Here we are once again, the time of endless speculation, hope, and likely anger, that characterizes a Cleveland Browns offseason. As free agency warms up, and the combine around the corner we are all trying to figure out just what the Browns can do this offseason in an attempt to escape the seemingly indefinite black hole of mediocrity. Now, I am not going to try and say that these moves will result in a Super Bowl next year, or knowing us even a playoff berth. What I have done, is set out the moves which I think would greatly improve the team, and at the very least keep us moving forward. Understandably, there are countless combinations of moves that we could make, and everyone has their own opinion on what is best, but here is my opinion on the ideal Browns offseason.
I have broke down the offseason into three categories; In-house moves, free agency, and the draft. These moves are based on team needs, realistic options, and salary cap considerations. Given how unpredictable salaries are as far as years, bonuses and guaranteed money vs. actual salary, I have dealt only with cap hits. Also keep in mind that, in-house moves affect free agency, and free agency affects the draft, but I have attempted to make a cohesive plan across the phases.
Restructure D'Qwell Jackson's contract (current cap hit 2014: 9.4 million)
- D'Qwell is obviously one of the big leaders on the defense, and while he is definitely still productive, he is getting older, and not producing at Pro-Bowl levels. His 9.4 million cap hit for 2014 would make him one of the leagues highest paid ILB's behind the likes of Posluzny and Lawrence Timmons. Jackson is an example of a great player with a terrible contract. I think restructuring his contract down to the 5-6 million range is possible, and would open up some more cap space. It would likely take a multi-year extension and guaranteed money.
Cut Brandon Weeden (cap savings 2.2 million)
- Don't think much explanation is needed here.
Restructure Ahtyba Rubin's contract (current cap hit 2014: 8.2 million)
- While his contract is not nearly as bad as Jackson's, I still think that we would be well suited to drop this contract down a bit. Again, Rubin is highly productive, and an asset that I want to see us keep long term. Despite this, the 8.2 million hit, is 5th highest among DT's. Unless he makes a Pro-Bowl effort this year, I think his value sits closer to 6.4 million, which is what Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams hover around.
Cut Davone Bess (cap savings 3.1 million)
- Again, no brainer here.
Resign Alex Mack and T.J. Ward (projected cap hit 8- 8.5 million each)
- Good teams don't let Pro-Bowlers walk. We are attempting to rebuild a team here, and letting two proven talents walk here would be a mistake. As for the Franchise tag option, I would be fine using it on Ward for 8 million or so, but ultimately I think Ward has consistently improved and worth holding on to. The way I see it, we have the money to do it, especially if we can restructure a few deals. Keep our talent here and pay them.
Free Agency: Goal was to keep this modest, but make a big impact at our trouble spots. Keep in mind we have big contracts we will likely have to shell out in the near future.
Cap numbers vary, but It seems like we will have between 35-45 million in cap space, which some of that should go to our own guys.
High Priority Targets:
Jairus Byrd: (Expected contract of 8-9 million)
- Looking at a defense like Seattle, dominant safeties can make a difference. The connection with Pettine is obvious, and Byrd has spoken highly of his former coach. Another selling point is that he played at Oregon with Ward, the two appear to be good friends, and recently spent time at the Pro-Bowl together. I think Byrd is a realistic target given his connections, the question is whether Banner will change his mind on how he values safeties. Ward and Byrd could be one of the most dominant safety combos in the league.
Jon Asamoah: (Expected contract 5-6 million)
- Asamoah is one of the most under rated guards in the game. He contributed heavily to KC's high powered rushing attack, and theres no question we need help on the line. There will likely be a lot of teams in the running, but given our cap position we can probably make a strong play.
Santana Moss (replaces the veteran presence Bess was supposed to provide)
Zane Beadles (secondary, but still solid option as a target to beef up our line)
1a) Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M
1b) Allen Robinson WR Penn St.
2a) Carlos Hyde RB Ohio St.
2b) TRADE (Looking at draft values, we can likely trade our 1st third round pick, and our 2nd fourth rounder to get into the mid-late second round) Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB Nebraska
3) Josh Huff WR Oregon
4) Lamin Barrow ILB LSU
5) D'anthony Thomas RB Oregon
6) Crockett Gilmore TE Colorado St.
7) J.C. Copeland FB LSU
I didn't provide descriptions for the draft, due largely to the fact that it is hard to predict who will be available when, and also after the combine things will likely change. It is offense heavy, but I think thats where we need to improve the most. I will say, as far as the QB argument that we should take Watkins and then a QB later, I think our most glaring need is QB. Watkins is clearly a stud, but having two WR1's is a luxury that I honestly don't think we can afford at this point. I think we end up in an overall better place taking Manziel (or even Bridgewater) and then still taking a very talented Robinson or Beckham Jr. I do like Hoyer, and he might be a viable option for a few games, but he is not the answer long term. We need a guy like Manziel who has a nature ability to make plays, and his attitude cannot be overlooked for a team attempting to rebrand itself.
Like I said earlier there are a ton of ways this offseason could go, but hopefully the team can gain some strong talent, and continue moving forward. I am not going to say this is the only way to go about things, but in my mind, this is a good start.