After an unspectacular yet promising 2010 season win which rookie quarterback Colt McCoy and breakout tailback Peyton Hillis appeared to be the future for the Cleveland Browns organization, the 2011 season was nothing short of a huge disappointment. The Browns finished with the fourth worst record in the NFL, and due largely to the fact that they have so many inconsistencies offensively.
One area the Browns have been rumored to be needing to improve is the quarterback position, but there is a school of thought that says Mike Holmgren is not going to use his valuable draft assets to take a quarterback when there's a guy already on the roster with potential.
Obviously, the player in question is Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who has been a popular choice for the Browns in mock drafts across the web.
Griffin is a solid choice because he is a dynamic playmaker who could be the face of the Browns' franchise, but should that really be their top target when the 2012 NFL Draft rolls around? One person recently threw out the opinion that if the Browns were able to get Trent Richardson and Kendall Wright, they'd be playoff contenders potentially.
It's hard to imagine that this team is just two players away from playoff contention, but the defense was markedly better under Dick Jauron and head coach Pat Shurmur needs some time to get the offense rolling the way that it was in 2010, especially with the bounty of injuries this team had to deal with in 2011.
Perhaps not adding a quarterback is the wise choice for the Browns. Perhaps going after another "franchise" player would be the wiser move.
Clearly, discussing the draft possibilities is virtually pointless before any type of free agency or trades happen, which comes in mid-March. The Browns are not typically aggressors on the free agent market, but you have to wonder if that will be different this year due to the fact that the team could use some help at positions in which the free agent class this year is quite deep.
It all starts at the wide receiver position, where the Browns have a handful of solid "No. 2" receivers on the roster, namely guys like Mohammed Massaquoi and Greg Little, and a solid playmaker who can run the slot in Josh Cribbs. What the Browns need is a legitimate number one receiver, a guy who can take pressure off of everyone else in the offense.
One name that has been tossed around is New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham, who had five catches in the Super Bowl including an incredible sideline tight-rope catch that helped the Giants win the game in the final minutes.
However, Jamison Hensley of ESPN makes a good point that Manningham is simply a role player and would be the Browns sticking to the "status quo" at the receiver postion. Perhaps a better target for the young McCoy would be St. Louis free agent Brandon Lloyd, who will be one of the more hotly contested receivers on the market this year.
Lloyd is known for making big catches and he has proven over the last two years that his 2010 season with Denver was no fluke--he is a legitimate number one receiver capable of stretching the field and helping your team put points on the board.
Maybe the Browns will look at a guy like Vincent Jackson, who is a free agent out in San Diego. Jackson is one of the best big-play receivers in the game and he can also help the Browns stretch the field. He possesses a rare combination of size and speed, and while he has occasionally struggled with drops, he is a machine on third downs and can help your offense immensely.
Whatever the Browns choose to do, I think the focus in free agency should be seeing what to do about the wide receiver position. Adding a big time weapon in the passing game could really propel this offense to the next level, and it'd allow the Browns to take a flier on a guy like Trent Richardson in round one, a guy who some are calling the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson or Darren McFadden.
Cleveland has an important offseason ahead, one that could decide the future of this organization.