These are the new-look Cleveland Browns.
This isn’t a metaphorical statement based on another regime change. Rather, the moves new executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown made overturned the roster in a way that hasn’t been seen during the numerous resets the Browns experienced over the past decade.
On the current roster—and that’s bound to change in the coming days—25 players weren’t with the team last season, which equates to 47.2 percent turnover.
The front office and coaching staff summed up their approach with one simple sentence in the team’s press release after Saturday’s roster moves:
“We’ve had a lot of guys come in and buy in and work their tails off to try to make the roster and we’re excited about the 53 guys we’ve chosen to be Cleveland Browns,” Brown said, per the team’s official site.
Those still on the roster bought into the team’s new direction. As a result, Justin Gilbert, K’Waun Williams, etc. are no longer with the organization.
This team will primarily be built around those who didn’t experience the losing culture that previously permeated the Browns locker room. All these young players will know is how head coach Hue Jackson operates.
This isn’t the end, either; it’s just the beginning. More moves will come and become another step in a multi-year vision.
- Barkevious Mingo is one of the aforementioned players who never bought into the Browns. As a source told the Orange and Brown Report after the linebacker’s trade to the New England Patriots, “(Mingo) didn't like Cleveland.” It’s a simple statement where further comment wasn’t needed. The former sixth overall pick never felt at home in Cleveland, and it showed. When he spoke of a “culture shock” upon entering the New England Patriots locker room, it had as much to do with the person as his new team.
- If there are any concerns over the Browns’ approach this year, the Seattle Seahawks should provide hope. The Browns retained its entire draft class plus a pair of undrafted free agents, which equates to 16 rookies on the roster. The Seahawks--who made the playoffs each of the last four seasons--kept 14 rookies, including six undrafted free agents. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll creates a consistent atmosphere of competition. The organization doesn’t worry about veteran or draft status. It wants to put the best group of players on the field and has consistently done so. Of course, the Browns aren’t at the same level, but Seattle proved the approach can work.
- In the very first edition of Musings from three months ago, I reported there were those on the roster concerned the new coaching staff already favored certain players and others wouldn’t receive a fair shot at a roster spot. None of those inferred players made the team’s initial 53-man roster. Take it for what it’s worth, but this is the NFL’s reality. There are only a handful of spots actually open each year, because the majority of the roster is defined before training game begins.
- More moves will be made, too. To continue the previous comparison, the Seahawks set a record for roster moves during their first year under Carroll and general manager John Schneider. They constantly tweaked the bottom of the roster to provide the best competition possible at every position. The Browns aren’t done, either. While coverage often centers on Saturday’s 53-man cuts, Wednesday is a far more important deadline, because the roster must be officially settled for the weekend’s contest. Jackson already admitted the roster is still “fluid”, and it should remain that way as the Browns take every opportunity to improve the overall talent between now and the end of the season.
- As for the team’s recent moves, Britton Colquitt isn’t a downgrade from Andy Lee. Lee’s overall punting and net averages were higher last season, but Colquitt forced more fair catches and fewer returns in 14 more opportunities. This indicates the team’s new punter gets better overall hang time. Yes, he operated in Denver’s thin air, but Colquitt is an experienced punter who is three years younger under a one-year contract expected to be lower than Lee’s $2.83 million (and growing over the next two years) cap hit.
- Analytics are oft-discussed but rarely understood when it comes the Browns’ operating practices. Instead, advanced statistics should be looked at closely to glean a slight understanding of the team’s approach. For example, which two players graded the highest through the preseason? Alvin Bailey and Scooby Wrightt. But don’t take those same grades as gospel, because cornerback Tracy Howard, who made it through Saturday’s moves, received the worst grade. As front office members repeat over and over again, it’s another tool to make the best possible decision.
- Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 22-of-38 passes (57.9 percent) for 313 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception during the preseason. Griffin achieved those stats through 83 total snaps. Josh McCown played the same exact amount of reps during last year’s preseason. How did he perform? He completed 29-of-38 passes (76.3 percent) for 207 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
- Those quarterback stats aren’t meant to encourage or discourage anything Griffin did; they’re there to provide context. Watching the former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year perform within the structure of the offense became far more important. His performance wasn’t perfect, yet it showed some promising signs. There is also a caveat to his play: Those outside the walls of Berea have yet to see the Browns offense as Jackson envisions it. There’s only been hints of what’s come.
- Due to shrewd moves by Brown, Cleveland acquired extra fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in the past 10 days. In two of those cases, the players would have almost certainly been released. Now, the Browns own 12 draft picks for the 2017 class including the projected compensatory selections and 10 picks for the 2018 NFL draft. While the coaches and players expect to win, the team is clearly being built with an eye toward the future.
- Draft watch: Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson are the two prospects atop everyone’s preseason draft boards. How did each perform during the college football’s opening weekend? Garrett affected the entire game against the UCLA Bruins. The edge rusher registered a sack, two quarterback hits and four more hurries against potential first-round left tackle Conor McDermott. Plus, Garrett made the Bruins predominantly right-handed as Jim Mora’s squad avoided the talented defender. For Watson, the Clemson Tigers eked out a win against the Auburn Tigers. In a bit of a rocky start, the quarterback completed 19-of-34 passes for 248 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Last year, Watson scored a single touchdown only once in 15 games.