Browns’ Free Agent Review: 1 Step Forward, 3 Back

Opening Statement

The more I watch and read, the more I’ve grown to dislike the term “rebuilding.” It implies that a team is a brick building (or a wall). They aren’t.

  • A brick structure can only be assembled from the ground up. You can’t begin at the top or middle, or begin at the sides and work in. You can start to fix a team anywhere you have talent.
  • Bricks are either present or absent. There’s no level of performance. A player can perform at levels ranging from worthless to superior.
  • Bricks don’t develop. The minute you put it in place and the mortar dries, it’s as good as it will ever be. Players can and do improve and decline.
  • Brick structures have no depth. You don’t build a brick wall, then put another brick wall right behind it, just in case something happens to the first wall. But every team has depth.

The “building” metaphor works in the NBA, because the (a) starting 5 plays both offense and defense and (b) the salary cap makes it almost impossible to have depth. Maybe 10 guys will see action in the playoffs; there isn’t much room for creativity.

By the way, Kevin Love missed six games in the regular season and the Cavs went 3-3. He also had 20 games where he was pretty much useless Not that I’m glad he’s missing, but if the Cavs had to lose one of their big three, he’s clearly the one who does the least damage.

A baseball team requires enough players (9 hitters, 5 starting pitchers and 4 relievers) to let a GM begin with either hitting, fielding, the rotation or bullpen.

An NFL team is closer to woven fabric than a building. A winning team needs 33 players, spread across three different units, in order to succeed:

  • Offense (14): 11 starters, an extra tight end, an extra receiver and (depending on your offense) a third down back, an extra receiver or an extra tight end.
  • Defense (14): 11 starters, a third down pass rusher and nickel and dime defensive backs
  • Kicking teams (5): That’s the punter, kicker, return man, kick-blocker and kick coverage guy.

If that seems like a lot of guys on the kicking teams, some people would put the long snapper or holder; until the rules change a few years ago, a kick returner was necessary. Every year, teams miss the playoffs due to breakdowns on kicks.

In football, depth is an issue. Players get hurt and you can’t go to the minors to get a guy. Loise a key player (quarterback, running back, tackle, center, pass rusher, run stuffer, cover corner) to injuries, arrests or substance abuse and your season can blow up.

If you want to win, you can’t have holes in your fabric. You need to be as strong as possible in as many places as possible.And in football– because there are so many players required, a team can improve a great deal simply by replacing bad players with mediocre ones.

If you were paying attention, that was the big takeaway from the 2014 Browns.

At quarterback, for example, Brian Hoyer played in 14 games. Hoyer is not a great player– not even a good one. If he plays long enough, you will need to replace him.

But he was able to have a game you could call “great” (QB rating over 90; twice as many TDs as INTs) in 5 games. He managed to be “good” (rating over 80, TD-INT on the plus side or even) 4 more times.

Hoyer, because he is a bad player, had no games where he was “acceptable” (rating between 70 to 80; TD-INT no worse than -1) and 5 games where he was simply “bad.” Facing Jacksonville, Houston, Atlanta, Buffalo and Indianapolis, he played badly enough to say that he cost the Browns the game

Hoyer would have cost the Browns the Atlanta game if Mike Smith could manage the clock.

But, in 9 of the 14 games, he gave the Browns a chance to win. A year ago, Jason Campbell and Branden Weeden had:

  • 4 great games (Baltimore, New England and Kansas City for Campbell, Buffalo for Weeden)
  • 1 good one (Weeden in the first game against Baltimore).
  • 2 acceptable games (both of Campbell’s games against Pittsburgh, Weeden’s Detroit game)
  • 9 bad games

This is why the brick metaphor falls short. Hoyer isn’t a brick– he’s not a solution– but he’s certainly better than the belly button lint and Cheez Whiz that the Browns used in 2013… And will most likely use for at least 3-4 games in 2015

If yiou compare the 2013 and 2014 teams, you see the same sort of gain:

  • The Browns lost Puff Gordon… but by replacing the other members of the 2013 receiving corps (Greg Little and Davone Bess) with 3-4 reliable targets (Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Miles Austin), they maintained the same level.
  • Having 2-3 decent running backs– Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, Ray Agnew— was a quantum leap ahead of Willis McGahee, Fozzy Whitaker and Trent Richardson.

