NFL Free Agency and the Draft: Rebuilding the Cleveland Browns

Derek TalibContributor IIIMarch 22, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 27: Randy Moss #81 of the New England Patriots reacts on the sideline after he caught his third touchdown pass of the day against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 27, 2009 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns are going for a youth movement and are not going to be as active in free agency this year. But, there is one player who can change the Cleveland Browns offense and apply instant pressure to opposing defenses, one free agent the Browns should pursue aggressively: Randy Moss.  Moss in a Browns uniform means instant offense for Cleveland. They also now have a solid veteran receiver to help Mohammed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and quite possibly AJ Green.

If Cincinnati or another team takes AJ Green, the Browns could logically add their receiver later and already have secured their deep threat.  The Browns would be able to go into the draft with the true ability to pick the best available athlete at No. six.  If Green is off the board by then, that leaves the Browns drafting a top defender like Da’ Quan Bowers, Patrick Peterson or Nick Fairley. 

Moss is one of the top five receivers in the entire NFL and, no matter how you cut it, no draft pick is a guarantee.  AJ Green has all the tools, but receiver is a hard position to learn at the next level.  Even he will need a year or two to get his sea legs. Moss can be the Chris Carter to the Browns young receiving corps.  He can be a mentor and be the veteran go-to man while the others benefit from his double teams.

A weakness in the Browns attack is no threats on the outside.  This allows for coverage to be focused on the receivers.  The addition of Randy Moss will stretch the field and if the Browns secure AJ Green the passing attack would go from being anemic to adequate.   Timing is the largest component of the west coast offense and Randy Moss would be a good locker room person to have on the team.

At this stage in his career Moss has not only grown up but become a leader in the locker room.  As long as there is strong leadership in the coaching staff and front office, he can feed a starving passing game.  A west coast offense in a division with average defensive backs will also open up the running game even more.

If the Browns were to add Moss the offense could transform with him alongside Watson, Green, Colt McCoy at quarterback and Peyton Hillis at running back. The backups would be Mohammad Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Josh Cribbs at receiver with Monterio Hardesty backing up in the backfield.  In a west coast offense, do not be surprised to see Joshua Cribbs lining up at running back on third down, creating a mismatch.

Yes, a team is built through the draft, but a dose of quality veteran playmakers allows a young team to learn and grow.  Bringing in veterans like Jake Delhomme to tutor McCoy is fine, but there are also veterans that can help on the field.  By the time Moss is ready to retire Green and Massaquoi should be ready to take over.

Hardesty is like having a new rookie back again, but he did not play and will still not know the blitz pickup.  The Browns need to go shopping for an available back to spell Hillis and effectively give Montario Hardesty time to learn the offensive blitz pick up.  A Ronnie Brown may be a perfect fit for what he would be called upon to do.

The Browns could go after Cedric Benson from the Bengals and draft another back in later rounds. If the Browns were to go after Benson it would make a division opponent weaker, and also save wear and tear on both he and Peyton Hillis.  The Browns line is much better than Cincinnati’s and with the addition of a solid right tackle could become an elite line. Whether Benson would be attracted to a situation where he was splitting time is another story.

The only reason to bring in a veteran back is that blitz pick up is crucial in any offense and rookie backs get quarterbacks killed.   Drafting another back to educate with Montario Hardesty in a later round will pay dividends in December.   Adding a veteran receiver in Moss and a veteran back in Benson would allow the young talent to get up to speed while allowing the Cleveland Browns to be competitive. 

Mike Holmgren’s mantra of building through the draft should result in neglecting to bring in effective veterans that can actually still play.  The purging of (Eric) Mangini’s older, slower 3-4 defenders should not discourage the Browns from going after veterans that can still perform.

Holmgren stated he wanted a home run hitter and another quarterback later in the draft.  Mike Holmgren has the Browns priorities set as

First  Round: Wide receiver

  1. First choice: AJ Green, University of Georgia
  2. Second Choice: Julio Jones, Alabama
  • Green is a talent that can challenge the poor defensive backs in the AFC north right out of the gate.  He is a mismatch waiting to happen and can be the go-to man in the redzone.
  • Julio Jones is a big, physical, great blocker and dangerous after the catch. There are tons of defensive linemen in this draft but few impact receivers. The Browns can get a starting defensive end or tackle in the second round.  Many would say he would be a better fit towards the middle of the draft; value is relative to team needs. Julio is only a few beats behind AJ Green and could be just as effective.

