NFL Free Agency 2012: 6 Reasons the Cleveland Browns Will Build by Drafting
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If reports that the Browns indeed are not pursuing Matt Flynn prove accurate, Browns fans should breathe a collective sigh of relief. Had the Browns offered Flynn a lucrative contract to lure him to Cleveland, they all but certainly would have committed valuable cap dollars and even more precious playing time to a quarterback with two career starts.
Despite a myriad of other team needs, Browns backers have obsessed over their own dissatisfaction with the quarterback position this offseason. The Browns remain so far from consistent contention, no free agent of any quality at any position would unequivocally improve the team the instant he joined it.
The money necessary to lock down a high profile free agent precludes a rebuilding franchise from making a big splash. When it ignores that reality in hopes of finding a short cut to contention, it mortgages the team's future on a relatively unknown quantity.
Fans Want to Keep Current Favorites
Fans supported Joshua Cribbs and he's responded with consummate professionalism.
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The Browns will improve, and their fans will stay interested as long as the team commits to players like Josh Cribbs and Joe Thomas. In the wake of LeBron James' departure, a massive outpouring of support ensued as Cleveland sports fans demanded the Browns compensate the NFL's all-time TD return leader competently.
In 2013, but more importantly in 2014, several Browns players crucial to future success will require new contracts. Should the Browns commit cap space to veterans in free agency, they may find themselves unable to retain their homegrown talent in the very near future.
Notable Cleveland Browns Free Agents
Sheldon Brown, CB
Josh Cribbs, WR
Phil Dawson, K
Ben Watson, TE
Reggie Hodges, P
Brandon Jackson, RB
Montaro Hardesty, RB
Colt McCoy, QB
Shawn Lauvao, G
Alex Mack, C
Evan Moore, TE
TJ Ward, SS
The Time Will Come
All-Pro Guard Brian Waters earned his new paycheck in New England.
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Should the Browns contend in the future, past free agency commitments will financially preclude the organization from competing for the cream-of-the-crop free agents who transform teams from 11-5 wild cards to 14-2 Super Bowl favorites.
Even these acquisitions will disappoint the ardent supporters of high profile skill position additions, as they often upgrade the front seven of a defense or an offensive line unit. The Patriots committed significant resources to veteran guard Brian Waters. Waters played at the Pro Bowl level the Pats anticipated, but still represents a short-term commitment.
Rebuilding the Browns will be a long-term process. Expensive veteran free agents will hinder that process even in some cases where they play up to their contracts. If the Browns practice prudence and patience now, they will be able to afford that missing piece—even if it's a bit overpriced—when the time comes.
Additionally, they won't feel the desperation of a fanbase rabid for legitimacy, rather the comfort of enjoying a good foundation already in place as they pursue free agents in the future.
The Risk Is Significant
Mario Williams: this year's Julius Peppers? Or Jevon Kearse?
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The Eagles thought they couldn't miss. Excluded from the Super Bowl two seasons in a row in the NFC Championship Game, the front office felt the urgency from fans to land the missing piece to take their beloved 'Birds to the Super Bowl.
Enter Jevon Kearse, the most recognized defensive lineman in the NFL after his absurdly dominant rookie campaign in which his Tennessee Titans very nearly walked away with the Lombardi Trophy themselves. Kearse hit the free agent market as the most high profile defensive end since Reggie White, and the Eagles paid him like it.
Despite Kearse struggling to stay healthy and produce in the two seasons preceding his free agency, the Eagles offered Kearse a hefty $66 million over eight years. Upon his arrival, Kearse...well...struggled to stay healthy and produce:
Jevon Kearse Career Stats
August 2004: Philadelphia Eagles sign Kearse to eight-year, $66-million extension
The Reward Is Unlikely
Former no. 1 overall selection Mario Williams won't likely want to drop paygrades.
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From Boston to San Francisco, fans who narrowly missed out on a Super Bowl trophy this season clamor for their GM to shell out the requisite scrilla to acquire Houston Texans' defensive end Mario Williams.
Yet, in a league notorious for it's "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" objectivism, enthusiasm for Williams remains dubiously-founded, considering the likely price tag. Consider the similarities between Williams' career arc in 2012 and Kearse's in 2004:
Mario Williams Career Statistics
Jevon Kearse from 2002-2003
Season G Tackles Assists Sacks FF FR
Kearse managed to play 14 games the year before he signed, but still failed to meet expectations. Some players played more games this season (18) than Williams has since 2009. He may roar back into Pro Bowl form, but the Browns aren't in a position as an organization to commit nearly a quarter of our entire cap space to one position for the next several years.
Bang for Your Buck
Joe Haden and TJ Ward provide quality talent at rookie contract prices.
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If the Browns draft a rookie outside the first round who fails to meet expectations, they can cut ties before camp begins. The team loses an initial signing bonus and a committed fraction of the player's contract, and although they'd have liked to have met a team need with that draft opportunity, it won't set the franchise back years.
Missing in free agency can set a team back as badly as missing in the early first round. As the cliche goes, the NFL is a business, specifically it's the entertainment business. Even if Joe around the corner can play a meaner guitar, John Mayer is going to sell more tickets. That's because John Mayer has been all over T-shirts, TV and radio for years and Joe has been...well... around the corner.
Free agency is the same principle: We can either try a hundred Joes around the corner, or bet it all on one John Mayer. When John Mayer catches bronchitis and cancels his tour, (i.e., our high profile free agent blows out his knee), his groupies are stuck in Albuquerque without a bus ticket. Meanwhile, Joe's supporters have heard some good guitar and have plenty of cash left over.
Tom Heckert has drafted more than one Pro Bowler in the second round in his day. The Browns would do well to ensure they can pay those prospects as they come to fruition.
There Is No Ideal Free Agent
LeCharles Bentley: What could have been...
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Northeast Ohio native and high profile free agent wide receiver Mario Manningham outlined this week some fairly obvious reasons as to why free agents might avoid Cleveland. Recent futility combined with a reputation for unforgiving weather and less-forgiving fans create a toxic, free agent-repelling atmosphere on the shores of Lake Erie.
But fans need only remember the tragic story of LeCharles Bentley, the fortunate son come home to save his beloved hometown Browns, to stomach the hard lesson that the Browns' savior will never exist in free agency.
The simple risk of committing disproportionate amounts of money on factors like name recognition and fan approval compounds exponentially when one considers that even a healthy, enthusiastic, "ideal," acquisition can tear their patellar tendons and end their careers on their first play of practice with the Browns.
The lesson? Draft, baby, draft.
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