That, plus the replacement of Shaun Lauvao and Oniel Cousins with Joel Bitonio, enabled the Browns to have a more consistent offense (even though it scored fewer points than the 2013 team).

The defense didn’t have a great pass rush and couldn’t play the run at all. But it added players who covered well, tackled capably (albeit too far down the field), committed fewer penalties. That was good enough to cut point allowed by 69 points.

The kicking teams didn’t improve– but they won’t as long as Chris Tabor is coaching the unit.

The 2013-2014 off-season was (aside from the front office hijinks) enormously impressive. The Browns lost only two players of consequence– linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and safety T.J. Ward— while bringing in over a dozen players who upgraded the talent somewhere.By draft day 2014, the Browns had brought in:

  • Hawkins and Nate Burleson at receiver
  • Jim Dray at tight end
  • Ben Tate and Chris Pressley at running back
  • Paul McQuistan for the line
  • Karlos Dansby to replace Jackson
  • Donte Whitner to replace Ward

The draft brought Bitonio, West, Chris Kirksey and Pierre Desir, plus K’waun Williams, Agnew and Crowell as undrafted free agents. Other than Miles Austin and Jim Leonhard (plus Scott Solomon, who got picked up during the year), the team was set

I’m not saying those pickups were great. But they were better than what the Browns had been using; they let the team make choices. There was never a long stretch where they were using a player as bad as Leon McFadden or Oniel Cousins, who were either committing penalties or getting overwhelmed.

Even in the Browns’ annual tradition– the “Play Game 16 against a division opponent with a Third String QB” Bowl– Connor Shaw, by not looking overwhelmed, managed to keep the margin of defeat to 10 points.

Cleveland went 7-9 against a weak schedule. But they won three more games than they did in 2013– and did it despite getting nothing of value from both #1 picks. They had woven in some threads that a good draft and off-season could weave in.

That’s all gone up in smoke. The Browns lost 10 players, who played a combined 110 games and started 71:

  • Three are players who won’t be noticed, much less missed.
  • Two (listed in italics) are players Cleveland couldn’t have kept. They do need to be replaced in the draft or free agency, but the Browns shouldn’t be blamed for their departure.

But the other five (listed in bold) were starters. They contributed a great deal– and their departure leaves the Browns with holes that need to be filled.

Player Games Starts
Buster Skrine 16 16
Jabaal Sheard 16 5
Ahtyba Rubin 13 11
Brian Hoyer 14 13
Miles Austin 12 11
Jim Leonhard 16 5
Jordan Cameron 10 9
Paul McQuistan 14 1
Sione Fua 11 0
Tyler Thigpen 0 0

Let me go through them in order of damage:

Skrine: He’s not a great player– he can’t be, because he’s 5’9″ and the league is in one of its “Tall Receivers Only” phase. Skrine jumps well, but can’t defend tall receivers like Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery. That makes him problematic.

That said, Skrine has played every game since being drafted in 2011. He has started 37 of 64 games. He has 6 career interceptions (the 4 he got last year put him in the top 10 in picks last year) and has knocked down 49 passes.

Skrine was drafted in 2011 to be a slot corner– and if the Browns had ever bothered to get a competent starting corner, he would be the best nickel back in the game.

He’s also 26 and can probably play four more years.

But “Snapchat” Farmer decided the Browns could live without him, so now the hope that Justin Gilbert straightens out his life becomes a necessity.

Sheard: He was drafted in 2011 to be the end who lines up against right tackles. He was shifted to linebacker when the Browns ditched the 4-3.  He has never complained; the temper issues in college (which made him a gamble) never recurred.

