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Browns Mailbag: Assessing upcoming options in draft and free agency

Staff writer Anthony Poisal answers your questions


This week has been all about discussing what could be ahead for the Browns in the draft and free agency — we published our first mock draft Friday, looked at other mock drafts Thursday and, starting with this Mailbag, will begin to look deeper into what options the Browns have in free agency (as well as more draft talk).

Next week, the discussion will fully turn to free agency. Some new players will likely be on the roster by the end of the week, and that could reshape the draft discussion heading into the spring.

So keep the questions coming. We're diving into four of them today.

How important is this year in the front office in terms of how much capital they are willing to invest by restructuring contracts and pushing money into the future?

We'll let the GM do the talking for this one.

Andrew Berry has never preferred to discuss any contract matters with the media, but he didn't rule out that contract restructures could be ahead when he was asked at the combine if there's a benefit to knowing how much cap space will be designated to Deshaun Watson as the starting QB when making other roster decisions.

"I don't know if it's necessarily a benefit because even that can change based on your yearly strategy," he said. "That is not to suggest that is not a contract that could get touched at some point over the next several years, so I would not say that in and of itself drives anything."

Asked specifically if the Browns could restructure Watson's contract this offseason to reduce the cap hit, Berry said this:

"It could be on the table, but there is a lot of flexibility in terms of what we can do from a cap perspective."

"Flexibility" was a term Berry used a lot when talking about how the Browns could create their desired cap space for this offseason and beyond. Contract restructures are certainly a big part of that, but there are also other ways the Browns could increase the amount of money they feel they'll need to add talent this offseason.

"We look at really kind of two different mechanisms," Berry said. "We look at the cash that we want to spend, and then the cap is really an accounting mechanism for that. The rules are flexible. Whether it's releasing a player, trading a player, restructuring a deal or negotiating an extension, there are a number of different avenues to create cap space, and the approach we would take would really be dictated by the opportunities in front of us."

Who do you think is going to wear that green dot on the defense next year? I know that before he got injured A-Walk was our guy, but I feel like if we get a vet to shore up the safeties then he might be our man. What do you think? - Trenton K., Streetsboro

If the Browns re-sign Walker, I'd expect him to get the role again, but there's also several other notable linebackers who will hit the open market next week: Bobby Wagner, Eric Kendricks, TJ Edwards, Lavonte David, David Long, to name a few. If the Browns sign any of those guys, they'd likely be the top candidate for that job.

If the Browns make a splash at safety — Jessie Bates III, Juan Thornhill and C.J. Gardner Johnson could be some of the top guys available — then they could certainly jump into that role, too. The Browns have normally had a linebacker handle green-dot duties, but that decision will ultimately be made by Jim Schwartz after the Browns finalize their starting jobs.

What are the chances of the first pick the Browns have in 2nd round of Brandon Joseph from Notre Dame? He used to play with Greg Newsome at Northwestern. Seeing we got rid of Johnson at safety, I think that would be an excellent pick. - Jon S, Cleveland

There hasn't been much talk among draft analysts about the Browns targeting a safety in the second round, but it wouldn't be surprising to see that change if they don't address that need in free agency. 

Joseph would be an interesting pick because of his connection with Newsome — he also had nine interceptions his last two years at Northwestern before transferring his senior year to Notre Dame — but he hasn't been projected to go as a second-round pick in many recent mock drafts. He'll likely be drafted in the later rounds. Who knows? Maybe the Browns will take him.

Will there be a competition at center during training camp between Nick Harris and Ethan Pocic?

Probably not. Pocic is set to become a free agent next week, and if he re-signs with the Browns, it'll be because he's returning to be the starter again. We'll see what the Browns do there, but they don't feel they'd be in bad shape with Harris as the starter, either.

Here's what Kevin Stefanski said about the center position at the combine: "I think we have great options. Nick Harris is rehabbing and doing a great job. He's probably in the building as we speak. We have different guys that have played the position, and we'll see how it all shakes out."

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