Cleveland Browns: What the team should do this off season


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Guest post from Cleveland radio host Bill Smith, learn more about him and check out his work via the links at the end of the page.

Step 1 – sign a UFA RT

My top choice would be Jared Gaither, Chargers:  He will be 26 years old by the start of the 2012 season.  Gaither has played in 48 games with 33 starts.  He was a supplemental pick of the Ravens in 2006.

Gaither started in his second and third years for the Ravens but was out all of 2010 with a back injury.  He was released by the Ravens and was picked up by the Chiefs in 2011 but did not start any the ten games in which he played.  When he was released by the Chiefs, he was picked up by the Chargers and did well starting the last 5 games of the season replacing the injured Marcus McNeill.  A three team resume is always an issue with a player that has been passed around like bowl of taco chips.  I liked Gaither coming out of college.

Gaither has experience at both tackles.  He is a starting quality pass blocker but has limited athletic ability.  He is not as accomplished run blocking but tries hard and will give his coach his best.  He will get to the 2nd level and is accurate blocking at point.  He has the strength to overcome his athletic limitations.

Gaither might be the best candidate for the Browns in this list given his age and experience but the Chargers will try hard to keep him.  He could start day 1 for the Browns at RT.

My second choice is Stephon Heyer Raiders 28 who has played in 61 total games with 35 starts but only 2 in 2011.  He was drafted by the Redskins and started most of the games in which he was healthy.  In 2010 he played in 12 games but only started five.  He was released after the 2010 season and was signed by the Raiders where he played in 12 games but started only 2.

I liked him a lot coming out of college.  He is too heavy and is slower than you would like.  He cannot pull to block on an outside run.  He is the best drive blocker for the run on this list.  He is a road grader that can push a DE into the OLB.  He has enough experience at both tackle spots to read a pass rush and despite not having great feet getting the job done with guile and effort.  He is a high motor guy that will be solid through the final whistle.  He depends on his strength a lot and can improve his technique.

The Skins let him go after drafting Trent Williams in the first round of 2010 and getting a bargain trade with the Saints for Jammal Brown.  In Oakland he filled in after injuries took their toll.  He can start and should be considered by the Browns.


Step 2 – sign a UFA DE.

The second most important position to get a UFA vet rather than try to get a rookie is DRE.  The team needs a guy to start on the other side from Jabaal Sheard.

My top choice here is Cliff Avril of the Lions.  He will be 26 years old by the start of the 2012 season and is 6’3” 260.

Avril has played in 57 starting all but 13 of them.  He is THE DE prize in the UFA category.  He is young and talented.  He is coming off his best year.  He had 11 sacks six forced fumbles and an interception in 2011.  That sudden development makes me wonder if his production was more related to his coming free agency than desire to help the Lions.  You would hope it was because he finally got what it takes to be successful at this level.

He is an athletic DE with a high motor and very good instincts.  He has more of a finesse pass rusher than a power guy and could use a little more strength to play the run better.  He has a quick first step and can get around the corner with good speed.  He will get tied up with a blocker too often and needs to get stronger to add power moves to his pass rush arsenal.

He will be pursued by a lot of teams and will not likely end up in Cleveland.  The Lions will try hard to keep him.  But remember this is what I think the team SHOULD do.

My second pick in the DE list is Jamaal Anderson of the Colts.  He will turn 25 by the start of next season and is 6’6” 272.  Anderson started from day one with the Falcons until 2010 played 75 games with 48 started but just four in last two years.

He has 7.5 sacks with five in last two years with two forced fumbles.  He was a reserve for the Colts in 11.  He had a good year in relief of DRE Dwight Freeney who is primarily a pass rush specialist.  He gets off blocks quickly and uses his hands to avoid getting locked up by the blocker.  He is strong relying primarily on power moves.  He is solid against the run with good instincts and the experience to sniff out sweeps and counters to his side.  That is something that the Browns need from a DE.

It is hard to figure who will stay and will be allowed to leave under the new Colt GM.  He could start for the Browns from the day of his signing.


Step 3 – raid the Ravens for either Grubbs or Rice.

Because the team has more quality depth at RB than at OG, Ray Rice is the most likely to not be franchised.  He would also be more expensive as a RB than Ben Grubbs would at OG.

Ray Rice will be the one that the Ravens are most likely to allow to seek free agency.  He will be 25 by the start of the 2012 season and is a compact 5’8” 212.

