Cleveland Browns Free Agency and Draft Predictions
The Cleveland Browns suffered from an anemic offense in the 2011 season. Any fan who watched this team knows that it was painful when the offense stepped onto the field. This offseason is crucial for the Browns and Mike Holmgren to continue to get this team on the right track.
There were some positives that could be taken from this past season. The defense is definitely on the right track and could be just a few players away from being dominant.
On the offensive side of the ball, there were still a few bright spots. Jordan Norwood and Greg Little both showed that they do have some potential to be NFL receivers, not No. 1 targets, but suitable No. 2 receivers and slot options. Joe Thomas and Alex Mack both showed again that they are fantastic anchors on the offensive line.
This leaves us with the Browns' biggest offseason needs, in no particular order: QB, RB, WR, RT, RE, CB
Let's take a look to see how they may approach these needs.
The Quarterback Carousel
This offseason has been and will continue to be dominated by the news around the quarterback position. With the enormous gamble Washington took yesterday by trading away most of their future to move up to the No. 2 position in this year's draft, the quarterback carousel has officially begun.
Before that trade happened, I had Washington as my favorite to land Peyton Manning. Now there is no way I see that happening. The remaining suitors that I still see having a chance to land Manning are Arizona, Miami and potentially Kansas City.
Rumors have been floating about Denver, but if Peyton's smart he will avoid getting himself entangled in the Tebow madness.
Out of those teams, I see Arizona as the place where Manning finds himself. If he signs with the Cardinals, he will team up with Larry Fitzgerald—and potentially bring fellow free agent Reggie Wayne along for the ride. That could lead to a pretty lethal offense for Arizona.
This leaves Matt Flynn as the other big-name free agent left on the market. I know lots of hype has surrounded this guy and some want him to come to Cleveland. In my opinion, this guy is Colt McCoy 2.0 who just had the benefit of one good game in an amazing system with great receivers.
Since in this situation Miami cannot get Robert Griffin III or Manning, I see them drastically overpaying for Flynn.
So this leaves the Browns on the outside looking in yet again. However, if Peyton goes to Arizona, they will have three quarterbacks on their roster: Manning, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
Kolb will be the odd man out being the higher-paid veteran. This is where patience will pay off for the Browns. At this point, Arizona will be forced to trade Kolb and Cleveland will be potentially the only suitors left, leaving the Browns in a powerful position of leverage.
Kolb's most successful season came in Philly under the West Coast offense, where he looked promising before sustaining injuries and being overshadowed by Mike Vick.
By being patient and not overpaying, the Browns could up getting a bargain on a veteran QB who fits well into the system and still has plenty of years left on his playing career.
Other possibilities: Stay with Colt McCoy, draft Brandon Weeden or hope for Matt Barkley in 2013.
Peyton Hillis: To Re-Sign or Not to Re-Sign? That Is the Question
The love/hate relationship that Browns fans experienced with Peyton Hillis between the 2010-2011 seasons was heartbreaking.
He showed in 2010 that he had the potential to be a long-term running back and Cleveland could continue to feed him 20-plus carries a game for years to come. He seemed humble and loyal... almost to good to be true following the heartache of LeBron James leaving Cleveland.
Turns out 2010 was to good to be true.
In 2011, Hillis suffered injuries, an inflated ego and agent troubles, which kept him off the field for most of the season. In the few games he did fully play, he showed glimpses that he could still be the same running back we saw in 2010, if fully healthy.
Now the question is, will the Browns office want to re-sign him—which indications so far show they do—and will he want to return to Cleveland? With teams like New England and Pittsburgh in need of a running back, it will be interesting to see if they show interest in Hillis and if they do, will he choose to leave Cleveland or will he stay?
Personally, I think Hillis will end up going elsewhere. The bad media he received last year, along with his injuries, could compel him to look to start fresh with another team. I would like Hillis to come back on a small incentive contract and for the Browns to couple him with a guy like Kahlil Bell.
Other possibilities: Draft Trent Richardson, sign Kahlil Bell.
