency can do to the avid pro football fan.

Let's see. Where do the Browns need the most help? The pessimist says just about everywhere. So . . .

Dream along with me . . .

Picture Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth in a Browns uniform. Imagine Haynesworth and Shaun Rogers playing side by side on the defensive line. Kinda scary. Chris Canty of Dallas then could come on board and solidify the flank.

Stick Baltimore's Bart Scott on one side of D'Qwell Jackson and Michael Boley of Atlanta on the other and the Browns' linebacking corps gets a whole lot better.

No one would be able to run on the Browns, the NFL's patsies in that department for way too long. No longer would the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens slap around the Cleveland defense without retaliation

Now that we've got the front seven fixed on defense, time for George Kokinis and Eric Mangini to convince Randy Lerner that Sean Jones deserves all those bucks he wants to play safety. If not, Jermaine Phillips from Tampa Bay sure does look enticing. So does Jim Leonhard, the guy Kokinis picked up for Baltimore. He looked awfully good last season for the Ravens.

Rodney Harrison, Darren Sharper and Lawyer Milloy are out there, but their tanks have hovered around empty for at least a couple of years.

Dreaming on . . .

On offense, Derrick Ward would be a perfect complement to Jamal Lewis in the backfield. So what if he's just a year younger than Lewis. Look what he did with the New York Giants the last two seasons. If not for Brandon Jacobs, he's starting.

Imagine how much of an impact the Bengals' T. J. Houshmandzadeh would have on the effectiveness of Braylon Edwards, who missed the steadiness and reliability of Joe Jurevicius last season. Ol' 14 letters can provide that assurance.

Whoa. On a roll now. Don't wake me up.

The offensive line could use another body or two, especially if Ryan Tucker doesn't come back.

Jahri Evans of the New Orleans Saints would look nice in Orange & Brown. Always liked Khalif Barnes down in Jacksonville and now that he has worn out his welcome with the Jaguars, he could replace Kevin Shaffer at right tackle. And the Ravens' Jason Brown would be a perfect replacement for the aging Hank Fraley at center.

And if Mangini isn't thrilled with Kellen Winslow Jr. at tight end, there's always Chris Baker, his tight end with the Jets in New York the last three seasons.

Dream time over? Damn!

Time for realism to kick in.

If the Browns sign just one or two of the aforementioned, they should consider it a success.

More important – much more important – is the college draft. The life blood of any franchise in the NFL is the college lottery. Teams rarely achieve title-winning efforts through free agency.

And with the Browns owning a measly four picks in this year's draft, it is incumbent that Mangini and Kokinis choose wisely in rounds one, two, four and six. Their margin for error has been severely endangered by the swapping predilections of the previous front office.

Let's see how good these guys are. Let's see if they can hike that pick count back up to seven with some shrewd dealing.

Now that would be impressive. The sort of stuff of which dreams are made.

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