Friday, March 20, 2015

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.


  1. Must be nice to paint everything with one brush! Free agency isn't even two weeks old and you've already written off the entire effort. Did you forget that the whole idea here is to "build thru the draft"? FA's , for the most part, are nothing more than place holders while young talent is developed. Your biggest weakness is your duplicity. On one hand you bemoan the loss of Cameron while on the other hand you admit he's one concussion away from the end of his career. Which is it?

    1. Yes, I have written off the effort up to this point. I think I made that rather clear. I can't imagine bettering the situation with so few quality free agents left. All the really good ones are gone.

      As for the placeholders, I hardly would call Randall Cobb, Jerry Hughes and the like placeholders. They are young veterans who are anything but placeholders.

      The Browns now are older but not necessarily better. That is my opinion and I'm sticking with it. Once they play the games, maybe you'll see what I'm seeing now.

      And I knew the Cameron stuff was, as you stated, duplicitous (nice word). But a worrisome tight end, health-wise, is far better than what they've got now.

    2. Once again you miss my point. The BROWNS free agents are nothing more than serviceable place holders until the younger talent develops. That's the whole idea behind building thru the draft. How many big money signings have the Steelers had? Ravens? Bengals? There's a reason they call the first week of free agency "stupid money". You might have a point if we were one or two players away from making a deep run in the playoffs, but we're not, so what's the point in over paying two or three primadonnas when we have five or six holes to fill just to become a contender?

    3. And successfully building thru the draft is why the Steeler and Ravens don't dip their feet in free-agent waters. If the Browns were as successful as those two teams, they wouldn't have to be active in free agency. It's their abysmal record drafting that has put them in this position.

  2. I LOVE Peggy Lee. Her best records (IMO) being the one-two punch of "Black Coffee" and "Dream Street" for Decca Records in the mid 50s. Wine, firelight, a good woman, and Peggy Lee.

    The Browns?
    I think they've pretty much stayed the same in almost every respect, with a slight upgrade at WR and a hole at TE. They can't sign people who don't want to play here so it is what it is. I don't really believe they're done at QB (draft/trade). If they are, they're in about the same spot they were in 2014.

    Strength of schedule is best looked at in the rear-view mirror. That said, the NFC West ain't all that. 2 good teams, by my count.

    So yeah, 7 wins sounds like a reasonable median.

    1. I liked most of what Peggy Lee did for Capitol Records with her then husband-guitarist Dave Barbour. She was also a good lyricist.

      I think her best work was Fever with Joe Mondragon on bass, Shelly Manne on drums (using his fingers) and finger snapping by guitarist Howard Roberts.

      Now the Browns . . . Can't agree with you that they have stayed the same. And I strongly believe they still have the worst WR corps in the league.

      As for not being able to sign people who don't want to play in Cleveland, the problem is to find out why and then fix the problem.

      The QB situation is, at least for the time being, malleable. Unless they can shake someone loose from another team, get used to McCown.

      Strength of sked: Three of last season's seven victories came via the embarrassingly pitiful NFC South. As for this season, St. Louis will be stronger and San Francisco still has way more talent than the Browns.

      They won't come even close to seven victories.