August 26, 2014

What’s next for the Browns?

Taylor3According to the NFL Players’ union, as of Tuesday morning the Cleveland Browns are still sitting on $31,828,788.00 worth of cap space for the 2014 season.

The Browns entered free agency with around $45 million. They have signed free agents Donte Whitner (S), Karlos Dansby (ILB), Ben Tate (RB), Jim Dray (TE), Andrew Hawkins (WR), Isaiah Trufant (CB) and Paul McQuiston (OL). They re-signed kicker Billy Cundiff, and let go of QBs Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, as well as LB D’Qwell Jackson. Shawn Lauvao (G), Oniel Cousins (G) and T.J. Ward (S) left through free agency.

The big question mark remains Alex Mack, though it would seem that the team most interested in obtaining Mack is now out of that market. Baltimore traded for center Jeremy Zuttah from Tampa Bay.

The Browns of course have the right to match any offer that Mack gets, but teams have been hesitant to try and pry the transition tagged player away from the Browns.

On Tuesday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam met with reporters from the NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando. He told the gathered throng that he believes Mack wants to be a Brown. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. What seems very likely is that the Browns will be willing to match nearly any offer handed to to the Pro Bowl center. Haslam himself said that Mack is the kind of player that they want around long term.

The Mack situation aside, what is the next move for this organization?

The Browns still have holes. They could use another wide receiver, inside linebacker and cornerback. They also need to address the  right side of the offensive line. Paul McQuiston may be “versatile” in the sense that he has played both guard and tackle at the NFL level, but he is a depth signing.

The Steelers recently signed former Bills ILB Arthur Moats. Moats is a player that many thought might be a target for the Browns, and certainly could have given Craig Robertson a run at the starting spot opposite Dansby. My guess is that if Mike Pettine wanted Moats, he would have at least made a visit here.

The free agent market is drying up quickly. None of the offensive linemen left out there are huge upgrades over the starters at their positions for the Browns. The defensive backs that are left are of the aged vintage, or the never had a prime variety.

Don’t get me started on the quarterbacks.

That means the next big chance to fill holes and improve the roster will be via the draft. The Browns have ten picks that they can use, including seven selections in the first four rounds.

Assuming the Browns even use all of those picks without trading out of one or more, that means another ten players to sign, which would eat around $10 million of the remaining cap space. By the way, that would also bring the Browns to 80 players under contract for the season, without any UDFA signings. Several more players will have to be cut.

Which will leave the Browns with over $21 million dollars under the cap.

The answer isn’t to go out and overpay a Santonio Holmes or Asante Samuel. The answer is to lock up Joe Haden, Phil Taylor and Jordan Cameron who will all be free agents following the 2014 season. They should also take a look at extending Jabaal Sheard and Buster Skrine, also set to be free agents after this season. Taylor, Cameron, Sheard and Skrine are all playing for under $1 million this season. There should be incentive enough for them to sign an extension that will kick in a larger 2014 base salary.

My top priority before the draft hits would be to lock up Haden and get the Mack deal done. Haden’s base salary is a little under $7 million in 2014, with incentives and bonuses taking his total compensation closer to $9 million. Realistically, it is going to cost the Browns between $12 and $15 million a season if they want to keep one of the top corners in the league in his prime. Haden certainly is that.

Can the Browns front load an extension for Haden? That would be their best move with the $21 million they have left to spend. Keep in mind that he already counts for close to $9 million against the cap. Adding another four or five doesn’t wipe out your ability to sign Taylor and Cameron.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    We always read about front-loading… just how much of a contract can realistically be front-loaded, though? i.e. can they sign Haden to a 6yr/$60M contract with $20M this year, then $8M/year afterward?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m with you Craig lock up #23 as long as possible and use the remaining money for draft picks and what I think will be a veteran backup QB. The list of candidates for backup QB makes my stomach turn but that’s who is left unfortunately. I think the Browns took a chance by not trading a draft pick to Houston for Schaub instead waiting for him to be cut which was unfortunate. I’d have gladly given up a low draft pick in order to have Schaub be a backup but it didn’t work out.

    Since there isn’t much left at all in free agency the draft is even more important now. It’s also why I don’t expect that #4 overall selection to be a QB. It makes no sense to waste the pick on a rookie who probably is best suited to sit and learn not to mention the money used to get him. It’s for this reason that we might very well see them take an OL #4. OL are less of a risk and the Browns need one, heck two, badly. Personally I’m still in favor of Sammy Watkins. The idea of Gordon, Watkins, Hawkins and Cameron is drool inducing. But so is the idea of protecting an already dinged up Hoyer or a rookie QB drafted later not to mention an OL who can create holes for the newly acquired Ben Tate.

  • mgbode

    sure. but, then you run the risk of an unhappy player/agent in 2 years asking why he only gets paid $8mil/year when high-level CBs get $12-15mil/year. and, yeah, I think you run that risk even if you lay everything out ahead of time.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Right, obviously, though I think that with a highly publicized start that that can be eliminated. So there’s no real rules on that type of front-loading structure? It’s the opposite of the signing bonuses (paid now, spread over years of contract unless released)?

    I would think that if not, both sides can structure a deal that’s great for the team and the player. Obviously the front-loading means more risk for the team, but they might be able to get away with very little guaranteed outside of year 1, and the player gets paid early.

  • mgbode

    no rules against it.

  • mgbode

    no rules against it.

