The upcoming free agency period is right around the corner beginning March 18. Agents and players can begin negotiations with an early mediation period starting on the 16th so that negotiations can be ironed-out and create a signing bonanza on the official signing day.
The Browns have lots of needs, and some key free agents would solve the majority of those needs. Here is a wish list of five athletes GM Andrew Berry should consider signing.
5. Tight end Austin Hooper – Atlanta Falcons
6’,4” 254 pounds, age 25
The Browns have a new head coach which brings into the fold a new offense. Coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense requires a lot of two tight end sets. Hooper has great hands and is a very intelligent player. After his rookie season, he won the starting position and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019.
He had 75 receptions in 2019 for 787 yards with six touchdowns and 93 targets. He had 71 catches the year before so he is used to being targeted quite a bit. Last year he had a mere two drops so he is a sure-handed receiver. During his four seasons in Atlanta he has accumulated 2,244 yards on 214 receptions and 16 touchdowns.
As far as injuries, last year he was tied for the league lead among tight ends in receptions (56) when he sustained an MCL sprain in his knee. He was expected to miss a month of games but was only sidelined for three games. In 2016 and 2018 he suffered a low-risk knee sprain and only missed two games total.
Hooper is a weapon to help Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ new offense. Demetrius Harris was cut February 17 and veteran David Njoku is coming off an injury himself. This duo could become a lethal pair.
The bidding war for Hooper, who runs a 40 time of 4.72, would probably include the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys.
4. EDGE Arik Armstead – San Francisco 49ers
6’, 7” 290 pounds , age 26
Now that the Myles Garrett fiasco has run its course, what is the situation with the other starting defensive end Olivier Vernon? Is he completely healthy? Will he be traded, or maybe waived? Can he play an entire season? There is just too much uncertainty to take any chances on one of the most important positions on the defense.
Armstead could fill Vernon’s void and would be a safety-valve in case Vernon becomes hurt once again. He became the 49ers starter in only his second season. Last year was his breakout season with 54 tackles, two forced fumbles and led the team in sacks with 10. He has an incredible wing-span and a quick first step off the snap.
This player can dominate at times and has a true love for football. He is physical and has several rushing moves that make it difficult for tackles with his long reach. Not the strongest guy on the line, but a very good pass rusher.
3. Linebacker Danny Trevathan – Chicago Bears
6’, 0” 239 pounds, age 29
You may assume the free agent linebacker choice would be Cory Littleton of the Los Angeles Rams or perhaps the Packers’ Blake Martinez. Each are excellent backers and will make any defense a better unit. However, both of these men will command huge contracts, and it is doubtful the Browns will spend big money on a linebacker. If they were inclined, they would simply keep Joe Schobert.
So this list offers up ILB Danny Trevathan instead.
This dude is a tackling machine and a leader. During his eight-year career, he has eclipsed 100 hundred tackles three different years. He is not a great pass rusher, but has very good instincts in the running game. Trevathan is also a good pass defender and can take on much larger tight ends. For his career, he has 35 pass defenses so he is very involved in the passing game. His career tackling numbers are 609 total tackles.
Trevathan would instantly plug into the middle of the Browns’ defense needed experience and tenacity at a lower cost.
2. Free safety Anthony Harris – Minnesota Vikings
6’, 1” 202 pounds, age 28
One thing is for certain: the Browns better get the safety position right. The Vikings have wrangled themselves into cap Hell and want to keep Harris, but unfortunately cannot. The act of releasing him will clear lots of cap space.
Harris is a ball-hawk and very durable. He was the NFL co-leader in interceptions last year (9) with 11 pass defenses and 60 total tackles. He will not come on the cheap however, but will be worth whatever the contract amount he signs. Two words: difference maker.
He is a fearless tackler and seems to be around the ball quite a bit with great anticipation. Pro Football Focus gave him a stellar league-high 91.6 grade for 2019. Harris has versatility as well and can play in the box, slot, as a hybrid linebacker or as a deep free safety.
His best feature is that he is a sure tackler which would be something new in the Browns’ backfield. Harris is classified as a “playmaker” for the defense and shows up every game. Joe Woods was the DB coach in Minnesota when Harris was drafted, so the new Browns’ DC has intimate knowledge of his skills and work ethic.
GM Andrew Berry should spend the money and make Harris one of his priorities.
1. Right tackle Jack Conklin – Tennessee Titans
6’, 6” 308 pounds, age 25
The Browns need bookend tackles after Chris Hubbard’s horrid year while Greg Robinson answered the question of whether the franchise would retain his services after getting busted for possession of 157 pounds of weed. It is difficult for a club to seek out one good tackle, much less two.
Conklin is still a young guy and would instantly solve half their problems. He has 57 starts in just four seasons. Conklin is at the conclusion of his rookie contract to which Tennessee did not accept the fifth-year option thus making him a free agent; but the Titans still want him despite the huge cap space hole they have dug themselves into. His Pro Football Focus rating last year was 78.3 and had the sixth-highest run blocker grade.
He will not come cheap and the Browns should put out the money and sign him to a long-term deal. He has sustained only minor injuries. In 2018 he had a knee sprain (3 games) and he went into concussion protocol (one game). During the playoffs last year, he had a low-risk shoulder sprain.
Conklin is what the Browns need to answer the many questions regarding the offensive line for the 2020 season. With all the talent and firepower on this offense, the substance begins with this unit. The solutions begin with Conklin.