Their nearly $50 million in salary cap space should likely mean the Browns will be quite active during free agency, as does the fact that the defense is switching to a 3-4 base this year and there are a number of talented free agents available who should make that transition go that much more smoothly.
Here's a comprehensive look at the Browns' free-agency activities this year, including roster additions and subtractions, re-signings, rumors and grades for every move of note they make.
Come Tuesday, Cliff Avril could be a Brown.
With so much money to spend and a seeming willingness to do so, the Browns have had free-agency rumors swirling about them for weeks now. With the event officially beginning on Tuesday afternoon, the din has only gotten louder.
March 22: According to Pro Football Talk, the Browns have signed free agent tight end Kellen Davis to a one-year deal.
March 18: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says that free agent Browns receiver and kick returner Josh Cribbs is visiting with the Arizona Cardinals today and will take a physical, meaning that he's likely to sign with them.
March 18: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that free agent cornerback Brent Grimes had a productive meeting with the Cleveland Browns this weekend and will make his decision about his next team later in the week.
March 14: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Browns are indeed quite serious about signing free agent tight end Fred Davis but that the Washington Redskins are also trying to get him back.
March 13: Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Browns have given exclusive-rights free agent tenders to wide receiver Jordan Norwood and long snapper Christian Yount. The ERFA tender is worth $555,000.
March 13: Alex Marvez of FOX Sports says that the Arizona Cardinals will sign free agent Browns receiver and kick returner Josh Cribbs.
March 13: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the Browns have re-signed one of their own free agents, running back Chris Ogbonnaya. He gets a two-year deal.
March 13: Scott Petrak of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram reports that Browns CEO Joe Banner has confirmed the team has signed tight end Gary Barnidge. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot says it is a three year deal; financials have yet to be disclosed.
March 13: Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports says the Browns are interested in free agent tight end Fred Davis. Davis, however, has some risk associated with him, including a 2011 suspension and a 2012 Achilles' tendon tear.
March 13: Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Browns should be signing Carolina Panthers free agent tight end Gary Barnidge on Wednesday. Current Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski was Barnidge's offensive coordinator in Carolina.
March 13: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Browns have signed linebacker Quentin Groves, who was formerly of the Arizona Cardinals where current Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton used to hold the same title. It is a two-year deal worth $2.8 million.
March 12: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has cited multiple reports that confirm the Cleveland Browns have landed free agent defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, most recently of the Oakland Raiders. ESPN's Adam Schefter said the deal is for five years and worth $34 million.
March 12: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the Browns are in the mix to land free agent tight end Jared Cook but that the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams have the edge at the moment.
March 12: ESPN's Adam Schefter says the Browns have signed linebacker Paul Kruger to a five-year deal. The Associated Press' Lee Hudnell says it is worth $40 million. He will get $20 million guaranteed.
March 12: Free agency officially begins with Matt Zenitz of the Carroll County Times saying that ESPN has reported the Browns and linebacker Paul Kruger are close to a contract.
March 11: Sports Illustrated's Peter King said in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column that the Browns will be just as aggressive in free agency as has been expected and that they will likely land either Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger or Lions defensive end Cliff Avril to boost their pass rush. King believes they'll ultimately sign Avril on Tuesday evening.
March 11: Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Browns are also targeting Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook as the replacement for departing free agent Ben Watson and that they also have interest in Seahawks defensive end Jason Jones.
March 9 (updated March 11): Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says that beyond Kruger, the Browns are also targeting another Ravens free-agent linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe. She adds that Cleveland is also interested in cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Greg Toler.
Cason, from the San Diego Chargers, is well known by head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner while Toler, most recently of the Arizona Cardinals, was coached by current Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The Detroit Lions are reportedly also interested in Cason.
March 10: Lane Adkins of the Orange and Brown Report at Scout.com has a roundup of every rumor and non-starter that has circulated about the Browns since the start of the "legal tampering window" at midnight on Saturday. Among the gems:
- The Browns won't be pursuing wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is likely to head to the Miami Dolphins.
- While the Browns have been in contact with Ellerbe's agent, it looks like he'll be staying in Baltimore.
- Cornerback Sean Smith is not on Cleveland's radar.
- The Browns may look to see what recently released former Steelers linebacker James Harrison is looking for in a new contract.
- The team has spoken with the agents for Patriots jack-of-all-trades Julian Edelman as well as Raiders tight end Brandon Myers.
