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Browns Mailbag: Where does Cody Kessler stand in Browns' QB search?

The sun isn't shining like it was in Phoenix, but we're staying dry inside the Browns facility and ready to tackle five of your questions. [

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Is it conceivable since Hue Jackson sold us so hard on Cody Kessler that they are considering not making the quarterback position a concern in this draft to allow Kessler an opportunity to show what he's got behind a much improved offensive line? -- Bart H., Lyndhurst

The Browns haven't committed to a certain spot in the draft where they plan to attack the quarterback position but addressing and improving the group remains a top priority as the offseason progresses. As Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta said at this week's owners meetings, the Browns will continue to take swings at the plate until they land the prototypical "franchise quarterback." And even when that happens, the team won't stop trying to improve the room as a whole because injuries can happen at any point in time. The Browns have made no secret about all of the homework they're doing on a number of the draft's top prospects. And it was made clear earlier this week the Browns aren't ruling out other avenues to address the position, whether it be free agency or trade.

Which brings us back to Kessler, who started the most games of any Browns quarterback in 2016 despite entering the year as the third-string quarterback. The third-round pick was efficient (65.6 completion percentage, six touchdowns, two interceptions) and played with poise over nine games. He suffered three injuries along the way, including two concussions, and was 0-8 in his eight starts. He did well under the circumstances, earned a lot of respect from his teammates and enters the season with a chance to improve and seize the starting role. But Jackson, DePodesta and executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown have made it clear they continue to see the quarterback position as a top offseason priority.

"I think Cody did some good things. I think there are some things he needs to improve at," Jackson said Tuesday. "One thing I think we all know about Cody is he's going to work his rear end off to improve and get better and he's been doing that this whole offseason. But I think the biggest part of all this is to keep trying to get the room better. Cody is one of the players that we'll consider; there's no question about that. I echo this again. There's some things he did really well as a young player in the league, but there's some things that he has to improve on to continue to take the next jump, like all young quarterbacks do. But at the same time my job is always to go find the guy who I truly believe can do it week in and week out consistently and help this organization win. And that's not saying that Cody's not that guy. We still have a draft and, like we talked about, other trade possibilities coming up to improve. And if you can improve, we have to do that as well."

We saw the free agents come and go with the Browns this year. How many Browns are going to be restricted or unrestricted free agents in 2018? -- Elmer L., Bangor, Maine

The following players, according to Spotrac.com, will be unrestricted free agents at the end of 2017.

RB Isaiah Crowell

WR James Wright

OL John Greco

OL Gabe Ikard

DL Desmond Bryant

LB Demario Davis

LB Christian Kirksey

LB Tank Carder

DB Marcus Burley

And the restricted or exclusive rights free agents are:

QB Kevin Hogan

RB George Atkinson III

OL Austin Reiter

OL Anthony Fabiano

DL Jamie Meder

DL Gabe Wright

LB Cam Johnson

DB Ed Reynolds II

DB Trey Caldwell

Joe Schobert seems to be a talented young player who's already making a mark on special teams. Where does he fit in Gregg Williams' base 4-3? At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds he's not an edge guy. Can he play the Mike LB behind an even front? -- Kevin A., Cleveland

It's yet to be determined where Schobert will fit because Williams has not committed to running a specific type of base defense. He has a history with all sorts of formations and will design his to suit the personnel on Cleveland's roster. Schobert was primarily an outside linebacker last season in the Browns' 3-4 but he also got some work on the inside.

The Rams show their newly signed free agency players on their updated roster, but no T.J. McDonald. Is he close to signing with the Browns, or is he not on our radar at all? -- Bob K., Ravenna

It was announced Thursday that McDonald was suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2017 season. The 26-year-old was tagged with a violation of the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. Ranked as the No. 18 free agent by NFL.com, McDonald remains unsigned after starting 53 games for the Rams over the past four seasons.

With Barnidge's struggles and Seth DeValve still learning, how early in the draft do you think the front office will address tight end? -- Kemp C., St. Thomas

There are some draft analysts who believe Cleveland wouldn't hesitate to use the 12th overall pick on the position. In every one of those projections, the Browns would be taking Alabama's O.J. Howard, whose name came up Tuesday with Jackson.

"We need skilled playmakers in a lot of different places as we continue to move forward," Jackson said. "We need to improve some of the guys we have as well. That position needs to upgrade, whether we do that with the guys that are there and continue to get better or if there's somebody in the draft that can come in and help our football team."

Even if the Browns don't use the 12th pick on a tight end and miss out on Howard, there are still plenty of viable options in what is considered to be one of the deepest tight end classes in recent memory. Miami's David Njoku could join Howard as a first-round pick while Evan Engram (Ole Miss), Gerald Everett (South Alabama) and Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech) are potential Day 2 options.

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