The 5 Moves the Cleveland Browns Must Avoid in Free Agency
In every offseason there are great moves made. Sometimes, however, the best moves are the ones that teams do not make. The Cleveland Browns have over $50 million worth of salary cap space. While that is a lot of ammo with which to improve, it also creates a lot of opportunities to make mistakes.
A good contract would be similar to the one the Detroit Lions gave running back Reggie Bush last season. After signing a four-year, $16 million deal, he produced 1,006 yards on the ground, 506 through the air and seven total touchdowns. $4 million per season is a steal for a weapon of Bush’s caliber that has played in at least 14 games in each of the last three seasons.
A bad contract would resemble the one that the Atlanta Falcons gave running back Steven Jackson. His deal was worth $12 million over three years. Instead of production, however, the Falcons got a walking injury who rushed for just 543 yards in 12 games.
He essentially became a $4 million per year goal-line back. That is what the Browns need to avoid.
Let’s take a look at some bad moves the Browns need to dodge this year in free agency.
Signing Ben Tate
I have admittedly come full circle on this move. Before Michael Lombardi was shown the door as general manager, it looked like a foregone conclusion that Houston Texans running back Ben Tate would sign with the Browns.
For that move to still happen, the Browns would need to pay through the nose. His contract demands will probably be in the $4-to-6 million per year range. After seeing the level of talent in the draft, I find it hard to justify paying a back this much in free agency.
The Browns will be kicking themselves if they sign Tate to a long-term deal and his injury history follows him to Cleveland. Especially since this draft is fairly deep with running backs.
According to CBSSports.com, there are nine running backs that have a draft grade of third round or better. They also do not have a single back with a first-round grade. That means the Browns have three picks through two rounds if they choose to draft a top-nine running back in this draft.
Trade for Kirk Cousins
The Browns cannot panic with the quarterback position. If they love someone at the top of the draft and want to select him with the fourth pick, then fine. If they are infatuated with someone and want to trade up to select them, then okay.
They cannot, however, afford to trade away picks for a quarterback who was drafted in the fourth round just because he has played a few NFL games. They already have a guy on the roster who possesses a limited skill set and minimal experience. His name is Brian Hoyer, and he is probably a better option.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is the flavor of the week because he started the final three games of the year and had one decent game against a terrible Atlanta defense. In that game, he threw three touchdowns and two interceptions.
In the final two games, he threw one touchdown, three interceptions and failed to throw for more than 200 yards. His quarterback record was 0-3 during that stretch.
Giving up picks for another young developmental quarterback at this point would be asinine. Hoyer can do everything Cousins can do and has more experience in the league. He has also studied behind a far better mentor in New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
I don’t care if he played under Shanahan in Washington. That just means the Browns new offensive coordinator had the best seat in the house to watch a below average quarterback.
Give Knowshon Moreno Big Money
Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno picked a heck of a year to finally be decent. Through his five years in Denver he was only productive one other time—his rookie year when he shared the backfield.
The biggest issue with Moreno is not even his stats, however. His health should be a concern to anyone engaging in contract negotiations with the 26-year-old back. He had played in just 15 total games through two seasons prior to last year.
He proved that he was unable to take the beating of being a every-down running back at least until quarterback Peyton Manning came to town. Manning has an uncanny ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage and allow his backs to be productive and catch defenses off guard.
The problem in Cleveland is that Manning does not play here. It also doesn't have another back to play alongside Moreno and take the beating of running the ball inside the tackles.
The Browns cannot let his 1,586 total yards and 13 touchdowns fool them. It truly is fool’s gold.
Signing Too Many Old, “Pettine” Guys
Every coach brings some veterans with him to help lead and police the locker room. According to a Tom Pelissero report in USA Today, via NFL.com, head coach Mike Pettine “badly” wanted to sign linebacker Bart Scott.
Scott played for Pettine for 11 seasons in Baltimore and with the Jets. Despite the fact he can no longer be productive, he would have been a good locker room addition. Too many of those type of players can be dangerous, however.
When Eric Mangini took over the Browns, he flooded the locker room with “his” guys, and it ended badly. The Browns developed leaders last season, like cornerback Joe Haden. Others on the team now look to the young star as a guiding force.
By bringing in too many players who have the coach’s best interest in mind, it can create separation in the locker room. The “Mangini guys” were met with skepticism. Other players felt the only reason some were even still in the NFL was because they were loyal to Mangini.
The Browns need their locker room to police itself and not have the fear that every move and word is being reported back to the coach. Pettine has shown no signs that this is something he will push for, but general manager Ray Farmer would be wise to ensure it does not happen.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has maintained he will stay true to his beginnings as a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and build the Browns through the draft. This will truly be put to the test this offseason when his franchise has very deep pockets.
It is smart to be selective in free agency. Teams that patch together a playoff contender in one offseason are rarely consistent winners. The other danger, however, is not doing enough.
The Browns won’t just hurt their roster if they sit on their hands this offseason—they will hurt their public perception as well. The Browns have taken a terrible beating already in this department over the past year.
Signing players for the sake of signing them is ridiculous, but overpaying young players who are entering the prime of their careers is the express lane to legitimacy. It is up to Farmer to find those guys and convince them to sign.
If they stay too stagnant or swing and miss on most of the guys they want, it will not be a good look for a franchise in desperate need of some positive storylines.