Are you ready Browns fans? The first step in rebuilding the Browns defense starts Monday, March 15 at 12:00 p.m. EST. GM Andrew Berry and the front office have been working diligently preparing to implement their plan. If last year is any indication, next week the Browns will announce the re-signing of their own free agents, not get into bidding wars for new free agents and restructure current contracts as needed. Last year, the Browns restructured both OL Chris Hubbard and DE Olivier Vernon after free agency had begun. Based on the current roster, the positions of need in free agency are defensive end, cornerback, safety, linebacker and possibly wide receiver and defensive tackle. My assessments of free agency are based on analysis by NFL experts who know more about film study than I do and common sense. Let’s start with the most talked-about position, defensive end.
Prior to the release of DE Adrian Clayborn, there was a feeling the Browns would sign one free-agent defensive end. Now it appears they may sign two. The Browns really don’t need to sign a big-name free agent to be a complimentary piece to DE Myles Garrett. This author was of the belief that if they had signed J.J. Watt, the Browns would have played him more at defensive tackle than end where he had a better pressure rate and then sign a lesser-known defensive end. That being said, if a big-name free agent would take a short-term deal, the Browns might be interested. So does GM Andrew Berry go with a big splash signing like he did last year with RT Jack Conklin and TE Austin Hooper? Yes. My prediction, Trey Hendrickson (NO) and a veteran to back up Garrett, like Melvin Ingram (LAC) or Ryan Kerrigan (Wash.).
If the Browns are unable to resign CB’s Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson, this position becomes very thin. To further complicate matters, there is the uncertainty of CB Greedy Williams because of his injury. Again, it is the opinion of this author the Browns will sign two free agents if Michell and Johnson sign elsewhere. If Andrew Berry spends big for a defensive end, then the Browns would sign some lesser-known players. My prediction, K’Waun Williams (SF) and Lamarcus Joyner (LVR). Williams would take over the slot position and Joyner would take over the role Mitchell played. As for the safety position, Anthony Harris (Min.) and John Johnson (LAR) make sense, but Harris was coveted by the Browns last year. My prediction, Harris on a short-term “prove it deal.”
The Browns will be very young at linebacker if they don’t resign B.J. Goodson or Malcolm Smith. With the emergence of LB’s Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips, this author is of the belief the Browns will opt for a free agent linebacker who is a situational player, i.e. good in pass coverage. Players like Kevin Pierre-Louis (Wash.) and Eric Wilson (Min.) come to mind. My prediction, Pierre-Louis, who is also a special teams ace which is needed now that the Browns have released Travierre Thomas and declined to tender Tae Davis.
As for the wide receiver and defensive line positions, the Browns may have an interest because of the uncertainty of WR Rashard Higgins and DT Andrew Billings. Higgins may seek greener pastures and Billings opted out last year due to Covid concerns and the Browns are uncertain what kind of shape he is in after a year off. There are reports that Higgins is asking for a $5 million-per-year contract. With the wide receiver position being extremely deep in this year’s draft and so many free-agent wide receivers being available, Higgins might have overpriced himself. My prediction, the Browns re-sign Higgins and draft a wide receiver. As for defensive tackle, if Billings is in shape, then he’s an upgrade over DT Larry Ogunjobi. My prediction, the Browns re-sign DT Vincent Taylor for depth.
All these predictions are being made knowing teams have Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning to re-sign their own free agents. However, fans would have to be naïve to think representatives of free agents have not been approached with parameters of deals prior to the legal tampering period on Monday. Browns GM Andrew Berry has a pretty good idea which of the Browns free agents he can re-sign and who is willing to restructure existing contracts when needed. When it comes to restructures, I think Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) said it best, “Re-Cap restructure questions: when players “help the team” by pushing out Cap charges, they are not sacrificing anything and probably getting better cash flow by doing so. Cap restructures are not pay cuts (except for Roethlisberger), they have no downside for the player.” Browns fans won’t hear any news until the Browns make their deals or cuts official. So be patient and everyone and enjoy checking and re-checking Twitter on Monday.