He’s missed only three games, started 50, has 23 sacks and– thanks to his ability to strip-sack a quarterback holding the ball when the pocket collapses– has forced 7 fumbles.

His departure requires Meowkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger to stay healthy and play well.

Rubin: He would have been tough to keep, because Tom Heckert gave him a huge contract extension that he didn’t live up to.Rubin was making $9 million and the Browns would have needed him to take an 80% cut.

But “Snapchat” didn’t even try.

Of course, part of the reason Rubin dropped off was that he got the contract when he was a nose tackle– the position he is most suited to play (He’s 6’2″ and 320). Since that point, he’s played defensive end and defensive tackle, and some nose.

He’s missed only 13 games in 7 seasons, started 75 out of 99 games played and performed well when he played nose tackle or defensive tackle.

Hoyer: He isn’t a great quarterback and he wanted to start. And if the Browns had obtained a good quarterback, he would have lost the competition and groused about being a backup. His unwillingness to sit on the bench means it is probably better that he did not return.

Replacing him with a Brandon Weeden clone like Josh McCown, however, means the Browns took a step backwards. Unless Johnny Football’s rehab was closer to an exorcism (possible; not probable), the quarterback position will be a chasm again.

Austin: The argument for not bringing him back as a starter is easy: He’s missed 36 games in 9 seasons. He;s played a full season only 4 times. It’s been four years since he was a Pro Bowl player and two since he was a good one.

The argument for letting his leave is very hard to make. Cleveland paid Austin $2 million last year; Phildelphia paid him $2.3 million (with $700,000 in incentives). At most, that’s $1 million more than he was paid a year ago.

34 of Austin’s 47 catches were for first downs; a ball control needs that. He likes to block (necessary on a running team) and he seemed to enjoy Cleveland.

Do you want to give him a $1 million raise to be a backup– knowing he could get injured in training camp and miss the year? Maybe not… but if you let him go, you have to find someone who can contribute 4 catches a game (at 12-15 yards a catch) to replace him– and also add another receiver to fill in for Puff.

Sometimes it is better just to pay the money.

The next two guys are the ones there was no way to keep.

Leonhard decided to retire. Since he’s 32, stands 5’8″ and 180 pounds, how can you blame him? There’s a fair chance he scrambled his brains playing this long.

Leonhard tries very hard and knows the game like a coach, but he’s too small to tackle well and he never was talk or fast. Has pass defense was largely an ability to read the play and break up a pass.

Poke Cameron was never going to sign. He hates cold weather and doesn’t want to block. He wanted to play for a team that would let him go out for passes on every play

I thought he’d end up in California, because Cameron is from California and Miami had Charles Clay already. But I guess the Doplhins felt Ndumakong Shoe wasn’t enough of a gamble– that they should sign a guy who’s had three concussions in two years… and only one good season in four.

Their deficiencies noted– their unwillingness to sign acknowledged– the Browns still have to find people to replace them. Dray didn’t mesh well with Hoyer and the odds he’ll be able to catch McCown’s lobs is remote. Gary “Clank” Barnidge is a bloocker.

Leonhard can become a huge loss. FS Tashaun Gipson is a free agent. He didn’t like the Browns’ tender offer, refused to sign so he could skip minicamp and is obviously hoping someone else will sign him. The Browns can match– but as Andrew Hawkins showed, sometimes a team can make an offer you aren’t willing to match.

Fua, Thigpen and McQuistan are easy to lose. The only real change the Browns need to make is replacing Mcquistan as one of the linemen kicks and punts.

But the Browns have seven guys who need to be replaced– and the roster wasn’t overwhemlingly talented to begin with. They went backwards– by a substantial margin– in this off-season.

Let me take a few questions…

What about all the improvements they made?

With one exception, they didn’t get better at any spot.

