The Browns have free-agent targets in their sights and are ready for the hunt to begin in earnest when the market officially opens at 4 p.m. today.
Beginning Saturday, NFL teams were permitted to talk to the agents of players whose contracts are set to expire. Like every organization in the league, the Browns put feelers out.
For example, the Browns contacted the agent of San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, a league source told the Beacon Journal on Monday. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Jean Francois, 26, has received interest from five teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans, the Sacramento Bee reported. He is scheduled to hit the open market when free agency begins.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Jean Francois is likely attractive to the Browns because of his versatility. As a member of the 49ers, he has shown the ability to play nose tackle and defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
With the Browns switching from a 4-3 system to defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 multi-front scheme, Jean Francois would be a logical fit. The Browns have plenty of tackles but could certainly use some ends with 3-4 experience.
Jean Francois, a seventh-round pick (No. 244 overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft, started three of the 16 regular-season games in which he appeared last season, compiling 22 tackles and two sacks. He also played in all three of the 49ers’ playoff games and had two tackles in the Super Bowl.
The Browns also have shown interest in Seattle Seahawks defensive end Jason Jones, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah reported. Jones, a soon-to-be free agent, is also on the radar of the New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs, according to the report.
The 6-5, 276-pound Jones played in 12 games last season without a start. He compiled 10 tackles and three sacks.
From 2010-11, he started 28 of the 29 games in which he appeared with the Titans. The Titans drafted Jones, 26, in the second round (No. 54 overall) in 2008.
Although the Browns are aiming to bolster their defense, they’re hoping to address some needs on offense, too.
They have expressed interest in Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook, the Plain Dealer reported. Cook is the top-rated tight end on the verge of becoming a free agent.
Cook, 25, had 44 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns last season before a torn rotator cuff sidelined him with three games remaining. The 6-5, 248-pound Cook hauled in 49 passes for 759 yards and three touchdowns in 2011.
The Browns need a tight end because starter Benjamin Watson, 32, is on the way out the door as a free agent.
Watson tweeted the following message Monday: “Browns Fans, Thank You For Your Support The Last 3 Years! God Bless!”
The Browns have tight end Jordan Cameron, 24, on the roster. Although Cameron has shown some promise, he is still far from a proven No. 1 tight end.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have a history of prominently featuring tight ends in their systems. They’ll definitely try to do more of the same with the Browns as they install a vertical, downfield passing attack.
In addition to the aforementioned players, the Browns have inquired about several others since Saturday, according to reports. The list of leaked names includes outside linebackers Paul Kruger (27, Ravens) and Quentin Groves (28, Arizona Cardinals), defensive end Cliff Avril (26, Lions), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (27, Ravens), cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn (24, Carolina Panthers), Antoine Cason (26, San Diego Chargers), Greg Toler (28, Cardinals), Keenan Lewis (26, Pittsburgh Steelers) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (26, Philadelphia Eagles), wide receiver Julian Edelman (26, New England Patriots), guard Louis Vasquez (25, Chargers) and tight end Brandon Myers (27, Oakland Raiders).
The Browns will get a chance today to heavily pursue their top priorities.
In honor of the Madden NFL video game’s 25th anniversary, the online cover vote will feature two brackets, one comprised of 32 new-school NFL stars and another of 32 old-school legends. The winners of each bracket will face off in the finals.
In the new-school bracket, the Browns are represented by running back Trent Richardson. He’s a seventh seed, and his first-round matchup is against 10th-seeded Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
In the old-school legends bracket, the Browns are represented by hall of fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, who’s now the general manager and executive vice president of the Ravens. He’s seeded 13th and matched up in the first round against former Cardinals and St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, a No. 4 seed.
Fans can vote by visiting www.espn.go.com/sportsnation. The weekly results will be announced on ESPN2’s SportsNation every Wednesday at 4 p.m. The winner will be revealed April 24.
Supporting the troops
Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson will join the NFL-USO tour, spending a week visiting U.S. troops at military bases throughout the Middle East.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this USO tour,” Jackson said in a statement. “I think it’s a great experience and an opportunity to speak first-hand and show our gratitude to our military. What they do for our country is something special, and words can’t express the appreciation that we have for the job that they do.”
Former Browns offensive right tackle Tony Pashos signed with the Washington Redskins after sitting out last season while recovering from a surgically repaired foot. “Extremely grateful for an opportunity to play for the Redskins!” Pashos tweeted. … The Ravens and agents of Ellerbe plan on talking this morning, NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported. Ellerbe is considered the Ravens’ top priority among their soon-to-be free agents. … In his most recent mock draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicted the Browns will pick Oregon outside linebacker/defensive end Dion Jordan sixth overall. … Former Browns executive Jim Bailey was named president and CEO of the USFL.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.