The Cleveland Browns were one of the biggest surprises of the 2023 NFL season, but it's time to put that success in the rearview. The offseason is already upon us and the Browns must work on getting better before next September if they want a playoff run that goes beyond the Wild Card Round.
The pressure is on general manager Andrew Berry to see how he navigates the offseason beginning with free agency in March. The Browns have 24 pending free agents, per Spotrac, and while fans won't be sad to see some faces go, the fanbase would love it if certain faces stuck around for a little while longer.
Here are five pending free agents who the Browns must re-sign this offseason.
1. Za'Darius Smith, DE
The Browns shook up their defense last May when they acquired defensive end Za'Darius Smith (and a pair of 2025 Day 3 draft picks) from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for two fifth-rounders. Considering how Smith is a three-time Pro-Bowler and former second-team All-Pro defender, it's easy to see why Cleveland fans loved the deal.
Smith's 2023 campaign was a mixed bag, to say the least. On one hand, his 27 tackles and 5.5 sacks left much to be desired considering how, for one, he finished with 44 and 10.0, respectively, in 2022 and two, they were his lowest outputs since the 2018 campaign.
On the other hand, Smith still made an impact even if his numbers weren't eye-popping. According to Pro Football Focus, the 31-year-old defensive playmaker still recorded 61 total pressures and played to a monstrous 86.8 pass-rush grade — the second-best mark of his career. He also earned an overall defensive grade of 83.1, ranking him as the 16th-best edge defender among 112 eligible players.
Smith's projected market value sits at $12.5 million on Spotrac, which could be too expensive for a Browns team that's about $20.5 million over the salary cap. However, if Berry can work some cap-crunching magic and Smith is willing to take a team-friendly discount, bringing him back in 2024 (even if it's only on another one-year deal) is worth it to keep the defense elite.