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Posts Tagged ‘free agency’

In my last post I laid out a plan for the Browns front office brass to bring in a proven head coach to lead the team. The choices I put forward were Brian Billick, Marty Schottenheimer and David Shaw. After using my Jimmy Haslam checkbook to write one of them a large check, it’s on to a couple more large checks I need to write – pending free agents.

The Browns are actually in a pretty good position related to pending free agents with only a couple contributors eligible for free agency. Those players include center Alex Mack, strong safety T.J. Ward, guard Shawn Lauvao and kicker Billy Cundiff. Running back Willis McGahee and guard Oneil Cousins are free agents too, but they are as good as gone. In my opinion, Lauvao should be as good as gone too so let’s cross him off the list. Cundiff was solid this year, but I wouldn’t give him any more than another one-year deal and possibly look for a kicker late in the draft. That leaves Mack and Ward as the only guys the Browns need to worry about.

With Mack, it wouldn’t make sense to use the franchise tag on him as he’s lumped into the “Offensive Line” tag which is going to end up over $10 million next year. That being said, they should consider giving him a contract in the neighborhood of $5 to $6 million per year for five years which would put him in the top five or so for centers in the league. The team has the cap room, Mack is a two-time Pro-Bowler and he’s consistent and reliable.

Related to T.J. Ward, if the team can’t work out a deal they could end up slapping the Franchise Tag on Ward which would account for about $7 million. They should try to give him a long-term deal somewhere just under that of Kam Chancellor of Seattle who got a four-year deal for $28 million. I’m thinking four years at about $22 million and I’d be happy as a front office.

The next steps will be free agents from other teams and then on to the draft. I already have some strong opinions on this year’s draft, and will share those in the coming days. 

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Cleveland fans lost arguably the best player in the NBA only a couple short years ago when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat. What if Cleveland is paid back in the form of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Peyton Manning, spurning a lucrative offer from the Miami Dolphins in South Beach to come to Cleveland?

Obviously these two scenarios are much different as LeBron James was peaking when he turned his back on his hometown whereas Peyton Manning is on the downside of his career and is coming off a major surgery which cost him the entire 2011 season. Nonetheless, the excitement and passion that the signing of Manning would bring to Northeast Ohio would rival the anger and spite that the exodus of LeBron caused when he stabbed the Cavs and his fans in the back.

To take this unlikely scenario one step further, what if Manning came to the Browns and somehow found a way to help bring the Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl victory to Cleveland? In an area starving for a winner, a Peyton Manning-led championship would temporarily erase the memories of “The Fumble”, “The Drive”, “Red Right 88”,  and “The Decision”. Nothing could ever happen in sports to erase those memories (except maybe a Grand Slam of championships with the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers all winning in the same season) but Peyton Manning would forever be immortalized in the eyes of every sports fan in Northeast Ohio.

Could this happen? Absolutely – because the Browns are one of the few teams who not only need a quarterback, but they also have plenty of salary cap room where they could overpay and sign Manning to bring him to Cleveland. He won’t come here for a discount, but if he gets the Browns to the playoffs is he worth $15 million a year? If Manning wins them a Super Bowl I think every person in Northeast Ohio would say he’s worth $50 million!

Will he come to Cleveland? Realistically no, because the Browns don’t play in a passer friendly environment, don’t have quality receivers and run a very conservative offense. If the Browns would agree to open up the playbook and bring in a playmaker like Vincent Jackson, draft Justin Blackmon, or even bring in Manning’s go-to guy, Reggie Wayne, the offer gets a lot more appealing, but it’s still a reach. As a life-long Cleveland fan I’ve been brainwashed to give the Browns a 1% chance of signing Manning because good things don’t happen to Cleveland sports teams. However, to quote Jim Carrey (Lloyd Christmas) from Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

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Here in Cleveland you can’t go 15 minutes without hearing about Robert Griffin III on the radio, TV or from the NFL fans in your office. I’d say about 75% of the people here in NE Ohio would love to see RGIII in Brown and Orange next season…but fans in Washington D.C., Miami, Seattle and even some in Buffalo, Kansas City and Denver want him in their city too. The question of the off-season so far is where will RGIII call home two months from now?

