Some highlights from the Josh McCown conference call with Cleveland media on Monday.
On being the 23rd different starting quarterback since 1999, with many of them in the past well-meaning and good guys:
- “It’s obviously a tall order. My reaction is that that is in the past. I’ve got to hone in on this team in this year and play good football and do what it takes for this team to win football games. You can’t get caught up in that. Like you said, a lot of ‘well-meaning guys,’ every guy comes in with the same mindset and intentions and mine will be no different.”
McCown is right. Everyone the Browns have tried comes in with the same intentions, goals and mindset. Nobody signs and says he expects to be the guy who hands off to the next quarterback. Finding the guy who sticks has been the challenge.
More on the starting quarterback names on that jersey:
- “If you just looked at it like that and just said 22 guys or whatever have been here before then it’s just, ‘Hey, let’s pack up and go home because it’s pointless,’ but that is not my mindset. That is not my attitude. I want to attack this thing and do everything I can to change that and more than anything, help this team win football games.”
On the visit McCown had with the Browns and how important it was to his signing:
- “It really solidified to me that things are going in the right direction.”
This is not atypical, and in one sense illustrates the reality that the NFL's 16-game season overexagerates the importance of what people say. There is more dead time between games, and more time to examine words. In the offseason, players move from team to team and always (and understandably) talk confidently of their new team and positively of their visit. The statements are sincere. But they matter a lot less than wins in October, November and December.
On the difficulties the Browns faced this offseason:
- “I think it’s important to understand and to remember that there’s a lot of people going through last year’s situation from ownership, to the general manager to the head coach who were all in their first year of something. For me, I took that into consideration and look the totality of it and said, ‘It seems like they made a really good step in this first year, all things considered.’ That part is encouraging to me.”
McCown’s statement echoed Jimmy Haslam’s in February that a 7-9 record in the big picture was a positive, and even with all that has happened since that is not an unfair position.
On the 1-10 record as a starter in Tampa Bay:
- “Yeah, not a whole lot to say about it, other than it just wasn’t good enough. I’ve said it before. I don’t shy away from it. In that situation, I wasn’t good enough in that situation to pull us out of that.”
Accountability is always a good thing. This statement ties into another when McCown was asked if his decision to join the Browns was based on the chance to start:
- “For me, it was more of what’s the right fit, and if I go there, can we win football games and be productive? And NFL coaching experience was big for me. Just having guys that have been in the league for a while.”
Clearly the Browns staff is not overflowing with experience. Mike Pettine is a second year head coach and the Browns have a first-year offensive coordinator, quarterback coach and receivers coach. This statement, though, might be best taken as referring more to the fact that QB coach Marcus Arroyo took over in Tampa last season after Jeff Tedford had to leave due to a health issue. Arroyo, 35, was thrust into the job, and the results were not great.
- “I’ll leave those conversations between myself and the Browns.”
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) Will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.
Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions reporter) will take us behind the Lions' decision to avoid franchise-tagging defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and also give us an idea of where the prized lineman might end up.
Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will join to make sense of New England's decision to place the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, instead of potentially doing so with free-agent defensive backs Darrelle Revis or Devin McCourty.
Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter) will give us an update on the Cowboys' apparent decision to let DeMarco Murray, 2014's rushing leader, test the open market.
Sticking with offense, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) checks in to outline why the Packers may be content doing the same with receiver Randall Cobb, who reportedly was looking to stay in Green Bay for $12 million a year.
As always, viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
In 2013 and 2012, he was targeted 130 and 125 times (all according to ESPN Stats and Information).
That alone explains the drop in Hartline’s numbers last season, as he caught 39 passes, compared to 76 and 74 the previous two seasons. It’s a pretty basic fact: If a team doesn’t throw a player’s way he won’t have as many catches.
Which is why it’s good to know that the Browns are bringing Hartline in for a visit on Tuesday. He is 28, stands 6-foot-2, went to Ohio State and two years ago led Miami with 76 catches and 1,016 yards — his second 1,000-yard season in Miami. In 2013, he signed a five-year, $30.7 million contract with the Dolphins, but he was released in February.
