2024 NFL Free Agent Browns Breakdown

As I did in both 2022 and 2023, I will breakdown the available free agents at the likeliest positions of need for the Cleveland Browns to attack in 2024. In general, a very savvy front office like the Browns are well aware that the free agent market historically is froth with busts and overpays. Quality teams mainly use the draft to find core, elite starters at premium positions like QB, WR, T, Def pass rushers and CBs. Free agency is most prudent to help build depth and attack those non-premium positions like RB, TE, interior OL, DT, LB and S. Teams don’t let elite players at those premium positions walk in FA so teams are likely to overpay for 2nd/3rd tier level players. The Browns are likely not going to shop at those premium positions for full time starters and instead find good undervalued rotation options.

EDGE Rushers

Current EDGE Roster Situation:

Myles Garrett is obviously entrenched as the cornerstone of not only the EDGE group but for the entire Browns defense. Last year, Andrew Berry was aggressive in attacking the FA market and the trade market by acquiring Clevanalytics darling Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who has made back to back appearances in this section for undervalued edge rushers. He produced a nice season with a 11.5% pressure rate (4th most pressures) and 5 sacks. They also traded for veteran Z’darius Smith who also had a nice season (15.1% pressure rate, 6 sacks). Oko will be on the roster in 2024 in his #2/#3 edge rusher spot but there is a question as to whether Smith returns. He played last season on the final year of his deal and will likely want one final big contract for his career. His underlying metrics are still very solid but he will be 32 years old at the start of the season and it’s a wonder if the Browns would be willing to go the extra mile for what he could see in the open market. I would lean against a return but obviously would love to have him back as would the Browns. Otherwise, 2nd year man Alex Wright made a lot of strides last season after a dreadful rookie campaign and registered 5 sacks on 21 pressures (9% pressure rate). He had four of his sacks in the final five weeks of the season so there could be indications that he could step into a larger role in 2024. In addition, rookie Isaiah McGuire only played 93 snaps last season but did pick up two sacks in the regular season finale vs Cincinnati. He too will look to step up in a rotational role.

If the Browns re-sign Smith, I don’t expect them to be active at all in the FA market for edge rushers. If he doesn’t sign then I would look for the Browns to look for another Oko like undervalued target.


Typical Browns Edge Profile:

I discussed the concept of undervalued pass rushers in the last two off-seasons https://clevanalytics.com/2022-browns-offseason/#EDGE when it comes to evaluating pressure rate metrics that are much more than just pure sacks. Historically, pressure rates are a lot more “sticky” from year to year and are a better predictor of success going forward than sacks. Sacks can be fickle and potentially misleading. Is a handful of “clean up” sacks valuable if it’s just a case of a QB turning away from the real pressure right into a sack? Isn’t it the case that some times, getting into the backfield quickly, forcing a QB to throw the ball away or even into a turnover is potentially more impactful even if it’s not a sack? Certain QBs (think Justin Fields and Sam Howell) hold onto the ball for a very long time leading to more sack opportunities. Maybe defenders pad their sack stats when facing those QBs vs others. If we can identify those pass rushers who did a good job (at or above group average) in pressuring the QB (pressures/pass rush snaps) but did not see an above average rate of conversion into sacks (sacks/pressures) then there is a decent chance we can see some positive sack regression going forward and the potential for an undervalued contract. Teams will pay up for sacks even when its unwarranted in many cases. 

