This is the third installment for this nine part article, leading us up to the draft.
In the first installment, we talked about Cleveland’s RFA’s and UFA’s and what direction they could go in that regard. In the second segment, we talked about the draft and what Cleveland’s possible angle of approach could be there, and who could be potential candidates at No. 7 overall and beyond.
In this, the third segment, I’d like to touch on what’s sure to be a hot button topic moving into the Free Agency period, which starts on Friday. So, let’s get right to it!
Question No. 3: What should Cleveland do in the Free Agency market going into the 2010 season?
I’ve made the case previously that this is the most important draft that the Cleveland Browns will be a part of since the expansion, if not further back that that.
It’s critically important that the Browns use these 11 selections, either via the draft or via trade, to make this team better.
If the Browns keep all 11 selections and no moves are made, I believe that it’s fair to say that Cleveland must “Hit” on at least eight selections. What I mean by that is this; eight picks (if all 11 are retained) must be contributing players within a 2-3 year period.
All that said, any GM worth his contract will tell you that while it’s a necessity to build through the draft, you also have to use Free Agency to your benefit as much as possible, and not be afraid to sign pieces of the puzzle that can help your team.
I prefer to look at it like this; The draft can help you build but occasionally you have to look outside of that for the right part.
Kind of like a guy building a '32 Ford Coupe, he can get most of his parts from the latest Jeg’s (The draft) catalog, but, he may have to go to craigslist or another supplier (Free agency) to find a specialty piece to complete the build.
And, in this years market, there a number of quality “specialty pieces” that could help Cleveland greatly on both sides of the ball.
In looking at Cleveland’s depth charts and current roster, one can see that there are holes in basically every level of the D as well as on the offensive side. Cleveland needs D-Line help, LB help and DB help. Of all those needs though, perhaps the biggest need rests in the DB corps.
Cleveland has a legit starter in Eric Wright at one of the CB spots, and Abram Elam is seemingly entrenched at one of the Safety spots. Beyond that though, there are a lot of questions.
Cleveland has a guy in Brodney Pool that says he’s going to give it a go again and play, even with his concussion problems.
They have guys in Mike Adams and Hank Poteat whose best days are behind them and are now a nickel type players.
And, Brandon McDonald is still figuring the game out, and sometimes looks simply lost, but also has shown flashes.
They need help in the defensive backfield badly, and to me their first order of business should be to address the CB position in Free Agency.
Why you ask?
Simple….with Eric Berry likely to be there at No. 7 overall, it seems logical that Cleveland can select him. Then, in the second get a WR (possibly Golden Tate or Damian Williams) providing Kyle Wilson is gone, which also seems pretty likely.
So the question becomes this: Who’s the target?
Dunta Robinson–CB–Houston Texans
Dunta Robinson is a guy that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the plays he makes or the things he does on the field on Sunday. Not to mention, signing him to a long term deal, at his age (27), seems to be a smart move.
He’s better than ANY CB in the draft…including Haden and Wilson, and with his experience, would be a vital part of the core of that team. Providing leadership and dedication to finishing the right way. Oh yeah….and you can sign him (a known, experienced commodity) for basically the same as you would Haden at No. 7 overall.
He’s the kind of guy who can come in and instantly makes your CB tandem one of the better tandems in the league.
He can take pressure of the Cleveland safeties and also off of Eric Wright and can literally shut down one side of the field.
Now, I’m not saying he’s Darrell Revis or anything, but, I know this…he’s good enough that last season, teams only completed 27 percent of all pass plays to his side.
That’s basically one in every four passes. Beyond that, he was only challenged an average of 13.8 plays per game. That’s a little more than one play per series for opposing offenses.
That tells me that teams don’t challenge him a lot, and there’s a good reason. He’s a lockdown guy.
Last season, Robinson’s numbers were a little down, only making 64 tackles and not intercepting the ball once. He did have a forced fumble though, which lead to a score.
That said, I think those numbers have more to do with the fact that he’s a force, while his counterpart (Glover Quin) is not
In my mind, the signing of Dunta Robinson would show that Cleveland is ready to compete at a higher level and would certainly prove that Cleveland is trying to get better now. That’s a statement that most Browns fans have been waiting to hear for a while.
