How Will the Cleveland Browns Approach Free Agency?


The NFL lockout is on the verge of ending, and the most exciting order of business to follow will be the always enthralling free agency period.

This is a fun topic for Brown fans because its kinda like a second draft. A bunch of players we’ve never heard of will hit the market and we’ll try to justify why we need player-X or player-Y.

Some of the collective bargaining agreement rules are going to change, so there’s no way to know for sure who will be available until the details of the settlement are released. It’s been reported that players with only 4 years of NFL service time can become unrestricted free agents.

If that holds true then some of the players who received restricted free agent tenders would flip to unrestricted, and the pool of total free agent players could be quite large.

I have some thoughts on who I think the Browns should, or would target, but a few free agency disclaimers first:

1 – I have a few unrealistic free agent suggestions, but my reasoning for them will still be based in reality. This will allow us to have a little fun, without making the typical and equally insane suggestions we’ve been fed thus far.

That means no Terrell Owens, or Plaxico Burress, or Nnamdi Asomugha suggestions. These are old ideas that are frankly, ridiculous.

The Browns are rebuilding. They are not saddling their rookie coach with old, head case WR’s no matter how much that remains a position of need. And every GM in the league would off their mother to sign Nnamdi Asomugha, suggesting him as a target is just lazy. Of course he’d fit well on the Browns, he’d fit anywhere. More than likely he’s going to sign with a Super Bowl contender for more money than the Browns are willing to fork over.

— Ex-Browns executive Mike Lombardi speculated the Baltimore Ravens would be a good landing spot for him, so there’s some more good news–

2 – And why wouldn’t the Browns fork over top dollar for an Asomugha, or a Sidney Rice? Because they aren’t acting like they’re interested in adding short terms wins.

Drafting for depth, trading down, they are doing the Cleveland Cavaliers rebuilding dance in a way. Being horrible next season actually wouldn’t be a bad thing with a stud franchise QB available the following draft.

Not to knock Colt McCoy, but I believe they want to see him succeed with minimal support now as proof he could excel with maximum support later. If they drafted A.J. Green this year, and Colt played good with him, some of the credit would be due to the elite talents of Green. If Colt plays good with the scrub/rookie wideouts they have now, that means he actually is good, and elite receivers like Green will only make him better. If Peyton Manning played for the Browns next year, he would succeed with those same scrubs/rookies because he is just flat out good.

Don’t think for a second that the extra first round pick they got from Atlanta was NOT acquired as insurance to take a shot at Andrew Luck if they felt they needed too. So Colt is on the clock, and the Browns are NOT going to miss out on drafting his replacement by signing a top dollar 30-something free agent exiting his prime.

3 – If the Browns do sign a top name free agent, that player will have to be young enough to be a future contributor when the rest of team rounds into shape. So instead of those 30-something stars with 2-4 good years left, they need a guy who is 24-26 years old and entering his prime.

Problem is those guys rarely become free agents, and those that do, get paid.

Good rule of thumb: Free agency is overrated and if a player is young and really good their original team will not let them hit the market. Have you ever seen an elite QB available? Think of all the ex-Steelers and Ravens the Browns have added over the years, your Gary Baxters and Earl Holmes. The reason why teams let players go is because they keep the better ones.

In the typical NFL free agency period there are maybe one or two guys total, you should consider breaking the bank for. Last year for example there was Julius Peppers, and the Panthers fought hard to keep him off the market by using their franchise tag on him for two years. He is the rare impact free agent who finally breaks through.

And he signs the fattest contract, and even then, he’ll still break down and kill your cap in a few years.

If you’re not getting that one top dog, you’re getting the typical free agent: older roll players that only make a short term impact for a contending team. Bad teams sign them to fill out a roster and fans trick themselves into expecting big things from them.

Scott Fujita was decent last year, but he is not going to be a contributor when the Browns window of opportunity strikes 3 or 4 years down the road. Jake Delhomme was another free agent who was “available.”

