In his weekend mailbag, ESPN's AFC North writer James Walker answered questions from fans about teams in the division. Among the topics asked about regarding the Browns include their interest in Bob Sanders, if they will switch to a 4-3 defense, and whether the team should take a defensive lineman or wide receiver come April.
Brandon from Anna, Ohio, writes: Is free-agent safety Bob Sanders a possibility in Cleveland?
Walker: Not likely, Brandon. Sanders' style is very similar to T.J. Ward's, who is in many ways a younger version of Sanders. It wouldn't serve Cleveland's defense well to have two big hitters at safety, because the Browns would really struggle in pass coverage next season.
I think we'll stay away from Sanders, and I really don't see how any team can offer him a starting role when chances are he'll end up hurt by the second week of the season. The Browns should focus their attention on either bringing Abram Elam back or making a pitch to former Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. The Redskins are already reportedly trying to meet with Atogwe, although it seems like they are meeting with everyone.
DP from Van Nuys, Calif., writes: Any word on whether or not the Browns will be switching back to a 4-3 as speculated?
Walker: The Browns are definitely going to a 4-3 defense. New Cleveland defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is a 4-3 coach. If the Browns wanted to stay in a 3-4, they would have kept Rob Ryan, who left for the Dallas Cowboys.
This is now a foregone conclusion. From making the switch at defensive coordinator to releasing a couple of veteran defensive linemen and linebackers, sticking with the 3-4 now, a system Dick Jauron has never coached in the NFL, would seem a little strange.
Will B. from Tampa, Fla., writes: I'm not sure I understand all of the hand-wringing over what the Browns should do with their first-round pick. The team is converting to a 4-3 defense and just cut about half of their D-line: that's where the pick has to be focused. How many teams have been turned around by an early first-round WR in the last 10 years?
Walker: All valid points that I agree with, Will. Longtime readers of the AFC North blog know that I am strongly against taking receivers in the top 10, no matter how talented they are. Teams picking that high usually have a bevy of needs, and the receiver position is pretty low on the NFL's hierarchy. I've pointed out several examples like receivers Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, who are arguably top five at their position and all play for losing teams. But the Browns have a young quarterback in Colt McCoy and an offensive-minded head coach in Pat Shurmur. In a West Coast offense, Cleveland is going to pass the football a lot more, and going into next season with the same group of receivers is a disaster waiting to happen. McCoy's development and the progress of the West Coast offense are paramount for the Browns in 2011. If neither pan out over the next couple of years the Browns have no shot of catching the Steelers and Ravens. So this year might be the exception for my theory on drafting receivers in the top 10. I'm still torn on this.
I think this is the same predicament Browns fans and the front office will find themselves in on draft day. While I think you can argue that the Browns could also take a cornerback at No. 6 overall, a defensive lineman or a wide receiver seem to be the most likely options. A top-tier receiver seems necessary to set off a chain reaction down our depth chart. A defensive lineman seems necessary because we are depleted up front, and if free agency does not occur before the draft, there is no guarantee we'll be able to address that position after the draft.