With all eyes on the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine over the weekend, many Cleveland Browns fans have turned their eyes to the NFL Draft to solve many of the team’s major needs this offseason. However, with free agency set to get under way in just over two weeks, General Manager Ray Farmer will have the opportunity to shore up a few of their positions of need before turning to the 2015 rookie class.
Despite owner Jimmy Haslam recently stating the team will not be major players in free agency, the team is currently projected to have over $50 million to spend to re-tool their roster. This means that Farmer has the ability to go after a big-name free agent or two, if he wants.
Taking a look at the current roster, it is easy to say the team needs to put quarterback and wide receiver as the main priorities in free agency. With Brian Hoyer testing the market, Johnny Manziel in rehab and Josh Gordon suspended yet again, the team most certainly needs to add to both of those positions. However, throwing big money at players at those positions isn’t always the answer—especially if that player cannot be a long-term key addition to the team.
When you actually take a look at the Browns roster, the position the team should attempt to upgrade with a true playmaker in free agency is the defensive line. Decimated by injury yet again last season, a position which was once considered to be a strength for the team ended up being one of the weak points on the roster.
Thanks to injuries suffered by key contributors like Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and John Hughes, the line ended up having just one player—Desmond Bryant, play more than 43 percent of the snaps on the line. This forced rotational players, like Billy Winn, into roles they were not ready for—which resulted in the Browns being dead last in the NFL in rushing yards given up at 2,265—a staggering 141.6 yards per game.
On top of injury issues from a year ago, the Browns defensive line heads into 2015 with long-term questions to answer. Taylor is entering the final year of his contract, and despite stating he wants to retire a Brown one day, the front office will need to decide if $5.4 million for this coming season is worth paying for a guy who has had difficulty stating healthy. If they think it is a hefty price to pay, they may choose to outright release him and use that money elsewhere.
No matter what they end up doing with Taylor, the team has a few players of their own hitting free agency. Rubin, who once received a large extension from the team, is set to hit free agency and it doesn’t seem like the team has much interest in paying him thanks to the combination of his age and diminished production.
After Rubin, the likes of Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Sione Fua are also going to be free agents. Though the Browns could likely retain both at a cheap cost, the team should look to utilize their roster positions to add more impact players at the position instead of more rotational players like Kitchen and Fua.
If the team does decide to keep Taylor, they will enter next season with a base group of Bryant, Taylor, Winn, Hughes and Armonty Bryant. The great thing about these players is that they have logged plenty of snaps and have knowledge of the scheme to fill the depth needs of the team. Unfortunately for the Browns, none of these players scream “double team” or “impact player,” which is why they need to focus on getting that guy in free agency.
But the question to answer is, which players should they target that could be major additions to the line? Here are the four players at the top of my list.