The difference from ’13 to ’14? A new coordinator in Bill Lazor, who simply did not utilize Hartline as much as he had been used, focusing instead on Mike Wallace and rookie Jarvis Landry — both targeted 111 times, and neither topping 1,000 yards.
An objective look at the numbers indicates that Hartline still has something left and he can contribute. He might not be a No. 1 receiver, but he can be a very effective No. 2. His numbers are good, he doesn’t have an unusual drop percentage (4.7 percent the last three years, compared to the league average of 4.2), and he provides something the Browns lack.
He just needs the ball thrown his way.
The fact the Browns brought him in for a visit is a good thing.
That means the Browns have until March 10 to sign their free agents or they will hit the market with complete freedom.
It also is appearing more and more likely that the team may not retain any of its unrestricted free agents. The tea leaves say the Browns may try to keep one or two, but the players will at least test the market first.
One name to watch who was not tagged by his team is linebacker Jerry Hughes of Buffalo. He blossomed in Mike Pettine’s system, with 10 sacks each of the last two seasons, and he could be a target for the Browns.
Running down the Browns' most prominent unrestricted free agents:
- Tight end Jordan Cameron was the only player who might have been franchised, in part because the tight end franchise cost of $8.347 million is lower than that of even a safety ($9.618 million). The Browns declined to tag Cameron, and he will head elsewhere. Cameron grew weary of the revolving door at the quarterback and at coach and in the front office in his four years in Cleveland. He is ready for a change.
- Cornerback Buster Skrine is a player the team would like back, but he wasn’t worth a franchise cost of $13.07 million that would have put him in Joe Haden territory. Skrine improved every season with the Browns, but he has gone on record saying he will test the market before considering staying in Cleveland.
- Quarterback Brian Hoyer and the team cut ties when Josh McCown was signed. The Browns preferred McCown, so Hoyer will go to a new team.
- Linebacker Jabaal Sheard is an underrated player who is well-respected in the locker room. His numbers are not glittering, but a team that wants a professional and productive role player would do well to sign him.
- Defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin played through an ankle issue a year ago, but the team gives every indication they feel Rubin’s best years in Cleveland are in the past.
- Wide receiver Miles Austin was a dependable pro in his one year in Cleveland. Even with that, the Browns interest in him seems tepid at best.
Pro Bowl free safety Tashaun Gipson is the most important restricted free agent. The Browns have until March 10 to tender him an offer that would give the team the right to match an offer sheet he could sign with another team, or receive compensation if he leaves. The Browns are likely to place a high tender on Gipson, probably one that would bring a first-round draft pick as compensation.
The other prominent restricted free agents are special-teamer/safety Johnson Bademosi and defensive lineman Ishmaa'ily Kitchen.
After asking around, I’m hearing Cleveland plans to add at least one more quarterback to the 2015 meetings rooms, a role filled through the draft or free agency.
The Browns are intrigued by Sam Bradford, but many believe he won’t be attainable without -- once again -- valuable draft picks. Giving up first- or second-rounders is difficult for a build-through-the-draft team such as Cleveland.
Free agency plays for Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker seem unlikely at this point.
Save Bradford, a home-run quarterback signing doesn’t really exist for Cleveland. But they can dig through the bargain bins and hope for the best.
A plausible rotation for Cleveland’s quarterback room is Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw and a rookie quarterback such as Colorado State's Garrett Grayson or Baylor's Bryce Petty.
The Browns have been burned by spread quarterbacks before, but I’m told they had productive meetings with the former Baylor star at the Senior Bowl.
McCown, who last week signed a three-year deal worth $14 million, seems ready to support any quarterback in the Browns' facility.
"Whatever I can do to help somebody, I can do that," McCown said.
There are other opinions out there, though, some negative, some more positive.
Peter King of SI.com wrote in Monday Morning Quarterback that the Browns feel McCown is a better bridge than Hoyer. “If Hoyer had been re-signed, he’d have expected to play every game, and the Browns weren’t convinced that he’s an NFL starter. With McCown, he can fill almost any role.”
