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Five free agents the Browns should consider
Kevin Stefanski’s team improved in the second half of the regular season, winning four out of seven games, but an overall record of 7-10 tells its own story as the Browns fell short.
Bookmakers in the new Ohio online sports betting sector, unfortunately, haven’t had much business to do on the Browns’ playoff chances over the last few weeks, but Browns fans will hope that their team’s prospects will be brighter in 2023. Part of any improvement will be free agency moves, and the good news is that there are plenty of options worth considering.
Cameron Fleming, Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos
The offensive line has been among the NFL’s best, but reinforcements may be needed in 2023. Two starters: Jack Conklin and Ethan Pocic are headed for free agency, with Conklin the most likely to go. That will likely give James Hubbard a chance to show what he can do, but the roster will still need some kind of insurance, and Cameron Fleming could be the answer.
The Broncos are facing a major restructuring program this year and Fleming, who can boast nine years in the NFL, with 61 starts and 111 career games in total, would be a good fit. He is not a star signing, but he is reliable and way easier on the salary cap than Conklin would be.
Damontae Kazee, Safety, Pittsburgh Steelers
One of the big problems for the Browns last season was vulnerability against the deep pass, due to both communication problems and the absence of a genuine deep safety. John Johnson III, along with Grant Delpit and Ronnie Harrison are good players but are best utilized as strong safeties.
If the Browns are looking for a free safety with the ability to defend against the deep pass, they may look to the draft, but an alternative would be to bring in a veteran like Damontae Kazee. He made a big impact for the Falcons in 2018 and has spent time at the Cowboys and with the Steelers, where he finished the season strong. Kazee would give the Browns what they need at safety and would free them up to use their Draft picks on fixing some of the other roster issues.
Daron Payne, Defensive Tackle, Washington Commanders
This is probably the least likely deal on this list but it would solve the Browns’ biggest problem. Yes, the deep pass has been an issue, and Cade York has had a poor season as well, but bigger than these problems has been their vulnerability to the running game.
Even teams that don’t habitually run the football were able to run up big scores on this defensive unit, and if they want to fix that, Daron Payne would be the ultimate answer. In five seasons at Washington, he has been one of the NFL’s top interior linemen. Capable of both shutting down the rush and getting to the quarterback, he will be a pricey acquisition and there is still a chance that Washington will franchise him, but he could be worth it if he can plug the hole in the Browns’ defense.
Mecole Hardman, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
There were times this season when the Browns looked weak at the wide receiver position. In Week 13 against the Houston Texans, for example, David Bell and Anthony Schwartz had to leave the field. With David Njoku already injured, that left only Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
More depth in this position is clearly required, and Hardman, currently at Kansas City, could be the solution. A second-round pick in 2019, he hasn’t yet developed into an elite catcher, but he has been a reliable and sometimes dangerous player. In his rookie year, he had an 83-yard touchdown and a 104-yard kickoff return and he registered 693 yards in 2021. Less effective this season, he may go to free agency and could be a valuable addition to the wide receiver corps.
Cooper Rush, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Jacoby Brissett did an excellent job for the Browns but will surely be able to demand a big salary elsewhere, leaving Cleveland to look for a replacement backup for Deshaun Watson.
Cooper Rush joined Dallas in 2017 and made very little impact until the start of this season when, in the absence of Dak Prescott, he guided the Cowboys to a solid 4-1 start. He completed 58% of his passes and threw for 956 yards. Although he also finished his stint with three interceptions, they all came against the Superbowl-bound Philadelphia Eagles. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cowboys re-sign him, but if he is available in free agency, the Browns should make a move.