Signing Thomas Jones Makes Sense for the Cleveland Browns

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 24:  Running back Thomas Jones #20 of the New York Jets runs the ball as he is being chased by Philip Wheeler #50 of the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter during the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 24, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When the Cleveland Browns released aging veteran RB Jamal Lewis in February, it opened up a spot in the backfield that Cleveland hopes to fill this offseason.

The Browns are hoping to find a physical back to complement the speedy and elusive Jerome Harrison.

Harrison, a four year veteran, emerged late last season and rushed for 571 yards in the final three games. He has shown his play making ability in limited touches in his time in the NFL, but Harrison is considered a bit undersized for an every down back.

Harrison is generously listed at 5'9" and 205lbs. He has to be considered the favorite to enter the 2010 season as the Browns' starter, but may prove to be more valuable in a tandem back situation.

Looking for a back in the upcoming NFL draft is one possibility, but the Browns already have a trio of young players in Harrison, Chris Jennings, and the untested James Davis, who showed potential prior to a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve early last season.

It seems more likely that Cleveland will look for a back in free agency, freeing up its 11 draft picks to fill other areas of need.

When free agency begins on March 5th, one veteran who is sure to draw a lot of interest is Thomas Jones. The 11th year player has been one of the most productive backs in recent years, rushing for over 1,100 yards in each of the past five seasons.

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However, the emergence of rookie Shonn Greene made Jones expendable in New York, and the Jets informed him he will be released.

In the past two seasons combined, Jones has rushed for 2714 yards and 27 touchdowns and is entering free agency following arguably the most productive season of his career. However, he will also be 32 at the start of the regular season. Teams will likely be offering only a one or two year deal, and Jones will be looking for a good situation.

One such situation may be with former head coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. Mangini brought Jones to the Jets in 2007 and coached him in two of Jones' three seasons in New York.

Mangini has brought his run based offensive philosophy with him to Cleveland. Though new team president Mike Holmgren in certain to make a few adjustments to the offense, elements should remain of a system Jones would be comfortable with and fit into.

In New York, Mangini paired Jones with change-of-pace back Leon Washington and the two wreaked havoc on opposing defenses.

A similar scenario could be implemented in Cleveland with Jones spelling Jerome Harrison. In Cleveland, Jones would not be the primary running back, but would allow Harrison to stay fresh, and hopefully maintain his quickness and burst over the course of a full season.

It is a big unknown if Jones would be willing to sacrifice a starting role in order to enter such a situation, but Cleveland has the money to spend in what is almost certainly going to be an uncapped season.

Bringing in Jones on a one or two year, incentive-laden contract would not be a tremendous risk for the Browns. Cleveland made a similar deal in 2007 when they signed veteran RB Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 1,304 yards that year. Signing Lewis to an extension proved to be a mistake, but the initial one year deal was well worth it.

Signing Jones, or another veteran to a short term deal would also afford the Browns time to evaluate RB James Davis, the sixth round draft pick out of Clemson, who many in Cleveland are high on.

Davis posted an impressive 3,881 rushing yards and 47 touchdown in his four year college career and looked very solid in last year's preseason for the Browns. Unfortunately, Davis only carried the ball nine times last year before being placed on injured reserve in early October, thus remaining a bit of an unknown.

Jerome Harrison led a dominant rushing attack, which allowed the Browns to finish the season with a four game winning streak, and Cleveland will be looking to build on that in 2010 and add more talent to the backfield.

It is unknown whether that talent comes in the emergence of Jennings or Davis, the addition of Thomas Jones or another veteran free agent, a 2010 draft pick, or  elsewhere, but the answer should begin to present itself when free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, March 5th.