CLEVELAND — With the Cleveland Browns coming off of an 11-5 season that included a playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the tide of bad football appears to be in the rear view mirror and Cleveland hopes to improve on their 2020 success.
For every team there are three avenues that can be used to improve: free agency, NFL Draft, and the trade market. Free agency starts March 15 and Cleveland can begin improving there. The organization has the foundation in place and will look to continue building toward the goal of bringing a Super Bowl trophy to northeast Ohio.
Cleveland has multiple positions that they will address in the 2021 free agency period. A defense that was ranked in the bottom half of the league will be the point of emphasis for General Manager Andrew Berry. With the salary cap a question going forward there is likely to be an uptick in one-year deals being taken.
Get help opposite of Myles Garrett
Cleveland and defensive end Olivier Vernon will be parting ways, since Vernon is a free agent. The injury history is too risky to continue to worry about, so it’s very unlikely he will be back with the Browns. Cleveland was in on defensive lineman JJ Watt before he opted to sign with the Arizona Cardinals and will be in on multiple other defensive ends in just a couple weeks. At the top of the list has to be Trey Hendrickson of the New Orleans Saints. Hendrickson is a free agent that is likely to not stay in NOLA due to the Saints being well over the cap.
Hendrickson is coming off of a season with 13.5 sacks. Putting a player of that caliber opposite Myles Garrett would give Cleveland an instant boost on the defensive line.
Other defensive ends that will possibly be available for the Browns and could fit include Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Ryan Kerrigan, and Takkarist McKinley.
There is no sure tell that Cleveland will address the defensive end position in free agency or wait until the draft. Either way the Browns will likely add an edge in the draft. Michigan’s Kwity Paye or the Miami duo of Jaelen Phillips and Gregory Rousseau would all be good pickups for Cleveland. But, there is no telling if any of the three will be there at the 26th pick in the draft.
Add talent in the defensive backfield
The second biggest need for the Browns this offseason is defensive back. If the defensive line doesn’t get home you have to be able to cover. The Browns lacked there this past season with Denzel Ward the only sure hand in term of cornerbacks. Greedy Williams will return for Cleveland, but you can never have enough defensive backs, whether they play safety or corner.
Grant Delpit will return from an Achilles injury, but can’t be depended on until you see how he responds from the injury. Andrew Sendejo, Karl Joseph, and Terrance Mitchell could all be gone in free agency. Defensive backs will be prioritized in free agency as well as the draft.
Interesting free agent names to watch out for Cleveland are Mike Hilton of the Steelers and Keanu Neal of the Falcons.
In the draft players like Trevon Moehrig from TCU or Asante Samuel Jr. could both help tremendously in the defensive back field. It is likely one of the two could be there late in the first round.
Speed at wide receiver
Cleveland doesn’t have many “stretch the field” caliber wide receivers. In fact when Odell Beckham Jr. went down with injury, the Browns were left with rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones to work downfield. Peoples-Jones could take a bigger role next season, but Cleveland still needs to add some speed for Baker Mayfield and the offense to take the next step.
Former Brown Breshad Perriman is a free agent and one the Browns should have possibly never allowed to walk. Perriman is a downfield threat with his speed and can separate. If there is one player that can get down field and is a fit in Cleveland’s offense in free agency, it could be Perriman.
Rashod Bateman out of Minnesota is an interesting draft prospect for the Browns, one they would have to take in the first round. Bateman can create separation and is a polished route runner which translates nicely. Tylan Wallace from Oklahoma State is a smaller wideout that can be a burner, in fact it is his calling card.
Getting Beckham back healthy will help some of the issue, but the Browns could use a speedster that has the ability to take the top off.
Find suitable linebackers
If you haven’t noticed by now the Cleveland Browns do not prioritize the linebacker position, at least in terms of paying the top dollar. Sione Takitaki is good in his role of the run game, Jacob Phillips is a solid tackler and the rest is an unknown. B.J. Goodson is due to be a free agent as is Malcom Smith. There is interest to possibly have one of them return, time will tell on that front.
In defensive coordinator Joe Woods defense there’s one, sometimes two linebackers on the field. When you play teams like the Ravens and Chiefs you have to have speed on the field as well as the ability to get to the quarterback. Since linebacker is less of a priority in the base dime defense, don’t expect the Browns to invest heavily there unless it’s a guy that will be the one to never come off the field.
That guy could be Lavonte David if he somehow got out of Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers and David closed that door on Tuesday when they agreed to a 2-year contract extension worth $25 million.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah screams what the Browns need in a linebacker. He plays the “rover” position, basically a safety-linebacker hybrid. He can tackle, rush the passer and drop in coverage. If the Notre Dame linebacker is there late in the first it would be a no-brainer to select him.
Cleveland can find themselves a suitable linebacker after the first round of the draft in April as well. Pete Werner is a mid-round prospect out of Ohio State that simply tackles everything he can. Nick Bolton is another interesting prospect that played a ton at Missouri. Very good in pass coverage and can hit the caps on running downs. Cleveland will have their options at addressing some linebacker help, without it being prioritized.
It’s safe to say the Browns have their fair share of improvements to make ahead of the 2021 season. The options are there and Cleveland can certainly get better, whether it is through the draft or during free agency.
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