Cleveland Browns Free Agency: 7 Defensive Ends to Partner with Jabaal Sheard
The Cleveland Browns need to add an explosive defensive end to their four-man front to provide support for dynamic youngster Jabaal Sheard. Last season, Sheard posted 8.5 sacks and forced five fumbles in a highly successful rookie year.
However, Sheard will need some help in 2012. Jayme Mitchell failed to make any significant impact last season and another pass-rush threat would make the Browns' burgeoning front seven very dangerous next season.
Free agency could be the best route for the Browns to take. Despite a draft containing the likes of Nick Reed, Vinny Curry and Whitney Mercilus, the Browns may want to use their two first-round selections to add some playmakers to their anemic offense.
The free-agent defensive crop contains some intriguing options for the Browns. Mario Williams is the obvious star of the group, but his contract value may be prohibitive. Veteran John Abraham may be declining, but he would add some vital experience to a youthful Browns line.
Here are seven defensive ends who could partner Jabaal Sheard and give the Browns a fearsome pass-rush duo for the season.
7. Mark Anderson, New England Patriots
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Mark Anderson registered 10 sacks and forced two fumbles in 2011. The 28-year-old managed to emerge as a versatile and consistent pass-rusher on a porous New England Patriots defense.
At 6'4" and 255 pounds, Anderson has the speed, length and range to beat blockers to the corner and routinely collapse the edge. He is comfortable operating from either side of the formation and can even excel as a stand-up rusher in certain fronts.
Although he can be inconsistent and is not the strongest against the run, Anderson still has the ability to increase the scheme flexibility and pressure threat of the Browns defense. If the Patriots choose to seek a more high-profile pass-rusher either through the draft or free agency, the Browns should seriously consider targeting Anderson.
6. Dave Ball, Tennessee Titans
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Dave Ball is a quietly effective, high-motor pass-rusher who could be a valuable every down contributor in the Browns' schemes. With mammoth duo Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor occupying the inside, Cleveland's defense can afford to have lighter, quicker players on the outside.
Ball can be the kind of speed rusher the defense needs from the weak side. The 6'5", 255 pounder has a quick first step and plays with great energy. His career numbers are not overly impressive, but if given more playing time, Ball could surprise a few people with his production.
The Titans have committed to getting bigger up front defensively. That could spell the end of Ball's tenure in Tennessee. While his signing would certainly not generate headlines, Ball represents a low-value, minimal-risk option for the Browns to consider.
5. Dave Tollefson, New York Giants
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Dave Tollefson will never attract the fanfare of the more famous members of the New York Giants defensive line rotation. The 29-year-old is an active and capable pass-rusher in his own right, though, and could put up solid numbers on the Browns defense.
Tollefson notched five sacks and one forced fumble in 2011. He is versatile enough to operate on either side of the line and is an intelligent and hustling lineman who can make plays in space.
His limited numbers and the fear that he has merely benefited from playing alongside the likes of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora make Tollefson a risk. However, he would give Cleveland's defense a quick end with plenty of hustle who at the very least would be an extremely valuable member of the rotation.
4. Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears
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Israel Idonije could be a smart choice to partner Jabaal Sheard at defensive end. The eight-year veteran may have experienced a dip in numbers during 2011, but Idonije has the size and strength to be an asset along the Browns' front four.
Despite posting 13 sacks in the last two years, Idonije is never likely to collect double-digit quarterback takedowns in a season. Where he may intrigue the Browns is in the area of run defense.
The 6'6", 275 pounder is a stout force against the run. Idonije is aggressive at the point of contact and sets a hard edge on the outside, something the Browns struggled to do last season.
The 31-year-old has operated predominantly on the strong side for the Bears since the arrival of Julius Peppers, but has the experience and flexibility to make the switch over to the open side.
3. Jeremy Mincey, Jacksonville Jaguars
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Jeremy Mincey has steadily improved his game during the last two years and enjoyed a prolific campaign in 2011. He logged eight sacks, forced four fumbles and even snagged an interception.
The 28-year-old is a powerful and aggressive presence up front. He has the size and tenacity to apply consistent pressure on the pocket and hold up against the run.
After injuries blighted his early career development, Mincey now looks to be a player on the rise. The danger is that he produced his best form in a contract year and may be looking to leverage his way to mega bucks deal.
However, if the Browns were willing to take the chance on Mincey, he could develop into a true star on a Cleveland defensive line already loaded with young talent.
2. Andre Carter, New England Patriots
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Cat-quick, skilled veteran Andre Carter enjoyed a superb season with the New England Patriots after returning to his 4-3 roots. The 11-year pro recorded 52 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles, before a torn quad muscle ended his fine year prematurely in Week 15.
A natural weak-side defensive end, Carter has the speed and range to terrorise opposing blocking schemes and consistently get into the backfield. The 6'4", 255 pounder has lost very little of his naturally explosive first-step quickness and also remains as smart and savvy as any lineman in the league.
Adding Carter to the Browns' young line would provide Cleveland's defense with a legitimate pressure threat from the weak side. That would give Dick Jauron bookend pass-rushers to turn loose against the likes of Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.
The Patriots might not feel they can bring back both Anderson and Carter, as well as adding new options along their defensive front. At 32, coming off an injury and lacking the scheme versatility Anderson provides, Carter could find himself the odd man out.
If so, the Browns should waste no time in bringing him to Cleveland.
1. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons
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Concerns about his age and every down durability may put some teams off. However, there are few pass-rushers as technically refined as Abraham in the game today. He would give the Browns a true playmaker and add a fear factor to the defense.
The 33-year-old uses every asset at his disposal extremely well and can still set up and defeat any offensive tackle in the league. Abraham plays with deceptive speed and excellent leverage, but it is his intelligence and hands technique that separate him from most other pass-rushers.
Even if he were just used as a situational player, Abraham would be a major upgrade for the Browns. Nickel pass-rushers are extremely valuable weapons in today's pass-happy NFL, as San Francisco 49ers rookie Aldon Smith demonstrated in 2011.
Signing Abraham to a short-term deal would still leave the Browns free to add a defensive end via the draft, like Curry or Mercilus. In that scenario, the Browns would have a scary-looking line rotation heading into 2012.