Browns Mailbag

Browns Mailbag: What are Browns' options at safety this offseason?

There's been a lot of movement since the last edition of the Browns Mailbag. There's a coach in place and even more work to be done as we head toward the second half of the first month of Cleveland's offseason.

Just think of all that can happen between now and the next Mailbag! 

We're diving into four of your questions on this lovely Friday in Berea.

Paul Depodesta - Is he in Cleveland's future or is he out after HC/GM search?? -- Greg P., St. Louis

DePodesta answered this question head on Tuesday after Kevin Stefanski's press conference. He put his own contract situation off to the side to lead the Browns' search for a new head coach and general manager. Long story short, he plans to be with the Browns moving forward.

"My feeling has been that and I have talked to Jimmy (Haslam) about this, let's get the head coach in place, let's get the GM in place, the rest of it will work itself out," DePodesta said. "I am not concerned about it. I expect to be here."

In terms of the offseason, everyone knows we need OT help on both sides of the O-line, but we need both safeties replaced on the defensive side just as badly, and an impact player at that. Who's available in the draft and free agency that we should be looking at? -- Phil H., St. Clairsville

Before evaluating the options in free agency and the draft, it's worth noting the loose ends Cleveland has internally -- and there are a lot of them. Damarious Randall, who has started 26 games the past two seasons at free safety, is set to be an unrestricted free agent in March. Juston Burris, who filled in nicely when the Browns were in a desperate situation early in the season and played a lot of meaningful football in 2019, will be an unrestricted free agent. So is Eric Murray, who helped the Browns as both a safety and nickel cornerback this past season. Veteran Morgan Burnett, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury during the Browns' Week 12 win over the Steelers, has a year left on his deal, but it's unclear when he'll be fully recovered. That leaves fourth-round pick Sheldrick Redwine, who played a significant amount during the final part of the season, as one of the few sure things back at safety for Cleveland in 2020.

So let's start with free agency. In the past two years, safety salaries have skyrocketed for the top players at the position after deals like the ones signed by Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins and Kevin Byard. Some of the notable names projected to be free agents in 2020 are Devin McCourty (Patriots), Rodney McLeod (Eagles), Jimmie Ward (49ers), Tavon Wilson (Lions), Anthony Harris (Vikings), HaHa Clinton-Dix (Bears) and Karl Joseph (Raiders). Of that group, it doesn't appear there'll be a player who commands the kind of deal as the aforementioned trio, but those are some solid, ready-made starting options.

As for the draft, the Browns at No. 10 could be in position to take the top safety in the entire class if they want. The two that seem to constantly stand above the rest in the various rankings you'll see across the Internet are Clemson's Isaiah Simmons and LSU's Grant Delpit. Both are routinely projected somewhere in the 8-15 range in the draft and could make some sense for a team with as many questions at safety as the Browns. Simmons is a much bigger body at the position at 225 pounds and played a number of different positions at Clemson, including linebacker, but most believe his future in the NFL is at safety -- much like former Browns Jabrill Peppers. Delpit, meanwhile, was the Thorpe Award winner as the best defensive back in college football and also brings a versatile skill set to the position. If the Browns are looking beyond the first round, some names to consider include Xavier McKinney (Alabama), Antoine Winfield Jr. (Minnesota), Ashtyn Davis (Cal) and Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State).

Check out photos of new head coach Kevin Stefanski's first press conference

Are there any good free agents Coach Stefanski can bring to the team from Minnesota? -- David H., Eastlake

We already mentioned Harris, whom NFL.com considers to be the No. 24 free agent in the entire league. He's coming off his first full season as a starter, and it was a big one. Harris, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent, intercepted six passes and recorded 11 passes defensed in his breakout campaign. Another intriguing one, considering Stefanski's recent glowing comments about the fullback position, is C.J. Ham. Cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are also set to hit the market.

Outside of Seibert, Williams and Wilson the Browns draft stunk. Browns do not have a clue when it comes to the draft. Why don't they hire Mel Kiper Jr. to do their picking? -- Michael L., Port Richey, Florida

I'd say that's an overly harsh assessment. First off, you named three of the seven picks as being good players. Secondly, those three players were really good for the Browns, who did not have a first-round pick. K Austin Seibert made the PFWA's All-Rookie team after making 25-of-29 field goals, CB Greedy Williams started every game he was healthy despite the Browns having a lot of veteran depth at the position and LB Mack Wilson, a fifth-round pick, seemingly got better with every game and played nearly every snap after Christian Kirksey went out for the season just two weeks into the year.

The other four draft picks -- Sione Takitaki, Redwine, Drew Forbes and Donnie Lewis Jr. -- certainly have room to grow. Redwine emerged as a starter late in the season and earned favorable remarks. Takitaki saw his snaps increase during the second half of the year but had limited opportunities because the two linebacker spots were manned by Joe Schobert and Wilson. Forbes, a sixth-round pick, was on injured reserve for the first half of the season and Lewis, a seventh-round pick, was a practice squad player.

Needless to say, there's a lot of time left before we can make declarations on this draft class, and that applies to both the group of players who played a lot as rookies and the group that didn't.

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