The Cleveland Browns may have gained an advantage over other teams this offseason by having five unsigned restricted free agents (RFAs), three of whom have not showed up for any of the offseason program.
You may be thinking how they gained an advantage.
The answer is simple—the Browns have been able to get younger players opportunities to get reps during the offseason due to the RFAs who have missed all the reps, which may have allowed them to get comfortable with the playbook and impress both the coaches and members of the front office.
Running back Jerome Harrison and fullback Lawrence Vickers felt the heat of new additions to the roster and both decided to participate in organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, safety Abram Elam, and linebacker Matt Roth have all been no-shows.
The Browns are deep at linebacker with a ton of versatility from players who can play both inside and outside positions, so they have not missed Jackson and Roth much, but of course the linebacker unit would be even better with both of them.
Jackson and Roth's absence just gives other younger players the chance to make a name for themselves and solidify a roster spot come opening day of the regular season.
With three very young linebackers on the roster: Kaluka Maiava, David Veikune, and Marcus Benard—the Browns have future linebackers getting more playing time than they would have normally gotten if Jackson and Roth were attending.
Benard has been a pleasant surprise since he landed in Cleveland as an undrafted free agent out of Jackson State last year.
“From where he was last year at this time to where he is now, it’s unbelievable," said head coach Eric Mangini to CBSSports.com regarding Benard's development. "The continued absence of restricted free-agent Matt Roth gave Benard more practice reps."
Benard had 3.5 sacks in the Browns' final six games of the 2009 season and showed that he has a natural talent to rush the opposing quarterback.
Look for Benard to get plenty of opportunities to rush the passer in situational formations for all of this upcoming season.
Both Maiava and Veiukune have had some reports come out of the offseason program, with Veikune getting more press than Maiava, but both have been able to play more than they would have as well and should see the football field both on defense and special teams this year—unlike their limited appearances as rookies in 2009.
At safety, Elam is another no-show which is surprising with him being one of Mangini's "guys," and since Mangini wouldn't execute the 2009 NFL draft day trade with the Jets for the No. 5 overall pick without Elam in the deal.
Elam is also only a one-year starter and needs to prove himself for another season to get any form of a long-term deal from any team in the NFL.
With Elam's absence, there is opportunity for the Browns' two rookie safeties T.J. Ward and Larry Asante.
Starting two rookie safeties doesn't bother Mangini, but with both the Ravens and Bengals beefing up their passing attacks by adding more weapons, two rookie safeties are a bit worrisome at the same time.
No matter how the RFA situation pans out after the June 15 signing deadline passes, the Browns are lucky to have their young players get more playing time than they usually would in the offseason.
Even if all the RFAs sign and come back to the team, the Browns will have great depth and their backups will be better prepared than most of the other NFL teams' backups will be with all the extra reps.
(Also posted on Dawg Scooper: THE Cleveland Browns Blog)