The winds are whipping off the lake, and we’re staring down our first of far too many weekends without NFL football.
It’s going to be a long few months, but we’re passing the time with four of your questions.
With free agency coming up in March, what are the chances the Browns go after kicker Stephen Gostkowski, a free agent this year, and shore up this important part of the team? Ever since Phil Dawson was not re-signed years ago, this has been a revolving door! Also, this would take away a key weapon for the Pats, who we just might see next year in the postseason. -- Philip H., St. Clairsville
We’re about a month away from the start of free agency, and we’re not privy to any of the players on general manager John Dorsey’s big board. So any guess one way or the other would be pure speculation at this point. In the meantime, the Patriots can use the next month to negotiate a potential deal to bring back the four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. Gostkowski, 35, is coming off a season in which he made 27-of-32 field goals and all but one of his 50 extra-point attempts. A handful of other veteran kickers are set to hit the market, including Robbie Gould, Dawson and Sebastian Janikowski. Matt Bryant, 43, is available now after his release from the Falcons earlier this week.
New special teams coordinator Mike Priefer praised Browns kicker Greg Joseph during his introductory press conference Thursday. As a rookie, Joseph was 17-of-20 on field goals and 25-of-29 on extra points. His longest field goal came from 51 yards.
“I still think he needs some technique work, but there is something there,” Priefer said. “He has a really big leg, and I think the to kick in Cleveland, to go to Baltimore, to go to Pittsburgh or go to Cincinnati, all of these outdoor venues that I have not been used to these past eight years, you are going to need a strong-legged young man. I like Greg. I like what he brings to the table. I think he has a chance to be a really good kicker. Will we bring in competition for him? I am not sure yet. We have not had those discussions. At the end of the day, I think he has a chance to be pretty good, and I did like him coming out.”
Larry Ogunjobi and Genard Avery were great picks in the middle rounds of the last two drafts. It will be interesting if the Browns can solidify their defensive line with some additional players that are overlooked by other teams rather than reaching for free agents? -- Rob M., Fairmont, West Virginia
You’re right about Ogunjobi and Avery. Absolute steals. Ideally, the Browns can do a little bit of both if the price is right for whomever they target in free agency. If Cleveland doesn’t opt to address its front seven in the first round, there’s certainly some opportunities to get quality players in the second and third rounds, where the Browns hold a combined three selections.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler does a great job of ranking players at every position, and there are a handful of names from his lists who could fit the bill on Day 2. If you’re looking for a couple who qualify as under-the-radar -- similar to Ogunjobi and Avery, who came from Charlotte and Memphis, respectively -- keep an eye on Hawaii’s Jahlani Tavai, whom Brugler ranks as his fourth-best linebacker in the entire draft. Tavai’s senior season was cut short by a shoulder injury, so the Combine will be a pivotal step in his pre-draft process. An off-the-radar defensive tackle to monitor is Western Illinois’ Khalen Saunders, who made headlines at last month’s Senior Bowl because of his decision to attend the event while his fiancee went into labor with his baby girl. Saunders is Brugler’s third-best “small-school” prospect in this year’s draft and ranks 10th in a defensive tackle group that could produce five or more first-rounders. One more to consider who does not remotely qualify as off the radar: Cleveland’s own Dre’Mont Jones, who starred at Ohio State, has been projected by some as a potential second-round option for the Browns. Jones had a breakout 2018 season, finishing with 8.5 sacks and an interception he returned 28 yards for a touchdown.
Does Denzel Ward have any concussion issues that would hinder his play next year? -- Dan D., Delaware
Ward, who suffered two concussions during the final month of the season, cleared the league’s concussion protocol shortly after the season ended, allowing him to participate in all facets of the 2019 Pro Bowl. Ward is coming off an exceptional rookie season, and new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks believes he can be even better in his second year.
“A Pro Bowl player, a rookie, a young guy who still has a lot of things to learn and grow into as far as understanding the game and really trying to perfect his craft at this level,” Wilks said Thursday. “I am excited about those guys, along with some of the other guys we have in place.
“I think really the guys that we have in place – (pass game coordinator/secondary coach) Joe Whitt and then we kept (defensive backs coach) DeWayne Walker – those guys are great teachers. My background at that position, I think, will be a plus for him, as well, with some of the things that I have learned and implemented over the years in just trying to get guys in the best position to be successful.”
At last month’s Senior Bowl, coach Freddie Kitchens said the team would continue to emphasize better tackling technique with Ward in hopes of preventing these types of head injuries.
“I love the kid,” Dorsey said. “I like the steps he has made.”
Compensatory Picks are a nice bonus for any GM. Do you believe the Browns will earn any extra picks in this upcoming draft. If so how many, and in what round(s)? -- Erik E., Canfield
OverTheCap.com does a great job of projecting these sorts of things, and it does not expect the Browns to have any compensatory picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Same goes for NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. That makes perfect sense because the Browns were as active as any team in free agency last season and didn’t lose many notable names on the flip side of it. We’ll know for sure in the coming weeks when the NFL announces them.