Free Agents the Cleveland Browns Should Avoid at All Costs

Andy McNamaraCorrespondent IIJanuary 30, 2013

Free Agents the Cleveland Browns Should Avoid at All Costs

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    The free agent market officially opens on March 12, and then a mad dash to scoop up the best available talent begins.

    Cleveland sits in the NFL's top three for salary cap room in 2013 with $48.9 million. This means that they have the ability to take a healthy run at some upper-echelon players.

    However, every year, big-dollar signings occur of overrated athletes or stars that are past their prime. 

    The Browns are a young club on the rise and must ensure that any acquired new blood meshes with the current roster.

    Let's examine five free agents that the pride of Northeast Ohio should avoid at all costs.

Dwight Freeney (DE/LB)

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    Coming off a six-year, $72 million contract, Dwight Freeney earned $14.035 million in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts.

    The numbers over his 11 NFL campaigns are remarkable at 107.5 sacks and 298 tackles.

    Unfortunately for Freeney, the production level has steadily dropped since 2010.

    No. 93 posted his worst statistics as a professional this season, making only 12 tackles and adding five sacks in 14 games.

    This was in part due to a nagging ankle injury and that he transitioned into a 3-4 defense for the first time.

    Struggling to adapt in different schemes or multiple fronts would suggest that the Syracuse University alum would not fit into Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton's hybrid attack plans.

    Turning 33 in February also doesn't blend well with Cleveland's current youth movement.

    Freeney is clearly on the back nine of his career and brings along too heavy of a price tag to be worth taking a chance on.

Brent Grimes (CB)

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    The six-year Falcon significantly hurt his chances for a large contract by tearing his Achilles tendon and appearing in only a single contest this season.

    Assuming he is medically cleared, can the Philadelphia native's body handle a comeback at 29 and get to full speed against today's lightning-quick receivers?

    This isn't the cornerback's first injury, as he also missed four matchups in 2011.

    Brent Grimes was ranked as the top free-agent CB heading into 2012 by Pro Football Focus and ultimately signed a one-year extension with Atlanta worth a whopping $10.28 million.

    In 59 career games, Grimes' resume boasts 56 defended passes and 3 balls snatched up for interceptions.

    The 5'10", 183-pound veteran's output has declined dramatically since breaking out in 2009 and should be deemed too fragile a replacement for the aging Sheldon Brown.

    Cleveland must add as close to a sure thing as possible to go opposite Joe Haden in the secondary.

    Forking out a stack of cash to a diminishing asset with growing health concerns is not the road this young Browns defense wants to travel.

Brian Urlacher (LB)

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    A legend in the Windy City and one of the greatest linebackers in league history, it would be tough to see Brian Urlacher in any other uniform.

    Injuries keep mounting up, including knee surgery during training camp and a hamstring ailment causing him to miss the final four games of 2012.

    At age 34, he is an unrestricted free agent and took in over $9 million this past season.

    In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, No. 54 went back and forth on the possibility of retirement or returning to action.

    The question is whether Urlacher can still be a top contributor on a defense.

    His pass-rushing days are clearly over, as the 6'4", 258-pound veteran has not recorded a sack since 2010.

    However, he continues to be an effective tackler and did force two fumbles in this abbreviated campaign.

    A new head coach for the Bears most likely signifies a different direction on all fronts. That could leave the 13-year pro looking for a new home.

    Even if Urlacher has some gas left in the tank, he is not the right fit for Cleveland.

    The Browns get enough leadership at LB from D'Qwell Jackson and are better off drafting for the position or bringing in a younger free agent.

Derek Anderson (QB)

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    The Facebook post heard around Ohio!

    Yes, former Browns quarterback Derek Anderson made quite a stir earlier this month in what apparently was an interest in returning to the team.

    New head coach Rob Chudzinski was Anderson's offensive coordinator back for 2007-08 with Cleveland and then again the past two seasons in Carolina.

    "Looks like it is time to make a return to a familiar place for some unfinished business," Anderson posted on his Facebook page one day after Chudzinski was named Browns coach according to The News-Herald. "I'd be honored to return to Cleveland to play football if the fans would have me."

    How serious DA was is up for debate, but in '07 he did produce this club's best offensive numbers (29 touchdowns and 3,787 passing yards) since the franchise returned in 1999.

    He also left on bitter terms in 2010 when after being released No. 3 spewed to The News-Herald, "The fans are ruthless and don't deserve a winner." The Oregon State alum later apologized.

    The 29-year-old never got back to that magical 2007 form after a stop in Arizona and currently as a backup for the Panthers.

    Any possible benefit the 6'6" gunslinger could bring would be overshadowed by the media sideshow; and what upgrade would he provide?

    If coach Chud wants to bring along a big-arm QB then do it with first-round draft pick Brandon Weeden.

    The likelihood of recapturing any glory from the past is slim to none. Better to save everyone the headache and leave Anderson as a flickering memory. 

Mike Wallace (WR)

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    Recording under 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in two seasons isn't the way Mike Wallace was planning to prove that he is ready for the big money.

    Heading into 2012, he was humbled into accepting a one-year, $2.7 million restricted-free-agent tender offered by his current team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, after a lengthy holdout.

    Wallace borders on having too much attitude to be worthwhile, but his abilities are undeniable. Twenty-six touchdowns since 2009 is an impressive number.

    Through his first three campaigns, No. 17 only dropped 2.9 percent of targeted passes and never more than four passes in a single season.

    That type of reliability is exactly what many teams, including the Browns, are looking for. It makes Wallace a legitimate first or second target for any quarterback.

    However, this Cleveland team must stay well clear of the Wallace sweepstakes.

    Not because the talent isn't real, but that he would take away substantial in-game development opportunities from rising stars Josh Gordon and Greg Little.

    The youthful duo combined for 103 catches and nine scores this past year. They don't need the Los Angeles-born wide receiver's ego negatively influencing them, either.

    Reportedly wanting to exceed Larry Fitzgerald's contract (8-year, $50 million guaranteed, $120 million extension) is absurd and another reason to not entertain the thought of this free agent.


    Final Thoughts

    The $48.9 million in salary cap space makes it an exciting thought for the Browns to throw around money at all the biggest names.

    This braintrust led by Joe Banner must aim for the best team fit, while also not being afraid to open up the wallet and go after someone they feel will be a valuable asset.


    Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81