The Browns have proven that they like to attack this market with the signings of Adrian Clayborn in 2020, Jadeveon Clowney, Takk Mckinley in 2021, the trade for Chase Winovich in 2022 and Oko/Smith in 2023. Clayborn was coming off a 2019 season in Atlanta where he generated an impressive 14.9% pressure rate but only sacked the QB four times (8.3% conversion rate). Winovich played sparingly in 2021 but was excellent the season before that one, generating an excellent 13.5% pressure rate, with six sacks (12.7% sack conversion rate). He too fit the mold of a high pressure rate, below average sack rate EDGE rusher. He also posted good combine metrics coming out of Michigan with an 8.6 RAS score. Clowney produced 0 sacks in 2020 but was top 40 among 123 qualified edge rushers in pressure rate. Takk McKinley was also signed in 2021 and he produced only 4 sacks in 2019 (when healthy) but was 34th among edge rushers in pressure rate. Oko generated an excellent 13.4% pressure rate and 5 sacks but a 13.9% sack conversion rate which was below the group average. Smith ranked 5th in the NFL in pressures in 2022 but “only” converted those into 10 sacks, again a conversion rate well below average. So the Browns clearly show that they would rather dive into the undervalued segment of the pass rusher market when they can.

I have also noticed that when the Browns go after a younger EDGE rusher either in the draft or via acquisition, they stick to their draft priors a bit and find guys who ran a fast 10 yard split at the combine. Maybe it’s all just coincidence as well but maybe something work examining. In fact, if you look at the 10 yard splits drafted or acquired by Berry and even back to Paul Depodesta, they all are better than the typical 1.65 Edge group average: Clowney (1.59), Winovich (1.57), Mckinley (1.60), Garrett (1.57), Nassib (1.62), Ogbah (1.56), Thomas (1.61), Clayborn (1.61). Za’darius Smith (1.7) is the only one who did not produce a good 10 yard split and clearly his NFL production was the only thing that mattered to the Browns.


Potential Fits:

Truth be told I think this is one of the worst Edge rusher classes in FA in a while. You never want to overpay for FA Edge rushers considering the best ones typically stay with their own team or get traded. Overpaying for B-C level edge rushers is not what you want to do. But in case the Browns don’t re-sign Smith maybe they take a dive into these waters to find an undervalued player.


In no particular order:

In case Za’darius Smith is not re-signed:

1. Bryce Huff (NYJ)- This the shoot for the moon option in case they decide to move on from Za’darius and are willing to spend up. At age 26 in back to back outstanding seasons with the Jets, Huff is the type of Edge rusher (young, multi year high pressure rates) that a team like the Browns would consider if the price is not extreme. He led all Edge rushers with a 20.1% pressure rate in 2023 after generating 20% on limited snaps in 2022. That’s elite level stuff. The reason his snaps continue to be limited and the Jets likely won’t re-sign him is that he is a poor run defender. He essentially is a pass rush specialist but for the production he gives you, I can live with his run deficiencies. The likelihood of the Browns paying up for Huff is very small but he does fit the profile of a guy you would consider doing it for.

2. Josh Uche (NE)– Uche is another 26 yo with uber pressure production on limited snaps. Among the Edge rushers with a pressure rate above league average of 11.6%, Uche generated the lowest sack conversion rate at just 8.1% (3 sacks) in 2023. For context, last season the FA Edge rushers who fit that profile on this list and played at least 100 pass rush snaps (Davenport had 2 sacks on just 77 pass rush snaps due to injuries) were Andrew Van Ginkel, Tyquan Lewis and Charles Omenihu. Those three improved their sacks from a total of 7 combined in 2022 to 21 in 2023, with all three generating at least five sacks. Uche did miss time this past season due to a foot injury and may have caused a drop in production for much of the season. When healthy in 2022, he generated an impressive 19% pressure rate and 12 sacks. He may not get the type of long term deal he likely is looking for so if the Browns can do a 1 year prove it contract, it’s an excellent option.

3. Tyquan Lewis (IND)– Lewis was on my list last season after generating a good 11% pressure rate but only 1 sack. He bounced back with positive sack regression, garnering five sacks with the 9th best Edge rusher pressure rate in the NFL at 17%. It doesn’t hurt that Lewis’ athleticism also fits what the Browns look for with a 9.5 RAS and an impressive 1.57 10 yard split coming out of OSU. Lewis is a great fit for Schwartz’s wide 9 alignment.

