The Browns are looking to solidify a secondary that was one of the strengths of the league's ninth-ranked pass defense in 2013.
Whitner, 28, could prove a precursor for an even bigger move, with the Browns showing significant interest in signing cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to NFL.com. Revis was acquired by the Bucs from the New York Jets last offseason, but Tampa Bay is under a new direction with general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith, who reportedly are wary of paying Revis' $16 million salary for 2014.
The Bucs released Revis Wednesday when he was due a $1.5 million roster bonus. The Oakland Raiders were also reportedly in the Revis chase as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Browns have one of the league's better cornerbacks in Joe Haden, but the other side of the field was vulnerable last season with teams regularly targeting Buster Skrine.
The Browns sent the Jets their first-round pick last year and a conditional fourth-round pick this year that becomes a third-round selection if Revis is on the roster March 13.
Revis was a Pro Bowl selection in 2013, but there were reports that he wasn't pleased with his role in the defensive system. The Bucs will have a new defense under Smith and coordinator Leslie Frazier, but the Browns would offer the same scheme as Revis played with the Jets.
In addition to Whitner, the Browns also signed linebacker Karlos Dansy in the opening minutes of the league year.
--Fired CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi did not give fired head coach Rob Chudzinski much in the way of improvement in 2013, but they did leave their replacements in excellent shape regarding the salary cap headed into free agency.
The Browns have approximately $59 million in cap room and plenty of needs to address before the draft in May. Their biggest long-term need is at quarterback, but they will probably wait for the draft to take care of that problem unless they use free agency to seek a steady backup. Rex Grossman from the Redskins is a possibility because Grossman was tutored in Washington by current Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
"We want to find the guys that can truly affect the game and build a championship roster," General Manager Ray Farmer said. "I can definitely say this is not an overnight process. We're not going to wake up tomorrow and say. 'Guess what? We found these 15 guys and made these changes and this all works and it fits.'
"A big part of building any team is chemistry. With that chemistry, we want to make sure we identify the right guys and level the playing field with the guys that are there and give those guys a chance to compete and demonstrate their talents."
The Browns used the transition tag on center Alex Mack. They would have five days to match any offer sheet he signs from another team. If he signs his transition tender the Browns would pay him $10.039 million in 2014.
Farmer is looking for an inside linebacker, a running back, a guard, a safety, a wide receiver and a cornerback in free agency. With 10 draft picks he might have to wait until May to plug some of those holes.
In using the transition tag on Mack the Browns decided to let strong safety T.J. Ward hit free agency. They are open to re-signing the 2010 second-round draft pick from Oregon, but according to reports a dozen teams are interested in Ward, including the Philadelphia Eagles. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was Ward's head coach at Oregon when Ward was a senior. Ward signed with Denver.
The replacement for Ward is Donte Whitner from the 49ers. Whitner, who in October announced he was changing his name to 'Hitner,' went to Glenville High School in Cleveland and attended Ohio State.
Shanahan wants the offensive line to be skilled at zone blocking, which means he might want an athletic guard.
Dion Lewis is back from a broken leg at running back. He was not slated as a starter before being injured in preseason last year, so the Browns still must fill the vacancy created when Trent Richardson was traded to the Colts for a 2014 (26th overall, it turns out) first-round draft choice.
Ben Tate could be on the Browns radar. The 25-year-old back from the Houston Texans started only nine games for the Texans in three years, which means he has plenty of tread on his tires. He did not average less than 4.3 yards a carry in any of those three years. He carried the ball 181 times for 771 yards in Houston's abysmal 2013 season.
--The Browns used the transition tag for the first time in franchise history when they used it on center Alex Mack. They used the franchise tag twice before, both times on kicker Phil Dawson. They tagged Dawson in 2011 and 2012. He left when he hit free agency in 2013.
--Quarterback Brian Hoyer's rehab from knee surgery is coming along so well in his mind he is no longer rehabbing. He says he is "working out" and vows to be ready for the beginning of the offseason program on April 7.