Moving on, let’s look at the LB corps.
With DJ (D’Qwell Jackson) likely to be coming back inside and Kamerion Wimbley on the outside, Cleveland has some talent there.
The remaining two spots will be battled for by Matt Roth, David Bowens, David Veikune, Kaluka Maiava, Alex Hall and a host of others.
At this point though, it looks as though Cleveland has only 2 openings. Personally, based off what Matt Roth showed me last season after stepping in with limited study time and knowing virtually no one or nothing about the scheme, I’d be fine with him at one of the 2 spots.
Afterall, he did finish with a fury. Roth is more an ILB than an OLB to me at 6’-4”, 275, but the depth chart has him there, so we’ll keep him there.
So, I’ve penciled in Wimbley, Jackson and Roth at the LB spots.
That leaves one spot to be battled for by any incoming rookies or Free Agents. I’m pretty confident that Cleveland is going to address the LB needs in the draft, but, there are some better Free Agent options than retaining Bowens and/or Barton.
Both former Jets who can fly on out of Cleveland for all I care..
So, with the 3 penciled in LB’s being Roth, Wimbley and Jackson, who’s a likely target?
Kirk Morrison – MLB – Oakland Raiders
Morrison is as solid a LB in the NFL as you’re likely to find. He’s not a big playmaking guy, but, he is a sure tackler and has a knack for finding the football.
Last season, he finished with 109 tackles, 24 assists, 2 sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles and 1 Fumble recovery. Pretty dominating stat line.
The interesting thing here is this, while he’s an RFA, he’s received an “original round pick” tender.
Which means, should someone sign him, they must give up a pick from the same round in which he was drafted in, which was the 3rd. And, I'm pretty confident that no LB they're going to take in 3rd is going to produce like that for at least a couple of seasons.
Cleveland could sign him, and only have to give up a 3rd rounder (which there are 2 of in the 2010 draft) and still come out ahead….greatly ahead.
He could shore up the inside spot, opposite DJ and then the LB corps looks solid.
And, don’t forget Rex Ryan coached this guy for several seasons in Oakland, and has stated publicly that he loved the guy and the way he played. It could be a fit.
There are several others on the defensive side that Cleveland could look at for a LB spot, particularly, OLB - Chase Blackburn, ILB Pisa Tinoisamoa or LB Akeem Jordan (a guy Heckert was high on in Philly).
At the CB spot, there are several others who could suit up in the Orange and Brown next season.
Perhaps guys like Marlin Jackson, Fabian Washington or Usama Young. But, Robinson fits the bill the best in my mind.
Now, let’s have a look at the offense!
It’s no secret that Cleveland needs help on this side of the ball as well.
They need O-Line help and also need WR help….badly. On the O-Line, the right side needs transformed, and with Fraley’s recent release, it looks as though Cleveland is going to start that project sooner than later.
My feeling is, it’ll be through the draft and not via free agency. Simply because, there are too many top tier RFA’s, and not enough solid UFA’s.
There are several top quality RT’s and RG’s that are available this season that the Browns could use, the problem is that most of them are RFA’s, and carry high tenders.
Names like Willie Colon, Logan Mankins, Jammal Brown, Jared Gaither and Marcus McNeill would fill the o-line needs nicely on the right side, as all have played the right side previously.
According to the Boston Globe, Pro Football Talk and Footballdiehards.com, one of them hasn’t been tendered, and could end up being an unrestricted free agent.
That guy would fit perfectly on the Right side of the line.
But, who is it?
Logan Mankins – OL – New England Patriots
If any of you follow the New England Patriots, or even have seen a Patriots game in recent years, you know what a valuable piece of that O-Line that Mankins is.
Tom Brady has lauded him for his ability to know every O-Line assignment on the field and ability to seamlessly interchange as needed in other positions, which has happened many times in NE.
Mankins, is really a LG. But, his play on the right side when it’s happened, has been phenomenal. He’s 6’-5” 307lbs. and has been to 2 Pro Bowls.
