Cleveland Browns: Should Team Kick the Tires on Alterraun Verner?

The Cleveland Browns are in need of secondary help. Could veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner be an option in NFL free agency following his release?

The Cleveland Browns need to upgrade a variety of areas this offseason. The quarterback position is the one that’s going to be maintaining headlines, but the team’s 30th-ranked defense (28.2 points per game allowed) is equally in need of an overhaul. Cleveland’s pass defense was particularly suspect during the 2016 season—Pro Football Focus rated the team just 28th in pass coverage for the year.

Upgrading the secondary has to be a priority in free agency and in the draft. While Cleveland’s analytics-driven front office isn’t likely to go wild on big-name free agents this offseason, the Browns are going to spend some money filling holes on the open market. According to Spotrac.com, Cleveland is expected to carry a whopping $105 million in cap space into the new league year (March 9).

Expect Cleveland’s free-agent strategy to focus primarily on younger players that can grow and develop with the franchise. Players looking at second contracts would be ideal.

“We are trying to build a great organization over a long period of time,” Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta explained during last year’s draft, per Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com.

The Browns aren’t going to be able to fill every roster hole by only sticking to young players, however, so a few older bargain options will likely fall into the mix. One such player is now set to enter the free-agent pool. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to release cornerback Alterraun Verner:

Verner clearly plays at a position of need for the Browns, but would he be worth targeting for this franchise?

The short answer is maybe. A lot will depend on what kind of money Verner commands on the open market and what kind of role the Browns would envision for him. If he’s expecting to command the $6.5 million he was due this season on his Buccaneers contract, the Browns probably won’t be interested. If Verner can be had in the $3-5 million-per-year range, however, he would absolutely make sense in Cleveland.

Though Verner only played in a limited role last season, he did appear in all 16 games for the Buccaneers. He finished the year with 16 tackles, seven passes defended and an interception. Pro Football Focus rated him 53rd overall among all cornerbacks for the season.

Verner would likely take over the role Tramon Williams held in 2016—and he projects as an improvement. Pro Football Focus rated Williams 183rd overall among corners. Williams was released shortly after the end of the regular season because of his age (he’ll be 34 in March) and in order to clear cap space. Verner is more than five years younger than Williams, so he fits the plan of getting younger on defense. Still just 28 years old, Verner could realistically stick with the Browns for three or four years before hitting a serious decline due to age.

So, Verner would fit in with Cleveland’s long-term vision for a roster overhaul. He also has ties to the Browns coaching staff. New defensive coordinator Gregg William coached Verner in 2013 as a senior assistant defensive coach with the Tennessee Titans. Verner was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2013 season.

The Browns have the need for Verner, a coach who knows how to get the best out of him and the cap space to make a deal. At the very least, Cleveland should consider making the addition.

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