Team Needs: Cleveland Browns

This has been an offseason of change for the Cleveland Browns, and the pace shows little sign of slowing.

General manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel are quickly rebuilding the Browns in a new image, one seemingly based on the New England Patriots' success, by using smart, versatile, team-oriented players. The new brain trust faces a tremendous challenge adapting the team to Crennel's preferred 3-4 defensive scheme and in rebuilding a squad handicapped by poor draft selections, lackluster morale and inattention to the offensive line.

The offensive line was the first area to get addressed with the signings of guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman. The Browns responded to the loss of Anthony Henry by quickly signing Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter. The Butch Davis era was abandoned when Gerard Warren was dealt to Denver, Jeff Garcia was released and Trent Dilfer was acquired from Seattle. Disappointing defending end Courtney Brown was let go and William Green could be the next former first-round pick to be cut.

The Browns still have substantial work to do in preparing for the 2005 season. The defensive front seven is likely to be changed further, as the team continues to chase free-agent linemen and linebackers who better fit in Crennel's scheme. Depth on the offensive line remains a concern, as does the need to define the future at quarterback.

The Browns' needs are so profound that they could go in any number of directions (linebacker, cornerback, quarterback, running back or wide receiver) on draft day. Savage will certainly entertain offers to trade down from the No. 3 overall choice to acquire more picks.

SALARY CAP STATUS

The release of Courtney Brown gave the Browns approximately $5 million in cap room, which is enough to allow them to pursue free agents and sign draft picks.

TEAM NEEDS

Running back – The Browns like what they see in Lee Suggs, but the organization is not certain if he can stay healthy. Dating back to his college career at Virginia Tech, Suggs has had injury issues. Baltimore running back Chester Taylor was signed to an offer sheet, but the Ravens matched it. William Green, a former first-round pick, has fallen out of favor and could be traded or released in the near future. With the third overall selection in the draft, the Browns could look at Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams or Ronnie Brown as a potential featured back.

Linebacker – Issues with quality and depth warrant some serious attention in free agency and the draft. The Browns signed Matt Stewart from Atlanta and are talking with Baltimore's Ed Hartwell, but they lack the stable of linebackers to make the switch to a 3-4 defense. Look for them to keep busy in free agency and explore the draft to obtain that depth. Don't look for them to select a linebacker in the first or second round, but they should start searching for an inside linebacker to pair with Andra Davis by Round 3.

Quarterback – Trent Dilfer was acquired within hours after Kelly Holcomb was lost to Buffalo in free agency. Dilfer is not a flashy quarterback, but he should provide stability for a changing Browns team under new head coach Romeo Crennel. With two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks on the roster behind Dilfer – and neither backup expected to be the team's quarterback of the future – Cleveland may look to the draft to secure that franchise QB.

Offensive line – Ross Verba and Ryan Tucker are the starting tackles, and Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman are the new starting guards. The quality and depth is questionable, though, and the Browns continue to keep a close eye on free agents who could solidify the line. General manager Phil Savage believes in building through the draft and this may be the avenue he uses to restock this area.

FREE AGENCY AND OFFSEASON

KEY ACQUISITIONS: OG Joe Andruzzi (Patriots), CB Gary Baxter (Ravens), OG Cosey Coleman (Buccaneers), DT Jason Fisk (Chargers), P Kyle Richardson (Bengals), LB Matt Stewart (Falcons).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LB Andra Davis, LB Ben Taylor.

KEY DEPARTURES: LB Kevin Bentley (Seahawks), DE Courtney Brown (released), QB Jeff Garcia (released), LB Barry Gardner (Jets), OL Joaquin Gonzalez (Colts), S Robert Griffith (released), CB Anthony Henry (Cowboys), QB Kelly Holcomb (Bills), CB Lewis Sanders (Texans), DT Gerard Warren (traded to Broncos).

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OG Damion Cook, LB Warrick Holdman, WR Andre King, DE Tyrone Rogers, LB Eric Westmoreland, OG Paul Zukauskas.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: C Melvin Fowler (tendered at $656,000 with third-round pick as compensation), TE Keith Heinrich (tendered at $656,000 with sixth-round pick as compensation).

EXCLUSIVE RIGHT FREE AGENTS: CB Dyshod Carter (tendered at $380,000), OT Kirk Chambers (tendered at $305,000), P Derrick Frost (tendered at $380,000).


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