NFL Free Agency began on March 9th, and although the Cleveland Browns made several big moves that day, they’ve been quiet since. None of their additions addressed the defensive side of the ball.
We are a week and a half removed from the start of free agency, and if you refer back to Geoff Schwartz’ column on the “phases” of free agency, we’re right between phase two and phase three. Which players are still available who might be of interest to the Browns? Let’s take a look.
1. SS T.J. McDonald (Rams) - The most glaring standout right now is McDonald for a couple of reasons. First, we already know that the team made a very lucrative offer on Day 1 to SS Tony Jefferson, who ultimately chose to sign with the Baltimore Ravens for lesser money.
The writing is on the wall that they want to upgrade the safety position. Second, Gregg Williams was McDonald’s defensive coordinator for the past three years. He has the experience and youth the team likes, but also some character concerns and the fact that he didn’t have as promising of a past season like Jefferson had. With the connection to Williams, it’d be stunning if Cleveland wasn’t at least considering McDonald.
McDougald has graded inconsistently over his past few seasons of play, with games all over the map from impressive, to average, to disappointing. He has missed double-digit tackles in each of the past three seasons, but he has also successfully completed at least 75 solo tackles in each of the past two. In coverage he has multiple interceptions in each of the past two years of play and notched 13 career pass breakups, and saw his time split between multiple different spots for the Bucs this past season. McDougald played over 1,000 defensive snaps, and was used extensively in the box, deep off the line and even in the slot.
3. WR Kamar Aiken (Ravens) - The Browns were forced to substitute Kenny Britt for Terrelle Pryor this year, but they don’t have a replacement for Andrew Hawkins in the slot yet. That could come via Aiken, who was rumored to have drawn interest from the Browns before free agency even started. When the Ravens’ receiving corp was depleted a few years ago, Aiken delivered. Last year, when the team added several other receivers, Aiken just got pushed down the depth chart by default.
The tricky part about adding Aiken is that Cleveland knows they have several receivers they want to see develop still from a year ago, including Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, and Jordan Payton. If they pay any significant money to Aiken, it basically writes those guys off in terms of playing time again. However, if Aiken is a proven commodity and can be had for relatively cheap, wouldn’t you take the guy who can make your team better now? He’s drawing interest from several contending teams like the Colts and Seahawks, though, which would figure to lessen the Browns’ chances of landing him.
4. CB Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers) - Last year, the Browns took a flier on Jamar Taylor during the draft (for a seventh round pick), and he re-ignited his career and earned a decent contract extension with the club. Besides safety, the Browns have shown interest in the cornerback position this offseason. Part of that might be due to all of the injury issues Joe Haden has had, and the fact that they’d like an “Option B” in their back pocket should they decide to release the veteran cornerback next year. Verner signed a big contract in Tampa Bay a couple of years ago after thriving in Tennessee, but has been a dud. At 28 years old, though, he can still turn things around and an opportunity would present itself to possibly start in Cleveland.
5. ILB Sio Moore (Cardinals) - A third-round pick in 2013 by the Raiders, he had two seasons of starting experience with Oakland before being traded to the Colts in 2015. He was the Colts’ starter to begin 2016, and was the team's leading tackler through four games. He was suddenly released, though, apparently due to some “professionalism” issues -- either character- or assignment-related, I’m not sure. He ended up signing with Arizona at the end of the year for the final four games and continued playing at a high level. Adding him to the mix would give the team depth they’ve long lacked at inside linebacker. But if professionalism is a concern, that might not fly with Gregg Williams, who doesn’t allow for slouching.
6. QB Matt McGloin (Raiders) - What? Where the heck did this name come from? Let’s forget about Brock Osweiler for a second, because I am convinced that Cleveland will find a way to dump him and avoid any form of hostility that him actually playing for the team could bring.
The Browns will need one veteran quarterback on the roster after saying goodbye to Josh McCown. It doesn’t need to be another reclamation project (Colin Kaepernick). It doesn’t need to be a failed starter (Geno Smith). It doesn’t need to be an aging veteran who has struggled (Jay Cutler). Isn’t there just a guy who knows he is a backup quarterback, is between what is deemed “young” vs. “old,” and wouldn’t cost very much money? McGloin’s name jumped out at me for fitting the bill, and Oakland has already signed E.J. Manuel to replace him.
7. NT Sean Lissemore (Chargers) - After missing all of last season with a shoulder injury and Cleveland having let Stephen Paea walk in free agency, a one-year deal with Lissemore could provide some depth at nose tackle behind Danny Shelton, while also offering the upside of a player (29 years old) still looking to show that he can contribute. There is obviously a bigger name still out there in DT Johnathan Hankins, but a recent report said that he’s asking for $10 million a year. Not going to happen.
These were some of the players who caught my eye. Which free agents would you still be interested in the Browns signing, whether they be high- or low-profile players?