2014 Free Agency: 21 players that make sense for Cleveland
By Joe Mazzulo
Ben Tate – RB, Houston Texans
Potential Contract: Ben Tate is probably looking at something similar to the 3 year $12 million deal that the Atlanta Falcons gave Steven Jackson a season ago. While Tate is younger and entering his prime, he has never been a feature back nor has he proven himself to be durable enough to command a large investment. It would be surprising to see Tate eclipse $3-4 million per season.
What makes him fit: Tate spent the first four years of his career in a zone blocking system under Gary Kubiak in Houston. Kubiak was a disciple of Mike Shanahan in Denver and gave Kyle Shanahan his first opportunity as an offensive coordinator in Houston the 2 season prior to Ben Tate’s arrival. Tate has shown, when healthy, to be a fantastic back in a “ZBS” who runs with power and explosion.
Impact on the starting line up: Even the most naïve of Browns fans know that Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker don’t offer long term starting potential. Tate would add immediate legitimacy to the Browns ground attack as well as bring much needed balance to the browns offense. The Browns success through the passing game a year ago came without a legitimate play action threat, and a well rounded offense could make both players even more dangerous to the opposition.
Level of Risk: High. Tate is a fantastic talent, but he is unreliable. His punishing style of play doesn’t lend itself to career longevity either. The way the NFL has shifted to a committee approach in the backfield and the number of talented draft eligible running backs only makes it easier for teams to not invest in running backs on the free agent market. But some team may get an elite running back for a very reasonable deal if Tate can stay healthy.
Donald Brown – RB, Indianapolis Colts
Potential Contract: Brown is one of the top 3 free agent running backs on the market, but is entering a buyers market and will likely be had for reasonably priced deal, between $2-3 million per season. His injury concerns and overall lack of consistent production will make it hard for Brown to command top dollar.
What makes him fit: Brown ran explosively in 2014 and badly outshone his backfield counter part Trent Richardson after a September trade brought Richardson over from the Browns for a 1st round pick. His slashing running style is an excellent fit for Kyle Shanahan’s “ZBS” and his ability to contribute on all 3 downs is also a bonus.
Impact on the starting line up: Brown would be a clear cut upgrade to every facet of the running back position. A skilled receiver out of the backfield, Brown is also a capable and willing blocker in pass pro. A multi faceted back like Brown will provide an excellent security blanket for whomever the Browns have under center in 2014.
Level of Risk: Moderate. Brown did well for himself in 2014, but it remains to be seen if he can continue to produce without quarterback Andrew Luck drawing so much of the defensive focus. Injuries will always be a concern with Brown as well, and a back with injury concerns may not be the best fit for the AFC North. There is no doubting Brown’s talent nor his fit within the offensive system though, and he should be heavily considered for the right price.
Vonta Leach – FB, Baltimore Ravens
Potential Contract: A low level deal, something in the $1-2 million per season range.
What makes him fit: Experience playing under Kyle Shanahan in Houston from 2008-2009, and it never hurts to weaken a division opponent. The Browns running game has struggled ever since Lawrence Vickers moved on after the 2010 season and a powerhouse blocking back like Leach could help ramp up production from the backfield.
Impact on the starting line up: Adding one of the games premier blocking backs would do wonders for the Browns offense. What Leach brings to the table won’t always show up in the box score, but he’ll do the dirty work necessary to pave the way for the Browns running game. His ability to aid his teammates in learning the offense makes him even more valuable.
Level of Risk: None. Leach will likely sign a low end deal with little money guaranteed. The Browns would be wise to bring in a veteran with scheme knowledge to help bring along a young fullback drafted in the later rounds or added via undrafted free agency.
Lance Moore – WR, New Orleans Saints
Potential Contract: Low level deal, most likely something along the lines of $1.5-2 million per season. He may even eventually latch on to a contender at veteran minimum.
What makes him fit: The Toledo grad from Westerville Ohio would bring some much needed veteran presence to the receiving corps. Moore has taken the long road to NFL success as an undrafted free agent, and would bring a Super Bowl ring and wealth of experience to a skill group in need of reliability.
Impact on the starting line up: Moore would have an impact as a slot man in 3 receiver sets. His ability to be a nuisance at every level of the field would mesh well with the all around talents of both Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. If the Browns were to add a wide receiver early on draft day, Moore could hold down the starting job opposite of Gordon until that draft pick gets comfortable on the NFL level. Once the rookie is ready to claim a starting spot, Moore would simply shift inside to his more natural slot position and give the Browns 4 legitimate threats in the passing attack.
Level of Risk: Low. Age, injuries, and less than ideal size will keep Lance Moore from cashing in on the open market. Not to mention the strength of the 2014 wide receiver class is going to really lower some of the demand. Moore will certainly help which ever team brings him in, but is never going to be much more than a solid role player.
