By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Counting the days: NFL free agency begins in 28 days. The Browns will have anywhere between $30 million and $48 million in salary cap room – depending on which report you believe – to spend on making their team better.
Next week, the Browns’ new brain trust will meet to review the team’s direction in free agency. The meeting will include owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner, VP/player personnel Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski.
Then everyone but Haslam will depart for the NFL combine in Indianapolis. There, Banner will work his relationships with player agents and plant the seeds of potential future deals.
Haslam has said the Browns won’t make a big splash in free agency, but national media with associations with Banner and Lombardi have characterized the Browns as potential “big spenders.” If so, they may pick a few players from our 2013 all-free agency team.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco, 28 years old, Ravens. The Super Bowl MVP turned down $16 million-a-year last season and may want to topple Drew Brees’ $20 million average.
Running back: Ahmad Bradshaw, 27, Giants. Two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a 200-yard game against the Browns in 2012.
Wide receivers: Dwayne Bowe, 28, Chiefs; Mike Wallace, 27, Steelers; Wes Welker, 32, Patriots. Bowe is the most physically imposing, Wallace the fastest, Welker the quintessential dink-and-dunk recipient.
Tight end: Martellus Bennett, 26, Giants. He would be foolish to leave Eli Manning, who rescued him from four underachieving years in Dallas.
Offensive tackles: Ryan Clady, 26, Broncos; Branden Albert, 28, Chiefs. Clady will be franchised if the Broncos don’t reach a multi-year deal. If the Chiefs break in a new quarterback, they would be wise to re-sign Albert.
Guards: Andy Levitre, 26, Bills; Donald Thomas, 27, Patriots. Levitre, a second-round pick in 2009, has made starts at guard, tackle and center. New England was Thomas’ third team in five years.
Center: Fernando Velasco, 28, Titans. Former undrafted free agent made 16 starts in his fourth season.
Ends: Cliff Avril, 26, Lions; Michael Johnson, 26, Bengals. These double-digit sack artists are different. Avril could project as a 3-4 linebacker, Johnson could not.
Tackles: Henry Melton, 26, Bears; Terrance Knighton, 26, Jaguars. Melton is a quick penetrator in a 4-3, possibly one of the most coveted free agents of the year. Knighton can be a nose in a 3-4.
Outside linebackers: Anthony Spencer, 29, Cowboys; Paul Kruger, 27, Ravens. Both players are ideal rush linebackers in a 3-4. Spencer had his breakout season in Year 6; Kruger in Year 4.
Inside linebackers: Dannell Ellerbe, 27, Ravens; Brad Jones, 27, Packers. Ellerbe, who was undrafted, is seen as the heir to Ray Lewis if Baltimore retains him. Jones, a seventh-round pick in 2009 – a typical good pick of Packers GM Ted Thompson – is an ascending player who fits competently in the middle of a 3-4.
Cornerbacks: Derek Cox, 26, Jaguars; Keenan Lewis, 26, Steelers. Cox is one of the rare cornerbacks who can actually catch the ball. Lewis might be the best value at the position. He’s an ascending player who shouldn’t command the top dollar at an expensive position.
Safeties: Jairus Byrd, 26, Bills; Dashon Goldson, 28, 49ers. Byrd is the prototypical center fielder ball hawk. Goldson, who has started 62 of a possible 64 games the past four years, isn’t afraid to tackle, too.
Kicker: Phil Dawson, 38, Browns. We don’t need to belabor the point he is the best outdoors, northern climate kicker in the game today.
Punter: Dustin Colquitt, 31, Chiefs. His gross and net averages have risen in each of the past three years.
|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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