People tend to forget that something called Free Agency is going to take place starting about two weeks from now (March 13) and there are a handful of starting-caliber QB’s on the market this off-season.  Here are the QB’s who I could see a team looking at as a starter for 2012:

Peyton Manning – no explanation needed
Matt Flynn – two big games in Green Bay are going to earn Flynn two extra zeroes on his paycheck for 2012
Jason Campbell – played very well in Oakland until he got hurt
Kyle Orton – had two solid seasons in Denver on a team with a terrible defense – throws more TD than INT
Chad Henne – still young and has potential and upside still

Consider this RGIII suitors…what if two of the top four teams who are considered to be the front runners to pursue RGIII (Browns, Redskins, Dolphins and Seahawks) end up signing Manning and Flynn at the beginning of Free Agency? Immediately St. Louis loses a ton of leverage. That’s likely the reason you are hearing so much from St. Louis about their willingness to trade the pick. The value of that pick won’t be higher than it is right now when, in theory, there are four teams who are likely in the market for Mr. Griffin.

As a Browns fan, here’s the scenario I’d love to see happen as I’m one of the many who want the Browns to get RGIII. Miami decides to throw cash at Manning and they sign him once he’s cut by the Colts. Next, the Redskins decide they don’t want to mortgage their future (like they did for several years in a row) and give up the draft picks to trade up in front of the Browns so they throw big money at Matt Flynn and sign him. Now, the Browns main competition for Griffin is the Seahawks who draft 12th overall. If I’m the Rams I don’t want to face RGIII twice a year by trading the pick to the Seahawks, plus, I don’t want to drop down 12 spots in this year’s draft because I know I can get an impact player in LT Matt Kalil or WR Justin Blackmon if I pick 4th. One other thought…what if Seattle signs Orton, Campbell or Henne as their starter…now the Browns may be able to stay put at #4 and get Griffin without making the trade. It’s risky, and St. Louis may pull a fast one and draft RGIII knowing someone will want to trade for him, so that’s why I think the trade ends up happening. Either way the Browns can make the trade for a reasonable price (both first-round picks this year, a third in 2013 and one of their two fourth round picks this year) and give all of us Clevelanders another reason to think “Maybe Next Year” is finally here.

PS – Remember the Browns’ trade with the Falcons in last season’s draft? Do you know where Les Snead, new GM for the Rams, came from? That’s right…the Falcons, the same team the Browns made their first round trade with last season. Hopefully that familiarity helps in getting a deal done this year too.

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There is nothing perfect about Northeast Ohio’s beloved Cleveland Browns, but here is my “In a perfect world” scenario related to free agency for Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and the boys for this off-season. I’ll follow this up with a “Perfect World” article about the Browns’ draft plans later this week or early next week.

First, I think they’ve taken a step in the right direction by hiring an experienced offensive coordinator in Brad Childress. He didn’t handle being a head coach very well, but if he can focus on the offense and playcalling I think that’s one positive so far.

The first item of business for the Brownies is looking at their own crop of potential free agents. At first glance there are only a few names that stick out as “must sign” kind of players. First on that list is MLB D’Qwell Jackson who may be one of the more underrated LB’s in the game. The Browns signed him to a one-year deal this season after missing two straight years so let’s hope he remembers that and gives the team a bit of a hometown discount for their loyalty. Next up, Peyton Hillis. After dominating in 2010 he fell off the wagon and was injured for most of 2011. He’s not a perfect fit in a true West Coast offense (ex: Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Ricky Watters, Roger Craig) but when he’s on I think he’s a top 10 RB in the league. I think they Browns will try to bring him back at a reasonable number. For some comparison, look at the deal the Giants gave Ahmad Bradshaw last year (click here to see) and if Hillis would take a similar deal I think the Browns are in good shape. Two down and a couple to go. Kicker Phil Dawson played on a one-year “Franchise Tag” deal last year but that’s not happening this year. He’s 37 years old, but is a solid and reliable kicker. If he’s willing to sign for around $2-$2.5 million per year for two years I think the team pulls the trigger. If not, unfortunately it’s time to let him go and maybe find a young kicker late in the draft or free agency. Finally, the other guys who may warrant consideration are CB Dmitri Patterson and S/CB Mike Adams. If it were me, I’d show Adams the door and see if we can bring back Patterson as he played the Nickel corner very well and is a solid backup on the outside.

