What to Expect in Free Agency

So what do you think the Browns should do in free agency, Geoff?

Three things:

  1. Retain all their free agents
  2. Get better players
  3. Don’t waste money

Gee, thanks for the insightful analysis

You’re welcome. You can do your part by passing it onto Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta.

I was being sarcastic

I was not. I don’t know why you’re getting snippy– it has been a long time since the Browns had an off-season when they managed to do those things. Typically it appears that their strategic plan is:

  1. Permit as many key players as possible to leave (Jabaal Sheard, Buster Skrine, Ahtyba Rubin, Brian Hoyer, Poke Cameron).
  2. Sign players who either don’t help (Rob Housler) or make things worse (Josh McCown)
  3. Give money to people who either can’t play (Randy Starks) or don’t want to (Dwayne Bowe)

The off-season of 2013-14 wasn’t bad, but it didn’t improve the team much. Until the Browns can execute the basics, there’s no point to offering a more complex plan.

Who would you like to see them sign?

There are eight players I’d like to see them get. In alphabetical order, they are Johnson Bademosi, Travis Benjamin, Jim Dray, Alex Mack, Tashaun Gipson, Craig Robertson, Mitchell Schwartz and Randy Starks.

Great, That should get them to a Super Bowl.

It won’t. But it will ensure things don’t get any worse.

This is very simple. The Browns are one of the least talented teams in the NFL. Their first task is to not make that problem any worse. Other than Starks (32 and slipping rapidly), all of those people can play a little– and could contribute next season. If you let them sign with another team, then you have to find people who can replace them– either by signing them or spending a draft choice.

It’s battlefield medicine– first, you stop the bleeding. Then you try to treat the wounds.

There’s no point, for example, to the Browns signing a receiver if 40% of their offensive line leaves. If the 2016 Browns have to use Cam Erving at center and Austin Pasztor at tackle (who is a restricted free agent), the quarterback will get sacked 70 times, and they’ll probably commit 50 holding penalties. Joe Thomas is 31 and John Greco is 30– they don’t have much time left.

The offensive line is the closest thing the team has to a strength. You don’t begin rebuilding by making it worse.

What if they won’t sign?

If a team offers a player enough money, 90% will sign. The only ones you lose are the guys who are so sick of losing that they’ll turn their back on $20 million extra just to play for a winner. Those do exist… but they’re rarer than you’d think.

They’ll have to obscenely overpay… but they have the cap space.

But how much should the Browns spend on a player like Craig Robertson?

To retain the team’s best linebacker? As much as it takes. Karlos Dansby is over the hill, Paul Kruger and Nate Orchard are role players, Meowkevious Mingo is a bust and Chris Kirksey is a journeyman.

Robertson is a little undisciplined, but he could play on a good team– he does a little bit of everything. He’s 26 and you could still expect him to play well at the end of the deal.

This is one of the ways the Browns sink themselves. They decide a player isn’t that good, let him go… and then are stunned that (a) someone else will pay him a lot of money and (b) they have to overpay. A year ago, they thought Tramon Williams would be a huge upgrade over Buster Skrine, and that Nate Orchard would make everyone forget Jabaal Sheard. Wrong both times.

The amount of interest that Robertson and Mitchell Schwartz receive– and the deals they come away with– will shock people in the region. Like Skrine and Sheard, they’re better players than anyone thinks.

The Browns think–

No they don’t. That’s why they’re a 3-13 team. This is very, very simple. The easiest way to improve the talent and build depth is to keep everyone you have– then add players who are better.

Let’s take Jim Dray— a player they’ve already let go. Dray is an adequate receiver whose best routes are throws that neither Josh McCown nor Billy Relapse could make. He didn’t catch many passes this year. He also struggles as a blocker.

Dray isn’t someone who should start. He’s not a quality #2 guy. But he’s a decent #3– especially if you get a real bone-crunching blocker as the backup to Gary Barnidge.

Until the Browns obtain two people who can play better than Dray, they have no business cutting him. They’re opening a hole and hoping that Randall Telfer (whom they took last year in the sixth round) can stay healthy and play well. Both are unlikely to happen.

Johnson Bademosi played 169 snaps last year– about 150 more than I’d want to see. But if the alternative is playing a safety– as they were forced to– you keep him. They’re figuring Charles Gaines, K’Waun Williams and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu can do just as well. All are injury risks.

If they re-sign everyone, they won’t be able to add anyone.

It is always cheaper to retain employees than to hire new ones. Anyone in business understands that. Plus, the Browns are such a terrible team that they have to pay more than better teams.

This is an ongoing problem, which comes from constantly hiring people who aren’t experienced at their jobs, but imagine that they’re really smart. A new front office comes in, looks at tape of the players and their contracts and says “This guy is ridiculously overpaid, given his production. If we get rid of him, we’ll save money– and we can probably get get a better player.”

So they dump these guys. Then they try to recruit free agents and discover that:

  1. None of them want to come to Cleveland, because the team never wins, and they rarely put players in a position to shine.
  2. If the player is any good, other teams want him. Because everyone can offer a better shot at the playoffs, they can pull him away for less money.
  3. Some teams will be desperate for help at a spot, be willing to overspend and drive up the market.

An experienced GM or assistant GM would know this, because their old team would have beaten Cleveland to players repeatedly, or lost out to a desperate GM. But Tom Heckert, Joe Banner or Snapchat Ray Farmer– or the current novices– never have a clue.

So the Browns have to pay 30-50% over market, and guarantee most of it. That’s how Andrew Hawkins ended up getting $13.6 million over four years, with $6.8 million (50% of the money) guaranteed– even though he was coming off a season where he played 118 snaps and caught only 12 passes. The players who were worth $14 million would have cost Cleveland $21 million.

Rumor has it the Browns want Mohamed Sanu. Spotrac estimates his market value at $4.3 million a year– $17.2 million over four years. A team like the Steelers or the Jets– one with a future– might be able to get him for that. But if the Browns want him, I’d guess it will cost $25 million over 4 years, with $12-17 guaranteed.Just as the front office figures out what is going on, they get fired. Then the process repeats.

Are there people you’d like to see them sign?

Yes. But the odds that they can get any of those players are so remote that I might as well compile a list of supermodels I’d like to date. It’s simpler to see what happens.


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