Cleveland Browns Offensive Tackle Greg Robinson

2020 Cleveland Browns Pre-Free Agency Team Needs

  • Cleveland Browns
  • NFL
By Jereme Jones March 13, 2020 0 Comment
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As we prepare for the start of free agency next week, and the draft next month, here are the positional needs for the Cleveland Browns.

The overlying goal is to end the Cleveland Browns’ 17-year playoff drought finally. But, to accomplish that goal, the most significant changes this offseason must come to the roster. As we prepare for the start of free agency next week, and the NFL Draft next month, here are the positions the Browns most need to strengthen.

#1 Offensive Line

There is no doubt the offensive line is currently the biggest weakness on this team. In 2019, the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line was ranked 23rd in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. And that was before Eric Kush was released, and Greg Robinson, an unrestricted free agent, was arrested. If the Browns want to be a playoff team in 2020, they must do a total makeover of the offensive line.

As of now, there are only two linemen on the roster who should feel confident about starting week one; left guard Joel Bitonio and center J.C. Tretter. Outside of those two, the rest of the line is full of question marks. Greg Robinson will not be back at left tackle after his poor performance in 2019 and his arrest in the offseason. Right tackle Chris Hubbard allowed 38 quarterback pressures and six sacks last season and is due more than $7 million this season. Hubbard, who’s dead cap number is only $2.4 million, might not be on the roster by July. At right guard, Eric Kush was replaced during the season and then cut in February. His replacement, Wyatt Teller, wasn’t much better in his nine starts. There are a few other potential contributors on the roster, including Kendall Lamm and Drew Forbes, but neither should be considered more than a backup at this point.

The Browns must make the offensive line their top priority in the offseason. They can start by spending their top pick on a cornerstone offensive tackle. Then, they must find a starting tackle and a starting guard in free agency.

#2 Linebacker

Joe Schobert is a free agent and looks unlikely to return to Cleveland. The team has also already waived off injured Christian Kirksey and Adarius Taylor this offseason. That leaves second-year players Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki as the top two guys on the depth chart.

Wilson, a 5th round pick from Alabama, started 14 games last season and was 2nd on the team with 82 tackles. Takitaki was picked in the 3rd round from BYU. He started one game and had 21 tackles in 2019. The rest of the current roster consists of backups and special teams players like Tae Davis, Jermaine Grace and Willie Harvey

The Browns must rebuild the linebacker room by finding a starter, or two, in either free agency or the draft. They could also look to bring in a value-priced veteran to build some depth and help on special teams.

#3 Safety

It’s another position that may look significantly different in 2020. As of now, only three players are returning at safety from last year’s team; Morgan Burnett, Sheldrick Redwine, and J.T. Hassell. Burnett started eight games in 2019 before an Achilles injury landed him on injured reserve in Week 12. Redwine, a rookie from Miami, started five games last year and showed potential. Hassell began the season on the practice squad. He was signed to the active roster in November and appeared in four games.

Three guys from last year’s team, Damarious Randall, Eric Murray, and Juston Burris, are all unrestricted free agents this offseason. It might be wise for the Browns to look to re-sign one or two of them, given the current lack of depth at the position, with Burris being the top option.

Even if the Cleveland Browns can re-sign Burris or Murray, they still need to find a starting-caliber safety this offseason. They cannot afford to go into the season with a 31-year old coming off an injury and a 2nd year player as their two starters. If they cannot get Burris or Murray to go back, they will also need to find some depth at the position.

#4 Defensive Line

The Browns defensive line is set at three positions. Defensive end Myles Garrett and defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson will all be starters. It is the rest of the position group, where the question marks reside. The first decision the team needs to make is what to do with defensive end, Olivier Vernon. The veteran, who came over in a trade from the Giants last season, was expected to give the team a pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett. Instead, Vernon only managed 3.5 sacks while dealing with a knee injury. Vernon has a cap number of $15.5 million this season but can be cut with no dead cap. It might be best for the Browns to cut Vernon and use the money elsewhere.

The problem with cutting Vernon, however, is that there is minimal talent behind him on the depth chart. Chad Thomas did have four sacks in eight starts, but he is not the answer as a starter. The other options include Porter Gustin, Robert McCray, and Trevon Young.

The Cleveland Browns must also add some depth behind their starters at defensive tackle. Right now, the depth chart includes Eli Ankou, Brandin Bryant, Daniel Ekuale, and Justin Zimmer. Of the four, Ankou was the leading tackler last season with just seven tackles.

If the Browns cut Vernon, they must use the cap savings to find a starter in free agency. They should also look in both free agency and the draft for depth at defensive end and defensive tackle. Drafting a young defensive tackle would give them someone they can groom to take over for either Richardson or Ogunjobi if they decide to save money by not bringing one of them back in 2021.

#5 Tight End

Tight end is another position room that is currently under-staffed. As of now, only David Njoku and Stephen Carlson are under contract for 2020. However, likely, Ricky Seals-Jones (Restricted Free Agent) and Pharaoh Brown (Exclusive Rights Free Agent) could still return next season.

The big question at tight end is whether or not David Njoku will live up to his first-round potential. Njoku spent most of last season either injured or in Freddie Kitchens’ dog house. The fourth-year player only appeared in 4 games, catching five passes for 41 yards. There is no questioning Njoku’s talent, however, and perhaps a new coaching staff can help him realize his potential this season.

The Browns would be wise to re-sign Seals-Jones, especially considering how new head coach Kevin Stefanski likes to play with two tight ends. Last season, Seals-Jones caught 14 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns.

Having a playmaking tight end has become more critical than ever in the NFL. Both Super Bowl teams showed the importance of the position last year. So, even if they bring Seals-Jones back, and Njoku can play up to his potential, the team still needs to find a tight end or two to bring in this offseason.

Cleveland Browns have talent at the top but lack the depth

While those are the top five positions of need, they are not the only needs the Browns will have to fill this offseason. They currently have no experienced backup quarterback, with Drew Stanton being a free agent. They also need to find a wide receiver or two, especially if free agent Rashard Higgins does not re-sign. Fullback, a position that Stefanski is likely to require for his offense, is another need. Finally, the team must find a slot corner to line up alongside young starters Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams.

For a team with a lot of talent at the top of the roster, the Browns have a lot of holes to fill in the middle and bottom of the roster. It’s what separates Cleveland from teams like New England and Kansas City. If the Browns want to become a perennial playoff team and finally make that elusive Super Bowl trip, they must begin building a strong and deep roster this offseason.

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