5 Questions: Cleveland Browns free agency edition
With a new management team in place in general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine, it is a bit of a mystery just what the Browns will do. Will they try to win the off-season? Or will they take a more conservative approach, saving their big moves for the NFL Draft in May?
To get ready for the spending frenzy that may be about to kick off, we brought together some of the best Browns minds on the Internet to look at the situation in the latest installment of 5 Questions in 5 Minutes. This feature previously ran on Cleveland Reboot, but after Dave Kolonich opted for early retirement, he was gracious enough to let us continue the series.
Today’s participants are:
Dave Kolonich, the former writer of Cleveland Reboot. He has also written for The Orange and Brown Report, Scout.com, Fox Sports Ohio and a variety of websites. He can be found on Twitter @DaveKolonich.
Jonathan Knight, one of the leading authorities on Cleveland sports history. He is the author of Kardiac Kids, Sundays in the Pound, and The Browns Bible, among other works. He can be found on Twitter @jknightwriter.
Question: The Browns can only sign one outside free agent. Who do they go after and why?
Jeff: I think it really depends on who they lose from the inside. There are honestly going to be holes on the offensive line whether they figure something out with Mack or not, but I believe the focus has to be in players they have a real shot at landing, and not paying lip service to those who will use the Browns cap situation to leverage other teams. That said, I think it’s Jairus Byrd, who would be an upgrade from Gipson, would complement a strong safety, whether it’s Ward or not, and might consider staying with Pettine through his prime.
Dave: Arthur Jones – Baltimore. After the 2011 draft, I wrote that Phil Taylor was a great pick given his versatility and the idea that the Browns change defensive schemes every two years. Jones is a similar talent who can slide into numerous spots across the Browns’ D-Line. While the D-Line currently appears deep, remember that Rubin is a year away from release (if not sooner), Bryant just had serious heart surgery and Taylor will be a free agent before you know it.
Kanicki: You said outside free agent so that means Mack and Ward are signed. I believe I’ll take the best player at the most expensive position of need: cornerback. Surprise: I’m not going after the big (Aquib Talib), bigger (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), or biggest CB (Brandon Browner). Vontae Davis. Graded out No. 2 in pass cover last year. 26. Good speed, good vertical although stubby arms. Should lock down the side opposite Haden for next four years. I admit it’s tempting to grab Rodger Saffold for the o-line … wait I do want Rodger Saffold and we will then have the best line in the NFL and go on to play in, and perhaps win, the Super Bowl because teams with three studs on their o-line typically do. Scratch Vontae Davis, I choose Rodger Saffold with my only FA pick.
Murray: I think the common answer is going to be Jairus Byrd, but hopefully the Browns re-sign T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson seemed to be a capable player alongside him, so I’m going to go with Daryl Smith. Not quite as marquee as Byrd, but fills a huge hole in the defense. Smith played very well in Baltimore last year, and would add a strong veteran presence at a position of need.
Jonathan: I think it’s less “who” they go after than “what.” I don’t think there’s one player in free agency (or the draft, for that matter) that will instantly make the Browns a playoff contender. While essentially every area of the team needs help, I think running back should be a priority, particularly since it appears that they’re leaning toward other positions for their first-round draft picks (depending on who you listen to).
Mike: Byrd is the word. If TJ Ward stays and we nest with Jairus Byrd, the backside of our secondary just became among the best in the NFL. If Ward leaves, we have our coverage/interception free safety and can grab a run-stopping strong safety in the draft, or roll with guys already on the roster like Jamoris Slaughter.
Question: Are the Browns handling the Alex Mack contract situation correctly?
Jeff: I’m slow to judgment on this; I suppose I need to understand Plan B a little bit better. Obviously, it would be a shame to lose Mack, but if him walking serves as collateral damage to upgrade a 4-12 team, so be it. If zone blocking ends up being the thing, there might be more economical fits, so the optimist in me says this is probably the right play.
Dave: Have the Browns under Jimmy Haslam handled anything correctly? After setting up Rob Chudzinski to fail, Haslam rewards Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi by letting them pick the next head coach. Haslam then informs himself that the front office was the problem all along – which would have been a great realization some two months before the world’s dumbest coaching search commenced. So now the Browns have a completely mismatched Pettine/Farmer combo running the show, trying to clean up a huge mess.