ESPN CLeveland’s Tony Grossi asks: “What in name of Jake Delhomme is going on here?” Then add: “A history lesson: The Browns have a sordid history of adding washed-up quarterbacks since they returned as an expansion franchise in 1999.”
Tom Reed, a noted international soccer enthusiast as well as a Browns writer for the Northeast Ohio Media Group, wrote: “If the plan is heading to training camp with McCown and Johnny Manziel, who's in rehab, then fans must be grateful American football doesn't relegate its bottom teams the way they do elsewhere in the world.”
Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer says the McCown signing “has to be setting up another move.” Or at least, he adds, it should be.
The NEOMG’s Bud Shaw asks: “Is McCown more attractive because he's willing to mentor young quarterbacks while Hoyer and whomever else -- Jake Locker, Mark Sanchez -- would want to start? God help all Browns fans if that's the case.”
Zac Jackson of FoxSportsOhio offers that McCown’s signing did not bring much rejoicing. “The Browns are moving on from Brian Hoyer -- a hometown guy who won a little -- for an older version of a game manager like Hoyer who has more bruises and a better completion percentage.”
Marc Sessler of NFL.com says McCown gives Manziel “an example to follow under center.” He adds: “It's a strong sign the team still believes Johnny can make something out of a career that currently floats upon troubled waters.”
McCown is taking a starter's mentality to Cleveland too.
"That's my expectation right now," McCown told ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" on Monday about his goal to start for the Browns. "We'll see, as things unfold, what their plan is, but that's my expectation. I'm going to compete as such to do that."
McCown signed a bigger deal after going 1-10 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starter last year than he did the previous offseason, when he signed a two-year, $10 million deal coming off a 13-touchdown, one-interception performance with the Chicago Bears.
Released by the Bucs on Feb. 11, McCown used the following 16 days to create a market. The Bills, Jets and Bears were all reportedly involved. In what's considered a weak free-agency market for quarterbacks, McCown capitalized.
The Browns have started 22 quarterbacks since 1999. McCown seems to understand the inherent skepticism of the potential No. 23 on that list, especially since he is coming off an 11-touchdown, 14-interception season. McCown supporters can point to a thumb injury, shaky offensive line play and the September leave of absence of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford as reasons for his struggles.
Speaking with local media Monday afternoon, McCown said he understands the "tall order" of succeeding in Cleveland but isn't discouraged by past results.
1. Ponder the chronology: Ray Farmer drafts Johnny Manziel. Brian Hoyer barely wins the job out of training camp, then holds onto it by playing well early. Eventually he leads the Browns to a 7-4 record. Farmer, though, sends in-game texts to assistant coaches as early as the New Orleans game. It was the second game of the season and a win for the Browns. He continues to text during games throughout the season, some of it about the quarterback play, and only acknowledges his mistake after the season when the texting becomes public. Farmer clearly was part of the front office effort that undermined Hoyer, and had him playing while wearing a straightjacket. The more Hoyer learned the front office was not supportive, the more he pressed. So the guy who undermined Hoyer by texting during games winds up, with the full support of the owner, ushering Hoyer out of town and signing a 35-year-old to replace him.
3. The Browns have maintained as they built their team that what was most important to them was they wanted to drive competition at every position. It’s been a mantra, right up there with “play like a Brown.” In signing McCown, the Browns let Hoyer go because he wanted to start and they felt he was not their guy for the long-term. In signing McCown, they added a guy who will start, but is willing to be a mentor. How exactly is this driving competition?
4. McCown was good with the Bears two years ago, going 3-2 in games he started. But that was the only year in his career he was above .500 as a starter. His second-best mark: 3-3 in 2005 and 1-1 in 2011. Take away the Bears season, and McCown is 14-30 as a starter, with 44 starts in 12 seasons.
5. McCown went 1-10 in Tampa Bay. There he had two big and talented receivers and a poor offensive line, and he faced the NFC South, the NFL’s worst division. Carolina made the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record.
6. Kyle Shanahan preferred the Browns draft Jimmy Garapolo last year. In signing McCown, the Browns made a point that new coordinator John DeFilippo worked with him in Oakland. So the team gave a first-time coordinator who -- has never called plays -- his quarterback while denying the veteran coordinator his.