4. Andrew Van Ginkel (MIA)– Van Ginkel was my final cut on the Edge rusher list last season as he re-signed in Miami anyways. He continued his excellent play in a rotation role with Miami last year, generating a top 12 pressure rate with 8 sacks. He also finished 7th in PFF pass rush grade with a 90.6. He now has three straight seasons with a 10%+ pressure rate, so no reason to think he won’t continue with his relentless style of play. Miami’s cap situation is in a really bad spot so I highly doubt they will be able to afford him. His 9.26 RAS and 1.62 10 yard split coming out of college matches his recent production.

5. Denico Autry (TEN)- There may not be a more underrated pass rusher in the last five years than Autry. Even at age 34, he is still producing at a high level (10.6% pressure rate and 12 sacks). He did generate a fairly high sack conversion rate (22.6%) but some veterans who do this routinely like Autry can be excused. His sack conversion rates have reached 22.6%, 14.8%, 20.3%, 29.7% in the last four seasons. He has a 10.6% or higher pressure rate in each of the last three seasons so if he can maintain that figure and even if his sack rate regresses, he still would be in line for 8-10 sack range. Lets also not dismiss that Autry was in Tennessee when Jim Schwartz was a defensive assistant in 2021-22. He knows him well and Autry produced his two best seasons of his career from a pressure rate perspective under Schwartz. He also generated 21 sacks in those two seasons. Autry is one of those vets who could wait until June/July before signing with a team to see what happens in the draft and free agency. He has the potential for a Clowney like 1 year deal.

In case the Browns do re-sign Smith, I don’t expect them to do much more than find a rotation level Edge rusher at best. With Wright and Mcguire also in the fold, the Browns will not spend much at all with Smith back as well.

1. Trevis Gipson (TEN)- Gipson played very limited snaps with the Titans after two productive seasons with CHI. He is the type of minimum level signing that Andrew Berry has shown in the past with Maurice Hurst and Trysten Hill last season. He generated a solid 10% pressure rate with 13 total sacks in the prior two seasons with Chicago. He is still relatively young at 27 yo and Berry will like that he produced an excellent combine a handful of years ago coming out of Tulsa (8.8 RAS, 1.63 10 yard split).

2. Casey Toohill (WAS)- He won’t be on anyone’s radar and you can sign him for absolute peanuts to see if there is anything actually here. But I am listing him here only because he is still relatively young at 28 yo and was a combine monster coming out of the draft just four years ago with a 9.7 RAS and an outstanding 1.59 10 yard split.

Here is who they almost definitely will not be pursuing in this market and if you see these names written somewhere else in a column, don’t believe it. 

Jonathan Greenard (HOU)– Greenard is absolutely going to get overpaid for his 14 sacks. His pressure rate was fine, at 12%, but his 14 sacks came at an unsustainable 26.4% rate. Only Jihad Ward’s 30% rate and Leonard Floyd’s 26.7% were higher among pass rushers with at least 100 snaps. It should be noted that 8 of his 14 sacks came against three QBs- Bryce Young, Will Levis and Zach Wilson, who all rank top 7 in highest pressure to sack ratio. He had a below average 8.9% pressure rate in the three seasons prior to last year. Yannick Ngaouke (10.1% pressure rate, 27% sack rate, 12 sacks) had eerily similar numbers in 2022 then only generated four sacks in 2023 on virtually the same pressure rate. He likely will be a solid player in 2024 but not nearly worth what he will get in the open market.

AJ Epenesa (BUF)– Epenesa was one of the worst athletes we have seen at Edge that we have seen drafted within the top 50 of drafts in the last decade. Among 96 Edge rushers drafted in the top two rounds since 2013, Epenesa posted the 8th lowest RAS (4.06). His 1.78 10 yard split is the lowest of any FA this year and one of the lowest in the draft in a long time. His 13% pressure rate was above average but his 21% sack rate is one of the higher rates among FAs. This marks b2b seasons where his sack to pressure ratio has exceeded 20%. This coming after a poor 10% and 8% conversion rates in his first two seasons. Epenesa is a decent pass rusher but will likely be overpaid due to his age and production and does not profile as the type of athlete the Browns look for at this position.

