With the NFL Free Agency drawing closer every day, we're going to continue to discuss free agent targets for the Cleveland Browns at each major position. We've already taken a look at potential free agent QBs, RBs, and WRs. Today we move on to the defensive line.
Fortunately, the Browns have the starting defensive tackles figured out, barring any unforeseen injuries, with Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor. This piece will primarily focus on the free agents at defensive end, which is a position that the Browns still have a glaring weakness at. Luckily, our 2011 second round pick Jabaal Sheard has turned out quite well with 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in his rookie season, but the Browns still need a legitimate pass rusher on the other side. Check out some of the potential targets after the jump.
- Mario Williams (HOU - 27) – Mario Williams is probably the best defensive lineman in this year's free agent class. Bernie19Kosar has already gone into detail about how and why the Browns should aggressively pursue Williams. However, in a recent report, Williams said that he wants to stay with the Houston Texans and that becoming the highest paid defensive end isn't his goal.
- Cliff Avril (DET - 25) – If Mario Williams is the best defensive end in this class, Cliff Avril is a fantastic consolation prize, which even then sounds like an understatement. Of Cliff Avril's four seasons in the NFL, he recorded his best most recently in 2011. In addition to his 36 combined tackles, he had a career high 11 sacks, six forced fumbles, and an interception returned for a touchdown. He, too, wants to stay with his current team, the Detroit Lions, but he wants a long-term deal and would consider holding out if he's hit with the franchise tag.
- Calais Campbell (ARI - 25) – Calais Campbell is another 2008 draft pick that has had his best season in 2011. He recorded career highs across the board with 72 combined tackles, eight sacks, 10 passes defended, two forced fumbles, and one interception. While he does play in the Arizona Cardinal's 3-4 defensive scheme, some have suggested that he may be an even better fit in a 4-3. Still, the team's general manager Rod Graves made it clear that they won't let Campbell go.
- Robert Mathis (IND - 30) – Robert Mathis has been one of the most consistent pass rushers over the past eight years. Even with the Indianapolis Colt's most recent struggles, Mathis, who turns 31 in a few days, hasn't slowed down. It remains to be seen whether or not the Colts will franchise tag Mathis. If he does hit the open market and the other top DEs return to their respective former teams, Mathis could be in for a big pay day. He's proven he's still got something left despite his age, but the Browns have been devoted to getting younger. I still think he'd be a great fit here if the price is right.
- John Abraham (ATL - 33) – Speaking of consistent veterans, John Abraham is right behind Mathis in this free agent class. At 33, he recorded 9.5 sacks last season, which is equal to Mathis. Abraham will turn 34 before the start of training camp. The question is: How much does he have left in the tank? If he's available, and the Browns don't address the position with someone else, I wouldn't mind throwing a one or two-year flier his way.
Remember, if you think there is a potential FA, such as a depth adding DT, that the Browns should target that might have been overlooked or is even just worth mentioning, feel free to discuss that here. As always, think of this as a free agency open thread dealing with the defensive line.