7. It’s worth noting that DeFilippo worked with McCown as quarterback coach in 2007. That was seven years ago when DeFIlippo was a first-year quarterback coach.
8. Relying on past performance seems to really matter with this organization. Farmer said he believes Manziel can succeed because of the way he played in college. Two years ago. The Browns signed McCown, presumably because he played well in Chicago. Two years ago.
9. In fairness, the draft remains an option. A developmental guy like Garrett Grayson could fit. If Marcus Mariota falls to No. 12, the Browns would be nuts not to take him (which of course, based on history, means they’ll take a running back). But if it comes to trading up to acquire Mariota, the Browns would have to surrender both their first-round picks and presumably another to get him. Which means they’d be giving up everything they acquired to build a team that could sustain winning. Which would be continued madness.
10. This of course shrugs off that Mariota will need time to adjust to the NFL game and might not be ready as a rookie. Mariota said at the combine he hadn’t called plays in a huddle since high school, so Kevin O’Connell had him practicing reading plays at night. He also didn’t huddle in college, or take NFL drops. So … he’ll go through the same on-field adjustment Manziel went through.
And, because winter is almost over, a bonus No. 11.
11. The Browns seem to be the only team that believes Manziel and McCown can be a starter. Buffalo was negotiating, but not to the effort the Browns did. What the Browns saw that 31 other teams did not is open to question. Though the draft could reduce the fuzziness, at this point it seems like Farmer simply did not want Hoyer. When McCown became available he became the most attractive quarterback to Farmer who wasn’t Hoyer. Signing a 35-year-old who went 1-10 a year ago, a guy much of the league felt was more ready to be a Matt Hasselbeck type backup than a starter, shows little long-term thinking. It seems more like the Browns are making it up as they go.
#Brownsmail If the Browns wanted to trade up to get Cooper or White at 8 or 9, what would they have to give up?— Brandon Brown (@BrownDawg17) February 27, 2015
@patmcmanamon: The starting point would be one of their first-round picks. If they traded the 12th overall, they would have to throw in at least this year's third-round choice. If they traded the 19th overall, they would have to include this year's second-round choice, and perhaps more. I don't see this as realistic. I disagree with my good friend and colleague Tony Grossi -- I believe there will be a good receiver available at the 12th spot.
McManamon: Well, I believe this is more Ray Farmer than Mike Pettine. Why would everyone lose it if it happens? It doesn't necessarily make sense to say a receiver doesn't impact a game because he only touches the ball 10 times on a good day. A talented receiver can have a huge impact on a game. Those 10 touches could be for 150 yards, and a touchdown or two.
McManamon: Well, owner Jimmy Haslam said they would not be major players in free agency. Which is different from a year ago. It's also odd given the team's overflowing cap space. Which means if they do something like Haslam said, it would be odd, so it would be very much like the Browns' approach for the past 15 years. Which wouldn't be different at all..
McCown’s three-year deal with Cleveland reinforces Johnny Manziel’s place in the Browns’ plans: McCown should be the favorite to start the season opener. He might be the Browns’ best option all year. But McCown also seems an ideal eventual handoff option to Manziel or another young quarterback.
The Browns needed a new quarterback plan after Manziel entered a treatment facility, but they weren’t moving on.
Re-signing Brian Hoyer, after the clunky competition between him and Manziel in Cleveland, wouldn’t have made sense. If Hoyer had come back, he would have been the starter. Despite winning seven of his first 11 games for Cleveland last season, apparently the Browns had seen enough.
McCown can be a starter or backup and adapt either way.
Support existed -- in Berea and from fans -- for Hoyer as a Brown. But Hoyer isn’t much different from McCown. Both are reliable and have shown flashes of good quarterback play, but haven’t sustained it.
Manziel might never be the answer. The Browns still want to find out for sure -- with more than two games as a sample.
Browns hoping for the McCown from Chicago, not the one from Tampa Bay: McCown’s 1-10 record and 14 interceptions with Tampa Bay are curious after he played so well in five starts for Chicago in 2013, throwing 13 touchdowns to one interception.
