Cleveland Browns team needs: Pass rushers needed for defensive switch

Dustin Bradford

The Cleveland Browns have some significant needs on the defensive side of the ball, seeing as how they're switching to a 3-4 defense next season.

The Cleveland Browns came a long way in 2012 but still finished among the NFL's worst teams and therefore have a high pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Being able to suggest they came a long way while they pick No. 6 overall is a testament to just how bad the Browns have been over the past few seasons.

Last offseason, they dialed up a new offense and hoped their defense would take the next step in its progress. Unfortunately, at least one of those players on offense might be a sunk cost in quarterback Brandon Weeden, on whom the team spent a first-round pick.

There's a new owner, a new front office and a new coaching staff, and word is that neither is a big believer in Weeden's ability to lead the team going forward. They also are switching up the defense and will be going with a 3-4 scheme in 2013, making their offseason "To Do" list grow exponentially.

Biggest need: Pass rusher

While the Browns obviously have the big question mark on offense with Weeden, the team's switch to a 3-4 alignment means it will need an outside linebacker to rush the passer. Jabaal Sheard led the team in sacks this past season with seven, and Juqua Parker-Thomas followed with six.

Parker-Thomas is set to be a free agent in March, and is 35 years old, so the Browns clearly need to get someone opposite Sheard.

There's talent in the group of linebackers: Chris Gocong, D'Qwell Jackson and James-Michael Johnson all could start, but where they actually will start is still a mystery. Couple that with the fact that Sheard will likely be somewhere between a defensive end and an outside linebacker, and it's hard to see how the Browns' 3-4 defense will actually piece together.

Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature took a long look at what he felt was the Browns' biggest team need below:

The Browns' biggest need would be a hybrid defensive end / outside linebacker type. With Ray Horton becoming the team's new defensive coordinator, it is important that Cleveland adjusts their personnel to
transition from a base 4-3 defense the past couple of years to a hybrid defense, which will be comprised partially of a 3-4 defensive look.

Cleveland stockpiled on defensive tackles in the 4-3 last year, and each of those guys seem suitable as defensive ends in a 3-4 defense. Jabaal Sheard, who was a pass-rushing starting defensive end in the 4-3 defense, is expected to make the move to outside linebacker. The Browns need someone else to compliment him on the other side. There's no guarantee that Sheard's transition will be smooth, so that's why adding talent there seems critical: the defense can't risk having two non-impact players at outside linebacker.

I envision the Browns addressing the position through a draft. At No. 6 overall, Cleveland has several hybrid type of players they will be able to choose from, and they will cost 100 times cheaper than a guy like Baltimore's Paul Kruger, who will likely be way overpriced in free agency.

Other needs: Quarterback, cornerback, security on special teams

Of course, the elephant in the room is Weeden. After being a first-round pick last season, Weeden is set to turn 30 in October. His progression will have to be rapid for him to be anywhere approaching a good selection by the Browns. Otherwise, they need to find a replacement sooner rather than later.

Joe Haden is one of the best corners in the league, but he can't cover the whole field, and the Browns have absolutely nothing at the position behind him. They could stand to add not just one new corner, but two.

Kicker Phil Dawson, punter Reggie Hodges and kick returner Josh Cribbs are all free agents. The Browns will definitely need to address that particular situation.

NFL Draft outlook: Browns have high pick

The Browns pick at No. 6, so they stand to get a very good player. Fortunately, it looks like they will be able to snag one of the top players at one of their big need positions at this point. There aren't many cornerback-needy teams early on, so they could snag a gem, and the teams with pass-rushing needs are 4-3 teams, so somebody like Damontre Moore could be available at No. 6, which would be a steal.

Unfortunately, the Browns do not have a second-round pick as they forfeited it to select wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last year.

Salary cap situation: Enough money to fill a pool and go for a swim

The Browns have done their best to build via the NFL Draft and, in doing so, they've added some promising young talent. Teams in this position often end up with a good deal of cap space, but spending it wisely will be a challenge.

Either way, Cleveland has piles and piles of money to work with. The Browns are second in the NFL with roughly $46 million in cap space in 2013, behind only the Cincinnati Bengals, who have $51 million.

There are some players with less-than desirable contracts, like quarterback Colt McCoy and linebacker Chris Gocong, but the Browns can afford to keep those guys on the roster and still make some noise in free agency.

More in the NFL:

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Joe Flacco and the history of $100 million contracts

The NFL's disappearing middle class

NFL news roundup: Roger Goodell terrified, Shawne Merriman retires and the latest on free agency

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