So-so free agency for Browns
The Browns are finished with free agency for now?
In that case, time to slap a grade on what has been added to the club’s roster the last few weeks.
Seven new bodies on the roster. A mixed bag of good, questionable and downright training-camp fodder.
The signings of Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner and Ben Tate provide valuable contributors. There is no question each man will be worth whatever money was spent to get signatures on a contract.
Dansby, only a year older than the departed D’Qwell Jackson, is an immediate upgrade over the popular inside linebacker. He’s bigger, stronger and quicker than Jackson, who is better suited for the 4-3 scheme.
Whitner is another upgrade over the departed T. J. Ward, whose pass coverage left a lot to be desired. He was very strong when playing a box safety, but there’s a lot more to playing strong safety than that. Whitner is every bit the hitter that Ward was and his pass coverage is comparatively superior.
Tate, in extricating himself from the shadow of Houston’s Arian Foster, has wanted to be the feature back for the last couple of seasons. And the Browns are more than happy to accommodate to him.
He will be the feature back in a Kyle Shanahan offense that will stress the run much more this season than last season, when the Browns threw the ball nearly two-thirds of the time because they had no running game.
The big questions are whether Tate can last the season with the beating he will eventually take, and can the front office provide enough backup protection in the event Tate goes down.
After this trio, it’s hard to get excited about the rest of the class.
A lot of people rave about the signing of smallish wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and I’m trying to figure out why. I don’t get it.
Those who rave say Hawkins will be the perfect – well, maybe not perfect, but the next best thing – slot receiver replacing Davone Bess. What has he done to warrant such respect?
Caught 86 passes in 35 games for less than 1,000 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons with Cincinnati. That’s it.
Maybe those fans are looking at Hawkins’ 51-catch season for 533 yards and those four TDs in 2012. Is that something about which to get excited? Not in this corner.
Hawkins is being counted on to take heat off Josh Gordon, who certainly will draw a lot more attention this season after his remarkable season in 2013. In other words, he’s being counted on to be the No. 2 receiver.
One national writer went so far as to compare Hawkins to Wes Welker, when he was a wildly productive wide receiver with the New England Patriots until last season, calling him Welker to Gordon’s (Randy Moss when he was with the Pats). Really?
Nowhere in his three National Football League campaigns did Hawkins provide proof he has the talent to take that big step up and become a high-profile target for whomever the Browns settle on at quarterback.
Now let’s look at tight end Jim Dray. He was signed for only one reason – he can block better than incumbent Gary Barnidge. At 6-5, 255, he has the requisite body type and skill to be an effective blocking tight end. But how often will we see him on the field?
He should be a more than adequate complement to Jordan Cameron, whose pass catching far exceeds his ability to block. It looks as though he will be nothing more than a part-time contributor.
And then there are Paul McQuistan and Isaiah Trufant. As we’ve stated before, if McQuistan becomes a starter, the Browns’ offensive line is in trouble. And Trufant is nothing more than . . . well, I’m not sure exactly what he’s nothing more than.
He is a defensive back who isn’t nearly good enough to crack the starting lineup or play in any of the sophisticated packages coach Mike Pettine and his defensive staff are expected to unveil this season. In fact, it would be surprising if he makes the final roster.
So on the plus side, there are Dansby, Whitner and Tate. In the iffy category are Hawkins and Dray with McQuistan and Trufant bringing up the rear in the “why in the world did the Browns ever sign them?” category.
If the Browns had stopped at the first three, the grade definitely would have been an A. Bringing Hawkins and Dray on board drops that to a B-. And the McQuistan and Trufant signings lower it to a straight C.
One of the main ideas of free agency is to sign players who will contribute on a full-time basis. The Browns are three-for-seven in that category. Hawkins is the X factor because he has never been a starter in the NFL and there are serious questions he can carry a full load.