So far the Browns have been quiet during post-lockout festivities. With teams required to spend at least 108 million, Cleveland’s front office certainly has the cash-flow it needs to be active during free agency. Whether or not they’ll do that remains to be seen. Keep in mind, teams can sign their own free agents but can not sign new players until Friday at 6PM. Here are the latest rumors surrounding the Browns and free agency.
– Many fans hoped for the likes of Paul Poslusnzy (Bills), Charles Johnson (Panthers) and Sidney Rice (Vikings) but that won’t be the case. Poslusnzy has agreed to a six year deal with the Jaguars, Johnson resigned with the Panthers long-term, and it appears as if the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks are bidding for Rice’s services. Ultimately, I think Rice ends up McNabb’s go-to guy in Minnesota.
– While it’s been widely reported that the Philadelphia Eagles are the leader for former Minnesota DE, Ray Edwards, that may not necessarily be the case. If you base predictions off of rumors, the Eagles are going to land every player in free agency. Look for the Browns to make a strong push for Edwards’ services, who could find himself in Cleveland’s starting line-up opposite of Jayme Mitchell (who is beloved by Cleveland’s front office).
– The Browns may lay claim to the most talented and youngest secondary in all of the NFL, but depth and a potential starter is certainly needed. Donte Whitner (Bills), and yes…Usama Young (Saints) are said to be on Cleveland’s radar. Whitner lacks coverage skills, which his more or less a necessity since Ward also lacks coverage capability. Eric Weddle has multiple teams interested in his talent and predicting where he may end up is nearly impossible. Usama Young was – at best – a standout in New Orleans’ special teams last season, but that hasn’t scared off Cleveland’s brass. Mary Kay Cabot (Cleveland Plain Dealer) has reported that the Browns and Young are in negotiations, and could be Cleveland’s first free agent signing – much to the dismay of the Dawg Pound. Ultimately I think the Browns land Whitner, who is familiar with Dick Jauron’s defense and fits the age-range the Browns seek. (under 30)
– Speaking of Cleveland’s secondary, not much is being said about free agents Eric Wright (CB) and Abe Elam (FS). Both players fill a position of need, and both have had their shining moments in a Browns’ uniform. However, Elam isn’t expected to return (although I don’t think the front office should totally ditch the idea) but Wright is. Eric Wright had a dismal 2010 season, and was often exposed in coverage throughout the season by opposing teams. Prior to ’10, however, Wright showed a ton of upside. I think Wright is key to the Browns having a productive secondary this year (should he return to pre-2010 form). If he plays the way he’s capable of, that give Cleveland a legitimate starter along side Joe Haden and would allow veteran Sheldon Brown to move to FS opposite of Ward.
– A name no one is talking about that could make an impact for the Browns this year, is DE Jayme Mitchell. Mitchell was traded to Cleveland for a late-round pick last year but never found the field under former coach Eric Mangini. That’s promised to change under the new regime and Cleveland President Mike Holmgren has dubbed Mitchell as a top priority among Cleveland’s own free agents.
– Holmgren has stated time and time again that he and Heckert are happy with their stable of wide receivers but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing a veteran to help the young guys out. Fans may have hoped for Santonio Holmes (Jets), Sidney Rice (Vikings) or even Terrell Owens (Bengals) but they appear to be long-shots. A more likely solution may be found in the second tier guys, with Malcolm Floyd (Chargers) and Steve Smith (Giants) possibly finding themselves in Browns’ uniforms this season. A name to keep an eye on is James Jones (Packers). Jones doesn’t appear to be making a return to Green Bay, and shouldn’t command a ton of money.
– Cleveland didn’t make a “splash” with any of the undrafted free agents yesterday, but they did sign some quality players. Chris Matthews (WR, Kentucky) may contribute at some point this season. He’s a big body receiver (6’5″ 219) and has been compared to Saints’ WR Marques Colston. Alex Wujciak (MLB, Maryland) is another player that could, at a minimum, provide depth to the linebacking core. Wujciak is a little stiff to play in the 4-3, but without a doubt has a nose for the football. (131 tackles for Maryland last year, 8th Nationally with 10.9 tackles per game) Other UDFA: Carl Gettis (CB, Missouri), James Dockery (CB, Oregon State), Darian Hagan (CB, Cal), Brian Smith (LB, Notre Dame), Sidney Tarver (LB, Tennessee State), Troy Weatherhead (QB, Hillsdale), Kyle Anderson (DL, Georgetown College), Donald Buckram (RB, UTEP), Andre Carroll (DL, Delaware State), L.J. Castile (WR, Delta State), Jarrod Shaw (OG, Tennessee), Juan Nunez (WR, Western Michigan), Evan Fosch (TE, TCU), Jabari Fletcher (DE, Appalachian State)
– Last but not least, Cleveland has their own free agents to worry about. (Bell, Mike, RB; Elam, Abram, DB; Estandia, Greg, TE; Mitchell, Jayme, DE; Piscitelli, Sabby, DB; Robinson, Derreck, DE; Roth, Matt, LB; Smith, Robaire, DE; Sorensen, Nick, DB; Stuckey, Chansi, WR; Trusnik, Jason, LB; Vickers, Lawrence, RB; Womack, Floyd, G; Wright, Eric, DB; Yates, Billy, G.) Of those players, DE Jayme Mitchell, DB Eric Wright, and G Billy Yates are the only guys I think you can lock-in as returning to Cleveland. There’s an outside chance I think Abe Elam could return, but I don’t believe it’s likely.
Chew On This: It wouldn’t hurt President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert to take a page from the Carolina Panther’s order of business and lock-up one of their own. The Panther’s extended an offer to FA defensive end Charles Johnson (6 yrs. 72 Mil, with 30 Mil guaranteed) and he accepted. Left tackle Joe Thomas isn’t a free agent in Cleveland yet, but his time is coming. The Browns are around 30 Mil below the salary cap and so far, Cleveland isn’t spending that money elsewhere in free agency. Thomas has been the only consistent bright spot for the Browns, making the Pro-Bowl each year since he was drafted. Hopefully the Browns’ front office approaches Joe Thomas with a legitimate deal at some point this season, otherwise Thomas could walk once his contract does run out.
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