Free Agency: Offense
Going into free agency, the Browns still have a few holes to fill. Below are a few options at remaining positions that the Browns may choose to address via free agency instead of through the draft.
There are bigger names at each position who will demand big money contracts. Due to Heckert ruling out big-name signings, I have not included them in these options, even if they may be good fits.
Right Tackle: Anthony Collins, CIN
Collins is a 26-year-old offensive lineman who has been a serviceable backup for the Bengals for several years. He is not a superstar, but does have the ability to start on a team who needs an upgrade on the line.
The Browns fall into this category as anyone is an upgrade over Tony Pashos at right tackle. Anthony Collins would take pressure off of whoever the QB may be and also improve the run game.
Other names to keep an eye on: King Dunlap, Barry Richardson and Brandon Keith.
Running Back: Kahlil Bell, CHI
Bell was impressive late last season, coming in to replace the injured Matt Forte. He has quick speed, great vision, can pass block and also has great ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. If the Browns choose not to resign Hillis or if he chooses to go elsewhere, Bell would be my favorite free-agent option to replace him.
Other names to keep an eye on: Steve Slaton, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Justin Forsett
Free Agency: Defense
Defensive Tackle: Antonio Garay, SD
Garay is older and could very well be on the downside of his career. But at 6'4" and 320 pounds, he still is an excellent run stuffer and could be a great asset to sub in relief for Taylor and Rubin.
He wouldn't cost much and would help improve Cleveland's weak run defense. Throughout the season, he could allow the other defensive line members to stay healthy and rested throughout the year.
Other possibilities: Marcus Thomas and Luis Castillo.
OLB—Wesley Woodyard, DEN
With Scott Fujita potentially wrapped up in the bounty scandal from New Orleans, the Browns have even more reason to search to replace him.
Woodyard is an excellent young linebacker and could definitely start on a defense somewhere. However, he has not had the opportunity to shine due to the fact that he has been overshadowed by D.J. Williams in Denver.
Other possibilities: Rocky McIntosch, Bobby Carpenter and Manny Lawson.
April 26, 2012 NFL Draft
The Browns hold two picks in the first round of this years draft. Cleveland must bowl strikes with these two picks to continue to move forward and improve.
With the fourth overall selection the Cleveland Browns select:
CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
After the Redskins' massive trade to move up to get RG3, the Browns are put into a weird spot. If the opportunity to trade down presents itself, I feel like they will do that. However, I don't see an appealing trade presenting itself and they will be stuck in the fourth spot.
If this is the case, they will select the top corner in the draft. Claiborne has elite pass coverage skills and could lead to one of the best corner duos in the NFL with him and Joe Haden. This also would allow Sheldon Brown to move to free safety, which at his age and declining speed would be perfect and improve the defense in multiple ways with one pick.
One trade possibility I could see is the Browns swapping the Rams with their new No. 6 spot and getting both of their second-round picks in return.
This would allow St. Louis to select Justin Blackmon, and still leave the Browns with the No. 6 pick. I still think they end up with Claiborne if this happens, as I believe Tampa Bay would still take Trent Richardson.
With the 22nd overall selection the Cleveland Browns select:
WR Alshon Jefferey, South Carolina
I know he had a bad combine, but that could send a former top-10 prospect all the way down to the Browns at 22. He is big, physical and would make an excellent target for whoever the Browns' new QB may be.
Again, I could see Cleveland moving down if the opportunity is there and there are enough players they like still on the board. If they do, I could still see Jefferey being available.
Other possibilities with this pick would be: Courtney Upshaw—a dominant defensive end from Alabama. He would make a great compliment on the opposite side of the Jabbal Sheard.
Patience, patience, patience. That is the key for the Browns' front office and for the fans. This offseason can propel this team into being a competitive, fun team to watch with great potential for a few years down the line.
Rome wasn't built in a day people, and neither will this overhaul for the Browns, but it is close and we have to keep our faith.
Here is to a Super Bowl in our lifetime, Browns fans!