Free Agency 2012: 7 Free Agents Cleveland Browns Fans Should Covet
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
"Any fool can have bad luck; the art consists in knowing how to exploit it."- Frank Wedekind
Ask Browns fans about their free-agency experience under the Lerner family, and the response ranges from disbelief at the sheer bad luck—LeCharles Bentley and Gary Baxter's career-ending patellar tendon injuries—to well-founded frustration with repeated ill-advised attempts to find a short cut to 10 wins with an aging "named" quarterback.
See: Garcia, Jeff, Dilfer, Trent, Delhomme, Jake. The Browns can either sink the next two years into a young quarterback, Colt McCoy or otherwise, or unavoidably overpay an aging veteran in desperate hopes their reputation improves the team around them.
According to the Plain Dealer, GM Tom Heckert hinted Thursday that the Browns will behave conservatively this year during free agency—a prospect which must relieve bust-weary Dawg Pounders.
Like the quarterback position itself, the Browns' failures in free agency largely originate from a psychology resembling an inferiority complex. The fateful side effects result in distorted perception for fans and front office alike, leading to dubious late-career acquisitions based on name recognition, or at the least experience, in hopes either will preclude legitimacy.
The 1999 Cleveland Browns were 26 years old on average—middle of the pack for the Central Division that season. "Experience," and "value," often carry dubiously similar weight in a league that stands for "Not For Long." That misconception has cost the Browns years in development from Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark's "Forty-Browners," to Eric Mangini's paleo-New York Jets. In 1999, this franchise was founded on building off a mediocre twenty-nine year old running back, Terry Kirby. That reality foreshadowed the Browns' futility for the coming decade.
A conservative, concentrated effort could produce a young, quality free-agency class, even if it consists of only one or two players.
- Wide Receiver
- Outside Linebacker
This list considers existing pieces, potential draft picks and the predominant rumors as of March 9th, 2012.
You can follow Brian on twitter @StepanekButton
Flynn: How would he look behind the Browns' 2011 offensive line?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Plain Dealer reported GM Tom Heckert has essentially concurred with my earlier contention that McCoy hasn't quarterbacked a legitimate NFL offense. If he was throwing up smoke and mirrors when he inferred the Browns wouldn't pursue a high-profile free agent, it wouldn't be the first time a GM faked left and ran right.
Should the Rams and Redskins reach an accord on the No. 2 draft pick, or in the event the Browns proactively snag Flynn during free agency, the Browns would add a known quantity. They'd have an established NFL quarterback in his 20s. He's an experienced quarterback with extensive first-hand exposure to winning football and championship quarterbacking.
That said, buyer beware: look only so far as Kevin Kolb in Arizona or Matt Cassel in Kansas City to recognize how playing backup quarterback on an otherwise outstanding team can deceptively inflate performance over the course of entire seasons. Flynn's No. 10 could tease and haunt Browns fans with the ghost of Kelly Holcomb—the beloved backup who couldn't survive a full campaign.
Age (9/1/2012): 27
|Team||Pass TD||INT||Rush TD||Completion %||Passing Yardage||Rating||Games|
Nicks: The Browns' top prize.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Of every free agent on the market in 2012, Nicks represents the safest bet and fulfills one of the Browns' most dire needs—an elite guard.
Nicks established himself as a dominant force while the Saints ran and passed at will behind his adroit protection. No price would be too high for such a valuable, reliable asset.
Age (9/1/12): 27
12 Pressures on 700 Passing Attempts
Pass Blocking Efficiency: 98.6%
Ben Grubbs: a valuable addition at guard.
Larry French/Getty Images
Whether as a Brown or elsewhere, Ben Grubbs will soon collect a massive paycheck.
The former first-round pick panned out nicely for the Ravens earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season after several seasons of solid play.
Spiriting Grubbs away from Baltimore would represent a substantial offseason victory for the Browns, simultaneously strengthening their own offensive line while weakening their divisional opponents'.
Age (9/1/12): 28
Laurent Robinson: a proven professional.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Laurent Robinson constitutes precisely the kind of upgrade the Browns need at the wide receiver position. While Tom Heckert famously uncovers gems in the second and third round, the talent pool at receiver is far deeper in free agency.
Robinson filled in at a Pro Bowl level for Miles Austin, and his production continued despite playing in the third receiver role.
Robinson's young, healthy and consistent. The Browns would immediately improve with his addition.
Age (9/1/12): 27
Brandon Lloyd: an ideal foil to complement Greg Little.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
At 31 years old, Lloyd's an antique compared to the kind of players the Browns need to build a solid offensive foundation.
However, while McCoy, or whoever plays quarterback, may need time to sync up with a rookie, Lloyd's shown he can effectively adapt to his quarterback.
Age (9/1/12): 31
Larry French/Getty Images
With 11 sacks in 2011, Cliff Avril set himself up for a payday in 2012.
The Browns' front four would be complete with Avril replacing the inconsistent Jayme Mitchell opposite Jabaal Sheard, so they may be prepared to offer Avril that payday.
Age (9/1/12): 26
|Games||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Fumbles Recovered||Tackles||Assists|
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Henderson ranks tops in the NFL against the run. That alone suffices for the AFC North, particularly given the Browns' team needs.
He's young and healthy. Because he's waited for his opportunity much like Robinson, the likelihood remains high his body may have more seasons left in it than guys who have started since they were 22.
Age (9/1/12): 26