Creating the Cleveland Browns' Free-Agency Fallback Plan
Once teams can officially sign free agents, even the best laid plans can go to the wayside. There is no telling what will happen in negotiations because they are a two-way street. The Cleveland Browns could have plans on signing every top free agent available, but plans are not reality.
Players like free agency because they can choose where they want to play and usually make much more money. The state of the team, cap space and even city location can all play into a free agent’s decision.
So every team needs a solid backup plan. When things get unpredictable, it is the teams with the best backup plan in the draft and free agency that usually have the best offseason.
Let’s take a look at some players who could qualify as backup plans for the Browns as free agency is set to begin Tuesday.
Backing up the Mack
The Browns gave free-agent center Alex Mack the transition tag and decided they would continue to work on a long-term deal. If no other team makes an offer to Mack the Browns can keep him for one year at $10 million.
It seemed as though the two sides would easily agree on a fair market value for Mack, but that may have changed. According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King (h/t Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group), Mack’s agent said that he is “confident” they can craft a deal with another team with a “reasonable likelihood” the Browns will not match.
If Mack’s camp gets an offer that the Browns are not willing to match, then the team needs to find another center.
A decent backup plan would be Brian De La Puente. The 28-year-old center has played three seasons for the New Orleans Saints and started all but four games. He is also a much more affordable option. He made just $2.023 million last season.
Safety Valve at Safety
There are always curveballs when free agency begins, but perhaps one was served up a day early in Cleveland. The Browns were thought to be hot on the trail of premier free-agent safety Jairus Byrd or at the very least trying to keep T.J. Ward.
Based on a source close to Donte Whitner, He is likely headed to the #Browns when the signing period begins.— Dustin Fox (@DustinFox37) March 10, 2014
The former Ohio State Buckeye and Glenville Tarblooder is no stranger to Cleveland and would be much more affordable. He made just $3.85 million last season.
Despite being in the league eight seasons, he is just 28 years old and has not missed a game in four years. Whitner is coming off a strong season where he tallied 73 tackles and two interceptions.
Protecting the Protection
It was no secret that the Browns needed to upgrade the guard positions this offseason. They were 27th in the league in rushing and gave up the third-most sacks in the NFL. A lot of these troubles came from the guard spot.
While there is not an abundance of talent available at this position, guys like Jon Asamoah from the Kansas City Chiefs and Zane Beadles from the Denver Broncos are quality starters who are entering the prime of their careers.
If the Browns cannot land either of them, however, they just need to continue looking on Denver’s roster from last season.
Journeyman Geoff Schwartz has played for three teams in five years but started seven games for the Chiefs last season. He is just 27 years old and is very effective against the run and the brother of Browns tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
If the Browns paired him with a rookie they select in the draft, it would still be an upgrade over last season.
Delivering a Big Hit to a Rival
The Browns already needed to upgrade one middle linebacker position, which was occupied by Craig Robertson last season. Now they need to upgrade two after releasing veteran D’Qwell Jackson.
The Browns may have extended a contract tender to Robertson, but it will likely be as a backup, and there are some enticing names on the market for middle linebacker.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to release LaMarr Woodley on Tuesday. He is 29 years old and on the decline of his career but still one of the best options available at the position. He played primarily outside the last few years but has experience on the inside as well.
If the Browns can’t land someone of Woodley’s stature, then how about pilfering another roster in the AFC North. According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Ravens are not close to a deal with Daryl Smith. He replaced Ray Lewis last season and was very productive. He had 57 tackles and five sacks.
He would be a short-term fix but could fill a spot at a cheaper price.
The Good Hands Team
While the quarterback position on the Browns remains a mystery, it is no secret that the team needs to upgrade the positions surrounding it. Besides All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon, the cupboard is pretty bare as far as pass-catchers are concerned.
There are a few marquee names on the free-agent market this season. Eric Decker from Denver is just 26 years old and coming off of two huge seasons. He will likely land huge money somewhere.
Hakeem Nicks from the New York Giants is coming off a bad season but is only 26 years old as well and averaging well over 900 yards per season in the NFL. Where do the Browns turn if they cannot land any of the big names, though?
How about 26 year old Andre Roberts from the Arizona Cardinals? He is just one year removed from a 759-yard season and was limited by only starting two games last year. He would be a very cheap alternative to the big names and could fill out the position nicely alongside a draft pick or two.