News & Analysis

2018 Free Agency Preview: Cleveland Browns

By John Kosko
Feb 6, 2018

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Dec 24, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) runs with the ball against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

What you need to know

The offseason is officially here now that Super Bowl LII is behind us. This can only mean two things for Cleveland Browns‘ fans: it’s their most important offseason for the sixth consecutive year and the NFL Draft is their version of the Super Bowl. It’s a sad truth for the team in Berea that has gone an unprecedented 1-31 the past two seasons. There is hope in Berea, as there is each offseason, but this has a different feel to it than previous years after another front office shakeup that has resulted in a complete overhaul of the hierarchy of the personnel staff led by GM John Dorsey. While the “Super Bowl” article will have to wait, the Browns are set to add an influx of talent due to a massive amount of cap space.

Salary cap room

$110,038,737 (2nd in the NFL, as of 2/6/2018)

Biggest Needs

  • Quarterback
  • Cornerback
  • Wide receiver
  • Safety

Notable free agents

Must re-sign

N/A

One of the main issues plaguing the Browns over the years has been a lack of talent and ability to draft and develop within. This offseason showcases that as there are just four players set to become unrestricted free agents as Crowell headlines the group, and neither of the other four saw more than 47 snaps. While Crowell has been efficient when given the opportunities, a draft class loaded with running back talent and Crowell’s public and social disapproval of his usage, there is no reason the Browns should look to extend the former undrafted running back.

Dream splash signing

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers

One can dream right? That’s why the title of his section is a “dream” signing. There is a greater chance of the Browns winning the actual Super Bowl next season than there is for this scenario happening. The only team in the NFL to possess more money in cap space than the Browns are the 49ers and just like the tale of his nickname’s sake, Jimmy ‘G’esus’ brought the 49ers back from the dead to rip off five straight victories to end the regular season. Garoppolo was fantastic from the uber-important, stable passer rating from a clean pocket at 110.1, sixth-best in the NFL. Also important, was his efficiency when not utilizing a play action fake, leading the NFL with 8.6 yards per attempt and a very good 94.5 passer rating. Again, much like his nickname’s sake, in this “dream” signing, it only makes sense for Garoppolo to wash his hands of the 49ers be the savior of the franchise and fanbase.

[Editor’s note: Read more about the free agency class of 2018 with the first ever PFF Free Agency Guide, which dropped for all PFF Edge & Elite subscribers. Not a subscriber? Sign up today and receive your copy with detailed profiles, exclusive PFF stats and much more.]

2018 free agent prospects

Lamarcus Joyner, S, Los Angeles Rams

Joyner is coming off a fantastic season, grading as the third-best safety in the NFL at 90.3 and tying for the best coverage grade at 92.2, after a position change from slot cornerback. Familiarity with Gregg Williams’ system combined with the fact that they should be able to offer the most money should put the Browns at the top of Joyner’s list of potential suitors. Allowing 0.36 yards per cover snap and missing zero tackles in coverage, Joyner would immediately solidify the backend of Cleveland’s defense.

Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears

Fuller struggled at the onset of the 2017 season after missing all of 2016 due to knee surgery. Through the first five games of the season, Fuller was looking like his pre-injury self, grading out with the fifth-lowest grade of 108 eligible cornerbacks, allowing 1.65 yards per cover snap and a passer rating of 93.2. A switch flipped for him as he completely turned his season, and career around, grading as the third-best cornerback from Weeks 6-17, allowing 1.15 yards per cover snap, a passer rating of 58.5 and led the league with 14 pass breakups.

Teams might be wary of offering Fuller top money because he hadn’t shown this elite level of play before but consider last year’s top free agent cornerback in AJ Bouye, who came out of nowhere in 2016 to grade as a top corner and only followed that up with an excellent season in Jacksonville in 2017.

Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Coming off a torn ACL, Robinson will need to be cleared medically. When he was healthy with a competent quarterback throwing to him (see Blake Bortles circa 2015 vs 2016), Robinson looked every part of an emerging top tier outside wide receiver. With a season grade of 87.5 in 2015, Robinson regressed along with Bortles as he saw fewer catchable targets, a drop in yards per route run from 2.17 to 1.33, and an average depth of target decrease from 13.1 yards to 9.4 yards in 2016.

While it’s unlikely for the Jaguars to retain his rights baring a franchise tag, Robinson’s addition to the Browns would allow for Corey Coleman to kick inside to the slot where he could use his elite short area quickness and ability to break tackles. The Browns had arguably the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL this year before Josh Gordon arrived and adding Robinson to pair with what could be a rookie in the second round of the draft would immediately bring that group into top half of the league potential. Also add in that the Browns will most likely draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall as well as bring in a high quality veteran, Robinson should find the Browns offensive situation much improved.

Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Some Browns fans might scoff at the idea of adding a running back in the similar mold to Duke Johnson, but McKinnon’s a versatile weapon and the Browns need weapons. Hue Jackson utilized just two running backs the past two seasons and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley essentially never gave anyone other than Le’Veon Bell the ball in Pittsburgh. However, if you are looking to evolve as an offense, adding McKinnon gives the running back room depth and versatility not unlike New England’s RB room with dynamic weapons in James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead.

McKinnon finished the season with an 84.6 overall grade that was balanced nicely between rushing (79.9), receiving (82.4) and pass-blocking (75.2). The former third-round pick had an elusive rating of 49.3, forcing 43 total missed tackles and averaging 2.67 yards after contact per rush. He dropped just three passes all year and averaged a respectable figure in yards per route run. Add in to the fact that McKinnon won’t demand very much money on the open market, this signing would still allow the Browns to re-sign Duke Johnson to a long-term deal. With Isaiah Crowell expected to leave via free agency, adding a capable veteran along with an expected Day 2 draft pick would give the Browns an excellent running back situation.

2018 Free Agency


Free Agent Tracker / 2017 free agent hits

2018 Free Agency Rankings


Top Offensive Line Options

2018 Free Agent Previews


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