That’s a lot of money, but it's also money that could be spent foolishly. Free agency has often shown that lavish spending does not lead to success. As ESPN's Bill Polian wrote in his Insider rundown on free agency of his experience guiding the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills, "You want to make sure there is a precise reason you’re adding that player."
Polian also lists his best free agents in his Insider Free Agent tracker, and he gives safeties T.J. Ward of the Browns and Jairus Byrd of the Bills grades that would not warrant huge-money contracts.
Coach Mike Pettine has said that quarterback is the team’s greatest and most obvious need. That’s a given. But the free-agent market in quarterbacks does not warrant serious consideration because a team like the Browns that is going to rely on Brian Hoyer and a draft pick is probably not going to prioritize a quarterback in free agency. Too, Polian’s top-rated guys are Kellen Clemens and Matt Cassel. The Browns may well add a Jason Campbell-type backup, but those kind of players rarely turn into big-time players.
Teams seem to have learned that money does not make an average player better.
Setting aside quarterback, here’s a rundown of the Browns' needs, in alphabetical order by position:
Putting the transition tag on Mack reduces the need for two guards. Assuming Mack stays, John Greco can remain, which means Shawn Lauvao must be replaced at the other. The good news is the Browns also have Jason Pinkston and the draft to consider, and a guard usually can be found via the free-agent market at not too great an expense.
Craig Robertson did not work well in the three-four, though he always can get better, and D'Qwell Jackson was released. This might actually raise this level of need to "significant." It’s probably not optimal to need two starters inside when running a 3-4 ... err ... multiple defense.
Polian’s top two: Perry Riley, Washington, and Jackson.
The release of Davone Bess was a formality and expected. But it means the Browns have Josh Gordon and not much else. Greg Little may stay on the team because the Browns need to have bodies, and he has that potential he shows just often enough to keep everyone interested. There are a plethora (like that word?) of receivers in the draft, so the need to add one in free agency might not be urgent. That being said, a veteran capable of acting like a veteran is never a bad thing at that position.
Edwin Baker was the touchdown maker, but the Browns badly need help here. Teams and players may scoff at the running game, but teams that don’t run the ball eventually are exposed. The Browns need a back, probably two. Professional football is still about blocking, tackling, passing, catching, and yes, running.
Ward appears headed to the market to see his value. His agent released a statement saying he’d be willing to try to work out a deal before March 11, but when a player gets this close he usually likes to see what he can get. Everyone and their aunt and uncle expect the Browns to make a run at Byrd, who played for Browns coach Mike Pettine in Buffalo. But Byrd will be in demand. His father is an assistant coach in Tampa Bay; Philadelphia is rumored to be interested. If the Browns interest is accurate, the scenario is classic Browns. Develop a Pro Bowl safety, change coaches, let Pro Bowl safety go so team can bring in another team’s Pro Bowl safety the new coach likes and perhaps pay the new safety more money than the safety the team developed. This will be an interesting scenario to watch.
That’s one rundown. Now it’s your turn. Vote in the poll. Weigh the players, the potential costs, the impact on the team, the talent in the draft. Then make the judgment. What position would you pick as the top priority for the Browns in free agency? We’ll be back with the results on Monday.