Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Which of their own free agents should the Browns keep?

New Orleans Saints v Cleveland Browns

A restricted free agent, Tashaun Gibson made the Pro Bowl after tying for second in the NFL in interceptions.

With only one game remaining on the NFL calendar, thoughts in Cleveland have started to turn to everyone’s favorite subject: the NFL Draft.

But before we can get to what has annually turned into the Browns version of the Super Bowl, the franchise has to work its way through free agency.

In addition to trying to solve the ongoing quarterback problem, which could include free agent Brian Hoyer into the equation, the Browns have several other decisions to make on their 11 other unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents.

Among the questions that general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine will work though in the coming weeks include:

  • Do they want to bring back Buster Skrine, a hard worker and favorite of the coaches but also a player who had the second-most penalties in the NFL last season, or are they comfortable trusting the Justin Gilbert can put his disappointing rookie season behind him?
  • What about tight end Jordan Cameron and linebacker Jabaal Sheard, talented players that were slowed this season by injuries?
  • Does Ahtyba Rubin bring enough to the table to warrant another contract?
  • Can they trust Miles Austin, a valuable third-down receiver, to make it through an entire 16-game season for just the second time since 2010?

The good news is that, dating back to Tom Heckert’s time in town, the Browns have had adults keeping an eye on the salary cap. That means Farmer and Co. can make decisions on who stays and who goes based solely on ability; they don’t need to release players they may want to otherwise keep for financial reasons.

jabaal-sheard-de-cleveland-browns_pg_600

Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard has seen his sack totals decline every year with the Browns.

It would be easy enough to take the stance that the Browns only won seven games with these players on the roster, so what would it hurt to let them all go. That course of action would just create more holes on a roster that still has some important areas to address (a topic we’ll be covering tomorrow), so we should expect to see some of the names on the free agency list back in town come the fall.

We’ve brought the panel back today to determine which of their own free agents the Browns should be sure to keep.

Back once again are:

Jeff Rich, a Senior NFL Writer at More Than a Fan; co-host of Rapid React on MTAF Cleveland; and who is heard live on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at sportsbyline.com. Find him on Twitter @byJeffRich.

Jared Mueller, an editor at Dawg Pound Daily. Follow him on Twitter @JaredKMueller and @DawgPoundDaily.

David Zavac, a Browns season-ticket holder and editor of Fear the Sword, who can be found on Twitter @fearthesword.

Mike Burgermeister, proprietor of 603brown.com and Grand Poobah of Cheddar Bay. Follow him on Twitter @603_brown.

Dave Kolonich, who’s been known to hang around on Twitter @DaveKolonich.

Ryan Alton from Draft Browns, who can be found on Twitter @RyInCBus.

Today’s question: You can only resign one of the Browns free agents; who is it?  

Jeff: Make reasonable offers to Johnson Bademosi and Tashaun Gipson. Let everyone else walk.  If not for K’Waun Williams, I’d say you have to give stronger consideration to Buster Skrine, but how many undersized defensive backs can co-exist on an NFL roster? Someone will overpay Jordan Cameron and tight end will be something of a deficiency in 2015, but the stars will never align for him and the Browns.

browns beat steelers 1

Tight end Jordan Cameron is talented, but his history of concussions are a concern.

Jared: I am not going to include Tashaun Gipson because he is a restricted free agent but he would be the answer. For me it is a toss up between Jabaal Sheard and Jordan Cameron. Sheard is a bit more talented and important, but the Browns have no other top flight answer at the tight end position. If Cameron’s concussion issue wasn’t such a concern he would be an easy answer. Still given our depth at outside linebacker and lack of depth at tight end, I guess I choose Jordan Cameron.

David: My heart says Jabaal Sheard. What he does isn’t always in the stat sheet, but few guys have played harder for the Browns over the last few years. I think he’s very talented, can get to the quarterback, and is solid against the run. Is he a perfect fit in Mike Pettine’s scheme as an outside linebacker? Probably not. But I think the Browns will miss his energy and attitude if he goes.

I’ll go with Buster Skrine though, which is as much a reflection on Justin Gilbert than anything. Skrine had a great year, and the way K’waun Williams plays I just don’t think you can count on him to stay healthy. With Joe Haden and Skrine and then some combination of Gilbert, Williams and Pierre Desir, I feel good about the secondary. Take out Skrine, and the question marks become more pronounced.

Buster Skrine

Cornerback Buster Skrine may be the most divisive player on the Browns that doesn’t play quarterback.

Mike: Perusing the unrestricted free agent Browns list, the top guy to retain is Buster Effing Skrine. Ahtyba Rubin, I love you, but you weren’t a presence this year, Maybe you’re not a “fit” in Mike Pettine’s defense, maybe you’re just getting old. Don’t know why Jabaal Sheard fell off, but he did and he wasn’t starting and Barkevious Mingo’s emergence (such as it was) makes it easier to play hard ball with Sheard.  Jordan Cameron?  Concussions aren’t his fault and he’s a stud when healthy.  But unfortunately concussions are “cumulative” so the probability is that he’ll miss more time. Also the run game improves when any other tight end is on the field. Miles Austin I definitely try to keep. But Buster is the No. 1 target because you can count on him and the drop-off to our No. 3 cornerback is pretty enormous.

Dave: Depends on the money involved. Buster Skrine is replaceable and they’ve already invested in Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert (who is going to be really good, regardless of what’s been reported). Jordan Cameron should retire. Jamaal Sheard with a reasonable deal. Otherwise, bring back Miles Austin for another year. And make an offer to Tashuan Gipson before another team does.

Ryan: Given Mike Pettine’s penchant for the secondary, I say you bring back Buster Skrine. Jabaal Sheard would be a close second, only because no one else really warrants the new contract. Sheard hasn’t been great but cornerback and outside linebacker are positions of value, and I still subscribe to the belief that you can never have too many. If you’re going to invest in free agency, those are the positions you want to do it. Tashaun Gipson is a restricted free agent, so they don’t have to do anything with him yet, but they’d be fools not to lock him up now.

Coming tomorrow: Outside of QB, what position do the Browns most need to upgrade?  

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