The more money an NFL team has as free agency approaches, the more players who are ultimately linked to them. Most of these are based in nothing more than speculation, in finding one side of a puzzle piece that fits with the other, and that's fine—teams aren't going to tip their free-agency hands when there are others trying to snag the same players, so dots have to be created and connected without their help.
So let's connect some dots for the Browns.
Clearly, the Browns need to add another cornerback this year to complement Joe Haden. Sheldon Brown is heading into free agency and isn't likely to get another deal in Cleveland, while Buster Skrine is better suited for the nickel job.
Though there are a number of intriguing cornerback prospects in this year's draft—including Dee Milliner, who could be among the Browns' first-round targets—a proven veteran has a better chance of being ready to play immediately, while Milliner or someone else might develop too slowly to be an effective starter right away.
Therefore, it makes sense that the Browns would take a close look at their free-agency options at cornerback this year. And, oh, the options they have. At present, there are over 60 corners who are either restricted or unrestricted free agents and that doesn't include the Philadelphia Eagles' Nnamdi Asomugha, who is expected to be cut on Wednesday (via NBC's profootballtalk), and the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis, whom the team is apparently willing to shop around on the trade market (via ESPN).
With these cornerbacks all coming at various price points and the Browns having money to burn—nearly $50 million of it—it seems that they could have any player they wanted. Of course, free agency doesn't go that way; players, after all, still have a say on what contract they accept and those they reject. Despite the coaching and front office turnaround the Browns have experienced in the past few months, that still doesn't completely shake the stigma of Cleveland being a perpetual loser, which will likely scare away a few potential contributors.
Also, some of these free-agent cornerbacks have high odds of being re-signed by their current team, such as the Cincinnati Bengals' Adam Jones, the Detroit Lions' Chris Houston and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Keenan Lewis. So it's best to operate as though these players are off the table for the Browns.
Among the available corners, Atlanta's Brent Grimes is particularly intriguing, but also inherently risky. Though Grimes played only 52 snaps in 2012, having torn his Achilles' tendon in Week 1, he's shown serious capability of being one of the most dangerous cornerbacks in the league.
He allowed catches on just 44.6 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2011 and had 12 defensed passes and an interception on those 56 targets. He's 30 years old, however, and the serious injury he sustained in 2012 further drives down his asking price. On the one hand, that means the Browns can get him at a bargain; on the other, there's no telling how well Grimes will contribute a year removed from the injury. Still, he's certainly worth being on their radar.
Another risky player is Baltimore's Cary Williams. While he doesn't have Grimes' injury history, the fact that the Ravens are coming off of a Super Bowl victory will result in Williams likely searching for a deal greater than his worth. He also showed some serious inconsistency in 2012, with five games in which he allowed completions 70 percent or more of the time he was targeted. He did, however, successfully defend 16 passes and had an impressive six interceptions.
With the Browns flush with cash, they may be one of the few teams that can pay Williams close to what he's looking for, but there's also the concern that Williams may not want to take his talents to a divisional rival so quickly.
Another option could be Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn, who gave up just one touchdown in 2012 while playing 936 defensive snaps, and who made just $1.3 million last year. His performance will certainly earn him a raise in 2013, but it won't be as dramatic as the one Williams may be seeking and he won't likely get a chance to be as choosy as some of the bigger names on the market.
In terms of players with name recognition, Asomugha's name immediately jumps off the page; however, his performance in his two seasons in Philadelphia raise significant red flags. In 2012, quarterbacks throwing in Asomugha's direction had an aggregate 120.6 passer rating. He allowed receptions on 44 of 66 targets, defended only nine passes and had one interception while giving up five touchdowns.
He'll be 32 years old by the time the season begins, which shouldn't help him turn his decline around. What the Eagles got from Asomugha wasn't the same as what he did for the Oakland Raiders before them, and it's hard to imagine that he'd be any better in Cleveland or elsewhere. Though his dip in production will carry with it a far lower price tag than he had in Philadelphia, it might not be worth the Browns' time if they want a free-agent corner to step in and start in 2013.
Which of these veteran cornerbacks would be the best option for the Browns?
There are reasons to consider Asomugha somewhat on the Browns' free-agency radar, however. The main one is current CEO Joe Banner, who likely had more than just a little to do with the Eagles picking up Asomugha in 2011. Banner may still really like him, despite his disappointing two seasons in Philadelphia, which would certainly give the case for Asomugha in Cleveland some traction.
Asomugha would be a good pickup by the Browns in one instance only—if they are targeting Milliner in the first round of the draft. Relying on Asomugha himself, with no one else to provide insurance or even an upgrade, would be too risky. Pairing him with a rookie, however, decreases this risk—and also further serves to lower his ultimate payday. Otherwise, Asomugha's time as one of the league's top corners appears to be done and the Browns should steer clear of adding him to their ranks.
Finally, there's Revis, the NFL's best cornerback. Though he's coming off an ACL tear—an injury that seems to hinder future production in corners more than most other positions—the fact that the Jets are interested in trading him makes him a top name for the Browns as well as any other team with needs at the position.
Revis is set to make $6 million in his final season in New York but reportedly is looking for around $16 million per year, which is an incredibly amount of money for a player coming off of such a serious injury. However, Revis' performance prior to the ligament tear certainly would command it.
The problem with the Browns paying Revis that much money per year, injury concerns aside, is simply that while they are cash-rich right now, that won't be the case for much longer. The Browns have one of the youngest overall rosters in the NFL, and in a year or two, a number of contracts are going to need to be renewed.
Tying up $16 million per year in one player will make their efforts to do so that much more difficult—especially if they finally find themselves with a franchise quarterback whom they'll also need to keep paying. The allure of Revis is strong, but it's not the right fit. And with Revis likely to have a ton of suitors—CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora lists five that aren't the Browns offhand—Cleveland may not be the most enticing option if they do try to go for it.
There is but one known about the Browns at this time—they need another starting-caliber cornerback. The fact they have so much cap space to work with seems to tip the scales towards the team addressing the position in free agency, but it doesn't mean they need to overpay.
The point is not to find the most expensive cornerback, after all, but the best fit who has the greatest chance of making positive contributions in 2013 and beyond. Asomugha has the name recognition and Revis is, well, Revis, but if it's a veteran they are after this year, lesser-known corners that carry with them fewer risks are the better option.