The Cleveland Browns enter the 2014 offseason with a ton of question marks and one absolute certainty; there will be big changes. Obviously the head coach will change and the Browns will draft plenty of young talent, but they also have the most cap space in the NFL to spend in free agency.
That’s where things get interesting.
Without knowing the next coach and whether or not he will change the offensive and defensive philosophies, it is tough to say exactly where the Browns will spend their money this offseason. We only know that they will in fact spend a lot of money.
The Browns could use upgrades at inside linebacker, on the offensive line, at running back and could stand to add some depth in their defensive secondary. Most of this will come from their 10 draft selections, but some will be plucked from free agency.
Let's take a look at some players the Browns could snag to immediately help them in 2014.
Sure, I know technically Browns safety T.J. Ward is not a free agent just yet, but Cleveland cannot afford to let him get there. Ward finally lived up to his potential in 2014 being named a Pro Bowl alternate as well as an All-Pro.
Ward tallied the second-most tackles on the team with 112 and also had 1.5 sacks on the year. He was among the best safeties in the league when covering tight ends.
Ward will come with a hefty price tag because of all his accolades in the 2013 season, so the Browns may want to slap the franchise tag on him.
This would pay him the five-year average of the top safeties in the game, or somewhere around $8 million for one season. This would allow the team to test Ward’s durability for one more year. In the past he has had trouble staying healthy, and another 16 games to prove he can stay on the field would be valuable to the Browns.
The Browns' interest in Texans running back Ben Tate was among the worst-kept secrets in the NFL this season. As far back as September there were reports, like this one from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, about Cleveland coveting the backup ball-carrier.
The Browns have the cap space to pay Tate big money, and that is what it will most likely take.
The 25-year-old has never received a full complement of carries but has still posted impressive numbers. On just 181 attempts in 2013 he ran for 771 yards and four touchdowns. In 2011, he had 175 attempts for 942 yards and four touchdowns.
If you multiply out Tate’s numbers to 275 carries, which would have put him 10th in the NFL, he would have rushed for 1,182 yards. That would have ranked him eighth in the league.
The Browns will likely have to pay him around $7 million per season to snag what many believe is the top back on the market.
I wrote a few weeks ago about Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks being a possible target for the Browns this offseason. Despite back-to-back seasons of underwhelming production, Nicks will pull a big payday this offseason.
The 25-year-old receiver battled injuries for the past two years but is still averaging 904 receiving yards per season and has 27 touchdowns in his five-year career. This season, he has 50 receptions for 794 receiving yards despite the Giants scoring the third-fewest points in the NFL.
The big hurdle he will face in free agency will be the fact he failed to catch a touchdown pass in 2013. Even after posting a big fat zero in the touchdown category it still didn’t temper Nicks’ opinion of himself.
“I still consider myself one of the top receivers in this league,” Nicks said via Paul Schwartz of The New York Post.
Nicks is still a solid receiver, but the Browns will need to ask themselves if he is worth the money and years that he will demand.
This one may come as a little bit of a surprise, but the Browns need quality depth and competition at the cornerback position. Who better to provide that then Colts free agent Vontae Davis?
While it is unlikely that the Colts will let him go, they do have the fourth-worst salary-cap situation in the NFL according to OverTheCap.com. If they cannot afford to re-sign the 25-year-old cornerback, then the Browns should jump at the chance.
Despite intercepting just one pass in 2013, Davis has 13 career interceptions and has snagged three or more in three of his five years in the league.
He would most likely slide into the second cornerback position and allow Buster Skrine to move inside and play the nickel. Just about every defensive alignment contains a nickel back at this point anyway, so this would bolster a position that needs strength.
He would not break the bank for the Browns either, as he is in the second tier of cornerbacks who will be available this offseason.
The Browns desperately need to upgrade both guard positions and need to do so with fierce run-blocking animals like Chiefs free agent Jon Asamoah. This would be a huge free-agent splash.
Widely considered one of the best young guards in football, if Asamoah reaches free agency, he will pull big-time money that could reach $7 million per season. He is just 25 years old and anchored a line that saw running back Jamaal Charles rush for 1,287 yards and quarterback Alex Smith throw just eight interceptions.
The biggest issue is that the Chiefs are in pretty good position entering free agency. Besides tackle Branden Albert, who the Chiefs used their franchise tag on, they have no other key free agents hitting the market.
So even though they only have a few million dollars in cap space, they can most likely make it work if they decide to keep Asamoah on their squad.