President Donald Trump is not the only one who wants to build a wall.
The Browns appear to be trying to do so in their own way--by building a wall to protect whomever ends up being their quarterback.
The Browns made a flurry of moves on the opening day of free agency, including making a blockbuster trade for Brock Osweiler. They also signed two unrestricted free agent offensive linemen and claimed a third offensive lineman off waivers. They also extended one of their own players.
“Our approach was to be very targeted heading into free agency,” said Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown. “Dan Saganey, Glenn Cook and our pro personnel staff did an outstanding job working with our coaches to identify players that fit our scheme. Chris Cooper was great about finding common ground in working on the contracts. The free agency process is a collaborative effort and we are excited to add these three players to our roster, as we feel they match the identity of the team we are trying to build.”
The most obvious moves were to try and build a powerful offensive line. After losing Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz a year ago in free agency, the Browns made strong moves to remedy the situation. They signed the top free agent guard in Cincinnati's Kevin Zeitler to a record contract, signed the Packers' J.C. Tretter to anchor the center position and extended the contract of guard Joel Bitonio to a reported five-year, $51 million contract extension, including $23.7 million guaranteed.
Zeitler, 26, was a first-round draft choice of the Bengals from Wisconsin in 2012. ProFootballTalk.com ranked him as the 11th best free agent available. Zeitler (6-4, 320) has been the Bengals main stay at right guard since he was drafted. Zeitler was reported to receive a five-year, $60 million contract, including $31.5 million guaranteed, which would be the biggest contract ever signed in the NFL by a guard.
“I think Kevin is one of the premier right guards in football,” said Hue Jackson. “I’ve spent time with him before in Cincinnati. I believe he’s going to be a really good football player for us at a position of need, and I think he’ll do a great job.”
Tretter, (6-4, 307), was the Packers starting center but suffered a knee injury midway through the season and had surgery in January. He is expected to be healthy for the off-season programs. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the ninth-best center in the games he played in. Tretter, 26, iwas reported to receive a three-year, $16.75 million deal, including $10 million guaranteed. He is expected to have Austin Reiter and Anthony Fabiano pushing him for playing time.
“J.C. is a very athletic center who played in Green Bay and did a good job for them,” said Hue Jackson. “He had a little injury history, but comes here healthy and ready to go. We’re happy to have him.”
Bitonio, 25, was a second-round pick (35th overall) of the Browns in 2014. He has one year remaining on his contract, but only played five games last year before being placed on injured reserve with Lisfranc foot injury on Oct. 14. He started all 16 games as a rookie but played just ten in 2015 after suffering a foot injury.
“It’s important for us to identify the young talented players on our roster, who fit our culture and make sure they remain Cleveland Browns,” said Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown in a statement. “Joel has proven that he is a smart, tough, physical football player and we view him as one of the best young linemen in this league. He exemplifies what we look for in a young leader on and off the field. We are excited to keep him here to be part of our foundation for a number of years to come.”
Bitonio said he's glad to stay with the Browns.
“I am so excited to be part of the Browns organization,”Bitonio said. “I want to thank the Haslams, Sashi (Brown), Coach (Hue) Jackson, Chris (Cooper), everyone for getting this done. They have unbelievable faith in me and I have faith in them. I am really pumped to be here to try to help build this up and turn the Browns around.”
With 10-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas at left tackle, right tackle seems to be the only question remaining on the line. It is expected that former first-round pick Cameron Erving and 2016 third-round draft pick Shon Coleman will compete for the starting right tackle position. Last years, right tackle Austin Pasztor received good reviews, but he is a free agent. If he returns, he is expected in the mix. John Greco, also coming off Lisfranc injury will likely return to the utility back up for depth on the line if he can recover in time for the 2017 season.
The Browns weren't done there. Later in the day, they claimed offensive lineman Marcus Martin via waivers from San Francisco.
Martin (6-3, 310) is entering his fourth NFL season out of Southern California. Originally a third-round draft pick (70th overall) of San Francisco in 2014, Martin played in 26 career games, making 22 starts at center, one at right guard and one at left guard. In 38 career games at USC, he started 20 games at guard and 13 at center.
Besides the offensive line moves, the Browns reportedly signed wide receiver Kenny Britt.
“Kenny’s been a proven playmaker in the National Football League,” Jackson said. “Obviously, he brings credentials to the position and to the Cleveland Browns. He’s a big guy. He’s fast, tough. He’s made plays in his career, and we’re looking forward to him doing the same thing here.”