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Report: Browns have big names in mind in free agency; breaking down the list

2023 NFL free agency could be an exciting one, once again, for the Browns

Indianapolis Colts v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

As we move toward the end of the last week of the 2022 NFL league year, the Cleveland Browns still have a negative amount of cap space but the Browns rumors are running rampant. GM Andrew Berry can easily create cap space with simple restructures of contracts for QB Deshaun Watson and DE Myles Garrett.

A few other restructures and the pending release of safety John Johnson III would increase that cap space amount.

Based on the rumors that have permeated since the NFL combine, including that Berry will be aggressive, Cleveland may need as much of that cap space as possible.

In a report late Wednesday, Mary Kay Cabot had a strong list of five players in NFL free agency that the Browns are targeting. Based on the list, obviously, they won’t be able to sign more than one or two as, not surprisingly, all five are on the defensive side of the ball.

Breaking down the five players Cabot reported the team is targeting:

  1. DT Javon Hargrave - As noted yesterday, Hargrave is Pro Football Focus’ top-rated unrestricted free agent now after tags and extensions were reached earlier this week. He is likely to be highly paid despite being 30 years old next season. He had 11 sacks in 2022 and 7.5 in 2021. With teams like the Chicago Bears having a huge amount of cap space, Hargrave could get a huge contract that would be tough for Cleveland to match.
  2. S Jessie Bates III - Bates has been connected to the Browns for a few weeks now. Sharing an agent with Watson, Bates could get a good amount of the cap space created from the QB’s restructure. A true free safety, Bates would replace JJ3 with a better fit next to Grant Delpit.
  3. DE Yannick Ngakoue - The first surprise on Cabot’s list, Ngakoue has bounced around since 2020 with four different teams. Ngakoue has been a poor run defender which makes it tough to value what he brings as a pass rusher where he’s had eight or more sacks in all seven seasons in the NFL.
  4. DL Dre’Mont Jones - A younger player than Hargrave, Jones hasn’t produced at the level of the top player on the list having topped out at 6.5 sacks. Jones is versatile enough to play some defensive end snaps as well. Signing Jones over Hargrave would be buying into youth and versatility over the certainty of Hargrave’s production.
  5. S C.J. Gardner-Johnson - The other Philadelphia player on the list, CJGJ is a versatile player that is impactful but it is concerning that New Orleans traded him for fifth and sixth-round picks and the Eagles seem likely to let him walk after one season. With six interceptions last season in just 12 games, Gardner-Johnson could be highly sought after but plays similar to JJ3 as a versatile player more than a true free safety.

Of the five players listed, Hargrave, Bates and Jones make the most sense as big-time, big-contract players for Cleveland. Ngakoue could be an interesting addition if the contract is reasonable. Gardner-Johnson, on the other hand, would only make sense if DC Jim Schwartz really does see Delpit as a true free safety.