Now Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta are on the scene, plus a yet to be named General Manager type. When I started this series, none of those were known things. All we knew was the disaster that was the season we just had. This is how this series started:
So what can be done to fix the Browns?
Every fan has an answer but most fans are unsure if anything will ever work. Media and experts believe that there is a fix out there but that the Browns "culture" is such that they will struggle to find it.
Many are blaming owner Jimmy Haslam for all of the problems that the team has. There is a belief that nothing will get better with him in charge.
Others are unwilling to give up hope and have instead pointed their arrows at GM Ray Farmer and HC Mike Pettine.
The biggest problem is very few, if any, have given realistic solutions to the problem. In this three part series I am going to attempt to provide a map to solving the misery that is the Browns.
It will not be easy but it will be simple. May not have all the details worked out but it will make sense.
Yeah they did nothing that I wanted or expected them to do but so far so good with identifying a group of people that could run things. At some level, Brown, DePodesta and Jackson take Haslam out of the football side of things, which was the most important thing.
There I described what I was looking for in a coach: Offensive minded, history in the league with benefit if they had been a former head coach and having the ability to command contract details that might ensure them getting 3 to 5 years. The two names I mentioned where Josh McDaniels and Adam Gase.
Not once in that article did I mention Hue Jackson. Mostly, I expected Jackson to take the Niners job at that time. I also didn't think the Browns would lure him up from their in-state division rivals.
However, Jackson fit everything I was looking for. So, unlike Part 1, the Browns fix is in progress the way I wanted in Part 2. Jackson is offensive minded, is a football guy and, based on the Front Office structure, has power that should help keep him around.
Now on to Part 3Part 3: The Players
This is the part that gets down and dirty. This is where we as Browns fans have lived in fantasy world many an offseason. With free agency and the NFL Draft, we get hope that the Browns can turn things around and quickly. I think the Browns can, just not as sure about the quickly part.
Part 3 will not include the entire 53 man roster but will focus on the primary issues that need to be addressed this offseason.
Lets start with the big one:
At this point, Manziel is not a part of the future I hold for the Browns. On the other hand, Manziel is on a cheap contract and could not lower his trade value anymore. I would hold on to Manziel until A) I get decent trade value for him (4th Round or higher or player equivalent) or B) He makes enough public issues that the end of his NFL career is pretty obvious.
I don't want to give Manziel what he wants and I don't want to just throw away an asset. Worst case scenario I have to cut him later. Best case scenario is he wakes up, shows well in Training Camp and at some point becomes an asset we can trade away. If Romo got hurt earlier in the season, Jerry Jones likely would have forked over a conditional 1st or 2nd Round pick last year.
Gordon's situation is unique in that he isn't automatically back after his year is up. He has to apply to be reinstated and prove he is worthy. This is more than just proving he didn't do anything bad during his suspension. I have no clue if he will come back.
But if he does, Gordon is my starting WR. He has a ton of talent and I think Jackson will have his respect. The Browns believe that Gordon will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, giving the Browns leverage over him.
While we never know if/when Gordon might slip up again, there is no way I am giving up on that kind of talent. Gordon may not be A.J. Green but he can play the part close enough.
You would literally have to blow me away with a trade offer to get Thomas. 1st round this year, 2nd round next year and a young player that I really like. That trade offer is not likely to come so Thomas will still be my left tackle.
I wouldn't be overly involved in trades unless it was someone who just didn't fit our system or a great deal on someone who doesn't fit someone else's system.
Own Free Agents
The Browns have a number of important free agents and we have no idea what they might do. The Browns can offer a ton of money but they might decide to move on and who can blame them after all the changes and losing.
Here is how I would prioritize the Free Agents:
Mitchell Schwartz - Mitch might be the best right tackle in the game and is likely to get paid like it. No matter what Browns fans think, most who watch the games from an All 22 perspective agree that Schwartz is very good. Jackson had Andre Smith with the Bengals and knows the value of the position.