So with that out of the way, here are my free agent ideas for the 2011 Cleveland Browns:

Middle Linebacker
Paul Posluszny (Buffalo Bills)
The Browns acquired some defensive lineman this past draft in anticipation of their switch to 4-3, but they have yet to nail down that middle linebacker spot that’s so important. You’d have to say the odds of Chris Goncong transforming himself into a cornerstone defender at that spot are slim to none.

The Browns could use the pick they got from the Falcons late in the first round to fill this need next year (and not use the pick in a package for Andrew Luck), or they could hedge their bets this year.

Posluszny is a realistic suggestion because frankly he won’t be the best free agent player available at his position. That would probably be Stephen Tulloch or Tamba Hali, both pretty much out of the question.

Posluszny doesn’t have the profile of those players and also has an injury history moving him closer to the Brown’s ballpark. He fits the bill as a young player entering his prime. The former second round pick is 25 years old so he should have a lot left in the tank. He registered 151 tackles last year and is a versatile cold weather player.

However, the reasons the Browns would want to sign him are the same reasons the Bills would want to keep him; they gave him a restricted free agent tender just before the lockout. The Browns landing him is a long shot, but he’s on top of my wish list.

Outside Linebacker
Thomas Davis (Carolina Panthers)
A very good player when healthy, he’d enter this season at age 28 and is a former first round pick. The reason he’d be realistic for the Browns is they’re proving to be a team willing to take low risk – high reward chances on players. Davis would be that to a whole new level considering he’s missed 25 of the past 32 possible games after tearing both ACLs.

Quintin Mikell (Philadelphia Eagles)
Mikell would be a viable option for the conservative Browns, and an upgrade over Abe Elam at the strong safety position, but he probably wouldn’t make a long term impact.  The Browns opted not to offer Elam a restricted free agent tender prior to the lockout, which suggests they are OK with letting him walk.

Mikell at 30, is a year older than Elam, and both came into the league as undrafted free agents. He’d come from the Eagles where he has a history with both GM Tom Heckertt, and new Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. I also get the sense GMs fall in love with their own undrafted free agent discoveries, so that probably increases the chances the Browns look his way. Mikell was a pro-bowler in 2009.

Brandon McDonald (Detroit Lions)
Just kidding.

Running Back
Reggie Bush (New Orleans Saints)
The Saints traded back into the first round of the draft to take a running back which is a red flag for Bush. The only way he stays is if he agrees to a new contract with a massive pay cut, and Reggie doesn’t strike me as humble enough to take that with a smile (he’s not even smiling in this picture and look who he’s with).

Other teams will temper the amount of money they’re willing to pay him because he gets injured a lot. I also think they’ll shy away from the challenge of incorporating him into their systems. I mean, the Saints have one of the most effective, complex, and unique systems around––who could get more out of Bush than they did?

I know what you are thinking, this is definitely unrealistic. Bush would be a huge name with big market written all over him. It’s hard to picture him wanting to play in Cleveland, and it’s hard to think the Browns would make this kind of move.

The reality part is I think he’d be a great fit. We’ve all been screaming for receiver help, well here it is. Does the west coast offense favor backs who can move around and catch the ball in space? Yep.

Would the Browns be able to limit Reggie’s touches and protect his fragile body with Montario Hardesty and Peyton Hillis also on the team? Yep. Would Reggie’s skill set compliment theirs? Yep.

I think this is a nice, safe way to put a play maker on your team who won’t over-accent Colt McCoy’s true development. And don’t forget Bush is only 26, very much in his prime.

Defensive End
C.J. Ah You (St. Louis Rams)
The Browns need some extra lineman now that they’ve switched to the 4-3. Ah You is an average player and should come on the cheap. He played for new coach Pat Shurmur’s former team, albeit on the other side of the ball, and let’s face it, this guy has an awesome name. I’d be willing to lift my rule about never buying a Browns jersey with an actual name on it for this guy. He played all 16 last season and recorded 4 sacks.

Victor Abiamiri (Philadelphia Eagles)
Here’s another guy who is just average but also young, and could be a factor because he played for Dick Jauron. Abiamiri is coming off micro-fracture surgery though and missed all of last season. Again, if the Browns want to gamble on a low risk – high reward player who was drafted in the second round, here’s a good candidate.

Let us know in the comments who you think the Browns should go after, realistically if possible.