So, if I had omnipotence with regards to getting the players I want through free agency, as well as my choice of draft picks, it would be a glorious thing. Obviously I do not, but here is how I would address the teams needs on both sides of the ball. I tried to be at least moderately realistic as to where draft picks will fall, and that we can win the bidding war for certain players.
Let’s start with the offense:
The Problem: The Guards are terrible.
The Solution: Andy Levitre (Bills) and Louis Vasquez (Chargers). The Browns offensive line would be top 5 in the NFL if the Guard positions were addressed properly. Lauvao is awful, and Greco is pretty sub par. Levitre and Vasquez would be instant starters, and would really be major upgrades over both current starters. The other thing is that the Browns could get both for a steal, but even if they had to outbid other teams, it is still worth it because of the immediate impact they would have. Letting Richardson really be able to run between the tackles would open up a ton of new lanes of attack for the offense as a whole, and the added pass protection would afford whoever our starting QB is next year a lot of time to really pick apart a defense. Getting one or both of these guys is a must.
The Problem: A total lack of consistency and weak overall production from Watson and Cameron.
The Solution: There are a number of options available in free agency and in the draft to cover this gaping hole in the Browns passing attack. Take a second to compare Kellen Winslow’s numbers in 2007 against Watson and Cameron in 2012 and you’ll get an idea of why a usual TE pick up is a must:
Winslow: 82 REC, 149 TAR, 1106 YDS, 13.5 AVG, 5 TD, 356 YAC
Watson: 49 REC, 82 TAR, 501 YDS, 10.2 AVG, 3 TD, 196 YAC
Cameron: 20 REC, 39 TAR, 226 YDS, 11.3 AVG, 1 TD, 106 YAC
Granted, Winslow got a lot more looks, but he could actually catch the ball and move with it after the catch. So, the Browns have some options. The most realistic is probably Delanie Walker (49ers). He would be an upgrade over either of the Browns current TEs. There is a shot that Martellus Bennett may want more than the Giants can afford/are willing to pay him. If that were to be the case, the Browns should jump for him. Bennett has the potential to be unbelievably good in a Chud/Turner system. Seriously, think Antonio Gates good. If neither pans out, the Browns could to the draft and try and snatch up Travis Kelce (Cincinnati) in the 3rd or 4th round. He runs a 40 in 4.68, has great size and is an excellent red zone converter.
The Problem: A (supposed) lack of a deep ball threat, poor depth, trouble holding on to the football.
The Solution: I’m going to break from popular belief that Josh Gordon won’t pan out as a deep threat receiver. His rookie year numbers bare out a different story than most people believe, and I think he can be coached into a vertical threat, because he has the skill set for it. Now, Greg Little has some potential. But this is going to be his 3rd year, and he just can’t seem to hold on to the football. That’s troubling. And after Little, the Browns depth falls off a cliff in terms of ability and just plain talent. Its bad. So, I’m going to give you my favorite options here.
I would take Dwayne Bowe out of the crop of free agents at WR. I don’t believe Welker is going to leave NE, and I’m only 50/50 that the Browns have a shot to land Mike Wallace. If they either of those guys are viable options, I would take them over Bowe, but I think Bowe is the most realistic move. Now, I would also snatch up Corey Fuller (Virginia Tech) in the draft. First, we can probably take him in the 5th or 6th round, and I think he’d be a steal. Second, he’s a big upgrade in terms of explosiveness and consistency over either Benjamin or Cooper. So, my depth chart would be go Bowe (1), Gordon (2), Little (slot), Cribbs and Fuller rotating in off the bench. That’s a heck of an overhaul and a much improved receiving corps.
The Problem: Brandon Weeden is old, inexperienced and lackluster.
The Solution: Look, I’m not going to pretend like there is a golden fit to find our new franchise Quarterback this offseason. I’ve made my opinion that Alex Smith is an improvement over Weeden in the short and long term pretty well known. That said, outside of bringing Smith in to compete with Weeden for the starting job (which Smith would win without much trouble), I don’t really have a plan B. This is just not the class to draft a QB from, and the Free Agency market is rarely the way to find a long term solution at QB. So, get Smith and/or chalk it until next draft.
The Problem: Owen Marecic is terrible. Objectively terrible.
The Solution: This isn’t very vital, but it can’t hurt. Zach Boren (Ohio State) should be available in the 6th round when the Browns have two picks, and I’d like to see as scoop him up. Marecic was terrible, and should be cut. Boren would add some versatility in short yard situations, and can catch the football. He also can play inside linebacker too, so that adds a dimension of interesting at least.
Let’s move to the Defense:
The Problem: The Browns are moving to a 3-4 base defense under DC Ray Horton. They do not have the personnel to do this. Sorry Ray.
The Solution: Regardless of what Ray Horton and others may say, the Browns personnel is not a fit for the 3-4 yet. All the optimism and well wishes in the world don’t change the fact that if you don’t have the staff at LB, you can’t make it work. With that in mind, I’d like to see the Browns build here through a combination of the draft and free agency. The guy the Browns should make a serious move for is Anthony Spencer (Cowboys). 11 Sacks last year, 50 tackles in the past four consecutive seasons. He’s quick, strong and and excellent pass rusher. He is a must have addition to me. Outside of that, I’m pretty set that we should draft Barkevious Mingo (LSU) with the 6th overall pick. He’s going to be the guy we build the defense around for years to come, because simply, he is a beast. He’s absurdly quick, big, super strong (he lines up as a DE from time to time), and maybe most importantly, he’s a great guy. He displays outstanding character off the field, volunteering to read to children and regularly visiting children’s hospitals. If that doesn’t warm your heart as a Browns fan (it does), he was awarded the Jimmy Taylor Award for outstanding leadership, effort and performance (the highest award given at LSU), he’s been described as a “terror for opposing quarterbacks”. Draft. This. Kid.
With those two additions, the Browns linebacking corps quickly becomes one of the very best in the NFL. Couple that with (probably) Jaabal Sheard, Phil Tayler and Ahtyba Rubin on the line (with the possibility of Sheard rotating in at LB and SS), and the Browns pass rush becomes truly fearsome.
The Problem: A serious lack of talent outside of Joe Haden. Lots of holes, and a tendency to give up big plays.
The Solution: With the front seven covered, lets look at what moves the Browns can make to solidify their secondary. This was definitely the Achilles heal of the Browns defense last season, as outside of lockdown corner Joe Haden, the Browns are seriously lacking in talent. So, the first order of business is to find a CB who can play opposite of Joe Haden. Sheldon Brown was awful, and Buster Skrine wasn’t much better when he came in while Haden was suspended. My favorite option to fill the CB spot is David Amerson (N. Carolina St.). We don’t have a 2nd round pick this season, but the odds are pretty good that Amerson will still be available for our pick in round 3. He’s tall, got great length and is blazing fast. More importantly for Ray Horton’s taste for aggressive players, Amerson is a great fit. He’s extremely aggressive, loves to read QBs and jump short routes (my favorite type of interception actually). To round out the secondary, the Browns need to target Jairus Byrd (Bills). He’s a lights out FS, is young enough to build around for a long time, and once T.J. Ward is fully healthy, the two would make a nasty backfield combo.
There you have it, fellow Browns fans. My take on upgrading our roster to move us from hopeful to contention.