It has been a rather turbulent offseason thus far in the AFC North, with significant shakeups going in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns have seen a number of significant changes of their own, but will these changes be enough to pull them out of an era of irrelevance?
The Browns' defense will be making the switch to a 3-4 scheme under new head coach Rob Chudzinski and they have been active in free agency adding new pieces to that defense. So far this offseason, the Browns have signed 4 new players in an attempt to solidify their defense. DT Desmond Bryant, OLB Quentin Groves and CB Chris Owens have all been added in an effort to add depth at key positions on the defensive side of the ball. The Browns biggest move this offseason was signing former Ravens OLB Paul Kruger to a 5-year deal worth $41 million. Kruger is a rather unproven commodity despite playing very well down the stretch in 2012 and finishing first on the team in sacks. Kruger will have to show that he can play well on consistent basis without the benefit of an elite pass rusher in Terrell Suggs on the other side stealing the majority of the pass blocking attention. Inside Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is one of the best in the league and is poised to continue to lead the Cleveland defense in 2013. In the secondary, the Browns will need find more talent to fill in around cornerback Joe Haden. Look for Cleveland to target Alabama CB Dee Milliner if he is still available at the 6th pick in the draft.
It has been a relatively quiet season on the offensive side of the ball in Cleveland, the only moves to speak of have the been signing of tight ends Kellen Davis and Gary Barnidge in an effort to replace veteran Ben Watson, who signed with the Saints. The Browns finally found a running back to carry the load in 2012 by drafting Trent Richardson, who may be the most physically talented runner in the league aside from Adrian Peterson. Any optimism for the Browns' offense, however, ends at Richardson. The receiving corps lacks any real talent to speak of, Greg Little led the team in 2012 with a mere 53 receptions. If the Browns have any hope of improving on offense in 2013, they need to find some players who can make plays in the passing game. The question at quarterback is whether or not the Browns should stick with second year signal caller Brandon Weeden. Weeden didn't play too badly in 2012 given the talent around him, but he will be 30 years old in October, which doesn't leave him with much of a development period for a quarterback entering their second year in the league. It may be in Cleveland's interest to target another QB in the middle rounds of the draft to compete with Weeden for the starting job.
The Browns will face a daunting task on special teams as well in replacing kick returner Josh Cribbs. Cribbs racked up over 12,000 return yards and 11 return touchdowns over the course of his 7-year career in Cleveland and was an exceptional player on the kick coverage team as well.