But McCown dealt with a thumb injury, a struggling offensive line and the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford in September. Those factors shouldn’t excuse his stats, but they help explain them.
The Browns know they aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers. They’ll get better than a starter with a 1-10 record.
Browns clearly unimpressed with quarterback market: The Bucs cut McCown 16 days ago, which allowed four quarterback-hungry teams -- the Jets, Bills, Browns and Bears -- to jockey for the services of the only available quarterback on the market.
The Browns must have believed that the group available at the March 10 start of free agency -- Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Hoyer and more -- wasn’t worth the wait.
There was never a home run for the Browns to hit. The Rams are unlikely to unload Sam Bradford. Save Hoyer, McCown was one of the best available.
Another move to come? Doubtful: The Browns’ quarterback picture has come into focus. They’ll have McCown, Manziel, Connor Shaw and possibly a draft pick (second round or beyond) for training camp.
It’s early, but after asking around, the prospect of trading up for Marcus Mariota seems unlikely at best. Giving up several top picks is a lot to ask for a self-proclaimed build-through-the-draft team.
The Browns can exhaust every option with Bradford, though they probably knew that wasn’t going to be fruitful before they signed McCown.
The Cleveland Browns added a mentor to their roster when they signed Josh McCown.
How much of a player they added remains to be seen.
The Browns gave him a three-year deal. The team can explain its reasons, and those reasons could turn out to be correct. But at this point, this move seems to make as much sense as so many moves of the post-1999 Browns, which is to say very little.
The team will make its case. McCown can be a mentor. He doesn't have to start to do that; he wants that role. He worked with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo in 2007 in Oakland. And the team concluded it does not see Brian Hoyer as a long-term starter.
They're entitled to those decisions, just as fans are entitled to throw their hands up and scream at the thought of McCown and Johnny Manziel as the team's quarterbacks in 2015.
So many questions follow, which isn't supposed to be the case when a team makes a signing at its most important position.
Do the Browns think McCown can start? Does what he showed in Tampa Bay give more belief than what Hoyer showed in Cleveland? Do they believe Manziel will be available to play this year? And if he is, do they believe, based on what they saw in the seven quarters he played, that he can be a starter? If they felt the need to sign McCown, what does it say about how the team feels about the available quarterbacks in free agency? Will they add anyone in free agency, and at what price?
At this point, the signs don't point to another major addition, except perhaps through the draft (has Marcus Mariota ever looked better?)
McCown was good two years ago as the backup to Jay Cutler. He had a positive effect on Cutler. Maybe he can do the same with Manziel.
But that doesn't eliminate the concerns about whether Manziel can succeed in the NFL, at his height and with his style and his commitment -- remember, he didn't know the plays when he finally started in Game 14 of the past season -- and whether McCown is even a starting quarterback in the NFL.
McCown actually falls into a pattern long established by the ever-changing organization that is the Cleveland Browns. That would be the pattern of the veteran quarterback signed late in his career -- too late to make a positive impact on the Browns.
Go down the list.
Jake Delhomme. Jeff Garcia. Trent Dilfer. They're all on the infamous jersey that no doubt will have a 23rd name (and second McCown) added to it in 2015.
All were going to be saviors. They all lasted one year.
Only in Cleveland.
At 6-3, then 7-4 the past season, the Browns seemed headed in the right direction. But things have unraveled wildly since.
An offensive coordinator left two years' pay on the table to get out, the general manager admitted to texting assistant coaches during games in violation of league rules, Manziel entered rehab, ticket prices went up, Josh Gordon was suspended and ... well ... it almost seems pointless to go on.
Except through it all, the Browns and owner Jimmy Haslam said things were fine and dandy. Now he has a 35-year-old quarterback to prove his point.
To which the only response seems to be: Seriously?
Veteran quarterback Josh McCown has agreed to terms with the Cleveland Browns, the team announced Friday.
The deal is for three years, a source told ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler.
"Josh is your consummate professional," Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer said. "He's known to be a great guy in the locker room and will be great for the quarterback room. He knows how to get an entire offense on the same page and get a team to rally behind him. He has been exposed to a lot of different types of offenses and we think still has the drive and skill set to be a successful quarterback in this league.
