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2020 NFL Draft

On eve of free agency, Browns poised to 'pick their spots'

Free agency is the "now" story in the NFL, and the buzz of social media will reach its fever pitch Wednesday at 4 p.m. when the new league year commences.

But as Hue Jackson reminded listeners during a radio interview last week, the Browns -- with a reorganized front office and the newly acquired Jackson and his staff in place -- don't plan on being prisoners of the moment.

"We're trying to build a team that's going to be here for a long time. There's no quick fix in the National Football League," Jackson said. "You've got to do this thing the right way and we're not interested in doing it the wrong way.

"Everybody wants us to go grab every big-time free agent there is and put him on our team … We're going to do what's best for our team moving forward. Are there some free agents we'll take a look at? Yes, there's no question we will, but at the same time we also understand our team will be built through the draft."

According to's Top 99 Free Agents, these are the top wide receivers set to hit free agency. (All photos by AP Images)

Jackson stressed the Browns would "pick their spots" in free agency, which begins in accordance with the start of the new league year. Since Monday at noon, teams have been able to meet with agents of prospective free agents from other teams but can't sign them to contracts until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The Browns have been able to communicate with their own impending free agents, a group that includes wide receiver Travis Benjamin, offensive linemen Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz and safety Tashaun Gipson, throughout the offseason but lost exclusivity Monday.

In an interview last week on Cleveland Browns Daily, Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown noted a surprising trend developing across the league of many teams not retaining their own free agents. One look at's Top 99 Free Agents list shows loads of players who were every-game starters in 2015 with plenty of years left on their careers.

Identifying ones that could be fits with what the Browns not only want to accomplish in 2016, but also in the years beyond has been an ongoing process that dates back well past these past few weeks.

"We're not panicked if we lose any one or a bundle of our free agents," Brown said. "We do have a good plan moving forward to look at those guys."

Asked if the goal would be to find two or three players capable of starting in this upcoming season, Jackson acknowledged there were no guarantees during the unpredictable world of NFL free agency.

"I would say that that would be one of the goals but you can't because we also know we can get outbid. It's just part of it," Jackson said. "We'd like to have that happen but if it doesn't, I don't think we're going to bury our head in the sand. We know the draft is coming and that's the next place where you build your team."

Jackson witnessed that process unfold firsthand in his years with the Bengals, a team that saw its core on offense and defense -- Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, George Iloka, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Rey Maualuga -- come together through the draft during this stretch of five consecutive playoff appearances. The Browns hold all seven of their picks -- a batch that includes the second and 32nd overall -- heading into the 2016 Draft and could receive a handful more when compensatory picks are distributed later this month.

As the Browns' football operations department prepares for the draft, it will work to supplement holes that can be filled through free agency. And those sorts of moves can happen at any point -- not just Wednesday at 4 p.m.

"Free agency doesn't just start to happen and close in the first week of March," Brown said. "We'll be mindful and cautious and thoughtful throughout the process."

According to's Top 99 Free Agents, these are the top defensive backs available in free agency. (All photos by AP Images)

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