Coming into free agency, the two most difficult positions to address for the Cleveland Browns were boundary corner and a starting edge rusher. Entering the second week of the signing period, those are the two positions the Browns have yet to fill.
There are still attractive options out there including Carlos Dunlap and Mevin Ingram at defensive end. Jadeveon Clowney, who the Browns pursued last year, will come available in the next month or two when he finishes recovering from the injury that knocked him out from last season. The Browns were willing to wait last year as they had Olivier Vernon in house, but this year, waiting on him could be at their peril.
At corner, two more Tennessee Titans could be options as both Adoree' Jackson and Malcolm Butler are available. This doesn't account for potential trade scenarios the Browns could be investigating at either position.
Danielle Hunter is a name that has been out there from the Minnesota Vikings. Unhappy with his contract and hoping for a trade, he's a genuine superstar near the same level of Myles Garrett, if the Vikings are willing to deal him and the Browns paid the price to get him and can make the money work, the Browns would truly transform their defense into a fearsome one in just one offseason.
Yes, Hunter missed last season with a neck injury that would have to be investigated, but between 2018 and 2019, Hunter recorded a combined 29 sacks and 74 pressures. Adding that to Garrett, who in the past two seasons, 24 games, has recorded 22 sacks and 61 pressures.
The New Orleans Saints are under the cap, barely, but they aren't done with cap issues. At the moment, they cannot afford to sign their potential draft picks. They will continue to try to move money around, so Marshon Lattimore could still end up in play for a trade.
If all else fails and the Browns are unable to address either position before the NFL Draft, the Browns are not necessarily in trouble. Undoubtedly, the Browns would prefer to have proven veterans rather than relying on rookies for major roles in the defense.
The Browns could and perhaps should draft two edge rushers and two corners in the first four picks of the draft, two of which are slated to happen in the third round. They may need to maneuver some trades to ensure they get the players they want, but they would be covering their bases and giving themselves plenty of options.
At corner in particular, the Browns might be inclined to wait for the draft anyway. Adoree' Jackson is an extremely talented corner and the Browns would be fortunate to add him, but with Denzel Ward and Troy Hill, the Browns have corners with average height that are relatively slight.
The Browns might look to add someone with more size to be able to match up with some of the bigger wide receivers they will face, including Tee Higgins of the Cincinnati Bengals and Chase Claypool of the Pittsburgh Steelers just within their division. Greedy Williams is a longer corner, but it's not clear what he will offer this season and they might simply want more of it. Williams will compete in camp and hopefully contribute this season.
Three prospects stand out as possibilities. Jaycee Horn from South Carolina, the unlikeliest to last until 26 has size and strength, is physical and extremely competitive. The two that might be more attainable for the Browns are Greg Newsome out of Northwestern and Ifeatu Melifonwu from Syracuse. Both offer length, excel in off coverage, offer remarkable upside, but are not finished products. Considering everything the Browns have added to the secondary, the Browns might feel confident about their ability to incorporate them into the defense. Having Greedy Williams does ease some of that burden.
The Browns are going to find some depth in free agency, particularly a safety since the defense wants the ability to utilize three on the field at the same time. They need someone who can come in and contribute if someone gets hurt. It would be convenient to bring Karl Joseph back since he has experience in the scheme and has experience playing both deep and near the line of scrimmage.
But as tempting as it may be to scoop up some players like a fourth corner or additional depth at linebacker, the Browns should save those for the draft due to the financial implications.
Malcolm Smith is going to make $1.212 million, which is basically the league minimum. In the first year of Grant Delpit's contract, the 44th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, he only earned $1.357 million. Smith has a defined role, operating as a coverage linebacker, which is what they need from him. In general, the Browns are better off drafting depth than signing it and the Browns are going into this draft with nine picks.
Delpit's contract tops out at $2.375 million in the fourth year of his deal. Jordan Elliott, a third round pick made $834,259 in the first year of his deal and tops out at $1,383,659 in year four.
So, whether it's a fourth and fifth corner or their fifth safety or depth at linebacker, the Browns are incentivized to use those roster spots on draft picks, which saves them money and offers meaningful upside for the future.
Gareon Conley is a good example of someone the Browns could have interest in adding. Yes, he's from the area and played at Ohio State. He's a former first round pick who's trying to reclaim his career after a year lost to injury. It's more prudent for the Browns to draft a player that fits that spot, even if it's as high as the second round.
Unless Conley is willing to take the league minimum, that would more than many of their draft picks. His best case scenario only lasts a year with the Browns. They have a spare competing for a role on the boundary in Greedy Williams. The Browns should draft players that they can develop and potentially earn a more important role down the line.
The Browns need to add depth, particularly on defense that can play special teams. With fewer starting needs to address, the Browns can use much of this draft to fill out their ranks with players that can help on special teams now with an eye for more of a role down the road.
With a front office and coaching structure which appears capable of enduring, they can start building a pipeline of talent where draft picks might not be heard from much for a year or two, but step in and make meaningful contributions either in the case of injury or when the Browns have to let talent go.