- At cornerback, the Browns have looked into both the Steelers' Keenan Lewis and the Eagles' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
March 9: At least five teams are in the running for the services of Browns free-agent kick returner/wide receiver Josh Cribbs, including the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
March 8: Two potential free-agent quarterbacks who may have been on the Browns' radar came off the market, with Matt Moore re-signing with the Miami Dolphins and Brian Hoyer staying on with the Arizona Cardinals.
March 1: Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland does not think the Browns will re-sign any of their impending free agents, which include Cribbs, tight ends Alex Smith and Watson and kicker Phil Dawson.
Could Phil Dawson be re-signed?
The Browns have made no roster additions or re-signings in the days leading up to the start of free agency, which seems to point to Grossi's belief that the team has no interest in keeping around any of their own impending free agents.
Of their 18 combined restricted and unrestricted free agents, only kicker Phil Dawson has a high chance of being retained. The others will likely be allowed to move on.
Now that free agency has begun, the Browns have started to make moves.
CB Chris Owens—One year, cost unknown.
TE Kellen Davis—One year, cost unknown.
LS Christian Yount—Exclusive-rights free agent tender. One year, $555,000.
WR Jordan Norwood—Exclusive-rights free agent tender. One year, $555,000.
RB Chris Ogbonnaya—Two years, cost unknown.
TE Gary Barnidge—Three years, cost unknown.
LB Quentin Groves—Two years, $2.8 million.
DT Desmond Bryant—Five years, $34 million.
LB Paul Kruger—Five years; $40 million, $20 million guaranteed.
Frostee Rucker is the only recent Browns roster casualty.
In the pre-free-agency period, the Browns have made only one significant roster move, cutting defensive end Frostee Rucker in early February. He was set to make $2.5 million in 2013.
K Phil Dawson—Free agent. New team: San Francisco 49ers; details unknown.
TE Ben Watson—Free agent. New team: New Orleans Saints; three-year deal, financials unknown.
LB Kaluka Maiava—Free agent. New team: Oakland Raiders; three-year deal, $6 million.
The Browns got the pass rusher they had been rumored to be pursuing when free agency began, signing Paul Kruger to a five-year deal worth a reported $40 million.
Kruger was the sack leader for the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens in 2012, and moved to a full-time role on the defense after spending the previous seasons as a pass rush specialist. This was a necessary move for the Browns, considering their need to improve their ability to attack the quarterback as well as their shift to a 3-4 defensive base.
Considering the cost—just $8 million per year—the Browns were able to get Kruger at a lower asking price than initially considered. It may also mean they aren't done adding pass rush talent this year, via either free agency or the draft.
The Browns continued to improve their defensive front seven via free agency, signing defensive tackle Desmond Bryant to a five-year, $34 million deal on Tuesday.
Bryant spent the last three seasons with the Oakland Raiders, where he racked up a total of 124 tackles, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick. He played in all 16 games in 2012 and became the Raiders starting right tackle in Week 10, notching all of his sacks on the year once he took over the job.
He was Pro Football Focus' sixth-ranked defensive tackle for 2012, proving his strength as a pass rusher as well as a run defender, and he notched only two missed tackles on the year. His signing could mean that other Browns defensive linemen may be on the outs, but a front three that includes Bryant (possibly at nose tackle), Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor is nothing to scoff at. Another smart move by the Browns.
Quentin Groves is quite familiar with Ray Horton and his defense, so it makes sense why the Browns would want to bring on the former Arizona Cardinal.
Groves played 481 snaps in 2012 at both right and left outside linebacker in Horton's 3-4 defense and took over as starter on the left in Week 11. He notched four sacks, five quarterback hits and seven hurries last season.
He's more of a run-stopping outside linebacker than a pass rusher. Of those 441 snaps last year, 255 were against the run while only 144 were in pass rush. He was a situational run stopper who was thrown into the starting job last year and handled it well, but anticipate a return to situational work in Cleveland.
For $2.8 million over two years, it's a fair price for a Horton veteran.
The Browns added tight end depth in a nod to their new head coach Rob Chudzinski by signing Carolina Panthers free agent Gary Barnidge to the roster on Wednesday. He signed a three-year deal.
Barnidge worked with Chudzinski while Chudzinski was the Panthers' offensive coordinator. He started in five games in 2012 and appeared in all 16, catching all six passes thrown his way for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Of his 140 snaps last year, 65 were as a receiver and 68 in run blocking. This may provide a hint of how he'll be used in Cleveland, but one also must remember he was second on the depth chart behind top-tier tight end Greg Olsen, which clearly limited Barnidge's targets.
Regardless of how many passes are thrown to him, the Browns certainly needed to add tight end depth. This is a utilitarian pickup and won't cost too much money. It also doesn't preclude them from bringing on yet another tight end via either free agency or the draft.