Lost at Sea: The Cleveland Browns in Free Agency

The first four full days of NFL free agency has come to a close and we’ve had some incredible signings and trades, including big names like DeMarco Murray, Andre Johnson, Mike Wallace, Ndamukong Suh and Darelle Revis finding homes, potential impact players like Eddie Royal, Harry Douglas and Ryan Mathews getting landing spots, and crazy trades like Sam Bradford for Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham for Max Unger. And what’s amazing is that there’s still plenty more talent out there to sign.

So what have the Cleveland Browns done so far in free agency?  Well, it appears that despite having about $40 million in cap space to play with, Ray Farmer and the Browns have decided that their time is better spent catching up on sleep, watching TV and perhaps texting to friends about how the Cleveland Cavaliers should call different plays.  At least that would have been legal.  The one thing Ray farmer and the Browns didn’t do was make any moves to grab any of the highly talented free agents available and improve the team.  Let’s take a look at where we’re at:

Added in Free Agency:

  • Brian Hartline
  • Josh McCown
  • Thad Lewis

Lost in Free Agency:

  • Brian Hoyer
  • Jordan Cameron
  • Jabaal Sheard
  • Buster Skrine

Adding Through Subtraction?

So you already know how I feel about adding McCown and Hartline.  The Cliff Notes version, for those of you too lazy to click on the links, is that McCown was a complete waste of money in light of what they could have paid to retain the almost identical Brian Hoyer, and Hartline, although not the answer, is at least a step in the right direction.  But just when you thought it couldn’t get any more “interesting”, Browns fans came back from lunch on Thursday to find this:

Honestly, I have nothing personal against Johnny Football (assuming he makes it through rehab), but you have to take precautions if he’s either not going to play in 2015 or continues the trend we saw in the two games he actually started at the end of the 2014 regular season.  Josh McCown and Thad Lewis just don’t seem like the answer to me.

Whereas McCown provides no upside beyond what the Browns had last season in Brian Hoyer, Thad Lewis actually may provide less.  He’s a career backup and has shown very little ability to consistently lead a team as the primary signal caller.  But let’s not be totally negative here, let’s see if we can find some positive in this move.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Lewis isn’t new to the Browns.  He’s, in fact, one of the “distinguished” group of 22 quarterbacks that have started for the Browns since 1999.  Albeit, it was only one start back in 2012, but it was significant as he did complete 69% of his passes for a respectable 204 yards and a touchdown against the then league leading Steelers defense.  All was for not though as he was waived by the Browns in the 2013 off season, detoured through Detroit and ended up a backup in Buffalo for the 2013 season.  That ended up being a good thing for Lewis, as he had an opportunity to play 6 games there due to significant injuries at the quarterback position, actually winning two games in convincing fashion, both against the Dolphins.  Again, this was all for not, as Lewis was released from the Bills during the preseason and landed with the Texans midway through the 2014 season as quarterback depth.

What’s really interesting is if you look at Lewis’ career stats (although only over 7 games), they aren’t half bad, particularly if compared to the much more expensive Josh McCown:

Josh McCown – 35 Years Old

  • 58.8% Completion Percentage
  • 6.63 Average yards per attempt
  • 1.03 TD/INT Ratio
  • 76.1 Passer Rating
  • 34.7% Win percentage

Thad Lewis – 27 Years Old

  • 60.8% Completion Percentage
  • 6.86 Average yards per attempt
  • 1.25 TD/INT Ratio
  • 81.4 Passer Rating
  • 28.6% Win percentage

What I see here are almost identical stats for a quarterback that’s much younger and, although we don’t know the details of Lewis’ contract outside of the 1-year term, is likely a lot cheaper than the almost $4.7 million per year that the Browns are paying McCown.  Perhaps the Browns like McCown due to his “veteran” experience so he can be a mentor for Manziel.  Of course, there’s no evidence that McCown could be a good mentor, as he did nothing to help Mike Glennon in Tampa, but there must be SOME reason why the Browns wanted him so badly.

USA Today Photo

USA Today Photo

The bottom line is that although most Browns fans will rage against the decision to sign Lewis, it really does make sense to provide as much camp competition as possible.  Essentially, what the Browns did with this signing was to get some (presumably) cheap insurance/competition and roll the dice on something more.  I really don’t see a problem with that.  It’s just too bad the Browns didn’t get better options.

Subtracting Through Inaction

On the other side of the equation, losing Hoyer was a forgone conclusion, and up until Thursday, so was losing Cameron Jordan.  But if you look at why the Browns are losing players like Jordan, it’s clearly because of the quarterback situation:

It’s a big deal, and the Browns are right to address that issue first.  It’s just too bad that they decided to address it by getting carbon copy quarterbacks to compete with Johnny Football.

Losing Sheard and Skrine I think are bigger deals.

Cleveland Browns

ClevelandBrowns.com Photo

Sheard had flexibility as a defensive end and linebacker, and was solid for Cleveland missing only 3 games in four seasons.  Over that time he racked up 23 sacks, 190 tackles and 7 forced fumbles.  Regardless of what defense the Browns employ in 2015, Sheard is a significant contributor that should have been retained.

Cleveland Browns

USA Today Photo

Skrine was another solid piece of the Browns defense at cornerback, and also should have been retained.  Skrine broke up 49 passes in four seasons (two of which he started), but had only 4 interceptions in 2014 while ranking second overall in penalties with 15.  Regardless, he improved each year and was a solid second or third corner.  I understand that Joe Haden is still there and is the clear number one, and also that the Browns hope that Justin Gilbert can meet his potential, but there’s something to be said about having reliable options, and the Browns certainly had cap money to spend.

Losing bother Sheard and Skrine to free agency while doing nothing to fill the holes leaves the Browns defense as a black box.  Cleveland actually had a respectable defense in 2014 being ranked 9th in the NFL in least points allowed per game (21.1), and had a particularly decent secondary ranked 8th in least passing yards allowed per game (224.5).  Without Sheard and Skrine, it will be questionable whether those numbers can be improved or even sustained.

I understand not getting caught up in the free agency madness (and I’m looking at you Chip Kelly for signing two running backs for enormous money while letting one of the best in the NFL go to Buffalo), but history dictates you can’t be successful only losing pieces.  There better be some big moves in the draft.

If nothing else, at least Cleveland has Kyrie Irving as a distraction.  So, hope everyone at least enjoyed that.

AP Photo

AP Photo

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

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