Vincent Rey – LB, Cincinnati Bengals (Restricted)
Potential Contract: Potentially could land a nice deal. Rey is a restricted free agent and but was given the lowest tender possible, the original round tender, which as an undrafted free agent means the Bengals would not get any compensation. The Bengals are expected to match just about any offer, but a desperate team with needs at the position may make a run at over paying for him.
What makes him fit: A gaping wide hole at inside linebacker says so. To be more specific, Rey is an instinctive and explosive player who could flourish in a Mike Pettine defense. He has the size needed to anchor an AFC North run defense and a knack for making plays with 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defensed in limited time in 2013. And again, it never hurts to weaken a division opponent.
Impact on the starting line up: Rey would without question start on the inside next to, as of now, the speedy Craig Robertson. A 3 down athlete, Rey could potentially lead the defense for years to come.
Level of Risk: Moderate. Rey is a nice athlete and promising young player, but the Cincinnati defense is loaded with talent and a couple nice games and opportune plays do not necessarily make one a “sound” investment. But Rey does look like he is ready to contribute on an every down basis. The question is at what cost does Cincinnati allow him to leave?
Arthur Moats – LB, Buffalo Bills
Potential Contract: Low level deal. Limited market. Most likely somewhere around $1.5-2.5 million per season tops. Bills and Browns likely to be strongest suitors.
What makes him fit: Had the finest year of his career a season ago under Mike Pettine and Moats could follow his former defensive coordinator to Cleveland and help fill the void at inside linebacker. Moat’s linebackers coach in Buffalo, Jim O’Neil, would be his new defensive coordinator in Cleveland.
Impact on the starting line up: Moats is an athletic and versatile player who is on the verge of becoming an every down contributor. Moats is capable of lining up at any linebacker position and could be deployed in a variety of ways. Moats most likely role would be as a two down inside linebacker next to Craig Robertson, but wouldn’t likely make an impact in passing situations.
Level of Risk: Low. Moats will be very affordable and could pay huge dividends as a key role player. He offers scheme and position versatility while also a capable special teamer.
Perry Riley – LB, Washington Redskins
Potential Contract: Riley and the Redskins remain far apart in contract negotiations and Riley is believed to be seeking over $5 million annually. Whether someone meets his asking price remains to be seen.
What makes him fit: Riley is an energetic young linebacker who should be entering his prime. His experience on the inside in a 3-4 defense and downhill playing style could mesh well with Mike Pettine and Jim O’neil will be looking to do schematically.
Impact on the starting line up: Riley would start immediately at one of the inside linebacker spots, or as the mike backer in a 4-3 front. Riley is run and chase linebacker who can be disruptive when blitzing and is capable in coverage. Riley would be an excellent fit alongside a true thumper on the inside, but does not hold up well as a stack and shed run defender.
Level of Risk: High. Riley is a tough young linebacker but is no where near the player that his reported asking price indicates. The Dolphins taught the league a lesson a year ago when they over paid for a similar player in Dannelle Ellerbe.
Chris Cook – CB, Minnesota Vikings
Potential Contract: Cook should have a lukewarm market for his services. At the end of the day, in spite of the injuries and overall inconsistent play to this point of his career, Cook is a 6’2, 212 lb. corner with sub 4.4 speed. I could see Cook getting a 2-3 year deal at $3.5-4.5 million annually.
What makes him fit: There is a need at corner for the Browns, and with Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, and Leon McFadden all measuring in at under 5’11, the 6’2 Cook would be a welcomed addition.
Impact on the starting line up: If healthy, Cook could make a tremendous impact on the Browns defensive backfield. Buster Skrine was one of the more pleasant defensive surprises a year ago, and if the Browns could add a corner to challenge him for the #2 corner and ultimately slide him inside to the nickel it would only strengthen one of the better young corner duo’s in the AFC. Cook has the size and athleticism to be a difference maker at corner.
Level of Risk: High. Cook will command a contract that far exceeds the product he has consistently put on film. His injury issues are the most glaring of his issues, but he has considerable boom or bust potential.
Malcolm Jenkins – S, New Orleans Saints
Potential Contract: Jenkins could command somewhere around $4-5 million per season, he is a cheaper alternative to Jairus Byrd and at 26 still has a few more years of play in his prime.
What makes him fit: Mike Pettine places emphasis on coverage skills from his safeties and Jenkins, a former All American corner at Ohio State, fits the bill. Jenkins is also comfortable playing within an aggressive defensive scheme which places greater pressure on the coverage units.
Impact on the starting line up: Jenkins would immediately take charge of the secondary and start at free safety. He and Gipson would form a far more coverage savvy duo than the 2013 unit which featured T.J. Ward, who was an elite in the box defender but a liability in coverage. With better over the top protection, the defense would be given the freedom to attack even more than a year ago whether through blitz packages or corners jumping routes.
Level of Risk: Low. Jenkins may not be great at one particular facet of the position, but he is a well rounded mid level starter in his prime. His positional versatility makes him capable of helping the defense in a variety of ways.