Describing the Browns' pass-rushing situation is fairly simple -- Paul Kruger was the team's only outside linebacker to record more than two sacks last season.
Sacks aren't everything. Effective edge pressure can be just as important if it leads to the defense getting off the field. But sacks equal money for players, momentum for the team and loss of yardage for the opponent.
The Browns were scheduled to meet with Jabaal Sheard's reps at the NFL combine, but Drew Rosenhaus said a few weeks ago that Sheard is likely to test the market. Sheard is a versatile option. The sack totals aren't there (he did play injured last year, though). He might be interested in returning to a 4-3 scheme.
That leaves the Browns with Kruger, Barkevious Mingo (who also played hurt) and clear-cut backups. Simply put, the Browns need to add at least one rusher through the draft or free agency.
Here are three options:
1. Draft a stud at No. 12 or 19: This draft is so deep at stand-up rushers that even if Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler Jr., and Vic Beasley go in the top 10, the team still has options. Kentucky's Bud Dupree is still a bit raw but has wildly high upside. Virginia's Eli Harold had a strong combine.
2. Make a play for top Tier 2 free agents: Justin Houston is likely staying in Kansas City, and Buffalo's Jerry Hughes might command a huge deal (he could be enticing to former Bills DC Mike Pettine, though). But after that there are plenty of options available. Pernell McPhee is a hot name in NFL circles -- possibly too hot. His market is rising. Somebody's about to overpay. Philly's Brandon Graham or Pittsburgh's Jason Worilds (who's not getting franchised, per colleague Scott Brown) could be available in that range of $6 million or $7 million per season. Brian Orakpo could be a good value pickup because injuries might prevent the former first-round pick from commanding top dollar.
3. Count on Mingo making the jump and add backup depth at a low cost or in the draft's middle rounds: Clearly the Browns would like more from Mingo than seven sacks in 30 games, but Mingo earned street cred in a few areas last year -- he played through a shoulder injury all year, got better against the run and seemed more active as the season progressed. His speed is still ridiculous. The Browns can play him in coverage or let him run laterally to chase down running backs. That's where he's at his best. If he can channel aggressiveness every week (sometimes he looks passive as a rusher), he can break out in his third season. Still a bit on the thin side, too.
Don't be surprised if Mingo and Kruger are the slated starters going into camp, with the team adding depth.