Browns finally getting serious about fixing the running game
And, in the process, the Browns announced that they will no longer be content to roll out a repeat of last year’s clown show at the running back position.
After missing his rookie season with an ankle injury, Tate has rushed for 4.73 yards per carry over the past three seasons, showing that he can be effective in the type of offense that Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to run. Tate took over as the starter in Week 8 of last season after Adrian Foster was injured, but suffered four broken ribs in that game, which limited his productivity. But he still finished the season with 771 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Those numbers may not seem gaudy, but when you put them up against what the Browns did last year in the running game – the single-worst season in franchise history – Tate comes across as a Hall of Famer. Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker and Fozzy Whitaker combined for 739 yards and four touchdowns last season, along with a 2.9 yard per carry average.
That clearly was no longer going to cut it.
Tate comes to the Browns with just 421 career carries – a combination of not being the feature back and injury problems – which means he should still have plenty to offer on the field.
These are still the Browns, of course, which means there has to be a downside. In this case it is Tate’s injury history, which has kept him from playing a full 16-game season. But that two-year contract protects the Browns in case Tate really can’t stay healthy.
The deal with Tate also does not preclude the Browns from selecting a running back in the upcoming draft, but it does (thankfully) take away any temptation that general manager Ray Farmer may have felt to select a running back in the first round. And that is a very good thing.
Just as importantly, this should signal an end to the Browns trying to fill the running back position by searching through the garbage dump of the other 31 NFL teams. For at least the next two years Browns fans don’t have to try and convince themselves that the Bakers and Whitakers of the world are the answer at running back.
Tate has the right blend of potential, age and a team-friendly contract. He also wants to prove that he can be a team’s feature running back, which means there is a lot to like about this deal.
Farmer has had a good week during his first run through free agency as a general manager. He has brought in a level of toughness with linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner, improved the depth at tight end with Jim Gray, added speed to the offense with wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (if the Bengals don’t match his contract offer), and brought in a major upgrade at running back in Tate.
And he did it all without handing out the type of contracts that can hamstring a team down the road.
The Browns are definitely better today than they were a week ago. We won’t know how much better until this fall, but there’s no doubt they are better.
After the week that Farmer just had, it has us eager to see what he can do on draft day.
(Photo by The Associated Press)