Although the NFL Free Agency is still relatively fresh, with months to go before it ends, the Cleveland Browns have already had an impactful free agency period. While they’ve gained a few different players at key positions, they’ve also lost plenty of young talent.
Their first move addressed a major need, as they signed the seven-year veteran Brian Hartline, former Wide Receiver of the Miami Dolphins. The Browns’ receiving corps have left a lot to be desired, especially last season. Also, their most talented wide receiver, Josh Gordon, will be serving his one-year ban from the NFL next season, so the team has been borderline desperate to sign talented receivers.
Although Hartline’s production and talent doesn’t nearly match that of Gordon’s (when he does play), he is a proven quality possession receiver, and the move theoretically gives the Browns’ offense a chance to be a possession-oriented team. (Current receiver A.J. Hawks’ style of play closely mirrors that of Hartline’s.) The Browns will have more opportunities to bring in receivers, and perhaps one of their two first-round picks in the upcoming draft—12th and 19th—could be used to obtain more young talent.
It was then announced that the Browns had agreed in terms on a contract with tight end Jordan Cameron, one of the game’s younger, more promising tight ends. Then, in a rather puzzling turn of events, Cameron’s camp announced that he would be instead signing with the Miami Dolphins and that any report of an agreement with the Browns was completely fabricated by the media. Cameron will surely be missed, even though he rarely has seen the field in recent seasons due to a slew of crippling injuries. Nonetheless, when Cameron played he represented a constant threat and matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. His loss is a devastating blow for the Browns.
On Monday the Browns announced they signed the talented veteran cornerback Tramon Williams to a three-year $21 million deal. The contract is roughly equivalent to what a top-20 cornerback contract is worth, but the Browns were desperate to bolster their secondary after losing Buster Skrine in this free agency. Skrine’s absence will undoubtedly be felt, as he and Joe Haden had developed a strong comfort zone with one another and combined to form a formidable secondary. William’s signing, however, does a sound job of closing the wound. He is an eight-year veteran (all with the Green Bay Packers) and is an NFL champion. He will provide leadership and experience to a group of younger players that occupy the Browns’ secondary.
In a not so surprising move, the Browns also lost Brian Hoyer to the Houston Texans and elected to sign two other quarterbacks in his place. Hoyer had publicly said that he would decide to go wherever he deemed best for him and his family and never gave any form of commitment to returning to the Browns next season. Instead, they signed journeyman quarterback (QB) Thad Lewis, who is likely to compete with Connor Shaw for the rights to be the Browns’ third-string QB. They also signed the 36-year-old veteran QB Josh McCown, who is the likely Week 1 starter for the team. McCown, although not supremely talented nor historically successful on the professional level, is expected to provide a calming presence at the helm while simultaneously helping mentor and develop the Browns’ mercurial QB prospect, Johnny Manziel, who is still currently in rehab. As it stands now, the Browns have placed a lot of faith in Manziel, his recovery and his commitment to the game of football. McCown and Lewis, it seems, have been brought here to give him the time he needs to develop.
The Browns also signed defensive end Randy Starks. He has been brought to Cleveland with the hopes of bolstering the team’s interior pass rushing while also helping to stop the run. He is an 11-year veteran who played the last seven years with the Miami Dolphins, and his two-year contract implies that he will be a part-time player for the Browns (most likely due to his age, 31). The team also extended the contract of nose tackle John Hughes, locking him down for the long term on a four-year extension. However, the team also lost defensive end Jabaal Sheard via free agency to the New England Patriots, and he has been a key component to the team’s pass-rush for the past four seasons.
The Browns have also re-signed a handful of less impactful players, but overall their free agency has thus far been somewhat of a rollercoaster.
As the saying goes, teams don’t win the Superbowl in the offseason. While the Browns certainly don’t have title hopes entering the 2015-2016 season, one cannot predict just how impactful these signings will be, at least not yet. They’ve brought in some fresh faces and have lost some extremely familiar ones, and with that being said, it is impossible to truly grade how the gains and losses will impact the team’s success until roughly the midway point of the upcoming season.