Second Round:  Defensive front seven

  1.  First Choice: Cameron Heyward, DL, The Ohio State University
  2. Second choice: Brooks Reed, DE/ OLB Linebacker, Arizona
  • Cam Heyward would have been a first round pick last year but with a strong defensive line class the Browns may find themselves in luck.  
  • Brooks Reed showed that he is a football player at the Senior Bowl and put up some impressive numbers at the combine. He has a lot of upside and has shown a burst on the edge. Brooks Reed can have impact and start day one in a five technique.  His 4.66 40 gives him the ability to chase plays down from the backside.

Third Round:  Right Tackle

  1. First Choice: Joseph Barksdale, LSU
  2. Second Choice: Marcus Gilbert, Florida
  • If Joseph Barksdale is available in the third round, Browns fans should stand up and cheer. He is a monster that stood up to SEC defensive pass rushers and is durable with great knee bend. Although he was a left tackle in college, putting him on the right side makes him an instant starter.  He can also become a capable backup on the left side should Joe Thomas go down. With Thomas on the left and Barksdale on the right, McCoy should have ample time to deliver the ball and  Clevelands' power backs should have holes to run through.
  • Marcus Gilbert would be a bit of a stretch in the third round but is capable of starting on the offensive right side. He will never fool you into thinking he can play on the blind side, but his physicality will allow him to maul during the running game. One huge plus for Gilbert is his experience at guard. He can be kicked inside and be very effective against the run or pass.  

Fourth Round:  Running back

  1.  First Choice: Da’Rel Scott, Maryland
  2. Second Choice: Jaquizz Rodgers, Oregon
  • Da’Rel Scott has above average hands and attacks the hole.  His 4.34 is the “homerun threat” that Mike Holmgren wants. You can’t teach speed and he has an abundance of it.
  • Jaquizz Rogers is thickly built with good hands which is what the doctor ordered for a west coast offense. His 40 times are not reflective of his on field speed. Scouts will have to put on the tape to see that he can run away from people. His height (5’7”) can play to his advantage as defenders say they lose smaller backs like Maurice Jones Drew.  He also has quick burst through the holes.

Fifth Round:   Linebacker

  1. First Choice: Casey Mathews, Oregon
  2. Second Choice: Ross Homan, Ohio State University
  • Casey Matthews has bloodlines but I am not a big believer in bloodlines. I believe in what I see on tape and what I see on tape is a football player.  He is instinctual and has physicality to him. His brother Clay is a beast, but Casey is a thinker.  He can diagnose a play and anticipate where the ball is going. He is a solid tackler and just has to bulk up to play in the physical AFC North.  If he gets to put on a Browns Jersey you can expect big things for the cost a fifth round pick.
  • Ross Homan can instantly contribute on special teams.  He can also work his way into rotations at the “will" linebacker spot in a 4-3.  He ran a fast 40 time in the 4.6 range but more importantly, ran a fast 10 yard split time of 1.56 seconds which is what you want at the linebacker spot.

1st Sixth Round:  Quarterback

  1.  First Choice: Greg McElroy, Alabama
  2. Second Choice-Ricky Stanzi, Iowa
  • Greg McElroy is first and foremost smart and would pick up the west coast offense. Coming from a pro style offense will only improve his chances to adapt to the NFL. He is a natural leader and has a strong character. Like Colt McCoy coming from a winning background helps bring that work ethic and attitude to an organization that has had the stench of losing all over it.  The west coast offense does not need a strong arm to be effective and he can grow into a solid no. two quarterback.
  • Ricky Stanzi sometimes disappears in big games, but has an upside given the right coaching. His arm strength would suit a west coast offense.  He is a character person that would be able to grow from a number three into a number two quarterback.  Like Greg McElroy he has the confidence and swagger you expect from your leaders.

2nd 6th Round:  Best available athlete (Had to adjust this from a 7th rounder)

  • Whatever athlete will be available to help on special teams. Usually a corner offers the speed and athletic ability to be a help instantly on special teams. Another running back, linebacker or receiver might also be an option at this seventh spot. I would simply take the fastest player left in the draft

The Cleveland Browns could be much improved over their 2010 effort if the draft breaks their way, but some things can be done in free agency too. Holmgren is in a position to move the team into contention in the division this year. For the first time in a long time the Cleveland Browns are not starting from scratch in relation to personnel.  The west coast offense can be very effective against blitz heavy defenses by delivering the ball on time. Expect an improved Browns team in 2011.


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