Perhaps the biggest addition for the Browns…
The offseason for the Cleveland Browns began with some holes to fill at HB, CB, ILB, WR, QB and G. The losses they incurred this offseason were D’Qwell Jackson (ILB) and TJ Ward (SS). The Browns decided not to resign Ward and Jackson was a team cut. Their replacements came via Karlos Dansby (ILB) from the Cardinals and Donte Whitner (SS) from the 49ers. They also managed to keep Alex Mack by matching Jacksonville’s offer sheet, so at least they have another two years with Mack (per the contract, he can opt out after two seasons). Lets see how Cleveland managed their offseason thus far.
During free agency, the Browns where fairly quiet with this position and only managed to sign a reserve player in Isiah Trufant out of New York. Trufant is expected to be a solid contributor, but mostly on special teams, as action on defense will be unlikely. Their defensive backfield was improved in the NFL Draft as they traded out of the 4th pick with Buffalo and received a 1st and a 4th rounder in the 2015 Draft. They then traded up for Justin Gilbert when they moved to the 8th pick. Opposite of Joe Haden, Gilbert will not look any better. At 6′ tall and 4.37 40 time in the combine, Gilbert has all the tools. One of the best cover corners in the draft than also comes with playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. In the 4th round, the Browns also drafted Pierre Desir. Coming in as a project player, he is still one with good size and good potential. At 6’1″, he is very athletic but just needs to improve on his technique. A high ceiling with time available to improve, not to mention learning from Haden, will make this a great choice in the future. Although the Cleveland draft additions helped solidify the defense, their best move came via the Joe Haden contract extension of 5 years at $68 million. Looks like the Brown will be set at the position for years to come.
One can easily argue that the Cleveland Browns had the worst running backs in the NFL last season, but they did add some players that could contribute immediately. Ben Tate was brought in through free agency, and he has proved he could be the #1 back when in Houston. The only knock on his record is the fact that he has yet to play a full season in the NFL due to injuries. During the draft, another trade was made in the 3rd round to get Terrance West, who is another player with great potential like Pierre Desir, but not as much of a project coming in. Also, the Browns will be getting Dion Lewis back from missing all of the 2013 season with a fractured left fibula.
Although getting Karlos Dansby was a good move by the Browns, they did not fill the need at the position as the need was still at ILB before moving on from D’Qwell Jackson. In the 3rd round Cleveland addressed the issue by drafting Christian Kirksey (LB) from Iowa. I doubt Craig Robertson will be unseated by Kirksey, but special teams is where he will make an impact, not to mention he has the potential for being the starter at ILB someday. Compared to the CB and HB positions, the Browns fell a bit short here, but they did add some depth so it is not too bad.
Just in case you haven’t heard, Josh Gordon is facing a season long suspension. I am sure Ray Farmer has heard it probably a million times by now, and as the Browns didn’t address the position in the draft, maybe he heard it a few more. However, Cleveland managed to acquire Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson just before the draft. Now I consider Miles Austin a good receiver, but his injury concerns are far worse than Ben Tate’s, and I can almost guarantee he won’t play a full 16-game season. However, when on the field as a healthy contributor, he is pro-bowl caliber for sure. Burleson is another one with huge injury issues – he got hurt trying to stop a pizza from sliding off his car seat, for crying out loud. While in Chicago, Bennett played the slot, but it looks like the WR slot position will be taken up by Hawkins. With Gordon likely to be out all year and the injury concurs of Austin and Burleson, Bennett could find himself as the #1 or #2 receiver. I do expect to see a lot out of Andrew Hawkins as he brings speed to the slot position and could potentially have a very good year in Cleveland.
The biggest question mark of the off season for the Browns was at QB. Although Hoyer had some very good moment last season, no one really knows what to expect. The position revamp started by cutting Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. Veterans Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen were signed. Then came the draft, and Johnny Manziel was the guy after the first round and Vince Young was sent packing. Even with all the “Johnny Football” hype Manziel brings to Cleveland, at the very least the Browns are now on the map before the season starts. With above-average arm strength and fairly good accuracy, Cleveland could finally have their franchise QB; however, the only concern is whether or not he will learn to beat defenses with his arm instead of trying to run all over the place like he did in college. Undrafted free agent QB Conner Shaw was also signed.
Cleveland added Paul McQuistan to the roster from the Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks. With playing all 16 games and starting 14 last season, his durability and versatility should pay dividend to the Browns offensive line. In the draft, Cleveland also brought in OT Joel Bitonio in the 2nd round. Projected to be a best fit in the interior or at right tackle in the NFL, Bitonio played left tackle at Nevada. Whichever decision the Browns make with him, Bitonio should be a day one starter. He can be placed at either guard or at right tackle, moving Mitchell Schwartz to his natural position of guard. Either way, Bitonio will fit the hole nicely.
After looking at what Cleveland did this offseason it is clear that filling holes with quality players was job number one and they got it done. Finally they have a front office that seems to know what needs to be done and the focus to find exactly who they need to keep and aim at. The Browns are finally heading in the right direction and the AFC North just got a little tougher for the rest of the teams.