Cleveland Browns: Breaking Down 2013 Free-Agency Scenarios
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The Cleveland Browns are into their bye week, making this the perfect time to look ahead to 2013.
With a 2-7 record and a rough second half of the schedule looming, this Browns club has a lot of personnel decisions coming up in the offseason.
Let us begin by taking a look at Cleveland's salary cap situation for next year and what new owner Jimmy Haslam III has to work with.
2012 salary cap: $120.6 million
Projected 2013 salary cap: $121.1 million
Projected 2013 cap space: $40 million
There are 19 players on the current roster that are either restricted or unrestricted free agents once the last game is played.
A complete list can be found at Spotrac.com
If this campaign continues down the same path, then obviously changes on and off the field need to be made.
The question for Cleveland's front office will be who of the upcoming free agents are worth keeping around as the rebuild moves forward.
Below are a few of the more interesting contracts that will expire come end of December.
Joshua Cribbs: WR/KR (Contract: three years/$15.49 million)
Cribbs has been the most popular Browns player since the franchise returned in 1999. His story of making the team as an undrafted rookie in 2005 inspired the city. The electrifying return game at one time made the thought of not having No. 16 around seem like an impossibility.
However, as everyone knows, the NFL is all about what have you done for me lately. In Cribbs' case, that doesn't add up to much.
Of course, the 6'1", 215 lb. receiver is best known for his special teams kick/punt returns. Although still feared, Cribbs has not taken back a kick for a score since 2009 and returned one punt for a touchdown last year.
Opposing squads have made adjustments, and for the most part neutralize Cribbs' ability to hurt them. Battling nagging injuries throughout 2011 didn't help matters on runbacks either.
One area where Cribbs has shone when given the chance is at wide receiver. He was the second leading receiver for the Browns a year ago, making 41 catches and collecting four touchdowns.
Who is the most important free agent for Cleveland to keep?
The speedy Kent State alumni constantly comments on how he wants to be more involved with the offense, which makes it baffling why he has only caught six balls this season. For a group that is so young at WR, why not make a respected leader like Cribbs a greater part of the offensive strategy?
For one reason or another, that just doesn't seem to be in the cards. For his large price tag and diminishing impact in the return game, it isn't worth keeping the eight-year veteran around.
Decision: Let him walk.
Sheldon Brown: CB (Contract: three years/$15.25 million)
The wily 11-year cornerback is on pace to smash his 2011 tackles total and already has an interception ran back for a score.
Sheldon Brown is a role model for this young Cleveland defense and can still read a quarterback's eyes like a book.
It is no secret that with age comes the difficulties of keeping up with quick receivers. This has been the case for Brown, and he has been exposed at least twice in crucial situations on missing tackles at scrimmage when a running back makes a break to the outside.
That being said, if the Browns can draft or sign a younger corner to go opposite Joe Haden, then the South Carolina native can move inside.
Covering the slot, or even playing some safety, would allow this secondary to utilize Brown's vast experience and eliminate the mismatches that have been occurring on the outside.
At 33, if Brown would agree to a two-year extension, then he is definitely worth keeping around.
Decision: Sign him.
Phil Dawson: K (Contract: one year/$3.81 million)
No brainer. Pay Phil Dawson his weight in gold.
The kicker has been with this team since its return in 1999 and is the only consistent positive on offense each season. Dawson just keeps getting better with age.
It continues to be confusing why a multiple-year agreement can not be reached. If a long-term deal is unable to be completed, then slap the franchise tag on him once again.
Decision: Lock him in no matter what.
Benjamin Watson: TE (Contract: three years/$12 million)
The rock of an inexperienced tight end group, Benjamin Watson is being relied on more than ever.
In his third campaign as a Brown, Watson has shown that he can be a reliable target no matter who the quarterback may be.
Having excellent hands and a sturdy 6'3", 255 lb. frame for blocking is essential to keep on board for a young Cleveland offense.
Watson also provides stability where the skills of fellow tight ends Alex Smith and Jordan Cameron are still under evaluation.
At the age of 31, offering the pride of Norfolk, Virginia, another three-year deal makes perfect sense.
That time frame gives the Browns an excellent transition period to groom from within or go out and find the next No. 1 TE.
Decision: Pay the man.
Reggie Hodges: P (Contract: three years/$2.94 million)
Once a strong suit for the Browns, the punting position has really taken a step back this season.
Injuring his Achilles tendon in the 2011 preseason, Hodges missed the entire year.
His performance during the first nine games has been inconsistent at best.
Whether his punts have been short, positioned poorly or lacked the ability of being able to pin the opposition's return team deep, Hodges' efforts have definitely not come from the same reliable kicker that Cleveland had been used to.
Hodges is down over a yard per punt and is averaging 8.1 percent less kicks inside the 20 compared to his 2010 statistics.
The bottom line is that another serviceable leg man at a lesser price tag is relatively easy to find. Unless Hodges produces a dramatic turn around in the second half of the schedule, then it is time for him to walk away.
Decision: Let him go.
Depending on how the chips fall, there could be quite a few notables that will not be suiting up in a Browns uniform next spring.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81
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