10 Free Agency, Draft Targets the Cleveland Browns Must Chase for 2013

Andy McNamara@@AndyMc81Correspondent IIDecember 12, 2012

10 Free Agency, Draft Targets the Cleveland Browns Must Chase for 2013

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    The Cleveland Browns need to focus their offseason roster efforts on 10 specific free agents and draft-eligible players.

    The following slides are ranked based on the team's necessity to upgrade at a particular position.

    All of these areas need addressing, however, the top five will be revealed in order of least to most important. 

    Each section shall contain a draft pick and free agent best suited to the Browns' current requirements.

    Luckily for the Dawg Pound, this club will be in the top three for salary cap space in the NFL come 2013. 

    Despite an estimated $40 million being available, there will be decisions needed on 19 restricted or unrestricted free agents that are currently on the Browns.

    Assuming new owner Jimmy Haslam does not mind opening up the purse strings, some extra cash can be thrown around to lure higher-calibre free agents to Cleveland. Provided they would fit in with this young crew, of course.

    So let the debate for next year begin: Draft Picks or Free Agents?

    Have your voice heard and comment on every slide which choice you would make.

5. Punter

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    Kickers are people too!

    The unsung, yet much needed, punter is a role that has had its ups and downs this season for Cleveland.


    BEST DRAFT PICK- Ryan Allen

    Out of Louisiana Tech, Ryan Allen continues to get better and better.

    Averaging an impressive 49.23 yards per punt and incorporating lofty hang times, this senior has a real chance to step into the NFL as a starter.

    He is presently slotted by CBS Sports to go in the seventh round.


    BEST FREE AGENT- Reggie Hodges

    Staying with current punter Reggie Hodges may be the Cleveland Browns' best option if they decide not to draft a new leg man.

    Injuring his Achilles tendon in the 2011 preseason, Hodges missed the entire year.

    The six-year veteran's performance through 13 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 two yards per punt and is averaging 4.7 percent less kicks inside the 20 compared to his 2010 statistics.

    If the 30-year old is willing to take a bit of a pay cut from his last $2.94 million contract, then it may be better for the Browns to stay with the devil they know.

4. Linebacker

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    Cleveland's linebacker group is one of the bigger surprises for the club in 2012.

    Season-ending injuries to starters Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita could have proven disastrous.

    Former practice squad player Craig Robertson has stepped up huge, and rookie James-Michael Johnson is showing steady progress as well. 

    D'Qwell Jackson and Kaluka Maiava are rocks; however, a dominant pass rusher on the outside is still lacking.


    BEST DRAFT PICK- Jarvis Jones

    Jarvis Jones was named a First Team All-Star in the Southeastern Conference on Dec. 8.

    2011 was the Georgia Bulldog's first full season as a starter and he showed the world this year that he was no fluke. 

    Jones leads NCAA D-1 schools on a per-game average in forced fumbles and tackles for loss. He possesses totals of seven and 22.5, respectively, in those categories.

    The 6'2, 242 pound LB's football instincts and crushing hits allow him to play equally well in attacking the run and dropping into coverage. He is arguably the most dangerous pass-rusher in the entire 2013 entry draft.

    Neck and ankle ailments have plagued Jones, who has experience playing in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. The only question remaining is whether he can withstand the beating of a NFL schedule.


    BEST FREE AGENT- Manny Lawson

    The current Cincinnati Bengal's one-year, $2.1 million contract is coming due and will make him an unrestricted free agent.

    Manny Lawson knows what it takes to play the physical style required to succeed in the AFC North and would look good standing behind former teammate Frostee Rucker.

    Turning 29 next July, Lawson has been an important component to the successful Bengals defense.

    Most intriguing to the Browns is his pass-rushing ability and intimidating size at 6'5".

    Playing on the outside, this linebacker typically appears all over the stat sheet and presently holds two sacks and a forced fumble on the season.

    Bad news for Cleveland is that Cincinnati is also in the top three of salary cap space teams entering 2013. 

    At $42 million in estimated room, a priority for the Bengals will certainly be to keep that LB corps together.

3. Defensive End

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    Last offseason's free-agent additions in Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker have been pleasant surprises overall.

    However, an elite pass rusher on the line is still on the to-do list. A hungry young competitor at DE and rotating in Rucker would really solidify the Browns' edges.


    BEST DRAFT PICK- Bjoern Werner

    Tough to argue against the 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

    The German exchange student is an explosive end rusher that sheds blocks at will and gobbles up quarterbacks like schnitzel on a bun.

    Bjoern Werner's 13 sacks led the conference and CBS Sports ranks him to go in the entry draft's first seven picks.

    At 6'4 and 256 pounds, Werner is the total package. In addition to his premier pass-rush abilities, he is able to effectively recognize and stop the run as well as knock down passes at the line.


    BEST FREE AGENT- Cliff Avril

    If it appears that Bjoern Werner is unlikely to be available then Cliff Avril would be an excellent choice to go after at defensive end.

