Anthony Sellers

Writer, Marketer, Podcaster

One Season In Cleveland: Free Agency and the NFL Draft

photo by clevelandbrowns.com
photo by clevelandbrowns.com

Welcome back to my feature about my hypothetical run as General Manager of my beloved Cleveland Browns. The first installment included me talking about making sure the front office created a clear-cut gameplan for the organization as well as making a couple brief points on some of the roster decisions for the upcoming season. This time around, I’m going to go more in-depth about free agency and the draft.

Before getting started, it’s important to note that the team has almost $50 million in cap space, which gives them a lot of flexibility on what they can do in both free agency and the draft.

The Browns have a lot of needs they must fill. Not as many as some people say, but more than what some people may like to admit.

Below is a list of the team’s needs, in order of priority:

Team Need: Quarterback
Analysis: The carousel that is the Browns QB position is easily the top priority for the team. The current QB’s are Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Alex Tanney, and Brandon Weeden. Weeden has all but played his way out of Cleveland in many fans eyes, while Hoyer may have possibly played his way into Cleveland fans homes last season before getting injured.

To me, this is where the position could possibly be dropped down on the list of needs. Before you say I’m crazy, let me explain. Yes, it’s evident that the team needs a franchise QB. There’s no denying that. No one that is currently on the roster can fill that role. However, I truly believe that Hoyer could bridge the gap for a season if the Browns decided they didn’t want to use their 4th pick on a guy like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, or Blake Bortles.

There is a possibility they could try to sign a free agent QB. That possibility is about as big as a pin needle, but it’s still a possibility. There is really no free agent QB that is an intriguing option for any team looking for a starting QB.

The Browns are going to draft a QB, the only question is who and with which pick. Like every sports outlet has mentioned, there is a lot of depth in this year’s draft. That may be the case, but finding a Peyton Manning-type is very rare, especially for the Browns. Go to drafthistory.com for confirmation of the total number of busts at every position for them. Likely candidates include the aforementioned Bridgewater, Bortles, and Manziel, as well as Derek Carr, A.J. McCarron and Jimmy Garoppolo.

There was a lot of talk of the “Johnny Football Show” airing in Cleveland come September. I’m one that wouldn’t tune in if the Browns decide to draft him. I’m not taking anything away from his talents and skill set, I just don’t think his style of play is a good fit for the team, especially once fall starts turning into winter. Most recent reports say that the team isn’t looking to draft Manziel either.

Prediction: I personally like either Bridgewater or Bortles, but I think the team is going to go with Derek Carr using their 2nd first round pick (#26 overall) or A.J. McCarron in the second round. I don’t know much about either player, but they may give the team the best option for the right price.

Team Need: Running Back
Analysis: This has probably been the most nonexistent position the Browns have had not just this season, but the past two, maybe three seasons. Yes, they had Trent Richardson, who was thought to be a safe pick by the Browns by a lot of people, including myself. However, Richardson is proving to be a bust. Banner and Lombardi were able to get something for him in an early season trade. In doing so, it left the position in shambles. Edwin Baker did come on late in the season, showing upside that could possibly make him a factor next season if he continues to impress once mini-camp and training camp rolls around.

That being said, I still think the position is a total mess. The good thing for Cleveland is the free agent pool for running backs is deep this offseason, boasting names such as Rashad Jennings, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, and Ben Tate. They could also find a running back via the draft.

Prediction: It’s always a good thing to build through the draft, however, for this offseason I’m trying to sway one of the big names from the free agent pool to sign with the team. Of the five listed above, I would do what I can to sign Ben Tate. He’s the youngest, can and will play well through injury, and is a game changer in my mind. I also believe he fits well into the scheme that new Browns OC Kyle Shanahan wants to run. This would make a big splash into the offseason and would instantly upgrade the offense. Tate is going to be a hot commodity, so a good backup is to also go after Moreno.

Team Need: Offensive Line
Analysis: This is one of the more interesting positions to me, only because of uncertainty that surrounds it. If Alex Mack signs with another team then there will be 3 open spots on the line. On the other hand if he stays, it won’t be an imminent weak point even though there are still holes along the line.