WR Brian Hartline: He is an improvement over Austin in four respects:

  1. He’s younger (28, as opposed to 30)
  2. He has missed only four games in his career
  3. He was a good player more recently than Austin (2012-13; Austin played well from 2009-12)
  4. He was born in Canton and played for The Ohio State University, so playing for the Browns is probably a big thing.

Austin, if he is healthy, is a better player

  • Hartline catches a slightly lower percentage of the passes thrown to him.
  • He gains fewer yards per catch and fewer yards after the catch.
  • A lower percentage of his catches go for first downs– a much lower percentage become touchdowns.

Austin has 36 TDs in 348 attempts; Hartline has 12 TDs in 298 attempts. The complaint about Hartline in Miami is “If it’s 3rd and 12, you can count on him for 11 and a half.”

Maybe that’s just the same grumbling every losing team does about its above average players (they’re not stars, so fans decide they’re worthless). But Hartline didn’t get a lot of offers and the Browns got him for $6 million over two years– the same annual salary Austin will get (if he hits all his incentives) in Philly.

Hartline is better because he is likely to play more than Austin. He is not likely to play better.

DT Randy Starks: He became available when the Dolphins decided to emulate the 2009 Redskins, and sign a talented defensive tackle who refuses to take orders.

The probability that Ndumakong Shoe will join Albert Haynesworth on the “All-Time Worst Free Agent Signings” team is closer to a certainty.He refused to do anything the coaches asked; they had to build a game plan around what Shoe wanted

Haloti Ngata (the player they traded for to replace Shoe) is 31. He got into trouble twice last year (performance enhancers and kicking an opposing player).

But unlike Shoe, Ngata will do whatever is best for the team. He’s played, end, tackle and nose tackle and is likely to be in Detroit after Shoe has left Miami.

Starks is three years older than Ahtyba Rubin. Unlike Rubin, he has always played on teams that had at least one (often two) pass rushers (and sometimes played in the 4-3). Despite those facts, he only has 41 sacks.

Starks is probably a better pass rusher than Rubin (though Rubin never had much help). He isn’t better at run defense and you can’t play him on the nose (even if he wanted to) (He’s too tall and not bulky enough).

Rubin struggled with injures and might be breaking down. Starks is clearly heading downhill, as evidenced by (a) Miami shifting him inside, after playing him at end and (b) his signing a 2-year, $8 million deal.

I can’t help seeing this move as a replay of the Corey Williams trade. Williams was a 4-3 defensive tackle for a good team (Green Bay) that Phil Savage decided to try at DE. It was unsuccessful. Starks probably will be too.

CB Tramon Williams: This signing, on the other hand, looks like a replay of the Sheldon Brown trade.

Williams is 32. In the last 25 years, there have only been 48 players who started 9 games or more (meaning at least half the season) at cornerback at age 32. (There have only been 126 total seasons.)

32-year-old corners tend to be people like “Eric Allen”, or “Champ Bailey”, or “Darrell Green” or “Aeneas Williams” or “Rod (or Charles) Woodson.” That is, many 32-year-old starters are players who have made multiple trips to the Pro Bowl, are likely to end up in Canton when their careers end, and are so enormously gifted that they can play even at 50% of their peak,

The other group of 32 year-old players are people like Sheldon Brown. He was OK once, but he’s gone downhill and has been grabbed by a bad team that can’t find a competent starter.

Brown would give opposing receivers a 5-10 yard cushion, then begin backpedaling furiously. He goal was not to let the receiver get behind him– and hope to close the gap and tip the ball away once the quarterback threw it.

Brown didn’t give up many long passes, but a competent QB could have as many 8-10 yard completions as he wanted.

Williams, the year he went to the Pro Bowl (2010, when he was 27), intercepted 6 passes and had 20 tips. He was down to 3 picks (one less than Skrine) and 13 tips (5 less than Skrine).

His one advantage is height– he’s two inches taller. But he’s four years older.

