NFL Free Agency 2012: 5 Missing Pieces the Cleveland Browns Can Still Get
"Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything, or creating anything. Period. If you ain't desperate at some point, you ain't interesting."—Jim Carrey
I've said it before, I'll say it again: The Cleveland Browns front office sent a message to their team, fans and opponents when they drafted the 28-year-old Brandon Weeden.
We believe we have the team to win. Right now.
A bold statement, to be sure, from an organization averaging 4.5 wins a season over the previous four campaigns.
Team President Mike Holmgren arrived in Cleveland with the explicit expectation that the avowed quarterback guru would slam the Browns' infamous QB carousel shut.
Enter the selection of Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma State, a move with Holmgren's fingerprints all over it.
The Browns addressed apparent needs like right tackle and running back in the early selections, but what personnel upgrades could the club make between OTA's and training camp? Cleveland must compensate for unforeseen vulnerabilities like defensive tackle—as a result of Phil Taylor's torn pectoral—and outside linebacker—from Scott Fujita's pending four-game suspension.
Additionally, the transition to the West Coast offense will put a premium on quality wide receivers; the Browns must load up at the position in a manner not unlike New England, Philadelphia or even Baltimore.
Draft picks Travis Benjamin, John Hughes and James Michael Johnson should contribute at receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker, respectively. The Browns could use a veteran presence at any of the above positions, for the right price.
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1. Wide Receiver: Plaxico Burress
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I know, I know. The guy shot himself. The Browns accepted athletes with far less common sense in this town (Delonte West) long before they learned they may or may not have shared intimate relations with one Gloria James.
But they may never again have the opportunity to land a talent like Burress at the bargain price the Browns could likely coax from the soon-to-be 35-year-old.
Imagine a three-wide set featuring Greg Little, Plaxico Burress and Travis Benjamin. The Browns receiving corps would nicely contrast size and speed with multiple deep threats. This mirrors successful models of the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, who both feature big, physical receivers opposite smaller speedsters.
This would be more of a want than a need-type acquisition, but would electrify the fanbase and, in all likelihood, significantly ease coverage on Benjamin and Little.
2. Linebacker: Rocky McIntosh
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Rookie James-Michael Johnson from Nevada and 2009 pick Kaluka Maiava out of USC will compete for the outside linebacker Scott Fujita will likely vacate following his appeal hearing over the Saint's Bounty-Gate scandal. Fujita faces a four-game suspension from the league office.
The suspension might actually serve as a favor to the Browns, who otherwise might have hesitated to replace the high-priced free agent signee with an unproven draft pick.
Fujita's play against the run in 2011 failed to meet the high-standard of linebacking in the tough-as-nails AFC North. Paying behind Jayme Mitchell, one of the league's weakest run-stopping DE's in 2011, certainly didn't help.
But if the Browns can find a more effective solution at outside linebacker, they will have an easy time letting Fujita go after his contract expires this season.
Rocky McIntosh may not even win the starting job, but on a roster in need of special teams bodies and without a clear-cut starter at outside linebacker, Cleveland could use some depth at the position.
The Browns could likely acquire McIntosh for under $750,000. Though he struggled at times in Washington, he comes at the right price and would also fall under the "want" as opposed to "need" category.
3. Guard: Jake Scott
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Coming off a five-year, $20 million deal with the Tennessee Titans, Scott would have to considerably lower his asking price before the Browns could sign the eight-year veteran and one-time Super Bowl champion.
Though the Browns have explicitly and tacitly expressed satisfaction with youngsters Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston and drafted guard Ryan Miller out of Colorado, Scott could provide the kind of veteran boost Eric Steinbach brought along several years ago.
Just as the Browns cannot have enough depth at linebacker and wide receiver, offensive line represents another position where a capable veteran merits a modest investment as training camp begins.
The key with Scott will be money, as the Titans clearly overpaid for the 2004 fifth-rounder at his peak value following the Colts' Super Bowl triumph.
4. Defensive Tackle: Albert Haynesworth
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If Albert Haynesworth possesses any desire to resurrect his once-promising NFL career as he approaches 31, he must arrive at any potential tryout in great shape and cannot expect a massive contract up front.
Both of those prospects are massive "ifs" for the one-time defensive player of the year. Throughout a career mired in controversy, Haynesworth's conditioning has represented one more area of concern for the talented but troubled star out of the University of Tennessee.
The Browns have a one-year opening at defensive tackle, with John Hughes and Brian Schaefering figuring to audition in Phil Taylor's absence.
Cleveland could always sign a desperate Haynesworth to a fitness-incentive laden contract and would lose nothing if they only paid the veteran a few thousand dollars to run some shuttles if it didn't work out.
5. Safety: Sean Jones
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When Sean Jones left Cleveland to sign a $3 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Browns lost one of their most underrated draft successes in recent years.
Jones led all NFL players at free safety in tackles for the Browns in 2007 and 2008, and in 2012, should come at an attractive sticker-price at 30 years old.
Though Usama Young should retain his starting role at free safety following Mike Adams' departure to Denver, the Browns should look to add depth at the position, and the sure-tackling Jones would be an ideal candidate in free agency.
Many words have been spent espousing the certainty that the NFL is a passing league, and the Browns are developing a West Coast Offense to match that reality.
However, in the AFC North, rosters still get built the old-fashioned way: around guys who stop the run and clear the way for it.
We've missed out on Jones' services over the last few seasons, but could cash in on the twilight of the solid pro's career.