With Judge Susan Nelson lifting the lockout (for the time being, at least), I thought it would be fun to play a little game.
The premise is simple. You are the general manager and get to pick each of the following: one free agent signing + a first round pick + a second round pick. You can sign any one free agent (I used the list found here) but the draft picks have to be somewhat reasonable.
Now, I will admit that some to most of my second round picks have late first round grades and the likelihood they will be available are fairly slim. But these are not steals Kenny Lofton could not pull off -- every year, prospects fall through the cracks and into a team's lap. And what the heck, it's fun to imagine that lap belonging to the Browns.
(Note: For the sake of quasi-believability, I left out Von Miller and Marcell Dareus from the first round, as they are seeming more and more likely as virtual locks to go in the top 5. If you read my Browns Big Board article, you'd know they would have been a selection.)
Unfortunately, the Browns are a team with a myriad holes to fill. The object of this game is to fill in those holes as best as you can like kid with OCD taking a standardized test.
In this slideshow I will list my top five scenarios, in order of my personal preference. I did not duplicate any players after using them once - and used a different position with each free agent scenario. So if you would want to replace a player in the fourth scenario with a player in the first, I'd probably agree with you.
Think you have a better combination? Post it in the comments and let's hear it!
For this, plus more, check out my blog at Ten Cent Beers.
A force to be reckoned with
FA: Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, New York Giants
R1: AJ Green, WR, Georgia
R2: Muhammed Wilkerson, DT, Temple
Mathias Kiwanuka adds a desperately needed, proven playmaker to the defense. He would be my number one target if and when free agency begins. At age 28, he is in his prime and can still be a piece for the future. With Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul already along the defensive line, I'm not so sure the Giants will be able to afford to keep Kiwanuka - making him a realistic target.
Even though I previously wrote that I would take Patrick Peterson before anyone else in the first round, A.J. Green gets the nod in this scenario. The newly acquired Mathias Kiwanuka addresses the defense's biggest problem, giving the Browns the luxury to address their biggest offensive issue: wide receiver. A.J. Green is the best offensive weapon in this draft and immediately becomes Colt McCoy's number one target.
At 6'4" 315, Muhammad Wilkerson is an athletic tackle that can get to the quarterback. He is a prospect on the rise, however, and is unlikely to make it to our second pick. But if he does... Suddenly, the Browns would have a pretty formidable line with Kiwanuka, Athyba Rubin, Wilkerson and the other end position being manned by Matt Roth and pass rush specialist Marcus Bernard.
(Just for kicks and giggles, if either Jimmy Smith, Brandon Harris or Ras-I Dowling fall to the middle of the second round, I'm doing what I can to trade up for them, a la Montario Hardesty. That would give the Browns one of the better young tandems at corner in the league.)
A premiere target
FA: Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings
R1: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
R2: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Wide receiver was one of the Browns' biggest pitfalls last season. Luckily, it is one of the deepest positions available in free agency this year. Unluckily, free agency has been put on an indefinite hiatus.
If Mathias Kiwanuka is my number one target next year, I probably would not have the money to sign a top flight receiver as well. So in that situation, I would focus on second tier receivers, such as James Jones, Devin Aromashadu or Mark Clayton.
But in this scenario, Kiwanuka went elsewhere and I'm spending bank on an elite receiver. Sidney Rice barely edged out Vincent Jackson due to the fact Jackson is on thin ice with commissioner Goodell and could face a long suspension with another slip up. Rice may be coming off of an injury riddled season, but he is also only 24 and entering the prime of his career. He would be a piece for the future and a proven commodity for Colt McCoy. Steve Smith and Malcolm Floyd would be plans C & D.
Now I would turn my attention to the defense, where I take arguably the draft's best player: LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. Cornerback is not the Browns' most pressing need, but it is still a need and Peterson is simply too good to pass up. He basically has All-Pro stamped on his forehead and the thought of pairing him up with Joe Haden would give offensive coordinators fits for the next decade.
The defense's biggest need has to be along the line and that is why the Browns jump all over Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn if he falls. His relatively sub-par senior season (7 TFL and 3.5 sacks) can likely be explained by the multitude of double teams and attention received as a direct result of his stellar junior season (20 TFL and 11.5 sacks). This is a prospect that is seems to be falling for whatever reason and has a realistic chance to slide to the Browns.
