In a few days a new chapter begins in the NFL offseason – free agency. Although the Browns make not make too many acquisitions in the market for available players, what occurs next Tuesday and beyond could make a large impact on the NFL draft.
Breaking it down by positions, here is a list of a few guys on offense (tight ends removed) that could affect several franchises either in March (and April).
Quarterbacks – Peyton Manning, Alex Smith, and Matt Flynn
My take: There’s a zero percent chance of Peyton Manning playing in Cleveland next season. However, should someone like Miami or Arizona sign the veteran, the draft will instantly become more exciting. Peyton’s release all but guarantees the Colts will draft Luck, while a suitor for Robert Griffin III is removed for the Manning signing. The same can be said about Flynn and to a lesser extent Smith, although Flynn is deemed to have a larger upside and will likely be more coveted.
Browns’ move: I feel the team should stand pat while others snatch up (and possibly) overpay for the higher priced free agent quarterbacks. If they release Seneca Wallace, I could see the team taking an inexpensive younger play-caller in free agency.
How it relates to the draft: Of course the largest question will loom about who will get Robert Griffin III and they will be willing to give up for him. As of now, I am not sure of how the team feels about him – which is a good thing leading up to the draft.
Running Backs – Peyton Hillis, Michael Bush, and Ryan Grant
My take: For the Browns, it all starts with Peyton Hillis in the running back class. If they can lock him up for a few years, the team will avoid searching for another player to tote the rock in either free agency or the draft. If Hillis leaves, the Browns could look at the other two listed backs who are both young and productive. The question then becomes can the Browns lure these players from the other 31 teams. Likewise, should the team not sign any free agents here, there are many available in April.
Browns’ move: I hope the team can find a way to re-sign Hills to a modest three-year (or so) contract that is results’ driven. This way the team is not investing too much in the player while he can still make a pretty good salary over the next few seasons.
How it relates to the draft: No matter what they do in free agency, I would like the team to add a back in the mid rounds (i.e. Isaiah Pead, Doug Martin, etc.) at the very least. Just look at last season to see that injuries (to Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jackson) caused the team to be in a terrible situation; depth and speed is necessary to get this offseason.
Wide Receivers – Vincent Jackson, Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, and Reggie Wayne
My take: Vinent Jackson and Marques Colston will likely be the crown jewels of this year’s free agent class. Both are fairly young and will likely go to the highest bidder among several franchises. Garcon and Wayne are question marks now due to the Peyton Manning situation; Garcon is much younger but less polished as a receiver. Additionally, Laurent Robinson and Robert Meachem could be looked at as viable options to help a team.
Browns’ move: The Browns are not going to overpay in free agency, thus eliminating Jackson, Wayne, and Colston. I would like the team make a run at whom they value the most among Manningham, Robinson, and Meachem (or even an Amendola-type). However, it’s very unclear if any would come to Cleveland. This position is in dire need of upgrading, so I would like them to get a younger, cheap free agent.
How it relates to the draft: I’m also advocating drafting one early in April (be it Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, Mohamed Sanu, etc. to name a few).
Offensive Line – Carl Nicks (guard), Ben Grubbs (guard), and Jared Gaither (tackle)
My take: Nicks is the headliner here and will garner a large, lengthy contract in the near future. Grubbs and Gaither have been solid the last few seasons but are not as highly touted. Additionally, there is a laundry list of offensive guards, tackles, and centers available here; some are older or have battled injuries (i.e. Max Starks, Jeff Saturday, Matt Birk, etc).
Browns’ move: Carl Nicks is too expensive for the franchise, especially for a guard. I cannot see Grubbs leaving Baltimore for Cleveland (although it would not be the first time). The only free agent that really intrigues me is Jared Gaither, who the Browns may or may not pursue. One thing to keep in mind is that the Browns may seek a trade for a younger veteran whether it’s for a special teamer/fringe player or a late round draft pick.
How it relates to the draft: Regardless of what happens in free agency, I want the team to draft a tackle in the mid rounds as I am terrified by the right side of the line. They do not need to use an early pick as there is pretty good depth in this year’s draft for lineman (i.e. Andrew Datko, Brandon Mosley, and Nate Potter, etc).