NFL Free Agency 2016: No-Brainer Targets for Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson said he wants to add two or three starters through NFL free agency in 2016. That’s not a sign that the team’s new regime plans on splurging or frivolously setting fire to their growing cap dollars.

Teams need to add quality players when they can, and finding those types—especially familiar faces from former locations who have succeeded in their system—in the prime of their career is a solid option. After all, the team is going to lose a couple starters who will not be re-signed, so Lewis’ comment doesn’t signal a drastic shift in the team’s philosophy of obtaining its core players though the draft.

It’s a conservative approach, if nothing else.

Adding a couple new starters, and replacing a couple that left, could look something like this for the Browns in a week or two once the dust settles on the NFL free agency market. I prioritized them in order of importance and dollars.

 

  1. Marvin Jones, WR, Bengals

There’s not much needing said here. Since January I have thought this was a fit that made too much sense not to happen. Jones meets an obvious need, is young and promising, and has the obvious connection to Jackson.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that Cleveland.com beat writer Mary Kay Cabot is reporting the team will pursue Jones in free agency.

Jones is just 25 years old and emerged last season after missing all of 2014 with an ankle injury. You could certainly argue his 65 receptions, four touchdowns and 816 yards could be amplified in Jackson’s system without standout receiver A.J. Green commanding the lion’s share of targets.

We’ll see if the Jackson connection is enough to lure the talented youngster away from Marvin Lewis and the success he enjoyed.

 

  1. Brandon Brooks, OG, Texans and Stefen Wisniewski, C, Jaguars

Brooks might command a big salary—potentially in the $6-$8 million range by my estimates—but he’d be a smart pick-up if Alex Mack does take a large contract elsewhere.

Despite having an uneven 2015 season, Brooks is arguably the best Texans interior offensive lineman. Bringing him in could allow the team to move John Greco to center, a position he has played for them in the past. Cleveland is also reportedly interested in former Oakland and Jacksonville center Stefen Wisniewski, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Clevleand.com.

Signing both Brooks and Wisniewski in NFL free agency could lower the blow of losing Mack and would be a positive step toward creating a more effective rushing attack. It would also make sense financially to get two intriguing 26-year-olds whose careers are still on the rise, for close to the same amount they’d spend on Mack as he begins to trend down in his 30s.

 

  1. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Ravens

Upshaw didn’t light up the stat sheet during his four seasons with Baltimore from a pass-rushing perspective. But he did prove to be a tireless worker who missed no practices or games last season.

His two-sack contract year performance—a career high for him—will likely keep his price tag down, so it’d be wise for the Browns to at least arrange a meeting to try to steal him away from their divisional rivals. He has the ability to set the edge, and has played effectively in that role for some time now. That skill set is something that’s been absent on the Browns defense in recent years.

Scott Solomon, Barkevious Mingo, Nate Orchard and Paul Kruger make up a crowded group for Ray Horton’s outside linebacker position, but outside of Kruger none are proven and they have not lived up to their supposed talent levels.

I don’t think anyone would hate seeing Upshaw light up Ben Roethlisberger like he did in 2014, either:

 

  1. Zach Brown, ILB, Titans

Brown is flying low also in the lead up to NFL free agency and hasn’t really warranted as much attention as I thought he’d garner. There’s the connection to Horton and the Browns’ clear need for help at their interior linebacker position that makes me a bit intrigued by the former Tar Heel.

He’s been hyped in the past and hasn’t really emerged to live up to his potential. With another season under Horton, it’s possible he can bring it all together as he enters the prime of his career. Adding this versatile and still promising player to the mix with Karlos Dansby, Chris Kirksey and Tank Carder would be wise, especially if Craig Robertson is not re-signed. That group hardly inspires confidence.

Don’t be surprised if another linebacker is targeted as well, either in free agency or the upcoming draft. Another name that intrigues me is Demario Davis. He had, by most accounts, a “down year” for the Jets in 2015.

 

  1. Rhett Ellison, TE/FB, Vikings

Ellison is a guy I really covet who’s been used as a versatile H-back since his USC days. He’s useful as a lead blocker or in-line. Part of the problems the Browns’ running game faced last season were directly related to poor blocking from their rotational tight ends.

Unfortunately, there’s a catch. Ellison tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in early January. Teammate Adam Thielen weighed in soon after to laud his leadership and value to the Vikings.

“It’s huge. He’s a heck of a player. He’s a great leader. He does the dirty work that nobody else can do,” Thielen said. “He’s a tough guy to replace, but we’ll do our best.”

The Vikes are likely trying to find a way to retain him, but they just tendered fullback Zach Line, and his recovery makes things difficult. At the time of his injury it was estimated he would be fully recovered in six months following surgery. We’ll see if he gets a deal from the Vikings, becomes a target in NFL free agency or if teams wait and see on his recovery.

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Mike Hoag

Mike Hoag

Managing Editor
Mike Hoag has been covering the Cleveland Browns since 2011. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, SI.com, Cleveland.com, CNN.com, and The Orange and Brown Report.