It's hard to reconcile how well the Cleveland Browns were playing to start the season with how far away from playoff contention they are now. After entering their Week 4 bye week at 1-2 (with their win coming against the New Orleans Saints), the Browns would go on to win six games and lost only two, defeating their division rival Steelers en route to a 7-4 record. After a 26-10 loss against the Bills in Week 13, however, the Browns would never recover. They would lose five straight games, ending the season 7-9 and in last place in the AFC North.
Browns fans would surely like to build off of last season. The promising start was a product of a variety of aspects coming together, but my impression is that Kyle Shanahan designed some passing schemes that let Brian Hoyer succeed as much as possible. Yet, Shanahan is no longer with the team after Mike Pettine let him walk away so that Shanahan could go join the Atlanta Falcons.
Perhaps even more damaging is the status of both WR Josh Gordon and QB Johnny Manziel. Gordon has recently been suspended; Manziel has checked himself into rehab. Even if we put aside the rehab problems with Manziel, however, I think it is safe to assume that the team might have some concerns about his viability as a franchise QB based upon his play on the field last year.
Free Agency (courtesy of NFL.com):
Unrestricted Free Agents: Ahtyba Rubin, DT; Miles Austin, WR; Jabaal Sheard, DE; Brian Hoyer, QB; Jim Leonhard, S; Jordan Cameron, TE.
Restricted Free Agents: Tashaun Gipson, S; Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, DT; Craig Robertson, LB.
The Browns do not have a ton of free agents as they start this offseason. Probably the biggest name for the Browns will be Hoyer; they have to decide if they want to bring Hoyer back for another season (remember, they did bench him at one point last season for Manziel. That literally happened). Honestly, though, the biggest impediment for a reunion might be whether or not Hoyer wants to be back. It would be pretty tempting to play for almost any other team in the NFL.
The QB and WR positions have come up a couple of times now, so it probably shouldn't surprise anybody that I think those are the Browns' biggest needs. On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns really need to shore up their front seven. They could not stop the run at all, and any chance of winning starts there for the Browns (well, I suppose QB is pretty important too...). Look for the Browns to upgrade at almost any position in the front seven that they can.