The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the Cleveland Browns team needs are.
These reports were compiled with the help of Inside The Pylon’s writers and editors, as well as the outstanding offseason primers at OverTheCap.com, which are invaluable for understanding the salary cap and contractual obligations of each team. In addition, the depth chart data is courtesy RosterResource.com – thanks for all your support!
The Cleveland Browns struggled yet again in 2015, finishing 3-13 and enduring a seven-game losing streak that stretched from October to December. In the wake of this failed campaign, major changes were announced from the front office down to the lowest rung of the coaching staff. Gone was head coach Mike Pettine, replaced with former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. In addition, the organization made a major shift in philosophy, promoting Sashi Brown to Executive Vice-President of Football Operations. Brown, a 39-year old lawyer originally from the Boston area, was previously serving as a general counsel for the team, with oversight on the salary cap. In addition, Cleveland hired Paul DePodesta away from a team in New York, the Mets, to serve as their Chief Strategy Officer. Finally, Cleveland hired Andrew Berry to be their Vice President of Player Personnel after four years as the Pro Scouting Coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.
First and foremost, the Browns need to address the quarterback position. The Johnny Manziel experiment came to a crashing end in March when the team released the quarterback outright, in the wake of some serious off-the-field transgressions. Cleveland has incumbent-starter Josh McCown signed for the next two seasons, but the veteran has proven to be at best a capable back-up / spot-starter. Drafting second overall in 2016 – behind the Tennessee Titans – the Browns likely have their choice of the available quarterbacks in this draft. But with some potential big-name players such as Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, and Ryan Fitzpatrick available via free agency or trade, the Browns might pass on drafting a quarterback of the future and address the position with a relatively known commodity.
With the loss of Travis Benjamin to San Diego via free agency, and the ongoing saga of the Josh Gordon suspension, the Browns currently have Andrew Hawkins, Brian Hartline, and Taylor Gabriel as their top-three WR options on the roster. In a wide receiver class lacking splashy names but possessing solid depth, the Browns would be suited to double-dip at this position in the draft.
The Browns line, on paper, did not seem to be a big need heading into the off-season, but starting center, and free agent, Alex Mack signed with the Atlanta Falcons, and starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz left the shores of Lake Erie for the heartland, signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns can slide former first-round draft pick Cameron Erving over to right tackle to replace Schwartz, but will still need to address the center position and perhaps right guard as well. This is a unit that surrendered a league-high 53 sacks in 2015, and losing two starters leaves them in a very precarious position entering the draft.
Cleveland’s biggest need on defense is on the edge. The Browns struggled to pressure the passer last season, notching only 29 sacks – good for 28th in the NFL. A number of solid edge rushing options are available in this draft class, including Joey Bosa from Ohio State and Noah Spence from Eastern Kentucky. If Cleveland addresses the quarterback position through trade or free agency, they may very well consider addressing this need with the second-overall selection.
Aside from Joe Haden, the Browns’ secondary needs an upgrade. Cleveland desperately needs a no. 2 CB opposite Haden to allow the rest of the roster options to provide depth. The Browns also have second-year player Ifo Ekpre-Olomu healthy after missing his entire rookie season with a knee injury, so perhaps he challenges for that no. 2 role. But the players who saw significant time at the CB slot in 2015, including Tramon Williams, K’Waun Williams and Charles Gaines, are best suited for depth and nickelback roles. Cleveland could also use an upgrade at the safety slot after losing starting free safety Taushaun Gipson to Jacksonville via free agency.
Inside and Outside Linebacker
The Cleveland roster currently sports four solid options for the Browns’ 3-4 defense, with Paul Kruger and Nate Orchard on the outside, and Karlos Dansby and Christian Kirksey on the interior. But behind these four players are some question marks, including former first-round selection Barkevious Mingo. A run-stuffing ILB and an athletic linebacker on the outside would be key additions to this roster.
Set, For Better Or Worse
Andy Lee remains one of the better punters in the NFL. That’s it, that’s the list. This team is a list of needs more than anything else.