Chase Young (SF)– His talent is tantalizing and his underlying numbers last year were solid but I am not sold on Young fitting what the Browns are looking for at this position. For one, he is likely to want a much bigger deal than he is really worth and could get it based on his #2 pick pedigree. As we saw vs Detroit in the Playoffs, his effort level is really a major question. He looks better in pads than he truly is as a player and some team will want to pay for that candy. I don’t see the Browns falling into that trap.


Running Backs

Current RB Roster Situation:

Jerome Ford is back as is Pierre Strong. Of course, the elephant in the room is what happens with Nick Chubb following his horrific knee injury. Who knows when he will be able to play again but a fair assumption would be around mid season. In that case it’s extremely difficult to imagine the Browns just keeping Chubb at his current $15.8M cap figure. In fact, I put a 0.000% chance that Chubb is playing in Cleveland at that number. I also think it’s a very low probability (<10%?) that the Browns would end up cutting him as well. The overwhelming likely scenario is Chubb agreeing to a pay cut or some sort of restructure where incentives are built into the deal to make back some of that lost money. We have seen other RBs like Aaron Jones and Joe Mixon just last year, take a pay cut to stay with their teams.

With that being said, Ford showed flashes as a home run hitter (11% explosive run rate) but was not good from a down to down success standpoint (41.7% success rate-60th out of 68 RBs). If Chubb is out for a chunk of the season as expected, Strong can stick around as a #3 RB and kick returner but the Browns could use another RB to split carries with Ford. This is the most front facing analytics-led front office in the NFL so there is little evidence that they’ll actually spend more than peanuts to attain another RB. Gun to the head I’d earmark a 4th round pick or later in the draft to snag one but in case they do decide they want a little more proven stability at that position, this is maybe the most deep FA RB class we’ve ever seen.

When it comes to the type of FA RB that Andrew Berry is looking to acquire, it’s hard to say bc in reality he has only drafted one true RB (Jerome Ford) and traded a bag of balls for Pierre Strong. There’s not much historically to go off of but in putting my analytics hat on, traits like the ability to break tackles/force missed tackles, good explosive run potential and the ability to catch the ball have to be at the top of the list. I also could not imagine Berry targeting any RB older than age 26-27 if he does end up going this route.

I don’t believe the Browns are likely to make any major moves at RB in FA or trade and in fact I’d say there is about a 75% chance that if they do acquire an RB this offseason it’s via the draft only. However, in the oft chance they want to go the FA route, there are a couple of very low priced options they could consider.

Potential Fits:

1. Antonio Gibson (WAS)– Gibson has essentially everything I think the Browns could look for in an undervalued RB. He is just 26 years old, ranked #1 in this class in missed tackles forced % and #1 in yards after contact per rush last season. He also caught 48 balls for 389 yards last year, making that 4/4 seasons in his career with at least 38 receptions. To be fair he only rushed the ball 65 times last season but even in his prior three seasons, including a 2021 campaign with over 1k yards, his 2.7 yards after contact is perfectly solid. He is not a guy you want to give 20 carries a game to but is a perfectly solid role player who can carry it 8-10 times per game and be your 3rd down receiving RB. He also won’t cost much of anything.

2. Zack Moss (IND)– I suspect Moss is on a lot of lists as a possibility considering how well he played last year in the absence of Jonathan Taylor. He finished with a solid 4.5 ypc, 49% success rate, 10.3% explosive run rate and 20% missed tackle rate, all above average levels. He also caught 27 balls out of the backfield. I think Moss would be more of an option if in the very small chance Chubb leaves.

