Continuing with the rundown of free agents who will affect a few teams (possibly the Browns) here is a list of a few guys on defense (along with tight ends) that could affect several franchises either in March (and April)
Tight Ends – John Carlson, Martellus Bennett, and Visanthe Shianco
My take: This position group could be influx as the Browns have Evan Moore, Cameron Jordan, and Ben Watson currently on the roster. None have been released yet; this leads me to believe that the team will retain all three players (or two along with Alex Smith). Should the team see one available as a significant upgrade, expect the Browns to sign one of the options.
Browns’ move: While none currently on the roster is a dominant player, I would be shocked to see the team investing any more in this position. I feel the team does not value tight ends as much as other teams and therefore would not spend top dollar for a free agent.
How it relates to the draft: The only way I could see a tight end draft pick is if they trade or release Ben Watson who is the oldest and most expensive player in the current unit.
Defensive Line – Mario Williams (end), John Abraham (end), and Derrick Harvey (end)
My take: The prize of a defensive lineman in the 4-3 scheme is Mario Williams, the former number one overall pick in 2006. Abraham has been a perennial reliable defender but is older and his value could be seen as declining. Harvey was a top selection a few years ago but has seen as a disappointment from the perspective of where he was drafted.
Browns’ move: The Browns will more than likely not be signing Williams this season, which is against Tom Heckert’s philosophy of building through the draft and not free agency. I believe the front office sees Abraham as too old to sign and Harvey as too inconsistent to be given a shot. They could pick up a low risk, cheap asset however.
How it relates to the draft: I want to see the team use either their #22 or #37 selection for a defensive end (provided there are no trades) instead of signing a big name free agent defensive end. Nick Perry or Whitney Mercilus are two of the front-runners in my eyes. I like the tandem of Athyba Rubin and Phil Taylor up the middle, so they do not have to focus as much here. However, should a Devon Still or Jared Crick drop to the late rounds, I would be all for it.
Linebackers – Dan Connor and Curtis Lofton
My take: I have a hard time seeing some younger, dependable veterans whom the Browns would covet over free agency. Lofton will likely be more expensive of the two, but will not command as large of contract as some of the other free agents. One has to believe the Browns will take a look at this position group in the offseason in both March and April.
Browns’ move: I would be fine with the Browns going for either of these two players (or one in the similar mold). D’Qwell Jackson proved he could play well, while Chris Gocong has been serviceable for playing some of the time. I am unsure of what will happen with Scott Fujita as he is 32 (and is going through the bounty scandal in New Orleans). Kaluka Maiva has shown some ability, but is too inconsistent at this point to be deemed as an NFL caliber starter.
How it relates to the draft: The Browns should definitely select a linebacker (or two) during the draft – at worst for depth or special teams purposes. Jackson is the only playmaker currently, and there is no one that offenses fear each play. If a Zach Brown or Sean Spence slips or a Tank Carder becomes available later look for the Browns to use a pick on them.
Secondary – Carlos Rogers (safety), Cortland Finnegan (cornerback), Brandon Carr (cornerback)
My take: I like the possibility of the Browns signing any of the three available free agents. For the right price the front office could offer incentives like playing on a young defense, across one of the better cornerbacks in Joe Haden, or with a physical safety like T.J. Ward. One of these three would immediately improve the secondary.
Browns’ move: Assuming they would not have to overpay in free agency, I am looking forward to the Browns signing a free agent secondary player. What they do with Sheldon Brown (moving him to safety, keeping him at corner, or releasing him outright) will help determine which position they will target in March, if any. Like any other position, if the price tag gets too high, the Browns will move on from these players.
How it relates to the draft: Whether they sign a free agent or not, a secondary member should be drafted in April. Besides special teams, the defense needs speed to compete on a weekly basis. If the team avoids the secondary in free agency, Morris Claiborne might be selected at pick number four for the Browns.