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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Pro’s

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.

Con’s

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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Should The Browns Rescind Their Transition Tag On Alex Mack?


I feel like it was just yesterday that Alex Mack’s Agent, Marvin Demoff, said that “I’m confident we can come up with a structure that would have a reasonable likelihood to not be matched by the Browns — and would be in full compliance with the collective bargaining agreement”. What Demoff likely meant was a sneaky deal that had an absurd roster bonus next year, say $40 million dollars, that even if the Browns matched, would essentially force them to cut Mack before the start of the next league year or be destroyed from a cap perspective.

Thankfully, Mack has not visited with any other teams and has generated little interest. The teams like the Colts and Buccaneers that were deemed likely landing places have signed or re-signed other centers.

With Mack’s market drying up, it begs the question of whether or not the Browns should rescind their transition tag on Mack. $10 million dollars is an absurd salary for a center, and Mack isn’t even the best center in the NFL.  Until he signs the tag offer, the Browns are allowed to pull the offer back. They would risk losing Mack, but with a shrinking market elsewhere, it would likely force Mack back to the table, as the Browns are still likely to be his best bet for a long term deal near the money he likely wants. Additionally, it would send a strong message that the Browns are not going to be held hostage by their free agents. Last, with Mack clearly not commanding the interest that his agent bragged that he would, it would give the Browns a much stronger position at the bargaining table.

In my opinion, Mack was mislead by his agent, and really deserves a slice of humble pie. Contract numbers in the NFL are based on market value, and since Mack has virtually no market outside of Cleveland. It’s time to play rough, and for Ray Farmer to take control of this Alex Mack situation, which had gotten a little unwieldy.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

Ben Tate Highlights and Film Study


For those who follow me regularly, you know that I am a big proponent a film study. The best way to evaluate a player, simply put, is to watch them play. What does the tape tell us about new Browns running back Ben Tate?

If I was asked to describe Ben Tate in one word it would be versatile. Tate is not a true power back, but he has the size and strength to break through first tacklers. He is not a true speed back, but he has great acceleration can explode through gaps. He doesn’t have Barry Sanders moves, but he does have a certain elusiveness. Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

Conclusion: Tate is a multi-purpose back who can be the primary runner in the proper system. Having complimentary backs like Lewis and Baker should help Tate by keeping defense is from loading up the box. Injury is probably my biggest concern, as he spent most of last year nursing a rib injury. Tate is tough though, and tried to play through it. It remains to be seen if he is durable enough to be the primary running back for a team. If he can stay healthy however, I think he can thrive.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

A Deeper Look At New Browns WR Andrew Hawkins


I’ve said in a few places that I love the Andrew Hawkins signing. This is a big part of the reason why. Both his story, and his incredible speed and play-making abilities. Watch what happens in this video ever time Hawkins gets into space. He reminds me of Darren Sproles if he lined up at slot.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

Taking A Look Back And Ahead In Browns Free Agency


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In a statement released today, Browns General Manager Ray Farmer said the team has added players “that will continue to push in the direction we want this team to go.”

“Free agency is well under way. We’ve added several players to the roster that will continue to push in the direction we want this team to go. A couple key things to keep in mind: What we’re doing is finding talented players that can be good starters in this league, and guys that can compete to push those guys that end up being the starters.  Since we last talked about the state of our roster, we’ve added Jim Dray, Ben Tate and now Andrew Hawkins – all offensive guys who we think can help advance our mission. These acquisitions are about steadying our ship and moving Cleveland closer to competing in our division and competing for championships.”

The team seemed focused on filling roster holes early in free agency. After cutting ILB D’Qwell Jackson and letting SS TJ Ward walk in free agency veterans LB Karlos Dansby and SS Donte Whitner.  The team also got ERFA WR Andrew Hawkins to sign offer sheet, which the Bengals today decided not to match, to fill the slot position created by cutting troubled WR Davone Bess. The team also signed CB/ST Isaiah Trufant.

The big splash however, came when the Browns spent three days negotiating with RB Ben Tate. Tate has been tied to the Browns going back as early as last pre-season. The Browns went about the Tate deal the right way; they kept him in town throughout the process, and worked out an incredibly good contract.

“Like Coach [Mike Pettine] has articulated, we want guys that play like Browns, and we feel like every player we’ve added in free agency embodies the characteristics we want: Passion, toughness, relentlessness, competitiveness, accountability and productivity.” Farmer said.

So where do the Browns go from here? I’ve got some targets I think the Browns will show some interest in.

CB Aaron Berry

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The Browns have already met with Aaron Berry once, and I’ve heard there is still interest there. Berry came in to the league as an undrafted free agent, but earned decent playing time in New York under then DC Mike Pettine. Berry has had some injury issues (he tore his ACL last year), but if healthy he does have starting potential.

DE/DL Alex Carrington

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Carrington got to Cleveland last night, and is expected to meet with the team this morning. He played last year on the Bills under Coach Pettine. The thing I like about Carrington is his versatility. He can play any spot on the line, and potentially OLB if needed.

QB Rex Grossman

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The Browns have been rumored for weeks to be in talks with the Texans to acquire Matt Schaub. At the end of the day, I think the Browns will balk at Schaub’s massive base salary of 14.5 million dollars. That we’ve been in a position to get Rex Grossman for a fairly cheap price. While I highly doubt that Grossman will be viewed as a legitimate competitor for the starting job against Brian Hoyer, He will give you a veteran mentor to help teach Shanahan’s offensive scheme.

LB Arthur Moats

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Moats has been a rumored Browns target since the day Mike Pettine was hired. He was at the core of Pettine’s defense in Buffalo, and is a solid inside linebacker who can disrupt an offense. I’ve heard some reports go as far as to say a deal has already been mapped out between the Browns and Moats, but I find that unlikely, as it likely would have been signed already this late in free agency. That said, I feel like Moats is a probable signing at some point this off-season.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

Breaking Down Ben Tate’s Contract


Upon further examination of the deal that the Browns signed with RB Ben Tate, it appears that GM Ray Farmer may have hit a homerun, and quite possibly speaks to the idea that Tate actually wanted to play in Cleveland.

The basics on the deal: It’s with $6.2 million dollars over two years. $1.5 million dollars is a signing bonus, with a total of $2.5 million dollars guaranteed.  Tate’s base salaries are $1.2 million in year one, $2 million in year two.  Additionally, he gets a $500,000 yards based incentive, as well as a $750,000 roster bonus that is paid out at $46,875 per game that Tate is active. As far as the cap goes, Tate counts $2.406 million against this year, $3.7 million against the 2015 cap. Numbers courtesy of @RavensInsider.

What does all this mean? The Browns got a great deal on Ben Tate. Tate was considered the most sought after running back in Free Agency, an exciting runner entering what should be his prime years. There’s really no other way to slice this, Ray Farmer did a great job.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.