The Cleveland Browns are starting over again for the millionth time.
However, unlike former versions of the Browns, the cupboard is not bare. The Browns are one of the NFL’s youngest teams and the foundation is there to not just be competitive, but win.
There will be growing pains of course, but this team is not void of talent as their predecessors were in the past. The biggest problem the Browns will have is getting out of their own way. There have been times in recent memory that Cleveland could have made great strides by making obvious choices, but either over thought the situation or got cute and missed out on good players (Robert Griffin III, Haloti Ngata).
The Browns are not going to attract “ring hunters” that want to win now, so they have to choose free agents smartly.
By adding Paul Kruger from the Ravens to play opposite Jabaal Sheard, Cleveland has legitimized its pass rush. And Quentin Groves as added much needed depth to the linebacker position and special teams.
They are not bereft of talent along the front seven with John Hughes, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Wynn, and Phil Taylor. Cleveland further strengthened their front seven by adding Desmond Bryant out of Oakland.
This is shaping up to be their best front seven they have had in years.
Cleveland was hoping to have Brent Grimes as starting cornerback to play opposite Joe Haden, but Grimes signed with the Miami Dolphins instead.
Cleveland also added depth with Kevin Barnes from the Detroit Lions at the cornerback position. Barnes will play on special teams and fight for that nickel position along with Chris Owens, another CB out of Atlanta.
None of the cornerbacks are a brand name, but again the Browns are finally in a position to add depth and not be desperate. They are going to continue to add players but probably no big additions until after the draft.
More importantly for the Browns, their activity in free agency has shown what their plans in the draft are going to be.
Cleveland seems to be filling all their holes through free agency to permit them to use the draft the way it is supposed to be utilized: go after the best player available and not draft upon desperation.
Cleveland will have to decide between cornerback, 3-4 rush outside linebacker and quarterback in the sixth spot. The draft will come to them and Cleveland will be in a position to pick the best player available.
Cornerback satisfies an immediate need, as they have starters at outside rush linebacker and quarterback.
Cleveland can do itself a favor by getting their cornerback with that sixth pick in Dee Milliner out of Alabama if he is still available. With the aggressive defense the Browns want to run, Milliner may be ideal as a cover cornerback. Milliner can man up, play zone coverage and is a fluid player that does not get rattled.
Joe Haden, Dee Milliner and hard hitting T.J. Ward are legitimate playmakers and could be the best tandem of DB's in the AFC North.
Other options at corner would be the bigger cornerback Xavier Rhodes at 6'2", 215 pounds out of Florida State.
Rhodes is a bit rawer than Milliner, but his physical tool chest is full. He is strong and matches up well with bigger receivers. He is also willingly going to give up his body to lay the wood to runners.
If Milliner is off the board, Cleveland should go outside rush linebacker in my opinion and hope that former “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu is still on the board in the third round.
He could be a steal in the third or fourth round.
Mathieu is battling his own demons, but in the third or fourth round he is much less a risk for the Browns. If Cleveland goes outside linebacker with the sixth pick Mathieu would be a nice second day pick up. He is a first-round talent that some teams will shy away from, but Cleveland cannot afford to ignore someone like him if he is available when they pick in the third round.
If the Browns could leave the draft Jarvis Jones and Tyrann Mathieu, they would have made huge improvements on their defense.
They also need an upgrade at free safety.
Usama Young is great for depth, but not as a starter. The Browns could upgrade by finding a hidden gem like Bacarri Rambo out of Georgia, or Phillip Thomas out of Fresno State.
Rambo is a big hitter, but will have to work on his tackling. He wants to knock you out instead of wrap you up. He is a player that could come in and earn his way onto the field early in the season.
Thomas had eight interceptions, 84 tackles and four forced fumbles.
Both of these players have second-round talent, but both probably won’t be drafted in the second round.
As stated earlier, the Browns will allow the draft to come to them.
Dee Milliner, Jarvis Jones, Ezekiel Ansah (DE Brigham Young) or Barkevious Mingo (OLB LSU) could fall to Cleveland when they pick sixth. Whoever they pick will have a chance to learn the defense and not be immediately pressed into duty as previous Browns Rookies, which will only make them better players.
Unlike last year, Cleveland is not advertising its interest in any quarterbacks in this draft.
However, they are doing their due diligence by bringing in Geno Smith. If Smith is a franchise quarterback, do not be surprised or angered if they take him with the sixth pick.
Campbell was not sold on Cleveland unless he was told he is competing for a starting job. He has an 82.5 average quarterback rating compared to Brandon Weeden’s 72.4 and McCoy's 75.0.
If Geno Smith is able to amaze Cleveland, they might be able to select him in the six spot.
And the Browns can now afford to sit him before he gets a starter’s role ala Colin Kaepernick. This will not be that big splash that Browns fans want out of a first round draft pick, but their front office is looking long term not just this season.
There is no way Jimmy Haslam is looking at Weeden or Campbell as that guy.
The organization is not settled on the quarterback situation and has to figure out when to pull the trigger on a new signal caller. If Geno Smith is sitting there, it will be tempting for Cleveland to draft their quarterback of the future.
The problem this front office inherited is the over drafting of Brandon Weeden.
Weeden is not a terrible quarterback, and Cleveland could be fine with him if he was 22 years old. But the fact that he is 29 does not allow him the years to develop.
To illustrate the real impact of his age, think about how much football Ben Roethlisberger has played and all the NFL experience he has obtained.
He is two years older than Weeden.
They can also wait till later and try and get someone like Mike Glennon (NC State) or E.J. Manuel (Florida State) if they move down in the first round. I think that if it is not Geno Smith, then the Browns will not even be tempted in their early rounds to get a QB.
The Browns do not intend to be picking in the top 10 every year.
However, they are in position this year to select a franchise quarterback.
Don’t fall for the pundits saying there are no true franchise quarterbacks in this draft. They are the same ones saying Russell Wilson is too short. The one thing in Weeden's favor is that Norv Turner's offensive style of pushing the ball down field is what Weeden is more comfortable with then the dink and dunk offense of the west coast.
The offense has a genuine offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, but the Browns have yet to get him any toys for his offense.
There has to be a push to get some speed on the outside.
They may yet do that this draft, but they need a veteran receiving presence on their team to lead that young receivers group. Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin are a good nucleus, but they need another bonding agent. They need another speedster to take the top off the defense.
Speed never goes out of style in the NFL. The Browns need to find someone in a later rounds that threatens a secondary.
Cleveland was smart in free agency. They should be able to make an impact in their division this year given the improved leadership of the coordinators and some key additions through free agency. The draft will be impactful for Cleveland this year because they do not have to draft players that have to be immediately pushed into action.
Well, with the exception of a cornerback.
The Browns are not going to a Superbowl this year, but they will surprise some teams with their level of play and improvement. Cleveland will not be the ones that other teams automatically put a “W” next too when they see them on the schedule.
Instead, I think fans can expect a ferocity that has not been in Cleveland for a long time and an offense looking to strike downfield.
Browns fans are among the most loyal and patient in the NFL, but they have to be tired of starting over.
This time, however, the core of young athletic players with a mix of veterans not past their prime will lead to big results this season.