The Senior Bowl has now finished in Mobile, and we have hit one of the worst stretches of the off-season. From today until the end of February–when the combine hits–there is very little NFL action. The Super Bowl is a nice distraction, and I’m sure there are a couple fan bases excited about that game, but when the city of Cleveland wants to talk about their upward trending Browns, this stretch is brutal.
Instead of analyzing draft prospects we still don’t know enough about, let’s take a look at how the Browns can attack free agency. The biggest needs the Browns currently have lie on the defensive side of the football, and that is where I expect them to be the most aggressive in free agency despite the plethora of defensive talent in the draft.
Important: This list will cover the Browns wish list, not how I think it will actually play out for each free agent’s situation.
Plan A: Grady Jarrett (Atlanta): Age: 25, 6’1, 291 — It’s a stretch to think Jarrett will make it to free agency, as Atlanta likely uses the franchise tag on him, but if he does, there is no better prospect. Jarrett, taken in the 5th round in 2015, is a machine inside. He has 10 sacks over the last two seasons and has become dominant against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, Jarrett was credited with 135 pressures and would fit how the Browns are trying to shape their interior.
Plan B: Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay): Age: 30, 6’4, 300 — McCoy’s contract situation and the Bucs current roster alignment makes this one possible. His contract for 2019 is set at $13 million and that price might be too much to handle. McCoy still has plenty in the tank at 30, and his six sacks last year, along with his 54 career sacks, means he can get after the quarterback.
Plan C: Ndamukong Suh (Los Angeles Rams): Age: 32, 6’4, 313 — Suh is up there in age, and his price tag might climb with another dominant performance in the Super Bowl, but on a short team deal he makes plenty of sense. The Browns don’t need to get any younger and they have a few years before the young names resigned. He excels against the run, and that’s what the Browns need most right now.
Plan A: DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas) — Age: 26, 6’3, 251 — The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Lawrence in 2018 and I fully expect that result again if a long-term deal isn’t worked out. Lawrence had 10.5 sacks in a bit of a down year, but with sacks it can be misleading. Credited with 142 pressures over the previous two seasons, Lawrence will be THE name on the market if he makes it there.
Plan B: Jadeveon Clowney (Houston) — Age: 25, 6’5, 267– Although Clowney has morphed into a 3-4 edge linebacker in Houston, there will be zero impact if he puts his hand in the dirt as a traditional 4-3 end as he was in college at South Carolina. His speed is special. He surprisingly played the run very well in 2018 to complete his game. Clowney has 29 sacks over 62 career games, and he will be playing the 2019 season at just 26 years old. The franchise tag is likely here, but if the Texans get bogged down with other names to sign and want to save here, it’s plausible. Clowney would draw massive attention league-wide.
Plan C: Frank Clark (Seattle) Age: 25, 6’3, 265 — Clark is more pass rusher than run stopper, but that doesn’t stop him from impacting both aspects. He posted a career-high 13 sacks in 2018 and now has 32 over the last three seasons along with 66 quarterback hits. His stock is high for a reason.
Plan A: C.J. Mosley (Baltimore) — Age: 26, 6’2, 238 — Mosley is a four-time Pro Bowler and one of the best at his position. The Browns have Schobert in the middle, but with modern linebackers, you usually see two in the box, and Mosley is no slouch in coverage when need be. Schobert’s tackling issue yet excellent coverage might mean signing Mosley to anchor the middle while Schobert slides back outside might make sense. Taking him from a rival in the division also helps.
Plan B: Anthony Barr (Minnesota) — Age 26, 6’5, 255 — Barr has underperformed for what his skill set seems to be, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be worth the right price tag. He is an excellent athlete with rare size/speed. 13.5 career sacks for Barr help his cause as well.
Plan C: Jordan Hicks (Philadelphia) — Age 26, 6’1, 236 — Hicks is an athletic linebacker who can do a little bit of both at his position. He had 91 tackles last year in 12 games, and has only played 19 over the last two years, but if the price is right and he can stay healthy, he would be a welcome addition for a Browns linebacker group that struggled in 2018. Being an Ohio kid helps.
No Plan: There are no names that excite the way the the front seven does in this free agency group. Ronald Darby from Philadelphia was a name, but he tore his ACL around mid-season and carries a big risk now. The Browns could add someone like Bradley Roby or Darqueze Dennard, but there is no certainty they will out-perform who is already here.
There are a ton of safeties in the free agency class including Landon Collins, Earl Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu, and Lamarcus Joyner, but the Browns don’t need one due to Damarious Randall and Jabrill Peppers. The likeliest case for all of this is the Browns add a corner early in the 2019 draft and a safety late.