Browns potential free agent targets: offense
The Cleveland Browns head to free agency with needs and money to spend. Browns General Manager Ray Farmer has said the Browns will be "judicious" with free-agent spending, but the team has already outbid other suitors for quarterback Josh McCown and visited with veteran free agent wide receivers.
Listed below are some names and scenarios to watch for each offensive position as the Browns head to free agency. Teams can negotiate with outside free agents March 7 and the signing period begins March 10.
Where the Browns stand: Guaranteeing Josh McCown more than $6 million would seem to take the Browns out of the market for adding another quarterback via free agency or trade this month, but guaranteeing Josh McCown more than $6 million does not equate to winning. So, stay tuned.
Name to know: Johnny Manziel. Drafting him last year got the Browns here. He’s under contract and supposed to rejoin the team next month, and the Browns moving quickly to sign McCown indicates they’re probably going with McCown and Manziel for now. Pursuing a move for Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler or Ryan Mallett if he hits the opem market isn’t totally out of the question but seems unlikely.
Outlook: There will be movement throughout the league, and there will be options. Probably, though, the Browns will just watch and then use a draft pick to add a young quarterback to the McCown-Manziel-Connor Shaw mix. But the neverending search for an answer at the game’s most important position has taken unpredictable turns before.
Where the Browns stand: Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West had good moments as rookies, and considering both were coming from the I-AA college level, they should be ready to take on more and produce more this season. However, it’s hard to say either is a long-term answer, at least as long as any long-term running answer exists in today’s NFL. The Browns will certainly add competition for them, whether it’s via free agency or the draft or both.
Name to know: C.J. Spiller. The speedy but oft-injured Spiller is headed for free agency, and the Browns have the money to offer him a short-term, prove-it deal and a role in which he could excel and not be overworked. Even if it’s not Spiller, the Browns need a veteran in the running back room to be the leader Ben Tate was not.
Outlook: The Browns have to at least add depth but probably won’t prioritize the position over some other more pressing needs. They got Crowell as an undrafted rookie last year and got Glenn Winston via waivers after the preseason, further proof that running backs can be found anywhere — and that West and Crowell both had better show up ready to work and improve or replacements will be found.
Where the Browns stand: Help needed. Lots of it. And this year’s wide receiver market is deep, both in free agency and the draft and even through potential trade pickups.
Name to know: Torrey Smith. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Ravens over the next 72 hours and hits the open market, it will be because of money. The Browns have it. Randall Cobb and Jeremy Maclin will get paid, too, but Smith might make the most sense of the big-ticket receivers. He’s 6’1, just turned 26, knows the division and can serve as the Browns’ No. 1 receiver — even if he’s really a No. 2 — until another can be groomed. Smith averages 17 yards per catch for his career and scored seven of his career-high 11 touchdowns in the second half of the 2014 season. The Browns could also pursue Michael Crabtree, a bigger target, and Cecil Shorts, a Cleveland native who’s a big-play threat.
Outlook: If the Browns sign a veteran holdover like Brian Hartline or Ted Ginn, that does not affect the team’s draft strategy. Spending big on a top free agent wide receiver would make it easier to pass on a receiver in the first round. Either way, the Browns need taller, more talented players to add to the receiver mix.
Where the Browns stand: Jordan Cameron is headed for free agency, and the Browns seem fine with that. Veterans Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray, added over the last two free agency periods, are under contract and though neither can test a defense the way Cameron can, both are proven players. The Browns are already known to have expressed interest in recently released veteran James Casey, who’s a whole lot more like Barnidge and Dray than he is Cameron.
Name to know: The big name besides Cameron in a pretty thin tight end market is Julius Thomas, who came from nowhere and posted two big seasons with Peyton Manning in Denver. Manning’s paycut gives the Broncos a chance to re-sign Thomas, who’s going to get pretty big money from somebody — but probably not the Browns. He’d like to catch a bunch of passes and touchdowns, not spend too much time blocking or wondering who his quarterback will be. The Dolphins put the transition tag on Charles Clay, and though Cameron is a talented player his concussion issues will concern potential suitors.
Outlook: If the Browns spend significant money at tight end during free agency, it will likely be on Cameron — if he tests the market and finds he’s not worth the money he was seeking elsewhere. It’s a good year to draft a tight end, and the most likely scenario is the Browns find a pass-catching tight end there. A veteran tight end
Where the Browns stand: Assuming Joe Thomas is still Joe Thomas and Alex Mack will be back from injury — both safe bets — the Browns are in good shape. Joel Bitonio was a home-run second-round pick last year, and though the Browns weren’t the same line after Mack’s injury they got to evaluate their depth. There’s already a bunch of money committed to the line, making it unlikely the Browns would chase a big-ticket lineman this month.
Name to know: Michael Bowie. He’s already under contract and was acquired by the Browns via waivers last summer. Bowie started seven games at right tackle and another at guard for the Seahawks in 2013 but was waived-injured last summer. The Browns thought Bowie — who’s just 23 and listed at 6’5, 320 — was a chance worth taking, and this summer they’ll get a look at a low risk, high potential reward player.
Outlook: The Browns have their 2014 opening-day starters under contract in addition to Bowie and several other young players waiting in the wings. Signing a veteran free agent for a potential backup/swing role is a possibility but not likely a high priority. Thomas is 30, John Greco is 29 and Mack is 29 and can opt out of his contract after 2015, so the Browns will draft at least one offensive lineman — and maybe a tackle early.