The Senior Bowl and NCAA All-Star week have wrapped up, and the NFL media is abuzz with reactions and takeaways from the brief glimpse allowed of some of the top draft prospects in 2018. Certainly with the #1 and #4 picks this April, the draft is a dreamworld for the Cleveland Browns and their fan base. There’s plenty to talk about when it comes to how best the Browns can utilize their bevy of draft selections, but before that day comes, Cleveland will have to decide how best to use an even bigger resource at their disposal: $110.5M in projected cap space.
As we’ve seen from many teams who have transformed themselves into contenders in the past few seasons, making the most of your high draft picks is important, but investing in the right veteran acquisitions is equally essential to success. Jacksonville is loaded with early round talents they selected, but they also invested in key free agents like Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell (both with Super Bowl experience). The Denver Broncos went to two Super Bowls and won one on the backs of homegrown talents Von Miller, Chris Harris, Demaryius Thomas and others, as well as free agents Peyton Manning, Aqib Talib (both with Super Bowl experience) and TJ Ward (a former Brown). The Seahawks Legion of Boom and Russell Wilson were homegrown, but Michael Bennett, Marshawn Lynch and Cliff Avril were transplants. Bearing in mind that greatness takes a perfect blend of draft and free agency success, we’ll spend some time taking a look at what positions make sense to target via free agency for the Browns in their current position starting today with cornerbacks.
Cleveland’s secondary play struggled in 2017 finishing 26th in TD’s allowed and dead last in opposing passer rating. Part of that was breaking in a pair of young safeties in Jabril Peppers and Derrick Kindred, but the Browns lack of shutdown cornerbacks was also a factor. Obviously, these don’t grow on trees, but here are a few options that may fit Clevelands rebuild perfectly:
Aqib Talib – the rumor mill is in full churn with word that Denver is shopping Talib and the remaining two years of his contract worth $19m. At age 32, you might not think he’s the best fit for a young team like Cleveland but Talib is still playing at a high level. The Browns can easily afford his salary and while many teams may balk at giving up a draft pick to acquire him, Cleveland could easily part with a 4th or 5th round pick making him a top end talent the Browns wouldn’t have to convince to sign. Talib would bring a veteran leadership to a young secondary and an anchor in coverage.
Trumaine Johnson – Johnson is going to be a top target for many teams this off-season as arguably the best available cornerback on the market. Cleveland has the cap space to run with the best offers he’ll see, so there’s no reason they can’t be players. Johnson is another strong coverage corner who would bring experience to a young secondary and at only 28, could be a long term asset.
Malcolm Butler – Butler is a little trickier as New England may opt to franchise tag him as opposed to letting him test the open market. But the Patriots have a considerable amount of money tied up in Stephen Gilmore and may not find it cap effective to pay north of $14m for a #2 CB. Enter the Browns. Same situation applies here as with Trumaine Johnson, a strong veteran lock down corner for a young and growing secondary.
Kyle Fuller – after struggling his first three seasons in the NFL, Fuller came on strong in 2017 and had an overall solid season for the Bears. Fuller has the ability to play inside and out and that versatility could make him an ideal fit for Cleveland. His play this year put him on several teams radars, but Cleveland has the cash to be a player here.
If you noticed a theme with the first three names I mentioned, you were paying attention. A veteran CB with playoff experience is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Browns secondary. At least this writer thinks so, but don’t take my word for it, let me know what you think and comment below.