Part of that mess includes Mack, who should have been extended a long time ago. As for the transition tag, the Browns are admitting they know Mack can do better elsewhere.
Kanicki: Yep. And boy how unpopular was that Chud firing? “I like Chud and (Browns’ former offensive coordinator Norv) Turner. I love Warhop,” Mack said. “I really liked where Cleveland was going. The firing came as a real surprise.” It did to us too, Alex. He still sounds pissed about it and even though Banner is gone, he knows Haslam signed off on it … so it’s no sure thing he signs that tender. Is he worth paying a one-year premium for the chance to lock him up long-term? He’s a top 5 player at his position who hasn’t missed a start in the five years he’s been here. You can say center isn’t important (??) or concoct a world where Mack doesn’t fit into a zone block scheme (???), but you don’t get better by losing your best players in their prime. (God Banner was an ass in his handling of Mack.)
Murray: They’ve been put in a bit of a hard position with Mack. Joe Banner, it seems, had no intention of paying Mack big money so they’re working from behind in trying to keep him. The difference with the transition tag is that it still allows Mack to meet with other teams, which takes the pressure off the Browns a little bit when it comes to setting market value, and with the cap space they have they can likely match any offer. I was a bit surprised when they tagged him but they’re obviously trying to make the best of what is a difficult situation.
Jonathan: It’s difficult to tell, but I’d say yes. Smart teams know that the strength to a perennial contender is up front on both offense and defense. And if you’ve got a guy you think can anchor one of the two, you’ve got to keep him. With money to burn, they could do worse than overpaying or overcommitting to Alex Mack.
Mike: I’m not an expert on contracts, but this approach appears a move that demonstrates that we value his services and would like him to stay in Cleveland. What’s also evident (and not news) is that he wants a big contract. If Mack wants a big payday, he may be able to get that in Cleveland, but if he wants a change of scenery there’s not much we can do.
Question: If a 30-year-old Brent Grimes is worth $16 million guaranteed, how much is Joe Haden going to cost the Browns?
Jeff: Forget Grimes. Think about Richard Sherman in the context that he led a Super Bowl winning defense by simply taking away half the field, and ask yourself if Haden can play at that level when the games mean more because the team will be playing relevant December football. I know what my answer is, and I think it involves Haden finding the money guaranteed to Grimes between his sofa cushions.
Dave: If Brent Grimes is worth 16 million dollars, then Joe Haden is worth 82 billion.
Kanicki: Take the Johnathan Joseph contract and add an inflation factor. I calculate Haden like so:
- term: 5 years
- total dollars: 48.8M x 1.15 = 56.1M
- signing bonus: 12.5 x 1.15 = 14.4M
- guaranteed: 23.5M x 1.15 = 27.0M
After seeing Sam Shields sign with the Packers on Saturday for four years and $39 million, with a signing bonus of $12. 5 million, my numbers don’t seem far off.
Murray: A lot. Haden is a top corner in the league, despite what some may have you believe. With the cap increasing to possibly around $150 million next year, I think it’s going to be quite big. Sam Shields just signed a deal for four years and $39 million with the Packers. I don’t think he’s going to get Darrelle Revis money, but it could easily be around six years and $75 million.
Jonathan: Probably more than they should pay for him. While Joe Haden is a nice player and may turn into a perennial Pro Bowler, I don’t think he’d be as celebrated on or considered more precious to a more talented team. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Browns fans are so desperate to cling to any modicum of professionalism that I think we’ve convinced ourselves that Joe Haden is more than he is. I can see the Browns paying way too much for him and then regretting it for the next three or four years.
Mike: Probably $25 million to $30 million guaranteed.
Question: Is the any chance the Browns will miss linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on the field?
