With over forty million dollars in cap space, the Cleveland Browns can bolster their team many different ways. Here are five free agents that need to be wearing an orange helmet in 2014.
1. Ben Tate, Running Back
Rumors started floating around last season about Tate becoming a Brown. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. Tate is the perfect “all-weather” back for a team that used thirteen players to rush for just 1,383 yards a season ago.
As a back up for Arian Foster, Tate is waiting for the right opportunity to break out. Despite missing two more games in 2013, the 5-year-pro from Auburn had 911 all-purpose yards on 215 touches and averaged 4.3 per carry.
The downfall to Tate is his 10 fumbles in which he lost six of them in his three seasons played. However, a Dion Lewis/Ben Tate combo could be just what the doctor ordered on the shores of Lake Erie.
2. Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver
Before the start of last season, the Browns actually looked like they had stability at the receiver position. They traded for Davone Bess, one of the most consistent receivers in all of the NFL for the past five seasons. Their Josh Gordon supplemental experiment seemed to be going in the right direction despite his suspension for the first two games after testing positive for codeine in the offseason. And, Greg Little looked to build on his consistent and confident finish in 2012.
Where did it all go wrong?
Now in 2014, Bess and Little may be on their way out and the NFL’s most exciting young player Gordon is the last one left standing. The Browns will most likely select a receiver somewhere in the draft, but free agency is where instant weaponry lies. That free agent is former North Carolina Tar Heel, Hakeem Nicks.
Despite not scoring one touchdown last season, Nicks will be a hot commodity come March. Falling just four yards shy of 900 in 2013, Nicks caught 56 passes and averaged 16 yards per reception. Nicks would marry nice with Gordon and look great in brown-and-orange. What a difference a guy like Nicks would make in the Cleveland offense.
3. Alterraun Verner, Cornerback
Out of nowhere with the Tennessee Titans, Alterraun Verner became a force to be reckoned with in 2013. Like Browns Pro Bowler and fan favorite Joe Haden, Verner had at least 20 pass defenses and like Haden, his first pick-six of his career. The Titans do not have plans to put the franchise tag on Verner.
Drafted in 2010, also like Haden, Verner would allow Buster Skrine to move back into the slot nickel position and the new Browns secondary would flourish. A Haden/Verner tandem would put the bark back in the “Dawg Pound”. Verner is by far my top free agent want this off-season.
4. Michael Oher, Offensive Tackle
The Browns have a situation on the right side of the line. Part of why the Browns couldn’t establish a running game was because of the right side.
After a solid rookie season, Mitchell Schwartz declined in 2013. Part of it was because of the inconsistent play next to him and part of it was his own fault. With Shaun Lauvao testing free agency, Schwartz could be offered time at right guard.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Cleveland will bolster and address the offensive line in the upcoming draft, right tackle Michael Oher may be an awesome fit for the Browns.
Remember, the NFL is a buddy/buddy network. New offensive line coach, Andy Moeller spent five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He had a small hand in the selection of Oher in 2009 as the assistant offensive line coach. Oher has 80 games started in his career. That number sounds very familiar. Moving Schwartz to guard and bringing Oher to bookend Joe Thomas would be a great move.
5. Alex Mack, Center (Currently)
Do you remember long before Alex Mack when the Browns scuffled badly at the center position?
At one point, they had at least four different centers before signing the All-Pro LeCharles Bentley. Then on the first day of training camp in the summer of 2006, Bentley tore his patellar tendon in his right knee. The Browns traded for Hank Fraley to fill the role.
Drafted in 2009, Mack has been the anchor of the Browns line for five straight years. Mack has started 80 straight games and like his fellow Pro Bowl teammate Thomas, he has never missed a snap. Without a doubt, Mack needs to be resigned to a long-term deal like they did with Thomas. Locking up one of the best centers in the game would be the smart thing to do.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at [email protected]