3 Browns Cleveland Can't Afford to Let Hit Free Agency in 2024

With NFL free agency opening next month, the Cleveland Browns can't afford to lose these three players to the open market.

Za'Darius Smith is one of three players that the Browns can't afford to let hit free agency.
Za'Darius Smith is one of three players that the Browns can't afford to let hit free agency. / Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
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It's been nearly one month since the Cleveland Browns were eliminated from the playoffs, leaving the fanbase to focus on the offseason. After a successful campaign that saw them reach the playoffs for the first time since 2020, the Browns' supporters are left wondering what's in store over the coming months — especially with free agency opening on March 15.

While a portion of the fanbase is focused on the outside help the Browns could potentially add this season, others are focused on the internal free agents. According to Spotrac, Cleveland has 26 pending free agents on the roster and while fans won't mind seeing some names leave, others must be kept at all costs.

Here are three pending free agents that the Browns can't afford to let hit the open market.

1. DE Za'Darius Smith

The Browns had one of the league's best pass rushes in 2023 and a lot of that had to do with Za'Darius Smith.

The three-time Pro Bowl defender — who the Browns acquired via trade from the Minnesota Vikings last May — was a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. While sack total was his worst since 2017, he still racked up 60 total pressures (40 hurries, 14 hits, 6 sacks), per Pro Football Focus, finishing with the ninth-best pass rushing (86.8) and 16th-best defense (83.1) grades among edge rushers.

With the Browns approximately $20.6 million over the salary cap, per Spotrac, re-signing Smith could be difficult. Having said that, he looked terrific opposite Myles Garrett, and breaking that tandem up after one season could be a mistake. It'd be in general manager Andrew Berry's best interest to free up some cap space (contract re-structuring, trades, etc.) to find a way to fit No. 99 on the books.

Otherwise, the Browns' pass rush could take a major step back next season.