Alex Mack - To be honest, it is an either or discussion for me. I do not think the Browns can spend the money to bring back both but they must bring back one. They can Franchise tag Schwartz but Mack has all the power and just seems done with the Browns. Cameron Erving or John Greco can replace Mack quickly whereas the Browns have no tackle to speak of waiting in the wings. O'Neil Cousins still haunts my memories.
Tashaun Gipson - If Ray Horton is hired as the Defensive Coordinator, I expect Gipson is more likely to return. Gip had a great year under Horton and celebrated when reports came out, prematurely, of the hire but has since deleted the tweet. He had a down year, which should bring his price tag down. The safety position if too valuable to let Gipson walk easily but I wouldn't break the bank on him either.
Travis Benjamin - Benji said he was about 75% done with a contract extension under Farmer. Now? Who knows. I like The Rabbit's abilities a lot and think Jackson can find great ways to use him. I'm not sure he is a good enough #2 receiver to get paid what he might. I still want to bring him back but if the price gets too high, I'll pass.
Big Free Agents
The Browns are currently expected to have about $60 million in cap space this season. There are some very valuable players set to become free agents. The problem becomes that most/many probably get a Franchise Tag slapped on them, my top 5 I expect to get tagged.
For the Browns, there are 5 players that I would break the bank for and another that I would overpay for. First the Break the Bank group:
Von Miller - Miller can play in any system and produce. He stops the run well and can get to the passer. He is my #1 target by a lot for his age and dynamic ability.
Muhammad Wilkerson - Wilkerson is the best defensive linemen likely to hit the market. The Jets have invested a lot in that position but might not be willing to let him go. Wilkerson can play the 3 technique next to Danny Shelton and cause havoc.
Eric Berry - Berry and Gipson would be a ball hawking, all be it smaller, safety tandem. I wouldn't go big for Gipson but I would for Berry. No way he leaves KC but wanted him on my list.
Josh Norman - Norman had a breakout season and is likely to get breakout pay. Will he be as good in the coverage scheme the Browns run? Is it wise to pay big money to two corners? He is very talented and would help give the Browns an identity that they had been seeking in the secondary.
Alshon Jeffery - This guy isn't getting out of Chicago but of all the offensive guys, this is the guy I would target but not as much as the defenders. Jeffery makes all the plays and has the size that Browns fans covet. He would give insurance if Gordon leaves/gets suspended again and scare everyone if they share the field.
Finally, the guy I would overpay for is also a Denver LB:
Danny Trevathan - He can do a lot for the position and is young. He is the kind of player I think could help solidify a defense that has struggled in a lot of ways. The Broncos will likely have to choose between the two linebackers meaning Trevathan is likely to be free.
Other Free Agents
A lot depends on what happens with the above-listed guys, especially the Browns own free agents. I will assume they keep one of their OLman and Gipson for this list. This is just a list of guys that would interest me. Of them, I would expect to sign 3 to 6 at the most.
So here are some names that I would go after while trying to nail down one of those top 6 guys above:
QB - RG3 at a reasonable price and depending on my plans in the draft. That is it and only if I plan on passing on one of the Top 3 QBs in the draft.
RB - Matt Forte is likely to go to a team like New England but I would try to get the vet on a 2-year deal here in Cleveland. Lamar Miller would also interest me.
WR - Marvin Jones, Rueben Randle, Andre Holmes and Jermaine Kearse.
TE - A solid blocking tight end, period. Haven't evaluated who is great at that skill from this position yet but should have options.
OL - Depending on who the Browns lose, Andre Smith, Stefen Wisniewski, Ben Jones, Alex Boone and others would be great.
DL - I would not spend a ton of money here outside of Wilkerson but depth could be added to this group.
LB - My two Broncos really lead the pack by a large margin. After that, Nick Perry, Zach Brown, Junior Galette lead a deep group of young free agent LBs.