Farmer is giving him three years and $21 million– because he didn’t want to pay Skrine $25 million over four years. In rationalizing the deal, Terry Pluto said the Browns believe Williams will outplay Skrine.

If that isn’t just an alibi, then “Snapchat” Farmer has no idea how the NFL works.

Want to clue us in on your unfunny little joke?

Snapchat is a mobile phone app that lets you send photos or text messages that automatically delete in 10 minutes or less. Do I need to explain more?

Could you explain why you make them?
It’s incredibly unprofessional.

I don’t use nicknames because I’m a Jim Rome wanna be. The nicknames are not used to poke fun at the player, but to remind the reader of a pertinent fact. In this case, it’s that Farmer is either:

  • So unqualified to be a GM that he didn’t know texting coaches violated a rule.
  • In such poor control of his emotions that he couldn’t stop himself.
  • Such a poor judge of character that he didn’t realize Kyle Shanahan would use it to break his contract.

People– especially fans– tend to minimize bad news or problems. They try not to think about them.

Not keeping those facts in mind impairs your judgment. If everyone in the city had called Josh Gordon “Puff”– as a way of reminding themselves that he he is a 25-year-old addict with a history going back as long as (if some rumors are true) 10 years– his situation would have been resolved differently.

People would have been saying “Can we trust this guy? How do we cash him in?”, as opposed to “Won’t he and Johnny Football make a great team?”

Would you have fired Farmer?

Unfortunately, they can’t. The Browns are a joke franchise– laughing stock of the league– and the business with Puff, Johnny Rehab and then Shanahan and Farmer made things worse.

The Browns have become so unattractive that they can’t even attract quality assistant coaches. They couldn’t attract anyone even remotely competent if they fired Snapchat. Even a guy who has zero career chance of being a GM again (Heckert, George Kokinis) would probably pass, thinking he’s better off being a supporting player on a good team.

To return to my point, in addition to their failings as players, Starks (who is 31) and Williams (32) increase the number of defensive starters who are 30 or over to five. The Browns also have:

  • MLB Karlos Dansby (who will be playing the majority of the season at age 34),
  • DE Desmond Bryant (30)
  • SS Donte Whitner (30)

Football players have much shorter careers than either baseball or basketball players. Because their job is to collide with people, they deteriorate at an advanced rate. Very few players last past 32. Even good players go.

And, as a result of the revelation that football causes irreversible brain injuries, and the concussion protocols, we are likely to see more and more retirements. This is by far the worst period in NFL history for a player to keep replacing younger players with older ones. But that’s what the Browns keep doing.

What makes you think you’re smarter than the Browns?

To begin with, I didn’t sign Josh McCown. But this isn’t merely my opinion– there are five other smart guys who think the Browns gave up some good players.

The best tip I even got about free agency is to look at a signing as an argument between two teams. One thinks he isn’t worth having; one thinks he is. Ask yourself two questions:

  • What reasons does his old team have for getting rid of the player and the new one for bringing him on?
  • Which team is smarter?

The answer to the second question is that all five of the teams who signed the Browns free agents are smarter than Cleveland. Let me list them in ascending order of proven intelligence:

1. Skrine got signed by the New York Jets. The Jets rank at the bottom because the owner fired both the GM and coach, so we we have no idea if the new guys are any good.

But GM Mike Maccagnan was in the front office for the Texans. The new coach, Todd Bowles, is considered one of the brightest young coaches in the NFL; he did a fabulous job fixing Ray Horton’s defense in Arizona.

2. Austin went to Philadelphia. I’m not convinced Chip Kelly is a genius (the guy hired Pat Shurmur to run his offense, after all), but he’s 20-12 in two years and the team had enough sense to fire Joe Banner and hire Kelly and Howie Roseman.

3. Hoyer signed with Houston. The Texans went 9-7 and might have done better if injuries hadn’t forced them to use three quarterbacks– two of whom were Ryan Mallett and Case Keenum.

