With free agency set to begin in the coming weeks, due to the huge question mark at wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, one can’t help but wonder if Ray Farmer will search the market for a wide out. The general manager’s plan leans towards drafting defensively in the first round, either a pass rusher or a run stuffer. Although Farmer believes in building through the draft, he may want to look elsewhere for a reliable pass catcher.

As a result of Josh Gordon earning a year-long suspension, Cleveland must address the receiver position this off-season. The Browns need more dependable options on the outside. Currently, Andrew Hawkins is the only member of the receiving core with 800+ career yards. Unfortunately, he is more of a natural slot receiver as well as the undrafted Taylor Gabriel, who surprised some fans last year. Additionally, the 2015 free agent wide receiver class is loaded and the Browns have nearly $50 million in cap space.

2015 Free Agents: Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Crabtree, Torrey Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Cecil Shorts III, and Miles Austin.

This class is headlined by Bryant, Thomas, and Cobb, all of whom will most likely return to their teams. The Dallas Cowboys number one priority is re-signing Bryant, even if it means letting DeMarco Murray walk. The Denver Broncos are in a similar situation with their number one receiver. Thomas and Bryant are too good to not bring back. I am not discrediting Randall Cobb by any means, but the Green Bay Packers may not be able to pay him top money. Cobb set career highs with 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. He started all 16 games last year compared to starting just 12 games in his previous three seasons. Cobb wants to return to cheesehead nation, so I’m somewhat sure both parties will agree to a reasonable deal.

Meanwhile, more suitable wide outs for the Cleveland Browns would be Maclin and Smith. Maclin bet on himself, singing a one year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles after recovering from a torn ACL. However, the receiver set career highs in receptions (85), yards (1,318) and tied a career-best 10 touchdowns. Maclin is going to get paid and Philly is more than likely to cough up the money. Smith on the other hand, is an interesting prospect.

Although Smith is talented, he can’t command top dollar like some other receivers. He produced his lowest numbers of his career with 49 catches for 767 yards, but reached the end zone a career-best 11 times. Smith lost touches to Steve Smith and may be looking to emerge as the number one passing option for a new team. Cleveland should make a considerable offer to Torrey Smith in order to upgrade at the position. Worst case scenario, the Browns drive up the price for Baltimore to re-sign him.

Identically, Michael Crabtree and Hakeem Nicks might find a new destination to record more catches. Crabtree registered decent numbers throughout a down year for the San Francisco 49ers. After losing touches to Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, and Brandon Lloyd, a change of scenery could benefit the wide out. Crabtree’s stock has declined throughout the season so he may not demand a contract that breaks the bank. Nicks is another receiver who is talented, but should come at a cheap price. In Indianapolis, he was clearly not the top option, as he set career lows with 405 yards on 38 catches. Both receivers would improve the Browns receiving core.

If Cleveland can’t upgrade at the position, the best option is to keep what we had last year. That means re-signing Miles Austin. At this stage in his career, his price tag won’t be outrageous. The former Pro Bowler not only provided leadership to a young group, but was extremely dependable. Before going on injured reserve, Austin produced nearly 200 yards just on third downs. It wouldn’t be surprising if Cleveland brought back Austin on a two year deal.

Regardless of who Cleveland targets or negotiates with, signing a wide receiver is imperative. Fans expect the Browns organization to address this need, whether it’s through the draft or free agency.

-Max Gold

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