But, perhaps the best thing is his health. He’s started 80 straight regular season games….that’s 5 complete seasons, starting 16 games.
And, he’s only 28. So, Cleveland could make a run at him if he does end up as a UFA, and not feel bad at all about offering him a long term deal, because it seems like 4-5 more good seasons is a possibility.
Looking at the WR spot, there’s a lot of work to be done in Cleveland this offseason.
Cleveland took two WR’s last season, and only one of the panned out, that being Massaquoi.
Mohammed Massaquoi seems like he has the tools to be an invaluable member in the Browns WR corps, but, I don’t know that he has the ability top translate into a true #1 WR like he was a Georgia.
Brian Robiskie struggled greatly in his first season, and with a full season under his belt, perhaps he’ll make some headway. But, like anyone else, he needs an opportunity….
I think that this season there could end up being another WR or 3 added to the Cleveland Roster.
As it sits now, Cleveland has Massaquoi as the #1, with Robiskie, Furrey and the guy who replaced Braylon Edwards, Chansi Stuckey as the others on the roster battling a spot.
Frankly, that’s sad.
And, leaves a TON to be desired. Stuckey never really transferred his game to the Browns and was basically an afterthought in a stagnant offense.
Robiskie couldn’t get on the field and Furrey is a journeyman WR that’s doing everything he can to hang on a roster.
So, to say that Cleveland needs WR help may be a bit of an understatement. Sadly, the TE corps is in a similar state of disarray.
There are only a couple of WR’s that I think Cleveland should entertain signing as UFA’s, and only one warrants an actual signing.
Kevin Walter – WR – Houston Texans
Kevin Walter could be nice addition to a roster that has a great deal of need at the WR spot.
He’s proven that he can make plays down the field and has no fear of going over the middle either. He’s a big target at 6’-4” and has stellar hands, which can only help Brady Quinn.
In 2009, he had a down season, only tallying 611 yards receiving and scoring 2TD’s. However, his season was shortened due to injury and he only played in 13 games, seeing limited action in a 14th game.
In 2008 however, he played in 16 games, caught 60 balls for 900 yards and tallied 8TD’s. That production landing in Cleveland could only be a good thing. And, I think someone would be able to sign him relatively reasonably.
While I think Kevin Walter would be a good addition, I don’t think he can be a game changing true #1 WR. I think the Browns will either have to draft or trade for that person.
Potential trade targets would include Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall.
Honestly, Cleveland’s lack of WR depth is a source of great concern moving forward into the draft and Free Agency.
Because of their lack of depth at that spot, it makes sense that Cleveland could pursue someone like Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant in the draft at #7 overall.
That of course is dependent on what he does at his pro day later this month.
Either way, the need is pressing and the Cleveland brass must do what they can to help their QB Brady Quinn out if they hope to see any marked improvement.
In closing, I’ve given you four names that Cleveland could add to their roster that would make them immediately better.
The additions of Morrison, Robinson, Walter and Mankins would be a site for sore eyes, and would send a message to not only Cleveland fans, but the rest of the NFL….
That message would be this…. We’re trying to win NOW and watch out, cause we’re coming.
It would make the Browns relevant, and allow them to be considered as a true player in what is perhaps football’s toughest division, the AFC North.
I want to see Cleveland build through the draft, and I want them to do things the right way. However, when there are players that you can add that would and will make you better positioned to take the best players you can find in the draft, than I believe that the options have to weighed.
I think of the flexibility that these signings would allow Cleveland to have.
Suddenly, if you have Robinson at one of the CB spots, you don’t have to reach for someone like Haden at #7 overall, which might allow you to grab WR Dez Bryant, who addresses on of the biggest needs Cleveland has.
If you have Kirk Morrison at one of the middle spots, suddenly, you don’t have to retain a player like Bowens, who’s best is behind him.
If you have Morrison, suddenly, you don’t have to reach on a guy late in the first or early in the second. Because you have a guy that led the Raiders in tackles for the last 3 seasons.
In the end, these are all just options and my opinions, and everything will probably go a completely different direction once free agency hits.
But, it would make some sense for Cleveland to add whom they can to create flexibility prior to the NFL draft.