Offseason Blueprint: Cleveland Browns

Notable Free Agents: Sean Jones, S; Andra Davis, LB; Willie McGinest, LB.

Projected 2009 Cap Space: $17,000,000

Draft Order: 5

Top Needs: Two years after signing LeCharles Bentley to a huge contract only to watch him suffer a career-ending knee injury on the first day of training camp, the Browns are once again in need of a center to bolster the interior of their offensive line. The team is also expected to beef up the linebacker corps and possibly add another defensive end for depth. Wide receiver and running back will also likely be addressed.

Offseason Outlook: Word has it that the Browns are already shopping quarterback Derek Anderson (the Jets have emerged as a possible suitor), which means Brady Quinn will likely become the unquestioned starter next season under center. But perhaps the majority of changes for the Browns this offseason will once again be made on the defensive side of the ball – especially in the front seven.

Adding defensive tackle Shaun Rogers via a trade with Detroit last offseason proved to be an outstanding move. Rogers was worth the risk (he was labeled as being lazy in Motown) and had a major impact along Cleveland’s defensive line last year. Corey Williams, another player the Browns added via offseason trade last offseason, was hamstrung with various injuries last season but showed his grit by playing hurt and is a steady player when healthy.

With the Browns set at those two positions on the D-line, they’ll turn their attention to the defensive end spot opposite Williams. Robaire Smith emerged as a quality playmaker in 2007, but a ruptured Achilles tendon cut his season short after only two games last year and the team was stuck with Shaun Smith, who proved to hit players more off the field (ask Brady Quinn), then he did on it. Don’t count on Cleveland upgrading this position in the first round of the draft because there simply isn’t a 3-4 end worth taking at No. 5, but the spot will be addressed at some point. Plus before his season-ending injury last year, Robaire Smith had only missed one game in the previous six seasons so if he can come back healthy, the starting job should remain his.

At linebacker, D’Qwell Jackson and Kamerion Wimbley are mainstays, but expect the Browns to bring in competition for Beau Bell and Alex Hall. Bell was a situational player mostly used on special teams, but he had two knee surgeries last year as a rookie and won’t be counted on to be a starter. Hall struggled against the run last year, but he proved to be an effective blitzer and could develop into a nice playmaker.

With Wimbley and Hall, Cleveland has a couple of ‘backers that can get after the quarterback. But with free agent Andra Davis not expected back, now the Browns need another run-stuffer to help Jackson in the middle and it would be nice if they could pluck Bart Scott off divisional rival Baltimore to fill that void.

In the secondary, re-signing safety Sean Jones is a must and that seems like a sure bet with him being quoted as saying he wants to finish his career as a Brown. Outside of that, this team actually has a nice mix of young talent in the defensive backfield – especially with second-year corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald emerging as solid playmakers last year.

That said, don’t dismiss the idea of Cleveland taking Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins with their first overall pick because he might be the best player available when the Browns select at No. 5. Although if the Browns can trade back in the first round, that may be their best move because there might not be a marquee prospect that would fill a position of need for them at No. 5. If Texas Tech wideout Michael Crabtree fell past the first four picks, maybe another team would swap with Cleveland and the Browns could add extra draft picks without reaching at No. 5. (Lord knows they could use some extra picks after former GM Phil Savage handed them out like candy on Halloween last year.)

Offensively, the Browns would love to add a center like Matt Birk to bolster their line, but he won’t come cheap and he’ll be highly sought after by many teams this offseason. Jason Brown (Ravens), Brad Meester (Jaguars) and Eric Ghiaciuc (Bengals) are the other top free agent centers on the market. The Browns could add another running back to compete with Jamal Lewis and Jerome Harrison, as well as another playmaker in the receiving corps, as well.

Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.’s name could come up in trade talks this offseason, but more than likely the new coaching staff would like to hang onto the dynamic (albeit often cranky) playmaker. Another name the Browns might throw out in trade talks is Braylon Edwards, who is set to become a free agent after this season and outside of his breakout 2007 campaign, has largely been a bust. It’ll be interesting to see how the team handles Winslow and Edwards’ situation this offseason.

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