Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

John Hughes proves that sometimes you just never know

john hughes contractThe Cleveland Browns quietly signed defensive lineman John Hughes to a contract extension over the weekend.

The fact that the news was a bit under the radar is fitting for a player who during his time in Cleveland has pretty much just shown up and gone about his business, and who was selected as a Secret Superstar before last season by Pro Football Focus.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Hughes told the team’s website. “For the Cleveland Browns to have the faith in me and believe in me to sign me a year early, it’s just a great feeling.”

The new deal is reportedly a four-year, $14.4 million contract with $12.8 million in base salary and $3.56 million guaranteed. The extension will pay Hughes an average of $4.8 million a year, a salary that places him in the top 20 of defensive tackles in the NFL.

Not bad for a player that was considered by many “draft experts” as a reach and further proof of former general manager Tom Heckert’s incompetence.

Now, depending on how you feel about right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Hughes may be the best of the Browns picks from the 2012 NFL Draft.

The willingness by the Browns to sign Hughes to a contract extension, despite the fact that he has only started seven games and missed a large part of last season to injury, further illustrates the point we made last week: if head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil believe a player can be productive in their defense, then they’re going to make sure that player stays on the roster.

In his first three years with the Browns, Hughes has played in 36 games, totaling 99 tackles, four sacks, five passes defensed and a fumble recovery.

In other free agent news …

tramon williams free agent

A Pair of Veterans

The Browns continue to look at adding veteran depth to the roster as they are hosting cornerback Tramon Williams and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

Williams is the more intriguing of the pair as he has only missed one game to injury in his nine-year career with Green Bay and was a starter for the Packers for the past five seasons.

Having a reliable veteran on the roster in case second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert struggles this fall is probably not a bad idea.

We’re a little bit cooler on the prospect of signing Bowe, who despite only being 30 has struggled the past two seasons with Kansas City.

Bowe averaged almost 70 receptions a season during his eight years with the Chiefs, but since posting consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011, he’s seen his numbers drop to the point where he has averaged just 58 catches for 713 yards the past two seasons. He was also part of a group of Kansas City receivers that failed to catch a touchdown pass last season.

Of course, that decline corresponds with the arrival of quarterback Alex Smith in Kansas City, so it may not all be Bowe’s fault.

The worst-case scenario seems to be that Bowe would be this year’s version of Nate Burleson, a veteran the Browns bring in to see if he has anything left and, if not, they can release him with just a little bit of time and money invested.

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Struggling with buy-in on McCown

Late last week Grantland’s Bill Barnwell took a look at what he considers the worst contracts handed out so far in free agency and, to no one’s surprise, the Browns and quarterback Josh McCown were the first entry on the list.

Here are the “highlights” of Barnwell’s argument against McCown (emphasis is ours):

“For years, McCown was a lower-echelon backup making something close to the veteran’s minimum. He caught on with Marc Trestman’s Bears and delivered one of the finest small-sample flukes you’ll ever see, with an unsustainably low interception rate driving a 224-pass sample that made him look like Peyton Manning.

“The Buccaneers gave him a two-year, $10 million deal last offseason in the hopes that those 224 passes meant more than his 1,113 preceding replacement-level throws. They were wrong. McCown’s interception rate spiked, his completion percentage fell back to its previous totals, and he took sacks (thanks, Anthony Collins) at an alarming rate. He went 1-10, got hurt, and the Buccaneers finished with the NFL’s worst record.

“Instead of recognizing that the wrong guy off the scrap heap could play well in a small sample and therefore looking for the right guy off the scrap heap, the Bucs and now the Browns are paying McCown like he’s a meaningful asset. Cleveland beat Buffalo in a bidding war for McCown, who actually got a whopping $6.25 million in guaranteed money.

“Why on earth would you give McCown that much guaranteed money? What are you paying for? Veteran competence? McCown has been about the 50th-best quarterback in football for the vast majority of his career. He just finished a season as the starting quarterback on the worst team in football with the worst offense in football despite a pair of pretty great receivers. What sort of certainty are you paying for? How much worse can a guy making the league minimum be than the worst of the worst?”

We’ve become pretty good over the years at trying to justify how the latest quarterback the Browns bring in can be, if not the guy, at least a competent player until that guy shows up.

But for the first time in quite a while, we’re having trouble doing that with McCown.

Marcus Mariota

Finally, a reminder about Pro Days

With the opening week of free agency in the books, we’ve now entered the season of Pro Days from college prospects.

At with it comes the annual hand wringing about the Browns approach to Pro Days.

Last year the complaints where that general manager Ray Farmer and the team’s scouts, rather than coaches, were in attendance. This year, it is the opposite, with the usual suspects whining that the coaches, rather than Farmer, are checking things out.

When you argue both sides of the topic, you can never be wrong.

This is probably as good a time as any to remind people about the diminishing value of attending a player’s scripted and tightly controlled Pro Day.

We’re even less worried after hearing about Marcus Mariota’s Pro Day last week at the University of Oregon.

Only five head coaches and one general manager were in attendance, but the Browns may have been the best represented of the bunch, with current quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell actually running the event while sporting Browns clothing.

The only bad part about O’Connell’s involvement is that if he made Mariota look too good, he probably hurt the Browns chances of making a play for Mariota in the upcoming draft.

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