    Unable to come to terms on a longer solution with the Detroit Lions, Avril is wrapping up a massive one-year, $10.65 million deal.

    The Browns could very well have the cap room to entice the 26-year-old to switch Great Lakes and make a move.

    Is he worth it?

    His last two seasons suggest a definite yes. The five-season veteran out of Purdue is at nine-and-a-half sacks with three games remaining. Avril's career high of 11 sacks from 2011 is definitely within reach.

    The 260 pound Jacksonville, Fla., native can do more than just take down quarterbacks. He knows how to create turnovers, too.

    Eight forced fumbles, three of which he recovered, over the last two seasons would look pretty good as a book end to Jabaal Sheard.

2. Offensive Guard

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    Depth is a serious concern on the Browns' offensive line, especially with the loss of Jason Pinkston for half the season due to blood clots in his lungs.

    Left guard is vulnerable, although John Greco is making a strong case to return in 2013 as the starter. Shawn Lauvao has been inconsistent at right guard and as of now should not be thought of as the long-term solution.


    BEST DRAFT PICK- Omoregie Uzzi

    While the versatility of a higher rated player like Barrett Jones is nice, the Browns need someone that can focus solely on developing into a Pro Bowl offensive guard.

    Omoregie Uzzi is an All-American right guard who overcame a late season injury last year to bounce back strong in 2012.

    Uzzi is a physical run blocker who can get to the second level. Trent Richardson would love racing behind him and Cleveland does need a workhorse who can clear paths for T-Rich.

    Using his 6'3", 302-pound frame to stay low and brick-wall defenders off the snap, Uzzi could be a late-round steal.


    BEST FREE AGENT- Andy Levitre

    Referred to as Buffalo's secret weapon by Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus, Andy Levitre is an integral part of the Bills running game success.

    A fact the Browns saw first hand against Buffalo back in Week 3.

    No matter who rushes the football for Buffalo, Levitre has demonstrated steady improvement in creating lanes.

    The Oregon State alum is already well known for his pass-protection abilities, but adding successful in-line run blocking to the repertoire is something that should really pique Cleveland's interest.

    At 26, Levitre's most productive years are still ahead of him. His four-year/$3.56 million contract expires at season's end and would be a welcome addition to a Browns guard position in desperate need of depth.

1. Cornerback

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    The Cleveland Browns' reliance on Joe Haden is an issue that cannot be ignored.

    As witnessed in Cleveland's overtime loss to Dallas on Nov. 18, and in the four games earlier this season when Haden was suspended, there is a significant drop off in cornerback performance when No. 23 is out of the lineup.

    Possessing an elite corner is great. Having the secondary collapse when he is out, is not.

    The aging Sheldon Brown shows flashes, but he is ultimately a step behind the NFL's top receivers.

    Next man up Buster Skrine is consistently overmatched when playing on the outside, and Dimitri Patterson never seems to be healthy. 

    Addressing the outside CB spot opposite Haden must be the Browns' No. 1 priority.


    BEST DRAFT PICK- Dee Milliner

    Following a strong performance in the Crimson Tide's SEC championship victory, Dee Milliner's stock went up once again.

    Rated as the best corner in the draft by CBS Sports, Milliner instantly would give Cleveland its answer for a second end corner.

    The accolades don't stop there. He was unanimously voted as First Team All-Southeastern Conference and is now in the discussion to go in the first 14 of the NFL draft.

    This Alabama standout set a career high and was ranked third nationally with 16 pass breakups to go along with 51 tackles and two interceptions this season.

    At 6'1" Milliner possesses the necessary athleticism and size to hang with the league's best wide receivers.


    BEST FREE AGENT- Sam Shields

    Playing in the cold would be nothing new for Sam Shields, who has spent his first three NFL campaigns in Green Bay.

    Although he is only 25, the Packers have been pleased with rookie Casey Hayward's performance and could feasibly let Shields walk.

    Only dressing for seven games thus far in 2012 is disappointing for the Sarasota, Fla., native as he was coming off of a career year.

    A combined 45 tackles and four interceptions in his last pair of seasons are impressive statistics that would look good on the other side of the field from Browns cornerback Joe Haden.

    Shield's expiring rookie contract was a bargain at 3 years and $1.2225 million. He would naturally be in line for a raise, but with Cleveland's salary cap flexibility, that would not be a problem.

    The youth, proven ability, and being in a winning Green Bay environment all add up to a smart buy if Dee Milliner is not chosen in the entry draft's opening round.

Final Thoughts

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    Under the new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, what philosophy will win out this offseason?

    Banner's strategy in Philadelphia was always to build through the draft, and that was also the culture that Haslam was surrounded in as a minority owner in Pittsburgh.

    Certainly not all of the Browns' critical needs can be handled through the draft. Will the powers that be look to plug those holes with journeymen or go after some high-profile free agents?

    Only time will tell.

    Leave your comments on each position outlined in this article as the 2012 campaign continues to wind down.


    Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81