Before the Browns can worry about who to go after in the free agent market, they must decide what to do with some key contracts up for renewal.
1. Phil Dawson - K (one year/$3.81 million)
"Mr. Automatic," "Phil the Foot," whatever you want to call him, Phil Dawson is the most consistent player on this Browns team.
The last remaining player from the 1999 expansion club is Cleveland's all-time leader in field goals made (304) and second in total points (1267). Tack onto that this week the fact that Dawson was finally selected to the Pro Bowl. It would be hard too imagine No. 4 in any other jersey.
Being given the franchise tag for two straight years means that he will need a multi-season deal. According to ESPN Cleveland, using the tag a third time would cost an astronomical $15 million.
It is a no-brainer to keep the 37-year-old on staff as long as he is willing to come back. Dawson has made 28 of 29 FG attempts in 2012 and booted six of those from 50 or more yards
If anyone deserves to retire a Cleveland Brown, it is Dawson.
2. Josh Cribbs - KR/WR (three years/$15.49 million)
A big decision needs to be made about the most popular Browns player of the new era.
Cribbs is still feared on both sides of special teams and is tied as the NFL's all-time leader in kickoffs returned for a touchdown with eight. Holding records is nice but, as we know, this league is all about what you have done lately.
For No. 16, that doesn't add up to much on the scoreboard. Cribbs has not taken a kick back for a TD since 2009. Rule changes and surrounding personnel contributes to his this drought of return TDs, but excuses don't matter.
The former Kent State quarterback constantly clamors for more offensive opportunities, which demonstrates his passion. However, his comments to the Plain Dealer about feeling "caged" earlier in the season and controversial twitter outburst following the loss to Denver are unnecessary distractions.
Five fumbles on returns through 15 games, increasing injury troubles and sporadic use on offense all point to a parting of ways.
The speedy eight-year man is still a proven threat when utilized out of the Wildcat and was second on the club in receptions with 41 in 2011.
Ultimately, if Josh Cribbs is not going to be used in a significant way outside of special teams, then it is time to let him walk away. It would be nice for Cribbs, who has played with the Browns his entire NFL career, to finish his career there.
3. Sheldon Brown - CB (three years/$15.25 million)
The crafty 11-year cornerback put together his best statistical season in Cleveland for both tackles (52) and interceptions (3)
Sheldon Brown is a role model for this young defense and can still breakdown plays prior to the snap.
It is no secret that No. 24 has been picked on this season by opposing quarterbacks wanting to avoid Joe Haden. Brown's inability to consistently keep up with the league’s fast and physical young receivers is a problem that cannot be overlooked.
That being said, if the Browns can draft or sign a younger serviceable corner, the South Carolina native can move to free safety. This would allow the secondary to utilize his vast experience and eliminate the mismatches that have been occurring on the perimeter.
At 33, if Brown agrees to a two-year extension, he is definitely worth keeping around.
4. Benjamin Watson - TE (Contract: three years/$12 million)
The rock of an inexperienced tight end group, Benjamin Watson became a favorite target for rookie QB Brandon Weeden as 2012 wore on.
In nine of the 15 games played, he averaged over 10 yards per catch and has scored three touchdowns this season overall. His excellent hands and sturdy 6'3", 255 lb. frame for blocking made it essential to keep him on board Cleveland's young offense.
Watson also provides stability while the skills of fellow tight end Jordan Cameron, a second-year player, are still under evaluation.
Offering the 32-year-old pride of Norfolk, Virginia another three-year deal makes perfect sense, especially considering his health has not been a concern.
That time frame gives the Browns a transition period to groom from within or search for their next No. 1 TE.
5. Reggie Hodges - P (Contract: three years/$2.94 million)
The six-year veteran ranks 32nd among NFL punters with an unimpressive average of 42 yards per punt. Hodges has never returned to his 2010 form since an Achilles injury put him on the sidelines for all of last season.
An improvement can be targeted in this year's draft with such talents as Ryan Allen and Quinn Sharp coming available.