Could new Cleveland Browns assistants attract free agents in off-season?
After Freddie Kitchens and the Cleveland Browns front office built a strong coaching staff, could the new assistants attract free agents from their previous teams to Cleveland?
Although there was some criticism from around the league about the Cleveland Browns naming Freddie Kitchens head coach, the organization has mostly heard positive things about the coaching staff they have put together.
Under Kitchens, the Browns have two experienced coordinators in Steve Wilks and Todd Monken. They also have top-notch position coaches in Stump Mitchell, Adam Henry, James Campen, and the recent addition Al Holcomb as linebackers coach.
Most of the coaches have come from a variety of organizations, although Kitchens and the Browns appear to be tapping into an Arizona Cardinals pipeline with Wilks, Holcomb, and Mitchell.
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With these coaches coming from multiple organizations, it leads to the potential of the Browns being interested in free agents from those teams. And these players could be interested in Cleveland so they can play with former coaches that helped them excel. It seems unlikely that Cleveland will spend a lot of money in free agency, but they could look at some cheaper players that fill some holes. So which players could the new Browns assistants attract to Cleveland that could be of interest to general manager John Dorsey?
Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken spent three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was the offensive coordinator for all three seasons – only calling plays last season – and was the wide receivers coach his first two seasons.. Despite the Buccaneers being a mess last season, Monken helped lead one of the top offenses in the league.
With his work on the offensive side of the ball, Tampa Bay offensive players that are free agents may want to play under his guidance once again. One name that stands out is wide receiver Adam Humphries. The 25-year-old had the best season of his career in 2018, catching 76 passes for 816 yards and five touchdowns. His performance has improved every season, but Humphries emerged as a solid weapon in Monken’s offense. Humphries primarily operated out of the slot.
The Browns do not have a dire need at wide receiver since quarterback Baker Mayfield likes to distribute the ball to multiple receivers. With Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, and Breshad Perriman, the Browns currently have good depth at the position. However, if the Browns implement parts of Monken’s ‘Air Raid’ offense, then they will need multiple weapons at receiver. Humphries will have a big market, but reconnecting with his old receivers coach could grab his attention.
Another player that Monken worked wonders with last season was quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Buccaneers signed Fitzpatrick to be the backup behind Jameis Winston in 2017, but was pushed into a starting role following Winston being suspended to start the 2018 season. Fitzpatrick decided to take over the league at the beginning of the season, throwing for over 400 yards in each of the first three games.
He was not able to maintain that performance the entire season, but he was valuable to Tampa Bay after losing their starting quarterback. Fitzpatrick completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,366 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in eight games.
Cleveland will be looking for a backup quarterback for Mayfield, as Tyrod Taylor is expected to leave in free agency and Drew Stanton is acting more as a coach than a player. Fitzpatrick would be a perfect fit, as he will be able to help guide Mayfield with his experience, but is also performing at a high level as a backup quarterback. It would make sense for Cleveland to find a younger backup, but Fitzpatrick is one of the best options available for backup quarterbacks this off-season.
Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb
The Browns hired Steve Wilks as the defensive coordinator due to his experience on that side of the ball. With Kitchens keeping offensive play-calling duties, Wilks’ experience can let Kitchens work more with the offense without the concern of the defense not having good leadership.
Wilks will also have one coach on his defensive staff that he is familiar with in Al Holcomb. Holcomb was with Wilks in Carolina for six seasons, and then an additional season in Arizona when Wilks named Holcomb his defensive coordinator. With both of these coaches being around the same players for so long, they know who can fit in their defense.
One free agent that both coaches have plenty of experience with from Carolina is linebacker Thomas Davis. Davis is a Panthers legend, but he stated in a Twitter post that Carolina will not be re-signing him as they want to get younger and faster at the position. At 36-years-old, Davis does not have much football left in him, but he is still playing at a high level.
In 12 games this season, Davis compiled 79 total tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, and six passes defended. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 19th best linebacker in the league this season.
The Browns front office may not see linebacker as a need, but Davis would be a solid one or two year option if the Browns make any moves at the position. He has plenty of experience in Wilks’ defense and Holcomb knows what Davis can bring to the linebacker room. However, Davis could be looking for an immediate Super Bowl contender to win a ring instead of playing for his former coaches on an up and coming team.
Wilks and Holcomb may not be as comfortable with their former players in Arizona as hey weree with a player like Davis. They were in Arizona for only one season, but there were a few players set to be free agents that stood out in their defense, both playing on the defensive line. The first is 27-year-old EDGE Benson Mayowa. Mayowa was a rotational end for Arizona, and the role suited him well. In 15 games, Mayowa compiled 38 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks, one forced fumble, and 11 quarterback hits.
The Browns need to add more depth on the edge, as Myles Garrett was playing too many snaps throughout the course of a game. Mayowa played the best season of his career for Wilks and Holcomb, and he could play in the same role he had in 2018.
The other player is defensive tackle Rodney Gunter. Gunter played in all 16 games last season, including 10 starts. He totaled 44 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 11 quarterback hits.
Cleveland needs to add a defensive tackle in the off-season, and they could possibly add one in free agency and one through the draft. Gunter is an interesting name, due to his starting experience, but he likely will not cost a lot of money. If the Browns want to find someone to play next to Larry Ogunjobi, Gunter should get a look. Especially with how well he played in the Wilks/Holcomb defense last season.
It remains a question if the Browns will be active in free agency, but there are obvious holes that they need to fill across the roster. As the Browns look to compete for the playoffs in 2019, bringing in players that the coaches are familiar with would help speed up the process. With the staff that Cleveland put together, former players of these coaches could be trying to find their way back to those coaches scheme to prove their performances.