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Free agency preview: 5 positions aggressive GM John Dorsey could attack this week

In 15 months as general manager of the Browns, John Dorsey has repeatedly shown his aggressive nature.

There’s no reason to think that won’t continue this week as free agency and the league year start.

Dorsey didn’t wait for the calendar to turn officially, agreeing to a trade Friday that will send right guard Kevin Zeitler and the No. 155 pick to the Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon and the No. 132 pick.

In Vernon, Browns add pass-rushing threat to help Myles Garrett


The next few days will feature more action from Dorsey, perhaps in a combination of trades and free agent signings. The Browns have many fewer needs than when Dorsey inherited a winless team in December 2017, but they still have a variety of positions that need reinforcement.

The free agent negotiating period — often referred to as “legal tampering” — begins Monday at noon and lasts until the league year and the signing period open Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Here are five positions to watch in the next few days.


The Browns ended their turnaround 2018 season feeling an upgrade was needed at linebacker. The process began last week with high-priced veteran Jamie Collins being released. Next on the agenda: finding a replacement.

Dorsey builds his offseason plan based on the strengths of free agency and the draft. With the draft considered thin at linebacker, free agency makes sense.

Minnesota’s Anthony Barr should draw Dorsey’s attention. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler who will turn 27 on March 18.

While Barr may not have lived up to his draft status — No. 9 in 2014 — he’s started 71 games and been productive with 30 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. He’s got great size at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and would look good next to Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert in the second line of the defense.

Barr isn’t the only option. Baltimore’s C.J. Mosley, Philadelphia’s Jordan Hicks and Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander are also available.

Genard Avery doesn’t seem ready to step into a starting role in his second year, so a major move is necessary.


One of Dorsey’s primary missions should be surrounding quarterback Baker Mayfield with better talent. That starts with receiver.

The Browns have pieces in place in Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway, but after them the receiving corps is loaded with question marks. And Landry and Callaway are 5-11, so size is missing.

Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams (6-4, 205) would be a perfect fit. He would bring size and the ability to make plays downfield.

He’s in his prime at 27 years old and has been solid over the last three seasons, averaging 51 catches, 813 yards and 5.3 touchdowns. He could command a contract averaging $10 million a year, but the Browns have about $70 million in salary cap space.

Signing Williams shouldn’t preclude the Browns from bringing back Breshad Perriman, but Perriman (6-2, 211) hitting the free agent market makes Williams even more attractive.

Perriman, 25, resurrected his career with the Browns in the second half of last season with 16 catches, 340 yards, a 21.3 average and two touchdowns. The numbers are pedestrian, but they apparently have Perriman and agent Drew Rosenhaus seeing dollar signs. The Browns tried to re-sign Perriman but haven’t been able to work out a deal.

Williams will be popular on the market, but there are other candidates if the Browns get outbid. Tampa Bay’s Adam Humphries makes some sense given his history with new coordinator Todd Monken, but he’s also 5-11. Bigger targets available include Jacksonville’s Donte Moncrief, Carolina’s Devin Funchess and Baltimore’s Michael Crabtree.


Arguably the biggest need on the roster is a playmaking defensive tackle to help with the pass rush. The draft is loaded with them, so the question for Dorsey is whether he should add a proven veteran or trust a rookie, likely picked at No. 17 or No. 49.

He could choose both.

Dorsey promises AFC North contention this season while trying to sustain success over the next several years. Signing a free agent such as Ndamukong Suh and drafting Clemson’s Christian Wilkins could be the best of both worlds.

Suh was a key piece in the Rams’ run to the Super Bowl and is a three-time All-Pro. The issue is he could cost $15 million a season. Jacksonville’s Malik Jackson is an alternative, and would add desired length with his 6-5, 290-pound frame.


Tight end has zoomed up the list of needs following the decision Sunday to release veteran Darren Fells. He played every game last year, started 11, was the team’s best blocker at the position and provided valuable leadership.

But Fells, 32, isn’t much of a receiving threat. New coach Freddie Kitchens and Monken want an offense that spreads the ball among several targets, including multiple tight ends.

The Browns have starter David Njoku, the No. 29 pick in 2017, and little else at the position. Seth DeValve has flashed potential but struggles to stay healthy and is far from a lock to make the team.

Dorsey could go after a couple of Bengals with injury histories in Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft, Pittsburgh’s Jesse James, Baltimore’s Maxx Williams or Oakland’s Jared Cook, who’s the best of the bunch but will be 32 and command the highest salary.


Teams are never satisfied at cornerback, and Dorsey obviously isn’t as he hosted former Texans first-round pick Kevin Johnson last week. The Browns didn’t tender restricted free agent Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who struggled last season but can play in the slot and was a member of the rotation.

So Dorsey is looking for an upgrade. There aren’t many big names in free agency — Bryce Callahan and Ronald Darby might qualify — but TJ Carrie and Terrance Mitchell weren’t headliners when Dorsey signed them last year.

The help might not come until the draft, perhaps as early as No. 17.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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