The Cleveland Browns will enter free agency looking for a new identity, stemming from their front office and coaching shake-up. The Browns will be in the market for a new QB, as well as a number of key offensive and defensive pieces. The good news for the Browns is that they will have plenty of money to play around with this offseason and they should be able to fill most of their holes. Like any team with a new staff it can be tough to predict what direction they will go in, but here is a possible free agency plan to help fix the Browns using Manage the Cap.
Cuts and Re-signings:
Cuts: WR Dwayne Bowe, OLB Paul Kruger, C Alex Mack, QB Johnny Manziel
- Now center Alex Mack is listed as a “cut” here, but the reality is it is him not picking up the option in his contract to stay with the Browns. Maybe the new Browns staff will be able to convince him to stay, but the likely result is he walks. That does create a big hole on the Browns roster, but it also frees up $8 million in cap room.
- Maybe there is a chance they can dupe someone into trading for Manziel, but that seems unlikely so the Browns are apt to just release him. Bowe is an easy cut as well as he barely saw the field this year. Kruger is at least semi-productive, but he’s been a disappointment for the Browns and Cleveland can use his money elsewhere. With a new staff there will likely be some more cuts, but these seem like the most obvious ones.
Re-Signings: WR Travis Benjamin 5 years $30 million ($3.6 million cap hit in 2016), S Tashaun Gibson 5 years $38.75 million ($4.65 million in 2016)
- The Browns have a few free agents they could look to re-sign, but Benjamin and Gibson would be my top options. Gibson has the talent to be one of the better safeties in the league. Benjamin had a breakout season this year, and despite all the QB issues a pretty effective weapon in this offense.
C Stefen Wisniewski- 5 years $33.5 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $4.37 million
OT Andre Smith- 4 years $30.5 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $5.6 million
WR Jermaine Kearse- 3 years $13.5 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $3.37 million
RB James Starks- 3 year $10.5 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $2.62 million
- My primary goal in free agency was replacing the offensive linemen (Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz) with similarly capable starters. Now the Browns could use 2015 1st round pick at either RT or C, but I still think the Browns need to add two starting caliber OL. Erving could play RG or perhaps Wisniewski could play there. Also, if there is any scenario where Joe Thomas is traded this gives the Browns further depth and flexibility. Andre Smith makes a lot of sense given his familiarity with new coach Hue Jackson.
- After locking up a couple offensive linemen, I went looking for some values at WR and RB. With already bringing back Benjamin, there wasn’t a need to overpay at WR. Jermaine Kearse is a solid value WR who should come relatively cheaply. He would be a nice complement to an offensive passing attack that featured Gary Barnidge and Benjamin. Starks is a nice insurance policy to the young duo of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. While the hope would be that one of the young guys can take the lead role, it might end up being a three-headed attack.
- As for quarterback I think the most likely case is the Browns draft a guy early in the draft (likely in the 1st round) and use Josh McCown as the veteran option until that quarterback is ready to take over.
ILB Sean Spence- 3 years $12 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $3.15 million
DE/OLB Bruce Irvin- 5 years $28 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $3.75 million
DE/OLB Vinny Curry- 5 years $24 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $3.67 million
CB Adam Jones- 3 years $15.75 million, 2016 Cap Hit- $3.75
- With so much uncertainty with the Browns defensive plans for this season, it can be tough to come up with realistic scenarios, but this seems like a feasible option. Instead of trying to break the bank on a top edge guy, I figured to grab two capable situational rushers in Bruce Irvin and Vinny Curry and look to expand their role with the Browns. That might seem like a lot of years and money for a couple of guys who are a bit more risky, but it’s likely you can get away with a lower guarantee.
- Sean Spence is an interesting young linebacker who in limited starts/work in Pittsburgh this year played at a good level. Given his injury history his guarantee figures to be low, but he would be a nice pick-up for the Browns as they reshape their defense.
- Adam Jones is coming off one of his better seasons, but he could have a pretty slim market this offseason. In addition to it being a strong CB draft, there are poised to be a number of solid free agents on the open market. Given his volatile track record and him turning 33 next season you probably won’t have to break the bank with him. The Hue Jackson connection here probably helps as well.
This is a pretty balanced plan overall, which includes cutting some dead weight, re-signing two key free agents, and adding a couple key starters and contributors and both sides of the ball. While the Browns would still be lacking in elite talent on both sides of the ball, I don’t think they are going to really find those fixes in free agency. Few elite players make it to unrestricted free agency, and those that due have a very mixed track record of living up to their contracts. This type of scenario is probably the best for where the Browns stand as it allows them to improve their overall roster, while not locking them into any long term contracts that could become prohibitive. The Browns would still be well under the cap in this scenario to use going forward.