The Cleveland Browns are officially in off-season mode. After the heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Browns have to make some key decisions. The Browns free agents this offseason aren’t the biggest names but could make a difference for next year’s team. The team will have some tough choices to make this coming March. Let’s take a look at what the Browns should do this spring to better the team for next season and which of the Browns free agents should return for next year.
The Top 10 Browns Free Agents
While the Browns have a lot of guys whose contracts will expire next year, there is a handful who made a large impact this season. And we’ll be looking at the ones who are most important.
1. Olivier Vernon
Olivier Vernon was a surprise last year and played his best football during the Browns playoff push before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Vernon was a key piece off the edge for the Browns the past two seasons but is now 31 and could want more money than the Browns would be willing to pay. With great defensive end depth in the draft class and some big-name free agents to watch, Vernon could be looking for a new home. The Browns are in a position to get younger on the defensive line. Saving money for future contracts would make sense and Vernon seems like one of the guys who could go. I’d guess he isn’t back next season
2. Rashard Higgins
This list is not in order of importance, but Rashard Higgins is probably every Browns fan number one choice to bring back. He made some big catches and was one of the best players down the stretch for the Browns offense. “Hollywood” is a fan favorite and has great chemistry with Baker Mayfield. This one makes too much sense as the Browns offense was key in getting them to the postseason this year, and Higgins was a huge part of that. Of all the Browns free agents, Higgins seems like the most likely to be back next year.
3. Terrence Mitchell and Kevin Johnson
I bunch these two together because it seems unlikely both are back at cornerback next year. Terrence Mitchell filled in at starter last year in place of the injured Greedy Willimas and played well. But with Williams coming back and Mitchell probably wanting a chance to start elsewhere, he and the Browns probably go in separate directions. Kevin Johnson is on his third team in three years and was on a one-year prove-it deal with the Browns. With plenty of veteran options available, I think the team will look elsewhere. With two third-round picks and some interesting players in free agency, the Browns are in a good spot to retool the secondary. This opens up more opportunities for Cleveland, the Browns free agents will be key to success next year.
4. Andrew Sendejo
OK. So this one is mostly a joke, as it seems obvious the Browns won’t bring back Andrew Sendejo after he had his worst season as a pro. However, Sendejo is a veteran, a leader, and a great locker room guy. I don’t think he’ll be back in Cleveland, but for any team that needs a veteran safety, he might be an option. I do feel his value has dropped significantly though. Of all of the Browns free agents, he seems like the most likely to move on, which fans would love to see.
5. Larry Ogunjobi
Larry Ogunjobi is a curious case. From what I can gather, it seems he wants to move on. The former third-round pick has had plenty of opportunities to re-sign with the Browns over his past four seasons in Cleveland. The stats would say Ogunjobi was underwhelming this year with just two and a half sacks and five tackles for a loss. But the energy and locker room presence he brings is unmatched by anyone on the defensive line. This seems like another spot the Browns want to save money. And they did take Jordan Elliot with a third-round pick last year.
6. BJ Goodson and Malcolm Smith
BJ Goodson was a quiet contributor this year for the Browns. Not only did he add leadership, but was the Brown’s most consistent run stopper in the linebacking corp. He was one of many players who Cleveland gave a one-year contract to this offseason. Among all of the Browns free agents, Goodson is probably the most confusing. To me, it seems like a coin-flip whether the team brings him back or not. If he is willing to take a small and team-friendly contact to help out the team next season it would make a lot of sense. But there could be another player the Browns covet more in unrestricted free agency.
While Malcolm Smith is worthy of his own spot, he is in a very similar situation to Goodson. A veteran player who played better than anyone would have expected. But the Browns may look to another player this spring if they like someone else. That being said, I would expect one of the two of these players to be back to help mentor the Browns young group of linebackers.
7. Karl Joseph
The last player we will bring up is another huge question mark. Karl Joseph had his moments this season for the Browns. Including a playoff interception and numerous big hits defensively. The former first-round pick didn’t catch for the Las Vegas Raiders and was a late signing for Cleveland this offseason. With the injuries to Grant Delpit and Ronnie Harrison this season, Joseph played a bigger role.
He’s worth another look this offseason as a third safety. As the Browns could let him play on run downs and let Delpit roam in the passing game. However, with a good safety class in the upcoming NFL draft and some other intriguing options in free agency, the Browns may want to move on from Joseph. But the tandem of Delpit, Harrison, and Joseph, seems like it could make some noise next year in the safety room for the Browns.
The Browns Free agents this year are interesting. It’s mostly veteran players who were on one-year deals this season and probably don’t return in 2021. The Browns probably retool the defense with different guys who aren’t the same one-year deals. That being said, the Browns got some good snaps from a number of these guys and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of them back in brown and orange next year.
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