Who are the top offensive free agents the Cleveland Browns should target?

The Browns are fundamentally sound on offense but could still use a few minor adjustments to take it to the next level.
offense browns bills singletary
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 20: Devin Singletary #26 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field on November 20, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

It’s hard to fully gauge how good the Cleveland Browns can be on offense just based on last season’s results. Leading up to the season, the Browns went all in on Deshaun Watson and gave him a mammoth contract, despite the legitimate off-field concerns, because they believed he could be their franchise quarterback. While Watson was suspended for 11 games, Cleveland turned to Jacoby Brissett to guide the offense and he performed admirably for the most part. But, when Watson returned under center for the Browns he was unable to lift the offense and guide Cleveland to the playoffs due to a combination of rust and inadequate defensive play.

At the end of the day, there are far more holes on defense that Cleveland needs to address this offseason in order to become a contender. Mind you, the offense is far from perfect from the Browns either. For the most part, Cleveland is fundamentally sound on offense. Nevertheless, there are still some minor adjustments that the Browns could make to take their scoring attack to the next level. Today, Right Down Euclid will be breaking down the top names to watch for Cleveland on offense.

D.J. Chark – WR, Detroit Lions

For the most part, the Browns are fairly set with their top two wide receivers being Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku entrenched as the starting tight end. But, they still need a speedster that is able to take the top off of a defense that either takes advantage of the attention Cooper, Peoples-Jones or Njoku get or opens up space for the aforementioned duo to operate.

That’s where current Detroit Lions wideout and former second-round pick D.J. Chark comes into play for Cleveland. On paper, Chark possesses a rare combination of size and speed that creates favorable matchups for offenses. Also, over his five-year NFL career, Chark has averaged 14.4 yards per reception with a career-long reception of 73 yards, which came in his third season in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Chark’s biggest play this season for Detroit came when he and the Lions helped seal the fate of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. But, other than that, Chark was somewhat unremarkable in his lone season with Detroit due to dealing with injuries.

Technically, the Lions paid Chark $10 million for 30 receptions, 502 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 11 appearances. He came to Detroit on a three-year deal, but the final two seasons are automatically voided, which now allows him to re-enter the free agency pool. Because of his durability concerns, Chark could come cheaper for the Browns and the former LSU stud could be motivated to prove that his dominant 2019 season wasn’t a fluke, especially if that effort helps guide Cleveland to the playoffs.

Mecole Hardman – WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Somewhat similar to Chark, the Browns could also focus on Kansas City Chiefs speedster Mecole Hardman. While he was expected to have a bigger role after Kansas City shipped Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, Hardman was only limited to eight games and had 297 yards on 25 receptions all while finding the end zone only four times. Unfortunately for Hardman and the Chiefs, he never emerged as a reliable, full-time starter for Kansas City.

Despite the lackluster season, Hardman is always a homerun threat. His rookie season showed as much, as the University of Georgia product compiled 20.7 yards per reception across 26 catches on 41 targets for 538 yards and six touchdowns. Hardman’s speed is undeniable (he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine), but inconsistencies in performance over his last several seasons along with a lack of diversity in his skill set have kept him from reaching his full potential as a player.

Perhaps a change in scenery, all while playing with an elite quarterback like Watson, could unlock Hardman as a third option at wide receiver on offense. Considering that there are some concerns with him overall, he could come cheaper for the Browns as well. Signing Hardman while prioritizing defense this offseason could be a smart step in the right direction and allow Cleveland to find some form of harmony on offense.

offense hardman chiefs browns
KANSAS CITY, MO – SEPTEMBER 12: Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (17) heads up field against the Cleveland Browns on September 12th at GEHA field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jordan Akins – TE, Houston Texans

To be frank, the Houston Texans, Watson’s former team, were abysmal all season long. A lot of that was by design since the Texans can now select their quarterback of the future and hit full steam on a deep-rooted rebuild. Despite the questions at quarterback leading up to the end of the season, tight end Jordan Akins was a bit of a star for Houston and could be primed to help a team like Cleveland that’s ready to win right now.

PFF gave Akins a 72.4 overall grade for the tight end who had 37 receptions for 495 yards and five touchdowns. The five-year pro also finished with an impressive mark of 13.4 yards per reception. All throughout his career, Akins has had reliable hands and over the span of 72 games had a total of 147 receptions for 1,685 yards and six touchdowns. Three of his five seasons in the NFL saw him total over 400 yards a season as well.

Sure, it’s a little concerning the majority of that scoring punch from Akins came last season. But, the fact that the Browns need support alongside Njoku, along with the fact that Akins has chemistry with Watson, may make it a gamble worth taking for Cleveland. While the Browns are likely to pass at a higher rate next season they will still need tight-end production in both phases of the game and Akins would certainly fit the bill on offense.

Devin Singletary – RB, Buffalo Bills

Wait a minute, a running back? Well, with Kareem Hunt possibly leaving the Browns this offseason perhaps Cleveland needs to look elsewhere if they’re unable to retain the Northeastern Ohio native. Sure, Cleveland is going to become a touch more pass-happy next season but they still need reliable support behind Nick Chubb at the end of the day. Thankfully, there could be a Rust Belt neighbor in the Buffalo Bills that could have the answer the Browns are looking for in soon-to-be free agent Devin Singletary.

Despite the additions of Zack Moss and James Cook in recent years, Singletary has never relinquished his starting job in Buffalo. Playing in 59 games so far, Singletary has over 3,950 total yards while averaging 5.0 yards per touch with 19 combined touchdowns. Singletary is in the final year of his four-year, $3.89 million contract he signed as a rookie. That turned out to be a complete steal based on his production, and that remains the case in 2022 despite his $1.7 million cap being the highest of his four years.

It’s clear Singletary is underpaid, but would he take a hometown discount to sign a new contract to stay with the Bills? Also, would Buffalo be bothered to sign Singletary to a mammoth deal when they have other issues to address and players like Cook waiting in the wings as well as a possible rookie running back once the NFL Draft concludes? With that said, Singletary could have the luxury of playing the waiting game and seeing what else is out there. If he wants to get paid, all while remaining on an offense that has the potential to contend, then Singletary could consider the Browns at the end of the day. Again, it all depends on the money but it’s not entirely unrealistic, even if it feels like a long shot.

Other names to watch: Evan Engram (TE, Jacksonville Jaguars), Parris Campbell (WR, Indianapolis Colts), Sterling Shepard (WR, New York Giants)

Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at evan@downeuclid.com. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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