Can the Browns trust Jadeveon Clowney and bring him back another year after his end-of-season rant? (Associated Press)
Browns free agents: Who will stay and who will go?
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
The first order of business of the Browns’ 2023 transaction season is to evaluate every play made by every player in the completed 2022 season.
Before GM Andrew Berry can assess what the team needs to turn the tide of two consecutive losing seasons, he and his staff need to assess what they’ve got.
This is the most overlooked function of Berry’s job. If a GM can’t evaluate his own team properly, he has no chance of improving it.
That’s why Kevin Stefanski and his coaches are back on the job after a week off, poring over video of every play of every game of the last season. They – and newly hired defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz – will grade and write a report on every player. Their reports will serve as the basis for offseason roster decisions made by Berry.
The Browns have 26 players whose contracts have expired. Twenty-one are unrestricted free agents, who can change teams or be re-signed. Two are restricted free agents, who may be protected by the Browns with qualifying offers. And three are exclusive rights free agents, who can be retained with minimal offers extended by the Browns.
Here’s our review among the major players, who should stay and who should go.
1. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney: No way should he be trusted after refusing to play on first and second downs in the first Baltimore game and then dumping on the coaches for showing favoritism to Myles Garrett in an end-of-season, passive-aggressive rant. Buh-bye.
2. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett: He deserves the chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere. Besides, Deshaun Watson’s ridiculous contract pretty much mandates his backup to be near the NFL minimum wage for the next four years.
3. Running back Kareem Hunt: Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said every back should average 5.0 yards per rush in line coach Bill Callahan’s exceptional running scheme. Hunt averaged 4.2 yards over four seasons. He will prosper elsewhere.
4. Cornerback Greedy Williams: His play time fell off drastically after he complained about being inserted in mop-up duty in the Buffalo game, per a source. He played only 10 snaps over the last six games. Didn’t matter, really. M.J. Emerson was drafted to replace him.
5. Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard: Played only 39 snaps in each of the past two seasons. It’s time.
6. Running back D’Ernest Johnson: Made $1.21 million for 35 snaps on offense and 200 on special teams. Another victim of the transition to Watson. Running backs after Nick Chubb will have to play on minimum contracts.
7. Defensive tackle Taven Bryan: He actually turned in a career-high three sacks and hit all his bonuses for a $4 million one-year payday. I think Schwartz might want better.
8. Defensive end Chase Winovich: One sack in 178 defensive snaps.
9. Center Ethan Pocic: A tremendous bargain on a $1.187 million, prove-it deal, he saved the position when designated starter Nick Harris was lost on the second play of the first preseason game. This is the last position on the starting line the Browns have re-invested in. The problem is Pocic put enough good game on tape to merit a good contract elsewhere.
10. Linebacker Sione Takitaki: The run defense improved when he was moved to middle linebacker at midseason after the Falcons, Chargers and Patriots gashed the defense on the ground. He should have been resigned immediately. Alas, Takitaki’s torn ACL in the Houston game put his future in doubt. Maybe a one-year deal would benefit both parties. He’s the prototypical “football player” – very worthy of keeping.
11. Cornerback A.J. Green: As a restricted free agent, the lowest tender to reserve the right to match another offer for him would cost the Browns about $2.6 million. That’s a 300 percent raise for an underused cornerback who played only 13 percent of defensive snaps and surrendered 10 completions in 13 targets, per ProFootballReference.com. Still, I think he’s good and should get more play time as a fourth cornerback.
Could go either way
12. Linebacker Anthony Walker: A torn quadriceps in Game 3 begat a linebacker injury bug that would also claim Jacob Phillips, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Takitaki. His leadership was sorely missed. This is a player Schwartz will have to weigh in on.
13. Linebacker Reggie Ragland: He seemed to make an impact instantly after answering the Browns’ siren call after four linebacker injuries, and then suffered a shoulder injury in the last game in Pittsburgh. He’s old-school, a big-body, run-stuffing middle linebacker. Another Schwartz call.
14. Linebacker Deion Jones: He wound up playing 59 percent of season snaps on defense in only five starts and 11 games overall. There were some good things there. Schwartzie?
15. Offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt: Another life preserver on the offensive line who ended up with 50 percent of snaps, mostly as the emergency center after Pocic missed four games with a knee injury. This may be another case of a player putting enough good stuff on tape to receive offers in free agency. You’d like to have him on your roster, but at what cost?
16. Linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk: A valuable stalwart on special teams, he started two games at linebacker after the position was decimated. I’m sure special teams coordinator Mike Priefer would love to have him back.
17. Offensive lineman Michael Dunn: He was showing signs of another Callahan success story as a versatile reserve until a back injury sidelined him for the final nine games. He’s another restricted free agent who would receive a 300 percent raise if the Browns gave him the minimum tender. His mobility fits Callahan’s system.