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Free agency preview: Should tight end be a higher priority than wide receiver for the Browns?

Mar 05, 2013 -- 2:30pm

By Tony Grossi

 

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Extra Points …

Free agency preview: The Browns can begin signing unrestricted free agents on March 12 at 4 p.m. Eastern time.

In preparation of free agency, we continue our preview of the Browns’ needs and the best available players with a look at wide receiver and tight end.

Position: Wide receiver.

Under contract: Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper, Josh Gordon, Greg Little.

Contracts expired: Josh Cribbs, Mohamed Massaquoi, Jordan Norwood.

Free agents to consider: Danny Amendola, 27 (Rams); Ramses Barden, 27 (Giants); Austin Collie, 27 (Colts); Ted Ginn Jr., 28 (49ers); Brian Hartline, 26 (Dolphins); Domenik Hixon, 28 (Giants); Michael Jenkins, 31 (Vikings); Greg Jennings, 29 (Packers); Mike Wallace, 27 (Steelers); Wes Welker, 32 (Patriots).

Browns needs: After years of darkness at this position, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Gordon, who didn’t play the previous two college seasons, jumped out of the supplemental draft and into his first pro training camp in July. After an understandably slow start, he improved consistently and finished his rookie season as the team’s No. 1 wideout. His physical skills are as good as any receiver’s in the 2013 draft. On a parallel track, Little emerged as a more reliable weapon in the middle of the field. He cut down his drops and improved his yards after catch. With Gordon as the over-the-top threat and Little producing from the slot, the biggest need is for another outside receiver with speed to keep defenses from doubling Gordon.

Analysis: Jennings, Wallace and Welker may command in the $10 million-a-year range. For various reasons, none would be the right fit here to justify the expense. Jennings is a classic West Coast offense-style target and Welker is a dink-and-dunk receptacle. Wallace has the pure speed of a No. 1 and would bring the incentive of avenging the Steelers’ loss of faith in him. But Wallace had attitude problems the past two years after his star ascended – and you don’t want to infect Gordon and Little with that. Choosing from the next rung of wideouts might be the wiser move.

Summary: While not a burner, Hartline is durable and productive and would be a nice fit. But the Dolphins have the cap room and desire to re-sign him. Of the others, Hixon (of University of Akron) and Ginn (Glenville HS and Ohio State) are intriguing and not because they have local ties. Both could double as a returner and take the pressure off Benjamin replacing the soon-to-be-departing Cribbs. Hixon is more accomplished than Ginn as a receiver, but has had two ACL tears. Amendola and Collie have had plenty of injuries. Jenkins and Barden have great size, but haven’t been too productive.

Position: Tight end.

Under contract: Jordan Cameron, Brad Smelley.

Contracts expired: Alex Smith, Ben Watson.

Free agents to consider: Martellus Bennett, 26 (Giants); Jared Cook, 26 (Titans); Fred Davis, 27 (Redskins); Anthony Fasano, 29 (Dolphins); Dustin Keller, 28 (Jets); Brandon Myers, 27 (Raiders); Dante Rosario, 28 (Chargers); Delanie Walker, 29 (49ers).

Browns needs: Coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner want to use multiple tight ends. For that to happen, they have to acquire more than one -- perhaps in free agency and the draft. Cameron flashed his athletic ability at times last year, but has not proved dependable in two seasons. He could still emerge. Smelley is sort of a ‘tweener H-back – undersized tight end/fullback – and his role in the new offense is uncertain.

Analysis: Cook, one of the fastest at his position, would be a superstar under Chudzinski/Turner. The Titans balked at giving him the franchise tag of $5.96 million. If that’s the average salary figure for his services, the Browns would have to lower their sights at receiver. But he is a player that could complete the offense and leave no excuses for the quarterback, whomever it may be.

Summary: Most of the choices after Cook would upgrade the position. This is a good year to be shopping for a tight end in free agency. If the Browns assign high priority to this position in free agency, they could augment it with a developmental prospect in the middle of the draft.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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