I have no idea what the Browns will do with free agency this year, but I have some clear ideas about what I think they should and shouldn’t do. Despite the massive amount of money and the ever growing list of players available, I still think it’s a bad idea to build a team too much through free agency. This Browns team, despite their struggles of a year ago, is still a relatively young team and improving from a player experience level standpoint. My biggest preferences are for overpaying for continuity and continuing the Banner trend of grabbing guys in their 20’s as opposed to their 30’s.
So let’s start by going through some of the rumored players linked to the Browns.
I’ve read all the same things you have regarding the Browns and Matt Schaub and I’m not ready to overreact to that just yet. Schaub might be the next coming of Jake Delhomme, but unlike Delhomme, Schaub won’t be brought in to be the top of the depth chart. When the Browns brought in Delhomme, they had Seneca Wallace and drafted Colt McCoy. If the Browns bring in Matt Schaub, he’ll have to supplant Brian Hoyer, who despite all our questions, is a nearly unanimous pick among Browns fans to get the initial nod at quarterback for 2014.
As for safety, I still have a strong preference for the Browns to retain T.J. Ward. Continuity is underrated this time of year and Ward is a good player worthy of being brought back. I think the Browns have played this game wisely so far. The Browns tagged Alex Mack instead of Ward, largely because there might be some skepticism about the market that might develop for Ward’s services.
The Northeast Ohio Media Group reports that 11 teams are interested in the safety, which would indicate plenty of market for Ward’s services. At the same time, you have to wonder how much money he’ll end up being offered. I’m guessing – and I think the Browns were rightly guessing – that the actual amount that T.J. Ward ends up getting will be more modest than the franchise tag amount of $8.1 million. Ward had a great season in 2013 and he’s just 27 years old, but he’s not on that truly elite level yet. The league likely knows this and the Browns could very well end up keeping T.J. Ward by “overpaying” him, but just not at the franchise tag level.
Also at safety, the Browns are heavily linked to Donte Whitner. Dustin Fox reports that he’ll likely sign with the Browns when free agency opens for real, according to sources close to the player. It is hard to figure what that signing would mean for T.J. Ward. Does it eliminate him from consideration? Are the Browns in the mix at all for free safety Jairus Byrd who wants to be paid? I don’t know how it all pans out, but I like the talk. Byrd is 27, Ward is 27, and Donte Whitner is 28. I’m also a fan of Tashaun Gipson, Johnson Bademosi and eve newcomer Jordan Poyer who are currently on the Browns’ depth chart.
The biggest topic for me is Alex Mack. Obviously the Browns should be in the driver’s seat after placing the transition tag on him. That was before the talk of “poison pills” started yesterday because of statements by Mack’s agent. As Browns fans we know better than to rule out creative ways to become disappointed, but Pro Football Talk indicates that the new CBA ended these types of contract provisions. Obviously that doesn’t mean there isn’t some other loophole that a wily agent might be able to exploit. It just means in theory, the NFL has ruled against these kinds of things and the Browns should be able to match a deal if they want to match it.
There will be a lot more to talk about all day long, and I’ve gone on long enough, so let’s finish off with a flurry.
Karlos Dansby appears to be on the wrong side of 30 (he’ll turn 33 in November) but assuming the Browns put him on a deal that ends up only really acting like a two-year deal, I’m in favor of signing him.
Geoff Schwartz is my biggest desire in free agency. The Browns have missed having a real stud offensive guard since the days of Eric Steinbach. Schwartz is 27 years-old and putting him on the same line with his brother, Alex Mack and Joe Thomas seems like a really smart idea and a good use of free agency dollars.
Wide receiver? Running back? What? I really expect the Browns to not do too much with wide receiver in free agency. That doesn’t mean they won’t sign someone, but I don’t expect them to go gaga for Eric Decker. This draft is loaded with receivers and receivers are expensive pieces in free agency. Maybe Ray Farmer is finally the guy who will make drafting receivers and running backs look as easy as it’s supposed to be.
Free agency is upon us! We’ll know so much by tonight. Here’s to the Browns getting better today.