The Cleveland Browns have some tough and not so tough decisions to make in regards to some of their upcoming free agents.
Just like every team in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns will have free agents and they must decide whether or not they want to bring them back on another deal. The decision in regards to some players is pretty clear, while others it is not as easy. Let’s start this off with a group of players that really do not require an explanation, but should not be back next season.
Easy no decision
Kevin Johnson, Karl Joseph, Kendall Lamm, and Andrew Sendejo. That’s the list and it’s a pretty easy one to figure out why. Three of these players were signed on one-year deals on defense and were either unavailable to play, flat out bad, or both. In regards to Lamm, the Browns can look elsewhere for a backup tackle as he was not that impressive when he did see the field.
Olivier Vernon is an interesting case considering he suffered an Achilles injury that ended his season. With the nature of his injury it could be a situation where he is not ready Week 1 and that could have an impact on what his market is this offseason. The Browns should consider bringing him back with the expectation of missed games and also adding another defensive end into the mix either through the draft or a low-cost free agent. If Cleveland goes down that path it would make an interesting dynamic on their defensive line which could prove to beneficial later in the season.
B.J. Goodson was another one-year deal that the Browns made on defense, but unlike those mentioned above, it hit. Goodson was easily the Browns best linebacker this season and was an impact player on a regular basis. Cleveland is going to have add linebackers through the draft and free agency, but bringing back Goodson should be somewhat of a priority.
There’s something to be said about the chemistry between Rashard Higgins and Baker Mayfield. The two clearly have a connection and just seem to click. That being said, here’s the deal when it comes to Higgins. He is a perfectly fine third or fourth receiver on a team that has already invested in pass catchers. Looking at just receivers he is firmly third behind OBJ and Landry. Add in tight ends he drops down to fourth or fifth on the list depending on the formation. Finally, add in the running backs and his place on the hierarchy drops even further.
The fact of the matter is that Cleveland needs to add on the defensive side of the ball and spending on offense should not be a priority. Unless a return on another bargain contract is in the cards, the Browns should look elsewhere to fill a role that honestly should belong to a much faster receiver. Cleveland lacks speed with their receivers and when looking at who they have invested in versus who they haven’t, it is much easier to find a burner type to compliment their current group rather than to replace them with explosive receivers and retain Higgins.
It has been an up and down career for Larry Ogunjobi so far which is why this is a difficult player to properly assess. There have been moments of equally good and bad play from Ogunjobi which is why the Browns need to be careful when evaluating this position. Cleveland currently has Sheldon Richardson under contract for next season, but there is an out available if they decide to choose that path. The Browns did draft Jordan Elliott in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft and Andrew Billings flies under the radar due to his opting out of the season. It really seems like Ogunjobi’s status could be tied to Richardson. Keep Richardson and let Ogunjobi go or move on from Richardson and re-sign Ogunjobi.
Cody Parkey was not terrible last season, but considering his track record why gamble on this again? Find a new kicker.
Terrance Mitchell started all 16 games for the Cleveland Browns this past season and he was fine, but did not play at a level that a starting cornerback should. If Cleveland can sign Mitchell to a similar deal he is coming off of and play him as a sub-corner it could work.
A lot of the reasons that apply to why the Browns should not re-sign Rashard Higgins apply to KhaDarel Hodge. Hodge does not give Cleveland what they need for a wide receiver behind their other receivers and the team should look to find another option as a bottom of the depth chart option.
If the Browns do decide to bring back Olivier Vernon as mentioned above it might be a good idea to consider also bringing back Porter Gustin. Cleveland might need to put together a combination of players at the start of the season to manufacture the production that will be missed with Vernon being out. Gustin, Adrian Clayborn, and a defensive lineman in the draft would certainly be able to hold down the fort in a rotational scenario.
As of now Cleveland has three other tight ends on the roster and it does not appear that any of them will be going anywhere any time soon. Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku are ahead of Stephen Carlson on the depth chart so there might not be an urgency to re-sign him. Carlson did appear in 88 offensive plays (8%) this season and 335 special teams plays (79%). Cleveland could continue to use Carlson in this capacity if they were to bring him back. It’s not a must sign scenario, but having a fourth tight end for a team that seems to be fond of them seems like a wise decision.