What We Have Learned About the Cleveland Browns Since the Start of Free Agency
One of the biggest mysteries heading into the NFL free agency period was how the Cleveland Browns new front office would execute their game plan. In fact, no one could really estimate exactly what new general manager Ray Farmer’s game plan would be.
Farmer, who took over just a few weeks before free agency began, is one of the biggest wild cards in the NFL. Sure, he was a scout for the Atlanta Falcons and Director of Pro Personnel in Kansas City for six years, but this is his first time running the show by himself.
So now that over 48 hours have passed in free agency we have a little better idea of exactly what Farmer and the Browns are all about.
Let’s take a look at the five things we have learned about the Browns throughout free agency thus far.
Mike Pettine Has a Lot of Influence
Despite the fact that Ray Farmer was not even involved in the interview process when head coach Mike Pettine was hired, it seems like he has quite a bit of pull. It is rare, but apparently they found common ground to work with quickly after the front office purge was made.
“I think one of the reasons that we've been able to get on the same page very quickly is because I think we have very much a shared vision of what a football team should look like,” Pettine said to Vic Carucci of ClevelandBrowns.com during the scouting combine. “So when we sat down and started kind of going through the punch list of questions pertaining to a franchise, he and I were (together) right out of the gate. We didn’t have to stray far from what our core beliefs are.”
While that could have been dismissed as lip service in Indianapolis, we are quickly realizing it is a fact. If you need proof, look no further than the Browns first three signings of free agency.
Despite having the ninth ranked defense in 2013, the Browns continue to retool that side of the football. They brought in Karlos Dansby to replace D’Qwell Jackson at linebacker, Donte Whitner to replace T.J. Ward at safety and Isaiah Trufant for depth at cornerback.
Pettine is a former defensive coordinator, and he is making sure that side of the football is taken care of before anything else.
Ray Farmer Is Not Afraid of Age
When Michael Lombardi and Joe Banner were running the show in Cleveland, it was almost as if they were allergic to players over the age of 30. Once you hit the triple-decade mark you were considered a pestilence to the roster and certainly not worth signing in free agency.
Ray Farmer, on the other hand, executed a rare feat in the first day of free agency and actually made his team older. Donte Whiter is about a year older than T.J. Ward and has played four more seasons. Karlos Dansby is also two years older than D’Qwell Jackson.
So why take the risk on players with more miles on their body? Farmer wanted leadership and attitude and he certainly got it.
“Guys may hit me up and say, ‘I want to go on this journey with you.’ They know what kind of guy I am, what kind of player I am, and what I put into this game,” said Dansby via Ohio.com during their introductory press conference. “The way I approach this game is different. It’s totally different, and I think it’s special. I’ve been touched. I’ve got a gift, and they know I’m going to put everything I got into it.”
Whitner added, “First and foremost, leadership within the locker room (is what I can provide). Whenever you come from a winning organization and you come to a team that hasn’t really had that winning success as of late, you really have to change the culture, you have to change the mindset and you have to change the feel within the locker room.”
Whitner has missed one game in the last four seasons and Dansby has not missed a game in three years. If they can stay healthy and productive then Farmer’s gamble will pay off. If they cannot, then he better have some reserves coming through the draft.
Browns Will Be Acquiring a New Quarterback
Ok, so it isn’t necessarily breaking news that the Browns will be in the market for a quarterback, but now it is a certainty. The Browns announced Monday that they parted ways with 2012 first-round draft pick Brandon Weeden as well as 2013 free-agent signing Jason Campbell.
The Browns, who have been linked to Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr in the draft and Matt Schaub in free agency, have cleared the path to bring in another arm. Currently they have just two quarterbacks on the roster: Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney.
The only way the Browns could pursue Schaub is through a trade with the Houston Texans or if he were cut. Yahoo Sports is now reporting that the latter of those two options is not happening anytime soon.
So that leaves the draft.
The Browns own the 4th, 26th and 35th picks in the draft and could easily score the quarterback of their liking in that range. They could also wait until later in the draft and select someone to sit behind Brian Hoyer for a season. That would contradict what Ray Farmer said at the scouting combine, however.
“I definitely believe in a lot of the traits that Brian Hoyer has demonstrated he has,” Farmer said to the media via Ohio.com. “Nevertheless, competition is what drives this league. When we have guys that push the guy in front of him or beside or behind him, etcetera, then that’s when your football team gets better. … I think Brian understands that, respects that, and I think that that’s what he’s looking for is the opportunity to compete to be the guy.”
Gordon’s Wingman Will Probably Be Selected in the Draft
There is still time to sign a guy who could take pressure off of Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon next season, but it is looking more and more like that guy will come out of the draft. Eric Decker signed with the New York Jets and Golden Tate signed with the Detroit Lions leaving Emmanuel Sanders, Hakeem Nicks and James Jones as the only legitimate secondary option receivers left on the market.
So far, Sanders is the only one that they have been connected to in reports.
With Andre Roberts now a Redskin, as @MikeJonesWaPo reported, Browns will be in on PIT WR Emmanuel Sanders as underneath guy
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 11, 2014
Sanders, however, was reportedly in Jacksonville visiting with the Jaguars on Wednesday. So if no real news is made at the wide receiver position in free agency, one can assume the Browns will find their man in the draft.
This draft is considered extremely deep at the wide receiver position, and starters can be found deep into the third round. Remember, the Browns have four picks through the first three rounds. It is looking more and more like Farmer is going for explosive youth on that side of the football next season.
Browns Will Remake Line Through Draft
One of the surprises thus far through free agency is the money being thrown at offensive linemen. The Browns are in need of two guards for the line, and some of the top names are already off the market.
Zane Beadles signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jon Asamoah signed with the Atlanta Falcons and Geoff Schwartz signed with the New York Giants according to CBSSports.com. The remaining portion of the market is average at best.
Thus far, the Browns have not been connected to any offensive linemen in any reports. This means they will probably do the bulk of that rebuilding throughout the draft.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is a question mark for the Browns as well and could need to be replaced. With so many possible holes to fill on the line and zero movement towards courting any of them in free agency, it stands to reason that the Browns are looking to get younger in the trenches.
Maybe this is the right move too. Left tackle Joe Thomas is already 29, Alex Mack is 28 and filling in the rest of the line with youth could make them more athletic. That is an attribute new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan covets in his zone-blocking scheme.