No excitement in free agency
Peggy Lee once asked the musical question, “Is That All There Is?” The same can be asked of the Browns’ front office with regard to how they have handled this season’s free agency.
Is that all there is, Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine, when it comes to improving your team? Do you honestly believe the 2015 Cleveland Browns have been improved with your foray thus far into the free-agent market?
Do you in your heart of hearts think the addition of quarterbacks Josh McCown and Thad Lewis and wide receivers Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe will improve your offense? Or that cornerback Tramon Williams and defensive tackle Randy Starks will help the defense?
The only thing you accomplished with those signings is increase the average age of your team. Nothing wrong with signing veterans, but when those veterans are clearly on the downside of their careers, that’s a problem.
The whole idea is to grab young veterans, those in their mid- and late 20s, when they are in their prime and still have several seasons left to make valuable contributions. And there were several of the unrestricted variety out there who could have helped.
Only one problem. It didn’t take long for Farmer and Pettine to find out some of their primary targets preferred to play elsewhere. Or more negatively put, anywhere in the National Football League but Cleveland.
They found that out the hard way when tight end Jordan Cameron, one of their own, shopped the Browns’ offer and found a willing partner in the Miami Dolphins and couldn’t say yes fast enough. The Dolphins will find out soon enough that Jordan is an injury waiting to happen.
And where do fading players who have been released and find out practically nobody wants them wind up? That’s right. Cast your eyes to the shores of Lake Erie. That’s where the team with about $45 million in salary cap space plays.
Of course, the spin doctors at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. trumpet the arrival of the above retreads as though they give hope for the immediate future. Some fans will buy it. The more sophisticated ones know these moves were of the Band-Aid variety and cringe at what lies ahead.
The Browns need truckloads of help on the offensive side of the ball and all the so-called smart folks in Berea could come up with were players who, for the most part, were no longer wanted and dropped from their respective teams.
McCown epitomizes the term journeymen. He is not better than Brian Hoyer. Lewis is training camp fodder. Hartline is, at best, a possession receiver with marginal speed. He’ll be this season’s Miles Austin.
Bowe, who agreed to terms with the Browns to a two-year contract Thursday, is a classic underachiever. He should have thrived the last two seasons in Kansas City in coach Andy Reid’s offense and failed badly. He did not score a touchdown last season and played in every game.
The signing of Williams, who just turned 32, is a clear sign the Browns are not exactly sanguine about the immediate future of Justin Gilbert. Last season’s No. 1 pick in the college draft saw free agent K’Waun Williams take many of his reps last season.
The Green Bay Packers, wanting to get younger in the secondary, released Williams, whose claim to fame is he has started every game in his eight-season career. And most corners begin to fade quickly in their early 30s.
The Browns allowing a much younger Buster Skrine to escape in favor of Williams is a head scratcher. Skrine’s sharp improvement last season helped the Browns’ secondary put up some decent numbers.
The signing of Starks is another puzzler. Yes, the club was last in the NFL last season at stopping the run. But that was because the line, expected to be the strength of the defense, battled injuries all season and did not play one game with the group the club had counted on coming out of training camp.
Starks is an old 31. This will be his 12th NFL season. He brings savvy and not much else. If he survives training camp, he will be nothing more than an occasional contributor.
Last season as a rookie general manager, Farmer was significantly more successful, bagging safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and running back Ben Tate.
Whitner and Dansby were vital contributors throughout the season from a playing and locker room presence. Hawkins was the club’s best receiver. Tate was released midway through the season with the emergence of rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.
Now stop and think about the new free-agent signings, then ask yourself one question: Have the Browns improved themselves enough at this point to at least match last season’s victory total of seven? If the answer is yes, ask another question: Where?
Do you really believe they are improved with maybe the worst starting quarterback in not just the AFC North, the entire AFC, but the entire league? And probably the worst pass receiving corps? Not to mention their best tight end is now in Miami.
Yes, the offensive line is solid on the left side and at center. But the right side is clearly suspect. It is a highly overrated line, especially in pass protection.
If the answer is no, they have not improved themselves, welcome to the land of reality. Only an optimist with tunnelvision sees nothing but a bright future out there for the team in arguably the toughest division in the NFL.
Then factor in that this season, the Browns play the eighth-toughest schedule in the NFL. Last season, they played the sixth easiest, which included the extremely weak NFC South. This season, it’s the extremely tough NFC West.
So by virtue of what Farmer has done in free agency, it is easy to see why conspiracy theorists think the Browns are positioning themselves to once again wind up in the top three in the 2016 college draft when high profile quarterbacks Cardale Jones of Ohio State and Connor Cook of Michigan State are expected to be on the board.
Both are local kids, Jones from Glenville High School and Cook, who played at Walsh Jesuit High School.
Bottom line for the 2015 season: Farmer, who has 10 picks this season, had better have a hellacious draft.