Free Agency Period – Options at Offense
After weeks of seeing professional football players released, the time has finally come for NFL franchises to add to their rosters for the 2013 season. The previous regime (for the Browns) largely stayed away from signing “higher priced” individuals and selecting athletes requiring modest contracts who can still help the franchise. However, many have speculated the current front office will invest more (currently the team has the most money under the salary cap to spend), but not to the point where they are attempting to sign many “expensive” pieces to their football team.
Areas of Need:
Reviewing the 2012 Cleveland Browns season and their output; both sides of the ball could be strengthened with additional talented athletes. Offensively, the unit was ranked in the lower two-thirds of the league in several categories. This includes points scored (24th of 32), yardage (25th), first downs (29th), and passing touchdowns (28th). Getting into the end zone was a bit easier on the ground, as the Browns ranked 13th in that category.
Judging from these stats, it appears the passing game was the area that needs upgrading more (generally speaking). This refers more to the quarterback and wide receivers; I would anticipate either status quo or a veteran backup from the signal caller position. With Alex Smith out of the running, likely the Browns would bring in competition for Weeden for the starting spot.
Possible Quarterback Targets: Matt Moore (Miami), Derek Anderson (Carolina), Chase Daniel (New Orleans)
Analysis: Should the Browns sign one of these targets, I do not anticipate any taking the job from Weeden and having a great season. With the status of backup Colt McCoy unknown, one of these could become the new backup, while the team either sticks with Weeden or drafts another quarterback in April.
Greg Little and Josh Gordon made several great plays over the course of last season. With the likely departure of free agent Mohammed Massaquoi, the Browns will need to acquire a third, reliable target for the passing offense. Fortunately, there are a few solid professionals that could be had in free agency.
Possible Wide Receiver Targets: Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh), Greg Jennings (Green Bay), Danny Amendola (St. Louis), Wes Welker (New England)
Analysis: After Dwayne Bowe was re-signed, the pool of attractive free agents lessened by one. Any of the above would be a solid addition to the receiving corps; however they will not come cheaply. These athletes are looking for large salaries and will want to be paid among the top in their position group. The Browns’ front office has to manage the value one of these players will bring versus the cost of acquiring them. Personally, I would love to see one of these guys joining the franchise; they could not only help Gordon and Little by pulling coverage away (from the duo), but also give the quarterback another viable option during passing plays.
Not being able to garner first downs routinely, and it could be argued that the running attack faltered on third down and short – i.e. three yards or less (which was the case, especially early in the 2012 campaign). Investing heavily in Trent Richardson, possessing an effective backup in Montario Hardesty, and knowing running backs have shorter professional careers, I believe the team will steer away from picking up a free agent here.
The other part of the running game, the offensive line, might be tinkered with however. Center Alex Mack, and tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz are all high round picks who were solid last season. That leaves the guard position, where starter Jason Pinkston missed time due to a blood clot – they then used Shawn Lauvao and John Greco (who played adequately). However, if a dominant guard is available, I would not be surprised if they Browns made one an offer.
Possible Guard Targets: Louis Vasquez (San Diego), Geoff Schwartz (Minnesota), Andy Levitre (Buffalo)
Analysis: I would like to see competition brought in to solidify the interior of the offensive line for the Browns. The team has ties to the first listed, as the Browns’ offensive coordinator worked with Vasquez during his entire four-year career. Geoff is starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz’s brother; perhaps the duo will want to be reunited on the same NFL team. Levitre is also young and can improve the team as well. Should the Browns can secure one of these options, fans and those in the NFL will likely perceive this as an excellent move.
Potentially losing Alex Smith and Ben Watson to free agency, as well as it being the head coach’s former position, and there is a realistic chance the Browns may look to pick up a tight end to pair with Jordan Cameron. Alongside a trio of very good wide outs (assuming one is picked up in free agency), the team would terrify defenses having a great tight end to match up inside.
Possible Tight End Targets: Dustin Keller (N.Y. Jets), Martellus Bennett (N.Y Giants), Brandon Myers (Oakland), Jared Cook (Tennesse), Fred Davis (Washington)
Analysis: Outside of Cook (whom will likely not sign with the Browns), there is not a whole lot of excitement in this group. There are dependable options, but no game-changers are truly available. However, if Brandon Myers can put up numbers similarly to what he did against the Browns (fourteen catches, 130 yards and a touchdown), the veteran could be a steal if he leaves the Raiders. Bennett would be an intriguing option; he has all the measurable qualities and can be productive, but inconsistency has been an issue for the veteran.
Conclusion: The next couple of weeks can be interesting for the Cleveland Browns – if they only take one player on offense, I hope it is a dominant wide receiver. However, help at guard and tight end would be wise as well (do not rule out a trade or two). I feel the team can stand pat at quarterback and running back currently, but it’s up to the front office to put the team in the best position possible headed into the 2013 season.