The Cleveland Browns will head into free agency later this month with money to spend and roster holes to fill.
While much of the focus will be on fixing a dismal offensive line, the team also needs to take a hard look at the safety position, especially if they let veteran Damarious Randall leave in free agency.
If, as expected, the team moves on from Randall, they will be left with Morgan Burnett, who is coming off an Achilles injury that ended his 2019 season in November, and an interchangeable group of Juston Burris (an unrestricted free agent), J.T. Hassell, Eric Murray (an unrestricted free agent) and Sheldrick Redwine.
That is why it was not surprising to see Pro Football Focus target safety Tre Boston as a player the Browns should pursue when free agency opens on March 18:
The fact Boston hasn’t been able to secure a long-term contract the past several years is baffling. Over the past three seasons, he ranks second in coverage grade among qualifying safeties while playing the fifth-most snaps of any safety in the NFL, and his 27 combined pass breakups and interceptions over those three seasons is fewer than only Kevin Byard. He’s a playmaker on the back end, and that’s something the Browns could use with Damarious Randall up for free agency. Boston would be an upgrade at the position and help in the effort to realize the unfulfilled expectations from the 2019 season in Cleveland.
There is a lot to like about Boston. He will turn 28 this summer, meaning he should be able to perform at a nice level throughout his next contract. As PFF points out, his coverage grade is solid, he has only missed three games the past five seasons, his 11 interceptions are the seventh-most in the league over the past three seasons, and he is a mostly dependable tackler.
There is the question, however, of why Boston is set to enter free agency.
Boston was a fourth-round draft selection of the Carolina Panthers in the 2014 NFL Draft, but the Panthers waived him after three seasons. He then signed a one-year “prove it” deal with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017, another one-year “prove it” deal with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, before returning to the Panthers last year on yet another one-year “prove it” deal.
We’re not sure what the issue is, but no one seems willing to give Boston more than one year on a contract, which should be enough to give Browns general manager Andrew Berry pause.
Just how much Boston wants to be paid could also be an issue, as he made it clear after last season that he was ready to cash in with a deal that would pay him more than the $2.1 million he earned last season, according to The Charlotte Observer:
“Not a little more. It’s time. I told y’all year after year, compare Tre Boston’s stats to the top-10 paid safeties and there’s no difference. So what is stopping them from paying me the same? I’m going out there banged up just like the rest of ‘em. Numbers just like the rest of ‘em. It’s all about getting my worth … they know what I’m worth … I’ve proved it year after year after year.”
The Browns are not hurting for money as they have an estimated $61.9 million in cap space, according to overthecap.com. Some of that money may be earmarked for the offensive line, and Berry has to set some aside for the inevitable extensions for players such as defensive end Myles Garrett and quarterback Baker Mayfield.
So while Boston may fill a need for the Browns, his asking price could prove more than the Browns are willing to take on.