It would appear that the NFL lock-out is close to being over. We’ve tried to curb our enthusiasm on the possibility of such in the last few weeks, because we simply didn’t want to be burned if negotiations went south again. But perhaps it is time for optimism to abound again.
This has been the worst NFL off-season in quite some time. The Browns called for a line change on the coaching staff, but there has been nothing to talk about for months even with the changes. The lock-out has robbed us of the joy of off-season trade and free agent chatter, which is probably the least of our worries concerning the labor stoppage, but none the less.
Assuming the lock-out ends and the ‘new season’ can begin soon, there is one important thing I think the Browns need to do ASAP.
With the salary cap number being tossed around at $120 million, give or take a few, the Browns are reportedly sitting around $99 million, before signing rookies and such. They could potentially save a few million by players becoming free agents earlier because of the bargaining agreement or by getting rid of a couple of contracts (cough, Delhomme). Regardless, they have a little money to shop with.
Before they address the defensive line through free agency. Before they sign any kind of receiving help. Before they add a single player to the defensive backfield, I have a suggestion.
Call Joe Thomas.
Ask him if he’d like to make $10 million instead of $8 this season. Work out a new deal before he becomes a free agent next season. I’m serious. There isn’t a more important free agent signing the Browns are likely to work out this year than to lock up Thomas for the future.
After Thomas there are a lot of names that intrigue, but it is almost too soon to start looking at such a list. Almost.
Dallas DE/DT Stephen Bowen is a name that interests me. Dallas would love Bowen to return, but may be staring at a salary cap crisis. Bowen is the pass rush specialist that attracts attention from the media and fans, but he is very good against the run, and is only 27 years old. He could be the extra inside lineman the Browns need with Rubin and Phil Taylor. He also won’t break the bank.
In the secondary, if the Browns are ready to move on from Abe Elam, the name I’d like to see added is Quintin Mikell. Does Tom Heckert have enough to pry him away from the Eagles? Probably not. In which case the Browns could be staring straight at Donte Whitner. To be honest, I don’t see that as a tremendous upgrade from Elam at the FS spot. We have our SS of the future. Perhaps this isn’t the right time to grab a safety in free agency.
Forget the big name corners on the market this year. The Browns should target Baltimore’s Josh Wilson. The 26 year old is in the same boat as Eric Wright when it comes to contract status- in limbo. If he becomes an unrestricted free agent the Browns should do what they can to line him up opposite Joe Haden. If he is a restricted free agent, the odds are the Ravens wouldn’t keep him, having to resign Chris Carr and just drafting Jimmy Smith.