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2020 NFL Draft

Browns plan to bolster 2015 roster through draft, less with free agents


The plan hasn't changed.

What Jimmy Haslam said Wednesday about the Browns' plans to bolster their roster heading into the 2015 season wasn't new, and he acknowledged it as he said it.

With the opening of free agency just a few weeks away, it was time for a simple reminder.

"We have said very publicly that we plan on building through the draft," the Browns owner said in a meeting with local reporters. "So, getting the draft right is really important."

The Browns hold the most draft picks of any team and are the only one to carry two in the first round (Nos. 12 and 19). And though the Browns didn't get a bunch of production from their two first-round picks last year, they landed numerous players in later rounds or as undrafted free agents -- guard Joel Bitonio, linebacker Christian Kirksey, running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, defensive backs K'Waun Williams and Pierre Desir and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel -- who proved worthy enough to be considered core pieces for the Browns in 2015 and beyond. Cleveland also acquired its extra first-round pick during last year's draft in a trade with Buffalo.

"I think the jury is still out despite the struggles they had toward the end of the year on our two first-round picks," Haslam said of cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel. "We have not given up on them at all. We still think they can be contributors to the team, maybe outstanding contributors.

"I think after one year with 22-year-old individuals, it's a little quick to write them off. Now, if we are sitting here two years from now and they haven't contributed, that's fair game and fair comment."

Four of the core members of the Browns' defense -- Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby, Desmond Bryant and Donte Whitner -- were added to the roster through free agency over the past two seasons. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who led the Browns with 63 receptions and 824 receiving yards in 2014, came to Cleveland last year as a restricted free agent when the Bengals didn't match the Browns' offer sheet.

After numerous meetings throughout the offseason with Browns general manager Ray Farmer and Farmer's top personnel men, Haslam could safely say that trend, particularly when it pertained to landing high-priced new faces on the roster via free agency, wouldn't likely continue in 2015.

"I think you have to see what your team needs are, who's available and see what makes sense for your team," Haslam said.

The Browns, though, have a number of their own free agents they'd love to bring back to Cleveland. The Browns' 11 unrestricted free agents include quarterback Brian Hoyer, tight end Jordan Cameron, defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin, wide receiver Miles Austin and defensive back Buster Skrine. Linebacker Craig Robertson, who was second on the team with 99 tackles, is an exclusive rights restricted free agent.

"I want to win every game, no different than the vast majority of the fans," Haslam said. "We've said this on numerous occasions: We want to put together a team that wins consistently. You can Band-Aid a team together that goes 9-7, 10-6 or 8-8 one year. That's not what we are trying to do.

"Our 53-man roster is better than it was two years ago. I think it's better than it was last year. Is it where it needs to be? No. Are we in a very tough division? Yes. So we've got work to do."

This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.

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