By John Tuvey, Executive Editor Browns Offseason Needs We continue our team-by-team look at offseason needs with the Browns, a franchise that just hasn't been able to garner any traction since professional football returned to Cleveland at the turn of the century.
Areas of Need: With new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in the fold, the Browns can get down to the business of figuring out how to move the ball and score points. Last season's edition ranked 31st in total offense, 30th in scoring, and 31st in rushing, so Chud certainly has his work cut out for him. General Manager Phil Savage said one of the primary tasks of the new OC would be to find a way to get the ball to Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards, and seeing as Chud is Winslow's former college position coach we have to believe he has some experience in that regard.
Of course, one major component of getting the ball to receivers is the quarterback, and right now that's a gray area for the Browns. Romeo Crennel has indicated that it's Charlie Frye's job to lose, but Derek Anderson looked good in a couple of relief starts. And then there's the possibility that a certain Notre Dame signal-caller who happens to be from the area might be available on draft day. One way or another, the Browns need to take the step of settling on a quarterback before going on to step two of their offensive game plan.
Following the loss of free agent signee LeCharles Bentley on the first day of training camp, Cleveland's line was its usual abysmal self. Rumors that Bentley won't be back until 2008 have popped up, though nothing has been confirmed; either way, this group continues to be in need of an upgrade. And it wouldn't hurt if the Browns had a talented running back to take advantage of any holes the line did open up. Crennel and Savage have talked about how good of a special teams player Reuben Droughns is, which doesn't exactly bode well for his future as the team's feature back. Unfortunately, the Browns didn't give Jerome Harrison much of a look-see during the season, so they may be starting from scratch at this position as well.
Help is on the Way? Pending the outcome of a coin flip, the worst the Browns will pick in April's draft is fourth. That's not all bad, as there are at least four players the team has to be considering to help kick-start their offense. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has indicated how much he'd love to play for his hometown team, but with Frye and Anderson already on hand that's probably the least likely of the alternatives. Savage is a renown scout, so it would be tough for him to pass on one of the top two talents in the draft, Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson or Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas, should either be available for Cleveland's pick. Johnson doesn't make much sense since it would leave the team with a logjam at receiver and shorthanded in the backfield, while Thomas would provide an immediate upgrade to an area that has been the Browns' Achilles heel since professional football returned to Cleveland. Finally, running back Adrian Peterson could provide the Browns with a real ground game, which can only help open things up for either quarterback and Cleveland's talented receiving tandem.
Should the Browns go with Quinn, they'd likely try to trade one or both of their current young quarterbacks and find a veteran to groom Quinn and probably start this season. Candidates such as Jake Plummer, Byron Leftwich, and/or David Carr could emerge in March when teams start cutting players, and if Savage could pick up a couple draft picks for Frye and Anderson he knows what to do with them.
As mentioned previously, the team needs Bentley to return to health in 2007, and even that might not be enough. Center Hank Fraley and guard Cosey Coleman are unrestricted free agents, guard Joe Andruzzi is a candidate for offseason knee surgery, and tackle Ryan Tucker missed nearly half of the season dealing with an undisclosed mental disorder. That leaves the Browns with one healthy returning lineman in place for the coming season, so expect the line to be addressed thoroughly in the offseason.
Of course, Romeo Crennel is a defensive coach, and the Browns have some needs along the defensive line and in the secondary, where they were ravaged by injuries this season.
Not surprisingly, a team picking in the top four of the draft obviously has needs, so expect Savage and Crennel to address as many as possible on draft day. And if the Browns can once again woo native Clevelanders back to the homeland, maybe they'll stop spinning their wheels and start gaining some traction in the ultra-tough AFC North.
Free Agency Two huge targets have to be Clements and Stienbach (sp?). They won't land both, but they could really use one or the other. Clements would cure secondary woes, and Stienbach could really shore up the line (still a long way to go there though)
Also a Vet QB. Perhaps get a Griese or a Plummer. Gotta get one though.
Need DL too.
DRAFT Depending on what is done in free agency...
I think if Joe Thomas is there, and reports are that he has "fast" feet, you have to take him.
This upgrades you at 2 positions. We essentially had no right tackle this past year, and I don't expect Tucker back. If we take Thomas, we then move Schaffer to right.
People must remember that while Schaffer was a left tackle in Atlanta, that since Vick is left handed this made him, in essence, a right tackle. I think he will contribute on the right hand side of the line.
Second round, Cornerback and Defensive line are bigtime needs.
I don't want to draft a RB, because there should be one in the draft next year we can take, because we will be high enough.
Wants and Needs: There are very few positions at which the Browns couldn't use an influx of talent. Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow emerged as playmakers last season, but the running game regressed and Jamal Lewis is at best a short-term fix. Free agency spending addressed some of the holes on the offensive line, but the Browns haven't spent a first-day pick up front since selecting Jeff Faine in 2003—and it's showed. Romeo Crennel is a defensive guy, so he'll be itching to add a pass rusher to flank last year's top pick, Kamerion Wimbley, and the Browns could address depth in the secondary as well. Ultimately, GM Phil Savage will rely on his much-ballyhooed talent evaluation skills and take the best player available; there's bound to be a place for him in the Browns' lineup.
Potential Selections: The Browns really can't go wrong with the third pick; either JaMarcus Russell—whom Savage has been scouting since he was 14—or Brady Quinn—who has said publicly he wants to play for the Browns—would be an upgrade over the Browns' current quarterback quagmire. But if neither is on the board, or if Savage feels he can get by with Charlie Frye and/or Derek Anderson at the helm, the Browns could address the line with tackle Joe Thomas. Or how about a franchise running back like Adrian Peterson? Of course, if Savage stays true to his "best player available" mantra and Calvin Johnson is still on the board… This pick is almost foolproof for the Browns. Later picks will obviously build off of whatever direction the team takes in round one. A quarterback or running back early could point the Browns towards a lineman like Arron Sears or James Marten later on Day One; if they don't take Peterson, a backup/heir to Lewis might be on the docket, with Ohio State's Antonio Pittman an option. Crennel won't be able to ignore the defensive side of the ball, so ends like Anthony Spencer or Victor Abiamiri and corners such as Tanard Jackson and Ryan Smith will be on the radar as well.