Grading The Browns Free Agency

Now that things have calmed down a bit in the Cleveland Browns free agency period, lets take a look back at what they’ve done so far and give out some grades on the signings.

The New Additions

1. Donte Whitner, Safety


The Deal: 4 years, $28 million

The Grade: A-

I like Donte Whitner a lot. I think the Browns did well to upgrade on TJ Ward’s suspect pass defense, and Whitner should be an immediate boost there. They did so intelligently however, by replacing the hard hitting Ward with the harder hitting Whitner. Well done.

2. Karlos Dansby, Inside LInebacker


The Deal: 4 years, $24 million. Heavily front-loaded.

The Grade: B+

I think Dansby is a definite upgrade over D’Qwell Jackson. He’s as good a tackler, better pass rusher, better pass defender, and as good of a leader. I like the way the deal the Browns gave Dansby is structured, but I do have to question both the length and the massive dollar value. Dansby is 32, and his deal last year was 1 year, 2.25 million from the Cardinals. He was certainly worth more than that, but I think the Browns overpaid a bit. Still, solid addition, solid grade.

3. Isaiah Trufant, Cornerback


The Deal: 2 years, $1.54 million.

The Grade: D+

The deal is small, but Trufant isn’t very good. He’s 31, so really past the point of redemption, and hasn’t played much anytime recently. He did play under Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine in New York, but the idea of bringing in players you’re familiar with is vastly overrated in cases like this. The Browns needed a good CB2, and the only guy they’ve signed is Trufant.

4. Ben Tate, Running Back


The Deal: 2 years, $7 million. Incentive based around game activity.

The Grade: A

I love this signing. I love the contract the Browns worked out. Tate has had some injury issues, but when healthy he’s been an incredibly versatile runner who could easily shoulder the bulk of carries in an offense. The deal the Browns gave Tate will motivate him to stay healthy, as he gets paid a bonus of $46,875 per game he plays. I think Tate will be a great upgrade and play well for the Browns.

5. Andrew Hawkins, Wide Receiver


The Deal: 4 years, $13.6 million.

The Grade: B-

My lower grade on the Hawkins signing is primarly because I think the Browns overpaid on a receiver who has yet to be proven, is a little jittery and badly undersized. That said, I love Hawkins speed and explosive ability to turn plays into monster gains. I like the idea of signing Hawkins very much, just worry about the amount of guaranteed money and length of deal we gave him. I do think if properly used in the Browns offense, he’ll be a contributor and playmaker.

6. Jim Dray, Tight End


The Deal: 3 years, $5.625 million.

The Grade: C-

I don’t dislike this signing, that’s not the reason for my weak grade. Dray is a good blocking tight end. He’s big and strong and can even catch. I just don’t get signing another Tight End. We have more tight ends than any other position on our current roster. We have so many more urgent needs, I just caught fall in love with depth signings.

Players the Browns Released Or Did Not Re-Sign

1. TJ Ward

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

The Grade: C

I don’t love the idea that we let a young talented player walk away in free agency. Good teams don’t let players they drafted walk away after their rookie deals. That said, the reason I don’t entirely hate the move is because we signed a suitable replacement (Donte Whitner) and because of the flaws in Ward’s game (weakness in pass coverage), I’m willing to give it an average grade.

2. D’Qwell Jackson

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade: B

It was hard to watch the Browns cut ties with a player that so many of us have come to respect and like. That said, it made a lot of sense from a financial perspective (cap number) and on the field perspective (weakness in coverage, slow speed, inability to rush the passer). DQ gave the Browns and Browns fans his prime years, and now wasn’t a bad time to part ways.

3. Brandon Weeden

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade: A+++

I don’t care if it caused a small cap hit. I don’t care. Brandon Weeden was a tragic draft day mistake, and a tragic failure every single time he was on the field for the Browns. Sometimes, you have to pay up for mistakes.

4. Jason Campbell

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade A-

I don’t have anything against Jason Campbell. I thought he looked really good at times, but age and injuries led to some wildly inconsistent play down the stretch last year. I thank Jason for his efforts and am fine with moving on.

5. Oniel Cousins

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

Grade: A+

Oniel Cousins was dreadfully bad when he played last year. His performance against Miami last year was bad enough to warrant an immediate removal from the roster. In any case, the Browns pulled an addition by subtraction move by getting better simply by getting rid of Cousins.

6. Shawn Lauvao

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

Grade: A

Lauvao is another player the Browns did well in not bringing back. He struggled over his entire tenure with the Browns, and has reached a point in his career where a major improvement is unlikely.

7. Davone Bess

Mode of Departure: Released

Grade: A+

Davone Bess needed to go, and the Browns had the foresight to put in language in his contract making it possible for them to void it if he screwed up, which he did. Good riddance.

Overall Grade


The Browns replaced the players on defense that they chose not to return or were released, and in both cases upgraded. They retained Alex Mack via the Transition Tag, which should help give their line some continuity moving forward. They added a replacement for Davone Bess and playmaker in Hawkins. They significantly upgraded at Running Back, and cut a significant portion of the dead weight on the team overall.


The Browns did not upgrade at areas of concern, especially at the Guard positions an Cornerback position. The need in these areas is so important that they would have been wise to sign at least one free agent as well as drafting a player for those areas.

Final Grade: B

The Browns have had a solid free agency period at this point, but have missed out on reasonably price talent at areas of major need for them. Overall, they have done a good, not great, job.


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