BEREA — The Browns need a starting running back. Ben Tate is one of the best available in free agency, and has a history in the zone-blocking scheme used by new Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
So Tate being linked to the Browns early in free agency makes sense. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported late Wednesday morning Tate was visiting Cleveland, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported the Browns were the leader to sign him.
The Browns, however, wouldn’t confirm the visit. New general manager Ray Farmer’s policy is to confirm a visit once the free agent arrives.
Tate, 25, played with broken ribs last season before missing the final two games. He played in 14, rushing 181 times for 771 yards, a 4.3 average and four touchdowns.
He has 1,992 rushing yards in three seasons with a 4.7 average and 10 touchdowns. Tate, a second-round pick, was behind Arian Foster on the depth chart with the Texans. Tate’s battled injuries in his career, playing 15, 11 and 14 games.
His name surfaced in connection with the Browns in Week 3 following the trade of Trent Richardson. But the guys making the decisions then — CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi — have been fired and replaced.
There’s no question the Browns need to bolster their ground attack. They never found a replacement for Richardson last season and ranked tied for 27th in rushing with 86.4 yards per game.
It sounds like the Browns will be back in the market for a slot receiver.
According to multiple reports, the Bengals will match the offer sheet the Browns agreed to with wideout Andrew Hawkins on Tuesday. He’s a restricted free agent, so the Bengals have five days to match the offer after Hawkins signs it.
The deal with Cleveland is four years, $12.2 million, including more than $4 million guaranteed, NFL Network reported.
Hawkins, who turned 28 on Monday, is 5-foot-7, 180 pounds and attended the University of Toledo. He missed the first half of last season with an ankle injury, catching 12 passes for 199 yards in eight games.
In three years, he has 86 catches for 995 yards and four touchdowns. His best year was 2012, when he made his only two career starts and caught 51 passes for 533 yards and four touchdowns.
Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders and New England’s Julian Edelman remained possible targets for the Browns. Sanders caught 67 passes last year for 740 yards and six touchdowns in 10 starts and 16 games. Edelman started 11 games with 105 catches, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns.
The Ravens were reportedly interested in Edelman, and the Patriots would like to keep him. Sanders spent Wednesday in Jacksonville.
The Browns showed interest in Bills defensive lineman Alex Carrington, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported. He also mentioned the Rams as a suitor.
Carrington (6-5, 301 pounds) is a versatile lineman with nine starts in four seasons with Buffalo. He started all three games he played last year, totaling 10 tackles before suffering a torn quadriceps. New Browns coach Mike Pettine was coordinator in Buffalo last year.
Carrington, 26, has 53 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble in 44 career games.
The Browns signed 5-8, 170-pound special teamer and backup cornerback Isaiah Trufant, and he was introduced at a news conference along with safety Donte Whitner and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.
Trufant, 31, started one of 39 games in four years with the Jets, totaling 46 tackles and two passes defensed. He played in arena leagues and the United Football League before joining New York.
Pettine was defensive coordinator for three of Trufant’s years with the Jets.
“Pettine, he’s a great coach, and I’m excited to play for him,” he said. “It’s been a ride, I’m enjoying it, and I’m excited to be a Brown now.”
Trufant’s older brother, Marcus, played for the Seattle Seahawks and his younger brother, Desmond, was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons last year.
Rapoport reported four teams, including the Colts and Ravens, have been in contact, on varying levels, with Browns center Alex Mack. The teams are waiting for the frenzy of the start of free agency to die down.
The Browns used the transition tag on Mack. He’s free to negotiate and sign a contract with another team, but the Browns have the right to match.
If he signs the tag, Mack will be paid $10 million for 2014.
** USA Today’s Brent Sobleski reported the Browns could reach a deal with inside linebacker Arthur Moats (6-2, 250) shortly. He started 12 games last year in Buffalo, with new Pettine as defensive coordinator, recording 54 tackles.
He turns 26 Friday and has 20 career starts with 141 tackles.