The Browns are literally just pieces away from becoming one of the NFL’s best clubs. Yeh, you read that right.
This past season, with the addition of head coach Kevin Stefanski who was subsequently named NFL Coach-of-the-Year, Cleveland is finally on the uptick with not only securing a winning record, but a playoff berth plus a 48-37 playoff win over division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. That alone should be mentioned in every article.
And for 2021, the expectations are even higher now that Cleveland fans have had a taste of what success finally looks like in the modern era.
Those final critical pieces could come in April’s college draft, but more importantly, via free agency which begins March 17. Last year, GM Andrew Berry signed several key players which produced or were key ingredients.
Backup QB Case Keenum brought forth stability and a veteran presence in case Baker Mayfield was to become injured. DE Adrian Clayborn, thought to be veteran depth, filled in nicely when Olivier Vernon was hurt late in the season and started two games while playing in 15. Safety Karl Joseph became one of the defensive backfield’s strengths at times. RT Jack Conklin was the key plum to fixing the offensive line’s woes. TE Austin Hooper came with Pro Bowl hardware and hopefully will become more involved in the future.
So Berry must continue to make the correct choices this year with his free agent signings.
In order of importance, here are six 2021 free agents the Browns should target.
DT Ndamukong Suh – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2020 cap hit: $8 million
2021 salary projection: One year, $6.75 million
Matt Wood: When you think about advancement in the NFL, you consider what it would take to win your division and defeat the clubs in your conference. How do you beat teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens?
Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. There is no bigger priority for the Browns this off-season. As we saw in the Super Bowl, if you want to beat Mahomes, you have to speed him up. What better way than to grab Suh on a possible short-term deal? No, he wasn’t even the best DT on his team, but in a pinch he could add some punch to the Browns interior that desperately needs it.
Suh has reached the hired gun phase of his career. Would he be willing to come to Cleveland on a one-year deal? I’m guessing money will be the most important factor here.
LB Lavonte David – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2020 cap hit: $10.75 million
2021 salary projection: Three years, $40 million
Matt Wood: Back to the Super Bowl champions. David has some miles on the tires, but you could drop him onto the Browns and not have to use a high draft pick on a LB would be a luxury the Browns could use as they retool the defense. David would allow the Browns to grab a handful of LB’s in the middle rounds and see what shakes out between them, Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson and company.
Would David be willing to sign a short-term deal? If he does, he would be a great addition to a LB group that is severely lacking.
CB Troy Hill – Los Angeles Rams
2020 cap hit: $4.44 million
2021 salary projection: Two years, $10.5 million
Barry Shuck: A very versatile player who can play either outside position or shines in the slot. Hill is often assigned the opposing team’s best receiver, is physical and is excellent in run support. Had 546 snaps this past season so he is durable and remains on the field in any situation. Would provide the Browns with a solid veteran presence especially since Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams have had injury issues.
And can come in on the cheap. Started all 16 games for the Rams this past season with 77 total tackles and three picks.
S Marcus Williams – New Orleans Saints
2020 cap hit: $1.99 million
2021 salary projection: Four years, $57 million
Barry Shuck: Williams is a very talented player. A former second-round pick, he is solid with run defense and ranks in the 90th percentage of forced interceptions in the league. This past year he had 59 total tackles, seven pass defenses and three picks. Williams is only 24 and still has upside.
His best football is still probably in front of him and would provide the defensive backfield another veteran in case Grant Delpit isn’t ready physically or athletically to compete. DC Joe Woods plays a lot of 4-2-5 so he will need another good safety. Plus, it is better to have three good safeties on the roster instead of two and one you assume (Delpit) will come back from injury.
There are multiple reports that the Browns are targeting S Anthony Harris of the Minnesota Vikings. Williams is five years younger and would cost about the same to land him.
WR T.Y. Hilton – Indianapolis Colts
2020 cap hit: $14.54 million
2021 salary projection: Three years, $28.5 million
Matt Wood: Defense needs to be the focus this off-season BUT stay with me here. Hilton was generally a disappointment this season in Indy as he and QB Phillip Rivers didn’t seem to get on the same page. But with a closer study Stampede Blue counts “at least nine defensive penalties” Hilton drew this season, also alluding to the fact that Hilton may be more effective moving ahead as a slot WR.
Now the Browns have Jarvis Landry and maybe that is an issue, but I like the idea of a short deal for Hilton to see if he could add some big play prowess to this offense. IF we don’t resign Rashard Higgins (which would be my preference) what if we grab Hilton to stretch the defense a bit? Give OBJ and Landry more room. More weapons is never a bad thing. Hilton came on this past year at the end of the season.
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue – Baltimore Ravens
2020 cap hit: $6.8 million
2021 salary projection: Four years, $70 million
Barry Shuck: There is a limited skill set with Ngakoue, but he can dominate off the edge with his speed. Had eight sacks last year for the Ravens and 45.5 total in five seasons so he knows how to get into the backfield and wreck havoc.
Will be interesting to see if Baltimore uses the franchise tag on him as Jacksonville did. Would be an expensive acquisition for the Browns but would provide Myles Garrett a bookend pass rusher to take some double teams. Not sure if the Browns will go that big, but he is still young with plenty of production including 96 career QB hits, 49 tackles for loss and 18 forced fumbles. He plays best in a scheme where he can remain on the outside as a pass rush threat where his talents are keeping pressure on the quarterback.
And would be a plus to have him on the Browns’ sideline instead of seeing him in your offensive backfield twice a year.
If you could only sign one player, which of the six free agents listed would be your priority?
This poll is closed
DT Ndamukong Suh
LB Lavonte David
CB Troy Hill
S Marcus Williams
WR T.Y. Hilton
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue