Depending on your preference for Browns’ media consumption, you’ve either heard that 2013 will rival the Phil Savage era in terms of excess or prove to be another over hyped slumber. As with most things NFL related, the reality will fall somewhere in the medium. Given how much of the information presented during the free agency process is based on leverage and speculation rather than fact, it’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen in terms of player movement.
Although if we use the Browns’ recent history of regime change as a guide, it’s reasonable to suggest that the Browns’ free agency approach will reflect the new management’s desire to distance itself from the roster that it inherited a few months ago. In this sense, several potential free agent signings may fill a roster need, but will also serve to replace a player procured by the previous front office.
Using this logic, several arguments can be based on whether a potential free agent is actually an improvement over what the Browns already have. Sticking with the most common media speculation and assumed forecasting, let’s focus in on five key areas that could be affected in the coming days.*
*Considering the sad free agent state of the position, we’ll ignore quarterbacks. My apologies if you were wanting to dissect Vince Young and Colt McCoy’s college stats.
Keenan Lewis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Antoine Cason, etc. vs. Buster Skrine
Much has been said regarding Lewis’ strengths as a corner. If you break down Lewis’ 2012 season, an argument can be made that the Steelers’ corner was one of the top players at his position. And as I have repeatedly suggested, it’s pretty rare for a player as young and talented as Lewis to hit free agency. Throw in the idea that the Steelers have never developed quality cornerbacks AND are usually not a cap mess and Lewis becomes a very desirable free agent for the Browns.
And yes, compared to Skrine – a decent cover guy but one who is usually physically overmatched – Lewis would be a huge upgrade.
However, the Browns will likely be only one team pursuing Lewis – meaning that a consolation prize of Rodgers-Cromartie, Cason and/or other corners will be a more likely reality. In these cases, Cason really isn’t that different of a player compared to Skrine, while Rodgers-Cromartie is a classic underachieving, soon to be a financial liability type of free agent – particularly for a team that is pressing to fill both a need and replace a previous regime’s player.
Cliff Avril, Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves, etc. vs. Jabaal Sheard
I’m not literally suggesting that a free agent is going to replace Sheard, but then again if we’re reading this from the perspective of a new regime means often unnecessary change, then the possibility at least exists. I’ve given my thoughts on Kruger before and have seen several former Ravens like him before. In that context, Kruger becomes a wildly overpaid former Raven.
As for Avril, I have this distinct feeling that somehow he could replace Sheard – although neither player is a categorical fit to play outside linebacker. But in the interests of avoiding another dumb argument about a scheme that is played 35% of the time, let’s just say that Avril is a talented pass rusher – something that Sheard is becoming. Pairing these two players is a complementary idea – one that could really benefit the Browns’ long dormant pass rush.
Dannell Ellerbe vs. D’Qwell Jackson
Like most people, I like Ellerbe and think he’s been the best Ravens’ linebacker for three years now. However, Ellerbe to Cleveland just doesn’t make sense under the current context of the Browns’ roster. Had both the old and new Browns’ management not affirmed their belief in Jackson’s value, then Ellerbe could be a possibility for Cleveland. However, both players are expensive inside linebackers in a league where inside linebackers are becoming a de-valued position.
Further, the thinking is that Ray Horton knows how to plug in a variety of linebackers in his defense – players with a similar build to Ellerbe and Jackson. In 2012, Daryl Washington had a career year – something that could be reproduced by Jackson in 2013.
Wide Receiver/Special Teams
Julian Edelman vs. Josh Cribbs
I think most Browns’ fans would agree with the sentiment that if Cribbs doesn’t re-sign in Cleveland, then he deserves to play for a winner. Reports have suggested that the 49ers and Patriots could be potential landing spots for Cribbs. As for the Patriots, Cribbs could reprise his role there as an all-purpose, situational talent – the kind of design that was interrupted by Pat Shurmur in 2011. In San Francisco, Cribbs would join a team that still emphasizes and respects quality special teams’ play.
In return, the Browns could land Edelman – a player that like Cribbs, doesn’t exactly play a position and doesn’t always have a role on game days. Using this rationale, we’ll call this one a draw.
Brandon Myers, Jared Cook vs. Jordan Cameron
Despite Rob Chudzinski’s past offenses featuring the position, tight end hasn’t received much media attention in the run up to free agency. However, given the Browns’ limited depth and the new front office’s desire to reshape the roster, it’s almost a certainty that a tight end like Myers has to be added. Given how erratic Jordan Cameron’s short career has performed, Myers would prove an immediate upgrade. As for Cook, he has often wandered into that dangerous tweener type of tight end/wide receiver territory, but still could be the weapon Cameron is not.