Browns' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Browns' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Browns have the resources to pick up some key contributors in free agency. 

    The Browns were one of the big winners of free agency last season. Right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper were the headliners, and both went on to play key roles in an offense that experienced a revival. 

    The Browns aren't armed with quite as much cap space as last season. They are 12th in the league in space with a projected $25.7 million based on Spotrac's projections of a $185 million salary cap. 

    That's before the Browns have really done any contract restructuring, cuts or trades that may make even more cash available to them. 

    A few key free-agent signings could help the team build on a successful 2020 season. Spending their money on the wrong players could make sustaining the success they found under head coach Kevin Stefanski significantly more difficult, however. 

    Based on projected pay, production and age, the franchise should be looking to steer clear of these options. 

DT Larry Ogunjobi

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Before we get into any possible additions, the list starts on the Browns' own roster. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi is set to hit the market in search of his second NFL contract. 

    If the soon-to-be 27-year-old was coming off a year like his 2017 and 2018 campaigns, he wouldn't be on this list. He provided tremendous value to the team as an interior presence who was on the field for 79 and 73 percent of the snaps respectively while providing a complementary pass rush to Myles Garrett. 

    He had 5.5 sacks in each of those two seasons. But in the final year of his rookie deal, his production dropped off. He only played in 61 percent of the snaps and registered just 2.5 sacks. 

    The Browns already have a serious investment at the defensive tackle position in Sheldon Richardson. If they don't extend him and restructure the contract, they will owe the 31-year-old $13.6 million this season. 

    Ogunjobi is expected to earn a contract that pays $9.4 million annually, per Spotrac's market value projections. That would swell the Browns' bill for both defensive tackles to $23 million. Considering the needs they have all over the defense, that's a lot of money to spend on two defensive tackles. 

    Instead, the Browns should trust their drafting and reward second-year player Jordan Elliott with a bigger spot in the rotation next season. They also likely get Andrew Billings back after his opt-out for the 2020 season. 

    Good teams know when to let a player walk and draft well enough to replace that production on a cheaper contract. That's the situation the Browns find themselves in with Ogunjobi. 

S Anthony Harris

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    The Browns went to free agency to address the safety position last year and—much like Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo—got burned. 

    Joseph and Sendejo gave up seven touchdowns apiece and were disastrous as stopgap options. Joseph at least provided some solid play in the box but left a lot to be desired in coverage. 

    Vikings safety Anthony Harris was expected to be a Browns target last year, but the Vikings slapped the franchise tag on him and paid him $11.4 million to stick around for another year. 

    That is red flag No. 1 for Harris. The Vikings have a better idea of what the safety can do than anyone, had a dire cap situation and still chose to make an inflated one-year deal rather than commit to him long-term. 

    His 2020 season vindicated that position as his numbers went down in just about every category. The 29-year-old was busier as a tackler but gave up a 118.1 passer rating when targeted including four touchdowns. 

    After racking up six interceptions and 11 passes defended in 2019, he ended up with no interceptions and seven passes defended in 2020. Now, he hits the market and is projected to get a five-year, $70 million deal in free agency by Spotrac

    Considering Ronnie Harrison's play once he was traded to Cleveland last season and the return of Grant Delpit, that's a lot of money to dole out to a player heading into his 30s who may already be declining. 

EDGE Jadeveon Clowney

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    One of the Browns' top priorities this season should be finding an edge-rusher to pair with Myles Garrett. Preferably a young enough player they could form the kind of tandem that will anchor the defense for the foreseeable future. 

    Perpetual free agent Jadeveon Clowney fits that bill on the surface. The prodigiously talented Clowney is heading into his age-28 season, is a three-time Pro Bowler and could once again be on the market. 

    Clowney should have a giant "Buyer Beware" sign on him, though. His last two stops since leaving the Houston Texans have seen underwhelming results. 

    He's still an asset as an edge-setter who can defend against the run, but the pass-rush production hasn't been worth his exorbitant price tag. Clowney has just three sacks over the last two seasons and all of them came in 2019 in Seattle

    Tennessee signed him to a one-year $13 million contract and were only rewarded with 19 tackles and six quarterback hits in eight games before he suffered a torn meniscus that ended his season. He's expected to be ready to go by April, but the lack of production coupled with the injury makes him a risky signing. 

    The Browns can't afford to miss on this signing as it's key to taking the next step as a defense. If Clowney is prepared to make much less than he did last season, then he's probably worth giving a shot. But some team is likely to fall in love with the potential of returning to what he was with the Texans. 

    The Browns should be more than willing to let that team outbid them for his services.