The NFL season has come to an end, and now the Cleveland Browns turn their attention toward free agency, where they have 26 players hitting the market including quarterback Joe Flacco and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
For the Browns, this means clearing cap space to get out of the red and give themselves some spending flexibility. This will be an easy task for Cleveland as restructuring the contract of Deshaun Watson will clear right around $44 million this season in itself. Just like they were a year ago, look for the Browns to be aggressors this offseason to continue to capitalize on the competitive window they have opened for themselves.
Part of that process is bringing back some of their own. While they will not be able to re-sign all 26 free agents, there are a handful that should be prioritized. We dive into which six should be at the top of the list for general manager Andrew Berry and his team to bring back in 2024.
All contract valuation numbers come from Over the Cap.
P Corey Bojorquez
Corey Bojorquez has been the best Browns punter since Andy Lee, longer than that? To pay him under $3 million per year on an extension, where his current value is slated, seems like a great reason to bring him back to the field in 2024.
Bojorquez finished seventh in the NFL in punts downed inside the 20-yard line, 12th in net yardage, and 8th in yards per punt a year ago. Finding a consistent punter, let along a top-10 one is not an easy task for any team to track down.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
DT Maurice Hurst
Ending his season on Injured Reserve with a bicep injury was a terrible way for Maurice Hurst’s 2023 campaign to come to an end. Despite the early end of his season, Hurst was a top-20 defensive tackle in pass rush win rate despite playing less than 200 snaps on a rotational basis.
This has been the story for Hurst, however, as he has suffered season-ending injuries in the last three years of his career. This also means that his pricetag will remain affordable despite his impact in 2023.
With a valuation sitting right at $2.1 million, the Browns can use the same injury exception salary break that they used to bring back Anthony Walker Jr. and Sione Takitaki a year ago as well. Hurst wants to be back, and with just two defensive tackles under contract entering 2024, this is a move both sides should be motivated to get done.
QB Joe Flacco
This one comes with caveats.
The Browns would like quarterback Joe Flacco back, and Flacco has stated he is interested in returning. However, the soon-to-be 39-year-old is going to test the market and feel out every offer he gets.
The Browns have proven they are willing to pay good money to a backup quarterback in the past. In 2020 and 2021, they gave Case Keenum $6 million per year. They gave Jacoby Brissett $4 million in 2022 to start for the team during Deshaun Watson’s suspension as well.
Over the Cap has Flacco priced right at $5.5 million as he gets set to hit free agency next month.
Will the Browns once again be willing to pay the price to avoid the repeat quarterback crisis they overcame in 2023? Will another team outprice them or give Flacco a chance to start that he cannot refuse?
LB Sione Takitaki
The Browns got linebacker Sione Takitaki back on a bargain last offseason, mainly due to his late-season ACL tear that put a damper on his market. Takitaki came back strong for the Browns in 2023, and even saw a great deal of starting reps at MIKE.
There is no doubt the ACL injury had an impact on his athleticism, however, and the Browns would be keen to look at a bit more speed at MIKE this offseason. However, Takitaki is one of the best SAM linebackers in the NFL and is a player who just lines up, does his job and puts in the work.
Over the Cap estimates Takitaki’s value at right around $4.7 million this offseason. For a linebacker who will give you quality reps at SAM and depth at MIKE, retaining the services of a player who has been a locker room presence since 2019 might be worth the change.
DT Shelby Harris
Why not run back the same semblance of the defensive tackle room for one more year? Maurice Hurst has already made the list here, and now the veteran Shelby Harris joins the party.
The Browns nabbed Harris for $3.5 million in 2023, and his valuation this offseason is right around the same as he is set to turn 33 years old this summer. Joining the room on a rotational basis, Harris and Hurst were a force to be reckoned with off the bench for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and his unit.
The Browns found great success in overhauling their defensive interior this offseason. Bringing back all of the established veterans while mixing in another young player would be in their best interest.
DE Za'Darius Smith
There is a real chance that Za’Darius Smith’s free agency number will price out the Browns from bringing him back. However, Over the Cap estimates his market at just over $9 million per year as he gets set to hit the open market.
If Smith is open to returning to Cleveland, and if the Browns can get him for around one year for $9.5 million or two years for $19 million, then we are talking about a realistic number for the two sides to work out. The Browns saw a big jump from Alex Wright, and they may feel comfortable starting him next year.
However, as they have every intention of staying competitive in 2024, they could look to keep their foot on the gas. Re-signing Smith would be a sign of that.