3. Rashad Penny (PHI)– I lauded the Eagles signing Penny last offseason for virtually nothing. But he came to camp competing with De’andre Swift and incumbents Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott. He never gained traction in preseason and was non-existent in season. So he likely would cost the Browns nothing to sign and is still just 28 yo. He averaged an video game-like 6.2 ypc on a significant sample of 176 attempts in the 2021 and 2022 seasons for Seattle. He was PFF’s 12th highest graded RB in 2021 and incredibly led the NFL in yards after contact per rush in both 2021 and 2022 at over 4.2 in each season. His explosiveness is tantalizing and in a part time role, costing virtually nothing, he could be a solid option.

There is virtually no scenario where I can see Berry go after older vets at the tail end of their careers like Austin Ekeler, Ezekiel Elliot or Derrick Henry. Tony Pollard and Saquon Barkley look to be the best of the remaining bunch and those guys want and will likely get decent sized deals and are not real options. Of all positions, RB is the last place where this front office is going to overspend.





Wide Receivers

Current WR Roster Situation:

The Browns will bring back veteran Amari Cooper as their #1 WR to go along with Elijah Moore and 2nd year man Cedric Tillman as their top 3. Tillman only saw 42 targets but he was a disappointment considering he entered the league as a 23 year old, ancient by Browns terms. His 55.5 PFF grade ranked 27th among just 37 rookie WRs and his 0.63 yards per route ranked 31st. He also showed virtually nothing after the catch (3.2 yac). 3rd year man David Bell will man the #4 spot and for a 2nd straight season he didn’t show enough to prove that he can be a real contributor. He had 85 total yac yards all season with 37 coming on one TD vs the Jags with nobody near him. He is still relatively young but his awful athletic traits at the combine have proven to be a good predictor so far in the NFL with no strong ability to separate or gain much after the catch. Moore was expected to be a do everything WR last season and that never really materialized. He had some moments but the Browns expected more than 61-652-2TD. He finished 78th out of 96 WRs in yards per route. He’s best suited as a #3-4 than any sort of second WR option like he was last season. Veteran Marquise Goodwin is a UFA and he was brought in as a deep threat specialist. He led the NFL by a mile with 71.4% of his 14 targets coming via 20+ air yards. Unfortunately, he only caught one of those balls and never seemed to fit in.

Amari has been awesome in his two seasons with the Browns but he will turn 30 in June and has been dealing with nagging injuries for a while. It’s hard to keep assuming that he can play that #1 WR role yet again and will need help. WR is a premium position and Andrew Berry will not overpay in free agency to try and acquire a top level WR considering the best ones never make it to FA. The WR FA market is a wasteland of awful deals and Jakobi Meyers last season (71-807-8TD) is probably one of the better outcomes in many years. But in general, you will rarely if ever find #1 or even #2 level WRs in FA. In fact, since 2106, 38 WRs have received an average per year deal >4% of the cap in that season and only 4 of 38 gained over 1,000 yards in their first season after FA. 82% of those WRs gained <800 yds, 39% <500 yds and 71% <5 TDs scored. It’s just an awful idea and I don’t expect Berry to take that plunge.

With that, I see zero chance that the Browns go after guys like Gabe Davis or Marquise Brown, two low level #2s who will get paid by a likely desperate team looking for a #1. Calvin Ridley is interesting but he is 30 years old and coming off a somewhat disappointing season in Jacksonville. There is going to be someone out there (NE?) who is going to throw a lot of money at Ridley and will push him well out of Browns range. The Browns are much more likely to attack the #2 WR level in a trade or in the draft. This is one of the deeper WR drafts in recent memory and using their 2nd round pick on one makes the most sense and is the likeliest scenario.