Welcome to #teamdbswag
FA: Johnathan Joseph, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
R1: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
R2: Titus Young, WR, Boise State
Johnathan Joseph is only 27 with plenty of years left of the tank. The Bengals did not offer him a franchise tag when they had the opportunity to do so, meaning there is a good chance he is able to test the free agent waters.
I would decide to pursue Joseph over the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha and Antonio Cromartie because they will be seeking astronomical paychecks. Asomugha will be looking for Darrelle Revis money while Cromartie will be needing to feed a small city. Joseph is no consolation prize, though. Plus, wouldn't it be great to snag a top player from a divisional rival?
Nick Fairley might have the most raw talent of any prospect in this year's draft. He plays with a mean streak (which I love) and was the most dominant lineman on a National Champion defense. That cannot be understated. Yet due to some character concerns, some feel he might be the reincarnate of Gerard Warren. But as Terry Pluto points out, he is not nicknamed "Big Money" and Warren never had 11.5 sacks in a season. But there is still a bust factor that makes me mildly nervous.
While the first two second round options have been pipe dreams, receiver Titus Young might actually be considered a slight reach at No. 37. But I do not care. He is too quick for me to care. As he blows past defenders in his highlight reel, somewhere within his Gaussian blur I can swear I'm able to see flashes of 2008 second rounder Desean Jackson.
(As a note, I have Leonard Hankerson as 3b to Young's 3a in my receiver rankings. Hankerson has the size [6'1 210] and the speed [4.43 40] and the production [22 touchdowns broke Michael Irving's record at Miami]... but Young's quickness and ability to create after the catch gives him the slight edge in the West Coast Offense.)
Of any of my scenarios, this one might have the most legs in terms of plausibility. Joseph would be a young, marquee free agent whose price tag would not be too absurd. And by all accounts, both Fairley and Young should be available at No. 6 and No. 37.
What. A. Beard.
This scenario makes me nervous. I absolutely love Logan Mankins and I would welcome both him and his epic ability to grow a beard to Cleveland with arms so open, Creed would have to write a song about it. (I mean, could you imagine him battling Brett Keisel in the winter? I feel more manly just thinking about it.)
But at the same time, his signing would mean devoting an incredible amount of money to our offensive guard positions.
Both Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin have huge "boom or bust" potential. Quinn was an elite pass rusher when he was on the field and might have been a top 2 selection had had he played this past year and Austin would have been a first rounder based on his play. But both were suspended for the past year and are riddled with uncertainty.
Having said all that, this scenario is all about building up the trenches, which I love. And it would only take about 32 minutes to get me completely on board this bandwagon.
A Cleveland Heights Native
OK. So I cheated and added another second rounder. Whatever.
I actually love this idea though: trading down a few notches, grabbing Julio Jones and netting an addition second round pick. Ideally, I would have Kiwanuka as the free agent and Wilkerson and Sherrod as the second round picks... but I didn't want my top rated scenario in this game to immediately bend the rules.
Regardless, Barry Cofield is a name to keep your eye on once free agency begins and someone to be excited about if he signs here. Similar to Kiwanuka, Cofield may be able to leave the Giants as well due to the fact they will be able to only tie so much money into their line.
Why would Cofield want to sign with Cleveland? Well, for starters, he grew up in the area (Cleveland Heights; my hometown!) and may want to play for his hometown. At only 27, Cofield is a young up and comer that can be signed at a moderate price and form a great pairing in the middle with Athyba Rubin.
As for Julio Jones, I believe he can still be picked after trading down a couple spots, but you will not see me complain if he is taken at the 6th selection. I have Green rated higher, but not by much. Green looks like the more fluid athlete and literally catches everything, which is something I place at an even higher premium after watching Braylon Edwards for years. So he gets the nod.
However, Jones is noticeably bigger and more physical. He also had more highlights of long runs made after the catch and after contact than Green, which could attest to his ability to excel in a West Coast Offense. Mel Kiper Jr. wrote in his draft preview that he was the best blocking wide receiver he has ever graded. That kind of toughness would make Clevelanders quickly forget that he was the second rated anything.
Derek Sherrod is an offensive tackle that started for three years in the SEC and did more than hold his own. The 6'5" 320 pounder holds a first round grade and could move to right tackle opposite of All-Pro Joe Thomas, giving the Browns elite bookend tackles for the next decade and keeping Colt McCoy's laundry bill low.
So in the words of the immortal Forrest Gump: "And that's all I have to say about that."