Swerb: The Core

Starting with 1999's expansion draft, Browns fans have seen players come and go by the busload. Rich Swerbinsky takes a look at the players he would like to see stick around for 2005 and beyond... the core of the next version of the Cleveland Browns.

Yet again, Browns fans are thinking towards next season in early December, and naturally … talk of the NFL Draft has begun to replace the talk of our coming opponents.  The Browns will have another very high draft pick, and debate is already raging as to which direction they should go in with that selection.

I'll save my opinions on that for the weeks and months to come.  Instead, I'd like to use this space to assess what this franchise already has.  Who are the core players on this team, and how will that core affect who we acquire this off-season in free agency as well as the NFL Draft?

In prepping for this piece, the first thing I did was jot down, broken out by position, the names and contract status of each of the 73 men presently on the active roster, practice squad, IR and PUP lists.  Of those 73 men, I established a group of 30 that potentially have a meaningful future with this team after this season ends.

With my list now down to 30 players, it was time to try and establish the core of this team.  My prerequisites were simple.  I was looking for players who I felt would still be here, not only next year, but also for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.  Additionally, I was looking for guys who I feel will be starting on either side of the ball.  In my opinion, it takes a very unique "special teams only" talent to be considered a "core player".

I was left with thirteen players.  Ten of whom are under contract through at least 2007.  The other three are guys I feel will be extended out to at least that point this off-season.  Six offensive players ... and seven on the defensive side.  Let's take a look …


  1. QB Luke McCown

    23 years of age, signed through 2008

    This may be a reach for a fourth round pick with just one game under his belt, but I saw a lot of things I liked from Luke in his debut.  All signs point to Luke being our backup signal caller next season, and being handed the reigns in 2006.

  2. RB Lee Suggs
  3. 24 years of age, signed through 2007

    Despite missing chunks of time due to injury this season, I think it's clear that Lee is a more talented back than Willie Green, and he will be counted on to carry the load for this team on the ground for the next three seasons.

  4. FB Terrelle Smith
  5. 26 years of age, signed through 2007

    The Terminator has quickly become one of my favorite guys, and ranks as one of the league's top fullbacks in my view.  A lot of people forget he is just 26, and inked a four year deal with us this past off-season.  Smith has even shown an ability to run and catch the football when called upon, a bonus from this punishing blocker.

  6. TE Kellen Winslow Jr.
  7. 21 years of age, signed through 2009

    Winslow's injury proved to be foreshadowing for this disappointing season, but we were able to see glimpses of this kids' immense talent before he went down.  KWII, Lee Suggs, and Jeff Faine are the cornerstones from which this offense will be built around.

  8. OL Jeff Faine
  9. 23 years of age, signed through 2009

    It's so tough to judge Faine to this point, based on the fact that he has been playing in the middle of the worst pair of offensive guards in the NFL.  All things considered, I think Faine will emerge into one of the best seven or eight centers in the league once he has capable help surrounding him.

  10. OL Ryan Tucker
  11. 29 years of age, signed through 2005

    Tucker is only under contract for one more season, but look for the team to try and extend him out this off-season.  Tucker is one of the better right tackles in the league, though you would never know it given the overall woes of the unit he plays with.  The million dollar question is though … will Tucker want to stay here after next season?

  12. DL Ebenezer Ekuban
  13. 28 years of age, signed through 2007

    The fact that Ekuban is the only defensive lineman on this list is a stinging indictment of high draft selections Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren, and also a reminder that Kenard Lang and Orpheus Roye, who are going to be 30 and 31 respectively next season, are slated to make significant money the next two years.  Ekuban has had a decent season, is in the prime of his career, and is under contract for the next three years.

  14. LB Andra Davis
  15. 26 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end

    Andra's contract runs out after this year, but resigning him will be one of the easiest decisions our soon to be new General Manager makes.

  16. LB Chaun Thompson
  17. 24 years of age, signed through 2007

    Chaun has made some strides this season, and has shown real promise in the rare cases Campo has let him loose after the quarterback.  We all know this kid has the physical talents to play in this league, but most fans still need convincing that he has the instincts to one day be a Pro Bowl type player.

  18. CB Anthony Henry
  19. 28 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end

    I personally believe that Anthony Henry is one of the more unheralded cornerbacks in the NFL, and that the team should do whatever it takes to see he is resigned this off-season.  To a man, nearly all the defensive players I've talked to on this team feel Anthony is the unit's most talented player … and I tend to agree with them.  If this team can ever sustain a consistent pass rush, and Jones & Crocker become the pair of safeties we think they can, Henry will see multiple Pro Bowls before his career ends.

  20. CB Daylon McCutcheon
  21. 28 years of age, signed through 2008

    Cutch struggles to stay healthy, and maybe doesn't have the size or speed of most corners, but I'm glad the team extended him out through 2008.  Every winning football team needs three solid cover men, and I am more than content with Henry and Cutch as two of them.

  22. S Sean Jones
  23. 22 years of age, signed through 2008

    Though stripped of his rookie season due to a knee injury, Sean Jones belongs on this list due to pedigree and opportunity alone.  I'm anxious to see this kid play next season, and the return of him and Winslow, in addition to our new draft and free agent class should make training camp very intriguing in 2005.

  24. S Chris Crocker
  25. 24 years of age, signed through 2007

    Crocker's play has been up and down this season, but I think he has shown enough to be considered the front runner to be this team's starting free safety for the immediate future, and also to put a merciful end to the Griffith/Little era.  The safety positions (along with offensive guard) have been huge liabilities for this football team since their return to the league in 1999, and hopefully the Crocker/Jones tandem can put an end to that.


I identified the following seventeen players as having the potential to still be part of the core of this franchise as we move forward into 2005.  Some may not make it due to age, contract status, financial issues, ability, or players ahead of them on the depth chart.

  1. QB Jeff Garcia, 32 years of age, signed through 2007 (team buyout available after 2005)
  2. RB Willie Green, 25 years of age, signed through 2006
  3. WR Antonio Bryant, 23 years of age, signed through 2005
  4. WR Andre Davis, 25 years of age, signed through 2005
  5. WR Dennis Northcutt, 27 years of age, signed through 2006
  6. TE Aaron Shea, 28 years of age, signed through 2005
  7. TE Steve Heiden, 28 years of age, free agent at seasons end
  8. OL Ross Verba, 31 years of age, free agent at seasons end
  9. K Phil Dawson, 29 years of age, signed through 2005
  10. DL Kenard Lang, 30 years of age, signed through 2006 (base salary increase significantly next year)
  11. DL Orpheus Roye, 31 years of age, signed through 2005
  12. DL Courtney Brown, 26 years of age, signed through 2006 (salary is 5.5 million in '05, 7.5 million in '06)
  13. DL Gerard Warren, 26years of age, signed through 2006
  14. LB Kevin Bentley, 25 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end
  15. LB Ben Taylor, 26 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end
  16. CB Leigh Bodden, 24 years of age, signed through 2005
  17. CB Michael Lehan, 25 years of age, signed through 2007

Rich Swerbinsky

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