John Dorsey

Ben Fontana/92.3 The Fan

Time to tamper: What to expect as free agency begins for Browns

With over $70 million in cap space available, where will the big splash be made?

March 11, 2019

Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Let the legal tampering commence, officially.

Starting at noon Monday, Dorsey and the Browns will be free – along with the rest of the league – to engage agents of players in contract negotiations.

Free agency feelers were sent out during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis but on Monday talks get serious.

Counting the impending release of tight end Darren Fells and following Friday’s trade agreement with the New York Giants to acquire defensive end Olivier Vernon for right guard Kevin Zeitler, the Browns will open the new league year with approximately $72 million in salary cap space.

After making 14 trades and adding 41 new players in 2018, including 10-11 starters, Dorsey doesn’t have nearly the same volume of holes to fill this offseason, but there are needs, just very few starting needs.

The Browns got a head start on 2019 by making two big moves – signing troubled running back Kareem Hunt to a one-year, league-minimum, prove you can stay out of trouble contract and acquiring Vernon from the Giants – this offseason.

Dorsey has plenty of cap space, but he is also looking at what awaits down the road when it comes to keeping their own players, which is why he’ll likely take a similar approach to free agency that he did in 2018.

A quick reminder of the biggest contracts Dorsey handed out a year ago:

Cornerback T.J. Carrie – four years, $31 million; $15.5 million guaranteed.

Right tackle Chris Hubbard – five years, $35.5 million; $15.15 million guaranteed.

Running back Carlos Hyde (traded to Jacksonville) – three years, $15 million; $5 million guaranteed.

Defensive end Chris Smith – three years, $12 million; $4.5 million guaranteed.

Cornerback Terrance Mitchell – three years, $10 million; $4.5 million guaranteed.

Following the release of Jamie Collins, Dorsey needs a new SAM linebacker and that is a priority as the new league year approaches. If there is a splash – or a big spend – to be made by Dorsey this offseason, it stands to reason this is where it would be made.

The top prize available is Justin Houston, released by the Chiefs, but he will be expensive. The four-time Pro Bowler, who racked up 22.0 sacks in 2014 and has recorded at least 9.0 sacks in five of his eight NFL seasons, was a cap casualty that saves Kansas City $14 million in room. He will command a massive contract in the $15-million per season average range.

Ravens free agent linebacker C.J. Mosely, a four-time Pro Bowler, also hits the open market and would be another big-ticket player, but Mosley played inside within the Ravens’ 3-4 defense. He has just 8.5 sacks but 43 tackles for loss in five seasons on the resume and will also get a similar contract to Houston.  

Look for the new starting defensive tackle to come through the draft rather than free agency. With Vernon’s $15.5 million salary the next two years combined with Myles Garrett’s impending blockbuster deal next offseason, having another impact starter on a rookie contract would be most helpful to prevent the Browns from burning cap space.

In addition to the defensive front, Dorsey would like to add depth at cornerback and safety, but those players will not be tier one free agents.

Offensively, the Browns are pretty much set as far as the starting 11 goes, meaning Dorsey again will be looking for value to add depth. With Fells out, the Browns will be in the market for a starting caliber tight end to compliment the emerging David Njoku.

Fans look at the Browns available cap space and expect that Dorsey will go on a free agency shopping spree, but that is not likely to occur. That approach to team building regularly does not work in the NFL.  

Dorsey is expected to be aggressive and active both in free agency and on the trade front, but he won’t get reckless.