With that being said, just in case the Browns want to look for some value at WR and if the deep draft pushes some of these mid level guys down to a much cheaper number, here are the best fits:

Potential Fits:

  1. Kendrick Bourne (NE)– Bourne is a do everything type of WR who can play inside in the slot and out wide, and could offer a similar output like Jakobi Meyers a year ago.  He tore his ACL mid season so the only way I can see the Browns take a shot here is if everyone passes on him in the first wave of FA and they can scoop him up on a 1 year cheap prove it deal. Otherwise, there is a low probability they will give him more than a short term deal. 
  2. I originally didnt have more than Bourne hear and suggested a trade for Rashid Shaheed instead but I decided to include a couple bargain basement WRs. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (TEN)- The Browns need speed and Goodwin was a flop, so Ikhine is a guy who has produced in the past and can get down the field. He is still just 27 yo and his 12.4 ADOT ranked 38th out of 83 qualified WRs last year. He has routinely stepped up into WR roles that he was never suited for when injuries to AJ Brown and others occurred. An under the radar attribute is his blocking ability as he was PFFs #3 graded WR as a blocker. He’s a dirty work guy and one that many teams would want. As a #4 WR he offers more positives than negatives.
  3. Equanimeous St. Brown (CHI)– ESB is an intriguing bargain basement WR based on his physical attributes alone. He generated one of the better combines coming out of the draft in 2018 with a 9.84 RAS, including a 4.48 40 at 6’4 and 215 LBs. He has shown flashes in the NFL but just hasn’t put it together. He only has 65 receptions in his short career but has made the most of those receptions as his 5.4 yac per catch is well above average for a WR. Similar to Ikhine he too is a willing blocker and has graded out as one of the best blockers at WR by PFF in his career. He could be a vet minimum level flier as a #5 type WR

Defensive Tackles

Current DT Roster Situation:

Andrew Berry did WORK last year in FA at the DT position with the splash signing of Dalvin Tomlinson as well as excellent bargain bin signings in Maurice Hurst, Trysten Hill and Shelby Harris. Hill and Harris were two of the top names on my list last year fwiw. Berry also curiously drafted Siaki Ika in the 3rd round, a DT who had zero pass rush ability at Baylor and was really just known as a hole plugger. He showed absolutely nothing last season and looks like he could be another bust, along the lines of a similar mid round DT a few years ago in Tommy Togiai. Harris, Hurst and incumbent starter Jordan Elliot are all FA this year and I imagine the Browns will be looking to bring back at least one of those guys (likely Hurst or Harris). With Ika not ready for a larger role there is definitely a need for 1-2 DT to fit in the rotation next to Tomlinson, even if one of Hurst/Harris comes back.

In terms of the profile of DT that the Browns could be looking for in FA, I am not going to re-hash the concept of the undervalued high pressure rate/low sack conversion rate DL that I discuss above in the Edge Rusher section, but much of the same concepts have applied with DTs as well. The Browns see the value of inside pressure, as many QBs struggle more with pressure in their face where they can’t step up as compared to edge pressure. They have signed DTs that have exhibited this mismatch in pressure and sack conversion in the past with Malik Jackson, Andrew Billings, Harris and Hill. They have tilted toward acquiring good athletes at the position as well. Hill and Taven Bryan (signed in 2022) were 9.5+ RAS guys coming out of the draft who underperformed early in their careers. They definitely will look for those pass rush specialists and I can guarantee based on the success of Hurst and Harris last season, will want to find those undervalued diamonds again.

But this DT class is phenomenal (depending on if KC re-signs Jones of course) and has many good options to consider. The Browns could go big game hunting and also go the undervalued cheap route.

Potential Fits:

1. Christian Wilkins (MIA)– Wilkins is the number one option if the Browns go big game hunting this FA season. It’s rare for a 28 yo pass rushing DT to be available like this but it’s only because Miami F’d up their cap situation and have so many mouths to feed. Otherwise Wilkins normally would never see the light of day of FA. Wilkins has always been known as an excellent run defender but proved his pass rush chops this past season, by almost doubling his career high in pressures (61) and posting a career high 10 sacks. He has improved his sacks in three straight seasons and I don’t believe it’s coincidence that he had his best pass rush season with real pieces around him. I could only imagine what he can do with guys like Tomlinson, Garrett and Oko surrounding him. Lets be clear, 1A at DT is Aarond Donald and 1B is Chris Jones, but Wilkins is squarely in that 2nd tier of elite DT and at age 28 is coming into his own. If the Browns spend up on anyone or any position this FA, Wilkins is the exact profile of player to do it.

