Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Name dropping: NFL free agency begins at 4 p.m. on March 12. A lot can happen between now and then. Players whose contracts are up can be re-signed. Players under contract can be released and enter the market as free agents. And some marquee free agents can receive the franchise tag from their teams and be severely restricted from leaving.
When it comes to free agency, Browns fans follow one commandment: Thou shalt covet thy neighbor’s free agent. They want anybody and everybody. I know this for a fact because I receive emails and Tweets every day asking why the Browns don’t sign (fill in the blank).
At the Super Bowl, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam tempered expectations in free agency when he said, “I don’t think you’ll see us making any big, splashy, high-priced moves.”
What follows is not a full-blown preview of free agency, but rather an appetizer. We’ve identified six potential positions of need and listed “big splash” and “little splash” possibilities to fill them. Some of the players listed could be re-signed or franchised by the time free agency begins on March 12.
Big splash: Joe Flacco, Baltimore.
Little splash: Derek Anderson, Carolina.
Analysis: The only similarities of these two are physical – big guys with big arms. The idea of Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome letting Flacco leave – to a division rival, no less -- after a Super Bowl MVP performance is pure fantasy. Anderson had his one good year with Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland in 2007 and followed him to Carolina in 2011. Despite a nasty farewell address to Browns fans in a regrettable email following the 2009 season, Anderson would love to rejoin Chudzinski as a backup.
Position: Wide receiver.
Big splash: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City; Brian Hartline, Miami; Greg Jennings, Green Bay; Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh; Wes Welker, New England.
Little splash: Danny Amendola, St. Louis.; Ted Ginn Jr., San Francisco; Dominik Hixon, N. Y. Giants.
Analysis: Bowe’s size (6-2, 220 pounds) sets him apart in a stellar class at his position. Wallace is the fastest and would diminish the rival Steelers by leaving. Hartline’s growth chart has been consistently up. Jennings and Welker are more effective in a West Coast offense. Amendola has trouble staying healthy. Ginn, the native Clevelander, has not had his receiving skills fully developed. Hixon, the former Akron Zip, has a lot of talent and hard luck; two ACL tears have slowed his career.
Position: Outside linebacker
Big splash: Shaun Phillips, San Diego; Paul Kruger, Baltimore.
Little splash: Quentin Groves, Arizona.
Analysis: Phillips has 69.5 career sacks and played the past six years for Browns coordinator Norv Turner, but will be 32 in 2013 and is on the decline despite 9.5 sacks last season. Kruger climaxed his first season as a starting rush linebacker with three sacks in the Ravens’ post-season run, including two in the Super Bowl. Groves, a former Jacksonville second-round pick, had his best NFL season in five years under Browns coordinator Ray Horton in Arizona in 2012.
Big splash: Antoine Cason, San Diego; Derek Cox, Jacksonville; Brent Grimes, Atlanta; Sean Smith, Miami.
Little splash: Mike Jenkins, Dallas; Keenan Lewis, Pittsburgh.
Analysis: Cason -- another who played for Turner in San Diego -- Cox and Smith each will command a hefty price. Grimes would have, too, until suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the 2012 opener. Jenkins, a late first-round pick in 2008, underachieved for five years in Dallas. Lewis is an ascending player who became a full-time starter in 2012 and prepped his first two seasons under Horton in Pittsburgh.
Positon: Free safety
Big splash: Jairus Byrd, Buffalo; LaRon Landry, N.Y. Jets.
Little splash: James Sanders, Arizona.
Analysis: Byrd is a productive ball hawk who had nine interceptions as a rookie and nine in three years since. Landry is more of a hard hitter who has played strong safety as well. Sanders is a journeyman, mid-round pick of the Patriots who was exposed to Horton’s defense in Arizona as a backup last year.
Position: Tight end
Big splash: Jared Cook, Tennessee.
Little splash: Anthony Fasano, Miami; Brandon Myers, Oakland.
Analysis: Cook is a big man who can run and catch who never has broken out in the Tennessee offense. Fasano isn’t a big-play tight end, but a reliable one. Myers broke out with 79 receptions in his fourth season in Oakland in 2012.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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