DB - We have to get a safety in. Whether that is Gipson, Berry, Chris Conte or another, FS would be a high priority. I would not prioritize another defensive back after that.
Final Tally - I will assume that the Browns sign one of the Broncos LBs, likely Trevathan, Gipson, an offensive lineman and either Benjamin or Marvin Jones at the WR position. They likely sign a couple more lower level free agents as well.
That leads us to the final stop
The Browns have high draft picks in every round, alternating the first or second pick. They also should get 3 or 4 Compensatory Picks with predictions guessing a 4th, two 5ths and a 7th. Conditions regarding picks received in the Terrance West and Billy Winn trades are not well known so we will not assume we are getting either of those low picks.
I always use FanSpeak to do my Mock Drafts. Since FanSpeak does not have the comp. picks yet, I had to make some assumptions after a trade and ended up using just 7 total picks.
A quick explanation. I am drafting with a combination of what I will do and what I think the Browns will do. This is all subject to change as I get to study the prospects so don't think I'm locked in on any of this.
QB Jared Goff - I give the QB position about a 10 pick "bonus." Trading down sounds really nice but it takes two to tango and if Jackson wants Goff, they should take him. I think Joey Bosa is a Top 5 level talent and would take him if the QB evals come back poorly. At this time I think Goff is special. He understands the game and is great at all the things top level QBs in the NFL are.
Trade - If the Browns draft Bosa, I expect a trade up for a QB like Paxton Lynch or Wentz. Since I drafted Goff, I trade my 2nd, 4th and 5th to move up unto the 20s of the 1st round. It might not take that much, it might take more, but I'm willing, especially with the extra comp. picks I have.
Round 1 in Trade Up
LB Jaylon Smith - The Notre Dame LB might be out all season but is more likely back about halfway through the year. Long term, I just drafted my leaders on both sides of the ball. Smith is a do everything linebacker who is special and will thrive as the top dog no matter what system the Browns run. FanSpeak had him falling into the 2nd round but I highly doubt it unless his medicals come back very bad.
RB Derrick Henry - With Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, most Browns fans may not see the value of another 3rd round back. Henry's stock is volatile. He could go much higher if he runs well at the Combine or he could go sometime in the 3rd round based on his limitations as a two down back.
Round 4 - Compensatory Pick
WR Braxton Miller - Even with my plans that Gordon will return and the team either bringing back Benjamin or Marvin Jones, adding a dynamic receiver for Hue to play with and Goff to grow with just makes sense. Miller has a lot to prove about his transition to WR. If his shoulder is fully healed, teams in this area will feel comfortable that he can develop. Sterling Shephard would be the pick if Miller doesn't show he has developed but I expect Shephard to rise during the Draft process, in spite of his under 6-foot stature.
Round 5 - Compensatory Pick
K Roberto Aguayo - Getting the best kicker in the draft in the 5th round makes sense for the Browns. With a rookie QB and time needed for Jackson to install his offense, having a kicker who is constant and great makes a lot of sense. Getting the best player at any position is a good idea.
DL Bronson Kaufusi - The huge 6'8" BYU defensive lineman could be good in a variety of spots on the line. He needs to develop but a 6th round pick is not a bad time to take a shot at a player like this. The Browns are likely to continue to address their defensive side of the ball after a terrible season last year.
LB Joe Schobert - The linebacker from Wisconsin could give the Browns a player that can play inside and outside while also providing coverage. He isn't the amazing athletic specimen but could be a quality player both on special teams and, sooner rather than later, on defense.
So there it is. A few free agent additions and a 7 Round Cleveland Browns Mock Draft. Goff will be the centerpiece of the offense while Jaylon Smith will be the centerpiece of the defense long term. The rest of the picks and free agent additions start the process of laying a firm foundation for the team under Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown and the rest of the new Front Office.
The Browns will struggle to compete next year based on their schedule and once again having to adjust to a new scheme and coaching staff. These moves are made to give the team hope for the near and long term future.
Which moves do you love? Which moves do you hate?