2. DJ Reader (CIN)- If the Browns get priced out of the Wilkins market, Reader would not be the worst consolation prize. Reader was a huge cog to the Bengals DL the past few years and their run defensive splits with and without him have been massive over the last few years. He has had to deal with multiple injuries including his 2nd torn quad in the last three years, so there is likely to be a discount priced into his contract. He is known as a stout run defender but his underlying pass rush metrics are sneaky good and he has just been unlucky in the sack department. He has generated back to back above average pressure rate seasons (10.3% and 10.8%) but has turned those 66 total pressures into only 3 sacks in two seasons. DTs on average converted over 12% of pressures into sacks this past season in the NFL so to have a sub 5% conversion rate is very unlucky. You’d expect someone like Reader to have 8 sacks, with everything being equal. Maybe Reader doesn’t see the market he and his agent are expecting due to the injury concern and the Browns can swoop in with one of their patented 1 year prove it deals. I think if Reader is healthy, he could be the steal of the defensive class this offseason.

3. Leonard Williams (SEA)– Williams is another excellent option if Wilkins is out of the picture although I think it’s pretty likely that Seattle re-signs him after giving up a high pick for him during the season.

4. Da’Quan Jones (BUF)– When Jones was in Carolina two years ago, he was on my top FA DT candidates. Unfortunately for the Browns, he was swooped up by Buffalo and delivered two excellent seasons. If Buffalo wasn’t in such cap hell, he would likely be back. He ranks 2nd in pressure rate among the FA DTs behind only Chris Jones, and finished 12th in PFF pass rush grade. He is as consistent of a DT vet as you will find and is another great option in that mid tier for Cleveland.

5. Re-sign Hurst and Harris– Both fit the positive regression sack category even as well as they played last season. The Browns can easily just re-sign both players for the cost or less of the four bigger names above.


Current LB Roster Situation: The Browns could see some major turnover at the LB position this season as two starters from last year, Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker are UFA along with backup Jacob Philips. JOK, Tony Fields and Mo Diabate are the only LBs on the roster right now. JOK is a major playmaker for this defense, Fields is a core member of the special teams and mainly a backup LB while rookie Diabate showed flashes in camp last year while also playing on special teams. That leaves the middle of the defense open for a new LB and another 1-2 in FA and the draft. Maybe Takitaki is retained but I find it unlikely both he and Walker will be back.

LB is one of the least valued positions on the roster for a team like the Browns and they will likely never draft one in the top two rounds or spend more than a few million dollars in FA. During his tenure, Berry has signed BJ Goodson ($2.4M- 1 year), Malcolm Smith ($1M- 1 year) and Walker ($3M- 1 year). The Browns absolutely covet more of a pass coverage LB than one who excels defending the run. For instance, Walker (41 PFF run D), Goodson (58.7 run D) and Smith (41.4 run D) all graded terribly against the run the season prior to signing with the Browns. They all were very good tacklers, however, and none had a missed tackle rate above 10%.

The likely scenario here is the Browns negotiate with Takitaki early in FA and Berry lets the first wave of high priced free agents go and see what’s left. Essentially which LB is willing to sign in Cleveland for ~$3M and 1 year. You could probably toss about 10 of these guys in a pile and sign the 1-2 who are willing to take a low offer.


Potential Fits:

  1. Cody Barton (WAS)- Essentially the perfect type of LB that Berry likes to go after, a young veteran who is consistently at the top of the league in lowest missed tackle rate (3rd lowest in the NFL) but is decent enough in coverage (66 PFF coverage grade and 5th best in the FA class in lowest separation rate (h/t @arjunmenon100 https://x.com/arjunmenon100/status/1766613565132410991?s=20). His value will be very depressed bc he stunk in run defense (43.9 PFF grade). That fits exactly what Berry is looking for when it comes to an undervalued LB.


