Cleveland Browns: State of the Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
After firing Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski was hired at the beginning of 2013 and it would have been hard to imagine that even more turmoil could surround the organization a year later.
Yet, here we are. The microscope is squarely focused on owner Jimmy Haslam and his front office.
Despite the public relations disaster that the team endured during its head coach search, there is plenty for fans to look forward to.
Over the next several slides we'll review last season, analyze Cleveland's salary cap situation and impending free agents, break down the new coaching staff and take a look at the upcoming draft.
2013 Season in Review
Everything that could've gone wrong for the Cleveland Browns did during the 2013 season.
A carousel of quarterbacks, an invisible running attack and multiple fourth quarter collapses all wrapped up a very forgettable 16-game campaign.
The Browns' front office pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Indianapolis Colts following Week 2 as they dealt former third overall pick Trent Richardson in exchange for the Colts' 2014 first-round selection.
As of right now it looks as if CEO Joe Banner fleeced Indianapolis. Richardson was ineffective in his new home as he averaged only 2.9 yards per carry for a total of 458 yards over 14 games.
The true judgment of the transaction won't be known until it is seen what the Browns do with that extra pick.
To cap it all off, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner shocked the world following Cleveland's season finale loss by firing head coach Rob Chudzinski after only 11 months on the job.
However, amidst all the doom and gloom there were a few bright spots.
Brian Hoyer teased fans by impressively winning two straight as a starter in Weeks 3 and 4 before suffering a torn ACL in a Thursday night match up at home versus the Buffalo Bills.
The spark Hoyer provided was felt by everyone inside and outside the organization, which puts him in an excellent position to be the opening day quarterback in 2014.
Another positive was the meteoric rise of Josh Gordon as arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Under offensive coordinator Norv Turner's tutelage, Gordon led the league in receiving yards with 1,646. Even more incredible is that Gordon did so in only 14 contests since he was suspended for the first two games of the season.
Pro Bowl Players
The Browns had more players selected to the Pro Bowl then they did wins in 2013.
Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Joe Haden, and T.J. Ward (alternate) all got the call to head down to Hawaii.
This is a group of dynamic young players that can be the foundation of a bright future in Cleveland. Center Alex Mack and safety T.J. Ward may be the exceptions as they are free agents.
Salary Cap Situation
Cleveland is in an excellent position to acquire top tier free agents if they so desire this offseason.
The Browns reportedly have the largest adjusted salary cap in the NFL at over $150 million and that is thanks to $24.19 million in carryover room from 2013.
This all means that the front office has approximately $46.5 million in cap space to play with.
Significant upgrades on both sides of the ball are definitely required for this organization to take a noticeable step forward.
On defense, the secondary still needs size and depth. Ray Horton's highly touted pass rush was underwhelming, but some key pieces appear to be in place. It will be interesting to follow the adjustments that defensive specialist and new head coach Mike Pettine makes.
For offense, the laundry list of improvements includes help on the offensive line, running back, fullback, wide receiver and quarterback.
How many of these requirements can be fulfilled through free agency or the draft remains to be seen.
Two of the Browns' six Pro Bowlers, Alex Mack and T.J. Ward (alternate), have expired contracts and will no doubt be looking for sizable pay increases. Should CEO Joe Banner use some of his ample available funds to bring back these veteran contributors?
Impending Free Agents
The Browns have seven players with expired contracts that they need to decide whether to bring back or not in 2014.
|Player||Position||Age||Type of Free Agent||Expiring Contract Details|
|Alex Mack||Center||28||Unrestricted||5 years/$14.6 million|
|Shawn Lauvao||Guard||26||Unrestricted||4 years/$3.3 million|
|T.J. Ward||Safety||27||Unrestricted||4 years/$5.088 million|
|Oniel Cousins||Guard, Tackle||29||Unrestricted||2 years/$1.5 million|
|Billy Cundiff||Kicker||33||Unrestricted||1 year/$840,000|
|Willis McGahee||Running Back||32||Unrestricted||1 year/$940,000|
|Craig Robertson||Linebacker (Inside)||25||Exclusive Rights||2 years/$870,000|
|Courtesy of Spotrac.com|
The two most notable names on the list are Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and T.J. Ward. Both are going to be looking for pay raises and each one holds down a key position.
