Cleveland Browns: First 5 Things They Must Do When the Lockout Is Lifted
If you're anything like me, at this point your viewpoint on rumors that the lockout being lifted is "I'll believe it when I see it." We've been given false hope far too many times not to be skeptical. Still, it does appear that at long last, the rumors might actually be true.
I still won't fully believe it until I see hard evidence of course, but given that there finally seems to be a reason to have legitimate hope, it's time to start plotting our post-lockout course of action.
Following are five things that the Browns should prioritize immediately as soon as the lockout is officially lifted. Be sure to add any additional post-lockout goals you think the Browns should be aiming for in the comments below!
1. Get Playbooks out and Organize Team Wide Practices
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A few months ago, the Browns were fined for giving a playbook to QB Colt McCoy to be used at his Camp Colt while that action was against the rules per lockout conditions. Given that the Browns are a young team with a new coach, I'm sure the fine was worth it. It would have been worth it if they had to pay 10 times as much for it.
Luckily, once the lockout lifts, the Browns will no longer have to exchange playbooks with their team in dark alleys or suffer punishments for doing so if they're caught. And that's good news, because every player on the team should be looking at a playbook as soon as possible.
Further, and probably even more important, the Browns need to get regular practices—the kind with playbooks, coaches, and the entire team present—underway as soon as possible.
Camp Colt was fantastic for allowing McCoy to develop a relationship both on and off field with his offense. But it's no substitute for the precision and development a team gets from practicing under the watchful gaze of its coaching staff.
This is perhaps more crucial for the Browns than any other team, because they are learning a new system on both sides of the ball. Something like Camp Colt might be more effective for a team that is simply staying sharp at what its always been doing; that's different for the Browns, who are a host of youngsters with little experience trying to learn a whole new system.
And, oh by the way, there was no Camp Haden, which means the defense is even more behind. Training camp, or at least some lesser version of it akin to what we would call a mini camp, needs to start immediately post-lockout.
2. Establish Strong Relationships Between Coach and Player
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Going hand-in-hand with the need to begin practice immediately with coaches to learn the new systems is the need to start establishing relationships (both on and off field) between players and coaches right away.
Again, the Browns are at a greater disadvantage than most teams on this issue. Teams whose coaching staff (or even part of their coaching staff) returning from last season already have a relationship with them. Sure, it's a bit of a setback to not see your coach for months for anyone, but it's a heckuva smaller one than that suffered by a team who doesn't really know any of its coaches at all.
At present, the entire team has no relationship to speak of with Coach Shurmur. They would have had a bit of time at the beginning of the offseason before the lockout went into effect to get to know him, but after that, any contact would have been illegal. I'm sure there was some anyway, but I doubt it was a significant amount.
The defense is in the same boat with its coordinator. They'll be operating under a new system with a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator. They're almost worse off than the offense, since they have to get to know and bond with two new people rather than just one. And that doesn't even include all the coaches with smaller and more specific roles they'll be dealing with. That unfortunately applies to players on both sides of the ball.
Just like a relationship with one's teammates is important, one's relationship with a coach is crucial to the success of your team. Until the staff and the players are completely comfortable with one another, it's going to be a bumpy road.
3. Dive into the Free Agent Pool Quickly...but Not Too Quickly
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The Browns have a long list of needs they have to fill before the season begins. Like any team with a lot of holes in its roster, the Browns need to get cracking on signing free agents as soon as the market opens for business.
But they still need to approach with caution. As a team with multiple needs, they'll certainly need to be aggressive and begin activity on the market right away to make sure all the best players aren't swiped by other teams before they get a chance to compete for them. But that doesn't mean they should be throwing money at every player they fear someone else will snap up who matches up with a need they have in only a minimally vague way.
Teams with a lot of needs going into free agency have a tendency to panic if they have enough money to allow them to. They overspend on players who aren't of any real use to them or who cost more than what they really need to spend to fill a given need, and they wind up either with a team that isn't as good as it could have been had they been more cautious or they wind up broke with no money to put toward possible future problems.
The Browns have to be on the ball and jump in right away on free agency, but they also have to be careful not to get too trigger happy. Just because you need, say, a linebacker, doesn't mean you need the most expensive linebacker the market offers. Sure, it would always be nice to have the best player money can buy at every position. But not at the expense of coming up short at other spots on the roster where you have needs.
4. Prioritize Re-Signing Free Agency Eligible Players Already with the Browns
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In the frenzy to grab new free agents previously with other teams, it's easy to forget about another key factor of free agency: re-signing players of our own who are eligible for free agency.
Normally by the time the free agency market opens up to all, teams have had a decent amount of time to re-sign their own former players who are eligible to leave. It's not a guarantee, but the odds are pretty good that if you haven't signed a player by the time he hits the open market, you probably aren't going to get him back.
The lockout and all the circumstances it precipitated even before it actually went into effect officially netted teams less time to sort out what they plan to do with potential free agents from their roster and to have ample time to negotiate with them if possible. That means the race to re-sign our own free agents will be nearly as much of a truncated mad dash as the race to sign free agents formerly of other teams.
Obviously, there are plenty of players formerly on our roster and now eligible for free agency who we don't need any additional time to know we don't want either because they don't have the talent we need or because the price of that talent is more than it's worth to us.
I doubt, for example, that any of us will miss Floyd Womack much. And much as we're all disappointed by it, we know it's highly unlikely that Vickers will be re-signed. But what of a guy like Abe Elam? That's the kind of player we need to be focusing on in this situation. Guys who, while they don't bring elite level talent, do address a need we have and do so at a modest price. The value is even higher for a guy like Elam specifically who is hard working, loyal to Cleveland, and most of all, wants to stay in a Browns uniform.
Sometimes newer isn't necessarily better. The Browns need new talent out of free agency to be sure, but they've also got some in-house talent that they need to make sure stays there.
5. Acquire Depth at a Bargain Price with Undrafted Free Agents
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We all know the Browns have needs of greater quantity and quality than can be filled with UDFAs alone. But that doesn't mean they should overspend on big name free agents in situations where it isn't necessary.
What we're primarily talking about here is positions where what we need isn't starters, but depth. I'm not suggesting the Browns pass on a starting OT who they might need in favor of throwing some guy who was passed up in the draft out there to do more than he's capable of in a starting role. Rather, I'm talking about bolstering the positions where what we mostly need is numbers this way.
Sure, we're still only going to be looking at UDFAs who we think at least have the potential to handle a starting role down the road or in the event of injury, but we don't have to find our major needs at starting positions here.
Many of us, for example, love the idea of bringing in UDFA former Ohio Stater Dane Sanzenbacher at wide receiver. No one is suggesting that signing him would supplant the current starters or that it would be a substitute for signing a marquee receiver off the regular free agent market, but he could be useful in a backup role or as a starter in the future.
The Browns finances aren't such that they need to do everything on the cheap, but they're also not a bottomless pit of money and even if they were, salary cap constraints would prevent them from going with the top dollar guy in every instance. That's where the UDFAs come in. After the lockout ends, the Browns need to strike a balance in addressing their needs between costly guaranteed impact signings and bargains that will round out the roster or provide insurance for the future.