  1. Blake Cashman (HOU)- Cashman graded out as one of the best LBs among virtually all categories by PFF this year. This production came out of nowhere after three straight years of sub 150 snaps. The question is whether this was an outlier season or finally producing with increased snaps. He could get a larger deal than what the Browns would like and potentially kicking him too far out of range.


  1. Jordan Hicks (MIN)- The Browns will have good intel on Hicks due to his exposure to Kwesi in Minnesota this past season and the Eagles in the last few years. These three organizations have similar sentiment on the LB position and it wouldn’t stun me if the Browns grab Hicks as well. In Philly, Hicks was known as one of the best coverage LBs in the NFL and finished 2023 with a 70.2 PFF coverage grade.


  1. Josey Jewell (DEN)- Jewell is a solid middle LB and does everything pretty well. He is a perfect green dot replacement for Walker and is excellent as the QB of the LB corps. He is decent, not great, in coverage but is one of the more sure tacklers in the NFL.


  1. Nicholas Morrow (PHI)- Another Philly connection with Morrow. Morrow isn’t great but is solid enough and can play both the MIKE and WILL LB spots. Low missed tackle rate and is pretty good in zone on defense. Not the greatest in man coverage which could end up as his downfall but he’s solid enough everywhere else.
  2. De’Vondre Campbell (GB)– Late addition after being released on Sunday. He vaults to the top of the LB list for me if the price isn’t too rich. He was one of the best coverage LBs just two years ago and the Packers defense always played better with him on the field.


The Browns might be active in the backup QB market. DTR is entrenched as the #3 at least and could potentially be the backup this season. If the Browns go the veteran route they could bring back Joe Flacco, however, my guess is it would have to be a below market price in favor of the Browns. There is virtually no other example of a high priced QB with a backup QB making any real money. I am skeptical that the Browns will pay up for a backup. It would be great to add Jacoby Brissett but he is vastly overqualified as a backup QB with no shot to start barring injury. His servies will also be  Other non Flacco options:

  1. Marcus Mariota (PHI)- In terms of a backup, Mariota is ideal in that his mobility fits the same abilities as Deshaun Watson and the Browns would not have to change the offense if he had to play. Once again, he’d have to agree to a bargain basement contract.
  2. Kyle Allen (BUF)- Purely a dart on a guy who has familiarity with Ken Dorsey, serving as Josh Allen’s backup last year. He’s not very good but he is a veteran who has started a handful of games and serves his purpose.


Current CB Roster Situation: The Browns are loaded in the secondary and have a top 10 level shutdown CB on one side with Denzel Ward, an up and coming young CB on the other side in Martin Emerson, who is still on his rookie deal as well as slot CB Greg Newsome. They also have last year’s 5th round pick Cameron Mitchell, as their #4 CB and backup slot CB. He played relatively decent enough as a rookie to have high hopes for this season. 

With so much money allocated to the CB room as it is and the rest of the NFL scraping for just 1-2 decent CBs, the Browns could move Newsome in a position of strength to recoup a draft pick. Would they take a high 3rd round pick for him? That is about what I’d expect his market to be or maybe even a 4th and a swap of 3s or something. But with he and his agent likely wanting an extension soon, Newsome could definitely be a trade candidate.

Potential Fits:

Likeliest fits are guys who can play in the slot if they trade Newsome so that’s who I am focusing on. And considering they’d be giving up a good young CB like Newsome due to future cost, I would think the Browns would be looking for better value here:

  1. Keisean Nixon (GB)- Played over 700 snaps in the slot for GB last year and his 7.5 yards per target in the slot was essentially league average. It was his first real action as a slot CB and he held up fine. He’s also a dynamic return man and that flexibility makes him intriguing.
  2. Amik Roberston (LV)
  3. Myles Bryant (NE)