Which positions do the Browns most need to upgrade?
The Cleveland Browns tested the mantra of “next man up” during the 2014 NFL season.
Injuries hit the team hard, most notably when center Alex Mack was lost for the year with a broken leg, but the hardest hit area may have been the defensive line. At one point or another during the season, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes and Armonty Bryant all missed time due to injury.
Those injuries, especially the ones along the defensive line, revealed a hard truth — while depth is nice, if your front line players are just average and they go down with an injury, there is going to be a noticeable drop-off when the second string is forced into action.
The Browns will enter free agency and subsequent NFL Draft with holes to fill and money to spend. While the franchise had the highest adjusted salary cap in the NFL for 2014 at $157.42 million, the Browns are estimated to have about $48 million in projected cap space once all the accounting is done for the year.
While it is too early in the process to start looking at particular players the Browns should target in free agency — although the thought of Ndamukong Suh “accidentally” stepping on Joe Flacco or Ben Roethlisberger has its appeal — it’s not too early for the esteemed panel to start looking at which positions are most in need of an upgrade in 2015.
Back for another day 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.
Dave Kolonich, who’s been known to hang around on Twitter @DaveKolonich.
Today’s question: Outside of QB, what position do the Browns most need to upgrade?
Jeff: Can Joel Bitonio play right tackle? We know that Mitchell Schwartz cannot, but does the Browns’ brass know? Receiver help and a more legitimate pass rush would be nice, so don’t ignore those, but it’s all a distant second to adding value around your two Pro Bowlers on the offensive line.
Jared: Nose tackle. The Browns had no one at the point of attack and teams just ran it right up the middle. This led to outside players breaking their contain responsibilities to try to help. Backs would then just bounce outside for a long gain. I think a stud nose tackle would turn the Browns defense from good to great. I would go so far as to try to sign a B.J. Raji type, who can play nose or end, as well as drafting Danny Shelton or Malcom Brown in the first round of the NFL Draft.
David: The defensive line. I was reasonably pleased with the Browns got from the linebacking corps, but the team was obviously unable to deal with the run with any consistency. The Browns could use both first round picks on the defensive line and I wouldn’t bat an eye.
Mike: Wide receiver. You know how we’ve all been saying the turning point in the season was Alex Mack’s injury? I’m starting to think it was actually the return of Josh Gordon in general, the Colts loss schedule-wise, and the fourth quarter third-and-seven drop specifically. Mack’s injury might have started the slide, but Miles Austin’s injury knocked us out of the playoff race.
Dave: For the 20th year in a row, right guard and right tackle badly need upgraded. The defensive line is terrible and, other than Paul Kruger, there are no viable pass rushers.
Ryan: Nose tackle. Ahtyba Rubin and his giant contract will not be back. His play does not warrant it or an extension. Pettine’s defense is contingent upon big, athletic, space eating defensive linemen who can get interior pressure on the quarterback. Right now, it is severely lacking in this area. Until they get those pieces up front, the defense will continue to get gashed by interior runs and chunk plays, while the quarterback sits in the pocket with time to find open wide receivers. The Bryant Brothers (Desmond and Armonty) and Phil Taylor should be back, but the stud nose tackle in the middle will be a giant hole if not adequately replaced.
Coming tomorrow: Do you feel better or worse about the tandem of Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine than you did before the start of the season?