Week 1 of Free Agency Changes My Tune for April
Although the Browns have not been too active in free agency (which was to be expected), I believe what the team has done will slightly alter their focus in the draft – at least in the earlier rounds. With Washington’s trade, they are not going to draft Robert Griffin III, and my feeling of drafting offense vs. defense has altered in the past few days.
Last week, the franchise picked up Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker – both of whom are defensive ends. Rucker has been known to be more of a run-stuffing player, while Parker has had an ability to rush during passing situations and create chaos for the opposing quarterback.
Together they will man the right defense end position opposite Jabbal Sheard – one that was in need of a serious upgrade. Being the fifth-ranked team in the NFL in terms of points allowed, one would figure that only a few tweaks should be necessary for the defensive unit. I feel the moves they made have created an above average defensive line and should they improve their run stopping ability (which was pretty bad last season – ranked 30th in the league), this could be an excellent area of the team.
Previously, I had hoped the Browns would use their #22 or #37 pick on a rush end (like a Nick Perry or Whitney Mercilius). Fortunately, the franchise will now have more flexibility when deciding how to use these important selections on other areas in need, especially more dire areas. I believe the team will now avoid defense altogether until the middle rounds with the lone exception being Morris Claiborne at number four.
That leads me to my next point: not only has the team only added depth on the defensive side of the ball, they have actually removed (or lost) players from the offensive. Some would see this as a negative as the team no longer has some of their talented players. However, being ranked 30th in the league in scoring and 29th in yards gained leads to believe that the unit was not effective and jettisoning a player or two from the troubled area isn’t a terrible idea.
A few of the main losses are lineman – Eric Steinbach, Tony Pashos, and Artis Hicks. Steinbach was a solid player for many years, but was released due to his age and expensive salary in 2012 (while the team is unsure of his health after being injured for all of the 2011 season). An early draft pick by the Browns for a lineman would be an excellent substitute for the long future. The remaining two tackles are easily replaceable, and I have faith the team will do just that in the next few months.
The Peyton Hillis loss could prove to be huge, should he have a tremendous 2012 season for the Chiefs. However, the team’s win-loss record differential between 2010 and 2011 deemphasizes his importance of the outcome of a game. A fantastic year in 2010 and a horrible 2011 campaign by Hills resulted in one less victory. Although, this is not to say the team does not need a quality back on the roster. It says that the locker room headaches and his contract issues with the front office were too much and the team is looking to go in a new direction.
The Browns may not have to use a very high pick when searching for his replacement, as this position is very deep in talent when looking at available running backs in the draft. Should they feel Trent Richardson would be a pro-bowl caliber player for the next decade, this theory is then negated.
Reviewing what occurred for the Browns last week, I have learned that the team must focus primarily on offense in the draft – at least in the beginning. The first three selections (assuming they are not trading and are confident with their current quarterbacks) should center around wide receiver and offensive lineman – while the third selection is a crapshoot of where they can go (running back, cornerback, or linebacker).
Of course, if the front office does not feel the team is settled at the quarterback position, this would likely be the third area of focus in late April. What makes this fun is this situation is fluid and can change next week, should the team make a move or two at a position of need.