The Cleveland Browns, once again, had a disappointing, tumultuous season. But, like usual, their defense was reasonably solid. Even with Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward departing as a free agent last season and first round draft selection Justin Gilbert contributing a sub-par season, the Browns' defensive unit held tough, particularly in the passing game, as Cleveland was the owners of the NFL's No. 8 ranked pass defense.
Of course, the well-known stalwart of the Browns is All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden, but it's the guy on the opposite side of the field who could garner much attention as a free agent; Buster Skrine.
Skrine had a career year in 2014, intercepting four passes and collecting 64 tackles. In fact, Haden's ability to lock-down half the field meant Skrine was facing a heavier barrage of passes, and he still performed well. The team wants Skrine back. Skrine wants to return to the Browns as well, but has stated he wants to test the free agent market, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. Skrine should, and most likely will, command some serious attention on the open market. He's only 25-years old, has experience playing against wide receivers on the outside and as a nickel corner guarding slot receivers and he's a willing and ferocious tackler.
Unfortunately for him, he enters a free agent market which will include the likes of Brandon Flowers and Bryon Maxwell, with a possibility of Darrelle Revis joining that list. Simply put, Skrine will be coveted, but he won't be the most coveted, which may drive down his price. Unfortunate for him, yes, but for a team lacking cap space but with a tremendous need for a young, experienced corner? Very fortunate.
The Steelers struggles in the pass defense department have been well-documented. With three of their cornerbacks set to enter free agency, Pittsburgh finds itself thin at the position. Options exist in the first round of the draft which could be immediate fixes, but Gilbert, Skrine's teammate, was the eighth selection of the draft and wound up dropping below an undrafted player on the Browns depth chart, demonstrating the impossibility of depending on a rookie to save the day. Skrine has yet to hit the prime of career and already has four seasons under his belt. He will likely come much cheaper than Flowers or Maxwell, and he could potentially provide a return equal to the investment of either of the aforementioned defensive backs.
Cleveland has a ton of cap room, the third most in the league, to be exact, but owner Jimmy Haslam has said he doesn't expect the Browns to be "major players" in free agency. Even if the Steelers, or any other team, offered Skrine a contract, the Browns could certainly match it, if not exceed it. Shrine, however, might find the opportunity to be a number one corner, which he very well could be in Pittsburgh, too good of an opportunity to pass up.