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Browns' Top Priorities in 2008 Free Agency

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Last year, I listed my top six wants for free agency. I was fairly accurate with it, as the Browns were able to get my No. 1 and No. 5 players in Eric Steinbach and Robaire Smith, respectively. Last year, there were some very attractive options available to the Browns on defense: cornerback Nate Clements and linebacker Adalius Thomas. Both players signed lucrative deals elsewhere though, something that really turned me off to certain players in this year's pool.

Crennel reportedly has an interest in cornerback Asante Samuel. So do I, but so does every other team in the league. And although Clements didn't seem to be worth what the San Francisco 49ers paid for him last season, I think Samuel's years of consistency against higher-level teams (since the Patriots always finish atop their division, and make the postseason), would make him a more reliable signing. I just can't see investing all of that money in him when our real problem that continues to irk me is the defensive line / linebacker situation. We can make due with Leigh Bodden, Eric Wright, and Sean Jones. And, with some more maturity from Brodney Pool and Brandon McDonald, I don't think there's any reason to focus too much early on in the secondary.

What other position (besides DL/LB) needs to be addressed? The wide receiver position. Braylon Edwards is money. Kellen Winslow is ace. But, we need another piece to the puzzle. Joe Jurevicius will probably retire after this season, meaning we'll need someone else on the roster that has one year's worth of chemistry with our offense. And, I think we've learned from the Crennel era that if players haven't gotten their chance in the first couple of seasons (Travis Wilson, Jerome Harrison, and Isaac Sowells), then they aren't going to get their chance.

Unfortunately, this year's free agency pool hardly supports our needs compared to last year. We needed an offensive lineman, and one of the best in the game, Eric Steinbach, was there for the taking. We needed a running back, and Jamal Lewis filled the void. This year, all of the attractive defensive tackles have re-signed with their teams before hitting free agency. Heck, the two players that I called for the Browns to sign the other day -- Tommy Kelly and Isaac Sopoaga -- were re-signed over the past two days. While the Browns still need upgrades, it does us even greater harm if we waste money on a lower talent just to fill a roster spot. If we didn't get "our guy", it's probably better, unfortunately, to wait, or take a gamble on someone in the draft.

LB Calvin Pace could be the Browns' top priority Friday when free agency starts.
With that said, here is my top five list for this year. Remember, this list doesn't list the best five players on the market, but rather a collective group of guys that I'd like the Browns to pursue:
  1. CALVIN PACE, OLB, ARIZONA CARDINALS: A first-round pick from the 2003 draft, Pace is coming off of a breakout season with the Cardinals. Besides being a good tackler (my, oh my, how badly have the Browns needed one of those?), he is capable of generating a pass rush better than anyone other than Kamerion Wimbley can generate on our team. Just like the Browns released Orpheus Roye, I expect the Browns to either part ways or significantly limit the playing time of Willie McGinest. Pace would also require less dough than Lance Briggs, who I would be all over if the Browns already had an established defensive line. Career Stats
  2. D.J. HACKETT, WR, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: This guy is an absolute stud at the receiver position, and would be more affordable than the No. 1 money that Bernard Berrian is asking for. Hackett's big issue since entering the league is staying healthy though -- he only played in six games this past season. Still, every time he played, he not only produced, he made the receivers around him better. Hackett also has some ties with receiver Joe Jurevicius in Seattle during the Seahawks' Super Bowl season. If Hackett became a starter for us after Jurevicius retired, it'd give him more time to get healthy as a third receiver this year before taking over the following year. Career Stats
  3. TRAVIS LABOY, DE, TENNESSEE TITANS: As much as this option became less interesting after losing the possibility to sign Tommy Kelly, the Browns still need to add some depth on the defensive line. Losing Roye and Simon Fraser, the Browns still do need to sign someone. And, I almost have to say that I'd only be interested in LaBoy if the Browns are not able to sign Pace. If we sign Pace and LaBoy, we'd pretty much have three similar type of players in Pace, LaBoy, and Antwan Peek. Career Stats
  4. DARWIN WALKER, DT, CHICAGO BEARS: I feel like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel, and I don't like it. Walker signed way too large of a deal with the Bears last season and they opted out of his contract. Compared to the guys that remain in the field for defensive linemen though, Walker has some of the most recent experience as a starter in two fundamentally sound defensive teams (Philadelphia and Chicago).
  5. TY LAW, CB, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: What? Is this one coming out of left field? Law is definitely past his prime, but he has pretty much been healthy for his entire career. This may seem like Crennel's "Willie McGinest" signing for the secondary, but I think it'd come with a little bit of a different element. It doesn't look like Daven Holly will be back, and I don't want Kenny Wright back either. Our secondary was filled with injury problems last year, and Law has plenty of starting experience to step in and offer his abilities in a serviceable role. Plus, he's always had a knack for intercepting Peyton Manning, and we do face the Colts this year. Career Stats

That list looks ugly compared to my list from last season. I originally thought the Browns would be big players in free agency, but from looking at what's available it doesn't seem to be worth it. I'll be ecstatic if we get Pace and Hackett, but I know other teams will be gunning for those guys as well. LaBoy will probably be overpaid by someone who wants to invest in his potential, and Walker/Law are more so my "wild guesses" than actual desirings.