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The Biggest Offseason Priorities for the Cleveland Browns

Andy McNamaraCorrespondent IIJune 14, 2016

The Biggest Offseason Priorities for the Cleveland Browns

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    The Super Bowl is over, which means the offseason is in full swing around the National Football League.

    What are the Cleveland Browns' biggest priorities as the long march to training camp continues?

    Management and coaches are tirelessly evaluating this team's personnel in order to determine who will be best suited for new strategies on both sides of the ball.

    Let's dig into the draft, player development, free agency and more!

Who Should Be Let Go?

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    With four years remaining on his contract, defensive end Frostee Rucker felt the axe on Feb. 5. Today he would have been owed $2 million, according to The Akron Beacon Journal

    Rucker started all 16 games but was not considered the right fit for new coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme and multiple-front attack.

    From Cleveland's 2012 roster, 18 players are free agents. Which key performers need to go?

     

    Joshua Cribbs (KR/WR)

    Cribbs was given a raise following a spectacular 2009 season, which saw him rack up four total special-teams touchdowns.

    Since then, his production dropped off on special teams, and he hasn't taken a kick back for a score since that magical year.

    Fumble trouble and frequent injuries are also becoming concerns.

    Cribbs remains an excellent defender on that coverage unit and can still make an impact in the Wildcat formation on offense.

    No. 16 is a versatile threat when used sparingly as a receiver and out of the backfield as well. He was also recently selected to his third Pro Bowl, albeit as an alternate this time.

    The former Kent State QB consistently complains to the media about wanting more playing time and got into trouble for posting controversial Twitter comments following a loss to Denver on Dec. 23.

    Turning 30 in June, is the Washington, D.C., native worth the presumably large payday he'll demand?

    The answer is no and is especially so with Cleveland's own Ted Ginn Jr. available on the market.

     

    Reggie Hodges (P)

    Ranked 33rd among NFL punters with an unimpressive average of 41.8 yards per punt, it is time for Reggie to find employment elsewhere.

    Hodges never returned to his 2010 form since an Achilles injury sidelined him for all of last season.

    An improvement can be targeted in this year's draft since a talent like Ryan Allen out of Louisiana Tech is available.

Continue to Develop the Young Wide Receivers

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    The Browns can ill afford a sophomore slump from Josh Gordon.

    It was a chaotic year for No. 13.

    Being selected in the supplemental draft meant a limited training camp, and let's not forget that he did not play any college ball in 2011.

    Despite all of it, the former Baylor Bear slowly grew into one of quarterback Brandon Weeden's top weapons and was a consistent downfield threat.

    Collecting over 800 receiving yards and five touchdowns is the reason why this new coaching staff must pay extra attention to him.

    This club not only requires a well-prepared Gordon, but to build upon one who looked poised to take that next step and become an upper-echelon wide receiver.

    Pat Shurmur had many faults running this team; however, he and wide receivers coach Mike Wilson deserve praise for how they gradually brought along the young wideout.

     

    The almost forgotten WR is everyone's favorite scapegoat, Greg Little.

    Now finished his second season, the 6'2", 220-pound receiver was seen as having both loads of potential and an endless amount of grease on his fingers entering 2012.

    Dropping the football was a huge concern and one that continued on during this season's first few games.

    It got so bad that in Week 5 vs. the Giants, Little was not even targeted once. Fans were calling for him to be cut.

    The North Carolina alum's turnaround came the following Sunday. Whether it was the emergence of Josh Gordon, not having the pressure of being the go-to receiver or simply ego, something changed.

    No. 15 stopped with the first-down celebrations, acted professionally and most importantly, caught the football. He became a phenomenal blocker as well.

    Scott Turner (son of offensive coordinator Norv) is Cleveland's new WR coach.

    It is absolutely imperative that a close eye remains on Little to ensure that his hands remain sticky and his attitude stays positive.

    If Gordon and Little continue to grow together in 2013, then we could be witness to the NFL's next great receiving duo.

Free Agents That Fit Best

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    It is not about getting a flashy name, but more on who will fit best in the Browns' young culture and thrive under their new coaching staff.

    In numerous interviews both owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have stated that they are about building through the draft.