"We are excited to get him and believe he will help continue to move us in the right direction and help us build the type of team that will bring winning football to Cleveland."
McCown, 35, went 1-10 as a starter last season in Tampa Bay before he was released this month. He started seven games the previous five seasons, and has played for the Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Panthers, Bears and Bucs in a 12-year career.
McCown also had visited the Bills, Jets and Bears. He had been negotiating with the Browns and Bills.
McCown is the first step for the Browns toward resolving their uncertain quarterback situation.
"I just want to serve our team and help everybody in that locker room, do my best to help everybody in the locker room be better at their job and they're going to help me, too. It's a two-way street," McCown said. "I'm just excited about coming in and being a part of a team.
"Year 1 was a solid first year for coach (Mike) Pettine, and to see the vision with what he's got going on is exciting to me. In my room, I want to be able to help those young guys and pass along my knowledge and experiences I've had and help them grow."
McCown completed 184 of 327 passes for 2,206 yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for Tampa Bay, but the veteran has shown success as a starter, throwing 13 touchdowns and just one interception for the Bears in 2013.
He started nine games for the Raiders in 2007, when new Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo coached their quarterbacks. The two still have a good relationship.
McCown wants to compete for the starting job but would be willing to accept the backup role.
"Josh is a high-character, savvy, veteran quarterback that has a lot to offer to our team," Pettine said. "When you hear from people that have been around Josh, they speak of the leadership qualities and the positive impact he has on a locker room. I really enjoyed spending time with him during his visit. He has great passion for playing the quarterback position and wants to show that he can still be successful in this league.
"Obviously, he is a quarterback that has been in a number of systems and he has worked with (DeFilippo), so there is some good familiarity between the two. We are excited to have him become part of our team and we look forward to him playing an important role in our offense."
Hoyer, who won seven games for Cleveland in 2014 but faltered late in the year, had been waiting to meet with Farmer before talks began between the team and his representative. A team official reached out to Hoyer in January to express interest in re-signing the quarterback, but that seems unlikely to happen now. Pettine called Hoyer to let him know of McCown's agreement a few minutes before the team announced the move. Hoyer and Farmer talked after the news was public.
A possible Browns quarterback lineup in 2015 is McCown, Manziel, Connor Shaw
Nice, sensible, necessary, not overly exciting.
If Cleveland Browns fans are looking for good news after a brutal two months, it’s this -- a team with a pretty good roster has $53,777,486 in cap space as of this week, according to ESPN stats and info. The Browns have a cap value of $106,604,471, with the adjusted cap value sitting at $161,908,285.
With help from J.I. Halsell (@SalaryCap101), a former Redskins salary-cap analyst, here is Cleveland’s exact spending situation:
Because the CBA requires NFL teams to spend at least 89 percent of the cumulative salary caps from 2013-16, which, for the Browns, projects to $492.17 million in spending by the end of the 2016 league year.
How much have the Browns spent during that span?
To date, Cleveland has spent or committed to $420.99 million. Splitting in half, the Browns could spend $35.5 million in each of the next two years. Or, if they are feeling aggressive, spend a cool $50 million before September. The Browns likely want a larger cushion of space for next year.
For argument’s sake, let’s say the Browns are entering March with plans to spend about $40 million in the next eight months. There is a reasonable plan for such spending. All free agency deals are one-year totals while assuming the signing bonus is prorated over the length of the deal.
Rookie draft picks: $7.9 million.
This takes into account the Browns’ two first-round picks and the rest of the lot. This is essentially money all teams must pay, give or take a few picks.
Free agent quarterbacks: $4 million (was originally $8 million earlier today)
(UPDATE): The Browns signed Josh McCown to a three-year deal on Friday night. McCown likely won't make $8 million per year, which was my original forecast for the position, but McCown will earn a respectable contract.
Sorry, Sam Bradford fans. Don’t expect the Rams to part with him without at least a second-round pick in their hands, maybe more. I’m not expecting the Browns to offer more than a third. They want to stay true to the build-through-the-draft plan.
No quarterback on the open market was going to command enough to stress the team's books.
