by Mario Granata
The Cleveland Browns of 2014 seemed to fall apart near the end of the season dropping their last 5 games of the season after starting an impressive 7-4. First year Head Coach Mike Pettine brought his tough, attacking defense to northeast Ohio and for the most part, proved to be very successful. The defense went from being ranked 23rd in 2013 to 9th this season in points surrendered per game. Much of that could be the offseason moves that were made, but the ultimate question in Cleveland is what are the Browns going to do with their offense?
If the movie Draft Day had a sequel, I doubt it would have the Browns having two 1st round picks for the second consecutive season. After a draft day trade in 2014 with the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland will now have selections in the 12th and 19th places, and could go in many directions with it. First round picks are like gold when free agency hits, and especially on draft day, so the Browns have many options open for the 2015 season. Having 51.7 millions dollars of cap space doesn’t exactly hurt either.
The Browns have a new OC in John DeFilippo, who spent 2012-2014 as a quarterbacks coach for the Raiders. Hopefully he will be better than his predecessor when it comes to targeting his running backs. Last season Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell COMBINED for 20 receptions. True, they both ran for a combined 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns, but when they aren’t options in the pass game, the pressure mounts on the quarterback.
As stated above the Browns have over 50 million dollars to sign some big name free agents this offseason, and although Pettine is a defensive coach there has to be some key additions to the offense but no real restructuring needs to take place. Here are a few of the headliners on the Browns:
T Joe Thomas, who was selected to his 8th consecutive Pro Bowl, and who hasn’t missed a game in his career, is set to make 10.2 million this season.
CB Joe Haden is a shutdown corner, who is key in the type of defense that Pettine wants to run, will be making 11.7 million in 2015.
C Alex Mack didn’t miss a game prior to the 2014 season, was given the transition tag last season, and only appeared in 5 games, will be making 8 million.
TE Jordan Cameron heads the list of free agents for the Browns. In his 4 years in Cleveland, Cameron has yet to play a full season and there are some questions that come with a player who has a history of concussions, so a lucrative long-term deal doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Cameron. If the Browns sign him, look for a highly incentive laced deal, otherwise he will be wearing a different jersey in 2015.
DT Ahtyba Rubin has spent the last 7 seasons in Cleveland and should garner a heaft price tag. In Pettine’s 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle is paramount, and with no other notable 3-4 DTs on the market, if the Browns don’t sign Rubin, they will have to replace him in the draft, or even take a shot and throw a big contract at either Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley or Stephen Paea.
Holding the 12th and 19th picks in the draft will give the Browns some negotiating room when the clock strikes 8pm on April 30th. Look for the Browns to take an offensive player with both of their picks to give this defense some help. Everyone knows how historically bad the Browns have been, to the tune of only being in the Top 20 in offensive production twice since 1999. Yeah, that bad.
While most of the “experts” have the Browns going with Eddie Goldman DE/DT (FSU), Vic Beasley (Clemson) or even Benardrick McKinney (Miss St.), and even though the Browns shocked everyone by taking Justin Gilbert with the 9th pick last year, don’t expect them to bolster that defense early. Now, true, all three of these players would bring something very special to the defense, but if the Browns are of the mindset of winning every game 9-0, they will have to have some offensive weapons for 2015.
WR Kevin White (WVU) is a big target (6’3”) and could make some noise for the Browns next season. With the current suspension of Josh Gordon, and the current core of Travis Benjamin (5’10”), Andrew Hawkins (5’7”) and Taylor Gabriel (5’8”), any receiver over six feet would be a welcome addition. If the Browns don’t make a run at some free agent wide receivers, look for them to select White.
WR Devin Smith (Ohio State) coming off an impressive 2014 campaign has the speed to go to the next level. Also has the ability to get off the line and avoid the jam. A little smaller than White, Smith has excellent body control, but needs to work more on technique.
WR Jaelen Strong (ASU) has the height of White, but not the game breaking speed, which led to a lot of contested, catches during 2014. Can get open over the middle, and isn’t afraid of contact. If the Browns want a sure handed receiver, who can make the tough catches, Strong will be a nice addition.
With a lot of options for the Browns, it would come to no surprise if they were to bundle one of their two draft picks in the first round to jump some teams for a franchise quarterback. Cap space, and picks are hard to come by, and if they can secure a 5th year option for a franchise player, they can make some moves to solidify their roster.
With the offense of the Browns being as bad as they were, and with a lot of cap room to work with, they can throw some money at a high profile playmaker starting March 10th. Now, while it is unlikely that the Browns will get Demaryius Thomas this offseason, Torrey Smith isn’t completely out of the question. The Ravens already said that they aren’t going to “break the bank” for Smith, probably the result of Joe Flacco’s contract, but nevertheless, Smith would be welcome addition. Also, playing against the Ravens twice a year doesn’t hurt either.
A name that people are reluctant to throw around is Mark Sanchez and the only reason it seems relevant now is because of DeFilippo. Prior to being on the Raiders staff, DeFilippo was in the same position with the New York Jets in 2009. He understands that a team can make some noise defensively, have a solid running game, and a quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes; a concept that Brian Hoyer failed to learn in 2014. DiFilippo worked with Sanchez as a rookie, but he now has 70 starts under him, and could help the Browns turn the corner. With the two-headed monster of West and Crowell, a game breaking receiver, and a punishing defense, maybe the Browns return to a place they haven’t seen since 2002; the playoffs.
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