  • jewpants47

    can we talk about that for a second – the garbage pick for a starter trades that happen every year. Schaub. Randy Moss to the Pats, etc.
    Why wouldn’t a pathetic squad like the Browns get in on that action?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well like I wrote with Schaub I think, if true that they had an interest in him at all, that they were waiting for him to be cut given his contract. Unfortunately the other team reportedly interested in him, Oakland, swooped in and got Schaub for a meaningless sixth round pick. Personally I’d have done a fifth round pick given the alternatives available in free agency now. I don’t know.

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    Not getting Moats in here is by far my biggest disappointment this off season in terms of non-Browns free agents. I have to assume Pettine wasn’t interested, because otherwise Moats just made too much sense. And if that’s the case, then I guess we have to trust our new HC. But the fact that he then ends up in the burgh, where he will of course haunt us for years to come because Cleveland, makes the whole thing worse.

  • jewpants47

    agree 100%. so Schaub had one bad season, he was in the pro bowl the season before that. the guy can throw the pigskin around, he’s shown that over his career. and is way better than anyone we’ve had since 99. if nothing else he would be great to help the tbd rookie qb. i would totally give a 5th round pick. what are the odds a 5th rounder has a better career than what Shaub will give you for 3 years.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Except it wasn’t the pick that was the issue, it was his salary of $10M/year. The Browns would probably have been happy to give the pick, but they didn’t want to be paying him that kind of money. As a FA they would likely have gotten him for half that.

    Well, except for the fact that OAK is insane.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well that’s why I think they were waiting for Schaub to be cut. I also think it depended on how much was guaranteed was it the entire amount? Even at $10M they could have afforded him as a backup, to me that is.

  • nj0

    Houstonian who did not want Schaub, especially if it cost $10M and a pick. Like Shammy said, if he had been cut….

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I wasn’t crazy for Schaub but I’d have preferred him as a backup for Hoyer then the list of guys left from which to choose now.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Who is the Houston media slurping as their next QB btw?

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I don’t think they wanted to tie up $10M/year in even a temporary starting QB (which is what I’d have had him as), let alone a pure backup QB.

    Interestingly, he was willing to restructure AFTER the trade with OAK, which makes some sense, but there was no guarantee of that.

    http://www.silverandblackpride.com/2014/3/23/5540818/matt-schaub-restructures-his-contract-with-oakland-raiders

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well I don’t know they had money left and given the other possibilities at backup QB if I had to pay $10M for a year I would have at that point. Key words being if I had to.

  • nj0

    Don’t think there’s any one universal slurpee.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hmmmmm I figured if anyone knew it’d be the media, lol.

  • Anon

    Lock up Haden and sign/trade for Terrelle Pryor perhaps? That would be satisfactory until the draft.

  • vespo09

    I agree that it seems like Pettine just wasn’t interested. Just guessing here, but it might be that Dansby and Moats both have known and limited ceilings, and the leadership wants a new young ILB with a higher ceiling. Not that Dansby isn’t good (he is, but he’s also aging), but I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see us go ILB very early in the draft.

  • tress

    Pryor? Are you kidding?

  • Big Z

    What’s next for the Browns? If history is an accurate indicator, blowing the draft.

  • Dave

    Sadly, I think the Onion might be right about the future plans of the Browns: http://www.theonion.com/articles/browns-eyeing-6-quarterbacks-to-rifle-through-in-2,35601/

  • Chief Blahoo

    I wonder if the Browns could go after Desean Jackson, he’d be a great fit, although a bit overpaid. But that would free us up to go after a QB in the draft early, and he’d have 2 pro bowl caliber receivers to throw to, and a top tier tight end as well. Teddy Bridgewater maybe?

  • nj0

    We’re all aging.

  • Petefranklin

    Repost that link in late November, we’ll either be laughing or drinking.

  • Petefranklin

    Way too expensive, that’s why he’s available.

  • Craig

    What you should realize is when you trade you get that players contract which is somewhere around 10 million a year. If we gave that kind of money to a QB he would not be a back up to Hoyer or a mentor to a rookie. He would be our new starting QB for the Cleveland Browns. Oakland was willing to take that gamble .. thank God !

  • Chief Blahoo

    Maybe, but we have the cap space. And he is coming off a 1,300 yard season, with 9 touchdowns. He’s expensive, but hard to call that overpriced.

  • Petefranklin

    If we take that contract on who do you want to get rid of? Mack? That would allow his agent to construct a front loaded contract that would make farmer have to choose between a combination of reupping Haden, Cameron, Gordon and matching Mack.We just cant afford to get all that done and take on Jackson’s contract.

  • Chief Blahoo

    We have a lot of cap space, i’m pretty sure we can afford Jackson and still resign those guys.

  • Jaker

    In terms of Moats and Carrington, I feel like our FO believes they either weren’t better than anyone we already have or we have a target or two in the draft that would be a cheaper, younger and higher potential option. Carrington would have made more sense if Rubin was released. And I may be in the minority, but I believe we can go into the season with the OL we have (plus Mack).

    I’m glad that they didn’t overpay someone who was a mediocre starter. We still have holes, but that’s where we use ten draft picks. QB, ILB, #2 CB and WR can all be found in our first 7 picks if we use them right.

    Use the picks on the holes. Use the money on our guys: Mack, Haden, Taylor, Cameron, Skrine/Sheard in that order.