T.J. Ward (safety)
Finally, the Browns have consistent playmakers at the two safety spots with Ward and Tashaun Gipson. Letting No. 43 walk away would leave yet another hole that needs to be filled on a club that has plenty of key personnel requirements already.
In Ward's first full season since his rookie campaign in 2010, he executed 112 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. He returned one of those picks for a touchdown as well.
Upper echelon safeties like Troy Polamalu, Eric Berry and Jairus Byrd all hovered between the $6.9-$7.5 million base-salary range last year according to Spotrac. It can be assumed that Ward will be seeking at least that.
If a multi-year agreement cannot be reached, then the $8 million franchise tag for safety is a reasonable option in comparison to the earnings of those talented defenders mentioned above.
Alex Mack (center)
Mack has played in every game since entering the league as Cleveland's first-round pick in 2009. He displays tremendous athleticism for a big man and can hustle upfield to make key blocks.
The 6'4", 311-pound center is also going to be playing for his fourth different Browns head coach.
Over the next two seasons, $12.3 and then $10.2 million are deservedly tied up with Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas (his contract expires following the 2018 season). Undoubtedly, Mack will be looking for a long-term agreement if he is expected to stick around northeast Ohio.
If the Browns did sign Mack to an extension then the team would have upward of $20 million next season tied up in a pair of offensive linemen.
Slapping the franchise tag on Mack is out of the question. All offensive linemen are grouped together as one by the NFL, which means that the 28-year old would receive $11.2 million if tagged.
Another New Coaching Staff
Another offseason and another new head coach for the Cleveland Browns. Yes, poor Rob Chudzinski was fired after being employed for only 11-months and following a 4-12 season.
Former Buffalo Bills and New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is now at the helm. A frustrating and exhausting coaching search that stretched 25 days finally saw the Browns settle on Pettine January 23.
Looking like a mix between professional wrestling legends Stone Cold Steve Austin and Goldberg, Pettine brings with him a hard-nosed, no nonsense approach.
Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com wrote about how he believes this was a good hire by the Browns' front office.
Skeptics of the move should read the excellent book "Collision Low Crossers" by Nicholas Dawidoff. The book is built around the 2011 Jets, and Pettine comes across as someone ready to run an organization. He's tough-minded, which is going to be necessary for any coach trying to change the culture in Cleveland.
Only time, and victories, will tell the story on whether or not he was the correct choice.
As Pettine nabbed several of his assistant coaches from Buffalo, including now defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil, the front office signed the highest profile coordinator left on the market.
This past Monday, Kyle Shanahan was brought in to run Cleveland's sputtering offense.
Shanahan worked alongside his head coach father Mike over the past four seasons in Washington. The Redskins cleaned house at the end of 2013 when a combination of missing the playoffs and a seemingly irreparable rift with quarterback Robert Griffin III sent the Shanahans packing.
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com nicely summed up Shanahan's impressive resume.
Shanahan brings 10 years experience as an NFL assistant, including six years as an offensive coordinator -- the past four in Washington and two before that in Houston. In four of his six seasons in charge, Shanahan's offenses finished in the top 10.
2014 Draft Preview
As juicy as the Browns' salary cap space is, their draft situation this May looks even better.
Through trades with Pittsburgh and Indianapolis during last year's draft, Cleveland acquired an additional third and fourth round selection. Following Week 2 of this past season, the club dealt franchise running back Trent Richardson to the Colts for their first round pick in 2014.
In total, the Browns currently own 10 draft picks, which includes five in the first three rounds.
The giant question looming over the organization is whether owner Jimmy Haslam has assembled the right group of talent evaluators to find a crop of rookies that can turn the team around quickly.
What CEO Joe Banner accomplishes in free agency will of course heavily influence what direction this draft goes.
This year's draft class is deep in wide receiver, quarterback and offensive linemen. All are areas that the Browns need to significantly upgrade.
The signing of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should undoubtedly play a role in what type of QB is selected.
Shanahan has had success with mobile quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III, but also got results when guiding more stationary signal callers like Matt Schaub. His history suggests that the team could still go in a number of different directions at the position.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81