Even without a ton of movement in free agency, I think we’ve seen and heard enough to start at least making some educated guesses about what the Browns are thinking and doing. Please save me the cheap jokes about them doing “nothing” in the comments.
Defensive line – Regardless of what you think about Frostee Rucker or Juqua Parker, their signings say a few things. First of all, the Browns probably won’t spend one of their high draft picks on a defensive end. It seemed like even the best defensive linemen in the draft were reaches at #4 anyway, so this is good news. The Browns have Sheard, Taylor, Rubin, Rucker, Parker and holdovers like Marcus Benard, Scott Paxson, Brian Sanford, Brian Schaefering, Emmanuel Stephens and Jayme Mitchell. Hold on there, Jayme Mitchell.
Will Burge from ESPN Cleveland reported on the first day of free agency that Mitchell’s people were trying to contact the Browns, presumably to figure out his future. My guess is they were trying to secure his release. Regardless, the Browns will probably draft a defensive end somewhere in the draft, but it won’t be all that high, considering their signings.
Defensive backs – The Browns did well to re-sign Dimitri Patterson. He played better than many of us expected last year and at 28-years old should still have some gas in the tank. I surmised yesterday that this might give some insight into the potential for Morris Claiborne being the selection at #4. I assumed that the Browns were telegraphing that they don’t want to move Sheldon Brown out of his natural cornerback position in the final year of his deal. Then Mike Adams signed with the Broncos and I started re-thinking it.
I’ve decided that the Browns have pretty good flexibility in the defensive backfield. If Morris Claiborne is the most impactful player available at #4 the Browns can take him and shift some pieces around. In the back of my mind though, I can’t help but think the Browns are pretty high on their young guys like Buster Skrine and yes, even 7th rounder Eric Hagg from Nebraska and maybe even James Dockery who was undrafted from Oregon State. Getting guys like that to produce in backup roles and on special teams is what takes a franchise to the next level. (See Harrison, James – Undrafted 2002)
Quarterbacks – The Browns did in fact make an impressive offer for Robert Griffin III if you choose to believe what Mike Holmgren intimated this week. Regardless if you believe it 100% there is little doubt that the Browns jumped at the chance to put Griffin ahead of Colt McCoy on the depth chart. There is also little doubt that the Browns have not jumped at the chance to put Matt Flynn ahead of Colt McCoy on the Browns’ depth chart. I’m not sure if that is for salary cap reasons or whether the team just isn’t buying the talent level, but it is seeming more and more likely that the Browns will just try to put some premier weapons around Colt McCoy this year and keep looking for a quarterback of the future.
Tom Heckert has spoken highly of some of the draft prospects at the position like Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, but it just doesn’t seem like this is going to be the year for the Browns to draft a QB in the first round. The 4th pick is too high for Tannehill and he’ll most likely be gone by the time #22 comes along. #22 seems to be too high for the Browns to take Brandon Weeden. Unless Weeden falls to the Browns in the second round or the team trades up with the #22, I just don’t see it.
Handicapping the #4 pick – Justin Blackmon – I don’t think Justin Blackmon is A.J. Green level. He might not quite be Julio Jones level either, but he still would be a great addition to the Browns roster and won’t be a reach for them at #4. The market is also pushing the Browns in that direction with the gaudy price tags being assigned to guys like Pierre Garcon, Eddie Royal and Josh Morgan. These signings just scream of Donte’ Stallworth for the Browns a few years ago.
Meanwhile, cross-reference these huge salaries with what pricetag Peyton Hillis got, and that’s why I think the Browns will spend one of their first two draft picks on a receiver and quite possibly the #4 assuming Blackmon doesn’t go to the Vikings at #3.
Of course this is all just speculation and trying to piece things together. There is a lot of mis-direction this time of year and we never know for sure. That being said, one of my Twitter followers said something really brilliant and funny the other day that I hadn’t heard before. Paraphrasing about the Browns, “These guys tell us everything. We just need to listen to the right stuff.”