I don’t think GM Rick Smith is nearly as bright as other people do, but he has had three winning seasons in four years. Coach Bill O’Brien came out of New England, who has been pretty good at sniffing out bargains.

And speaking of that franchise…

4. New England signed Sheard. To the best of my recollection (I’ve been trying to blot the memory out), they made the playoffs in 2014 and did rather well. Coach-GM Bill Belicheat plays 36 different fronts and like nothing better than defenders who can play either lineman or linebacker– or maybe do a play in coverage– depending on the play.

Sheard didn’t get a huge deal ($11 million for 2 years). but he got more than Starks. He will make the playoffs in 2015, play in a scheme that deploys him to his best advantage and has a chance to get a big contract if he plays well.

5. Seattle signed Rubin.  Maybe they aren’t as smart as New England (certainly not at offensive coordinator), but Pete Carroll and John Schneider have (in five seasons) gone 50-30 and made the playoffs four times, winning one Super Bowl and tanking a second.

Rubin has had injury issues and might have lost some of his remarkable speed. That’s why he signed a “Show Me” contract (one year for $2.6 million) after making $9 million with the Browns. Maybe he doesn’t have anything left. But if he can still play, they’ll re-sign him and he will make a lot more.

So five teams that are smarter than the Browns signed their players. The Browns signed two players from Miami (which wins more games) and one from Green Bay (which made the NFC championship and nearly the Super Bowl).

What does it look like to you?

What about the other signings?

What about them?

1. Duane Bowe will turn 31 in September. Four of his first five years were great fantasy league years. But the stats are inflated because he was being thrown to so often. In those first five seasons (he only played 65 games, because he missed 15 with injuries), he had 635 passes thrown to him– almost 10 throws a game.

Bowe’s “catch percentage” is 55.2%– about the same as Austin or Hartline. He averaged 16.1 yards a catch in his only Pro Bowl year… but his career average is 13.4 per catch– less than Austin or Hartline.

Since both his scoring and his long catch totals have been dropping, the feeling in KC was that Bowe was on his way down. The Chiefs let him go because they’d prefer not to pay $12.5 million over two years to a guy who is making the transition from a deep threat to a possession receiver– and still thinks he’s a premier player.

Kansas City is smarter than the Browns, so presumably their take is better.

2. Rob Housler is a tight end from Arizona– the folks who brought the Browns Jim Dray. In four seasons, Housler has been better than Dray (consecutive seasons of 45 and 39 catches), but Arizona signed John Carlson from the Vikings a year ago, and Carlson took Housler’s starting job.

Other than the decision not to get a reliable backup for Carson Palmer, there is no reason to believe Arizona isn’t smarter than the Browns. The team’s decision to let their #3 pick in 2011 go means his ability is most likely limited.

3. Marlon Moore: I have no idea why Cleveland re-signed a 27-year-old player (he’s be 28 in September) with 19 career catches for 306 yards to a 3-year deal. Even though it’s only for $2.8 million, with only $200,000 guaranteed, it’s nonsensical.

Or was it the 14 career kick returns for a 25.4-yard average?  I hope it isn;t– if it is, it’s an example of why Tabor needs to go. If you can’t find a better return man than this, you need firing.

4. John Hughes: This is another “For what??!?!?” signing. An extension of four years and $14.5 million to a guy who has started only five games in three years?

Four sacks, three passes deflected, no fumbles forced, one fumble recovered. Playing a position that in the primary run defender’s spot, he has 40 solo tackles and 44 assists.

This deal is certifiable. Billy Winn has outplayed Hughes in all three years. If you’re going to give either of them an extension, Winn would be the guy. Even though they have only $200,000 guaranteed, it is still too much money for a guy who’s been almost invisible.

5. Josh McCown: Presumably, this is an attempt to do one of two things:

  • Become an answer to the trivia question “What team was stupid enough to obtain and play both Josh and Luke McCown at quarterback?”
  • Demonstrate, to fans too young to remember Jake Delhomme at quarterback for the 2010 Browns, how much fun that was.