Hoyer is running five days a week, lifting three days a week and throwing to trainers as stationary targets three days a week. Recently he drove to the University of Akron to take advantage of their indoor facility and threw passes to Cecil Shorts III, a wide receiver from the Jacksonville Jaguars and a product of Mt. Union.
"It was good to throw to a moving target and an NFL caliber receiver," Hoyer said. "I'm going to try to hook up with some of the other guys. Maybe we can find somewhere inside to throw. It's going well."
--Wide receiver Davone Bess was released last week. The Browns were able to void a guaranteed portion of Bess' contract because he finished 2013 on the non-football illness list with personal issues.
A picture of Bess smoking what appeared to be a marijuana cigarette was posted on his twitter account in late December. Bess was arrested for displaying erratic behavior in Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in January.
--The Browns have no restricted free agents. Eight players that completed their third year in 2013 are all under contract.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me he flashed brilliance. He flashed that he can be a quality starter in the NFL." - Browns first-year coach Mike Pettine on quarterback Brian Hoyer going 2-0 in the two games he started and finished last year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Browns reached a contract agreement with free-agent cornerback Isaiah Trufant.
Trufant, 31, played in all 16 regular-season games for the New York Jets last season as a backup. He spent the last three seasons in New York and worked with Browns coach Mike Pettine there when Pettine served as the defensive coordinator under coach Rex Ryan.
Trufant made 20 tackles last season for the Jets. He was scheduled to be a restricted free agent, but the Jets elected not to tender him at the minimum level of $1.431 million.
--The Browns were able to scratch kicker off their list of needs when they re-signed Billy Cundiff to a one-year contract for $1.02 million last week.
Last season Cundiff revived his stalled NFL career by converting 21 of 26 field goal attempts. He was seven of nine between 40 and 49 yards and two of four from 50 yards and beyond. One his long-range misses was from 58 yards in the 27-26 loss to the Patriots on the road on Dec. 8.
--INSIDE LINEBACKER: The Browns might have to wait until the draft to address this, but they have a hole in the middle because they lost their leading tackler of each of the last three years when they cut D'Qwell Jackson. Craig Robertson, a starter in the 3-4 last year, was tendered as an exclusive rights free agent even though Pro Football Focus ranked him 52nd of 55 inside linebackers. The Browns added Karlos Dansby, but still could be looking for youth.
--SAFETY: Coach Mike Pettine needs a starter because T.J. Ward left in free agency. It was resolved quickly by signing Donte Whitner.
--GUARD: The Browns might take a quarterback with their first draft pick on May 8, but they at least have a starter in Brian Hoyer. Their starting right guard, Shawn Lauvao, signed with Washington and the possibility exists they could lose center Alex Mack even though he was hit with the transition tag. Starting left guard John Greco can play center.
TRANSITION PLAYER: C Alex Mack (tendered at $10.039M).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--G Oneil Cousins is versatile enough to play tackle or guard, but he is strictly a backup except in dire emergencies. He started the first four games at right guard last year in place of injured (ankle) Shawn Lauvao and was benched as soon as Lauvao was healthy. It is very unlikely he'll be re-signed.
--RB Willis McGahee was signed out of desperation in September after Trent Richardson was traded to the Colts. He started six games and averaged 2.7 yards a try on 138 carries. He will not be re-signed.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHT FREE AGENTS
--LB Craig Robertson (tendered at $570,000) was fourth on the team with 89 tackles last year.
--K Billy Cundiff: Potential UFA; $1.02M/1 yr.
--LB Karlos Dansby: UFA Cardinals; $24M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
--TE Jim Dray: UFA Cardinals; $5.625M/3 yrs, $2.25M guaranteed.
--CB Brandon Hughes: FA; $1.39M/2 yrs.
--CB Isaiah Trufant: Not tendered as RFA by Jets; $1.54M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed.
--S Donte Whitner: UFA 49ers; $28M/4 yrs, $13M guaranteed.
--WR Davone Bess (released).
--QB Jason Campbell (released).
--LB D'Qwell Jackson (released).
--G Shawn Lauvao: UFA Redskins; $17M/4 yrs.
--S T.J. Ward: UFA Broncos; $22.5M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
--QB Brandon Weeden (released).
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