It’s not often that a team sits down after the draft in a worse position than they were in before it, but this is Cleveland, and that’s exactly where the Browns find themselves now. Between Josh Gordon‘s potential year-long suspension, Nate Burleson re-injuring his arm and the Browns decision not to draft a single wideout, the wide receiver position has suddenly become a gaping hole on Cleveland’s roster. Let’s examine some potential options the Browns have for filling the void.
1. Earl Bennett
Earl Bennett never really got a fair shake in Chicago. He always seemed to be overlooked after being taken in the third round of the 2008 draft, sitting behind noted studs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery last season. Bennett could be a relatively cheap investment, as he has drawn minimal interest on the free agent market.
At just over 6 feet and 200 pounds, Bennett offers solid route-running ability and a set of sure hands to the offense, something that Cleveland has been lacking for several years. While he doesn’t have top-end speed, Bennett is a smart wideout and uses tools such as head fakes and quick jukes to get separation from defenders, even if they are faster or more athletic than he is.
This was on display last December, when the Bears came to Cleveland and handed the Browns a 38-31 loss, with Bennett catching a critical touchdown pass with under five minutes left in the game. Even with the Browns brass being comprised of new leaders this offseason, Cleveland’s front office had a chance to see first-hand the impact Bennett can have less than six months ago.
If given an opportunity to play a more substantial role in a team’s offense, Bennett could be a major contributor and a valuable asset to whatever team decides to sign him.
2. Santonio Holmes
Oh no. I know what you’re thinking, this one has red flags hanging all over it.
Ever since making the game-winning catch in Super Bowl 43, Holmes has been more of a liability than an asset to his team.
It’s impossible to tell how much he has left in the tank or if he might be trying to stretch it out for one last payday, but for the right price, he could be a smart investment. Though he has been mostly a non-factor for the Jets the past two seasons, he does bring experience and Super Bowl pedigree to the Browns huddle.
In order to be a feasible move, Holmes will have to take a major pay cut from the seven and a half million dollars he made last season with the Jets. But if the price is right (and really cheap), Cleveland could be getting a supremely talented wideout for a bargain.
3. Miles Austin
Man, what happened to Miles Austin? This can’t just be the result of a lingering hamstring injury, can it?
Two years changes a lot, and Austin now finds himself looking for a place to call home deep into free agency. When Austin went down last season, the Cowboys found another solid weapon in the form of rookie wideout Terrance Williams, and just like that, Austin is out of work.
It seems like just yesterday that Austin was considered one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL, giving defensive coordinators nightmares about how to contain him in the Cowboys offense.
While there has to be concern about whether he will be able to stay on the field, Austin is a dangerous weapon when healthy. He could be a guy the Browns decide to take a flier on, signing him to a one year, “prove-it” deal, such as the one the Seahawks gave Michael Bennett last season. It can be a risky proposition, but it can also pay huge dividends for the team as a low-risk, high-reward move.
Austin would bring a big body and a solid weapon to the offense that the Browns are seriously lacking at this point.
4. Danario Alexander
Alexander went into training camp last season as one of the top two wide receivers on San Diego’s depth chart, but much like Miles Austin, he finds himself out of work this offseason.
After tearing his ACL in camp, Alexander missed the entire 2013 season and lost his job to rookie Keenan Allen, who contributed in a major way to the Chargers postseason berth. At 6’5″, 217 pounds, Alexander could be a red-zone nightmare for any defense.
He was scheduled to make just $1.32 million last season before getting injured, so he could be another cheap option worth looking at for the Browns. He brings the same durability concerns as Austin, but if he can be signed to a minimum contract with little or no guaranteed money, there is very little risk attached to the move.
Having another big body could be a huge asset in drawing attention away from Jordan Cameron, especially once the Browns enter the red-zone. Alexander is a guy who could make a big contribution for a small price, and could be worth taking a chance on.
5. Mike Wallace
The Dolphins made a big splash in free agency last offseason when they landed the best receiver on the market, giving Mike Wallace a hefty 5 year, $60 million deal.
One year later, the words “buyers remorse” are echoing through the minds of Miami’s top decision makers.
Many people around the league believe Wallace might be on the trading block, and with plenty of cap room still available, the Browns are one of very few landing spots that seem like a feasible suitor for Wallace’s services. Wallace could bring back the downfield threat that the Browns lose when Gordon isn’t in the lineup.
And while Wallace had an underwhelming year last season, he has shown flashes of incredible potential when he was with the Steelers. He also knows what it takes to be successful in the AFC North, after going for well over 3,000 yards receiving and 32 touchdowns over his four years in Pittsburgh.
Wallace isn’t a great fit for the Dolphins, and the guy who signed him, Jeff Ireland, is no longer with the team. This could all add up to Wallace being traded this offseason, and if he is, Cleveland seems like a great landing spot.
Other names to watch:
Andre Johnson – Houston Texans
Johnson is rumored to be unhappy with the direction of the Texans franchise, and could be on his way out of Houston. Cleveland should be very interested in trying to get a deal done, if Johnson is on the trade block.
Charles Johnson – Cleveland Browns
Wait, this guy is on the Browns? Yes, Cleveland signed him off of the Green Bay Packers practice squad after he tore his ACL last season, much to the dismay of Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy. After seeing the success of Jarrett Boykin in Green Bay last season, there is reason to believe Johnson could be a major contributor to the Browns offense once he gets healthy.
Kenny Shaw and Chandler Jones – Browns UDFA Signings
Both players flew under the radar in college, Shaw because he was overshadowed by Kelvin Benjamin at Florida State, and Jones because he played his college ball at San Jose State. Both guys could contribute in meaningful ways if they make the Browns final roster out of training camp.