April 17, 2014

Browns Should Look to Stay Young This Year

You can say the Browns aren’t trying to win this year if you want.  No doubt there are some options on the free agent market that would have made the team immediately better than a few of the players currently on this roster.  In that respect, on a technicality, I wouldn’t be able to say conclusively that any fan is wrong when they say the Browns aren’t trying to win this year at all costs.  There is a method to their madness though, and as NFL teams finish their first round of cuts early this week, it is worth revisiting.  The Browns are a young team and unless a guy is under the age of 30, you should probably forget about the Browns signing him in all likelihood.

Other teams do mix and match a lot between vets and rookies, occasionally signing and trading for “hired gun” types of vets to put them over the top.  It seems that the Browns know they aren’t at that point just yet.  How could they think they are there with such a young quarterback in Colt McCoy?  How could they think that as they install a brand new offense and defense this season?  Even as Browns fans are seemingly taking Peyton Hillis and his production for granted, he has a whole lot to prove after one year of impressive play.

It doesn’t have anything to do with being cheap either.  The Browns proved that two weeks ago when they gave Joe Thomas his giant extension.  No, this is about building and building for the long-term.

Many fans wanted the Browns to trade for Lee Evans.  I can understand it on some level.  The Browns’ wide receivers are very young.  Maybe they could use a veteran to help them develop, while also delivering some productivity for the team right away.  Maybe Lee Evans would have been a better option for winning an extra game or two this season, but then what?  Lee Evans is not getting any better at age 30.  In fact, he also becomes a riskier proposition because of potential injury at his age.  That might seem laughable with all the injuries this pre-season to Mohamed Massaquoi and Carlton Mitchell, but you know I’m right.

The Browns need to solve problems on a more permanent basis rather than just patching holes here and there.  They need to come up with legitimate talent that they might want to sign to long-term deals in the future.  On Madden video game football terms that might mean that instead of playing with Lee Evans who maybe has a player rating of 75 and falling, the Browns are coming into the season with some guys who are between 60 and 70 with potential to hit 80 or higher in their careers.

Even ignoring the salary cap dollars, a guy like Lee Evans represents an opportunity cost to the Browns who don’t really solve their problems long-term and will have to go through the exercise of filling that position over and over again.  Wouldn’t you rather just let some combination of Jordan Norwood, Carlton Mitchell, Josh Cribbs, etc see if they can give the Browns the 600-ish yards that Lee Evans supplied per season over the last two years?

The Browns currently have nine players who are 30 or over.  Not one of them is over 32 other than Phil Dawson.  Sheldon Brown has one more year on his contract after this season.  Same with Scott Fujita.  Brandon Jackson and Usama Young were the notable free agent signings this off-season and they are firmly in their mid 20s.

Point being, even if Chester Taylor gets released by the Bears, it probably isn’t worth wasting breath talking about it.  If Chad Ochocinco gets released by the Pats, don’t bother tweeting about it.  Both guys might be improvements over players like Carlton Mitchell or Quinn Porter right this very second, but it could be a fleeting second with concerns about declining skills and injury risk for older players in the NFL.

  • Vengeful Pat

    This may be true, but I also wonder why no other teams are taking on these hired guns. There are still some quality players who are unsigned… TO, Lofa Tatupu, TJ Houshmazilli (Championship!), Leonard Davis, etc. And by “quality players” I really just mean “guys who are at least worthy of making an NFL roster”. It’s strange to see so many of these guys sitting out there untouched. I know there is something in the new CBA about each team not needing to hit the salary cap ceiling this year, but needing to do so by 2012 (I think), so maybe it has something to do with that as well?

  • Harv 21

    agree, Craig, except for one small thing.

