By Jeff Mitzel
Things got on a roll as clever thinking appeared on deck as the Browns went analytic last year. Putting the team in the hands of clever folks who know little about running an NFL franchise opens the door for clever thinking and folks who think outside the box.
Outside the box was on full display as that door swung wide open in the first day of free agency.
1. The box was no where in sight as the Browns engineered an NBA salary dump and trade. Yesterday's trade was a move made of extremes as Osweiler channeled Charlie Frye at times last year, and the Browns were loaded with salary cap space. Creative thought arrived to fill the gap amidst a three way trade of sorts. The Browns get Osweiler and a 2018 second round pick, Houston gets Tony Romo, and Dallas gets--- nothing. That last point swung quickly into view, and Dallas pulled back as they rethink things. New thinking has arrived, and the Browns are suddenly thought leaders. Disruptively so, and being a Browns fan is suddenly exciting. And fun.
2. Osweiler has a 92 QB rating when not under pressure which wilted to 66 when under pressure in Denver and a nearly incomprehensible 18 last year in Houston. Enter new Browns center JC Tretter who scored as the fifth highest rated center by PFF last year alongside Joe Thomas, a healthy Joel Bitonio and fellow Wisconsin alumni and Pro Bowl alternate Kevin Zeitler, and the Browns suddenly have a formidable offensive line, again. And maybe Osweiler looks ok. Maybe.
3. An extra second round pick and total of three second round picks in 2018 alongside two second round picks this year positions the Browns for additional extra thinking and a possible trade up from #12 to grab, say, safety Malik Hooker and the second coming of Ed Reed.
4. Browns fans need not look further than a Ravens defense that boasted Terrell Suggs, Halati Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and start checking boxes and making comparisons to Myles Garrett, Danny Shelton and company. A championship defense carried Trent Dilfer to the Super Bowl, and key pieces for a championship defense appear in sight amidst a quick and casual comparison.
5. This year's draft is weighted in secondary talent at both the top of the draft and into the second round and for a Browns secondary that was amongst the worst in the league. Next year's stable of three second round picks allows decision makers to offer 2018 picks in a move up from #12 this year and still retain picks at #33 and #52 this year, fill holes and add depth behind Joe Haden.
6. Not that Hue Jackson won't be screaming for a QB, but Hue Jackson's statement at last year's combine that he was going to draft Jared Goff reminds fans who watched Goff play that maybe Hue isn't the guy to lead that parade. Joe Flacco arrived later rather than sooner, nor did he arrive at the top of the first round. Patience could be the unpopular but smart call as Jimmy Garrapolo heads to free agency in 2018.
7. The usually straight forward Patriots are anything but on the topic while increasingly upping the ante on Garrapolo just ahead of interest displayed by other teams. Quarterbacks don't play well into their 40's no matter what Tom Brady says or thinks, and all aging champions face a day when they are suddenly old. A post Tom Brady future looms ahead for Belichik, and praises sung by folks who know suggest Garrapolo may not be Matt Cassel 2.0 or Brian Hoyer and may be Steve Young to Joe Montana or Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre. Julian Edelman appears to think so in recent statements. More telling, Mike Lombardi who swung briefly through the Patriots organization after he left the Browns affirmed that, as well. Browns fans may not trust what Lombardi thinks, but he certainly knows what the folks behind the curtain may be thinking.
8. Belichik may be reflecting on two opposing realities. The Brady era may end swiftly when it does, and he also can't keep Garrapolo and wait things out. Upping the ante serves little but to push out a decision Belichik may not be ready to make. Though, maybe it's a good idea for the Patriots and Browns FO to meet for tea and stare into that stable of next year's second round picks and let Browns decision makers take a solid look outside the box. Maybe the Patriots leave with a second round pick in trade and a conditional second round pick upon Garrapolo signing well before Garrapolo heads toward the free agent exit ramp and leaves the Patriots empty handed.
9. Osweiler's 2017 salary and $16 million is a lot to pay for a second round pick. It's not a lot if that second round pick finds itself leveraged amidst a bigger picture that has yet to play out. A trade up in 2017, a quarterback that's NFL enabled, and a pipeline of high value picks preserved to complete things into the future. Clever thinking by clever thinkers.
10. Somewhere, Jimmy Haslam may be sitting quietly and shaking at all these millions Sashi threw around as if they were $5 bills. Though, this gathering of Harvard minds and outside the box thinkers appear suddenly acclimated after a year and thinking nimbly and with vision.
Meanwhile, Browns fans are catching their breath and also breathing a sigh of relief that the ever present owner isn't, and the erstwhile keeper of the monkey wrench is held safely at a distance and any possible damage made by a casual toss of that wrench.
Today is a good day to be a Browns fan. And also exciting.