Today is March 7.
At noon, the “legal tampering” period will begin for all 32 NFL teams and agents of unrestricted free agents to start discussing deals although the talks likely began after hours in Indianapolis at the Scouting Combine to start gathering info as well as interest for the agents’ clients.
On Thursday, the new league year will officially begin at 4 pm and teams can then start signing players to contracts.
The Cleveland Browns sit with the most cap space among the 32 teams with approximately 102 million dollars in cap space. Now I know fans would love to see the team go on a spending spree and really upgrade this team significantly but that’s not how you build a winning team, you do that through the draft.
It doesn’t hurt however to go out and get a couple significant talent acquisitions. Guys who are getting their second contract, just entering their prime and who are young and hungry and want to help establish a winning culture for a struggling organization such as the Browns.
Here’s five guys the Browns should pursue
Tony Jefferson, strong safety
An undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma in 2013, Jefferson landed with the Arizona Cardinals and has become one of the underrated safeties in the NFL. Missing only one game in his four seasons, he has proven that it doesn’t matter if you’re drafted, you can still make an impact given the opportunity.
Last season, Jefferson played in 15 games (14 starts) and recorded 96 total tackles (78 solo), two sacks and two forced fumbles. In his career he’s recorded 277 total tackles (252 solo), 5 sacks, two interceptions and six forced fumbles.
Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth best safety in all of football.
Arizona didn’t franchise tag him and he will hit the open market. Reports have said he’s looking at around 7 million per year. The Browns have been linked to him and would be a great addition to the secondary as his hard hitting style of play would be a match made in heaven with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Kevin Zeitler, offensive guard
Zeitler is one of the top offensive guards in all of football and has been since entering the league in 2012. The big man out of Wisconsin has been the best offensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals and it’s a real head scratcher as to why they’re letting him walk to free agency.
Zeitler has a connection to Cleveland through head coach Hue Jackson who was the offensive coordinator for the Bengals before coming to the Browns. Zeitler would upgrade an offensive line who saw not only numerous injuries among the group but took part in injuries to multiple quarterbacks last season.
He will surely be a sought after free agent and teams will have to bring the money to acquire his services. The top guard in football (Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders) makes over 13 million dollars per season on average and with an inflating cap, Zeitler is sure to make a big contract.
Johnathan Hankins, defensive tackle
The former Ohio State Buckeye has spent his first four years with the New York Giants. He teamed up with Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison to shut down the run on that New York defensive front last year. Having given Harrison a big contract last offseason, Hankins is likely not returning.
He could be a target for the Browns as they need another defensive tackle alongside Danny Shelton who had a breakout 2016 season. Shelton and Hankins could be what Harrison and Hankins were in New York and even better under Gregg Williams’ watch. Shelton was known as a pass rushing defensive tackle in college at Washington and Hankins could be the run stopper of the duo.
Torrey Smith, wide receiver
Regardless of what happens with Terrelle Pryor, the Cleveland Browns need help at the wide receiver position. Despite drafting four of them last year, the position has been lacking playmakers for a long time.
Torrey Smith has always been a vertical threat since the Baltimore Ravens drafted him in 2011. Leaving them for San Francisco in 2015, his production has declined in two seasons with poor quarterback play being a factor. San Francisco released Smith on Monday just two years after signing him to a big contract.
Smith has averaged 17 yards per catch in his career and will garner some interest from teams who desperately need playmakers. The Browns lacking a quarterback could put us on the bottom of his list but, sometimes money talks and the team has lots of it.
Micah Hyde, cornerback/safety
Safe to say the Browns need help in the secondary. Despite Joe Haden having a somewhat comeback season in 2017 as well as the surprise of Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Jamar Taylor, the secondary should and I think will get some upgrades this offseason.
The Browns should pursue Jefferson as mentioned above as well as Toledo’s Micah Hyde.
Hyde can play both corner and safety and being an Ohio native, might want to head closer to home and join the Dawg Pound. He’s been productive in his four years with the Green Bay Packers and I think will continue to improve. Hyde recorded three interceptions, nine pass deflections and also had 58 total tackles (47 solo) last season.
He would likely come and play free safety or as the number two corner and let Taylor be the primary nickel back.