As Mike Holmgren prepares to fill the last few vacancies in the coaching staff, the Browns' plan for greater success in 2011 appears to be starting to come together.
Next on the to-do list? Scouting available free agents for next season.
The Browns have a solid foundation in place, but to deliver a dramatic improvement on their 5-11 record in 2010, the team still has a number of holes to fill this off season, whether it be through the draft or free agency.
As is the case every year, the 2011 NFL free agent pool offers tremendous depth at some positions and very scant options at others. The Browns have needs both at positions offering a lot of depth among free agents and at positions where the options are few and far between.
The Browns have a number of players from the 2010 roster who are now free agents that are expected to resign but will need to look elsewhere in order to fill all their needs.
The following is a look at 10 free agents from around the league who could be a good fit for the Browns in 2011.
Without a doubt, wide receiver is the position at which the Browns have the most glaring lack of depth. The team's leading receiver wasn't even a receiver. It was tight end Ben Watson. Still worse, the team's supposed "No. 1 receiver" Mohamed Massaquoi had just seven more receiving yards that RB Peyton Hillis.
Because the Browns need to add multiple starting-caliber receivers this offseason, they cannot satisfy their needs at this position through the draft alone.
Free agent Sidney Rice, formerly with Minnesota, is among the best WRs available on the open market. Rice suffered a hip injury, and though his 2010 numbers weren't quite on par with his stellar 2009 campaign, he still bounced back well.
The Browns need a playmaker at wide receiver; someone who finds ways to get open and always seems to be around the ball rather than the more passive sort of wideout who simply runs his route and waits around for the ball to come to him. Sidney Rice fits the bill well.
It shouldn't be necessary for the Browns to sign two top-tier receivers on the open market this offseason, but since there's a significant chance Minnesota will work hard to re-sign Rice, it's good to have a plan B.
2010 Charger Vincent Jackson may be a good alternative. He has a lot of the same qualities that would make a receiver attractive to the Browns that Rice does.
Equally important, he's a better bet than Rice to leave his current team for a new location because San Diego has so much depth at receiver and has younger and cheaper options than Jackson who can still get the job done.
Adding a tight end is not among the Browns' most pressing needs this offseason, due to the dependability and production of Ben Watson, but a lack of depth at the position after Watson means it's still something they ought to consider.
Since Evan Moore can't seem to stay healthy, and he's the only reasonable option behind Watson, the Browns would be in serious trouble if Watson were ever to be injured. Additionally, there's some merit in the theory that the Browns could benefit from a two-tight end formation, but they can't do this without adding a player to serve as Watson's counterpart.
Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis could be a good fit, depending on his price tag. He's far more durable and dependable than Moore, and he's been excellent in the red zone, an area where the Browns could obviously use the help. What's more, Lewis has tremendous size, and the Browns don't have much in the way of big targets.
The Browns have some serious talent on their offensive line, but they also have some serious problems. It remains to be seen whether Billy Yates will be a major contributor next year after his season-ending biceps injury in 2010, and Porkchop Womack contributes little to the equation aside from a charming moniker.
Carl Nicks made the Pro Bowl this season with New Orleans and was instrumental in the success of the Saints' running game this season, making him a good choice to join an o-line for a team like the Browns that relies heavily on its ground game.
The Saints just signed Nicks' teammate and fellow OG Jahri Evans to a contract that makes him the highest paid guard in the league, so it's questionable whether they'll be willing to offer Nicks enough money to keep him in town, which could be good news for the Browns.
A defensive end is among the Browns' most pressing needs when it comes to their struggling front seven, especially considering they need an insurance policy for Shaun Rogers in case his productivity fails and due to his being somewhat injury prone. Or in case he decides to act up at the airport again.
For a variety of reasons ranging from character issues to the a high price tag to the likelihood that he'll stay with Oakland, Richard Seymour may not be the most practical choice for the Browns at DT. Still, Seymour is a talented guy who is relentless in his effort and work ethic. He earns every penny of his paycheck every week.
And maybe just as important, any guy who smacks Ben Roethlisberger across the face is definitely a guy I want on my side.
Some of the Browns biggest problems on defense stemmed from weaknesses on the defensive line that resulted in a lack of follow-through on pressuring the quarterback and difficulty at stopping short yardage running plays.
A solution to this could be Minnesota's Chad Greenway. He's a top-tier lineman who excels at making plays at the line of scrimmage and around the pocket. He's one of the best out there at stopping the run. And he's done all this in a 4/3 defense like the one the Browns are looking to move to next season.
The only problem is that it's very unlikely that the Vikings would let him walk away. A good alternative in terms of price and signability might be Washington's Rocky McIntosh.
McIntosh has proven talent at ILB but struggled in the Redskins' 3/4 defense. The fact that he's better suited to a 4/3 and that he won't be re-signed in Washington since they plan to continue running a 3/4 may mean he could be a good fit for the Browns.
If there's a single critical piece the Browns need to turn the corner aside from a reliable wide receiver, it's an explosive pass rusher.
Enter Mathias Kiwanuka, former member of the 2010 Giants' impressive front seven. Kiwanuka is an elite pass rusher with the kind of raw power, bursts of speed, and nose for the quarterback the Browns are so severely lacking and need so badly.
There's a good chance Kiwanuka will be available. The Giants seem to be overloaded at the position and even if they did want to keep him on, the amount of playing time he would get in New York is questionable.
The Browns, on the other hand, need a quarterback killer like Kiwanuka as a regular starter in their front seven.
There aren't a lot of great options among the place kickers currently available on the free agent market. Most of the better candidates are likely to be resigned by their 2010 teams, and the rest are former top-notch kickers who are starting to lose a little leg.
Even though he may have reached the point where he's starting to become part of the latter category, I'm of the opinion that the Browns should resign Phil Dawson even if it means overpaying him, though I can see the other side of the argument.
At the top of the list of alternatives are Mason Crosby and Adam Vinatieri, but neither is likely to leave his current team. There is a good chance Ryan Longwell remains with the Vikings as well, but he's the best kicker among those who may be willing to relocate.
Beyond Longwell, the options get less attractive. Unless the Browns opt to go a route other than free agency to procure their next kicker, they may be looking at someone like Olindo Mare.
Browns fans started drooling over Nnamdi Asomugha the second the Raiders indicated he would be available on the open market following 2010. After watching Eric Wright err on critical game-changing plays all season long, the acquisition of an elite shutdown corner became beyond attractive for Cleveland.
While the idea of having a secondary that includes both rookie sensation Joe Haden and Asomugha is certainly an enticing one, Asomugha may be tough to rope in. He's at the top of the market at his position, so he'll be expensive, and rumors abound that he's looking to go to a proven contender.
Still, in the interest of seriously beefing up the secondary, Asomugha is probably worth pursuing even at a high cost if he's willing to hear an offer from the Browns.
As discussed previously, the Browns are desperately in need of an overhaul of their linebacking corps. While the draft is a good option for adding a playmaker at the position, the Browns will likely still need additional help from a free agent or two.
It's financially unrealistic to think the Browns could sign more than one elite linebacker on the open market, but there are a few good alternatives who could come at a lower price if the Browns seek to sign multiple linebackers from the free agent pool.
Paul Posluszny may be one such candidate. While he's not among the league's best, he's a solid ILB who does well at shutting down the run. If you want proof, watch the tape of this year's Browns-Bills game and check out how instrumental he was in helping his team shut down Peyton Hillis.