Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Talking ourselves into the Browns moves in free agency

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo BillsWith the second week of free agency in the NFL winding down, the only players left are the types that not even a bargain-basement shopping team like the Cleveland Browns would take a look at.

Which means we’ve transitioned into the part of free agency where Browns fans start to rationalize how the players the team has brought in will help the squad more than the players that walked out the door since the end of last season.

If you go by last season’s rankings at Pro Football Focus, the five main players that the Browns have signed – Tramon Williams, Dwayne Bowe, Randy Starks, Josh McCown and Brian Hartline – carry a collective ranking of -26.7. (That number is heavily weighed down by McCown’s ranking of -18.3, however).

That seems pretty depressing until you look at what the Browns “lost” in free agency. Jabaal Sheard, Miles Austin, Buster Skrine, Jordan Cameron, Ahtyba Rubin and Brian Hoyer carry a collective grade of -40.3 out of town.

While those rankings say that the Browns basically stood still in free agency, if you look at little bit deeper the picture looks a little differently. (See what we mean about the rationalizing?)

Williams is older but better (or at least no worse) than Skrine. Starks is older but better than Rubin, who made up for his diminishing skills by always trying his hardest. There is something to be said for that, but effort should only go so far.

Hartline is younger and more durable than Austin, and if can just suit up for 16 games, Bowe will be an addition over Josh Gordon simply by being on the field each week.

“These guys just want to play football. You don’t have any ego guys on that team. You’ve got guys that just want to come in and do their job and make the organization successful, and that’s all you ask for in a group, guys that want to come in and play their tail off. It doesn’t matter if they’re No. 1 or No. 2 as long as everyone is contributing. They just want to win. That’s something the organization definitely needs now is winning, and they’re putting in the right pieces to make that happen.” – Dwayne Bowe

As for McCown (-18.3) vs. Hoyer (-18.8), their numbers essentially cancel each other out.

Feeling better yet?

When it comes to the wide receiving group, while there are no true No. 1 wide receivers, a plight of more teams than many want to admit, things may not be so bad. If Andrew Hawkins can repeat last year’s performance, and there is no reason to think he can’t, and Hartline and Bowe just put up average years, here’s how things would shape up:

  • Hawkins: 63 receptions, 824 yards and two touchdowns
  • Hartline: 50 receptions, 707 yards and two touchdowns
  • Bowe: 67 receptions, 894 yards and five touchdowns

Are those Pro Bowl numbers? No. But on a team that wants to win by running the ball and playing defense, those are not a bad season’s worth of work. And the Browns still may add another wide receiver (or at the very least a tight end to replace Cameron) in the upcoming draft.

It’s not as if Bowe isn’t a talented receiver, either. Bowe leaves Kansas City in second place on the franchise’s leader board in set career receptions, third in yards and fifth in touchdown receptions. He also is the franchise leader in single-season receptions (86) and receiving yards in a playoff game (150).

The one part of Bowe’s game that is most troubling is his propensity for dropping the ball. The numbers vary, but in his career Bowe has dropped somewhere between 64 passes (ESPN Stats & Info) and 69 passes (Pro Football Focus).

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Again, as a team that wants to run the ball and play defense, the biggest thing the Browns need from their wide receivers is to hold onto the ball when they get it. If Bowe can do that, then this could turn into a decent pick up for the Browns.

This just leaves the ongoing and seemingly never-ending search for a quarterback.

While we still have not talked ourselves into McCown, we feel a little bit better knowing that he is truly just a bridge to the next quarterback (hopefully a very short bridge).

As we move closer to the NFL Draft, more and more teams will spend their time picking holes in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s game, which could help push him that much closer to head coach Mike Pettine’s warm embrace.

If McCown is the bridge to Mariota, then we’re pretty good with that.

Finally, even if the Browns have improved much has been made about how the team will almost certainly take a step back this fall because they are playing a “harder” schedule.

“I’m excited to sign with the Browns because I like what they are building.” – Randy Starks

But since we’re staying positive here, who says the schedule will be harder?

The Browns were a combined 4-4 against the AFC South and NFC South last season; even if the NFC West is harder, the AFC West is mediocre outside of Denver, so 3-5 shouldn’t an unrealistic expectation.

Tennessee and the New York Jets are the two non-common opponents on the schedule and they are both horrible.

That just leaves the AFC North, where the Browns were 2-4, but could have pulled out a second win against Pittsburgh or a win at home against Baltimore. Win one more game in the division and that makes up for losing an extra out-of-conference game.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here, though.

The Browns may not have made the type of moves that generate headlines in March, but they may have made enough moves to help push the franchise forward, even if it is just incrementally, come the fall.

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images and USA Today)

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3 thoughts on “Talking ourselves into the Browns moves in free agency

  1. Good analysis. Many complained last year when we swapped out younger players for Whitner and Dansby. I don’t have the ratings vs our x players – but both were solid additions. Proven veterans with team friendly contracts (OK you perhaps over pay a bit because of our record) are a good way to go without breaking the bank. Also like the strategy of trying to get more compensatory picks for 2016. IMO they are building it the right way. All that flash in free agency doesn’t necessarily (and usually) translate into wins.

    • The more I read about Bowe over the weekend the more I’m coming to like the signing. The one thing about the wide receivers is they still don’t have that one player that can really break the defense and give the offense the occasional two- or three-play scoring drive.

      It seems like the Browns have to grind out so many of their touchdown drives (I’ll have to check that from last year) and if you consistently have to go 1o or 12 plays every time to score a TD, that just provides so many opportunities for something to go wrong.

  2. Incrementally forward is better than any adverb attached to backward.

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