The best thing I can say about Josh McCown is that he’s a little better than Brandon Weeden. And that isn’t an exaggeration– the two players are very comparable

McCown Statistic Weeden
35 Age 31
.346 W-L% .238
58.8% Completion % 56.0%
6.6 Yards per pass 6.6
3.7% TD % 3.2%
3.5% INT % 3.4%
1.03-1 TD-INT ratio .93-1
8.8% Sack %
.62 Fumbles / start .32
76.1 QB Rating 72.5

In some ways, Weeden is a better player. And he’s four years younger than McCown and still has time to outshine him. McCown has had only one season that did not suck– the eight games he played in 2013, at age 34, when Jay Cutler was unavailable or ineffective to play for Chicago. That year was:

  • The only year where McCown won more starts than he lost (3-2).
  • His only season with a rating of higher than 74.9
  • One of two years where he threw more touchdowns than interceptions (13-1; the other was 11-10).
  • One of two years where his yards per pass was higher than 6.8.
  • The only season where he took an acceptable percentage of sacks

McCown’s 2013 prompted people to wonder if this admittedly-superb athlete hadn’t made the same type of late-career jump that players like Rich Gannon, Jim Harbaugh or Vinny Testaverde had.

Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Bucs decided to find out, giving him a 2-year, $10 million deal in 2014. The only sensible component of the contract was that only the first year ($4.25 million was guaranteed).

McCown promptly ripped off his “NFL Quarterback” mask to reveal his true identity, reverting to his usual form in every respect. The Bucs, who had gone 4-12 with the modest talents of Mike Glennon under center in 2013, went 1-10 in McCown’s starts and 2-14 overall.

You know a free agent is dreadful when the first thing the team says after signing him is that he’s willing to become the backup if needed.

Which, in McCown’s case, is good, because he will be. If Johnny Football isn’t capable of starting, either Shaw or Thad Lewis will begin to look like better options after watching McCown play.

Delhomme lasted four starts in 2010; McCown won’t last any longer. I cannot stress strongly enough how useless a player he is and how ridiculous this signing is.

6. Thad Lewis: He might end up being the best pickup of the bunch. Lewis is 30, but has only played 7 games– 6 as a starter. He’s not a great player (2-4 record, 81.4 rating 5 TDs and 4 INTs), but he’s only thrown 189 passes– those for the Bills and Browns.

He has some chance to be a Hoyer-type surprise– who manages the game capably and isn’t an impediment to winning. It isn’t high, though.

Couldn’t the Browns make more moves?

Of course. In the days after the draft, every team will draft a player at a position they want to improve, then cut or trade the guys they have. A bunch of players are living on the bubble, many of whom could help.

Teams often hold off on a player, hoping they can draft someone– but signing a free agent if they don’t. TE Jermaine Gresham is available; if his back is healthy, he could be a big upgrade. The Browns talked to him and then backed away, possibly because they have their eyes on Maxx Williams of Minnesota. If someone cuts in front of them, they might pull the trigger on Gresham.

But the Browns would be in a much better position if they had filled more holes with players who upgraded the fabric of the team. In many respects, they’re worse off now than they were at the end of the season.

Would you trade up to get–

No. I’m not convinced William J. LePetomane can play. Most of these “can’t-miss” quarterbacks do just that.

Last year, Snapchat traded a #6 to move up and get Gilbert and a #3 to get Johnny Football. His best picks were the ones where he didn’t budge and took the best player available. That– or trading down for more picks– is almost always the best approach.

Trading down has never worked for the Browns.

Neither has trading up (see “Richardson, Trent” and “Taylor, Phil”). Neither has trading picks for players (Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams in 2008). Neither has staying in place. Nothing will work if you don’t scout well.

But not giving picks away to move up– or trading to add them– are the strategies successful teams use. You don’t see Belicheat trading five draft picks to get Robert Griffin, because he’s done the math and knows how low the probabilities are.


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