There is no question that there is a pretty sizable gap between the upper echelon of the NFL and the Browns. The roster as currently constructed is very young but the Browns could make some judicious moves that could help them speed up the process quicker and give them a shot to make a push for the playoffs in 2013.
Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner said they aren’t going to make moves that are quick fixes and also intimated that they wouldn’t make any ‘splashy’ moves in free agency. They have said the Browns are committed to building long-term through the draft.
However, being reportedly close to $48 million under the salary cap the Browns could make a few moves in free agency that could significantly improve the team. Here are a few of the possible moves they could make.
We’ll start on the offensive side of the ball.
Quarterback--The most important position is always the quarterback. The current front office and coaching staff hasn’t declared Brandon Weeden the starter going forward. Haslam said that he expects a quarterback competition in training camp, but here are a couple of options for the team.
Joe Flacco-- recent Super Bowl MVP--is the biggest pending free agent quarterback currently on the list. The Ravens are dealing with salary cap issues and might have to franchise Flacco in order to keep him. Currently, the amount to make Flacco a non-exclusive franchise player is about $14.6 million a season. However, the Browns—and several other teams--have plenty of salary cap space and could sign Flacco and gladly forfeit the two number one draft choices it would take to sign him. To avoid that from happening, the Ravens could name Flacco an exclusive rights free agent, which would put him over $20 million a season in salary. If the Ravens chose to do so to make sure they didn’t lose him they would have big money tied up at one position and that would hurt the Ravens going forward as they couldn’t keep some of their other players by choosing to keep Flacco.
If they decide to let him go, the Browns would have their quarterback, who is younger than Weeden and appears to be entering his prime. Maybe it was because he was with the Ravens, but I haven’t considered him a franchise quarterback, but I have to admit going forward I think he would be a better option than either Michael Vick, Alex Smith, Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallett or any of the other rumored quarterback candidates being talked about to replace Weeden. If the Browns were to obtain Flacco, they would be significantly weakening their AFC North rival at the same time.
Smith would be the other quarterback who appears to be able to step right into the lineup and upgrade the offensive production. The best option to get Smith would likely be in a trade because if he is released by the 49ers, he can go wherever he wants and he might not see the Browns as his best option. However, he does have ties to Norv Turner and a chance to start would appeal to him. It comes down to what other options he might have.
Then again, the Browns might decide to go another year with Weeden. Then again, there is always the option of Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn, who are also free agents. If the Browns choose to go there, they could have a re-union from already four regimes ago.
Wide Receiver—The Browns could use a veteran wide receiver to go with Josh Gordon and Greg Little. In similar fashion to the signing of Flacco, the Browns could hurt the Steelers by signing Mike Wallace as a free agent. Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Dwayne Bowe are also currently expected to hit the free agent market. Jennings might be the most attractive addition of the group.
Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent but the Browns do have the money to force the Giants to consider letting him go as they are also trying to re-sign Hakeem Nicks.
Guard—The Browns returning guards, Jason Pinkston, Shawn Lauvao and John Greco were not a physical force on the interior of the line and didn’t provide a big enough push in the running game. Andy Levitre of the Bills, Louis Vasquez of the Chargers or Brandon Moore of the Jets would all provide that physical presence. Vasquez played for Turner in San Diego.
Fullback—In Turner’s offense, the fullback is usually more prominent than what the Browns have had in the past couple of years since the departure of Lawrence Vickers. James Casey (Texans) is versatile and can play fullback and tight end. The options at fullback in free agency are limited.
Tight end—There are several available tight ends in free agency should the new staff not think that Jordan Cameron can handle the role or they choose to not re-sign Ben Watson. Among the tight ends that are set to become free agents are Martellus Bennett (Giants), Jared Cook (Titans), Dustin Keller (Jets) and Brandon Myers (Raiders). Dennis Pitta (Ravens) is a restricted free agent.
Now, let’s look at the defensive side of the ball. With the switch in schemes, the outside linebacker and cornerback positions might be the most important.
Outside Linebacker--On the defensive side the Browns need outside pass rushers as they begin to employ Ray Horton’s defensive schemes. Arguably, Anthony Spencer of the Cowboys is the top free agent available. Spencer had just a half sack less than teammate DeMarcus Ware and could give the Browns a great pass rusher immediately.
They also could go after Paul Kruger (Ravens) or Dwight Freeney (Colts). They would be interesting additions as they can rush the passer. Dannell Ellerbe (Ravens) is scheduled to replace Ray Lewis, but could help the Browns.
Cornerback—It was obvious the Browns were thin at cornerback when Joe Haden missed the first four games and the Browns lost all four of them. When he was sidelined for a game later in the season, the Browns lost. Sheldon Brown is a free agent, but he is 34-years old. Dimitri Patterson was released and Buster Skrine was the whipping boy most of the time he played. The former defensive coaching staff was clearly in Skrine’s corner, but the new staff might not be as high on him.
Several options are available at cornerback including: Marcus Trufant (Seahawks), Mike Jenkins (Cowboys), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles), Tracy Porter (Broncos), Aqib Talib (Patriots), Nate Clements (Bengals), Rashean Mathis (Jaguars), Cary Williams (Ravens) and Sean Smith (Dolphins). Leodis McKelvin of the Bills is a top notch return man and could double in that role, as well.
Safety—If the Browns feel they can do better in the draft at cornerback, there are a few more options at safety. Jairus Byrd(Bills), William Moore (Falcons) or Dashon Goldson (49ers) would all look good next to T.J. Ward.
It’s a given the Browns can’t get all or the majority of the players they need in free agency, but if they can pick up two or three key pieces in free agency, that could go a long way in improving the team in 2013.