Browns could make splashes in free agency

There’s still a month remaining until the NFL opens its doors to free agency, yet speculation is already running rampant in Cleveland.

That’s usually the way things work when a team (in this case the Browns) are $48 million below the salary cap and has several holes to fill. For the media and the fan base, that’s like sitting in front of a stack of Monopoly money, and it’s your turn to roll the dice.

First we heard from the Super Bowl that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would be OK with playing for new Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. This week Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that the Browns might be interested in making a run at Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco if his agent isn’t able to work out a deal for a return to the Super Bowl champion.

It got even juicer when reports surfaced that the Browns might be interested in plucking speedy receiver Mike Wallace away from the Pittsburgh Steelers. How’s that for spicing up a dormant rivalry?

All the rumors fail to answer the question of whether or not the aforementioned three want to play for the Browns. It’s not like anything has happened in the last 20 or so years that would make any free agent excited about placing roots in Cleveland.

Flacco is on record saying his loyalties are in Baltimore. The problem is that the Ravens are above the salary cap and would likely lose some key free agents if they open the vault for Flacco.

Knowing the way Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome works, something will get done to appease Flacco and somehow keep receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive end Paul Kruger. If the Ravens lose the services of both players, history shows that they’ll find a way to fill the holes through shrewd use of the draft and free agency.

There could be something to the Smith speculation. He doesn’t want to be Colin Kaepernick’s baseball hat-wearing sidekick, and he had an association with Turner when the latter was an assistant coach with the 49ers in 2006.

Smith would be a good choice to provide Brandon Weeden with the quarterback competition owner James Haslam promised to reporters at the Super Bowl. Smith had a slow start to his career after being the first overall draft pick in 2005, but he showed signs of development the last two seasons. He had a 90.7 passer rating in 2010 in leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship game, and his rating was 104.1 last season before suffering a concussion and losing his job to Kaepernick.

Weeden needs to be pushed by someone other than Colt McCoy, who is no fit for coach Rob Chudzinski’s vertical passing game. There won’t be many more potential choices available that are better than Smith.

Wallace is by far the most likely of the three to sign with the Browns, who lack a true deep threat. Josh Gordon is developing in that area, but he doesn’t have the breakaway speed of Wallace, who requires safety help over the top for most cornerbacks.

A receiving trio of Wallace, Gordon and Greg Little would look good on paper. It would then be up to Chudzinski and Turner to put Weeden in a comfortable enough position (as far from west-coast thinking as possible) to take advantage of a triumvirate of speed, skill and power.

It would appear that Wallace is open to leaving Pittsburgh after going through a contract dispute last summer and, like the Ravens, the Steelers aren’t in an advantageous salary-cap spot.

In 2002 the Browns signed linebacker Earl Holmes away from the Steelers. Holmes helped produce the Browns’ only playoff appearance since their NFL return in 1999 before taking his knee problems to Detroit for three more seasons.

Signing Wallace could have the same impact.