Joshua Cribbs can relax since he isn't a free agent, but I'm sure he'll still be watching the headlines closely to see who the Cleveland Browns pick up.
At 4:00 PM EST today, a lot of players across the NFL will officially become free agents. The Cleveland Browns still have several key players who they have not been able to reach new contracts with, including RB Peyton Hillis, CB Dimitri Patterson, and S Mike Adams. There are other players on the Browns who are set to become free agents too, so let's take a quick look at each of them, as well as a few players the team has outright released.
Top Tier Free Agents
*RB Peyton Hillis - I have made no secret about my desire for the Browns to retain Hillis. It is certainly understandable why a deal has not been reached yet, because there are questions as to what type of player Hillis can be. Is he the durable back who made fans fall for him two years ago in his first season with Cleveland, or is he a high-risk investment due to the nagging injuries he suffered last year (and earlier in his career)? Reaching a fair-value point based on two very different seasons of work is a tough thing to do. Hopefully there aren't any other teams that jump at Hillis, because that will mean that Cleveland has another offseason need to fill. A full review on Hillis can be read here.
*CB Dimitri Patterson - Good nickel backs are not easy to find, but Patterson was very good when he was on the field last year. He did everything that Dick Jauron and the team could have possibly wanted from that position, and it would be pretty odd to just let him walk and believe someone else can be plugged in with the same level of success. Patterson wants to test the free agent market, perhaps to drive up his value, but that doesn't mean the Browns aren't interested in him. A full review on Patterson can be read here.
*S Mike Adams - We've seen Adams hit free agency and end up re-signing with the Browns once before, so he could be doing that same tactic. The alternative, of course, is that he wants to play for a team that is more likely to be in playoff contention. The thing that has been made pretty clear is that the front office would like to retain both Patterson and Adams. Considering Adams started all 16 games at safety last year, if the team doesn't plan on acquiring a top-name safety this year, they'd be wise to up their offer to keep Adams. A full review on Adams can be read here.
Middle of the Road Free Agents
*TE Alex Smith - The Browns could be ready to not only explore a tight end beyond an Alex Smith, but one beyond a Benjamin Watson. Is someone like John Carlson a possibility? Smith was used heavily last season due to his "versatility" as being a decent receiver and blocker, but with a surplus of tight ends already on the roster, it is not imperative that the Browns keep Smith on the roster. A full review on Adams can be read here.
The Rest of the Bunch
You may not have even known these guys were free agents:
*OT Oniel Cousins, OL Artis Hicks - I didn't really care for either signing when it was made. Both veterans filled in for right tackle Tony Pashos at certain points of the season, and it wasn't a pretty sight. Neither of these guys should be retained.
*OG John Greco, C Steve Vallos - Color me surprised if a team actually ends up meeting with one of these guys in the first couple of weeks of free agency. Both of them could be re-signed by the Browns just so they can compete for a spot in training camp; Greco seemed to play decent in one game a year ago, and Vallos was considered the team's backup center.
*P Brad Maynard - I comment Maynard for the job he did 100 percent. At this stage of his career, Maynard is not the type of player a team signs early in free agency. He'll make his money just like he did last year -- wait for a team to suffer an injury at the punter position, and then come in as the replacement. If Reggie Hodges doesn't end up being the same punter he was pre-injury, maybe Cleveland even brings him back at some point.
These players are technically free agents before the free agency period begins since they were just released:
*OT Tony Pashos - As reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer on Monday, Pashos was "really upset" about being released by the Browns after playing on a ruptured tendon last season. Pashos was set to make $3.35 million in 2012, but will now only get a guaranteed $1 million in injury-protection, per the report. I appreciate the fact that Pashos played hurt last season; he took quite a bit of ridicule given his status, and still played half-way decent (compared to the rest of our alternatives) in my opinion. However, the team clearly needs to upgrade at the right tackle position, and this is a good business decision. Sorry, Pashos.
*P Richmond McGee - He had a few shanks last preseason, and suffered a season-ending injury in pre-game warmups of Week 1. He was just released by the team after spending all of last season on the injured reserve. Unless it is to be training camp fodder, there's no need to bring him back.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Three players have this title: WR Jordan Norwood, LB Titus Brown, and DT Brian Schaefering. As long as the Browns announce that they have applied "tenders" to these three players before today's deadline, no other team can negotiate with them. I think all three players will definitely be tendered because there is really no reason not to. Norwood and Brown, in particular, could evolve into key contributors, while Schaefering is good for depth.
Honestly, the Browns don't have a lot of free agents. That is one big reason I hope they end up being a big spender in free agency -- not in terms of quantity of players, but in terms of one or two high-impact players.