As the free agency period in the NFL commences, and with the draft less than a couple of months away, the Cleveland Browns again have many holes to fill if they want to be a playoff contender. Among the top needs the Browns have is at the quarterback position, where neither Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn have definitively set themselves apart as the go-to-guy. Media types have speculated that the Browns will either go after Sam Bradford in the draft, or try to trade for someone such as Donovan McNabb or Matt Hasselbeck. I would suggest that the Browns do not select Bradford, given their history with drafting first round qbs. I also think that McNabb and Hasselbeck, while short term upgrades, are aging too quickly and could be a bit of an injury risk for the Browns. My suggestion for the Browns would be to trade for someone like a Troy Smith or Kevin Kolb and sign them to a short term deal. Sure they are unproven, but they might be less of a risk than turning to the draft, and having less wear on them than McNabb or Hasselbeck means that should they pan out you can sign them to a long term contract. Smith would be a natural choice and a fan favorite, as the Ohio State grad would be returning to the city where he starred in high school. And even though he is small of stature, one only has to look at the example that Drew Brees set to realize that you don't have to be big to succeed at the qb position. Smith has shown us while at Ohio State that he not only has the arm to succeed in the NFL but also the accuracy, completing over 65% of his passes during his senior year. He has also shown a knack for fitting the football in tight windows, and he does not lock on to one receiver, something that NFL scouts also look at heavily.
So if the Browns do not take a quarterback in the draft, the next question becomes whom do they select with the 7th pick overall. The current consensus is that they select safety Eric Berry from Tennessee or corner Joe Haden of Florida. While I would not argue with either of these selections, as they fill an immediate need for Cleveland in the secondary, that would not be my pick, as the secondary seems to be the deepest position in the draft. They could potentially wait until the second round and beyond to draft someone like safety Taylor Mays from USC or even further down the list draft OSU safety Kurt Coleman. Instead, I would argue that the Browns put themselves in a position to draft wide receiver Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State. Bryant has the speed, size and agility to make himself a natural compliment to Mohammed Massaquoi. And in this day where it seems the game has evolved from run first to pass first, you can never have too many quality receivers.
A third pressing need the Browns will have to address is the linebacker position. D'qwell Jackson retruns from injury to an otherwise underperforming unit last season, with former first round draft pick Kamerion Wimbley still struggling to make an impact. Last year the thinking was that the Browns would have drafted one of the standout LBs from USC, and while they eventually did draft a USC linebacker, it was not one of the big three. Certainly there are linebacker prospects in this year's draft, but the Browns will have to act quickly as the top LBs may not last past the second round. There is a small chance that the Browns could luck out and land someone like a Brandon Spikes in the early portion of the second round, but if not they may have to rely on free agency. The New England Patriots released Adalius Thomas, and signing him may be another option for the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns have a lot of decisions to make this off-season, as evidenced by the 11 picks they currently hold in next month's draft. How well they draft, as well as the choices they make in the free agent market, will ultimately determine if they are fighting for a playoff spot or just to get out of the cellar next season