As we head towards the start of another league year, we once again do so with a new regime at the helm for the Cleveland Browns. Gone are Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski, replaced by Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine.
Despite those sweeping changes, the Browns come into the new year with similar questions on the roster as they’ve had in previous seasons. Again they’ll be trying to find solutions while also playing catch up with the three teams above them in the AFC North.
Still, they are a team that was fairly competitive through the first half of last season and when you watch them you feel like they are only a few, albeit important pieces away from being a team capable of competing for the playoffs. With that in mind, here’s a look at their biggest needs this offseason.
Potential Cap Casualties
With $49m in available cap space this offseason (per overthecap.com), the Browns don’t have too many concerns. However, if they are looking to save some extra money, there are a few options available to them.
– Jason Campbell moving on would see them save $3m which seems like a smart move given that he is likely to be neither their day one starter in 2014 or a viable long term option.
– A deep defensive line may see them question whether or not Ahtyba Rubin is worth a $7m cap hit, so they may opt to cut him and spend the money elsewhere.
– An unlikely cut based on experience and leadership maybe, but D’Qwell Jackson also isn’t worth the $9.4m cap hit that he carries this season.
We’ve already talked about Campbell’s long-term prospects in Cleveland, but it’s fair to say that it’s likely that Brian Hoyer isn’t their franchise quarterback of the future either. Holding the fourth pick in May’s NFL Draft, they may decide to try and grab the long-term answer at the position then, but even if they plan on doing that, it doesn’t prevent them from trying to upgrade the position in free agency, especially given their favorable cap position. Considering how competitive they were in the first half of 2013, why not bring in a short-term answer and compete while bringing along a rookie slowly?
Free agent fix: Josh McCown would make a lot of sense for the Browns if they are looking for a one-year stop-gap at the position while they bring along a rookie. He was very good in relief of Jay Cutler for the Chicago Bears in 2013, helping Brandon Marshall and Alson Jeffery put up big numbers. In Cleveland he would benefit from their own superstar wide receiver in Josh Gordon and, in turning 35 before the season begins, would be unlikely to create any long-term quarterback controversy for the Browns.
The move to trade away former first round draft pick Trent Richardson was a smart one, with the former University of Alabama standout clearly not working out in Cleveland. Given how he played when he got to Indianapolis, the Browns appear to have got something of a steal in getting a first round draft pick in exchange for him but they do still have a problem at the position. Largely untested Edwin Baker would be the likely starter if the season began today, so don’t be surprised to see them add more than one player to the position during the offseason.
Free agent fix: The advantage to adding a player like Knowshon Moreno is that he offers something in the passing game as well as just as a runner. He had 602 yards from 66 receptions throughout the 2013 regular and postseason, giving him 1,798 yards from scrimmage, 14 touchdowns and 38 missed tackles forced in 18 games last year. Averaging 4.2 yards per carry, with an average of 2.0 yards after contact per carry, he would represent a significant upgrade at the position for the Browns.
While cutting D’Qwell Jackson doesn’t seem likely, it is clear that the Browns need to get better at the position, with Jackson and fellow starter Craig Robertson grading out at -11.6 and -18.1, respectively, in 2013. That’s not going to cut it for new head coach Pettine, and finding a long-term starter at the position would be ideal.
Free agent fix: Enter Brandon Spikes who, entering just his fifth season in the league, definitely has the long-term upside that would make sense for the Browns. A physical linebacker who is at his best taking on blocks, Spikes has shown himself to be good against the run and as a pass rusher in the past. He has struggled in space, meaning that it may be smart to pair him with with a player ideally suited to a nickel linebacker role like Daryl Smith, but his value on running downs would be big for the Browns.
Follow Gordon on Twitter.