Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Indianapolis, IN – Browns coach Hue Jackson is putting up a brave front about potentially losing four starting players to free agency.
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin, safety Tashaun Gipson, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and center Alex Mack all could seek greener pastures when free agency begins on March 9. As the days wear on, it appears more likely that none will re-sign with the Browns.
“I’d love to keep them all. But then again, they have to want to stay,” Jackson said at the NFL Combine on Wednesday.
“It goes both ways. I know they have a right to do what’s best for them and their families. If that happens, I don’t want to sit here and say we’re going to give the season away. What we have to do is go find players to fit in those particular positions, so we have an opportunity to move forward. And we’ll do that.”
The agents for Benjamin, Gipson and Schwartz have had discussions with Sashi Brown, the team’s newly promoted executive vice president of football operations, but no deals are imminent.
Mack is under contract for three more seasons but can opt out, per terms of the offer sheet from the Jackonsville Jaguars he signed two years ago when the Browns used the transition tag when they couldn’t arrive at a long-term deal. Mack has until March 4 to inform the Browns in writing of his plans. Jackson said that has not happened yet.
“Alex Mack is a tremendous player. I think you know how I feel about Alex Mack. Love to have him back, but at the same time he has to make that choice and has to want to be back,” Jackson said.
Free agency figures to be a seller’s market this year because the salary cap is projected to go up by almost $25 million per team and teams are overflowing with salary cap room. Jacksonville, for instance, has about $70 million in cap room and may make another pitch for Mack.
“It would not be disappointing (if they left) because they have the right to do that,” Jackson said. “We’re going to put 11 guys on offense, 11 on defense and 11 on special teams and play. I don’t know who those 11 guys are right now because of league rules.
“If they leave I can’t worry about that. We just have to move forward.”
Buckeye bash: If you’re walking the streets of Columbus on March 11, you may bump into Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers vice president of football operations.
That’s the date of the Ohio State pro day and no team has drafted more Buckeyes than Colbert since he has held the position with the Steelers in 2000.
Ohio State leads all college programs with 14 players invited to the NFL Combine.
“They have a great class,” Colbert said Wednesday. “You know, coach [Urban] Meyer put together a great recruiting class at Ohio State, much like he did a few years ago with the University of Florida. That was a special class when [Maurkice and Mike] Pouncey and the [Tim] Tebows of the world were together.
“I think that just speaks volumes of his ability to put together a great team. They won the national championship [after the 2014 season], so it’s not surprising they have a lot of draft prospects this year.”
Colbert has drafted eight Ohio State players since 2000:
Linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Doran Grant in 2015, offensive tackle Mike Adams (2012), defensive end Cameron Heyward (2011), linebacker Thaddeus Gibson (2010), defensive end Doug Worthington (2010), receiver Santonio Holmes (2006), and defensive end Rodney Bailey (2001).
In that time, the Browns have drafted two players from Ohio State – receiver Brian Robiskie (2009) and tight end Darnell Sanders (2002).
The Bengals have taken two Ohio State players and the Ravens have drafted one.