5 Players the Cleveland Browns Shouldn't Bring Back Next Season
There are five players set to become free agents that the Cleveland Browns shouldn't bring back next season.
Last Sunday's defeat to the Chicago Bears gave this storied franchise double digit losses for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Naturally, significant personnel improvements are expected on the shores of Lake Erie.
For the Browns' new coaching staff, 2013 was a 16-game evaluation period of its talent...or lack thereof.
Undoubtedly, roster changes will occur based on free agency and the 2014 draft. The good news for Cleveland is that the franchise is in excellent shape salary cap-wise to do whatever wheeling and dealing CEO Joe Banner sees fit.
By rolling over their excess cash from this season, the Browns should have between $32 to $38.5 million to spend on the open market depending on the league-wide cap figure.
Let's take a look at which orange helmets should be cleaning out their lockers for good come January.
5. Willis McGahee: Running Back
2013 salary: $940,000
At 32, the Browns were hoping there was still some life left in those old legs and cobble together a rushing strategy using multiple backs.
That plan has failed miserably, as McGahee through 11 games has averaged only 2.7 yards per carry on 138 attempts.
The two-time Pro Bowler has scored two of Cleveland's three rushing touchdowns this season, but he clearly can't hit the holes with consistent explosiveness anymore. His highest one-game total this season is 72 yards and he's generally a non-factor when on the field.
It doesn't help matters that offensive coordinator Norv Turner often abandons the run when Cleveland falls behind. The club ranks 27th in the NFL with an average of 84.9 rushing yards per game.
Not assisting McGahee's cause are knee issues that require frequent treatments between games. He's also still bouncing back from a concussion received in the loss to New England.
Ultimately there will be younger, fresher options for the Browns to consider moving forward into 2014, and that includes the return of a healthy Dion Lewis.
4. Oniel Cousins: Offensive Lineman
2013 salary: $725,000
No one can say that Oniel Cousins was never given a fair shot to be a starter on Cleveland's offensive line.
Due to injuries to guards Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston, the 6'4", 315-pound Cousins, a native of Jamaica, started the first four games of 2013. The results were awful.
Lined up beside tackle Mitchell Schwartz, the right side of the Browns line collapsed in pass protection and did little to open holes in the running game.
During those four contests, Cleveland quarterbacks were sacked 17 times, and a Browns running back didn't rush for over 58 yards.
Not all the blame can be put on Cousins of course. Quarterback Brandon Weeden's decision-making has been horrible all season, and the ground game was seldom effective no matter who was on the O-line.
However, big No. 75 consistently looked overmatched throughout 2013, and even as a backup, he's expendable. The Browns need new blood up front, and letting Cousins walk in favor of a free-agent acquisition or a draft prospect is a good place to start.
3. Chris Owens: Cornerback
2013 salary: $1 million
Chris Owens may have been waived from the Browns injured reserve list on Dec 17, but there's nothing saying that the club can't look to re-sign him in the offseason.
The former Atlanta Falcon was brought in to compete with Buster Skrine for the starting cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden. Several nagging lower body injuries during training camp hurt Owens adjustment to Ray Horton's defensive system, and he eventually fell into the primary nickel back slot.
In his fifth season, the San Jose State alum showed flashes of effectiveness throughout 12 games as he contributed 2.5 sacks and 57 combined tackles.
However, Owens never got any sort of momentum going as missed tackles and sloppy coverage overshadowed most of his positive accomplishments. The disappointing play of rookie defensive back Leon McFadden was also a factor in his staying on the field.
In the end, Owens was underwhelming but not terrible in his one year as a Brown. If the last three weeks of fourth-quarter collapses taught this Cleveland coaching staff anything, it's that upgrades are definitely needed in the secondary.
With several solid free-agent possibilities hitting the open market this spring and some intriguing draft prospects, there are better options than Owens to be explored.
2. Shawn Lauvao: Guard
2013 salary: $1,497,250
Shawn Lauvao's four-year, $3.3 million rookie contract expires at season's end, and there are still plenty of questions that remain about his effectiveness.
Selected 92nd overall two Browns front office administrations ago, Lauvao's aggressiveness and physicality are his greatest strengths.
The Hawaiian was often beaten off the snap and sloppy overall in his mechanics. He was guilty of a slew of penalties over the previous three seasons. The infractions have cleared up in 2013, but Lauvao's struggles in stopping the blitz and creating running lanes continue.
The 6'3", 315-pound guard missed the first four games of this campaign following a left ankle injury during training camp that required arthroscopic surgery. He worked hard to come back from it, but ultimately Lauvao is a key player in an offensive line that is simply not good enough.
The bottom line is that Lauvao has not performed at a level to warrant an extension. Going in a different direction through free agency, the draft or moving a player like tackle Mitchell Schwartz over to the guard spot are all viable options moving forward.
1. Alex Mack: Center
2013 salary: $5.032 million
The train of offensive linemen that need to leave town grows longer as rock-solid center Alex Mack joins the list. At the end of the month he'll wrap up his five-year, $14.6 million rookie deal.
Letting a first-round pick walk away will be a controversial move, but it's the right one to make.
Mack has played in every game since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2009. He displays tremendous athleticism for a big man and can hustle upfield to make key blocks.
So why not sign him?
$12.3 and then $10.2 million are deservedly locked up with Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas over the next two years (his contract expires following the 2018 season). No doubt Mack will be looking for a long-term agreement and a hefty raise.
Do the Browns really want upwards of $20 million next season tied up in a pair of offensive lineman?
An argument can be made to keep Mack for the sake of continuity and reliability. However, if we look at the history of Cleveland CEO Joe Banner during his time as president of the Philadelphia Eagles it can be seen that he doesn't place a high-dollar value on center.
Finding steady but cost-effective contributors at that position in the middle rounds of the draft is more in line with his thinking. The Eagles selecting center Mike McGlynn 109th overall in 2008 is a perfect example of the value that Banner seeks.
Cleveland possesses loads of salary-cap space, 10 draft picks in 2014 and several skill areas to upgrade on both sides of the ball. It's unfortunate, but the ample funds that would've been allocated to Mack can be better used to revamp other areas of the roster.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81