In Cleveland, the free agent player signing period got off to a quick start for the Browns with the signing of Jack-LB Paul Kruger.
Kruger’s deal with the Browns is five-year, 41-million dollar deal.
Shortly following the Kruger addition, the Browns announce a deal with DE/DT Desmond Bryant, formerly of the Oakland Raiders. Bryant a potential five-tech defensive lineman in the Browns defensive scheme inked a deal worth 34-million over five-years.
The Browns wasted little time again in bolstering the OLB position, signing former Cardinals OLB Quentin Groves.
Playing under Browns defensive coordinator in Arizona, Groves is viewed as a valuable veteran that can play either OLB position, providing quality, depth and experience to a Browns defense in transition.
In the first 3 days, the new Browns brass seemed to push the envelope in transitioning the team from a traditional 4-3, under former coordinator Dick Jauron, to an attacking style 3-4 base under Ray Horton, a disciple of Steelers DC Dick LeBeau.
A position of great need is the cornerback position. Veteran Sheldon Brown will not return for the 2013 season as the Browns are looking in other directions.
Those other directions have not been kind to the Browns early in the free agency season, as numerous starting quality cornerbacks have signed deals across the league, while the Browns have been left on the outside looking in.
Adding the likes of Chris Owens and Kevin Barnes are good for depth purposes, but not the type of signings which will provide the Cleveland defense with a proven presence opposite CB Joe Haden.
Interestingly, the Browns remain in contact with arguably the best free agent CB on the market, Brent Grimes of the Atlanta Falcons.
Grimes, who is coming off a 2012 Achilles injury has had a remarkable recovery from surgery and has been exceeding rehab parameters in his workout performances.
It is believed the Browns have offered a multi-year contract to the free agent CB, with the player expected to make a decision (Atlanta, Miami and Cleveland being considered) on where he will play within the next week.
The market for CB’s in the first week of free agency was disappointing for the players, as teams refused to jump at the top-dollar contract some pedestrian type players were commanding.
Presently, Cleveland is not really an attractive destination for various reasons.
The organization has a history of losing (one playoff appearance since their return in 1999), continuous organizational change and direction and the climate isn’t the hot-spot many of the younger league player clamor for.
Now, if a player seeks an opportunity, believes in what the team is doing, has ties to the staff or community, then Cleveland becomes a better option.
It also doesn’t hurt when the Browns offer contracts compensating players at the high-end of the scale.
Finding That Starting CB
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s roots may be the greatest asset the Browns acquired this off-season.
Aggressive coach, aggressive defensive scheme and a solid background of getting the most out of talent secured.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted four defensive backs in the last ten years in the third round or earlier in the draft.
In free agency, they’ve never needed to spend big money on defensive backs in the last ten years, simply because the system isn’t designed for it being a large necessity. They attack and move forward with a fierce, yet controlled recklessness. They use their linebackers and safety Troy Polamalu to force opposing QBs into making quick decisions under duress.
As for the cornerbacks, they look for them to play smart, fundamental, physical, and aggressive. They do not go after the guy with the best of workout numbers and statistics. They go with guys that prove their worth on the field which is why they have been DB rich for the past ten seasons.
Fortunately, this upcoming draft is pretty deep for the position. For top end, you have Dee Milliner and Xavier Rhodes as the cream of the crop. A positive note for the Browns is that behind those two, there is a lot of equality within about the next ten prospects.
Desmond Trufant has a few negatives, but he tops the next wave of corners along with Jon Banks, Blidi Wreh Wilson, the rising Jamar Taylor, amongst others.
The draft is where the Browns will find their guy to play opposite Joe Haden.
Mississippi State prospect Darius Slay or Southeastern Louisiana’s Robert Alford are two players likely to be available to the Browns in the third round. As a pure cover guy, Slay is one of the best in the draft. Unfortunately, Slay is worse than former Browns CB Eric Wright in run support.
Alford, on the other hand, seems a much more schematic and stylistic fit for Horton’s defensive scheme. He has very good ball skills, smooth hips, does well in closing and getting his head turned to make a play on the ball, as well as his ability to give physical support in defending the run.
Alford is relatively comparable to Keenan Lewis (New Orleans) after watching him in Senior Bowl Practices and game conditions.
A wild card would be Leon McFadden in the fourth round. The only way I see them taking a corner higher is in a trade down scenario, moving outside of the top-ten and taking Rhodes in the first round.
No need to panic Browns fans! With a good selection of talent in the draft at the corner position and the fact that Horton’s roots has a track record of finding very good corners on day-two of the draft and beyond, the need doesn’t seem as pressing as most seem to think.