Adventures in NFL Free Agency: Cleveland Browns Free Agency Update

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

Sometimes you just have to wonder what the Cleveland Browns are up to.  Is there some secret plan out there that we just don’t know about?  Is this a classic misdirect?  Or is this just bad planning?

In some ways, it reminds me of the old 1980’s comedy, “Adventures in Babysitting”, starring the actress that played Ali Mills in the original “Karate Kid” (who’s the jerk girl that Daniel gets his “leg swept” over then mysteriously breaks up with him at the beginning of “Karate Kid II”) and directed by Chris Columbus (not the explorer from 1492), who wrote and directed such hits as “Gremlins”, “The Goonies”, “Home Alone”, 3 of the “Harry Potter” movies and “Pixels”.  Oh wait, I guess “Pixels” wasn’t all that great, except for the fact that Q-Bert and Tyrion Lannister from “Game of Thrones” was in it, but you get the point.

Pixels

If you haven’t seen “Adventures in Babysitting” either (1) you’re way younger than I am or (2) you have moderately good taste in movies.  I’m not busting on the movie per se, but it certainly isn’t a classic.  For those who don’t know, it’s about a girl who babysits 3 kids, but when they all leave to help out a friend of hers in downtown Chicago, all sorts of shenanigans ensue.  Like getting in the crossfire when a crazy tow truck driver finds out his wife is cheating on him, accidentally falling into a car theft operation, being forced to sing the blues on stage while being chased by gang members, and…wow, you know, I didn’t realize how terrible this movie was until I just tried to explain it to you.

The point is, you could never figure out what craziness would happen next in the movie, but ultimately, it all worked out.  The kids were all safe, parents never found out, and the girl (regardless of having bad karma from the “Karate Kid” movie) got the guy she liked.

So as much as I disliked the movie, I can only hope that the Cleveland Browns have planned their free agency strategy around the plot of “Adventures in Babysitting.”  That is, they’re making crazy, out of left field decisions that no sane person can predict, but ultimately, it’s all going to work out.

With that said, let’s take a look at what the Browns have done in free agency so far.

Top Tier Free Agents

Alex Mack – Center

To the Atlanta Falcons

The one thing I said the Browns needed to do this off season, so as not to have to completely rebuild their troublesome offensive line, was to keep Alex Mack.  I suppose I can’t be too disappointed, since it appears there was significant competition for his services, including from the Browns.

In fact, apparently, Mack chose 5-years at $45 million from the Falcons OVER around $10 million a year from the Browns.

So the Browns did try to retain him, but apparently, Mack preferred to play for Shanahan in Atlanta for LESS money.  Sure, maybe Atlanta is a little warmer year round, but this sure feels like a shot at the Browns organization as a whole.  Ultimately, although I would have preferred if the Browns kept him, Mack did have had a down year in 2015 and is approaching the wrong side of 30.  Finding a replacement now, while you’re rebuilding around a new QB, does make a little bit of sense.

Of course, what this means is that the Browns may want to step up their other free agency acquisitions either on defense or WR so as to free up some flexibility to draft a center.

UPDATE – March 19

Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Terry Pluto reported that the Browns actually did not offer Mack a contract, and that they were considering moving on because they believed this was a “young man’s game”.

Mitchell Schwartz – Offensive Lineman

To the Kansas City Chiefs

Actually, this isn’t so bad.  Schwartz had a great year and deserved a big payoff.  I mentioned that I’d prefer the Browns direct resources elsewhere (which I hoped would have been keeping Mack), so this is basically what I expected, and I think the Browns can find more affordable offensive line help in free agency or in the draft.

Travis Benjamin – Wide Receiver

To the San Diego Chargers

I mentioned keeping Travis Benjamin along with already signed Gary Barnidge and possibly reinstated Josh Gordon would allow the Browns to focus on other important issues, like quarterback and defense.  Of course, aside from the money, Benjamin apparently didn’t much care for the Browns, so perhaps this was all for the best.

On the upside, we should keep in mind that Benjamin only had one good year (though one that I felt was promising).  He was a lot less effective over his first three seasons, catching just 41 of 96 targets (42.7 percent).  As we discussed, he caught an impressive 54.4 percent of his 125 targets in 2015, but if we break it down a little, much of that came on screens and short passes.  Interestingly, he only caught 47.2 percent of targets traveling 8 or more yards in the air, below the league average of 52.8 percent.

Regardless, without Benjamin, the Browns now really need to work on more WR help.  I recommended Rishard Matthews, who’s now off the market with the Titans, and Vincent Jackson, who Tampa apparently will continue to run with, leaving few other options in free agency.

For now, I’d target Anquan Boldin, as a consistent veteran presence could do well in the locker room and on the field.  He had 789 yards and 4 TDs with the 49ers in 2015 catching passes from Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, so I imagine he won’t have any problems playing with Josh McCown and whatever rookie the Browns decide to draft.

