A better team already
On a day when the Browns bid farewell to future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, who retired after 11 seasons, they said hello to four more newcomers as General Manager John Dorsey stepped up the pace in reimaging the 2018 roster.
Cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and T. J. Carrie, running back Carlos Hyde and tight end Darren Fells joined previously reported defensive lineman Chris Smith, offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Damarious Randall.
Dorsey’s wild spending and trading spree to officially kick off free agency on Wednesday has brought 10 new faces to the roster, portending a significant rise in the average age and veteran leadership.
And when the GM is finished, many fans will have some problems recognizing the new iteration from the one that concluded the miserable, long-suffering and historically embarrassing 2017 season.
It was a roster that needed a whole lot more than a tweak here and there. It needed a vast overhaul and it didn’t take long for Dorsey to figure it out. Thus the first wave of what eventually will turn out to be a massive rebuild. The reconstruct is merely in its embryonic stages.
When he is finished, and that includes making several members from last season’s team disappear, many fans will finally get a sense of what a real National Football League team looks like.
At first blush, it sure appears as though Dorsey thought little of the secondary last season with the signings of Randall, Carrie and Mitchell, all young veterans. Randall has already been plugged in at free safety, liberating Jabrill Peppers to move up to strong safety, where he should have been all along.
Mitchell and Carrie most likely will battle to play opposite Jason McCourty at strongside corner with the loser becoming a strong candidate to play the slot in the nickel and dime packages. It represents a definite upgrade.
The signing of Fells signals a new philosophy with regard to the running game, an aspect of the Cleveland offense the last two seasons that was virtually abandoned by head coach Hue Jackson. The 6-7, 270-pound Fells is a sound blocker.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a big fan of the ground game, having established it as the perfect partner for the passing of Ben Roethlisberger for the last half dozen seasons in Pittsburgh.
The most curious signing, however, brought Hyde back to Ohio. The Cincinnati native and former Ohio State star played four seasons for the San Francisco 49ers, scoring 21 touchdowns, rushing for more than 2,700 yards and catching 109 passes.
It is yet another upgrade over the departed Isaiah Crowell, who signed with the New York Jets. But it also cast some doubt whether Dorsey is signaling the Browns might pass on Saquon Barkley as the overall top pick in next month’s college draft because he seems to have secured his No. 1 running back.
An argument can be made that a team never has enough running backs. The prospect of Barkley and Hyde on the same roster – and sometimes in the same backfield – could be intimidating to opposing defenses. There is no reason they could not co-exist.
All you have to do is look at what happened down in New Orleans last season when rookie Alvin Kamara joined veteran Mark Ingram Jr. in the Saints offense and not only set the league on fire, their success made quarterbacking a lot easier for Drew Brees.
The loss of the peerless Thomas, however, still has to be addressed by Dorsey, who brought in Hubbard and Stephenson as insurance. Replacing him has leaped to the top of the GM’s to-do- list.
He has two options with the fourth pick, one on each side of the football, should he grab a quarterback with the top pick and pass on Barkley one way or the other.
He could draft North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, giving Myles Garrett a pass-rushing partner. Or he could pick Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson and move left guard Joel Bitonio out to left tackle, a position he played in college, That part of the puzzle is still yet to be played out.
After the first wave of free agency, though, the scorecard says Dorsey has picked up at least five, possibly six new starters who bring NFL experience and production to the table and already makes the Browns a better and decidedly more competitive team.