Browns' Off-Season Priorities Should Include a New Contract for Joe Thomas

With some progress apparently being made in the labor talks, I thought it would make sense to take a look at what the Browns priorities should be at the outset of the new league year and then the land-grab that will almost certainly be Free Agency this year. 

Their biggest priority should be starting talks to work out a long-term deal for Joe Thomas.  I don’t know why this doesn’t get much mention anywhere, but Thomas will be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season.   Many assume that the Browns will use the franchise tag on him should they not be able to work out a deal, and often times the use of the franchise tag provides the impetus for sitting down and hammering out a new contract. 

However, that is assuming there is a franchise tag in when the new CBA is worked out.  There is no garauntee that the franchise tag will still be included as an option for a team, and given that most players raise a stink when getting the franchise tag because it means they don’t get to hit the open market, there is a strong chance it will get abolished.

Which brings us back to Thomas.  Easily the Browns’ most valuable player since coming back to the league, and a guy who has made the Pro Bowl ever year of his career.  With a young QB that the team hopes will be the QB of the future,  it would make sense to lock-down the left-tackle to provide long-term security.  Actually, no matter what the QB situation it would make sense to lock down a premier left tackle.  Which it’s why it is puzzling that it hasn’t done sooner.

Don’t expect the Browns to be super-active in free agency.  That isn’t GM Tom Heckert’s style, but if the current CBA retains the 4 year barrier to Unrestricted Free Agency, then there will be a flood of experienced veterans that will hit the market at once creating a potential buyer’s market.

With that in mind, here is a look at what the team could use most:

  1. Veteran help in the secondary.  It was amazing that the team went with as few as 3 corners last year, and as many as 12 linebackers.  But, with Eric Wright presumably becoming a UFA the Browns will have just 4 natural CB’s on the roster including 6th round pick Buster Skrine who shouldn’t be counted on for anything. 
  2. Defensive Line Depth.  Drafting Robert Taylor and Jabaal Sheard with the first two picks was smart because they will presumably be plugged into starting roles immediately and form the foundation of the defensive line.  However, with Ahtyba Rubin the only other proven DL on the team (with the departures of Kenyon Coleman and UFA Robaire Smith) the Browns have a starting DE position to fill.
  3. Linebacker Help.  The good news is the Browns moved to a 4-3, which requires one less linebacker.  The bad news is that their current projected starting lineup of Chris Gocong, D’Qwell Jackson, and Scott Fujita doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a stout defense.  Jackson missed 26 games the past two season, and Fujita missed almost half of last year.  With Matt Roth and Marcus Benard status dependent on free agency and possible moves to the D-line, this is an area that must be addressed.
  4. Address the right side of the o-line.  This area isn’t as bad as most think, but it still needs to be settled.  Shaun Lavauo appeared set to get the starting nod in 2010 at RG before getting injured.  His development is the key to the line because it would let the team focus on determining the RT position where Tony Pashos and John St. Clair have share duties when the other wasn’t injured.  Re-signing Floyd Womack would also be a huge bonus as he is still very serviceable and can play both RG and RT.
  5. Name Colt McCoy the starter, and give him another weapon.  I am not sold on Colt McCoy yet, mainly due to the fact that I have not seen him throw a long ball yet, but I have seen many throws come up short on go routes, which leaves plenty of concern.  Still, he at least earned a chance to be named the starter from the get-go, just so the Browns can take stock in him.  That being said, adding a veteran WR or change-of-pace back would at least help in giving him a fair shake.

This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, and could prove to be meaningless if the work stoppage drags on much longer.  In which case the team could very well treat the 2011 season as a practice run before hopefully becoming a contender in 2012, which is something that may happen regardless.

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