Realistic Expectations for Each New Browns Free Agent Addition
With a huge amount of salary cap space and a brand new coaching staff and front office, it was believed that the Cleveland Browns would make a splash in free agency this offseason.
While the Browns' additions this offseason may seem like a mere drop in a giant sea to some, in fact, many of the players they picked up will play integral roles for the new-look team.
There is a difference, however, between optimism about these pickups and what these players will realistically achieve in 2013. Here, we will try to figure out the latter and make predictions, not about what their seven new acquisitions could do, but rather what seems to be the most reasonable expectations for them this year.
LB Paul Kruger
With a five-year deal worth around $40 million, there's no doubt that when the Browns signed free agent linebacker Paul Kruger, they wanted to make him a starter on the outside in Ray Horton's 3-4 defense.
Though he's had only one year of starting experience in the NFL—last season with the Baltimore Ravens—the Browns have clearly seen enough out of him to believe that he can reprise that starting role with his new team. After all, he led the Ravens in sacks last season with nine, and he also added another 4.5 sacks in the postseason.
Kruger is an excellent pass-rusher but he is still trying to pick up the intricacies of the run game. Though he'll easily play over 1,000 snaps in 2013, he'll still be spelled on occasion in obvious running situations or against run-heavy teams. He likely won't have to shoulder as much of the pass-rushing responsibility as he did in his final season in Baltimore, though, which should actually help his overall sack total.
In terms of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, look for Kruger to improve upon his 2012 numbers with the Ravens. Just don't expect miracles from him in terms of run defense.
DT Desmond Bryant
In another move that was made in an attempt to increase the ferocity along the front seven, the Browns brought on former Oakland Raiders free agent defensive tackle Desmond Bryant. Based upon his salary—$34 million over five years—it's also likely that he'll be a starter.
Bryant, however, will move to defensive end for the Browns, starting alongside Ahtyba Rubin with Phil Taylor as nose tackle. Jabaal Sheard will move to outside linebacker, joining Paul Kruger. Though 3-4 defensive ends aren't considered to be pure edge rushers like their 4-3 counterparts, expect Bryant to spend many of his snaps putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Bryant played 645 snaps for the Raiders in 2012 and became a starting defensive tackle in Week 10. He had four sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 20 hurries last year, but he was much weaker against the run (subscription required).
However, that was with Bryant working the middle of the line. This year, on the outside, he'll likely do a better job of containing running backs by being able to showcase the same speed that makes him a dangerous pass-rusher. Bryant is on the verge of becoming a breakout star, and his additional responsibilities and playing time in Cleveland could make that happen this year.
LB Quentin Groves
The signing of linebacker Quentin Groves—who most recently played for the Arizona Cardinals, where current Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton held the same position—was more of a situational pickup rather than an addition of an instant starter. One only has to look at his snap breakdown from 2012 to see why the Browns chose to bring him on.
Groves played 481 snaps last season, taking over as a starter in Week 11. Of those snaps, 255 were against the run, 144 were as a pass-rusher and 82 were in coverage. Though Groves will continually be learning the craft of the 3-4 outside linebacker and the pass-rushing duties that generally typify it, his work in the Browns' front seven will likely be done situationally, to help assist in run duties and spell Kruger or Rubin.
Groves is also a strong special teams contributor, working in coverage teams. He very well may end the season with as many special teams tackles as he does when taking snaps on defense. He's a role player that the Browns are hoping will develop into an all-around, starting-caliber linebacker by 2014.
TE Gary Barnidge
The Browns' signing of free agent tight end Gary Barnidge—who previously was with the Carolina Panthers when current Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski was their offensive coordinator—was more of a depth addition than anything else. The starting job appears to be destined for Jordan Cameron, while Barnidge will be a marginal role player as he was in Carolina.
Barnidge played a mere 140 offensive snaps in 2012, with 65 of them as a receiver, 68 as a run blocker and seven as a pass blocker, but he caught all six passes thrown to him for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also contributed on special teams as part of the coverage unit, which is likely where he'll get most of his work this year.
Barnidge may catch a pass or two, but when he's taking offensive snaps, it will likely be in a blocking role. We'll see him with the special teams unit more often.
CB Chris Owens
Though the Cleveland Browns still need a starting outside cornerback to pair with Joe Haden, they chose not to get one in free agency. The cornerback they did add, Chris Owens, will likely play a marginal role on defense in nickel and dime packages while also contributing on special teams.
Owens played 177 snaps in 2012, with 125 of those coming in coverage. He allowed just 15 receptions on 28 targets for 149 yards and no touchdowns. He also defensed five passes.
Owens has some very real upside as a cornerback and should get ample opportunity to climb the depth chart and challenge Buster Skrine for the starting nickel corner spot. Like Groves and Barnidge before him, Owens can also contribute on special teams.
TE Kellen Davis
As a receiving tight end, Kellen Davis is a liability, having caught just 19 of the 44 passes thrown to him in Chicago and registering eight drops in 2012. However, the Browns didn't bring Davis in for his receiving skills—they want him as a blocker.
Davis isn't the best run-blocking tight end in the league, but you could certainly do much worse. He ranked 24th in that area in 2012 out of 62 tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and that's where he'll be used most often in Cleveland.
Opening up running lanes for Trent Richardson is something the Browns must do a better job of this season, and Davis can certainly assist in that area. He replaces free agent Alex Smith and should probably be an upgrade from him as far as blocking is concerned. He'll likely get a few passes thrown his way as well, but knowing that his hands are an issue, it shouldn't happen too often.
QB Jason Campbell
Browns CEO Joe Banner said earlier in the offseason that they'd like to bring in competition to push 2012 starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, and they did so by signing free agent Jason Campbell. Though Weeden will begin OTAs and minicamp as the team's starter, Campbell will apparently be given the opportunity to outperform the incumbent and earn his job.
Campbell has had starting experience with three teams: the Washington Redskins, the Oakland Raiders and, last season, with the Chicago Bears for one game after starter Jay Cutler sat out for a week with a concussion. Constant coaching changes in Washington cost him his job there, while a broken collarbone ended what looked to be shaping up to be his best professional season in Oakland in 2011. He's certainly qualified enough to present a challenge for Weeden.
It's not out of the question that the Browns bring in another quarterback through the draft, which could make this two-way competition a three-way dance for Cleveland's starting job. However, at present, it's simply Weeden vs. Campbell, with Weeden having a slight edge at the present time.
There are many realistic scenarios that could play out for Campbell this year. One is that he wins the job outright from under Weeden, and the other is that he doesn't and spends the season as Weeden's backup. Another scenario could see Weeden begin the season as the starter, but if he falters or is injured, Campbell will take over.
At the very least, Campbell is a capable backup who is well-suited to the Browns' current offensive system. At most, he can definitely step in as a stopgap starter if Weeden doesn't pan out.