Jeff: Of course they’re going to miss him, as much as any unfortunate cap casualty, but it was time to part ways. I must take the opportunity to commend him for giving the Browns two years beyond what I believed his shelf life to be, but the successful part of the Browns’ future does not intersect with his effective leaderships the field. Let me throw a name out there that should be available late; Cal’s Khairi (pronounced like Kyrie) Fortt, who transferred from Penn State, probably won’t be the next Kiko Alonso, but Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil could be a good match for the Sandusky Scandal refugee.
Dave: The people who will really miss D’Qwell are the team’s beat reporters. Jackson had a bit of that Eric Steinbach shine to him – decent player whose value was inflated by being easily accessible to the team’s quote collectors. The reality is there has been a recent draft renaissance of talented linebackers. It’s time the Browns finally found one.
Kanicki: I have to say no. If Pettine knows anything, it’s defense and they just cut an inside linebacker who commanded $11 million guaranteed. (Although it was the Colts and I’m starting to wonder about their talent evaluation acumen.) I’m going to assume he and Farmer have a plan they really like. Hard to see how Pettine’s unrestricted free agent Arthur Moats doesn’t figure into the plan. They re-signed Craig Robertson so, OK. Who knows, maybe they’ve got their eye on Khalil Mack at No. 4 and (with apologies to Tony Grossi who thinks otherwise) intend to play him at inside linebacker like a Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman or Stephen Tulloch.
Murray: Obviously if they don’t address the position then they will, as Craig Robertson and Tank Carder are the likely starters right now. Although his play had regressed in the last couple of years, Jackson’s still a good zone coverage linebacker and a solid tackler. The 3-4 isn’t his best fit, though, especially with the athleticism that Pettine requires of his inside linebackers. He’ll be missed more for his leadership than his play.
Jonathan: This year, absolutely. Jackson wasn’t a long-term solution for a team looking to become a contender, but he would have been a completely acceptable short-term filler until a younger, faster stud player came along. The timing of letting him go seems odd, since the Browns don’t seem to be on the brink of replacing him with anything better, and he was one of the few defensive players who made anything resembling an impact in the last couple of years. But I’d rather not see them make long-term commitments to mediocre players, and it appears that’s what they avoided.
Mike: Yes. He’s been the leader on defense for a quite a while and although the team has sucked, he’s played very well for the Browns and represented us well. I’m surprised he’s lasted through as many coaching and scheme changes as he has, but that speaks to his ability as a football player.
But also no. DQ wasn’t the fastest, or the best in coverage, and in my opinion hadn’t played as well last year as many want to believe he did. He’s an aging vet and is now probably in the last contract of his career. I’m hopeful that our new “Will” and “Mike” will be young, athletic, rangy guys in coverage but also able to get off blocks, get sideline to sideline, and drop the hammer vs. the run.
Question: Ray Farmer is to Mike Lombardi as (blank) is to (blank).
Jeff: … as “What If” is to “Unfinished Business.” While I’m not sold on Farmer on the whole, I probably didn’t have as much of the negative on Lombardi as the next guy. However, he and Banner were quick to prove they were not capable of doing the job to Haslam’s satisfaction, which is probably a good thing. We don’t know what exactly Farmer will bring, but it can’t be as wretched as the 2012 Cleveland Indians.
Kanicki: Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Too early. To be honest, I’m not even down on Lombardi because I just don’t know what he did. If anything, his late falling out with Banner probably bumps him up a notch in my book. And Farmer, though I like the two moves and one non-move he’s done so far (tag Mack, cut DQ, non-tag T.J. Ward), I’m gonna skew skeptical until there’s a record able to be judged.
Murray: Ray Farmer is to Mike Lombardi as airplanes are to UFOs.
Jonathan: Brian Hoyer is to Brandon Weeden. We’re not quite sure what we’ve got with Farmer, but we knew exactly what we had in Lombardi. And want no more of it.
Mike: As Springtime is to Cleveland. There’s once again hope and sunshine. The gloomy, cold, grey skies are gone, but in this comparison it’s even better because everyone’s “worst allergy” is gone, too.
Great answers everyone and thanks for joining in. We’re now interested in what you think, so have your say in the comments section.
We’re going to try and make this a regular feature and possibly not just about the Browns. We’ll definitely do another one of these as we get near the draft, but also keep a look out for possible 5 Questions on the Cavs and the Tribe.