As we approach what appears, at long last, to be the end of the lockout, what our teams will do in free agency is at the forefront of our minds.
For months now, we've all had a wish list for our top choice free agent at every position where our team needs help, and probably a couple of backup options at each spot as well.
In a perfect world, we'd get our priority guy at every position (or at least our second choice), but finances and competition from other teams generally ensure that we can't get every free agent at the top of our wish list.
And sometimes, we're left in a spot where the pickings are very, very slim, and we don't really get what we want at all.
But disappointed or no, we still have to fill those holes on our roster. As much I, like everyone else, don't enjoy making a worst-case scenario free agent wish list, we'd all be fools not to have a contingency plan.
Following are a few examples of worst-case scenario options in free agency for five positions where the Browns have needs. It probably isn't fair to call these players truly "worst-case" options, as all are still desirable players with something to offer. Perhaps more accurate, they are the worst-case options among players who are still plenty capable of doing the job we need them to do.
This doesn't address every position where the Browns could use free agent help, but touches on five where they absolutely need to make sure they make a move of some sort.
Note that this piece takes into account only regular free agents with NFL service time and not undrafted free agents.
Please share your own worst case scenario free agent targets in the comments below!
Fortunately for the Browns, their situation in the secondary isn't completely dire. They have two outstanding players in Ward and Haden and a number of serviceable guys who can serve as backups and spot starters.
The problem is that beyond Haden and Ward, they don't have much in terms of guaranteed top quality starters. It's likely that Eric Wright will win one of the CB slots, but at the moment, there's no clear candidate for the safety who will start opposite TJ Ward.
In an ideal world, we wouldn't need a free agent here at all of course, but we'd be better off with some outside help. It seems reasonable to think there's enough talent on the market at safety to snag a decent player, but it's tough to say whether there's anything worth having that is affordable, especially considering that while the Browns need help here, the bulk of their money is best spent elsewhere.
Interestingly, the worst-case scenario free agent signing here might be Abe Elam. Don't get me wrong, I would consider signing Elam as a backup a top priority. This is absolutely a guy I want on the roster. But I'm not sure I want him as a starter in an ideal scenario.
Still, as worst case prospects go, he's probably the best choice. While he's not exactly starter quality, he's better than most backups, and the fact that he wants to stay in Cleveland and will thus work that much harder and come that much cheaper just adds to the appeal.
Other worst-case possibilities at DB: Gerald Sensabaugh, Darren Sharper and Atari Bigby (though he comes with huge, huge injury risk).
The Browns have some talent at linebacker, but still lack a big playmaker and pass rusher at the position. In an ideal world I'd take Paul Posluszny or Barrett Ruud, but only time will tell if we'll have the money and the appeal to get them to sign.
So let's take a look at some lesser options. The Bengals' Dhani Jones hasn't been stellar, but he's serviceable and could be a good addition to the linebacking crew.
The best option among those not at the top of the heap is probably Jacksonville's Kirk Morrison, who would be a good fit in our system and would likely come at a relatively fair price for his skill set.
Beyond that, I'd be looking at the Bears' Pisa Tinoisamoa, Houston's Zack Diles and Minnesota's Erin Henderson. I would also hang onto D'Qwell Jackson. He's not a top-tier linebacker and probably never will be, but I think he's been more valuable than he gets credit for and will continue to improve.
The Browns did a relatively good job prioritizing the DE and DT positions in the draft and bringing in some early round talent that appears ready to start this season in Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor.
But even if the rookies pan out as we hope, there's still several holes on the front seven that absolutely have to be filled before the new 4-3 defense can be effective.
I've said in the past that Mathias Kiwanuka and Brandon Mebane are my top targets here, but if the Browns have to go down the ladder a bit, there are fortunately a number of options that could still get the job done on the free agent market.
At DT, the first guy I would look at is Houston's Shaun Cody. The rub is that the Texans are unlikely to let him walk, but if they do, he'd be a good option. It's tough to truly call him a "worst-case" signing, but as I've said, this is really about the best of the second-tier options, rather than what you would truly call "worst."
To beef up the lackluster right side of the Browns offensive line, I'd sacrifice a lot to get Tyson Clabo or Carl Nicks.
The price would likely have to be lower than expected to land either of those players though, as I do not expect the Browns to put huge amounts of cash into the O-line.
The first guys I would go after in terms of second-tier players at the position are Willie Colon (provided that he's healthy) or Jammal Brown since he was successfully moved from the left to the right side in Washington last season.
And while I'm not Floyd Womack's biggest fan, I do think that if all of the above options are off the board, the Browns could certainly do a lot worse than bringing back Pork Chop for one last hurrah.
There is a large portion of the Browns fan base that adamantly insists the team needs to sign a top notch wide receiver. I understand their logic, but am not of the same sentiment.
The Browns do need some help from free agency at WR, but I don't think it's where they should be throwing a huge chunk of the money they have to spend.
Those at the other end of the spectrum take a laissez-faire attitude toward the WR corps and feel it's best to make do with what we have and to do no more at the position that perhaps bring in a UDFA.
I lean more in that direction than the other, but I think a happy medium exists where the Browns sign a veteran receiver who has some talent but isn't a star, and will cost us more than a UDFA but won't come close to breaking the bank.
If he's available, the first player I would go after would be the Jaguars' Mike Sims-Walker. He's so close to the top of the second-tier type receivers that he barely qualifies as such. To me, he's nipping at the heels in the rankings of the guys who are the most coveted among this year's free agent WRs.
After that there are, luckily for the Browns, a decent number of "not great but good enough" WRs available this season. Just a few of the options: Early Doucet of Arizona, Greg Lewis of Minnesota, Mark Clayton of St Louis, Brian Finneran of Atlanta and perhaps Sam Hurd of Dallas, who was an excellent kick returner who just might have the ability to make the leap to WR.