Anthony Sellers

Writer, Marketer, Podcaster

One Season In Cleveland: Analyzing the Browns Free Agency Moves

With the draft looming in the near future, now is the best time to finish the article. I also want to note that all my salary info was verified through the following sites: overthecap.com, spotrac.com and rotoworld.com. So without further ado…

The Browns hit hard in the free agency as expected with nearly $50 million in cap space at the start of it, making a lot of moves to try and bring about change in Cleveland.

Let’s start with “The Departed” so to speak. On a side note, that is a great, great movie, now back to sports.  The players leaving are below:

Departures
G Shawn Lauvao – unrestricted free agent, signed 4-year, $17 million deal with Washington
QB Brandon Weeden – released, praise Jesus, signed 2-year $2.1 million deal with Dallas, cost the team $2.1 million
QB Jason Campbell – released, signed $1.5 million deal with Cincinnati
SS T.J. Ward – unrestricted free agent, signed 4-year, $22.5 million deal with Denver, $13.5 million guaranteed, good luck
ILB D’Qwell Jackson – $5.2 million cap savings, signed 4-year $22 million deal with Indianapolis

Thoughts
I have to start with Weeden. I loved that they ate the $2.1 million in dead money and released him. I’ve never liked him from the day he was drafted. I wish him well, but I really don’t see how he can be in the NFL. The Cowboys better hope that Romo doesn’t go down with a major injury and they are forced to rely on Weeden. I don’t see letting Lauvao walk as a big deal, especially since he was overpaid by Washington. Campbell is an afterthought as well.

The two that were hard to understand were Jackson and Ward. Jackson was released to avoid being paid a $4.1 million roster bonus and his cap hit would have been over $9 million for the season. His 4-year contract with the Colts is basically a 2-year deal from the way it’s structured. Ward had played out his rookie contract and the new front office wasn’t able to resign him before the start of free agency. Ward ended up getting paid to the tune of almost $23 million over the span of 4-years. For Ward, signing with Denver was a really good decision because he received a fair deal from them, he’ll improve their defense, and he has a legitimate shot at winning a Super Bowl. Well played, sir! As for Cleveland, both players were integral pieces of the defense in past seasons. Time will tell if letting them leave were smart decisions, but the landscape of the defense changed pretty dramatically with the loss of these two.

How those losses affect the team will be directly attributed by who they signed to replace them. Let’s have a look:

Acquisitions
ILB Karlos Dansby – 4-year, $24 million, $14 million guaranteed
S Donte Whitner – 4-year, $28 million, $11 million guaranteed
CB Isaiah Trufant – 2-year, $1.54 million, $150,000 guaranteed
WR Andrew Hawkins – 4-year, $13.1 million potentially, $11 million first two seasons
WR Nate Burleson – 1-year, $1.02 million, $65k bonus
TE Tim Dray – 3-year, $5.635 million, $2.25 million guaranteed
RB Ben Tate – 2-year, $6.8 million
FB Chris Pressley – 1-year, $730K

Thoughts
Let’s start with the defensive side of the ball. Trufant was a depth signing and a cheap depth signing. I honestly don’t really know much about him, so I’ll leave that one alone. The two big signings were LB Karlos Dansby and Safety Donte Whitner. Both were signed to replace the departed Jackson and Ward at their respective positions. When you compare the players, there isn’t much difference. Ward and Whitner have the same style for safeties, while Whitner is a little better in coverage. Also, when you take into account the contracts that Ward and Whitner signed, it doesn’t make sense financially. The only reason to pay more for Whitner is he has championship experience and has been in the league four more years than Ward while only being one year older than Ward.

As for Dansby and Jackson: their age, league experience, leadership, and stats are similar. Add to the fact that both of their contracts are nearly identical in the way they are set up, and it’s hard to see the upside of basically trading Dansby for Jackson. Dansby is going to have to prove himself as a leader and also that his season last year wasn’t a fallacy. Another reason for the changes may have been to prove to the fans that this regime is really looking for pieces that will change the culture in the Cleveland locker room, and they may feel that Dansby would be an upgrade from Jackson in that way.

On to the offense, the team took a quick hit to try and weaken a division rival by signing WR Andrew Hawkins away from Cincinnati. He was a restricted free agent. The only problem to that is that the Bengals proved to be deep at the WR position. Hawkins ended up being in an odd man out type of situation in Cincinnati and was expendable to them. Hawkins contract is front loaded, with $10.8 million given to him in the first two seasons. Did the Browns overpay for Hawkins? Maybe, but only time will tell. Can he help the team? I believe so, but again, time will tell. Even if he doesn’t pan out, the team can get away from him after the second season.

The Browns also signed WR Nate Burleson to a one-year contract. The 32-year-old can provide a great complement to the Browns young star Josh Gordon. I think the benefits of Burleson’s signing will resonate really well behind the scenes. Don’t get me wrong, he can still produce. He had a terrific start playing alongside Calvin Johnson in Detroit last season before breaking his arm in a car accident caused by him trying to save pizza from sliding in his car. In terms of contracts, Burleson is a low risk investment. He just needs to be reminded that there is delivery and DiGiorno.

The other notable signing was RB Ben Tate. He came from Houston and was the backup to their star RB Arian Foster. Being Foster’s backup was both a blessing and a curse for Tate, as he played a lot of games in Foster’s place due to Foster constantly being injured, which gave him a chance to shine. However, he is also an injury concern. The investment for Tate was low enough that I think it is worth the risk. If he has a good season this season and has a strong start to next season without any injuries coming about, then he’ll have made a case for a long-term contract that he yearns to have. The new offensive system is similar to the scheme in Houston, which bodes well for Tate.

To complement Tate and the new offense, the Browns signed FB Chris Pressley to a one-year contract as well. The next step will be for the offense to improve at the guard position, something they will most likely be doing through upcoming draft.

Re-signings
C Alex Mack – 5-year, $42 million, $26 million guaranteed over first 3-years, can void after two seasons, no trade clause.

Thoughts
I’m glad that the team found a way to retain one of their best players. Mack was transition tagged before the start of free agency. A lot of people didn’t understand the reasoning behind it, but in the end, no one really needs to understand except for the front office in Cleveland. What I mean is I think that this was a fallback plan in case they didn’t get a long term contract ironed out before free agency.

When Jacksonville gave Mack an offer, it was essentially a no brainer for the Browns. The way the contract is structured is extremely player friendly, however, giving Mack the option to void the contract after two seasons. His salary is fully guaranteed for those first two seasons as well. If Mack is as much of a business man as one Darrelle Revis, then he’ll be back on the market after the two seasons are finished. If the Browns are able to change their losing ways into winning ways, then it’s likely he’ll be in Cleveland more than just the two seasons.

Overall
While some decisions look to be lateral moves, I think the front office proved that they are trying to do what they have stated since day one, and that is change the culture in Cleveland. They still have around $30 million in cap space so they can make some more changes, perhaps through trades if they see them fit. But I see the team looking toward the future and making efforts to resign players that are currently set to become free agents after the upcoming season.

 

Originally posted on May 8, 2014 via Tricycle Offense.

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