UPDATE – March 19

Apparently, according to Terry Pluto, Travis Benjamin actually left because he wanted to play with a better quarterback.  Can’t really blame him, but you’d think he’d a least consider the new regime and whether a new QB could help him in the long run.

Remaining Free Agents
  1. Craig Robertson – Linebacker
  2. Scott Solomon – Linebacker (Restricted Free Agent)
UPDATE – March 16 (9:22 AM ET)

THAT’S more like it.  Demario Davis started every game for the New York Jets over the last 3 seasons and still has upside.  He’s a strong defensive upgrade, but was having trouble in pass coverage last year in New York.  With a little work he can be a plus starter on a Cleveland Browns defense that needed a boost.  It’s possible that Craig Robertson may not be returning in light of this move.

Middle Tier Free Agents

Alvin Bailey – Offensive Lineman

From the Seattle Seahawks (RFA)

Bailey is a fine versatile backup, but he really isn’t an upgrade to the o-line.  He wasn’t a regular starter in Seattle, but did slot in at every position on the line but center (which actually is too bad as the Browns could now use a center with Mack leaving).  Specifically, he started games for Seattle at left guard, left tackle and right tackle, and backed up at right guard.  I like the move from a depth and flexibility perspective, but the Browns have to do a lot more to shore up their leaky o-line if they want whoever they end up with behind center to have any shot at success.

Tank Carder – Linebacker

Re-signed

I think Carder is a solid, yet unspectacular, player.  He hasn’t started a game since 2013, and has really only started 2 games over his four year career, but he’s played in most of them.  Plus, he really likes Cleveland.

Perhaps more importantly, he was a BMX World Champion at 10 years old, and came back from a crazy injury at age 13, when he sustained a broken back, broken ribs, a punctured diaphragm and punctured lung after being thrown from a vehicle, which then rolled over him.  If that’s not tough, I don’t know what is.

And, of course, can you really have too many linebackers on your team named “Tank”?  I think not.

Tashaun Gipson – Defensive Back / Free Safety

To the Jacksonville Jaguars

With significant issues all over the Browns defense, losing a key defensive player is the last thing you want.  But honestly, Gipson had his best year in 2013, a decent year in 2014 and relatively bad one in 2015.

So again, another free agent I’d prefer to keep, but at least there’s some rational behind letting him walk.

Remaining Free Agents
  1. Terrelle Pryor – Wide Reciever

I suspect there won’t be much interest in the market for Pryor, so the low tender should get the job done.  The upside is there, but he’s still going to need a lot of work at WR.

Low Tier Free Agents

Johnson Bademosi – Defensive Back

To the Detroit Lions

I say “low tier”, but I don’t want to overlook the fact that although Bademosi was a forgettable defensive back, he was a relatively important special teamer.  Bademosi led the Browns in special teams tackles in all four of his seasons.  His 61 special teams tackles since 2012 rank second in the NFL during that span and he also led the NFL in special team tackles in 2015 with 17.  Again, another free agent I wished the Browns retained, but he deserved a payday, and that’s what he got from the Lions.

Remaining Free Agents
  1. Don Jones – Safety
  2. Austin Pasztor – Offensive Lineman (Restricted Free Agent)

Potential Targets

Colin Kaepernick – Quarterback

As I mentioned previously, the biggest need for the Browns this offseason is at QB.  And I am still a proponent of the Browns taking a QB in the first round (either Goff or Wentz, with a slight preference for Goff).  But I also understand that there can be a lot of benefit to NOT throwing your rookie “franchise QB” directly into the fire.  Thus, trading for someone like Colin Kaepernick makes sense.  And apparently, Kaepernick likes new Browns head coach Hue Jackson.

The Browns have also shown interest in Kaepernick, but are ultimately requiring a pay cut on his part if he comes to Cleveland…

…which is clearly something that Kaepernick is not excited about.

Apparently, there isn’t a huge rush to sign Kaepernick since his existing base salary gets fully guaranteed on April 1, which might put some pressure on dealing him, perhaps making him a better value.

Regardless of whether it’s Kap or not, the Browns would benefit from a veteran QB to pair with whomever they choose in the draft.  Since Josh McCown is already under contract (for almost $5 million a year), it’s not terrible to have him start in 2016 and help mentor a rookie QB, so I wouldn’t overpay for Kap at this point.

But then again, it’s the Browns, so of course they’re eventually going to overpay for someone.  It’s just a matter of when.

UPDATE – March 19

Looks like, since Kaepernick is unlikely, that RGIII may be the other option.

UPDATE – NEW RELEASES – March 16

Not surprising, considering Dansby is now 35.  He’s still a solid ILB and will likely land with a team looking for instant, but not long term, impact on defense.

And everyone saw this coming, but it was Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot who reported it first.  Bowe was paid $9 million for 5 catches.  That’s $1.8 million per catch.  Only the Browns could do something so ridiculous.  I don’t expect Bowe to find a landing spot outside of a non-guaranteed prove-it deal during camp.

One comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.