Players the Cleveland Browns Absolutely Must Re-Sign This Offseason
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
The excitement surrounding free agency is elevated in Cleveland this year as the club has an estimated $48.9 million of salary cap space at their disposal.
As possible new additions swirl around in the fans' collective heads, there are players that the Browns absolutely must re-sign this offseason.
From the team's 2012 roster, 18 will become free agents as of March 12. A complete list can be found at Spotrac.com.
The following slides display the top four contributors that the Browns need a new deal for in 2013, ranked from least to most important.
4. Chris Ogbonnaya (RB)
Running back Chris Ogbonnaya
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Ogbonnaya has quietly become a key cog in the Browns offense.
Not flashy or spectacular in any one area, the Texas-born running back is reliable and should be re-signed.
Ogbonnaya was counted on for a large part of this past season as a third-down back who was a solid blocker, could catch out of the backfield and was able to scamper for some positive earnings on the ground.
No. 25 came to Cleveland as a desperation pickup off of the Houston Texans' practice squad in 2011 during the Peyton Hillis gong show of "injuries."
He carved out a niche for himself last year and the numbers prove it.
The former Longhorn appeared in 15 games, during which he averaged 7.8-yards per reception on 24 catches, and amassed 10 first downs.
Ogbonnaya won't be confused with Trent Richardson on offensive statistics, but did prove much more effective in picking up the blitz when called upon to protect quarterback Brandon Weeden.
The restricted free agent does not possess the skills to become a direct backup for T-Rich. However, he earned a measly $540,000 in 2012 and is definitely worth keeping on the roster for depth.
3. Sheldon Brown (CB)
Veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Keeping Brown on board would be conditional on his moving to the free safety position.
A return to outside corner is simply not realistic if the team wants to substantially improve in that area.
Shifting Brown to safety would allow his wealth of knowledge to be utilized and eliminate the mismatches that occur on the perimeter.
Nearing 34, the inability to keep pace with the NFL’s fast and physical receivers is a problem that cannot be overlooked.
However, the cerebral 11-year veteran did put together his best statistical season in Cleveland for both interceptions (three) and total tackles (52).
Brown is also a role model for this young secondary and continues to anticipate plays pre-snap with the best of them.
As long as a pay cut from his now expired three-year $15.25 million contract can be agreed upon, then Cleveland should keep the asset of his experience in house.
2. Benjamin Watson (TE)
Tight end Benjamin Watson
USA TODAY Sports
Averaging over 10 yards per catch, staying healthy and not dropping the ball, all suggest that Mr. Watson should be brought back for 2013.
An added bonus is that the 32-year-old demonstrated chemistry with both starting quarterbacks over the past two seasons.
Colt McCoy (2011) and Brandon Weeden (2012) each targeted the tight end on a regular basis. At 6'3" and 255 pounds, he provides stability to a young and unproven TE group.
Offering an extension buys the Browns some time to see what they really have in prospects Jordan Cameron and Brad Smelley. If they let him walk, then the position instantly becomes vulnerable and a point of weakness.
In an offseason where so many other areas need to be addressed, Cleveland would be doing themselves a favor by keeping No. 82 in orange and brown.
1. Phil Dawson (K)
Kicker Phil Dawson winding up
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Absolutely no doubt that bringing back Phil Dawson should be the highest priority for Joe Banner and company.
Why Phil "The Foot" is not wrapped up in a cozy multi-term deal already is beyond puzzling.
Dawson is coming off a career year where he made 93.5 percent of attempted field goals and nailed seven from a distance of 50 yards or longer in 2012.
At 38, Mr. Automatic has been the only consistent point producer since the franchise returned in 1999. Why give that up?
After 14 years of service, if No. 4 wants to return, then the front office needs to spend the money and allow him to retire a Brown.
Cleveland's new regime is in the process of putting their own unique stamp all over the organization.
It will be interesting to see if the players discussed or any of the other upcoming free agents will be around to see the end result.
Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81