One free agent for Browns to consider from every remaining playoff team
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - One thing is certain in pro sports: winning teams can’t afford to keep everyone.
With that in mind, here is one free agent Browns fans should keep an eye on from each of the 8 remaining NFL playoff teams.
All these players are unrestricted free agents (but could of course re-sign with their current teams or be franchise-tagged).
The 2023 cap should be about $225 million per team, and the Browns can also roll over about $27 million in unused cap space from 2022.
Right now Cleveland is roughly $12 million over the cap but many cuts and restructures are expected this offseason.
Safe to assume the Browns can create any amount of cap space needed to make any moves they deem necessary.
They were also the top spending team in 2021, according to the NFL Players Association (the 2022 figures have not yet been released).
DE Dawuane Smoot is a better (and more expensive) player but Arden Key should be much more affordable and that should interest the Browns with Myles Garrett sporting a 2023 cap number of $29.1 million.
Key, 26, is making $1 million in the final season of his rookie deal.
He was a 3rd-round pick of the Raiders in 2018 and only lasted 3 seasons there, amassing a measly 3 sacks in 37 games.
Key upped that number to 6.5 in 2021 with the 49ers and this season has 4.5 sacks for the Jags.
He’s also played 17 games in each of the last 2 seasons.
Key, with 15 QB hits and a career-high 20 pressures in 2022, would give the Browns a promising pass rusher opposite Garrett
The Browns couldn’t stop the run at all this season (25th in the league) and defensive tackle appears to be the biggest need, so let’s plug in 317-pound DT Derrick Nnadi from Kansas City (ranked 8th in run defense).
Nnadi, like Arden Key, was a 3rd-round pick in 2018 and signed a 1-year deal worth $1.9 million before this season.
The 26-year-old had just 25 tackles and 0 sacks in 2022 so he’s not a Pro Bowler by any means, but he is a low-cost pickup and could be a valuable depth piece on a Browns d-line that needs multiple reinforcements.
Cleveland could definitely use an upgrade at linebacker and Leighton Vander Esch may be a good gamble.
When healthy, Vander Esch is a 6-4, 250-pound tackling machine (90 stops in 14 games this season).
Problem is, the former first-round pick is seldom healthy, having missed 17 games in 5 NFL seasons, and that’s probably why Dallas didn’t pick up his 5th-year option, instead signing him to a 1-year deal worth $2 million for 2022.
Linebacker is an obvious need with Anthony Walker, Jacob Phillips and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah all facing injury rehab.
Cleveland finished the season with in-season pickups Deion Jones (also a free agent) and Reggie Ragland playing major snaps.
San Francisco is loaded at most every position which means athletic linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair could possibly shake free.
Undrafted in 2019, Al-Shaair (6-2, 228 pounds) has shone in part-time duty behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw.
He’s racked up 199 tackles (11 for loss) in just 31 NFL starts.
At 25, his best football is ahead of him. Many other teams besides Cleveland should be interested.
Tremaine Edmunds is finishing a 4-year, $12M deal in Buffalo and Spotrac projects he’ll get around $11M per year in free agency.
The 24-year-old linebacker would cost Buffalo $18.7M on the franchise tag.
Edmunds has 565 tackles over 5 NFL seasons, starting all 74 games he’s played.
He’s also made 2 Pro Bowls and is the brother of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds.
Both were first-round picks in 2018.
Assuming DL Javon Hargrave is too pricey (Spotrac thinks he’ll get $20M per year), perhaps the Browns gamble on 34-year-old Brandon Graham, a once-premier pass rusher who strip-sacked Tom Brady to clinch Philly’s Super Bowl win in 2018.
Oh and the defensive coordinator then was Jim Schwartz, who’s now in Cleveland.
Graham has only played 43% of the snaps for Philly this season but still has 11 sacks.
With $60 million of cap space, the G-Men can probably keep anyone they want so the pickings here could be slim.
We’ll go with Julian Love, a 24-year-old free safety who could be intriguing if the Browns part ways with John Johnson III and his $13.5M cap hit.
Love has 116 tackles and 2 interceptions in 16 starts this season for a Giants defense that ranked 6th against the pass and 4th against the run.
The safety market is crowded (Jessie Bates, Jordan Poyer, Jimmie Ward and Adrian Amos should all get big money), so a guy like Love could fall through the cracks and present lower-cost value.
Spotrac projects Love, a 4th-round pick from Notre Dame, to get $7.8M per year in free agency and remember, New York also has to re-sign QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley.
Love is also a standout on special teams (50% of ST snaps played in 2022).
We’ll skip the aformentioned Jessie Bates, who’s in line for a big payday, and tab Germaine Pratt, a 26-year-old linebacker who’s started 15 games in each of the last 3 seasons.
Pratt, 6-2 and 245 pounds, is rangy and always seems to be in the middle of the action for Cincinnati.
Cincinnati will have to pay QB Joe Burrow this offseason and WR Ja’Marr Chase in 2024 so money could be tight for a team that’s never been known for big spending.
Free agency did seem to be on Pratt’s mind after a week 14 win over Cleveland.
In 7 career games against the Browns, he has 41 tackles (5 for a loss).
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