    That means free agency is going to be utilized to plug holes, like former GM Tom Heckert did by adding defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker last year.

     

    Andy Levitre (OG)

    Ideally an offensive guard gets added in both the draft and through free agency.

    Buffalo Bills FA Andy Levitre is a stud OG that will be in high demand.

    The 26-year-old told the Associated Press on December 27 that contract talks had not started between him and the Bills.

    He also mentioned, ''I don't know if (I'm) going to be here. I don't know if it's going to be somewhere else."

    This is great news for the Browns who could use Levitre's reliability (64 consecutive starts) to help solidify the O-line.

    The Oregon State alum is versatile too, having spent time at tackle and center during his NFL stay in upstate New York.

    Already well known as a strong pass-protector, the 305-pounder successfully executes in-line run blocking. Something running back Trent Richardson would surely be in favor of.

    He is coming off of a four-year/$3.56 million deal. The Browns need to pursue him hard and lock No. 67 down long-term.

    With Levitre and a well-placed draft pick at guard, this franchise will possess the best offensive line in the AFC North.

     

    Greg Jennings (WR)

    The Browns do not need a number one receiver with youngsters Josh Gordon and Greg Little developing.

    This offense requires a reliable set of hands, a good attitude to lead by example and a nose for first downs.

    Greg Jennings meets all of the above criteria.

    Missing half the season with a groin injury left question marks in regard to whether he could return to his former high level of performance.

    Scoring twice in the regular-season finale and adding another touchdown in the playoffs gives hope that the seven-year Packer can still make an impact.

    At 29, he owns an impressive career average of over 15 yards per catch, and there are no locker room personality issues.

    Remember how valuable Joe Jurevicius was in moving the chains on third down back during 2007?

    Jennings can be that safe-bet option for whoever the starting quarterback is.

    The pride of Kalamazoo, MI earned over $7 million this season. His price should dip somewhat because of age and past ailments.

    Cleveland's estimated $48.9 million in salary cap room allows them to ink No. 85 to a multi-season agreement and provides a leader with Super Bowl-winning experience.

     

    Anthony Spencer (LB)

    If the Browns want to grab the best pass-rushing linebacker on the market, then open up the wallet to Anthony Spencer.

    Since the Dallas Cowboys are moving to a 4-3 defensive scheme and Cleveland is switching to a 3-4 base, Spencer would be an excellent fit.

    The Purdue alum set personal bests of 11 sacks and 95 tackles in 2012. He accomplished all that while missing two games.

    Spencer took home $8.856 million this past season by accepting the franchise tag. Dallas will need to offer him an extension or allow the 28-year-old to test the open waters.

    Being inconsistent over his career raises the risk of overpaying based on one terrific campaign.

    That being said, the Browns lack quarterback-attacking monsters at LB. Spencer solves that problem and thrived in a 3-4 setup.

Stay Away from These Free Agents

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    Owner Jimmy Haslam told The Plain Dealer last week that new VP of Player Personnel Michael Lombardi and his team have been working 24/7 analyzing various game tape of potential free agents.

    The new braintrust should stay away from these specific available athletes.

     

    Mike Wallace (WR)

    Mike Wallace recorded under 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in two seasons, and that is not the way he wanted to enter free agency.

    In 2012, he had no choice but to accept a one-year, $2.7 million restricted-free-agent tender offered by his current team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, after a lengthy holdout.

    Wallace has too much attitude to be worthwhile for this Browns team; however, his abilities are undeniable. Twenty-six touchdowns since 2009 speaks for itself.

    Through his first three campaigns, No. 17 never dropped more than four passes in a single season.

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

    The talent is real, but winning the Wallace sweepstakes would take away substantial in-game development opportunities from rising stars Josh Gordon and Greg Little.

    The youthful tandem 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 ridiculous and another reason to stay away.

     

    Brent Grimes (CB)

    Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes is coming off of a serious Achilles injury, and since he is 29, the Browns cannot risk a relapse since they are so vulnerable at outside CB.

     

    Cliff Avril (DE)

    Cliff Avril was having a dominant 2012 for the Lions before stalling in December and not recording a sack.

    Overall, the 26-year-old took down the quarterback 9.5 times. However, his price tag is the concerning part. Accepting a one-year deal, he collected a massive $10.605 million.