Placing the transition tag on Mack was a smart decision. It will allow Mack to see what he’s worth on the open market, but also gives the Browns the opportunity to match any offer he receives from another team. While I imagine this won’t sway many teams from making a run at him, I do believe that it may eliminate a couple teams from trying to sign him. They need to have a backup plan, however, as the opportunity for Mack to sign with another team is there.

The Browns also need to target a guard for the upcoming season. With Shawn Lauvao also hitting the free agent market, the team needs to look to upgrade as they are content on letting him walk.

Prediction: The team will find a way to keep Mack, even if this season is his last in Cleveland. The $10 million price tag is very appealing for one year (I know I’d be looking at other teams, but staying in Cleveland for the season and basically auditioning for all teams for next offseason). I also see the team signing and drafting a guard. I would look to sign either Geoff Schwartz, who played for the Chiefs last season, or Zane Beadles, who played in Denver. I would use the 2nd round or one of the 3rd round-picks on a guard as well.

Team Need: Safety
Analysis: This is another interesting need for Cleveland. However, with the team not finding a way to resign T.J. Ward before the free agency period starts, it’s a position that needs addressed. It’s seemingly unlikely that the Browns will be able to offer Ward a better contract than what some other teams may offer him. It’s hard to say if the new regime values him as much as the fans of Cleveland love him. Only time will tell. If the team doesn’t resign him, then who do you go after?

Jairus Byrd played for Coach Pettine in Buffalo, but he has stated he wants to stay in Buffalo. I feel Byrd and Ward offer much of the same qualities. Byrd is slightly better in pass defense while Ward is slightly better against the run. Another possibility would be Donte Whitner, whom the 49ers seem content on letting slip away from them. Whitner is a big hitter like Ward and could come at a slightly cheaper asking price than either Byrd or Ward.

There are also some possibilities through the draft. Calvin Pryor out of Louisville could be a viable option, provided he falls into the second round. I feel that both first round picks are going to be offensive players. Other draft options include Terrence Brooks from Florida State and Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois.

Prediction: As much as I want to see T.J. Ward stay in Cleveland, I just don’t see it happening. This is one prediction that I really hope proves me wrong. With that being said, I think the best option is Byrd, but I think he’s going to stay in Buffalo. Whitner is the guy I think the Browns get even if he is the teams 3rd choice behind Byrd and Ward. I also believe they will draft Jimmy Ward or Calvin Pryor in the second round provided they use the second first round pick on a QB.

Team Need: Wide Receiver
Analysis: This probably should be higher up on the priority list, but with so many priorities, things can sometimes get a little muddled. The team needs a complement to Josh Gordon. Davone Bess was supposed to help the team, but ended up being the second coming of Braylon Edwards, aka Sir Drops-A-Lot. It was bittersweet to see Bess released. There are only a couple receivers I’d make a small run at in the free agent pool. Eric Decker is one, but I’d be hesitant as I feel he was a huge product of the offense he was in. The other is Hakeem Nicks. I like his size, but also feel like he underachieved the past couple seasons. Another problem with Nicks is he has been nicked up the past couple seasons, which may have been a byproduct to his underachieving. With these two, it will be easy to walk away if the price isn’t right, which is probably going to be the case. The team would hold the power in the negotiating in my opinion.

Prediction: The best option would be to draft Sammy Watkins out of Clemson. He’s a game changer in every sense of the word. The team would then have a 1-2 punch at receiver that many teams won’t be able to match up with that will help make any quarterback look good (Correction: that will help make most any quarterback look good, Weeden not included).

Team Need: Inside Linebacker
Analysis: Releasing D’Qwell Jackson left a void at the linebacker spot. The starter opposite of Jackson last season, Craig Robertson, underperformed to say the least. The team has options, as they have Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger. Adding a player like Karlos Dansby in free agency could be in the realm of possibilities, however, his asking price may be too much for what the Browns would be willing to pay.

Prediction: The Browns will address the issue via the draft. Doing so will give the team a good mix of young players to go with the veteran Kruger. Drafting C.J. Mosley with the 26th pick would be ideal as he is similar to Jackson in many ways. This is again provided they don’t draft a QB with that pick.

 

Orginally posted on March 9, 2014 via Tricycle Offense.

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