With the start of free agency on March 17 and the legal tampering period beginning on March 15, the Browns are expected to be a busy team. After listening to GM Andrew Berry’s news conference this week, most members of the Cleveland media attempted to interpret Berry’s answers. I found three statements by Berry very informative. First, Berry indicated he wanted the perception of the Browns front office to be aggressive. Second, he stated the defensive end position in free agency is no more important than linebacker and secondary. Third, he told reporters the Browns would have the money to spend on free agents. So what does all this mean? It’s this writer’s perception that while the Browns will spend money to fix the defense, it may not be the big names and big deals most fans expect.
So let’s break down each position of need.
EDGE. The Browns will go one of two ways, sign a young rising star or a veteran to a short-term deal. Players like Carl Lawson (Cin.), Yannick Ngakoue (Balt.) and Trey Hendrickson (NO) look tempting for the Browns. There are reports the Bengals will not let Lawson make it to free agency and Ngakoue and Hendrickson will look to break the bank. If the Browns go young then Romeo Okwara (Det.), Takkarist McKinley (LVR.), Solomon Thomas (SF), or Deatrich Wise (NE) would be the players of interest. If the Browns go with an older veteran on a one to two-year “prove it” deal, then Melvin Ingram (LAC), Leonard Floyd (LAR), or Matthew Judon (Balt.) might be the choice. The reasoning in signing an older veteran to a short-term deal is to allow a draft pick or Curtis Weaver to develop. Weaver was a 2020 fifth-round draft pick of Miami plucked off the waiver wire by the Browns last August. He has the potential to be a future starter. Think free draft pick. My choice: Romeo Okwara (Det.).
SAFETY. The safety free agent class is pretty deep. Young players the Browns should have an interest in are Marcus Williams (NO), Marcus Maye (NYJ), John Johnson (LAR), Xavier Woods (Dal.) and Keanu Neal (Atl.). Older veterans of interest are Anthony Harris (Min.), Jaquiski Tartt (SF) and Tre Boston (Car.) Of the choice of the younger players, Marcus Williams and John Johnson will be available due to their current teams’ cap problems. Of the older players, Anthony Harris would be the choice. He is very familiar with DC Joe Wood’s defense and the Browns were ready to try and sign him last year until the Vikings franchised tagged him. My choice: Anthony Harris (Minn.)
CORNERBACK. With all the injuries to the CB position in 2020, this position could potentially be covered by signing two free agents if the Browns are unable to resign Terrance Mitchell and/or Kevin Johnson. Young players that might be of interest are Desmond King (TEN), Mike Hilton (Pitt.) Shaquill Griffin (Sea.) and Ahkello Witherspoon (SF). Older veterans that might be of interest are William Jackson (Cin.), Brian Poole (NYJ), Xavier Rhodes (Ind.) and Jason Verrett (SF). My choice: resign Terrance Mitchell and sign Mike Hilton (Pitt.).
LINEBACKER. Even though I expect the Browns to draft a young linebacker, Berry did mention this position in his media availability. Young players of interest are Matt Milano (Buf.), Jayon Brown (TEN), Eric Wilson (Minn.) and Nickolas Morrow (LV). Older players of interest are Lavonte David (TB), K.J. Wright (SEA) and Kevin Pierre-Louis (WFT). Buffalo is going to let Milano test free agency and he’ll command top dollar. Jayon Brown might be a good backup plan if the Browns want a young rising star. The Browns could resign B.J. Goodson. Lavonte David is every Browns fan’s choice, but I just can’t see the Browns going for an older player at this position. My choice: resign Goodson and draft a linebacker.
TRADES. Andrew Berry did mention he could make a trade to improve the talent on the team. The Browns have been linked to Marshon Lattimore (NO) and Stephon Gilmore (NE). Even though the Saints are in cap prison, I can’t see them letting Lattimore go. However, Gilmore is a different case. He has let the Patriots know he would like to be traded. Bill Belichick will trade players who don’t want to be in New England. Berry doesn’t make trades very often. He traded a seventh for FB Andy Janovich and a fifth for S Ronnie Harrison. Both trades were of great value. If Gilmore can be had for a third this year and a 2022 pick, that would be a great value.
As the Browns approach free agency, Andrew Berry will attempt to sign the team’s own free agents they want to keep and restructure contracts to create more cap room this year and in the future. If you read my last article, the Browns will announce these deals as they go. An example would be today’s report that the Browns have tendered exclusive rights free agents TE Stephen Carlson and DE Porter Gustin. Remember, the Browns current front office does not leak information to the media. You’ll know what they’re doing when they announce it. So let’s make a deal and get this team to the next level.