The Browns have no starting quality NFL backs on the roster Payton Hillis will not be back and Montario Hardesty is an injury waiting to happen.  Because we have a chance to deal a serious blow to the Ravens I would pass on a rookie RB even as good as Trent Richardson of Alabama.

The chance to get an all pro from a division rival makes me put my personal policy aside to recommend that the Browns look seriously at signing this particular UFA RB.

Rice was a second round pick in 2008 (pick 55).  He has started since 2009 and has over a thousand yards in each of the last 3 seasons.

Rice has exceptional vision, a jump step to get to any hole he sees and is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield.  He has above average speed and has long runs of 76, 63 and 78 yards over the last three seasons.  He is also very good at protecting the QB.  He reads the blitz and has the quickness to get to the point of the blitz to give the QB time to throw.

Rice is one of the few primary backs in the league that gets 75% of the running back attempts for his team.  He has average 4.6 per carry for his career.  He has also averaged around 70 receptions a year in the last three seasons with an 8.9 average per reception.  He scored 15 TD in 2011.


I loved Rice coming out of Rutgers in 08.  While there are other RBs on the market, I think the Browns would be better off going for a rookie rather than a vet UFA except for Rice.  Taking him out of the Raven offense would be a major step toward becoming competitive in the division.


Step 4 – sign a veteran WR from the UFA field.

Whoever plays QB needs a security blanket he can depend on to be on the spot to which he is supposed to throw the ball.  Here is my wish list with the emphasis on WISH.


DeSean Jackson Eagles 5-10 175 26 years old in 2012 season

Jackson is a 4 year starter that has 229 catches, for over 4000 yards and 21 TDs.  He is described as a head case but clearly wanted a long term big dollar deal from the team.  His production suffered a little this year but he is a top WR with true game breaking speed.   He will catch the ball and provide yards after the catch.  He is also a premiere returner.  He is so slight that he has suffered injuries throughout his career but those have not cost him too many games to rule him out of this list.


The Browns will pass on him because of the expense.  He wants a super star type contract and in my opinion deserves it.  He would single handedly make the offense better.  He has the speed to blow the top off the D and can turn any 5 yard crossing pattern into a TD.


Pierre Garcon Colts 6-0 210 26

Garcon is a 3 year starter that has 188 catches for 13.4 per catch and 16 TDs.  Although he has been used in Indy as a possession guy he has excellent speed and could be a speed guy as well.  He is less well known than most of the UFAs in this class but would be a #1 guy on the Browns.  He will go over the middle to catch a ball and can catch against tight coverage.  This could be the kind of WR that Cleveland could consider if Indy does not resign him.


Mario Manningham Giants 6-0 185 26

He has been a part time starter as a possession receiver with good but not great speed.  He has 160 catches with a 14.5 average per catch and 18 TDs.  He will go over the middle and is reliable.  The Giants are likely going to try to keep him but he may want to go elsewhere to become a full time starter.  He should not be too expensive.



Step 5 – sign a UFA FS.


The final position that I want a UFA is the FS spot.  This is the last line of defense and the safety play of the Browns in 2011 was not acceptable.  The safeties took bad angles to the plays that allowed long TDs against what was otherwise a good D.


Here are my two top picks for the Browns:


Michael Griffin Titans 6-0 203 28

Griffin was the 19th overall pick in 2007.  He started the last 10 games of 07 and has started for the Titans since.  He has had 17 interceptions with 44 passes defended and 389 total tackles.  He has decent speed and instincts to get to a position to make plays.

He is very solid against the run and plays zone defense very well.  He is not quite as good at man coverage but has good ball sense.  The best factor is that he has missed starting only one game and has not missed a game due to injury his whole career.


If the Browns sign the players I have listed they will have a substantially better season in 2012 than in 2011.  That would not only show progress but give the fans an air of hope that the “process” they keep hearing about will really work.

All of these players are young enough to be here in 5 years when the team had better be challenging for a Super Bowl.  One signing in each category would go a long way to filling the critical holes in the starting lineup.  If it is combined with a solid draft, the Browns could double or more the number of wins it had in 2011.  That would be refreshing.

Will the Browns sign any of these players?  Probably not but they must realize there are too many holes in the roster to fill with a draft only policy.

That is what I think.  Tell us what you think.

If you like this join me on the Internet radio version of News, Notes and Rumors M-Th at 6 PM EST on 

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He edits  He has also published several novels on and a non-fiction work at




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