As the clock strikes 4pm and the new NFL year begins (and with it free agency) the Browns could potentially lose four more offensive linemen. OT Tony Pashos was released yesterday. That would be five linemen, who combined to start 16 games for the Browns last season, and had 41 game appearances between them.
And the truth is, with one key signing, and perhaps a pick mid-draft, the Browns wouldn’t miss a beat.
Set to become unrestricted free agents today are Oniel Cousins, John Greco, Artis Hicks and Steve Vallos. Between the four of those players, they counted $4 million against the cap last season. The Browns could decide to retain one or more between now and the beginning of free agency by agreeing to a new deal, or they could just as easily wait and see what players they are able to come to agreements with and offer deals later. None of these guys will be the first off the board at 4:01 today.
The player that became available yesterday, and should be target #1 for the Browns, is former Texan RT Eric Winston. Winston (28) was a third round round pick in 2006. Since then, he has started in 87 of Houston’s 92 games. That’s durability. Not only is Winston durable, but he is widely considered one of the top right tackles in football.
The Texans simply did not have money to pay all the players that became free agents this year. We know about Mario Williams and Arian Foster, but the Texans also had Center Chris Meyers to sign. Additionally, they would like to be players in the market for a WR. The numbers just didn’t add up to keep Winston.
He was set to make between $4.5 and 5.5 million dollars this season, depending on where you get your contract information from. Teams like Oakland, Miami and Denver could be in play for Winston. Possibly Arizona if they are trying to woo Peyton Manning. The Browns would need to move fast and make a decent offer.
The Browns though aren’t usually ones to get into bidding wars with free agents, and that’s what could happen with Winston.
With Steinbach coming back from injury this season, the Browns should be set at four of the five spots. Jason Pinkston started at left guard in Steinbach’s place as a rookie and improved as the season went along. Pinkston played tackle at Pitt, but perhaps the best spot for him in the NFL is guard. He could shift from the left guard spot to the right with no problem, with Lauvao backing him up.
There are several great guards available in free agency, should the Browns decide to give Pinkston a shot at the RT spot. Carl Nicks of the Saints is the top notch name available, and will be paid as such. Former Eagle Evan Mathis is good, but at his age isn’t a long term solution. Baltimore’s Ben Grubbs would be an interesting signing.
There is always the possibility that the Browns end up sitting at #4 in the draft and USC’s Matt Kalil slides to them. Would the Browns pull the trigger and have the right and left tackle spots locked up for years to come?