Browns should pursue Eric Berry if he hits free agency

The Cleveland Browns have the money to fill an important position on defense if Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry enters free agency in March.

The Cleveland Browns have major holes in their secondary, most notably at the safety position.

Things got so bad at the position during 2016, with Jordan Poyer going down with a season-ending injury and Ibraheim Campbell carrying on the tradition of Ray Farmer draft picks, that the Browns had to turn to 33-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams later in the season.

The Browns could have an opportunity to make a major upgrade at the position when free agency opens next month.

Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry is rumored to be heading toward free agency after playing last season under the franchise tag, a situation that did not sit well with him and he made clear will not repeat itself this year.

“I’m out, I’m out … I’m out,” Berry told The Kansas City Star about his plans if the Chiefs try to franchise tag him again. “I’m just prepared mentally and emotionally to do what I need to do.”

Berry has spent his entire career with the Chiefs, making five Pro Bowls and being named first team All-Pro three times. According to Pro Football Focus:

Berry continues to be one of the best cover safeties in the NFL, and if he hits free agency, there will be a lot of teams looking for him to come lock down their secondary. Berry has coverage earned grades of 92.1, 84.9, and 85.9 his past three seasons (not including his injury-riddled 2014 season). He rarely messes up his deep-coverage zones, and is a huge reason why quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 82.4 when throwing against the Chiefs. Berry isn’t a liability in the run game, either, as his 11 run stops rank eighth among all safeties this season.

The Chiefs will likely do everything they can to retain Berry – who did say his preference is to remain with Kansas City – but they only have a little more than $4 million in cap space and also need to work out a new deal with nose tackle Dontari Poe.

They can clear some cap space, according to The Kansas City Star, by releasing quarterback Nick Foles, saving $10.75 million, or running back Jamaal Charles, saving $6.18 million. (And, no, the Browns should not go after either of those players if they are released.)

The Browns, on the other hand, are loaded with about $97 million in cap space and can easily outbid anyone else for Berry, who would look very nice as the new anchor in the secondary. And new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did say he expects the Browns to be “aggressive” in free agency, and what would be more aggressive than locking up one of the league’s best safeties?

NFL teams have until March 1 to designate their franchise or transition players and free agency begins at 4 p.m. on March 9.

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