The Cleveland Browns finally managed to put it all together and get to the postseason. They topped the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Playoffs and just came short of upsetting the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Playoffs. If the team makes another great leap forward, they can be classified as dark horse candidates to win it all next season.
Cleveland has a collection of young, elite talent on both sides of the football. Despite having such a talented roster, they still have an estimated $20,154,057 in cap space. The Browns personnel on offense are especially impressive. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had a bounce-back third season in the league. He has the privilege of playing behind the best offensive line around.
Tackle Conklin and guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller were all selected to the All-Pro Team. Even with the loss of wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., the passing attack didn’t miss a beat. Plus, Cleveland has two, solid running backs that can wear out defenses.
With that said, the priority this offseason is to bolster the defense. Here are two free agents Cleveland should not bring to FirstEnergy Stadium.
AJ Bouye, CB
At one point in his career, Bouye was one of the NFL’s best defensive backs. He was a member of the vaunted Jacksonville Jaguars defense and was a fast and aggressive corner, who excelled in man coverage. In 2017, he made the Pro Bowl after finishing with six picks and 18 passes defended. Unfortunately, his play has gone downhill from there.
Eventually, he was traded to the Denver Broncos, where the downward trend continued. Bouye sustained a shoulder injury and was slapped with a six-game suspension for violating league policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He will miss two games next season as part of the suspension.
The reason why cornerback is an area of need for the team is that Kevin Johnson and Terrance Mitchell are free agents. Cleveland’s young duo of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams is one of the most promising with the former already looking the part of a lockdown corner. Let us just appreciate for a moment how appropriate the nickname Greedy is for an NFL defensive back.
The problem is these two have had difficulty staying on the field due to various health issues and Williams missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.
This is why signing a reclamation project in Bouye is doubly risky. Sure, there is a chance that he finds his Pro Bowl form, but there is also a possibility that he joins Ward and Williams on the IR. The Browns would be better off getting a safer acquisition, even if he never reaches the heights of Bouye’s career.
Matthew Judon, EDGE
Edge rusher Olivier Vernon is hitting free agency and he will leave a hole in the defensive line. He did have some solid games and he finished with nine sacks in the 14 games he played last season, but he just couldn’t shake free from the injury bug. Sadly, he had a devastating, Achilles injury just last January. The timing could not be any worse for a 30-year old in a contract year. Every player responds to an injury differently and there have been strides in sports medicine, but Vernon will most likely miss all of the 2021 season.
Judon was a productive cog in the Baltimore Ravens defense and made the Pro Bowl these last two seasons. On top of generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he was serviceable in coverage assignments. He has been a solid pass rusher for years now.
One thing to consider when signing Judon is that he came from a system that dialed a lot of blitzes, which in turn created a lot of mismatches and open lanes to the quarterback. If the defense is not as blitz-happy or aggressive, this might affect his production. Also, Cleveland runs a 4-3 defense, so Judon would have some adjusting to do lining up as a 3-4 outside linebacker for several seasons.
He has come a long way from being a fifth-round pick out of Grand Valley State and plays with a high motor. His asking price might be just too high for the Browns, despite their cap space. Cleveland still has to improve their linebacker corps and address other needs in the roster. Judon’s price tag will be in the ballpark of $15,500,000 and there would be other teams willing to pick him up at that price point.
Due to scheme and expected salary, the Browns could opt for an edge rusher who projects as a better fit even though they have less production than Judon.