Now on to bigger and more exciting topics…unrestricted free agency. The Browns aren’t known to make splashes in free agency, partially because the team didn’t want to waste money when they knew they weren’t going to win and partially because it’s hard to get players to come play in NE Ohio without overpaying them. With a projected $30 million or more in cap space there’s no excuse for not trying this year. For me, priority #1 has to be WR. This is a good year to be in the market for a WR as there are several really good ones who’ll potentially be on the market. They include, Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem, and Darrin Chiaverini. (The true Browns fans will get that joke). As a GM I’d go after DeSean Jackson or Wes Welker first as both are good short route runners and yards-after-the-catch guys who are necessary in the West Coast offense. Jackson can stretch the field too whereas Welker is somewhat limited there. Then, I’d look at either Vincent Jackson or Dwayne Bowe who both are big, tall receivers but also have some diva qualities about them too. I think both of these guys are going to get overpaid which leads to the next player on my wish list…Stevie Johnson. His arrow is pointing up but he may be looking for big money too. He’s young, has good hands, and would instantly be the #1 WR in Cleveland from day one. In the end I don’t know if we get any of these guys, but I’d be hoping for either DeSean Jackson and/or Stevie Johnson and I’d be happy.

The other three areas the Browns would love to address in free agency are Right Defensive End, Linebacker, and Right Tackle.  Unfortunately the tackle market is thin this off-season with Jared Gaither and Demetrius Bell headlining the list. Plus, how have our last few free agent RT’s worked out…Kevin Shaffer, John St. Clair and Tony Pashos. Yikes. Let’s leave this one to the draft which then leads us to finding a DE to play opposite of Jabaal Sheard. Sheard was a beast from about week four through the end of the season last year. With someone who has a pulse on the other side of the line from him he’ll be even better. Two big names would be Mario Williams ($$$) from the Texans and Robert Mathis from the Colts. The Browns have the money to sign Williams, but would he come to Cleveland? Probably not, but fans can dream. Mathis is intriguing but it really depends how much money he’ll be looking for. Another guy who’d be a great fit would be John Abraham from the Falcons but his downside is that he’s no spring chicken so he’d be a two-year player probably. In the end, the Browns probably strike out here and look to fill this hole in the draft too. Finally, the Browns starting LB’s last season weren’t terrible with Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong and D’Qwell Jackson but they had no depth. Fujita started looking old last year and is probably a fourth LB at this point in his career. Possible upgrades include Leroy Hill from the Seahawks or even Ahmad Brooks from the 49ers. Hill averages around 90 tackles and three or four sacks per season and would be a great fit. Brooks is more of a third down specialist but would help improve the Browns’ pass rush.

In summary, if someone the football gods can be good to Cleveland one time and the Browns can come away from free agency with D’Qwell Jackson, Peyton Hillis, DeSean Jackson or Stevie Johnson and Leroy Hill they’d already be a drastically better team on paper heading into 2012. What does that get them? Not much, just ask the Redskins, but it would give fans something to look forward to come September.

Finally, in a bit of self-promotion, if you don’t know about my other website please feel free to check it out at www.neilstein.com. I focus 95% of that website to the NFL Draft and items pertaining to the Browns and their plans for the NFL Draft. It’s a work in progress, but right now you can check out my article on what the Browns should do with their two, first-round draft picks this year. My plan is to trade up…not with the #4 pick but with the #22 pick. Click here to read more

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