    Maybe the development of the current receivers have been hampered by the absence of a solid veteran receiver who they might listen to and learn from, a vet who they respect because he can still play. There was talk a couple of years ago that starters Eric Wright and Brandon MacDonald’s development was hampered by suspect work habits without a vet next to them. Clay Matthews talks about how much he learned watching Charlie Hall and those guys. Guessing at least watching Sheldon Brown work helped Joe Haden. As for receivers, really think Little might more likely stay closer to the straight and narrow than Diva Avenue if there is a pro’s pro role-modeling the position on and off the field. Cribbs is learning himself. Doubt that Little will emulate Robo because he must know he’s already better.

    Other than that, young is good at this stage.

  • jimkanicki

    im fine with the receiving corps… expect the offense to run TE heavy anyway. can see little + momass developing into a decent pair of targets. cribbs in a the slot makes a lot of sense to me too.

    where i dissent with your premise is at o-line. assuming steinbach out, going with lauvao+pinkston at guard seems a little too young to me. i guess it’s fine that we picked up a ravens cast off to help patch the hole.. but it bothers me that there’s a 5x pro-bowler available that we seem to be passing on. that’d be andre gurode and yes he’s 32. but alan faneca was 31 when he left the steelers and managed to get to two more pro-bowls with the jets.

    given an obvious weakness on the o-line, i don’t understand why we wouldn’t make an exception to the youth movement to make a run at a pro-bowl lineman. calvin johnson and larry fitzgerald won’t help colt if he has less than 3 seconds to get rid of the ball.

  • Shamrock

    Of course they resign Thomas you have to keep the talent you already possess. I don’t buy the “building young” strategy, not for football. Seasons are to dynamic which is why it’s so rare that a team repeats as champion. It’s all about talent, not age.

  • Woods

    I agree with this article regarding the Browns focus on the acquisition and development of younger players as opposed to bringing in high priced veteran help.

    A byproduct of this strategy is the ability to lock up the young talent that already exists on the team. Exhibit A is the long term contract given Joe Thomas. The next group of players to get contract extensions are most likely Rubin and then Mack. If, and this is a big if, Jackson stays healthy throughout the year and thrives at MLB, expect him to get an extension as well.

    When Pinkston was drafted, most of the scouting reports had predicted that his future would be as a guard instead of the left tackle he played at Pitt. I have respect for Eric Steinbach and his body of work at LG, but even without the injury that he suffered this training camp that may end his season, his future with the Browns was most likely over after this season or at most the next. If Pinkston is indeed the future, then let him learn on the job, it will only speed his development.

    As stated in the piece, I agree that the Browns will target young players at DL and LB that other teams will try to sneak onto their practice squads. I kind of like Titus Brown as a backup and special teams player, but the rest of the guys (Smith, Octavion, English) don’t look like they have much speed or talent. The young guys that played in the second half for the Eagles looked better than the Browns backups…by a wide margin. I an guessing that Heckert will look to poach at least one.

    Lastly, I like the way that Shurmur is incorporating the rookies into starting roles in order to speed their development. Does anyone think that Mangini would install Taylor and Sheard as starters in the first preseason game? I believe that Shurmur’s statement went something like “we expect them to start, so they are going to practice as starters”. So refreshing…

    Go Browns.

  • mgbode

    we also get younger at LG with Pinkston taking over for Steinbach, who apparently is hitting the IR.

    (doh! no depth left on the OL. someone go talk Yates out of retiring)

  • corey

    What is the downside to signing Chester Taylor for a year? If anything it would offer more protection for Hillis should Hardesty go down or if Jackson injury lingers.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Corey, there wouldn’t be a lot of downside with regard to protecting Hillis and Hardesty. I just think 25-year old Quinn Porter (who is already here) is a backup with upside that the Browns obviously already liked. Why not keep a guy like that as your third RB assuming Brandon Jackson won’t be ready to go?

    You may not know Quinn Porter’s name, but you wouldn’t know Chester Taylor’s name either if you only went by his last two or three seasons of production.

  • Shamrock

    Guess I heard right about Steinbach.