2012 NFL Free Agents: Cleveland Browns' 5 Biggest Targets
It comes as no surprise to any Browns faithful or loyal follower of the sport, that the Browns were pretty awful offensively last season. The once-proud work horse that was Peyton Hillis was out with just about every ache or pain, the right side of the offensive line couldn't block Betty White and, as result, QB Colt McCoy hit the turf often.
When McCoy had the time to throw, he didn't have a receiver to throw to. Big names like WR/PR Josh Cribbs and WR Mohammad Massaquoi were horribly underwhelming with their ability to drop passes that would be caught by your average Pee-Wee walk on.
On defense, the Browns were more stable, posting the No. 2 pass defense in the AFC with big time defensive contributors like NFL Comeback Player of the Year D'Qwell Jackson and shutdown corner Joe Haden. On the flip side, the Cleveland Browns had the worse run defense in the AFC despite a beefy, defensive line.
If the Browns wish to do anything more than what they "accomplished" this past season, the Browns must address these crucial weak points in what could be a good up-and-coming team.
Mike Wallace (WR)
Now I know Wallace is asking for more money and more years than Larry Fitzgerald, but let's be real, if he was deserving of Fitz-type money, the Steelers would have given it to him by now instead of allowing him to go to restricted free-agency.
The Steelers could give him and extension, but I am sure just about everyone else doubts that the Steelers are going to give him the contract he wants.
With Wallace's 72 receptions, averaging 16.6 yards per catch and almost 1,200 yards last season, No. 17 is entering the free-agency game with good momentum and some bragging rights. He's had two really solid seasons on a team that is in the Super Bowl conversation every year.
Wallace will bring to the table what names like Braylon Edwards, Josh Cribbs, Mohammad Massaquoi and Greg Little could not: hands.
If Cleveland can negotiate a contract that will keep Wallace happy until he's proven that he is an elite receiver deserving of the money he is asking for, then Cleveland will have a true offensive asset and an excellent target for Colt McCoy as they enter this upcoming season.
Demetrius Bell (T)
Although Bell says he would like to return to Buffalo, the Bills silence speaks volumes and it's telling him to go somewhere else. Since he hit the market, Bell has worked out for the Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals, none of which have offered him a contract.
Bell is a big, young tackle that has shown quality play during his short time in the NFL. Already having 30 NFL starts in his three years in the league makes Bell a solid candidate for the right tackle position in Cleveland.
With Joe Thomas, arguably one of the best left tackles in the league today on one side and Bell on the other, the Browns could have themselves a serious offensive line for McCoy to get behind and deliver the passes down field that are needed to win in this league.
With Bell being young, unproven and shopped around, Cleveland could probably pick him up without taking too big of a hit to their salary cap. Give him a few years to develop, and Bell could be an elite NFL tackle, contributing to both the pass and run games.
Cedric Benson/Ryan Grant (RB)
Two running backs are put down here for good reason. As it sits, Cleveland is looking to draft Alabama All-American running back Trent Richardson with their No. 4 pick in this year's NFL draft. If this in fact happens, then there will be no questions on who will be taking over starting running back duties from Peyton Hillis, and his name isn't Chris Ogbonnaya. If this is the case then the Browns could still be wise in picking up the former Green Bay Packer, Ryan Grant.
Despite injuries that have plagued Grant most of his career and the fact that he's 30 years old, Grant still has quality play left in him as a backup to future Pro-Bowler Trent Richardson. Grant is coming off of a 14-game season with the Packers where he averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
If Grant were to assume the role as back up to Richardson, the move would not only extend his career but it would also allow him to become a veteran mentor to an up-and-coming superstar.
On the other hand, if Cleveland somehow drops the ball, no pun intended, on drafting Richardson, then Cleveland will need to address the starting running back role with somebody not named Chris Ogbonnaya.
Enter Cedric Benson.Coming off of his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season, Benson could bring a familiar hard nosed running flavor back to the Cleveland offense. Benson has played well his entire career as a starter.
Although he's fallen from the public eye with rise of players such as Adrian Peterson, Jahvid Best and Chris Johnson, Benson can still play and will be playing for one team or another come the opening of training camp. Why not keep him in Ohio, but in Cleveland?
Benson would probably ask for more money and more years than Grant, but the money would be worth it, that is if the Browns do not draft Richardson. If all goes according to plan and Richardson becomes a Brown, then Cleveland should make the move and pick up Grant on a small contract as a backup, and depending on how he does and how his health is, it may be the last contract that Grant signs.
Vernon Carey (G)
With 107 NFL starts and the ability to play both guard and tackle, Cleveland would be foolish to not look into Vernon Carey. At 6'5", 340 pounds and eight years of NFL experience behind him Carey would be a dominate and much-needed presence on the Cleveland offensive line.
Again, the Cleveland offensive line was atrocious last season despite Joe Thomas' best efforts. The right side of the line failed time and time again, eventually leading to QB Colt McCoy suffering a concussion that took him out of play for the remainder of the season.
This coming season, however, McCoy is back and all notions point to Cleveland drafting Trent Richardson. If Cleveland closes a deal with at lest Vernon Carey or even both Carey and Demetrius Bell, then Cleveland will be in good standing to make a strong showing in this year's AFC North.
Carey is a veteran with a solid record behind him, so the contract my have to be bigger than one that would be offered to a Demetrius Bell. If Cleveland can sign Carey for a few years and few million dollars, then Cleveland will be well on their way to building a noteworthy offense.
David Tollefson (DE)
Biggest sell, he's got two rings with the New York Giants. Granted he's not a Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul, but he still has good numbers despite having only two starts last season. Over the course of the two starts and 16 games he played in, Tollefson racked up 21 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble.
That's almost matching Cleveland's current DE, Jayme Mitchell, who started 13 of the 14 games he played in. Tollefson actually landed more sacks than Mitchell and fellow starter Phil Taylor, tied the five sacks landed by starting defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin and was only 2.5 sacks behind starting defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
This being said, Tollefson could add outside strength to a defensive line that showed more holes than Swiss cheese last season. He's not a guaranteed sure fix for the ailing line, but he definitely would help. As Phil Taylor develops and some of the older members of the line move on or retire, Tollefson could become the dominant outside force of the defensive line, giving him more money, years and playing time than he would ever see as a Giant.
Due to his non-starter status and youth, Cleveland could pick him up cheaply and get a good player in the process. Give Tollefson a few years to develop and come into the system, and he could be the next big thing in Cleveland defense.