Browns should re-sign Mitchell Schwartz, target LeGarrette Blount
With another tough season in the books—and another coaching change to start the offseason—the Cleveland Browns are in the all-too-familiar position of picking in the top five in the draft and needing to make some big moves in the offseason. The good news is that they head into free agency with a little over $20 million in salary cap space, so they have the ability to make some of those much needed moves. The downside, however, is that it’s highly unlikely that anyone at one of their biggest positions of need—3-4 outside linebacker—will likely be available.
Here’s a look at what we would do if put in their shoes during free agency:
RT Mitchell Schwartz
Schwartz (86.6 overall grade) really impressed in 2015, finishing the year as our highest-graded right tackle. Though he was solid as a run-blocker, it was his pass-blocking that really stood out, as he allowed just 11 quarterback knockdowns (sacks or hits) all season. His positive grades for every season since he entered the league, combined with the fact that he’ll be just 27 when the season begins, make him a smart candidate for a long-term deal.
S Tashaun Gipson
Gipson (44.6) had a rough 2015 season due to injuries and struggles in coverage. It was his worst coverage grade in a single season since entering the league, but when you look back at 2014, you see why the Browns should want to bring him back. He had our sixth-highest coverage grade that year, coming away with six interceptions and a pass breakup. Like Schwartz, he too has age on his side, and will be 26 when the season begins.
LB Craig Robertson
Robertson (65.3) has seen plenty of playing time since arriving as an undrafted free agent in 2011, playing at least 389 snaps per year since 2012. He has a positive grade in coverage each of the past two seasons, so he definitely has a place in the NFL, but his struggles against the run mean that he isn’t an ideal every-down linebacker. If he could be brought back on a cost-effective deal, he makes sense as a nickel linebacker; but, if he commands anything more, it would be smart to move on.
HB LeGarrette Blount
Browns fans really like Duke Johnson, and after an impressive rookie year than saw him force 26 missed tackles as a receiver, there’s good reason why. The problem is that he is a better receiver than he is a runner, so they could do with adding a better true runner to add a bit of balance there. While he’ll be 30 in December, Blount (76.0) has graded positively as a runner in all but one of his six seasons in the league, and forced 34 missed tackles on 165 carries last year. Letting him take some of the early-down snaps away from Johnson—keeping him fresh to do damage as a receiver out of the backfield—would be a smart move by Cleveland.