Splashy free agent signing: $8-9 million -- Buffalo outside linebacker Jerry Hughes
Mike Pettine is a fan of Hughes, who acquitted himself well against Joe Thomas in the Bills' Week 13 win against Cleveland. Thomas had three penalties in that game. Pettine, a former Buffalo coordinator, spent one season with Hughes, who seems the perfect complement to Paul Kruger's strength game and Barkevious Mingo's lateral speed.
In this case, filling the outside linebacker need in free agency allows the Browns to attack nose tackle, wide receiver, and tight end high in the draft.
If Hughes commands $10 million a year, that is probably too steep for a draft-precedent team. Getting him for $8 million would be a win for the Browns.
(Free agent fallback: Baltimore WR Torrey Smith at $7-8 million)
Restricted free agent tenders: $6 million
The restricted tender numbers aren’t out yet, but my guess is a first-level tender -- a placeholder where an opposing team must relinquish a first-round pick to cut a deal with the player -- will be somewhere in the $3.5 million range, with a second-level tender around $2.4 million, and a third-level in the $1.5-million range (just projections).
If the Browns truly believe safety Tashaun Gipson is a cornerstone in the defensive backfield, they will either slap him with a first-round tender or cut a long-term deal now. If the Browns give him a second-level deal, no doubt Gipson’s camp will shop him around.
Linebacker Craig Robertson could get a second-level tender. Both players are valued, and it makes sense to keep them.
In-house free agents: $7.5 million -- Cornerback Buster Skrine at $5 million a year (possibly higher) and Miles Austin at a one-year, $2.5-million deal.
Coaches have made clear they would like Shrine to return. Skrine will have a good market, but the Browns should be able to make a competitive play for him.
Austin would be a reasonable re-sign. The offense was better with him in the lineup.
Otherwise, I’m suspecting the team will let most free agents walk.
Special teams: $2 million for Ted Ginn
Give Ginn, an effective returner and Cleveland native, a two-year deal with a couple of million up front in signing and roster bonuses.
Total cap spending: $40.4 million (changed to $36.4 million)
Bottom line: The Browns could spend on a receiver, but it’s hard to imagine Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin leaving their current spots. Smith might command closer to $8-9 million, a bit pricey for the Browns’ taste. Hughes is a safer play. Draft a receiver in the first and fourth rounds, re-sign Austin, and ride with what you have.
Though that might not be a totally bad thing.
Ted Ginn Jr. would fill a glaring need as a returner and could compete at wideout as well. He still has speed, which always is an asset. Carolina and the Browns both have interest in Ginn, a Cleveland native, and there is some thinking from Carolina that the Browns have the edge.
That has to play out.
Friday, word broke that the Dolphins are releasing Brian Hartline.
While Ginn, 29, seems to be a natural, Hartline would take discussion. But he’s worth discussing. Hartline, a native of Canton, Ohio, is 6-foot-2, 28 years old and he’s caught 189 passes the last three seasons in Miami.
He does not have blazing speed, but he’s a tall target with good hands. Word also broke Friday that Atlanta was releasing Harry Douglas, but he seems to have similar skills as Andrew Hawkins. Douglas is a good player, but he might not add to what Hawkins and even Taylor Gabriel do. Hartline might.
The point, too, isn’t that the Browns receivers can’t play. They can, and they (Hawkins, Gabriel, Travis Benjamin) give everything they have. They play with heart, effort and professionalism.
But to think the position doesn’t need upgrading via depth also isn’t realistic.
The Browns always talk about “driving competition" at every position, so adding more capable players will do just that. Drive competition and let the playing time sort itself out.
More players will be released, more opportunities will be available, but it’s clear the Browns can address the receiver spot this offseason — if they choose to address it. They will have more than $50 million in salary-cap space. Money isn’t an issue. How the money is doled out is, but many NFL teams seem to be able to do that and win.
Adding a veteran free agent or two — be they Ohio State guys or guys from Guam — would help. (Cecil Shorts might be interested in playing for his hometown.) So would drafting a receiver -- with Louisville's DeVante Parker a personal preference.
The position suddenly wouldn’t look so barren.