    It is a deep draft for the front seven on defense, which suggests that Cleveland is better off saving that salary-cap space for another area of need.

Getting the Draft Right

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    Cleveland holds the sixth overall pick in this year's NFL entry draft, do not possess a second-round choice and hold a pair of selections in Round 6.

    It is Jimmy Haslam's first draft as an owner, and there is a lot of pressure on CEO Joe Banner to hit a home run overall.

    Looking at the Browns' current state, and not taking into account free agency, several areas require immediate attention.

    A shutdown cornerback to go opposite Joe Haden is top on the list.

    Offensive guard, a pass-rushing linebacker, fullback, free safety, tight end and punter all must be dealt with one way or another this offseason. 

    Here is a quick mock rundown:

     

    Round 1 - Dee Milliner (CB), Alabama

    Round 3- Jamie Collins (OLB), Southern Mississippi

    Round 4- T.J. McDonald (S), USC

    Round 5- Garrett Gilkey (OG), Chadron State

    Round 6 (first pick)- Ryan Otten (TE), San Jose State

    Round 6 (second pick)- Tommy Bohanon (FB), Wake Forest

What to Do About Quarterback

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    It is the hottest topic across Browns Nation...what to do about quarterback?

    There are generally three very clear sides in this debate: those that fully support Brandon Weeden or Colt McCoy and another group who want a brand-new starter come opening day.

     

    Brandon Weeden

    It can be argued that Weeden never earned the job and was thrust into the spotlight because of his first-round selection.

    NEGATIVES:

    - The former Oklahoma State Cowboy ranked 29th in the league for QB rating at 72.6.

    - He threw 17 interceptions compared to 14 touchdowns and had a 57.4-percent completion average.

    - Slow reaction time and lack of mobility in the pocket resulted in balls batted down at the line as well as generally poor decision making.

    POSITIVES:

    - Recorded the most passing yards by a Browns rookie in history with 3,385.

    - Showed bursts of brilliance as that gunslinger rocket arm impressed on several occasions, including a 71-yard bomb to fellow rookie Josh Gordon.

    - Seems tailor-made for head coach Rob Chudzinski's vertical downfield offense that requires the ability to naturally deliver the deep ball.

     

    Colt McCoy

    Being shoved to the backup role following a faux training-camp competition left many feeling sorry for Colt McCoy.

    After all, in 2011 he had no running game, a weak offensive line and a group of receivers that led the NFL in dropped passes.

    It didn't seem fair that the ex-Texas Longhorn wouldn't get a chance to prove himself with a better supporting cast.

    NEGATIVES:

    - The knock on Colt is his lack of arm strength and that opponents do not respect the threat of a deep passing game.

    - McCoy averaged just 5.9 yards per catch two years ago with a completion percentage of 57.2. Both statistical categories are worse than Brandon Weeden's numbers.

    POSITIVES:

    - The mobility No. 12 provides seems exactly in line with the trend of scrambling quarterbacks in today's NFL. Simply put, McCoy can make plays on the run.

    - Efficient. Over three campaigns he owns a 21 TD-to-20 INT ratio. Not stellar figures, but in general, the 26-year-old was forced to do more with less talent than is on the current roster.

    - Positive attitude, team guy and professional are all words that can describe how McCoy handled being cast aside in 2012.

    He was never a distraction, and being a class act goes a long way in this league.

     

    Someone Else

    During Super Bowl week, owner Jimmy Haslam told The Plain Dealer that Brandon Weeden will have competition for the starting QB role.

    Speculation is running wild over trade possibilities to bring in San Francisco's shunned signal caller Alex Smith or New England's backup, Ryan Mallett.

    Even former Browns quarterback Derek Anderson's name is being thrown around because of his relationship with Rob Chudzinski from both Cleveland and most recently Carolina.

    Of course, there is always the possibility of drafting yet another rookie at the position.

    However, it is hard to picture anyone out of this year's crop being an immediate upgrade...although no one counted on Russell Wilson making an instant impact.

    In any scenario, there appears to be a strong possibility that this September, the Browns will be starting their 19th different quarterback since the 1999 expansion.

     

    Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81

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